Coming Back From Cali

December 9th, 2011 at 7:12 pm

Returning from a great swing out to the left west coast where I spoke to public health officials, folks doing the Lord’s work serving low-income, often uninsured populations, and visited the people’s republic of Berkeley.

Public Hospitals: These institutions provide critical services to their communities and they’re especially important in places like CA where so many lack health coverage:

Uninsurance Rates (HT: MB):

CA: 19.4%

US sans CA: 15.9%

They’ve also been hit with budget cuts, especially out here, and while they’re trying to do more with less, at least one person told me they’re being pushed to do “less with less.”

To me, this slide packs a lot relevant info re where we are and where we need to go.  The blue line shows the share of CA kids without coverage; the red line (right axis) shows the share of kids insured through a parent’s job (ESI, or employer sponsored insurance), which falls big time, from around 60 to 50 percent.  Yet, a smaller share of CA kids are uninsured by the last year of the data.  Where’d they get picked up?

Source: US Census Bureau

The answer appears to be Medicaid, which by the end of the period covered almost 40% of CA kids.  A similar dynamic, with lower levels, is at play in the nation.   The share of kids in the US sans CA with Mcaid coverage was about 34% in 2010 up from 20% in 2000.

So, an amply funded Medicaid program is critical to both kids’ coverage and the ability of the publics to do their thing.  Similarly, the Affordable Care Act, with its emphasis on coverage of those currently without, is a linchpin policy in this space.  Somebody’s gotta pick up the slack from the decline in ESI.

Berkeley! My second stop was Berkeley where I spoke to students, faculty, and some union folks at the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.  The only reason I raise it here, other than the folks at IRLE are doing great, progressive work—minimum wages, labor standards, unions, stimulus…all the stuff we need in place if working families are to get a fair slice of the action—is because of the very cool “Occupy (the) Wall (across the) Street” event.

There’s this building under construction across the street from IRLE and it’s wrapped in white plastic.  So the IRLE team snapped into action and projected PowerPoint slides on trends in inequality and job losses on the wall.

Here’s labor economist extraordinaire and good pal Sylvia Allegretto and yours truly in front of a slide showing skewed income growth.

BTW, check out Sylvia’s new blog.  I’ve always loved her work because it’s all about the facts and numbers, but heavily leavened with ethics and fairness.

On substance: One thing I learned out here is that people are thinking a lot more about the role of unions than they are in DC, both in terms of the countervailing force I write about here re inequality and in terms of critical the role labor has played in progressive politics.   At 6% of the private sector and under attack in the public sector, unions are fighting for their lives.  But let’s face it: there’s no larger, more organized force who’s goals are so closely aligned with the economic aspirations of working families.  (I could take snarky swipe at the Democrat party here, but I’ll resist.)


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