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Washington state takes step forward on missing Native American women

A report, the product of 10 meetings with indigenous people across the state, calls for more coordination to tackle the crisis

Hundreds of people packed into the nondescript meeting room in southern Washington state to share the stories of Native American women who vanished years or even decades ago.

Many of those who gathered together last October still do not have answers as to what happened to their mothers, aunts, sisters, daughters. Some said they felt failed by authorities; they had been made to wait days by police to report a loved one’s disappearance or had their pleas for help ignored altogether.

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Editor’s Note: “How to Build a Life” is a biweekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness.I magine a young man, a senior in high school. His academic performance has never been over the top, but he’s done well enough. Among his classmates, the assumption is that all of them will go to college. However, just as his parents are about to send the deposit check to a college where he has been accepted, the young man admits to himself and his parents that he doesn’t want to go—not now, maybe never. To him, college sounds like drudgery. He wants to work, to earn a living, to be out on his own.What should he do? What should his parents do?This is not a hypothetical situation for many families—and it wasn’t for mine, either. Our oldest son was valedictorian of his high school class and went to a top university. But right about this time two years ago, our second son told us he wasn’t interested in college. My wife and I consider ourselves free thinkers and are willing to entertain almost any new idea. But we are hardly neutral on the college question: I am a college professor; my father was a college professor; his father was a college professor, too. Some say college is different from real life. For our family, college is real life—it’s the family business.Children have to build their own lives; we all know this. But parents want the best for them and don’t want them to commit errors that will make it harder to build those lives. How should children and their parents think about this conundrum?College is often discussed as an investment in the future: You pay up front so you can benefit abundantly for the rest of your life. The financial benefits of a college education do indeed look great, on average. According to research by Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney at the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project, as of 2011 a college degree delivered an inflation-adjusted annual return of more than 15 percent per year. That’s a good deal. “The return to college is more than double the average return over the last 60 years experienced in the stock market,” they noted, “and more than five times the return to investments in corporate bonds ... gold ... long-term government bonds ... or housing.”However, as investors like to say, past performance is no guarantee of future returns. Many analysts see wage growth stagnating for college graduates, with average starting salaries increasing just 1.4 percent from 2015 to 2018—a period when the economy was roaring.[From the April 2020 issue: The college president who simply won’t raise tuition]When you figure in the costs, the plot thickens even more. From 1989 to 2016, college tuition and fees went up by 98 percent (in inflation-adjusted terms), which is roughly 11 times more than the growth in real median household income. This has led to a lot of student-loan debt. According to the Federal Reserve, the average person with student loans in 2017 owed $32,731.It may be worth the cost for kids who want to go into a field that requires a college degree. Some kids think they know what they want to do after college, but others don’t, so for them college is like buying an expensive insurance policy. Still, it’s worth noting that in 2019, just 66 percent of college graduates were in jobs requiring a college degree. What’s more, as of 2010, only 27 percent were in jobs related to their college major.Finally, enrolling in college doesn’t always translate to a degree. While nearly 67 percent of high school graduates were enrolled in college in 2017, only 33.4 percent of Americans held a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2016. According to the National Student Clearinghouse database, 36 million Americans have received some postsecondary education but haven’t completed college and are no longer enrolled.