The Story of My Naturalization Process

By Darya Hrybava, Events and Communications Specialist at the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy

It was a very special week for me, as I successfully passed my naturalization test and became a U.S. citizen. My naturalization ceremony took place on the same day, which is rather uncommon. In most states the ceremony happens about six to eight weeks after the interview, but New Jersey is one of two states that offer the opportunity of having both the test and the ceremony on the same day. Also, it was interesting to learn that naturalization ceremonies can take place not only in a federal courthouse or immigration offices, but in many other locations as well, such as schools, stadiums, and even on boats. For example, Stockton University hosts naturalization ceremonies. Some of the ceremonies feature special speakers and can last many hours. Mine was quite small and short, but I was quite happy about it, as I could not wait to become a citizen.

Part of the naturalization test is the civics exam. I knew most of the answers to the questions in the book that I was given to prepare for the test, as I have a B.A. in Political Science and work in the Hughes Center that conducts research on public policy and promotes civic engagement. However, it was still very interesting to learn about various parts of U.S. history. It made me feel all the more connected to and appreciative of this place I call home. It is somewhat dismaying that research studies, including some conducted by the Hughes Center, show low levels of political knowledge and engagement among American citizens. Perhaps a basic civics class should be added to the standard American public education curriculum.

At the ceremony we were told that afterwards we would be able to register to vote right outside of the room. Because of my work over the last few years in the Hughes Center for public policy, which encourages people to vote and participate in the democratic process, I am well aware of the data that show that voting rates are quite low among eligible voters. I therefore thought I should set a good example and register myself to vote. I did not expect that many people who took the oath with me would do the same, but I was pleasantly surprised to see a long line by the registration table. The right to vote is both a privilege and a responsibility of citizens, and I am honored to be able to participate in a democratic process that is unfortunately unavailable to many people around the world.

Learning from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: The Policy Implications of Squirrel Hill, Part 2

By Dr. Michael W. Klein, Interim Executive Director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy

Step One to get my head around the mass murders, spurred by anti-Semitism, in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27 was how to talk with elected officials. Step Two is figuring out what to say to elected officials.

What policy changes would help to prevent the next mass shooting? Since the tragedy at the Tree of Life Synagogue, The Washington Post has suggested restoring the federal ban on assault weapons.

The gunman in Pittsburgh used an AR-15 assault rifle and three Glock .357 handguns. The rifle and the handguns were semiautomatic, meaning they fire one bullet with one squeeze of the trigger, then automatically reload and are ready to fire again. The AR-15 is different from its military cousins – the M16 and the M4 carbine used by soldiers and Marines – because it cannot fire in “burst” mode (three rounds with one trigger pull), or in fully automatic mode (firing until the trigger is released or the ammunition runs out). Fully automatic weapons – like machine guns – have been significantly regulated under federal law since the National Firearms Act of 1934.

But make no mistake, the AR-15 is plenty lethal. It shoots bullets more than twice as fast as most handguns. With a standard 30-bullet magazine, which can be quickly replaced, the AR-15 can fire more than a hundred rounds in a few minutes.

Congress and President Clinton outlawed most assault weapons and limited the size of magazines in the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. Title IX of it said: “It shall be unlawful for a person to manufacture, transfer, or possess a semiautomatic assault weapon.” Section 110102(b) defined “semiautomatic assault weapon” in four subparagraphs, covering specific brands and models, and specific characteristics of semiautomatic rifles, pistols, and shotguns. The “Colt AR-15” was on the list.

The ban on semiautomatic assault weapons expired in 2004, ten years after its enactment, under the terms of the law itself. Was the law effective during its ten-year existence? Looking at the issue in 2012, using data compiled by authors at Mother Jones, Dr. Sam Wang at Princeton University (whose Princeton Election Consortium is lauded for its accuracy) wrote:

Since the expiration of the gun ban in 2004, the number of [mass] shootings per year has doubled, and the number of victims per year has nearly tripled.

The data defined “mass shootings” as indiscriminate attacks in public places resulting in at least three victims (between 2013 to now) or four victims (between 1982-2012) killed by the attacker.[1]

In a postscript to his piece, Dr. Wang noted competing analyses that reached different conclusions over the correlation between the ban on assault weapons and the number of mass shootings. Still, he could not escape the connection between semiautomatic guns and the number of people they kill. “[T]hese acts are always with us,” he wrote, “but advanced weaponry creates an efficiency of scale to allow the possibility of large killings.”

The results of this past Election Day make it likely that if the House of Representatives reconsiders the ban on semiautomatic assault weapons, the Senate would stall the measure. While the debate over an individual’s right under the Second Amendment to own a semiautomatic assault weapon can seem intractable, UCLA Law Professor Adam Winkler’s book, Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America, puts the issue in historical context, noting that the Founding Fathers balanced gun rights with public safety needs. Professor Winkler was this year’s Constitution Day keynote speaker at Stockton University, and I had the good fortune to hear him speak.

