The Game is Rigged for Girls and Women, Too

How frustrating is it when you’ve grown skilled at playing a game with one set of rules, only to have everyone else start playing a different game without telling you? In a way, that’s what happens to women in the transition between education and employment.

A recent meta-analysis of hundreds of studies found that girls have tended to get better grades than boys across subjects for almost a century. As the authors emphasize, this is not a recent development. Somewhat more recent is the translation of that disparity to women’s advantage in higher education attainment, with women surpassing men in degree attainment during the early 2000’s. If one accepts the idea that the U.S. is a meritocracy, it would suggest that women are poised to assert economic dominance over men in the coming years.

Of course, there’s still the problems of the workplace to deal with. Men still tend to be paid more than women for similar work, and are far more likely to be represented at the highest executive levels. Men tend to be rewarded for having children, while women tend to be penalized. The behaviors and attitudes that help men climb the corporate ladder to the C-suite are likely to backfire for women, and women tend to ask for less money when negotiating. That’s not a coincidence.

This difference between how girls and boys are graded in school and how the workplace pays and advances men and women is in some ways a cruel set up for frustration and disappointment. Those who believe in following the rules and excelling within their constraints, trusting the authority figure to distribute rewards fairly, will do well in school. Applying the same approach to the contemporary workplace is a recipe for being a well-thought-of worker, but it will likely also come with lower pay and fewer chances for advancement.

Again, we see that the U.S. is not, and has never been, a true meritocracy. Women, like people of color, are working in a system that’s rigged against them and maintained through a mixture of conscious and implicit biases. Women of color sit at the intersection of the two, making it even harder to get ahead.

There are exceptions, but they’re notable for being exceptions. As a matter of trends, we’re still a long way from a system where educational equity will feed social equity more broadly.

Posted in Education | Related Topics: Higher Education  Job Growth  Gender Inequalities 

Take This Job and Love It

We are awash in employment, unemployment and underemployment statistics here at home and abroad, but only less scientific surveys shed light on how well people enjoy their work. Even less is known about what helps people enjoy their jobs, or how a happy workplace might also be a healthier workplace.

A Danish researcher, author and workplace expert sheds some helpful insights into cultural differences that lead to Danish workers being far happier on the job than their American counterparts. In an article for Co.Exist, Alexander Kjerulf offered five differences between the two cultures that should give both American company managers and lawmakers reasons to rethink practices and labor policies.

A good starting point is “reasonable working hours.” Kjerulf noted that Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) research finds the Danes work an average of 1,540 hours per year while the American workers puts in an average of 1,790 hours on the job. These data are a combination of both full and part-time employment records kept by government agencies.

We will go farther than Kjerulf. The OECD data he cites make abundantly clear that dogged hours on the job contribute little to a nation’s collective wealth, health and standard of living. Compare the vast differences in the partial table shown below.

Chart: Average Annual Hours Worked Per Worker

Kjerulf’s other four points of difference has more to do with what goes on at the workplace than it does hours spent on the job.

A key difference is a sociological measure called “low power distance” developed by the Dutch. Power distance is the gap between bosses and workers. Indicative of the gap between our two countries, Kjerulf noted that Danish law requires companies with 35 or more employees to open seats on their boards of directors for the workers.

Other factors that lead Danish workers to be happier on the job are differences in unemployment benefits, the latter that can destroy family and household finances in America. This might be changing, he concedes, with the Affordable Care Act—Obamacare—releasing unhappy workers to seek other opportunities when no longer trapped in jobs by health benefits.

“Constant training,” dating back to the mid-1800s in Denmark, and a “focus on happiness” are the two other cultural differences that produce happy workers in northern Europe.

The Danes and other Scandinavians have a word arbejdsglaede that means “happiness at work.” No such word exists in the English language. In contrast, Kjerulf wrote, the Japanese have a word karoshi that means “death from overwork.” That word doesn’t appear in English, either; but most Minnesotans have witnessed it at their workplaces and recognize the counterproductive symptoms.

