Monday, July 27, 2020

Open the schools, part 2

The Baltimore Sun published my op-ed in May, but it did not run my letter to the editor I submitted 10 days ago. Here is the letter:
As counties roll out their school re-opening plans, parents have learned that the state will not allow children to attend school five days per week. Apparently the state board of education has decided that five-day school is a Stage Three “high risk” activity on par with events in large entertainment venues. 
That decision is perplexing, as it has no basis in evidence. The research overwhelmingly shows that children are less susceptible to the virus and less likely to transmit it. Schools have opened in Europe with little problem, and elementary schools are especially safe. 
The decision is perplexing for another reason as well: It was never mentioned in Maryland’s “Roadmap to Recovery” or in the model plan from the American Enterprise Institute. Indeed, the ban on five-day school simply does not square with the rest of Maryland policy. For example, according to the Roadmap’s Stage Two rules that we currently live under, adults can make daily trips to the gym where they breathe heavily amidst a varying group of strangers. And yet five-day school is too risky? 
We need a school policy that is both grounded in scientific evidence and consistent with the Roadmap. Right now we have neither. I urge the governor’s office to step in and re-evaluate.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Open the schools

Back in May, I wrote a piece for the Baltimore Sun lamenting the closure of schools in my home state of Maryland. I remained hopeful for the fall, but now Maryland seems to have moved five-day-per-week school into a third-stage "high risk" category that includes events at large entertainment venues. This decision has no rational basis.

What follows is the public comment I submitted to the school board after it announced that students will attend only two days per week. It's a bit of a rush-job, but I think it gets the main points across:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Board’s plan for school re-opening. As a father of two school-age children, I respectfully ask that you consider a more normal school schedule – five days per week, with no masks required for children.

In reading through the guidelines published by the state and the county, I am concerned that the Board  may be so focused on logistics that it has lost sight of the big-picture evidence. I will try to summarize that evidence here:

·       Children are far less susceptible to COVID-19.

The rate of school-age Marylanders who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 is less than six in 100,000, compared to 480 in 100,000 among the elderly. Moreover, out of the 3,202 Marylanders whose deaths have been attributed to the virus as of July 14, only one – a 15-year-old in Baltimore -- was under the age of 20.

Children are also less likely to spread the virus to others. The evidence “consistently demonstrates reduced infection and infectivity of children in the transmission chain,” according to The Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health in the United Kingdom. Reports from Denmark and Sweden find that teachers are not at a high risk of exposure compared to other occupational groups.

·       School closures have minimal effect on viral spread.

“Currently, the evidence to support national closure of schools to combat COVID-19 is very weak,” according to a recent review in The Lancet, which went on to note that “school closures could have relatively small effects” given the characteristics of COVID-19.

“We found no evidence that school closures influenced the growth rate in confirmed COVID-19 cases,” according to a more recent study in Health Affairs.

·       Elementary schools are especially safe.

Schools have opened in Europe with little problem. Some isolated outbreaks have occurred in secondary schools, but not elementary schools. If school attendance must be restricted, the restrictions should be on the upper grades only. I can think of no reason why elementary students should be subject to the same rules as high school students.

·       If adults can go to indoor gyms, children can go to school.

Given the evidence above, it is entirely inappropriate to classify five-day school as a third-stage “high risk” activity on par with events in large entertainment venues. A group of 20 to 30 children in a classroom is simply not comparable to thousands of adults crowded together indoors. Even second-stage “medium risk” activities that are currently allowed, such as indoor fitness classes, are likely to be far more risky than operating a classroom five days per week.

·       Masks impede learning.

Masks are uncomfortable, distracting, and potentially dangerous if not worn properly and cleaned regularly. More importantly, schools are social environments where children learn to interact with each other. Masks block that key interchange by concealing facial expressions. “Face masks are not required or recommended for children returning to school,” according to official guidance from the Hospital for Sick Children.

·       Maryland’s virus situation has improved since early summer.