Stockton University’s Constitution Day 2018 keynote speaker Adam Winkler with Michael Klein, Interim Executive Director of the Hughes Center

Aside from restoring the ban on semiautomatic assault weapons at the federal level, elected officials at the state level could address the connection between mental illness and gun violence. One option includes “red-flag” laws – formally known as “extreme risk protection orders” or “gun violence restraining orders” – that allow judges to take guns away from people who are deemed to pose a risk to themselves or others. Law enforcement officers or family members of a mentally ill person can petition a judge for that person to receive involuntary mental health treatment based on a pattern of behavior, and to store their guns for safekeeping, until the judge determines it is safe to return the guns.

Thirteen states have enacted red-flag laws, eight of them after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. in February 2018. Governor Phil Murphy signed New Jersey’s red-flag law, called the Extreme Risk Protective Order Act of 2018, on June 13, 2018, which takes effect in September 2019.

Known already as a state with one of the nation’s toughest gun laws, New Jersey may yet take more steps. Governor Murphy is exploring a new package of bills that would, among other initiatives, update the law regarding ammunition purchases, add a new crime for making “straw purchases” of guns for people already banned from owning a firearm, and increase funding for community-based gun-violence prevention programs.

Institutions of higher education can play a greater role in shaping policies on gun safety and mental health. Here at Stockton University, the Hughes Center is working with faculty experts in Criminal Justice, Sociology, and Physical Therapy to explore research on gun violence, mental illness, and community trust. Our colleagues at Rutgers University recently received $2 million to establish New Jersey’s Center on Gun Violence Research, which will conduct cross-disciplinary research on the causes, consequences and solutions to firearm-related violence, including homicides, assaults, suicides and accidental shootings.

Our democratic process depends on well-informed policies to protect our safety and our rights. It also requires courageous leaders who inspire – as Abraham Lincoln said in his First Inaugural Address — “the better angels of our nature.” My third blog post about the shootings in Squirrel Hill will explore that topic.

[1] The statistical change from four victims to three is the result of the standard used under President Obama’s January 2013 mandate for a federal investigation of mass shootings. Mark Follman, Gavin Aronsen, and Deanna Pan explain this in more detail in A Guide to Mass Shootings in America, sadly updated through Oct. 27, 2018.


Learning from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: The Policy Implications of Squirrel Hill, Part 1

By Dr. Michael W. Klein, Interim Executive Director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy

Mister Rogers’ neighborhood was, literally, Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh. Fred Rogers, the compassionate creator of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, lived three and a half blocks from the Tree of Life Synagogue, where a gunman killed 11 people and wounded six others, including four police officers, on Oct. 27, the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history.

Memorials outside the Tree of Life Synagogue (Photo by Mary Ann Dunham)

One of my best friends from law school, Mary Ann Dunham, lives in Squirrel Hill, down the street from Mr. Rogers’ old house, and she pointed it out when I visited Pittsburgh for the first time over 20 years ago. Mary Ann has shared her poignant and emotional experiences since the shooting, and I am grateful for her photographs that accompany this blog entry.

The Squirrel Hill neighborhood the morning of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue on October 27, 2018 (Photo by Mary Ann Dunham)

I am thinking a lot about Fred Rogers and the advice he might give about this moment in American history. Step One would be to tell elected officials what you think. Fred Rogers did this himself in 1969. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood had been on the air nationally on PBS only since February 1968. The Nixon administration, in its first year in office, planned to cut in half a $20 million grant proposed by the Johnson administration to PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. On May 1, 1969, Mr. Rogers appeared before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Communication. He brought, but did not read, a 10-minute statement, saying, “I’d just like to talk about it, if it’s alright.” This is a good lesson for anyone testifying before a legislative committee: talk, don’t read.

Senator John O. Pastore, the chair of the subcommittee, initially looked on impassively as Mr. Rogers spoke about his program’s budget and his concern about the “bombardment” of cartoons in children’s programming. Mr. Rogers said to Sen. Pastore, “I’m very much concerned, as I know you are, about what’s being delivered to our children in this country. And I’ve worked in the field of child development for six years now, trying to understand the inner needs of children.” Senator Pastore, taking interest, asked for a copy of the program.

Mr. Rogers went on to say, presciently:

This is what I give. I give an expression of care every day to each child, to help him realize that he is unique. I end the program by saying, “You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you, just the way you are.” And I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health. I think that it’s much more dramatic that two men could be working out their feelings of anger — much more dramatic than showing something of gunfire. I’m constantly concerned about what our children are seeing, and for 15 years I have tried in this country and Canada, to present what I feel is a meaningful expression of care.

Fred Rogers testifies before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications on May 1, 1969

After Mr. Rogers explained that he hosted the program, acted as the puppeteer, wrote all the music, and wrote all the scripts, Sen. Pastore said, “Well, I’m supposed to be a pretty tough guy, and this is the first time I’ve had goose bumps for the last two days.”