Posted in Economic Development | Related Topics: Job Growth 

The Many Paths to Improvement

Despite what it may look like from a distance, there are more than two sides to the conversation about education reform. One presentation of a different approach comes from Minnesota-based Education Evolving, whose Ted Kolderie recently wrote an intriguing commentary for Education Week.

Kolderie’s piece gets right to the heart of the matter by criticizing the tendency in education policy conversations to want to find one “right way” and bring it to scale everywhere. He argues that this is a fundamentally flawed approach, preferring instead to focus on allowing many different change efforts to play out simultaneously.

In his words, “‘Reform’ today is still about driving change into an inert system, rather than changing what makes K-12 an inert system.” He goes on to condemn the entire system of thought we use when considering these matters, arguing that, “Conventional policymaking is unlikely to produce a radical redesign of school and learning.”

To illustrate his point, he points to the dramatic change in course that the charter school movement underwent. It may have sprung from dreams of schools and teachers trying many new things, but in Kolderie’s telling that all changed around 2004 when, “it was turned by its new leadership toward doing conventional school better,” rather than trying genuinely new things. This echoes other concerns that charter schools have too often been used to further standardization and destructive competition rather than innovation and collaboration.

It’s not just about charter schools, of course. Kolderie also criticizes the way district hierarchies have interacted with the top-down emphasis on standardization to strip teachers of the ability to make positive change. “The way out is a new deal,” he writes. “Teachers get the authority to decide what matters for student success and, in return, accept accountability for student success; the quality issues are internalized within their professional group.”

Ultimately, Kolderie’s view is one where positive changes spread based on persuasion, not coercion. This suggestion that entrusting teachers with both the autonomy and the responsibility to produce success for all students is a radical departure from the assumption that most teachers can’t be trusted, which serves as the foundation for too much of today’s policy. Given an environment of suspicion, coercion, and fear-driven competition, is it any wonder we’re not seeing the kind of changes we’d like for more students?

Posted in Education | Related Topics: Education Reform  Teachers 

Dancing for Safety at the Street Corner

The launch of the light rail Green Line has spurred an increase of 20 to 25 percent in pedestrian traffic at the downtown Minneapolis Nicollet Mall station where Blue Line trains have stopped for years, according to a new study. Unlike its predecessor, the new line traverses its entire route through the heart of the Twin Cities, an area particularly rich in vehicle, bicycle and walking traffic.

This calls for special attention to the safety of foot-powered travelers along the Green Line's busy rail and road corridor, as I advocated in a post last week. One pedestrian has already died when struck by a Green Line train in St. Paul while wearing headphones. But following our long autocentric obsession with the safety of vehicle occupants, the science of protecting others on the street remains in its infancy.

For example, timers on traffic signals intended to tell pedestrians how long they have to cross an intersection has the unintended effect of increasing rear-end collisions caused by drivers rushing to beat the light, according to an NPR report. The suggested solution is switching the countdown from visual to audio so pedestrians can hear it (if they're not ear-budded) but drivers can no longer see it.

Another, perhaps fanciful, change in pedestrian signals is proposed by Smart, the Daimler AG offshoot with the tiny two-seater autos and the car2go sharing service -- a dancing don't walk light. This might discourage dangerous jaywalking; it reportedly cut crossing against the light by 81 percent in a trial in Portugal. Who knows if it will ever be produced for something other than a promotional video, but hurrah for the brainstorming that went into it. We'll need lots more outside-the-box thinking to optimize the safety of our evolving multi-modal transportation system.

Posted in Transportation | Related Topics: Complete Streets  Roads & Highways  Road Safety 

Friday Morning Reads

The following list is our weekly round-up of recommended reads from the MN 2020 staff. Sort of, what's making us happy this week.

From John:
Student walkouts occur at Pomona, Arvada, Arvada West, Ralston Valley and Golden high schools (Denver Channel) — Jefferson County, Colorado, school students walk-out, protesting curriculum. Just absorb that.

From Michael:
Coffee got its buzz by a different route than tea (Nature) — I’m not particularly big on drinking on coffee or tea, but this is just cool: the two plants use different mechanisms to produce caffeine, suggesting a rare case of convergent evolution. Bonus points for better knowledge of coffee genetics possibly helping fight climate change and produce better decaf.