[Read: Why is college in America so expensive?]Obviously, dropping out is not randomly distributed. According to the research, it is the least economically advantaged students, and those who don’t want to go to college in the first place (such as our son), who are among those most likely to leave midstream. As he reminded us, an unfinished degree costs time and money and is of little use in the labor market.Perhaps you aren’t homo economicus, and don’t primarily use cost-benefit analysis to make decisions about your life or your child’s. But everyone wants to be happy, and wants their child to be happy as well. So let’s look at the happiness effects of college.People who go to college are slightly likelier to report that they are happy about their lives than those who don’t go to college. In 2011, researchers found that 89 percent of high-school graduates who did not attend college said they were happy or very happy, compared with 94 percent of bachelor’s-degree holders.This is correlation, of course, and it is not at all clear in the scholarly literature that education causes greater happiness. Some scholars have found that, when controlling for other factors in life such as income and religious faith, education by itself has no independent explanatory power over happiness. Some actually believe that education is negatively linked to happiness, and hypothesize that some college attendees trade off ambition for life satisfaction. The bottom line is that the case is not closed here.[Graeme Wood: There’s no simple way to reopen universities]And there’s all that student debt to consider. According to a Gallup study from 2014, student debt is negatively correlated with financial and physical health and sense of purpose, and is associated with lower well-being on these dimensions for as long as 25 years after graduation. Again: That’s correlation, not causation. But it is easy to imagine how $393 per month (the average student-loan payment) could dampen one’s spirits even in service of a career you love, let alone one you don’t.The evidence on the economic and happiness benefits of college is mixed. The only thing we can say with assurance is, “It depends.” On what? On the unique attributes of each person. Just as no one actually has 2.5 kids, averages don’t help much in figuring out the particulars of one person’s life. A child’s gifts, circumstances, and career ambitions all affect whether college is the right choice. Most of all, it depends on what they want to do. As a long-time academic, I can assure you that the number-one predictor of a failure to thrive in college is not wanting to be there in the first place.That may be obvious to would-be students, but to many of their parents it isn’t. The college decision is often as much about the parents as it is about their kids. Tisha Duncan, a professor and college adviser, told Alia Wong for a piece in The Atlantic, “Instead of students announcing, ‘I got into college!,’ the parents are announcing, ‘We got into college!’” It’s easy to project our own desires onto our kids—to try to see our own potential come alive through them.[Read: Six-figure price tags are coming to colleges]But it’s a mistake. No one can build a life alone—we all need help—but in the end, our lives are our own. I remember making this case to my own parents at 19, when I told them I was going to drop out of college to go on tour as a classical musician. My wife, who grew up in poverty, made the same case to her parents when she dropped out of school to sing in a rock band. In both our cases, we completed our education later in life, but there was no guarantee at the time that we ever would. These were decisions that were staunchly opposed by our parents. Our son, wily devil that he is, reminded us of all this when he told us he didn’t want to go to college. He had us dead to rights.So we blessed his decision.The summer after our son graduated from high school, many people who knew us sensitively avoided asking us about our son’s future plans—assuming that we must be none too pleased that he wasn’t going to college.But he did have plans: He found a job across the country on a wheat farm in central Idaho. This wasn’t a hobby or a whim. He became part of a community of honest, hardworking people. He worked from dawn until well past dark through his first harvest, driving a combine, fixing fences, and picking rocks out of the soil. In the winter he found a job apprenticing to an expert cabinetmaker, and started his own small business hauling firewood.At this point, word about our son started getting around among people we knew who had children his age. Some of their sons and daughters were starting to struggle in college with grades, drinking, and loneliness. At gatherings, other fathers would sometimes sidle up to me and ask, “Just out of curiosity, how did your boy find that job out in Idaho?”[From the January/February 2018 issue: The world might be better off without college for everyone]After his second harvest, with money in the bank, our son joined the Marine Corps, a dream he had had for several years. He finished boot camp and is now at infantry school in North Carolina. He wakes up at 4 a.m., is tired all the time—and is happy. He is, as a translation of the second-century Saint Irenaeus puts it, “a man fully alive.”I am a believer in the power of higher education to change lives and create opportunity, and am proud to teach at one of the greatest universities in the world. College is absolutely the right choice for many. But my son reminded me of a fundamental truth, which is that each of our lives is a start-up enterprise, and there is not just one path to success.The college-for-all fever that has overtaken so much of our culture is a crass and classist mistake, because it ignores the gifts that people like my son have to develop and share. Maybe my son will still decide he wants to go to college someday. Maybe he won’t. But he is building his life with integrity and grit. And, frankly, that’s all a father could ever ask.