Mr. Rogers concluded by reciting the words to his song about the good feeling of control that children need to know they have. “What do you do with the mad that you feel?” is the opening line. At the end of the song, Sen. Pastore said: “I think it’s wonderful. I think it’s wonderful. Looks like you just earned the twenty million dollars.”

You can watch this remarkable moment – a humble man changing a powerful senator’s mind – starting at the five-minute mark of the video of Mr. Rogers’ testimony.

But even Mr. Rogers can’t speed the work of Congress. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, according to its appropriations history, received $9 million in FY1969, $15 million in FY1970, and – finally — $23 million in FY1971.

Mr. Rogers proved that the right words to the right leaders can eventually change policy. My next post will explore the policies that could address the tragedy in Squirrel Hill.

Remembering Bill Schluter: Senator, reformer, and friend

By Dr. Michael W. Klein, Interim Executive Director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy

Since starting at the Hughes Center for Public Policy in January, I have been struggling to think of an appropriate inaugural entry for our blog. The legacy of public service of my friend Bill Schluter, who died on August 6, has finally inspired me to write.

Bill was serving as the senator in Legislative District 23 when I was lucky to be working for an equally dedicated public servant, then-Assemblyman Leonard Lance. I learned quickly that the Schluter and Lance staffs worked in synch, particularly on scheduling. An entry marked with Bill’s initials – “WES” – likely meant that Assemblyman Lance would be attending, too.

Bill could see the future, in a way. In early 1993, during a meeting with municipal officials from Districts 23 and 24 – spanning Hunterdon, Warren, Sussex, Morris, and Mercer counties – Bill warned about the consequences of a new, 20-mile stretch of Interstate 287, soon to be completed between Suffern, NY and Montvale, NJ. Bill knew that trucks on Route 287 bound for New Jersey would bypass the tolls on the Turnpike by taking Routes 206, 202, and 31, roads intersecting his district – including his hometown of Pennington – that were not meant for those big loads and heavy traffic.

It’s as if Bill had already read an article in The New York Times that appeared three years later, on June 2, 1996, which said:

What is happening alongside the new stretch of Interstate 287 was widely predicted, but what is going on in Pennington, a small town 60 miles away, was not. Pennington, five miles north of Trenton in Mercer County, straddles Highway 31, a winding, hilly two-lane road flanked by residential drives, small shops, stands of trees and fields.

Interstate 287 transformed this pastoral road into a truck route, and every diner along it has become a de facto truck stop. In 1991, when New Jersey Turnpike tolls were doubled, the trickle of trucks here became a steady stream. The opening of Interstate 287 made it a torrent.

The only issue more vexing to New Jerseyans than traffic is property taxes, and Bill tried to tackle that, too. His idea was a constitutional convention dedicated to the single issue of property taxes. In 2000, Bill helped to found Citizens for the Public Good, a bipartisan group with a mission “to act as a forceful advocate for fundamental reforms.” After first focusing on campaign finance reform, Citizens for the Public Good turned its attention to property tax reform in 2002.

Rather than an advocacy campaign, Citizens for the Public Good – technically, its 501(C)(3) offshoot, the Coalition for the Public Good – directly engaged the people of New Jersey with a Citizens’ Tax Assembly. Statewide recruiting brought in about 600 nominations, resulting in 100 delegates. In the end, 92 of them traveled to the State House over the weekend of September 13-14, 2003 – two whole days! – for wonky discussions, in large settings and small groups, about property tax reform. Continuing to be inspired by Bill and his organization, the delegates met again on June 12, 2004 to hash out specific policy recommendations and the structure of a constitutional convention. In September and October of 2004, four regional forums, each with its own set of delegates totaling 125 people, met in day-long sessions in Cherry Hill, Jersey City, Morristown and New Brunswick.

Bill Schluter was a driving force behind all of it, and he somehow convinced me to serve as a moderator each time.

While Bill’s vision of a constitutional convention did not materialize, the work of the Citizens’ Tax Assemblies was impressive and still offers common-sense and provocative ideas for New Jersey, which you can find in three reports:

Redistricting caught up to Bill in 2001, and instead of running for reelection, he ran as in independent candidate for governor. To manage his campaign, he hired Doug Friedline, who had successfully run former pro wrestler Jesse “The Body” Ventura’s independent gubernatorial campaign in Minnesota in 1998. At a fundraiser in August 2001, Bill was dwarfed by the 6-foot-four-inch, 250-pound Ventura, but he managed to raise up to $50,000 at the event.

While perhaps not resembling a pro wrestler, Bill was an outstanding athlete. He ran in the New York City Marathon in 1993 at age 66, but when I saw him on crutches outside the Union Hotel in Flemington, I did not ask how it went.

Years later, I would see Bill most every morning at our gym, the Pennington Ewing Athletic Club. He was usually riding a stationary bike, reading a newspaper, magazine, or book. Reading, pedaling, reading pedaling. He’d greet me the same way every time: “Hiya, Mikey!” Then he’d want to discuss the latest political gossip or policy issue of the day.

