Productive Refugees

Our President wants to build a wall on the Mexican border and exclude refugees from countries that he deems terror prone. He claims he is protecting American jobs and our security. Those claims simply do not stand up to any serious scrutiny.

Although refugees and immigrants come from all around the world, currently, the most contentious group of refugees come from Syria. Fortunately, there is good data which demonstrates how productive Syrian immigrants have been after arriving in the United States.

According to the Center for American Progress:

Syrian immigrants earn good wages, with high levels of educational attainment.

The median annual wage for Syrian immigrants in the United States is $52,000. That is well above the $36,000 median wage for immigrants overall and higher even than the $45,000 median wage for U.S.-born workers.

Syrian immigrants are in general very well-educated, with Syrian immigrant men especially likely to have not only a college degree but also an advanced degree such as a master’s, doctorate, or professional degree. Twenty-seven percent of Syrian immigrant men hold an advanced degree, while for other groups—men and women, U.S.-born people and immigrants—the range is between 10 percent and 13 percent.

Syrian immigrants have among the highest rates of business ownership.

Syrian immigrants have extremely high rates of business ownership. Immigrants are, in general, an entrepreneurial group: 4 percent of immigrants in the labor force are business owners, compared with 3 percent of U.S.-born people. But both groups are far outstripped by Syrian immigrants, among whom 11 percent are business owners—more than double the rate of immigrants overall and more than triple the rate of U.S. citizens by birth.

Syrian immigrants have thriving businesses. The median earnings of Syrian business owners are $72,000 per year. These businesses provide employment, create jobs, and help spur growth in the local economy.

The kinds of businesses that Syrian immigrants are most likely to own range from medical offices—the most prominent type of business and no doubt part of the reason for high earnings among Syrian business owners—to food services and automobile dealerships.

Syrians integrate into American society over time.

Syrians have high levels of English-speaking ability. Fifty-seven percent of Syrian immigrants who have been in the United States for more than 10 years report that they speak English at least “very well”—a higher rate than for immigrants overall, for whom the rate is 52 percent.

Homeownership rates among Syrian immigrants are similar to those of other immigrant groups, with the percentage almost doubling from 34 percent for those in the United States for 10 years or less to 67 percent for those here for more than 10 years. The home ownership rate for U.S. citizens by birth is 68 percent.

Syrian immigrants become naturalized U.S. citizens at high rates. Among those who have been here for more than 20 years, 91 percent have become U.S. citizens. This is significantly higher than the 71 percent rate for immigrants overall.

My grandparents all immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe between the 2 World Wars when there was also a high degree of anti-immigrant sentiment. Most of my relatives who did not leave Europe before the Holocaust perished  in it. A few fled east to the Soviet Union.

Nearly 20 years ago, my wife and I had an opportunity to provide direct assistance to immigrants who fled a repressive regime in Uzbekistan. Since both my wife and I were working when our son was born, we needed to arrange for child care. At that time, there had been a wave of Russian immigrants to the United States, including Madison, and my wife thought Jewish Social Services might know of a recent immigrant who would make a good in-home nanny for our son. Fortunately, they did and Flora became Josh’s nanny until he started kindergarten. Flora and her husband Leo (the former cultural minister of Uzbekistan who became the bread baker at Madison’s Whole Foods) became like family members to us. We attended their son’s wedding, and they attended our son’s Bar Mitzvah. About 3 years ago, they decided to retire and move to Florida where they live near Flora’s sister, who also fled Uzbekistan (their brother is still trapped there). We recently had a lovely reunion with them in Florida.

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Flora reunited with my son Josh, and wife Sheryl

Flora, Leo and their children (and now grandchildren) are all now productive American citizens and some of the finest people I know. My family’s life is better because of immigrants like Flora and Leo. America is a better country when we welcome immigrants. Suggestions from the current administration that we should restrict immigration are not only inhumane. They are also counter productive as America’s success story is the story of successful immigrants.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

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Defeating the Dragon King

The President-elect may be the most successful practitioner of chaos theory to his personal advantage in modern history. Prior to entering politics, his success in business was predicated on chaos. No other businessman has used serial bankruptcies, constant litigation, and refusal honor contracts to such great success. Traditional politicians, pundits, and the public at large were simply unprepared for the most chaotic political campaign in American history, and that lack of preparedness helped to catapult Donald Trump to victory.