Since the Board made its decision on June 17 to pursue a two-day-per-week plan, hospitalizations for COVID-19 have dropped from 702 to 415. ICU beds devoted to COVID-19 patients have fallen by more than half, from 283 to 118. Positive test rates are now consistently under 5 percent. In short, the state has become far better equipped to contain the virus than it was earlier in the summer.  School plans should be adjusted to reflect this progress.

·       Calvert can be more open than the average Maryland county.

As a low-density, semi-rural county, Calvert is naturally less susceptible to viral spread than other parts of Maryland. The mortality rate here is 4.5 times lower than the state as a whole. The 11 Calvert residents who have died with COVID-19 were all age-55 or over and had “at least one chronic health condition.”

I understand that you are bound to some extent by state guidelines. However, the Roadmap to Recovery advises that “some regional (or county-by-county) approaches may be contemplated as the recovery moves forward.” The Board should try to work with the state to develop a more flexible policy on school re-openings for the less-risky counties.

·       Children will mix together anyway on non-school days.

Many children will attend daycare on the days that they do not go to school. At daycare they will mix with children who are not part of their two-day school rotation group, reducing the effectiveness of the split-week approach for viral containment.

Again, thank you for your consideration of these points.

Jason Richwine

Thursday, March 12, 2020

New report on the fiscal impact of refugee resettlement

I have a new report out this month debunking the notion that refugee resettlement in the U.S. is a "win-win" in the sense of costing taxpayers nothing for their humanitarian gesture. From the introduction:
Advocates of expanding the number of refugees admitted to the United States have lately portrayed their position as a win-win — refugee resettlement not only assists the refugees themselves, it also allegedly improves our nation's fiscal health. The fiscal claim is unsupportable. Although refugees from earlier generations were often well educated, today's refugees have fewer than nine years of schooling on average. Because of their low earning power and immediate access to welfare benefits, recent refugees cost the government substantially more than they contribute in taxes, even over the long term. 
Our best estimate of the average refugee's lifetime fiscal cost, expressed as a net present value, is $60,000, with those entering as adults (ages 25 to 64) costing $133,000 each. Perhaps this is a price that the United States should be willing to pay to further its humanitarian goals. However, resettlement in the United States may not be the most cost-effective means of aiding displaced people.
Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

New report and video on employment discrimination against U.S. workers

Last Thursday I published a new report through the Center for Immigration Studies called "No Americans Need Apply." CIS hosted a panel event the same day featuring myself, Peter Kirsanow, and Kevin Lynn. Excerpts from the report and the event are below.
This report examines real-world case studies of the negative effects of immigration on the labor market. The source of these cases is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which for about two decades has been uncovering evidence that U.S. companies actively seek to replace low-skill native workers with immigrants. A sample of EEOC cases, presented in rough chronological order below, paints a disturbing picture of how low-skill American workers — typically black, but sometimes white as well — are systematically passed over for manual labor jobs in favor of Hispanics, who are usually foreign-born in the regions where these cases predominate. 
Of course, no set of EEOC cases, no matter how consistent and extensive, is ironclad proof that immigration negatively affects low-skill natives as a group. Nevertheless, the cases reveal that at least in certain regions and certain industries, natives certainly do lose. And if the anti-native mindset among U.S. employers is as widespread as these cases suggest, the number of losers could be large.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

New report and event video on immigrant healthcare costs

I published a new CIS report this week entitled, "The Cost of Immigrant Medicaid Coverage Under Current Policy," which establishes the context for proposals to possibly expand eligibility to include illegal immigrants. CIS also put together an event at the National Press Club. Here's my short talk:

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

"The truth about teacher pay" published in National Affairs

Top billing! I can't recall that happening before. The full text is available ungated. Here's a preview:
...[A]n inordinate focus on teacher salaries feeds unrealistic expectations for the profession. Although teacher quality certainly matters, most of the variance in student achievement is associated with factors outside the classroom. Just as current teachers should not be blamed for "failing schools," policymakers should not simply assume that investing heavily in teacher salaries is worth the political and economic costs. The most prudent course would be to implement modest structural reforms, while de-emphasizing the level of teacher pay as a focal point of education reform.
Please read the whole thing. This means you, journalist who is tempted to uncritically cite the Economic Policy Institute's "teacher pay gap."