“Mikey” was not the only nickname that Bill had for me. I was also a member of the “Lance Mafia,” the small group that served as legislative directors over the years to Assemblyman and then Senator – and now Congressman – Lance.

Bill loved politics, and he was the best master of ceremonies at fundraisers I ever saw. After introducing each guest speaker, Bill kept close watch of the time. Anyone who went too long would get the hook…one time literally, with a shepherd’s crook that Bill had somehow brought with him.

I still have more to say about Bill Schluter – his tradition of holding his own fundraisers during peak strawberry season, so he could give away pints of fresh strawberries to everyone as they left; his maverick streak that led him to support John Anderson for president in 1980, instead of his party’s candidate Ronald Reagan; our shared connection to Princeton University (“are you going to Reunions this year?”) – but in the spirit of Bill, I hereby give myself the hook.

The Neighborhood Effects of Vaccines By Deborah M. Figart, Ph.D.

The Neighborhood Effects of Vaccines

By Deborah M. Figart

Recently I had a conversation with my doctor about the new measles outbreak in the United States. Then I went to check my immunization record. This paper record is a small, decades-old 2×3 inch booklet kept by my mother in the 1960s. I am surprised you can still read the yellowed pages. It records my immunizations by type, date, year, and doctor. My mother also logged when I had the chicken pox. She even noted when I had my tonsillectomy and my first X-ray—of the skull when I fell straight down on my forehead while sledding one winter.

Measles was eliminated in the United States in 2000. But in an open country, international travelers and tourists can bring in the disease. The recent outbreak as a result of exposure at the Disneyland resort in California over the last Christmas and New Years holiday has multiplied. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 644 cases in 27 states 2014, the greatest number since 2000. From January 1 to February 13, 2015, there have been 141 reported cases thus far in 17 states and Washington, DC, including New Jersey. We are on track for a record number of measles cases in 2015, a large step backward from 2000 when we eliminated the disease in our homeland. Starting with one case of a potent virus leads to many; the rise is easily predicted in public health models. This current eruption has adults reviewing their medical records, reading over the government’s vaccination guidelines, and checking with their doctor.

The spike in measles has also reopened debate between public health officials and medical experts who seek to control the disease and opponents of vaccines. The Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics are on one side, according to Parents magazine. Opposition can be found in the United Kingdom and the United States among autism advocacy groups, some professional chiropractors, and local or state groups such as My Kids, My Choice in New York. In medical circles, the debate has long been settled through evidence of the worth of vaccines. Still others remain unconvinced.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), people born before 1957 in the United States are generally considered immune to measles and mumps. In 1963, I was vaccinated for measles; there was no vaccine for mumps or rubella at the time (also known as the German measles). Today the three vaccinations are packed together and known as MMR. The MMR vaccine given to children in the U.S. since 1971 has been highly effective. But there a period from 1963-1967 with competing measles vaccines. Within this window, some received a live vaccine and others received an inactivated vaccine which was later pulled from the U.S. market in 1967. I was in that window.

That brings me back to my doctor. She tells me that the HHS guidelines state that persons who received inactivated (killed) measles vaccine or measles vaccine of unknown type during 1963–1967 should be revaccinated with two doses of MMR vaccine. I opted to be revaccinated as an adult, which only required one shot instead of the two given to children.

I am not a medical doctor. I must rely on the medical experts to help educate me on the safety and benefits of (largely) compulsory vaccination. But I have a doctorate in economics. It is easy for me to see the benefits through the eyes of an economist: it has to do with externalities.

Many of our decisions and actions affect other people. Economists refer to theses effects as positive or negative externalities. The term “externalities” means that the activity or product affects someone who is neither the buyer nor the seller, someone outside or external to the economic transaction.

Cigarette smoking obviously has negative externalities because second-hand smoke affects nonsmokers, but also because a higher incidence of illness tends to push up health care and insurance premiums for everyone. Society taxes cigarettes heavily to offset these costs and to discourage young people from smoking. When the housing bubble burst in 2008, we found that vacated and foreclosed homes lowered property values for others in the same neighborhoods, even if they kept up with their payments and were not overly in debt. So the decision to issue risky mortgages affected people with no voice in the process. That’s why another term for externalities is “neighborhood effects.”

Externalities can be good things too. We ask the taxpayers to shoulder part of the costs of public colleges and universities because the benefits of an educated work force and citizenry go beyond the individuals attending college. Public transportation helps those who take the bus, but also alleviates traffic for those who still drive. These are positive externalities.

Vaccines have positive neighborhood effects as well. No vaccine is 100% effective. Therefore, you are better protected if your neighbors are not carrying the disease. That happens if we are all vaccinated. So … it’s the neighborly thing to do.