It is hard to know whether Trump intentionally creates chaos, or is merely successful at navigating it. After all, he did not cause 16 other Republicans to run for the nomination. But, he did successfully navigate the chaos of an unprecedented number of candidates to emerge with the nomination. It remains unclear whether he colluded directly with Vladimir Putin to obtain his electoral college victory or whether he is “Putin’s Perfect Agent of Chaos,” as Russia’s pro-democracy leader Garry Kasparov describes him.

His cabinet nominees are further indication of intentional chaos, as many of his nominees directly oppose the very purpose of the agency they are nominated to oversee. As recently reported,

Former Texas governor Rick Perry has advocated shuttering the Department of Energy he’s slated to lead. Betsy DeVos, who would head the Education Department, is a leading proponent of voucher programs that divert taxpayer funds from public schools. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has repeatedly sued the Environmental Protection Agency and, in his official biography, describes himself as a “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” Ben Carson has criticized Housing and Urban Development rules designed to combat segregation in housing. Puzder has fought labor rules intended to protect workers.

In foreign affairs, even before taking office, Trump’s tweets and interviews are wreaking havoc with world order and threaten stability in a manner we have not witnessed since World War 2. He has similarly used tweets and one line pronouncements to create chaos in the stock market threatening economic disorder to provide both he and his billionaire cronies with further financial gains.

As millions of reasonable people struggle to figure out how to combat Trumpian chaos, perhaps due to his unique approach, there are simply no easy guideposts for the battles ahead. Certainly, traditional political protest, political activism and civic engagement are all important. Protecting those who are vulnerable and creating community at the local level are definitely critical.

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But we must be honest. Trumpian chaos will hurt many people both domestically and around the world. We must figure out how to make sure his reign is as short as possible. Given his novel political approach, it will likely take a novel approach to end his reign.

Examining chaos theory may be the key to unraveling the political chaos which Trump is wreaking. A few years ago, an analysis of extreme events occurring in complex systems – known as dragon king events – determined that they can be predicted and prevented. Although discussed outside the context of politics, this study may provide clues to how to deal with Trumpian chaos.

In order to use chaos theory to predict and prevent catastrophic dragon king events, it is important to understand that,

Chaotic systems are often very simple. They can be characterized by just a few parameters…but they also exhibit random and unpredictable behavior….[I]n the last few years, scientists in many fields have been looking closely at the behavior of extreme events – very large fluctuations in a system that often leads to catastrophic results. These occur in many complex, chaotic systems: enormous rogue waves in the ocean, extreme weather in the climate, or global stock market crashes.

One particular class of these extreme events is known as a dragon king event. This is a catastrophic occurrence that falls far outside a normal expected probability. The name comes from looking at the wealth distribution in a medieval society. If you plot the number of people who have a particular amount of wealth, you would see many, many poor farmers and a smaller number of wealthier landowners and noblemen. Plotting the number of people versus a given amount of wealth would give you a straight line.

Now the medieval king, who typically has an enormous amount of wealth, would be outside this plot, far above the rest. Think of someone like Bill Gates or Carlos Slim whose wealth dwarfs even that of a modern one-percenter. While the rest of the population is described by the simple line plot, these people are outliers.

So why dragon kings? Because, like dragons, certain extreme events are entirely outside the normal classification scheme.

Just as chaos theory cannot always predict or prevent dragon king events, it is only one tool in the political arsenal to shorten Trump’s reign. However, just as medical research requires understanding the cause and roots of a given disease before it can discover a cure, understanding that the President-elect is taking full advantage of chaos to expand his power may be the key to removing chaos from his toolbox and salvaging whatever survives his chaotic reign.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Inspired by the Battle

Over twenty years ago, I represented 3 clients in a high profile fair housing case in Madison that became known as the drive by landlord case because the landlord would drive by to look at the race of prospective tenants and refuse to rent to African American tenants under a pretext. Although we lost the trial in front of an all white jury, I learned recently that one of my clients, Tomika Gray-Vukovic, was inspired by our battle for justice despite the loss.

I had not seen or heard from Tomika in many years, but fortunately met her recently when Sen. Bernie Sanders came to Madison in October to campaign for Russ Feingold and Hillary Clinton. Tomika was working for Russ Feingold’s campaign at the time and recognized me when I entered the building. She greeted me with a big smile and reintroduced herself and let me know that her housing discrimination lawsuit inspired her to make a career out of progressive social change.

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Shortly after Tomika and her family moved to Glendale, she made a point of getting involved in the public schools. Due to her involvement, she was asked to run for the Glendale-River Hills School Board and was elected in April 2016. She loves working to make sure that the children of her community have the best public schools that can be provided for them.