No photo description available.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Justice on Trial reviewed

I followed Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation process rather closely - closely enough that I could write a 2,500-word treatise explaining that the assault charges against him were almost certainly false, and that his opponents' refusal to engage with the evidence was alarming. Still, I learned a lot from Mollie Hemingway and Carrie Severino's new book, Justice on Trial: The Kavanaugh Confirmation and the Future of the Supreme Court. Hemingway is a journalist, and Severino helps lead the Judicial Crisis Network, which supports the confirmation of conservative judges. Their book supplements the familiar narrative of the confirmation fight with a lot of behind-the-scenes material from the Kavanaugh camp.

I'll just mention a couple of their revelations here. First, the yearbook from Holton-Arms (where Christine Ford went to school) was at least as embarrassing as Georgetown Prep's (where Kavanaugh went to school), with many references to sexuality and drunkenness. Classmates report that Ford was personally very much into both. Despite having this information, Kavanaugh's team declined to publicize it, fearing a backlash. That may have been a wise strategy, but the double standard is glaring. Both the media and the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee had no compunction about digging into Kavanaugh's drinking habits, his sexual habits, his friends' drinking and sexual habits, and the overall culture at Georgetown Prep. Their position was that if Kavanaugh was a heavy drinker who objectified girls, he may have blacked out or simply not remembered what he did to Ford. And yet a similar argument could be made about Ford. If she was a heavy drinker who fooled around with lots of boys, her memory could have been impaired, and unrelated incidents could blur together in her mind. Maybe these insinuations are unfair, but there is no reason that only the accuser -- and not the accused -- should be protected from them.

A second revelation is that Leland Keyser's testimony to the FBI went further in exonerating Kavanaugh than her testimony to the Judiciary Committee did. Keyser is Ford's longtime friend and the only girl whom Ford placed at the party. When Keyser told the committee that she could not remember any such party, and that in fact she did not know Kavanaugh at all, it was devastating to Ford's case. (Or at least it should have been.) A public and private pressure campaign began among Ford allies to convince Keyser to say something supportive. In a second statement to the committee, Keyser reiterated that she had no memory of Kavanaugh, but that she nevertheless believed Ford's accusation. According to Hemingway and Severino, Keyser had the opportunity to think through her activities in the summer of 1983 in more detail during the FBI investigation. She requested a second interview with the FBI, in which she stated that she no longer believed Ford's story, as it simply wasn't plausible that she (Keyser) attended such a party at that time.

Keyser's FBI testimony was supposed to be for senators' eyes only, so it's not clear how the authors know the details of it. One of my longstanding problems with journalism is that we're asked to trust the word of reporters, who are in turn probably trusting the word of anonymous sources. I've seen too many instances of mangled facts in order for me to take anything on faith, but this story about Keyser, if true, is even more devastating to Ford than the public evidence. It's also even more damning of the Democratic senators who still insist that Kavanaugh is guilty.

[Update 9/19/2019: Leland Keyser has now spoken on the record to a pair of New York Times reporters, confirming what Justice on Trial initially reported about her FBI testimony.]

Hemingway and Severino offer an inspiring message near the end of their book. They profile a liberal lawyer whose friends abandoned her because she vouched for Kavanaugh's character:
If she has lost friends, she views it as their loss....Imagine a world where fewer people were scared to stand up for what they believed. It could start a virtuous circle, in which every person who bucked the popular views would drive down the cost of standing up.
I offered similar sentiments after Kavanaugh's powerful testimony refuting Ford's allegation: "Bravery is not something that the Republican establishment is known for. With the force of his arguments, Brett Kavanaugh may have changed that. We should all follow his example."

In an otherwise great book, I did find one weak section. Citing two studies, the authors write, "A small but significant portion of sexual assault allegations -- between 2 and 10 percent, according to empirical studies -- are eventually deemed false." This empirical claim is misleading without more context. One might think the quoted numbers imply at least 90 percent of rape allegations are true, but that is emphatically not the case. Nearly half of the rape allegations in the first study they cite "did not proceed," meaning no truth determination was made either way. For more details, see this post I did for National Review.