Don’t Sneeze On My Caesar Salad – Deborah M. Figart

Don’t Sneeze On My Caesar Salad

By Deborah M. Figart

Vick’s, a Proctor and Gamble company, has a popular television ad running during this current cold and flu season. It is about a father ailing from the flu. Looking red-eyed and dabbing at his nose with a tissue, he goes into his young toddler’s room and apologizes that he needs to take a sick day. The ad concludes with a tagline: “Dads don’t take sick days. Dads take NyQuil.” You can see the ad on YouTube. By the way, Vick’s has a similar ad for Moms.

Though meant to be humorous, the NyQuil ads raise a serious issue in America. More than 40 million U.S. workers do not earn paid sick days. Those disproportionately affected are low-wage workers, women workers, and Latino/a workers, especially in the food service industry.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in 2014, paid sick leave benefits were offered to 74 percent of full-time workers but only 24 percent of part-time workers. Similarly, 72 percent of employees in medium and large establishments had access to a paid sick leave benefit but only half for those working for small employers did.

San Francisco was the first city in the U.S. require paid sick leave for most workers; a successful ballot initiative in November of 2006 led to enactment of a law. California cities such as Long Beach, San Diego, and Oakland followed suit. Washington, DC passed similar legislation in March 2008. Cities that followed included: Seattle, WA; Portland, OR; Eugene, OR; and Philadelphia, PA.

Connecticut was the first U.S. state to enact a law effective July 1, 2011, followed by California and Massachusetts. The California and Massachusetts laws go into effect in July 1, 2015. And the movement for paid sick leave is gaining momentum in New Jersey. Cities that have enacted annual paid sick time include Trenton, Jersey City, Newark, Montclair, East Orange, Paterson, Irvington, Passaic. This adds 140,000 New Jerseyans to the pool of employees with paid sick days, but leaves 1 million still uncovered.

Many of these state and municipal laws require employers with 10 or more employees to provide up to 40 hours (5 days) of paid sick leave per year. Some cities include even smaller employers while others cover employers with 50 or more employees (or even larger). The varied laws have limits in other ways, as analyzed by the organization A Better Balance. Most allow sick time to be used to care for a child or another relative. So the mom or dad in the Vick’s NyQuil commercial could actually take a paid sick day from the workplace if they are sick or if their child is sick.

Using arguments akin to opposition to raising the minimum wage, opponents refer to paid sick leave legislation as harmful to employment growth. Unlike the minimum wage, however, that applies to each hour of paid work, sick leave legislation normally covers 40 hours (5 days) of pay per year, or about 2 percent of a full-time employee’s annual hours. So the impact is less, termed “modest” by business surveys, and could be far less if limited to the food service industry.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that workers preparing food for others should not handle food until at least 48 hours after symptoms of the Norovirus cease. The State of New Jersey Department of Health provides for dealing with influenza: “Stay home if you are sick.” Workers at the bottom of the labor market cannot afford to stay home if they are sick. Just 5 days of paid sick time would help us all.

I enjoy dining out. I want neither a fast food worker nor a sous chef at a Michelin-starred restaurant to report to work when they are ill. Don’t sneeze on my Caesar’s salad.

Human Trafficking: Saving One Life at a Time

Human Trafficking: Saving One Life at a Time

By Deborah M. Figart, Professor of Economics and Education, and Brittany Benedetti, Stockton Honors Student

Anguish. Abjection. Agony. These are only a few of the burdens of millions of men, women, and children who are exploited across the globe due to human trafficking. At this very moment, human beings are being abused and sold into sex slavery for monetary gain. Across the globe. And close to home.

The 2014 Global Slavery Index estimates that 38.5 million persons are enslaved each year. Even in the United States, across every state. The U.S. contains a plethora of seaports, airports, and major highways that make it easier to traffic people throughout the country. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Child Exploitation Task Force recounts that “It’s sad, but true: here in this country, people are being bought, sold, and smuggled like modern-day slaves.” Locally, the FBI takes about 30-to-50 children off the streets of Atlantic, Cape May, and Cumberland counties each year. Like Ashley Boyer.

One cannot avoid being moved by Ashley’s story. The then 17-year old senior from Ocean City High school became a victim of human trafficking. Her tale is relayed eloquently by Linda Cohen, staff writer for the Press of Atlantic City. Ashley was wooed to a potential meeting with a music producer. Instead of taking her to a music studio, a man she refers to as “the Monster” entrapped her into sex slavery for three years by threatening her and her family. Ashley’s story, as is turns out, is not unusual.

Modern-day slavery can victimize anyone regardless of age, race, ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic status. Yet traffickers typically prey on young men, women, and children who are living in or near the poverty line. Recruitment for sex trafficking is far more prevalent that labor trafficking according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics in the U.S. In Profits and Poverty: The Economics of Forced Labour, the International Labour Organization reports that sexual exploitation worldwide accounts for approximately two-thirds of the estimated $32 billion of global annual profit from sex slavery and child pornography.