From Steve:
As Minneapolis and St. Paul become denser, more transit-friendly and pedestrian-centered cities, the rules of New York etiquette become increasingly applicable. Take particular note of rule #101, fellow Green Line riders!

From Lee:
Rockefellers, Heirs to an Oil Fortune, Will Divest Charity of Fossil Fuels (New York Times) — Members of the Rockefeller family, heirs of the Standard Oil fortune, lifted a lot of spirits this past week when they announced they were divesting Rockefeller Brothers Fund stock in fossil fuel companies. The New York Times article noted they thus join 180 institutions in this socially responsible investing (SRI) divestiture movement.

From Conrad:
On the Politics of the Rhetoric of Choice ( — I’m a big advocate of viewing transportation issues through lenses other than the autocentric assumptions of post-World War II America. We should apply truly critical thinking to everything that touches on mobility and access: development, employment, commerce, even leisure choices. That said, Tony Hunt at goes deeper into meta-transportation politics and economics than I've ever dreamed of.

From Deb:
A Historic Backdrop Frames Forbidden Love In 'The Paying Guests' (NPR) — Author Sarah Waters is a master storyteller.

From Jeff:
Those Lazy Jobless (The New York Times) -- Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman examines an explanation of joblessness common among some conservatives: laziness.

From Camille:
The Minnesota Orchestra is back! I'm so excited to see their season-opener performance of Mahler's mighty Second Symphony this weekend.

From Tanner:
Wild's Ryan Suter talks about the loss of his father (Star Tribune) — Minnesota Wild star Ryan Suter opens up about his father's death, appreciates how the team has been having his back the entire time.

Posted in News & Notes | Related Topics: Friday Reads 

Parking Lot Views Can Build Better Cities

For most Minnesotans, a trip to the mall means getting in the car, driving through traffic, and navigating a crowded parking lot before even stepping into a store. But for residents who are moving into the new luxury apartments at One Southdale Place, a mall is just a short walk across the parking lot. These structures promote high-density, pedestrian friendly cities that strengthen community development.

Its no secret that American cities, including Minnesotan ones, were designed with car traffic in mind. Strong highway development provides access to the suburbs, but urban sprawl has repeatedly shown to hamper economic development. Southdale Place joins other developments in Eagan and Maple Grove as part of a growing effort to densify the sprawled suburbs of the Twin Cities metro area.

Historically, malls represent the auto-centric thinking of city planning: huge consolidated shopping areas with a sea of parked cars. Building homes near these centers can reinvent what these spaces mean. High-density cities reduce dependence on automobiles and oil consumption, according to Edward Goetz, professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. They feature walkable areas that not only reduce car congestion, but increase feelings of community. Southdale Place is unique because of the way it incorporates mixed-use developments to increase density. Previously, property at Southdale was devoted to commercial use. Building residential units in these spaces is part of a growing trend to “retrofit” suburbs, says Goetz. Suburbs like Edina already have strong infrastructures, which makes densifying difficult. Re-using space, such as the Southdale Shopping Center parking lot, is one of the best strategies to grow communities without sprawl.

 These apartment leases aren’t cheap—monthly rents begin at $1,345. According to Goetz, it was a missed opportunity to not include a few units of affordable housing. As city planners seek to retrofit suburbs, they should also be paying attention to diversifying housing stock in terms of affordability.

As cities and suburbs run out of empty developable land, any future growth will have to mean denser growth. Developments like Southdale Place demonstrate the potential of commercial areas to support residential housing. New apartment residents may have views of the parking lot, but they are also becoming part of a denser, stronger, and pedestrian-friendly city.

Posted in Transportation | Related Topics: Minnesota Cities  City Management  Complete Streets 

Sharing like a Capitalist

The sharing economy has received lots of media adoration over the last couple of years. A closer look reveals a more troubling truth. There are various types of companies in this new economy, but the ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft provide a useful example. In a recent article, Avi Asher-Schapiro details the effects of this model on the workers.

