The Consequences of School Voucher Programs

The recent appointment of Betsy Devos as the US Education Secretary reignited the controversial issue of school voucher programs. Proponents of vouchers, including Devos, argue that school choice increases public schools’ performance due to the competition presented by private and charter schools. However, research shows that vouchers, at best, provide mixed results for students.

Lower Student Performance

A study conducted by the Brookings Institute observes the impact of statewide voucher systems implemented in Indiana and Louisiana. The results show that a student in Louisiana ranked in the 50th percentile of math scores while in public school, but fell to the 34th percentile after one year using a voucher and attending a private school. Reading results also declined; students at the 50th percentile fell to the 46th percentile. Indiana experience similar results. Students’ scores fell from the 50th percentile to the 44th percentile in math after a year of using a voucher. These results show that private schools do not necessarily provide students a better education than public schools.

The Brookings study does show that voucher students in New York City and Washington, DC had improved reading and math scores; however, additional research supports the findings from Indiana and Louisiana. According to the National Education Association, low income students participating in a Milwaukee voucher program did not perform significantly better than their public school counterparts. In Cleveland, students attending newly established private schools via voucher programs performed at significantly lower levels than both their private and public school peers by the end of their second year.

It is important to note that although private school students historically score about 15 to 20 points higher on standardized tests than those in public school, it is not necessarily due to better teaching. High performing students often self-select into private schools, causing the increases in scores. Parents of children in low performing public schools cannot surmise that their child would perform better in a private school.

Decreased School Choices

Aside from achievement discrepancies, other obstacles exist in the voucher system. The vast majority of students in states and cities with robust voucher programs do not use them due to an array of barriers, disproving the myth that vouchers expand choices for parents. For example, the Milwaukee’s voucher program only allows for 15,000 participants, which is less than 10 percent of the city’s public school students. Only 5 percent of Cleveland students use vouchers, two-thirds of which have never attended public schools. In Florida’s statewide voucher plan, only 7 percent of schools in the state said that they would accept voucher students.

The Case for Improving Public Schools

Research shows that improving existing public schools allows for greater increases in student achievement. Milwaukee public school students who attended schools with smaller class sizes and enhanced professional development for teachers outperformed other public school students in the city and private school students. In Florida, schools that were identified as “critically low achieving” improved after two years of program redesign and increased community involvement. Additional methods that show promising results include teacher pre-service training, after school and summer programs, student health and nutrition programs, and increasing standards in math, reading, and science curricula.

Rather than harmlessly co-existing with public schools, research shows that the presence of charter schools actually harms public schools. Once schools lose students to other options via voucher programs, schools struggle to pay expenses such as utilities, maintenance, and staff. Additionally, public schools are often responsible for educating English learners and special education students, which places a large financial burden on them. Some districts, such as Nashville, Los Angeles, and Buffalo have lost between $57 million and $591 million due to the increased presence of charter schools.

School vouchers are not a saving grace for American students. Although they have been successful in some locales, existing research shows that students often stagnate or even regress once participating in a voucher program. Rather than funneling students out of public schools, local governments should improve the deficiencies in public schools so students from all backgrounds have the opportunity to receive a quality education.

 

Image Source: NBC News

LGBTQ Candidates Try to Make History in 2016 Election

In the wake of a tumultuous presidential election, it is important to recognize some of the significant down-ballot electoral efforts. Hundreds of LGBTQ candidates sought office at the local, state, and federal levels this election cycle. The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, an organization that works to elect LGBTQ individuals to office, endorsed 135 candidates. Of those 135 individuals, 86 were elected to public office. The candidates sought offices ranging from the Florida Keys Mosquito Commissioner to the US Senate.

