McCormack Speaks

August 6, 2020
by jackli001
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Minimum Wage Continues to Stifle Economic Mobility in Massachusetts

Stephanie Haynes, MPA Candidate, Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs

Stephanie Philippe (Haynes), MPA Candidate, Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs

Back when I first graduated from the University of Massachusetts – Boston (UMB), I thought for sure that I deserved and earned my way to a life of high salaries and comfortable living. To me, I earned the right to be paid above minimum wage and people who earned minimum wage just need to work harder. It wasn’t until I had to live a real life (i.e. one that was not supported by family) that I realized minimum-wage workers are hard workers and in many instances, they are working harder than us.

One of the things that I think drives this sort of thinking is the perception of who is and who is not ‘deserving’ in our society. Crippled by social biases, many people believe that if someone is making little money it is because they didn’t work hard enough to make more. But the truth is I know people who have worked hard all their lives yet they still make way less than they need to live. Livable minimum wages help address issues of poverty. They are not a handout; rather, they should be seen as setting the financial foundation down equally, so people can be self-reliant. That way people get the chance to always move forward.

Poverty comes in all different forms. To be mindful of that, we have found ways to try to measure poverty – Absolute Poverty and Relative Poverty. When it comes to Absolute Poverty, society agrees that this is when someone is barely able to secure even the most minimal of necessities (i.e.: clothes, a home, hygiene). Here, we try to consider human basic needs and, if you cannot secure those things for yourself or provide them to your family unit, you might be living in absolute poverty. Relative Poverty measures poverty a little differently. “In this case, poverty is defined as having incomes below a certain level relative to the median income in a country. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ( uses a relative measure, defining poverty as 50 percent of the median disposable income in a given country. The relative poverty standard then changes with median incomes (Weller, 2019)”. This means you are able to provide and maintain housing, food, and shelter but, compared to many others, you are deeply struggling.

Imagine, you have been saving to buy a home for the past 10-15 years with the goal of being able to move into a good neighborhood with a monthly mortgage of $1,000-$1,250. This is the American dream and you have a job, so maintaining this home on a $40,000 salary is all you will be doing. After taking out a mortgage, your annual take home salary has already been lowered by $12,000-$15,000 annually. You are left with $25,000, which has to cover your other necessities (food, transportation, utilities, credit cards). Additionally, you may have other bills that you must pay out of that salary. By the time you have finished paying your mandatory bills, you are left with a small pool of remaining disposable income and, as such, it becomes very difficult to move up without making some serious concessions. In the real world, a lot of people do not get to be paid $40k; for them, life is a constant struggle. How can you thrive under those conditions?

Raising the minimum wage would mean that families do not have to decide between paying bills, eating, securing other basic needs, or enjoying life. Even at a $15 minimum wage, individuals would only be making $28,800 which takes them only just above the poverty threshold. When you think about it that way, it begs the question: why are we making it so hard for people to have livable wages?  In our journey to end poverty, we must consider using the minimum wage as a tool to close the equity gap.

 

Reference:

Weller, C. E. (2019). Seventh lecture: Poverty, inequality and budgets. Retrieved from https://umb.umassonline.net/bbcswebdav/pid-3313944-dt-content-rid-26097425_1/courses/B2910-2382/LN, 7th Lecture, PUBADM G 602, Poverty and Inequality, Fall 2019.docx

August 6, 2020
by jackli001
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Mental Health in the Times of COVID-19 – Describing the Necessity for Greater Access

Jeney Zhang, MPA Candidate, Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs

Jeney Zhang, MPA Candidate, Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs

As we navigate these extraordinary times amid a global pandemic, economic closures, social distancing, and transitions to online learning have severely impacted the mental health and psyche of us all. The physiological impact of COVID-19 stretches far beyond the physical illness wrought by the disease; the new normal of isolation and quarantine is taking a mental toll. Society, as a whole, is now confronted with and needs to learn how to cope with the fear and anxiety of not only avoiding contracting the disease, but also the sense of economic, social, and academic uncertainty. The stress inflicted by the onset of the pandemic and its aftermath is driving a current mental health crisis. Nearly half of Americans report issues related to mental health due to the COVID-19 crisis and a hotline dedicated to emotional distress saw a more than 1,000% increase in April as compared to last year.

Massachusetts has begun taking steps to address this important issue. On March 15, Governor Charlie Baker issued an executive order requiring insurers to cover all “medically necessary” services via telehealth, including behavioral and mental health. While this is a step in the right direction, the underlying issues of mental health treatment in America still remain. This order expands people’s ability to access behavioral telehealth, but issues of mental health parity related to decisions of medical necessity and rate structures as compared to physical health must still be addressed. Though the stigma of mental illness has decreased in recent years, the treatment and management of it still do not measure up to standards of care associated with physical ailments.

The Massachusetts Legislature is currently working to address these critical barriers to improving access to mental health care. In early February, the state Senate unanimously approved the “Mental Health ABC Act”, designed to put mental health care on par with other physical forms of medical care, remove prior authorization from insurers before receiving care, and expand mental health access to underserved populations. The bill now heads to the Massachusetts House.

The Commonwealth and the whole of America have been in the throes of a mental health crisis for decades and the current COVID-19 pandemic only serves to exacerbate the issue and further expose our lack of preparedness to handle the crisis. Though governments actions to reduce barriers and provide greater access to mental health care are moving in the right direction, the fact remains we lack the proper infrastructure to provide the care needed. The mental health care system in America is vastly underfunded, fragmented, and ill-prepared to handle the volume of new cases sure to arise from this pandemic. Even prior to the current crisis, 1 in 5 US adults suffered from mental illnesses yet less than half receive the necessary treatment. We can hope a silver lining will be found amid current hardships. Perhaps, because the pandemic exposed the already-strained mental health resources and capacity in this country, renewed attention, funding, and planning will be given to this sector as we move forward and recover.

For those suffering during these trying times, the state, other government agencies, and the University Health Services at UMass Boston offer resources supporting mental health and strategies to cope. Prioritizing your mental health and coping with the added stress will make you stronger and better prepared to tackle this new normal, for however longer it may last.

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