This multi-billion dollar industry operates largely in an underground economy. Traffickers, otherwise known as “pimps” use different manipulative tactics to force women (and girls and boys), including physical violence, rape, sexual assault, and in some cases will administer illegal drugs to prohibit a victim from moving and escaping. It can be as easy as being forced into a van on a street corner while waiting for a bus. Or sweeping through hangouts for homeless teenagers. Economic inequality and social immobility within societies gives traffickers leverage to recruit their victims. Many will lure persons with false promises of a better quality of life, a decent-paying job, or other aspirations.

The U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) was first signed in 2000, and reauthorized and refunded in 2003, 2005, 2008, and 2013. Multiple government agencies (Health and Human Services, FBI, Department of State, and Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement) all have roles to play to pursue and prosecute traffickers. Non-profit organizations also provide services to victims. Unfortunately, the number of sex trafficking incidents has been on the rise since 2008, as documented by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The Hustle, a new study released by the Urban Institute sheds light on how much money is generated by the underground commercial sex economy in American cities. According to the Urban Institute, “Knowing the size of the economy is the critical first step for enabling law enforcement, the judicial system, and policymakers to make informed choices about how to fight the harm that happens within these black markets.” The research provides the first rigorous estimates (2007) for the revenue generated in the underground commercial sex economies of Atlanta ($290 million), Miami ($235 million), Seattle ($112 million), Washington, DC ($103 million), Dallas ($98.8 million), San Diego ($96.8 million), and Denver ($39.9 million).

Becoming trapped in modern-day slavery is harmful to the victim’s physical, emotional, social, financial, and career well-being. Many are scarred for life. Some commit suicide. Ashley Boyer was lucky; she got out, escaping with her life. But she lost her youth and is still healing. As in the case of homeland security, one step we can all make to combat trafficking is: “Is you see something, say something.” Report any tips to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline, operated by the Polaris Project. From December 7, 2007, through December 31, 2012, the Center answered 65,557 calls, 1,735 online tip forms, and 5,251 emails, totaling more than 72,000 interactions. Maybe your call can help get someone back home for the holidays or off the streets in a cold winter.

The Unbanked in America – Deborah M. Figart, Ph.D.

The Unbanked in America

By Deborah M. Figart

Relatively few free checking accounts. High monthly service fees or low balance fees. Especially high overdraft fees. When is having a bank account just not worth it? Amply, to the tune of 25 million people in the U.S. (out of a population of about 319 million). This is a key finding of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s (FDIC) latest biennial National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households, released on October 29, 2014.

The percent of households without a bank account (unbanked) declined slightly from the previous survey (2011), as more households are recovering from the Great Recession. Now only 7.7 percent of U.S. households are unbanked, compared to 8.2 percent two years before. This is the sliver of good news. The highest unbanked rates are still among lower-income households, younger households, non-Asian minorities, households with at least one person unemployed, and working-age disabled households.

Underbanked households do have a checking or savings account, but utilize non-bank services—e.g. check cashing stores, payday lenders, pawn shops—at least once or twice per year. Such services are often located in poor communities and used by those who cannot afford, do not have access to, or are uncomfortable with banks. The percent of underbanked households remained the same between 2011 and 2013. But at 20 percent of households, this amounts to 24 million U.S. households with an estimated 68 million people living in them.

Consistent with the FDIC’s previous two biennial surveys, about 46 percent of unbanked households previously had bank accounts. What caused them to leave mainstream banks? The FDIC asks survey questions about this. While a spell of unemployment is a typical reason for closing a bank account, other common motives included: balances were too low to maintain an account, bank fees were too high, banks were not welcoming or were not trusted, or there wasn’t a perceived need to have an account.

Check cashing places and other alternative financial service providers (AFSPs) have stepped into fill the void, and that industry is doing well. As in the previous FDIC surveys, about one in four households shared that they used at least one AFSP in the previous year. In addition to cashing paychecks and government checks, U.S. check cashing stores, for example, offer prepaid debit cards. Similar to a checking account, these ever-more-popular cards can be used to pay bills, withdraw cash at ATMs, make purchases, deposit checks, and receive direct deposits. A large proportion of unbanked and underbanked households now use these cards.

This helps make alternative financial services big business, according to the trade association of its members, the Financial Service Centers of America, Inc. According to FISCA industry statistics: “Through its 13,000 locations nationwide, the industry conducts more than 350 million transactions each year, providing an estimated $106 billion in various products and services to an estimated 30 million customers.” As long as customers do not feel satisfied with banks and there are reasonably priced alternatives that are responding by offering needed services, AFSPs will be here to stay.

One reliable and safe way to offer inexpensive financial services is the U.S. Postal Service, as I argued in an op ed article for the Press of Atlantic City in 2012, following publication of the previous FDIC survey of unbanked and underbanked in America. The local post office is often one of the geographically closest retail outlets for millions of Americans. There are over 30,000 post offices in the U.S. We had a postal savings system for accepting and insuring small deposits from 1911 to 1967. It was discontinued when the FDIC extended deposit insurance at private banks. According to the CGAP/World Bank Group (2009) survey of 139 countries, Financial Access 2009, more than 70 percent of countries use post offices to provide financial services.