LGBTQ politicians have been present in the US political realm for decades, but have recently made a huge resurgence as LGBTQ equality has come to the forefront of policy issues. In 1974, Kathy Kozachenko won a seat on the Ann Arbor, Michigan City Council, becoming the first openly LGBTQ candidate to win an election in the US. Also in 1974, Elaine Noble, a lesbian, was elected to the Massachusetts State House, becoming the first openly LGBTQ individual elected to a state legislature. In 1977, Harvey Milk, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, became the first LGBTQ politician to be elected to office in California and launched an effort to defeat the Briggs Initiative, which sought to ban openly LGBTQ teachers in public schools. In 1987 Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank told the Boston Globe he is gay, becoming the second member of Congress to discuss his homosexuality. In 2012 Tammy Baldwin became the first openly LGBTQ Senator in American history, and in 2013 Rep. Kyrsten Sinema became the first openly bisexual member of Congress, while Rep. Mark Takano became the first openly gay person of color elected to Congress.

Many candidates who ran this past election cycle also sought to make history. Denise Juneau ran for Montana’s at-large US Senate seat. Although unsuccessful, Juneau would have been the first LGBTQ member of Congress from Montana and the first Native American member of Congress. Brady Pinero Walkinshaw ran for Washington state’s district 7 US House seat unsuccessfully, but would have been the first LGBTQ Latino member of Congress.

Four LGBTQ candidates: Jennifer Webb, Ken Keechl, Carlos Guillermo Smith, and Beth Tuura, ran to serve in the Florida State legislature in an attempt to quintuple LGBTQ representation in the chamber. Ultimately, only Carlos Guillermo Smith won, becoming the first LGBTQ Latino to serve in the Florida legislature. In a major victory, Governor Kate Brown of Oregon was elected and became the nation’s first bisexual governor. In total, the Victory Fund endorsed 6 candidates for Congress, not including Misty Snow of Utah and Misty Plowright of Colorado, who both sought to become the first transgender members of Congress. All eight candidates lost their races, but Snow and Plowright made history by becoming the first transgender candidates to win major party primaries for Congress.

Although LGBTQ Americans won the right to marry in 2015, many states have attempted to curtail LGBTQ rights via bathroom laws, such as North Carolina’s HB 2, which prohibits transgender individuals from using the bathrooms of the gender they identify with. Additionally, some governors, notably former Indiana governor and Vice President elect-Mike Pence, have passed or attempted to pass religious freedom laws, which allow business owners to refuse service to LGBTQ individuals on the basis of religious freedom. In 28 states, LGBTQ individuals can still be fired from their jobs without legal repercussion. Only 22 states have laws that prevent LGBTQ individuals from being discriminated against from employers, and unlike race and gender, no federal law protects citizens based on gender identity or sexual orientation. These hurdles highlight the importance elected LGBTQ officials.

According to a report released by the Victory Fund, LGBTQ representation is crucial in working towards more inclusive and diverse policies for LGBTQ Americans. In states not facing anti-LGBTQ legislation, 85 percent have two or more openly LGBTQ state lawmakers. In states with anti-LGBTQ legislation, nearly 75 percent have only one or no openly LGBTQ legislators. Additionally, 80 percent of states facing religious refusal bills have either one or no openly LGBTQ legislators, and nearly all states with anti-transgender bills have one or no openly LGBTQ legislators.

Aside from the historical wins LGBTQ candidates seek or achieve, every candidacy is important. The increased visibility of LGBTQ candidates this election cycle shows that the fight for LGBTQ rights remains strong and that the election of LGBTQ individuals helps usher in equality one candidate at a time.

Image source: Creative Commons

The Continuing Assault on LGBT Rights

Despite a majority of Americans expressing support for the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to legalize same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges, a number of state legislators continue to introduce bills that aim to erode LGBT rights. Within the past few months, lawmakers in Georgia, North Carolina, and Mississippi passed legislation that opened the door for LGBT discrimination. The governors of Mississippi and North Carolina signed such bills, but Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia ultimately vetoed the legislation passed in his state after the NFL threatened to not consider Atlanta for future Super Bowls and Hollywood producers said that they would pull movie production from the state.