theatlantic.com
This Isn’t Hillary Clinton’s Polling
Recent polls could hardly be more reassuring for voters who want to be done with Donald Trump. “Biden Builds Largest Lead This Year,” a CNN headline declared. “Biden Hits 55%–41% Against Trump in Biggest National Poll Lead Yet,” reported The Daily Beast. “Republicans should be petrified by the polls,” a Washington Post opinion piece asserted. Yet the polls also frighten Democrats who, four years ago, got their hopes up amid favorable numbers for Hillary Clinton. Noting reports that Joe Biden holds a healthy lead in Michigan—one of three Rust Belt states in which Trump narrowly upset Clinton—Representative Debbie Dingell told participants in a recent online Democratic campaign event, “I don’t believe these numbers.” And Dingell, who introduced herself at the event as “Debbie Downer,” has standing to dispute polls that look rosy for her party. In 2016, she’d warned me that the Clinton campaign was going badly in Macomb County—the suburban home of the white, working-class, Catholic voters whom my research decades earlier had labeled “Reagan Democrats.” Dingell’s fear that Clinton could lose Michigan was borne out.But this moment is very different. To start, during the summer and fall of 2016, Clinton never had the kind of national poll lead that Biden now has. She led by an average of four points four months before the election and the same four points just before Election Day. This year, after Biden effectively clinched the nomination, he moved into an average six-point lead over Trump, which has grown to nearly 10 points after the death of George Floyd and the weeks of protests that have followed. The lingering apprehension among Democrats fails to recognize just how much the political landscape has changed since 2016. We are looking at different polls, a different America, and different campaigns with different leaders.[Adam Serwer: Trump is struggling to run against a white guy]I am a pollster who works to get Democrats elected. Four years ago I, too, believed—based on public polling and information from the Clinton campaign itself—that our candidate was going to win. I still didn’t take victory for granted. I wanted to win down ballot so Democrats would make gains in the House and Senate. I wanted to close the campaign on economic issues that would create a mandate for change. Today, the numbers suggest that the electorate is ready to repudiate Trump and his agenda. Instead of living in fear that 2016 will repeat itself, Democrats should listen to what voters are saying and seize the opportunity to push for the most possible change.The Clinton campaign’s worst blunder came in September 2016, when the candidate described “half of Trump’s supporters” as “deplorables” and walked right into the white working-class revolt against elites. Her primary campaign against Bernie Sanders had exposed a lack of enthusiasm for her in white working-class suburbs that Barack Obama had won. Her campaign hoped to make up for the lost votes with landslide wins among women, voters of color, and voters in big cities. White working-class voters noticed the lack of respect, and Trump ran up startling margins with them: He won these men by 48 points and women by 27, according to exit polls.And the white working-class shift toward Trump is the biggest reason the national polls overestimated Clinton’s margin by two points and the state polls by much more. Mostly using exit polls from prior elections as their guide, pollsters—including me—had overestimated the number of four-year college graduates in the electorate. Getting that wrong mattered a lot in an election where the white working class was in revolt. Crucially, many pollsters, including me, have adjusted our assumptions about the makeup of the November 2020 electorate.So one reason to trust my polls more now than in 2016 is this change: Four years ago, those without a four-year degree made up 48 percent of my survey respondents; today they account for 60 percent. Whites without a college degree were 33 percent of my surveys; today they are 43 percent. That is a huge change—an elixir against being deceived again. The pain of Trump’s victory and disastrous presidency has concentrated the minds of campaign staff and the polling profession in ways that give me confidence that Biden’s lead in the polls is real.But much more important than all of that is the sustained, unwavering, and extremely well-documented opposition of the American people to every element of Donald Trump’s sexist, nativist, and racist vision. Indeed, the public’s deep aversion to Trumpism explains why Biden has such a poll lead.[David A. Graham: White voters are abandoning Trump]The Women’s March, just one day after Trump’s inauguration, launched the revolt against Trump, and it has never paused. In congressional races in 2018, Democrats won white women with a four-year degree by 20 points; in the electoral-battleground states, Biden is now leading by 39 points, according to June’s New York Times/Siena College poll. While college-educated women are a big part of the suburban revolt against Trump, the shift among white unmarried women, who make up a fifth of the electorate, may prove more consequential. Democrats lost them by two points in both 2012 and 2016. According to my June battleground poll for Democracy Corps and the Center for Voter Information, Biden is winning them by 57 to 43 percent.Much more devastating to Trump’s prospects is waning support from women who form a majority of the white working class. Without strong support from these voters, Trump cannot win. Right now, Biden is losing