Uber entered cities with great fanfare. They said that they had a ridesharing system that would be cheaper for the consumer and better for the drivers. At the beginning, Uber charged costumers a fare of $2.75 per mile (with an additional 60 cents per minute under eleven mph). With drivers keeping 80 percent of the fare, it was possible to work full time and make a $15-$20 an hour. This is what prompted the media to declare ride-sharing a success; workers were making a living wage and it was cheaper for the riders. This did not last.

Within the last year, rates have been cut to less than half of the earlier ones. With the drivers having no control over the fare price, Uber slashed rates to $1.10 per mile, plus 21 cents a minute. This has left the drivers with significantly less cash for the same amount of work. Now drivers struggle to barely make minimum wage.

Drivers are fighting back. Working with Teamsters locals, the drivers have started their own drivers associations. Because Uber treats each driver as a “partner-driver” the drivers are independent contractors. This makes forging unity among the workers more difficult. Nonetheless, strikes and protests have happened in Los Angeles, Seattle, New York City, and others. It is not going to be easy; Uber has raised $1.5 billion from tech investors in Silicon Valley and they want to make a lot of money.

Asher-Schapiro’s conclusion of the new sharing economy is damning:

[U]nder the guise of innovation and progress, companies are stripping away worker protections, pushing down wages, and flouting government regulations. At its core, the sharing economy is a scheme to shift risk from companies to workers, discourage labor organizing, and ensure that capitalists can reap huge profits with low fixed costs.
There’s nothing innovative or new about this business model. Uber is just capitalism, in its most naked form.

New technology and the economies it creates can be a force for bettering people’s lives. As progressives we need to raise our voice to ensure that it works for everyone.

Posted in Economic Development | Related Topics: Workers' Rights  Automobiles 

Bringing Early Childhood Excellence to Scale

Minnesota may be the best-positioned state to use research effectively in spreading strong early childhood education practices at the system level. The University of Minnesota has a long history of research on the subject, and counts some of the top early childhood researchers in the country among its ranks. We’re also a state with a history of investing in education, and expanding early childhood opportunities should be part of how we carry on that tradition in the future. When looking to spread these opportunities, a few programs stand out as starting points.

The Chicago Child-Parent Centers represent one of the best opportunities for delivering high-quality early childhood opportunities systemically. The University of Minnesota’s Arthur Reynolds (not to be confused with Art Rolnick, who has also done significant work on early childhood education) has spent years evaluating the long-term effects of this program, and has identified a significant return on investment for the public, with at least $7 worth of long-term benefit (often through savings) for every dollar invested. It’s a program run through the school district, and expansion efforts in other cities, including Saint Paul, are being studied right now.

Another approach with a demonstrated record of success is the HighScope approach, which was at the core of the Perry Preschool study. It’s a method that can be used in any of a number of contexts, including private and public providers. It, too, has boasted a significant return on investment, with estimates ranging from around $13 to $16 of benefit for every dollar invested.

While these two approaches certainly have differences, they also share some commonalities. Both are focused on many areas of child development (not just the precursors to math and reading proficiency). Both encourage and value parental involvement. Both emphasize small child-to-adult ratios. And both are well-enough studied and developed to be able to be brought to scale in districts across Minnesota.

Many Minnesota districts provide a combination of child care and full-on early childhood education, but too many also have long waiting lists or end up charging child care fees that can prove challenging for some families. We’ve taken some steps forward in investing in early childhood in this state, but there’s still room to do a lot more.

Posted in Education | Related Topics: Early Childhood Education 

Another Right Wing Misfire on Taxes

In this campaign season, shocking and frequently erroneous tax statements are standard fare. The most recent faux pas comes from State Senator Julianne Ortman, who tweeted “Thx to @MarkDayton & @MinnesotaDFL those paying the highest effective tax rates are low -middle income Minnesotans!”

Sen. Ortman is correct about one thing. With the exclusion of those with annual income below $10,937 (data for these low income households is frequently omitted from tax incidence analyses because of data problems described in the most recent Minnesota Tax Incidence Study), middle-income households do have the highest effective tax rates (i.e., total state and local taxes as a percent of income) in the state; the highest average effective tax rate occurs among households with annual incomes between $59,999 and $77,704 based on projected data for 2015.