The Bite Behind the Legislation

The recent slew of anti-LGBT legislation allows for broad, open discrimination against LGBT individuals. Georgia’s House Bill 757 would have prevented the government from punishing organizations or people that deny certain services to LGBT individuals, such as issuing marriage licenses or performing same-sex marriage ceremonies in the name of religious freedom. Mississippi’s House Bill 1523 also protects individuals who do not want to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, issue marriage licenses to LGBT couples, or provide medical counsel. Additionally, the legislation allows individuals to discriminate against LGBT individuals in housing, employment, and other sectors. This is all once again in the guise of religious freedom. Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant said he signed the bill, “to protect sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions of individuals, organizations and private associations from discriminatory action by state government.”

North Carolina’s House Bill 2, signed into law by Governor Pat McCrory, made all existing ordinances protecting LGBT North Carolinians from discrimination in employment, housing, and other realms are now null and void and communities cannot pass similar measures in the future. In addition, transgender individuals who have not taken the surgical and legal steps to change the gender marked on their birth certificates cannot use the bathroom associated with their current gender identity. The legislation was a response to Charlotte’s recent anti-discrimination ordinance that allowed transgender citizens to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with and prohibited employment, housing, and public accommodation discrimination targeted at LGBT individuals.

Outside Reactions

States, businesses, and individuals have expressed their disdain for the anti-LGBT laws signed in Mississippi and North Carolina. Bruce Springsteen cancelled his concert in Greensboro, North Carolina in protest of HB 2 to show his solidarity with LGBT North Carolinians. PayPal withdrew its plans to open a new global operations center in Charlotte. The center would have employed nearly 400 people. Google Ventures’ chief executive pledged to not make any new investments in the state until the law was repealed along with Apple, Facebook, and Bank of America. The governors of Connecticut, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington banned all non-essential state travel to North Carolina. Tyson Foods, MGM Resorts International, Nissan and Toyota, some of Mississippi’s largest employers, also expressed their objection to the anti-LGBT legislation passed in that state.

Following scathing criticism from citizens, business officials, and elected officials, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed an executive order that maintains the controversial gender-specific bathroom and locker guidelines in government facilities, affirms the ability of the private sector to establish bathroom and locker gender guidelines, and allows private sector and local government employers to establish their own employment non-discrimination policies. The order expands state employment policy to cover sexual orientation and gender identity and calls for legislation to reinstate the right of individuals to sue in state court for discrimination.

Governor Pat McCrory’s Response

Despite nationwide criticism, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory has largely defended House Bill 2. On Meet the Press, the governor said that the legislation was a response to government overreach, saying that there was not enough meaningful dialogue before Charlotte enacted their non-discrimination ordinance. The governor said that the provision requiring private businesses to allow transgender individuals to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with was too expansive and was an invasion of privacy. McCrory went on to say that LGBT discrimination does not exist in North Carolina.

In an attempt to quell public anger, Governor McCrory issued Executive Order 93 last month, which expands the state’s employment policy to cover sexual orientation and gender identity for state employees and seeks legislation to reenact the right to sue in state courts for discrimination. However, the order maintains gender-specific restroom and locker room facilities in government facilities and affirms that the private sector can create their own restroom and locker room policies, upholding the controversial measure that prohibits transgender citizens from using the bathroom of the gender they identify with.

Will House Bill 2 Cost Governor McCrory Reelection?

Although Election Day is still six months away, House Bill 2 may have already harmed Governor McCrory’s reelection campaign. Since the passage of the legislation, McCrory’s standing in the polls against Democratic opponent Roy Cooper has slipped. Previous polls had McCrory either slightly ahead or tied with Cooper, but several recent polls put Cooper several percentage points above the governor. This corresponds with a poll that showed that only 36% of North Carolina voters support the controversial anti-LGBT legislation. While it is too early to draw conclusions, House Bill 2 may jeopardize Pat McCrory’s political career.