them by only seven points in my same battleground poll.Trump’s raison d’être as a candidate and mission as president is to stop immigration. He promised a wall against Mexicans, imposed a Muslim ban, and has obstructed legal as well as illegal entry. Yet during Trump’s term, Americans have grown more pro-immigration. About half of Americans viewed “immigrants to the U.S.” favorably when Trump took office; now about 62 percent believe that immigrants benefit the country. And as Trump highlights the 200-plus miles of wall on the border with Mexico, polls have shown that Americans oppose it by big margins.Finally, most Americans have strongly rejected Trump’s divisiveness, intolerance, and racism in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd. While Trump claimed the mantle of a law-and-order president, two-thirds of the country supported Black Lives Matter, according to a June Pew poll. Two-thirds. A majority of white Americans now believe that George Floyd’s killing was “part of a broader pattern of excessive police violence toward African Americans.” It has left the president isolated, as have his tweets promoting his white nationalist supporters. This president has created a country that is committed to defending its values. Just not his values.Trump has also left the Republican Party a diminished entity, as I argued in The Atlantic in March, that is shedding voters. If you want to understand how precarious Trump’s position is, look at the number of Americans who call themselves Republicans under his watch. The percentage who identify as Republican dropped from 39 percent when Trump took office to 36 percent before Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, and has fallen to only 33 percent now, according to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.That has created quite a headwind for a president who makes every day a referendum on himself. For most of his presidency, only about 42 percent of Americans approved of how he was handling his job; about 52 percent disapproved. That 10-point spread was not far off the Democrats’ nine-point margin over the Republicans in the House midterm elections.Recently, Trump’s average approval rating has slipped a bit to about 41 percent, while his disapproval rating has jumped to about 56 percent. That looks a lot like the 14-point margin for Biden over Trump in the most recent New York Times poll.[Read: What does Nate Silver know?]More and more, Trump looks as though he is holding a popgun when he promises to rouse his base and create the kind of late fervor that changed the 2016 election. Trump held election-eve rallies last year to support Republican gubernatorial candidates in Kentucky and Louisiana, and they lost. He called on his Tea Party followers to “liberate” Minnesota, Michigan, and Virginia. The small groups of armed people who turned up in state capitals were intimidating, but governors stood firm. Then Trump boasted that 1 million supporters wanted to attend his rally in Tulsa, but only 6,200 did, according to the fire marshal.Right now, 67 percent of Republicans in a recent poll strongly approve of Trump, but that pales against the 91 percent of Democrats who strongly disapprove of him. Unless something radically changes, the anti-Trump voters will write history.In the next four months, many things could put Biden’s current lead at risk. On occasion, between now and November, Biden will garble his words in an interview or make some public statement that many people will struggle to understand. He will surely sound out of touch or offend one group or another. Younger voters and Sanders primary voters do not appear to be rapturously excited about Biden. Calls for defunding the police reveal genuine fractures in the Democratic Party.Meanwhile, as states struggle to adapt their voting procedures to the pandemic, Republicans in state office will do nothing to guarantee Black and Hispanic Americans access to the polls. And the Russians who interfered in the 2016 election have a lot at stake in keeping Donald Trump as president.Still, other factors give Democrats reason for optimism. The Biden campaign likely won’t repeat the mistakes of the Clinton campaign, which underestimated Democrats’ vulnerability in the supposed “blue wall” states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. And while events could pose new challenges for Biden, the same is true for Trump.Which scenario is more likely: that Biden will blurt out something in the next few months that alienates women voters whose support he needs, or that Trump will express support for white supremacists that alienates almost everyone? That the economy suddenly kicks into high gear after a few months, or that millions of people remain unemployed? That America gets the coronavirus under control, or that new outbreaks tear through state after state? The escalating number of infections and hospitalizations, as The Atlantic’s Ronald Brownstein recently pointed out, is wreaking havoc in the very suburban counties of Arizona, Georgia, Florida, and Texas that Trump needs to carry.Even before the pandemic, the American political landscape had changed dramatically since Trump’s election, and not in ways that favor the incumbent. Biden’s big poll lead should not make Democrats complacent, but neither should members of my party shake their heads and think, Here it comes again. Rather, the current polls should persuade Democrats to work for the greatest possible rejection of a widely distrusted U.S. president and the political party that enables him.
theatlantic.com
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