Using post offices as financial service providers was endorsed by U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in a blog with the Huffington Post on February 1, 2014. Senator Warren wrote that “We need innovative ways to create pathways for struggling families to build economic security, and this is an idea that falls in that category.”

The FDIC concludes the new 2013 survey with implications from its findings, pointing to possible ways to help households renew their relationships with mainstream banks. Yet, as long as there is great need for alternative financial services (“nonbanks”), then there will be a gap between financially included and financially excluded households. That is not necessarily a bad thing, argues Lisa Servon, Professor of Urban Policy at the New School in New York City. Professor Servon spent some time working as a “teller” at two check cashing stores in the U.S. where she interacted with hundreds of customers. She shared her reflections with The New Yorker magazine in a recent essay titled “The High Cost, For the Poor, of Using a Bank.”

Of course, not all AFSPs are created equal. Pawn shops and payday lenders that charge upwards of 1000% interest for a short-term loan are located at one extreme. The other is a local, licensed check-cashing store in a highly regulated state, such as New Jersey, with clearly posted fees and policies. New Jersey fees are among the lowest in the U.S., according to data from the New Jersey Financial Service Centers, Inc. So the way forward in terms of public policy may not be to castigate the AFSPs or the people who use them. Rather, state departments of banking and insurance may want to consider stronger regulations of AFSPs, using a state like New Jersey as a model.

Voter Turnout: More Important than You Think – By Deborah M. Figart

Voter Turnout: More Important than You Think

By Deborah M. Figart

Voter turnout in Scotland was 85% in the September 18, 2014 election referendum on Scottish independence. Scotland voted 55%-45% to remain in the United Kingdom. Even in a quadrennial presidential election in the United States, voter turnout is typically 20-25 percentage points lower. According to the Center for Voting and Democracy, U.S. voter turnout is well below other democracies. The Center’s comparative data show that the leading industrialized countries have turnout rates of about 70%. In the U.S., about 60% of the voting eligible population votes during presidential election years, and about 40% votes during midterm elections. Some countries with compulsory voting have almost 90% voter turnout.

The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance has a useful web tool called a “Voter Turnout Analyzer” that illustrates statistics on voter participation around the world. You can generate your own comparisons and graphs to use for discussion, other educational purposes, and/or social media. You can compare individual countries against one another or regions of the globe. I wanted to see where the United States stacked up against other regions. What I found was disappointing. In parliamentary (non-presidential) elections, U.S. voter turnout, with few exceptions, was lower than turnout in Asia, Africa, and South America. If you don’t think comparing older and newer democracies is a fair comparison, what about Europe? Again, Europe’s voter turnout is much higher than the United States, closer to the greater global average.

I have heard cynics say that “They are all politicians. What difference does it make?” When we cast our votes, we are not simply voting for one person. Take the U.S. presidential election, for example. U.S. Presidents make thousands of appointments—judicial and executive branch appointments—like Supreme Court and federal judges, cabinet secretaries and assistant secretaries, ambassadors, directors of regulatory agencies, the chair and members of the Federal Reserve Board, to name a few.

On November 7, 2000, the U.S. election for President of the United States was decided by a mere 537 votes in the State of Florida (0.0092% of the Florida vote). Candidate Al Gore had won the popular vote: 48.4 percent to 47.9%. The electoral college majority was up for grabs. After a partial recount in Florida, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that George W. Bush won the State of Florida and therefore the presidency by winning the electoral college by a vote of 271 to 266.

In 1948, in the democratic primary for U.S. Senate in Texas, candidate Lyndon B. Johnson won by just 87 votes. Would he have served as Vice President and then President after the assassination of John F. Kennedy if he had lost that 1948 election? In 2008, then-comedian Al Franken won his U.S. Senate seat by 312 votes. Also in 2008, Rick Santorum won the Republican caucuses in the State of Iowa by a whisker, 34 votes. On primary night, Mitt Romney had originally been declared the winner. And governors, too, have been elected by very narrow margins. In 2004, Christine Gregoire was elected Governor of the State of Washington by only 133 votes.

In elections across the country for mayors, commissioners, sheriffs, town supervisors, freeholders, and even state assembly or senate candidates, a candidate can be declared the winner by just one vote. One vote. That’s all it takes.

Voting matters, according to Project Vote, a national non-profit organization that works to empower, educate, and mobilize low-income, minority, youth, and other marginalized and under-represented voters. The right public policies at the state level can make voting more accessible in our modern world. The wrong public policies increase barriers to voting.

Don’t use the excuse that you do not have enough information about the candidates. Tools such as, a website by an independent non-profit organization, enable you to search the voting records and positions of your federal and state representatives and their opposing candidates. You also see how groups from Clean Water Action to the New Jersey Taxpayer Alliance rated the candidates.