Advocacy and Action: Next Steps

Action must be taken to repeal, or at the very least, weaken the legislation passed in Mississippi and North Carolina and prevent the passage of similar bills in other states. As seen in Georgia, money talks. Business leaders must continue to either pull operations out of states that discriminate against LGBT citizens or stop future investments and projects. When Indiana’s governor signed a religious freedom bill similar to Georgia’s last year, the NCAA threatened to relocate the men’s Final Four tournament from Indianapolis. This threat, along with the withdrawal of a dozen conferences, cost the state $60 million. These threats and losses caused the governor to weaken the law he initially signed.

Following the passage of North Carolina’s law, the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of North Carolina, Lambda Legal, and Equality North Carolina filed a lawsuit against the state. Individuals and organizations must continue to fight these laws in court in order to prevent the future implementation of such legislation in other states.

Lastly, more LGBT officials must be elected to office at the local, state, and national levels, with a particular focus on electing leaders in historically anti-LGBT states. Having LGBT voices at all legislative levels will strengthen the voices of LGBT citizens across the nation. These leaders could play an integral role in killing hateful bills before they ever reach legislative floors for debate.

The recent laws in North Carolina, Mississippi, and Georgia show that the fight for LGBT rights has not ended. While the legalization of same-sex marriage was indeed a milestone, the fight is just beginning in other realms like employment, housing, and public accommodations. It is crucial that legislation targeting LGBT individuals does not make it to the desks of elected officials in order to ensure equal protection of all Americans.

The Flint Water Crisis: Who’s to Blame?

The response, or lack thereof, to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan has dominated headlines in recent weeks. Until April 2014, the city of Flint used water from Lake Huron. As Flint faced a financial crisis, city officials opted to use the Flint River as the city’s water source, switching from using Detroit’s water pumped from Lake Huron to save $4 million per year. However, water from the Flint River contained higher levels of chloride, causing it to corrode plumbing materials and leach lead into the city’s tap water after officials failed to treat the city’s water with orthophosphate, a substance used to mitigate corrosive materials in water.

Soon after the switch, residents contracted rashes and complained about the water’s taste, color and odor. General Motors stopped using the city’s water because the company claimed that it corroded car parts. The city of Detroit offered to reconnect Flint to its water system, waiving a connection fee, but the city government refused the offer.

Despite high levels of lead found in multiple residents’ homes and in the blood of many children, Michigan officials and EPA administrators insisted that the water was safe. After government epidemiologists validated the high lead levels in children’s blood in October 2015, city officials told residents to stop drinking the city’s tap water. For nearly 18 months Flint’s residents drank and bathed in poisoned water while officials ignored the signs that something was seriously wrong.

Agency Failures

EPA experts found that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality tested the water in a fashion that drastically understated lead levels. This protocol allowed Flint River water to pass quality tests for far too long. The department continuously disputed reports that the water corroded plumbing equipment and failed to enact corrosion controls in a timely fashion. MDEQ spokesman Brad Wurfel repeatedly downplayed concerns and said that Flint citizens should relax and not worry about the water’s quality.

Additionally, the EPA failed to take a memo written by EPA employee Miguel Del Toral seriously. Del Toral’s memo expressed concern about the safety of Flint’s water. Instead, agency officials said that the report needed to be assessed and verified by other sources, which did not prompt Flint to take the initiative to improve its water treatment.

Health and Social Implications

Due to this inaction, Flint’s citizens face an array of health hazards. Since last fall nearly 200 children have exhibited elevated levels of lead in their blood. Lead exposure in children can cause neurological damage such as IQ reductions and attention-deficit problems. The EPA classifies lead as a “probable human carcinogen”. Aside from lead, other harmful materials were found in Flint’s water. Legionella, the source of Legionnaire’s disease and total trihalomethanes, potential carcinogens, were discovered in water samples.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver expressed her concern about the social implications of the water crisis. The resulting IQ loss from lead exposure may increase incidence of learning disabilities among the city’s youth. The mayor is also worried about the potential increase in mental health issues and the strain that may put on the juvenile justice system. Lastly, as adults begin feeling the effects of lead poisoning and other toxins, there may be larger demand for adoptive and foster parents.