However, Ortman’s claim that this outcome is the fault of Mark Dayton and progressives in the state legislature is off target. Over the last two years, tax legislation enacted by the progressively controlled legislature and signed into law by Dayton reduced average effective tax rates for Minnesotans with annual incomes between $26,398 and $146,400, according to tax incidence analyses of the 2013 and 2014 tax acts prepared by non-partisan staff at the Minnesota Department of Revenue and summarized in an August 4 Minnesota 2020 article.

Furthermore, as a result of tax legislation passed under Dayton and the progressive state legislature, average effective tax rates for the 84 percent of Minnesotans who do not smoke will fall across all income levels, with the exception of the very wealthiest Minnesotans who were affected by the 2013 income tax increase targeted to the wealthiest two percent of Minnesota households.

When conservatives were in control of state government, they contributed to tax increases on low and moderate income families by forcing up property taxes through perennial reductions in state aid to cities, counties, and school districts, drove up tuition at state colleges and universities through repeated cuts to higher education, and clobbered low-income renters by reducing the renters’ refund. These same conservatives are now trying to portray themselves as champions of lower- and middle-income Minnesotans by means of bogus attacks on the achievements of the last two years.

The fact of the matter is that progressive state policymakers succeeded in balancing the state budget, reducing the regressivity of Minnesota’s state and local tax system, making new investments in early childhood education, restoring a portion of past state aid cuts to cities, counties, and school districts, providing the first statewide property tax reduction in twelve years, freezing tuition at state colleges and universities, and investing in workforce development and affordable housing and healthcare—all while simultaneously reducing taxes for most Minnesotans. This is a solid record of accomplishment that all of the conservative misinformation in the world cannot negate.

Posted in Fiscal Policy | Related Topics: State Budget  Property Tax  Governor Dayton 

Border to Border Connections

In order to forge a more economically diverse future, rural Minnesota needs to embrace the ever-evolving landscape of technology. In this regard, the Iron Range is no different. If the infrastructure of a region cannot support a changing economic landscape, how can it begin to plant the seeds of future growth? This very issue exists in relation to high-speed internet access in Northeastern Minnesota.

If smaller, rural areas are going to compete in the marketplace, they need stronger internet infrastructure. To contrast how big the divide actually is between metropolitan areas and rural, The Greater Minnesota Partnership released data in 2014 for all counties in the state in regard to households that have internet connectivity at 25 mbps or greater. While Hennepin County residents enjoy more than 98 percent access to high-speed internet, only a little more than 8 percent of St. Louis County residents have the same internet speeds.

This year, Governor Dayton and the Legislature worked together to promote border-to-border high-speed internet access to underserved areas of the state. The proposal was to invest 100 million dollars in grant funding to build a stronger network throughout the state to begin to chip away at the estimated 3.2 billion dollars it will cost to bring high-speed access to all Minnesotans.

The impact of internet access for rural Minnesota cannot be taken for granted if areas are serious about diversifying their economic portfolios. A report released this year by Strategic Networks Group, Inc (SNG) that was commissioned by the The Blandin Foundation studied two Minnesota counties to project the economic impact high-speed internet infrastructure and increased utilization initiative investments would have on their economies. The counties chosen were Lac qui Parle County, which enjoyed 100 percent broadband access, and Kanabec County, which had a 27 percent high-speed internet access rate. In Lac qui Parle County, an investment of around 120 thousand dollars would create an estimated 1.3 million dollar economic return. Kanabec County, with larger infrastructure needs, would require an investment of 11.3 million dollars to add access within its borders, but would generate an economic return of almost 20.4 million dollars from the investment.

If the Iron Range is going to prioritize its economic diversification in the future to prepare for a day when mining is no longer a present industry, embracing technology needs to be at the center of its initiatives. Building infrastructure is an expensive enterprise and most certainly will require a public-private partnership. It would be a wise investment to build those partnerships sooner rather than later.

Posted in Economic Development | Related Topics: Rural Minnesota  Iron Range  Rural Access  Technology 

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