The first step is registering to vote. The next step is to become a regular seen at the polls. Whatever your politics, the next midterm congressional election and state elections are Tuesday, November 4, 2014. Election information for candidates and voters is always provided by the New Jersey Department of State. In New Jersey, there are two public questions on the ballot that could amend the New Jersey State Constitution, if passed by a majority of voters.

Ballot questions are just as important as voting for candidates. Ballot Question No. 1 is an amendment to allow a court to order pretrial detention of a person in a criminal case. That is, no possibly of bail. Ballot Question No. 2 would dedicate state revenue for open space, farmland, and historic preservation, and change existing revenue dedication for water programs, underground storage tanks, and hazardous site cleanups. A ballot question next year could consider whether the state should allow casinos in northern New Jersey.

Get to the polls. Be there, rain or shine. Your vote could be the difference.

Sports Betting: The Pros vs. the Amateurs By Deborah M. Figart

On August 11, 2014, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie made the right call when he vetoed the Legislature’s bill (S2250) to move forward with sports betting in New Jersey. The Governor’s veto was spot-on for two reasons—though not exactly the same reasons he cited. One has to do with the implications of flouting federal law. The other has to do with the treatment of amateur versus professional athletes.

First, flouting federal laws. In his public statement, Governor Christie noted that sports betting is contrary to the 1992 federal law, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), that bans sports betting in all states except those four that authorized it prior to 1992: Nevada, Delaware, Montana, and Oregon. According to the American Gaming Association, Nevada is the only state that is actually placing sports bets in casinos. (The other three states have experimented with sports lotteries.)

Under PASPA, New Jersey had the opportunity to be “grandfathered in” with a special loophole designed explicitly with Atlantic City in mind. The federal law gave states with a ten-year history of casino gambling up to a year to jump in and authorize sports wagering. Meeting the 1993 deadline would have required an amendment to the state constitution, but the effort was stalled in the State Assembly. The one-year window was lost. Any attempt to institute sports betting now would, as the Governor made clear, violate federal law.

Of course, states scoffing federal laws is becoming a trend, starting with states that are ignoring federal drug laws. Beginning with California in 1996, twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have authorized marijuana to be dispensed for medical purposes.  Colorado and Washington have gone a step further and legalized marijuana for recreational use. Such sidestepping of the Controlled Substances Act (1970) is taking the “states rights” stand too far. It undermines the fabric that knits us together as a nation and sets a dangerous precedent.

But don’t assume that I am opposed to the medical and recreational use of marijuana. Quite the contrary. The federal legalization of marijuana, like the passage of the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that repealed the 18th Amendment prohibiting sale of alcohol, would be a boon to our sluggish economy.

The U.S. alcohol industry contributes over $400 billion to our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and supports million of workers. One economic study estimates that legalizing marijuana could add over $100 billion to GDP. Analysis by the Tax Policy Center suggests that legalized marijuana could add $9 billion per year to federal and state tax revenues.

So while states have been great laboratories for experimenting with a range of important legislative reforms—from the early minimum wage laws in the 1910s to marriage equality a century later—these initiatives were pursued within parameters set by federal law and Supreme Court rulings. The sports betting initiative just isn’t comparable. And once New Jersey adopted the practice, would other states have eventually followed us in skirting federal law? Which law would be next? The Civil Rights Act of 1964?

The second reason Christie was correct in vetoing sports betting in New Jersey is that the proposal did not differentiate between professional and amateur athletics. National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I amateur athletes have recently stepped up their complaints over the way that some universities make money off of their performance as well as their names and likenesses. Think about all that ticket and television revenue, plus football and basketball jerseys and other memorabilia sales. Protesting their treatment (are scholarships and per diem travel monies enough?), Northwestern University football players have sought to form a labor union. This past April, the players cast secret ballots in an official union recognition election. Results are not yet public.

The NCAA is officially opposed to wagering on college sports. I agree. Amateur players do not get paid. Creating a business based on amateur athletes, on top of universities taking in revenue from their performances, is a line we should not cross. I love completing my March Madness basketball brackets for women’s and men’s teams. We should encourage informal pools of friendly competition and fantasy leagues. I applaud the college players who are standing up and questioning the money being made off of their backs and I applaud the NCAA for looking into what they can do to improve the living standards of these players.

But let’s draw a line with sports betting. Allow wagering on professional sports, not amateur sports. Amateurs are competing for the love of the game, the collegiality, and the leadership-building skills —and, yes, college scholarships, too. Only a handful will garner opportunities for professional careers. Pros are paid (relatively) handsomely in individual and team sports, from their earnings/winnings and from endorsements. Professional athletes have agents. They understand that it is a business. Sports betting can be a part of that business.

So no sports betting in New Jersey for now. The governor is straightforwardly accurate to accept federal law. Indirectly, though, the decision to stop sports betting in its tracks also allows us to pause and reconsider wagering on professional versus amateur sports.