Tomika was also approached to serve on the city’s Planning Commission. With a background in accounting, she brings a business perspective, as well as the perspective of a parent, progressive, and experienced community advocate to the Commission. She is committed to a vision of continued sensible and planned growth in her community. She wants to continue successful economic growth by developing relationships with new businesses and connecting them with numerous vacant property development opportunities.

Her involvement in the schools and in city government has opened her eyes as to how things operate, and how she thinks they should operate. She has noticed that many of Glendale’s alders are unknown to community members because they are not seen out in the community. She wonders how can they know what the community wants if citizens do not know them. This is what has propelled  Tomika to run for a seat on the Glendale city council.

Tomika has taken very seriously President Obama’s admonition to “pick up a clipboard and run for office.” In truth, however, Tomika was one step ahead of the President as she had already committed to run for the city council (in addition to her school board seat) before President Obama gave his farewell address.

When one is engaged in progressive systems change, there are many obstacles. It simply is not for the faint hearted. Losing battles will happen regularly. How those who desire to make this world a better place respond to such losses reveals whether one has the stamina and fortitude to stick with it and achieve positive outcomes eventually. Tomika is a shining example of how losing a civil rights battle propelled her into the fray instead of scaring her away. I am thrilled to see the great work she is doing and I am honored to have had a small role in helping her on her way. I look forward to seeing what she accomplishes in the years to come as she clearly has a very bright future.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

US Education System Earns a C

Education Week is a non-partisan publication which produces an annual national and state by state report card on the health of our education system. Sadly, the 2017 report released today does not bring good news. Overall, for the third year in a row, the report gives the American education system a C grade, certainly nothing to brag about. Thirty-four states including my home state of Wisconsin, which earned merely a C+, fell into the C- through C+ grade range.

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To  come up with that score, the report uses a multifaceted analysis, with 3 broad categories: K-12 Achievement; Chance for Success and School  Finance.

Chance for Success considers many critical factors in the lives of our children which help determine the probability that they will have a successful educational experience, including:

  • Family income
  • Parent education
  • Parent employment
  • English fluency
  • Preschool enrollment
  • Kindergarten enrollment
  • Elementary reading achievement
  • High school graduation rate
  • Young adult education
  • Adult education attainment
  • Annual income
  • Steady employment

School Finance also uses a multifaceted analysis including both equity and spending.

Wisconsin’s score breaks down as follows with its lowest score (D+) being in spending which raises serious questions as to how it will improve in the coming years:

Chance for Success: B (83.0)
*Early foundations: A- (90.3)
*School years: B- (79.9)
*Adult outcomes: B- (79.7)
K-12 Achievement: C (74.6)
*Status: C+ (76.7)
*Change: C- (69.9)
*Equity: C+ (79.2)
School Finance: C+ (79.1)
*Equity: B+ (89.2)
*Spending: D+ (69.0)

Unfortunately, the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) means that each state gets to choose its path towards improvement. Given the stagnant lack of significant improvement over many years, skeptics have every reason  to be concerned that any significant progress will be made in the foreseeable future. As the Report Overview states:

The question that loomed over the celebrations hailing ESSA’s passage in December 2015 remains: What will more state control mean for historically overlooked groups of students?
Tony Evers, Wisconsin’s superintendent of public instruction, recalled that when ESSA became law, an influential civil rights leader in his state tweeted that he’d lived through states’ rights and it hadn’t worked out very well, a reference to segregation.
“I took that to heart, I took it as a personal obligation” to make equity for all groups a central tenet of Wisconsin’s plan, Evers said.
Civil rights advocates are heartened by such sentiments, but caution that states have a lot of decisions left to make.
“We’re still kind of in the thick of it,” said Daria Hall, the interim vice president for government affairs and communications at the Education Trust, which advocates in support of poor and minority students. “There’s a lot of conversation going on right now, but I don’t think we’re at a point where we can definitively say here’s where that conversation is leading us, for good, bad, or other.”

Wisconsin State Superintendent Tony Evers is running for re-election in April and faces 2 opponents, John Humphries and Lowell Holtz, so there will be a primary in February. Parents, advocates and voters who care about Wisconsin’s education  system should ask all 3 candidates how they intend to improve Wisconsin’s education system given these long standing mediocre results.

Unfortunately, the Wisconsin State Superintendent has no power over the state’s spending on education and does not write the laws that govern our education system, so parents, educators and advocates will need to pressure the Governor and state legislature to demand more funding and less diversion to private school voucher programs and charter schools which have failed to improve Wisconsin’s educational outcomes.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.