Aftermath Responses

Congress held a hearing in which EPA administrators, state, and local government officials were blasted for their lackluster response. The FBI also announced the beginning of an investigation to determine if criminal violations of federal environmental law occurred.

During the latest Democratic presidential debate, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders weighed in on the crisis. Clinton said that Governor Snyder acted like he did not care that Flint’s poor, largely African American citizenry drank contaminated water while Sanders called for the governor’s resignation.

Meanwhile, the controversy was mentioned only once during the GOP debate, when Governor Kasich was asked how he would handle a similar situation. In a CNN interview, Jeb Bush praised Governor Snyder for his leadership.

Emergency Manager Law to Blame?

In the wake of this crisis, Governor Snyder’s implementation of Michigan’s emergency manager law has come under much scrutiny. The law allows the governor to appoint emergency managers to seize control of communities in fiscal trouble. Michigan voters rejected the measure in 2012, but the state’s Republican controlled legislature reinstated the law less than six weeks later. Flint was under the control of Emergency Manager Darnell Earley during the water crisis.

Critics see an array of glaring issues that stem from emergency management. Some believe that emergency managers are more apt to make rash decisions that compromise public health and overall citizen wellbeing for the sake of cutting costs, as displayed by Flint’s water supply change. Many also point to the fact that cities, such as Flint, under the control of appointed managers are often majority-black. Those opposed to the measure view this as the disenfranchisement of African American communities and a gross usurpation of power from elected local officials that eliminate essential checks and balances. Lastly, due to their appointment by the governor rather than election, emergency managers are only held accountable to the governor’s office rather than the citizens in their respective municipalities. Widespread belief exists that if Flint remained under the control of local officials rather than an emergency manager, such reckless decisions could have been avoided due to greater levels of accountability and closeness to the situation.

Flint’s residents deserve a thorough investigation from the FBI and Congress must continue to hold those responsible accountable for their actions. Additionally, emergency management laws not only in Michigan, but also across the nation, must be further examined to determine whether such laws lead to increased instances of public health hazards, disenfranchisement, and lower quality governance. No community in the United States should have to suffer the way Flint has.

Image credit: Sam Owens/AP

 

A Glance at America’s Incarceration Problem: Culprits, Costs and Responses

If someone asked you to name the place with the highest incarceration rate on Earth, what answer would you give? Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba? In fact, the United States outranks all of these authoritarian regimes in the number of citizens imprisoned per capita. According to an Amnesty International report, the United States has only 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prison population, with over 2 million incarcerated citizens and an additional 5 million on probation or parole, despite a steady decrease in crime. The state of Louisiana imprisons more of its citizens per capita than anywhere in the world. Mass incarceration stems from a variety of sources and disproportionately affects minority communities. It also disenfranchises millions and costs American taxpayers billions of dollars, leading to numerous social and economic consequences. What’s behind the numbers of America’s drastic incarceration problem?

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Infographic Source: ACLU 

Culprit #1: Severe Drug Laws

One of the largest contributors to mass incarceration in America is the government’s attempt to curb drug use by implementing a set of policies known collectively as the War On Drugs. The American Civil Liberties Union reports that three-strike laws and mandatory minimums resulting from the War On Drugs often mean severe sentences where individuals may face life in prison without parole for a drug possession charge. Despite the harsh consequences of these policies, drug use has not declined, but the number of those imprisoned dramatically increased.  Over half of prisoners at the federal level are incarcerated on drug offenses, most with no prior criminal record or violent offenses. The War On Drugs has cost the United States over $1 trillion and disproportionately targets minorities. Blacks and whites exhibit similar rates of drug use, yet black individuals are incarcerated on drug offenses 10 times more frequently than white individuals. The War On Drugs has failed to reduce drug usage and has fueled America’s mass incarceration crisis.

