Could Francis Underwood Have Been Black?

"Francis" by Rik Reimert

“Francis” by Rik Reimert

I’m a huge fan of the Netflix TV series House of Cards. Kevin Spacey and the rest of the crew keep me on edge the entire time the show is on. It’s an intriguing portrayal of our nation’s capital, filled with murder, sex and betrayal — yet with every plot twist I’m reminded of how unrealistic the show actually is.

In fact, for me, one of the most unrealistic aspects of the show has nothing to do with intricate plots of revenge or eccentric, power-hungry, business moguls. Instead it has to do with the main character’s race.

Kevin Spacey plays Francis Underwood, a long-term congressmen who at the start of the series holds the powerful majority whip position for the Democratic caucus. Underwood hails from South Carolina’s fifth – a sprawling district stretching across much of the border with North Carolina which, in real life, is currently being represented by Republican Mark Mulvaney.

Much of Underwood’s character development pulls from his southern roots. In the first season an entire storyline emerges in which Francis must go home and deal with the locals and their small-town political issues. In the second, Underwood is again reminded of his deep southern ties.



Black Folks and Social Security

Eugene Steuerle over at the Urban Institute recently issued a new report detailing the impacts of race on who benefits from Social Security. His findings? Since the program’s inception Social Security has systematically redistributed income from people of color to whites.

On its face, there’s nothing intentional going on here. Steuerle and his team find that due to demographic trends and the structure of benefit increases, younger blacks, Hispanics and Asians have been in effect paying for the retirement security of older whites. Steuerle points to why:

…Hispanics and Asians are more likely to have immigrated to the United State relatively recently and thus less likely to have family members in those earlier generations with higher net benefits or returns. Second, blacks and Hispanics have tended to have larger families than whites, thereby creating a larger share of taxpayers receiving lower returns on their contributions relative to parent and grandparent beneficiaries who got higher returns.


Beyond STEM

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Producing more STEM workers is a huge priority in this country. As anyone will tell you, at our current pace of production we’re not going to have enough scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians to do all the STEM stuff we need them to do in the coming years… like build time machines, and good robots to fight all the evil robots.

I know creating more STEM workers is important. More and more our economy is driven by technological innovation. Some of the most successful and recession proof regions of the country are based around science and technology hubs. The more individuals we can get into these jobs, the better for our economy.

I’m entirely in favor of encouraging kids to explore STEM careers, especially kids who historically have been told that math and science isn’t for them.  However, when I look at the current conversation around getting students to explore STEM fields, often times I see it being framed as zero-sum game. Steer kids away from the liberal arts, away from the humanities, away from the soft sciences and bring them into the world of STEM.

That’s not the direction we should take at all.

The truth is, STEM occupations may be a large part of the current and future economy. But STEM alone doesn’t make a better society.

I wonder what would happen if we encouraged our children to explore gender studies as avidly as we did biology. Could we drastically reduce the number of rapes? Reduce bullying based on sexual orientation? What if more people took classes (more than one or two) in race relations? How much more tolerant would our society be? Or what if students took a years’ worth of courses in public policy? What would our national discourse around healthcare, the economy, or foreign policy look like then?

Creating a system in which we empower students and future workers to nurture both their STEM capabilities and larger societal interests would go a long way towards creating a more informed, tolerable, and equitable society. Let’s do that.

America’s Three Economies…

I’m reading a pretty interesting book titled ‘The Geography of Jobs’ by Economist Enrico Moretti.  The book details the divergence of American cities, pointing to the vast disparities generated by education, city-level job sector allocations and the migration of skilled labor to innovation hubs.  The interview below does a great job of summarizing Moretti’s findings.

Community Eligibility!

Great blog post from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.  In 2010, President Obama signed into law the child nutrition bill.  Included in that bill was a provision known as “community eligibility.” The provision allowed school districts operating in high-poverty areas to offer all students free breakfasts and lunches.

Because these schools already operated in localities where the majority of students were eligible for free or reduced price meals, expanding the program to the remainder of the school population added minimal costs.  On top of that, participating school districts saved significant administration and overhead resources by not having to fill out paperwork.

This is why I love public policy. “Community eligibility” means more children get healthy food and a full stomach.

I’ll let Zoë Neuberger share the good news:

  • Across Illinois, Kentucky, and Michigan, 665 schools are now community eligibility schools, serving more than 280,000 students, with additional schools expected to join in the coming year.  More than three-quarters of students at these schools were approved for free or reduced-price meals for the 2010-2011 school year, prior to community eligibility’s start.
  • Across all three states, these schools served roughly one in ten of the children who were approved for a free or reduced-price meal during the 2010-2011 school year.  In Michigan, nearly one in five children who was approved for a free or reduced-price meal last year attended a school that is now participating in community eligibility.
  • Unsurprisingly, more children ate at school once the meals were free for all students.  In community eligibility schools, average daily lunch participation rose from 72 percent in October 2010 to 78 percent in October 2011, while average daily breakfast participation rose from 48 percent to 57 percent over the same period.  Kentucky particularly stands out for an increase in breakfast participation, jumping from 49 percent in October 2010 to 70 percent in October 2011, reflecting more widespread availability of breakfast in the classroom.
  • Every participating school district that we spoke with would recommend the option to other districts serving a comparably poor student body.  Although participating schools receive the federal free meal subsidy for only a portion of meals, school districts report that administrative savings make up for the meal charges they must forgo, and parents and staff have reacted positively to the program.

The program was available in Illinois, Kentucky, and Michigan this past year and will be expanding to the District of Columbia, New York, Ohio, and West Virginia for the 2012-2013 school year.  After that, any school district eligible can participate.  Very exciting.