Culprit #2: The Privatization of Prisons

The privatization of American prisons has exacerbated mass incarceration. As the number of prisoners has risen, states have struggled to fund prisons and contracted prison services to corporations in an attempt to lower costs. As a result, the number of private prisons rose over 1600% between 1990 and 2009. Operators of private prisons profit from mass incarceration. According to The Sentencing Project, prison contractors have lobbied for policies that perpetuate mass incarceration by donating large sums of money to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a public policy organization that supports privatization and measures that result in longer prison sentences, such as three strike laws. Over 40% of state legislators belong to ALEC, evidence of its large influence in state politics. Through working with organizations like ALEC, private prison contractors have helped secure legislation that continues to imprison more Americans.

Culprit #3: America’s Lingering Debtors’ Prisons

A third contributor to mass incarceration is the existence of de facto debtors’ prisons. Many of America’s poorest citizens find themselves in jail due to their inability to pay fines such as traffic tickets and legal fees. A report published by the American Criminal Law Review says that although the Supreme Court set constitutional limitations to imprisonment for inability to pay fines, people still end up incarcerated due to legal loopholes. Some arrests occur not for failure to pay a fine per se, but for other violations stemming from the fee. For example, missing a court-ordered payment can result in an arrest warrant for being in contempt of court. Some states allow private debt companies to add surcharges to existing debts, making it more difficult for poor individuals to pay their fines. People who fail to pay fees often lose their jobs due to their incarceration, perpetuating the poverty cycle. These imprisonments disproportionately affect poor individuals and add to the increasing number of prisoners in America.

The Fiscal Costs of Mass Incarceration

Mass incarceration costs Americans staggering amounts of money. The Hamilton Project compiled a study about the costs of mass incarceration. The report found that the United States spends over $80 billion on corrections expenditures, quadruple the amount spent in 1980. Additionally, it costs $29,000 to house each federal inmate and each US resident paid an average of $260 towards corrections expenditures annually.

The Degradation of Families and Political Rights

The Hamilton Project study also discusses the social implications of mass incarceration. Incarceration has broken up countless families.  2.7 million children in the United States have a parent in prison. An African American child with a father who dropped out of high school has over a 50% chance of seeing their father incarcerated by age 14. In addition, juvenile incarceration decreases the likelihood of high school graduation by 13% and increases the likelihood of imprisonment as an adult by 22%. Racial disparities also exist in imprisonment, with 1 in 3 black men and 1 in 6 Latino men facing a lifetime likelihood of imprisonment compared to 1 in 17 white males. Finally, mass imprisonment causes disenfranchisement. Due to laws that prohibit felons from voting, 1 in 13 African Americans and 5.85 million Americans cannot vote. Mass incarceration bars millions, most frequently minorities, from the political system.

Washington’s Response

Politicians have begun to recognize the growing crisis of mass incarceration. In July, President Obama presented a speech to the NAACP stressing the importance of addressing mass incarceration to help minority communities and save American taxpayers billions of dollars. In addition, Senator and presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders along with three House of Representatives members introduced legislation to ban private prisons, acknowledging their contribution to mass incarceration. Lastly, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley and Democratic Senator Dick Durbin introduced the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, which seeks to reduce penalties for non-violent and first-time offenders, decrease minimum mandatory sentences, and provide opportunities to shorten sentences once in jail.

Lawmakers must pass both bills to address this pressing issue. It is unjust that millions of Americans, disproportionately minorities, suffer in prison under unfair sentences and lose their political rights while corporations profit from their imprisonment. Mass incarceration wastes billions of dollars, breaks families apart, perpetuates poverty, and entrenches institutionalized racism. Americans must press their lawmakers to solve this ever-growing problem.

Image source: The New Yorker

The Far Reaching Effects of LGBT Workplace Discrimination

The Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges in June 2015 legalized gay marriage in the United States, marking a historical and pivotal point in the gay rights movement. Marriage equality has dominated political discourse regarding gay rights, but many pressing issues that affect the nearly 9 million LGBTQ Americans still remain. LGBT Americans residing in 28 states face the threat of losing their jobs due to their sexual orientation. Workplace discrimination against LGBT individuals remains rampant and produces a variety of social, health and economic ramifications including wage disparities, economic losses, decreased worker productivity, and increased risks of mental illness.

The Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles compiled a report in 2011 discussing LGBT workplace discrimination in America. The study yielded some sobering results including the following: 42% of LGBT respondents experienced at least one instance of employment discrimination, 35% reported workplace harassment, and 16% said their sexual orientation caused a job loss. Additional research found that 78% of transgender and gender-non-conforming workers faced discrimination at work and 26% reported losing a job due to their gender identity. In response to these reprehensible findings, the Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in 2013 with bipartisan support. However, House Republicans prevented ENDA from reaching the floor for a vote.

The discrimination inflicted on LGBT workers causes an array of social consequences. Studies show that a wage gap exists between homosexuals and heterosexuals. Men in heterosexual marriages have an average income of $50,000 while men in homosexual relationships earned an average of $47,000. Polls also show that LGBT individuals more frequently report incomes of less than $24,000 and are less likely to earn more than $90,000. Many transgender individuals experience economic hardship at higher rates than others in the LGBT community. According to a report penned by the Center for American Progress, the Human Rights Campaign, the Movement Advancement Project, and Freedom to Work,15% of transgender people reported incomes of under $10,000 compared to 4% of the population at large. The authors also note that LGBT individuals were more likely to fall into poverty than heterosexuals.

In addition to the wage disparities that are attributed to workplace discrimination, research suggests that discrimination based on sexual orientation can contribute to some forms of mental illness due to increased stress exposure. LGBT individuals are 3 times more likely to experience a mental health condition than heterosexuals and LGBT youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth. The Williams Institute found that LGBT workers often face cognitive impairment due to their preoccupation of hiding their sexual orientation and reported feeling depressed, distracted, and exhausted more often than their peers.

LGBT employment discrimination causes a variety of negative economic ramifications. Reports show that two million people leave their jobs annually due to workplace prejudice. Workplace hostility costs companies $1.4 billion in output each year due to decreased productivity from LGBT workers. Evidence also shows that productivity decreases when ambiguity regarding a co-worker’s sexual orientation exists. Additionally, 1 in 4 individuals who experienced unfairness at their job said they would not recommend their employer to jobseekers, hampering recruitment efforts. Employment discrimination against LGBT workers hurts not only individual employees, but also the American business community as a whole.

The issue of LGBT workplace discrimination has gradually emerged into the national conversation. With the passage of gay marriage in June, LGBT advocates are now focusing efforts on obtaining the legal protections in the workplace that LGBT individuals sorely need. Polls show that 90% of Democratic voters and two-thirds of Republicans support workplace protections for LGBT individuals. Multiple presidential candidates from both sides of the aisle also agree that LGBT employees should not have to face the choice of concealing their sexual orientation or keeping a job. Republican presidential hopefuls Jeb Bush and Donald Trump support such legal protections, sharing sentiments with Democratic frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. A coalition of Senators and Representatives recently introduced the Equality Act, which seeks to protect LGBT individuals from discrimination in matters of employment, housing, and other realms. Reluctant politicians must stand up for their LGBT constituents and pass the Equality Act. LGBT workers should never have to hide their authentic selves in order to advance their careers. This nation has come so far in the fight for gay rights. Providing LGBT citizens with the legal protections they deserve is the next step in ensuring all Americans can thrive both inside and outside the workplace.

Image Credit: Reuters/Molly Riley