By Rory O’Sullivan
“What is it about our system that is limiting opportunities for minorities in this country?”
That was the question U.S. Rep. Mark Takano of Riverside asked a packed lecture hall full of UC Riverside students during a recent UCR School of Public Policy Seminar Series.
UCR School of Public Policy Dean, Anil B. Deolalikar said he invited Takano to expose students to the various policy challenges facing the world today.
“Inequality and integration of immigrants and minorities is a defining public policy challenge for our region and for the entire country,” Deolalikar said in an email. “Congressman Takano has been a tireless champion of the rights of minorities to public services and to economic, social and political opportunities.”
During his talk, Takano explored inequities in education, wages, and housing. He told the students in attendance that the public policy choices they make in the future have a huge impact on everyday people’s lives.
Takano said for instance he has introduced legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $12 by the year 2020. He said increasing the minimum wage also increases consumer demand and grows the economy, growing the economy from the middle out, not the top down.
“No one who works hard in a full-time job should have to live in poverty,” said Takano.
Takano mentioned payday loans, rising rents, student debt, comprehensive immigration reform and government’s lack of diversity as factors in keeping minorities impoverished. He said he knew residents in Moreno Valley who were paying 50 percent of their earnings on their rents.
“That was a startling number for me. It used to be understood that each generation will be better off than the one that preceded them,” said Takano. “I’m not sure if that’s true anymore.”
Takano said his parents rose from the Japanese internment camps of World War II to being able to provide a good life for their family because of Pat Brown’s progressive higher education plan that meant “anyone from anywhere in California could, if they worked hard enough, receive a bachelor’s degree from one of the best universities in the country, almost free of charge.”
Takano said bridging the gap in America will take commitment from legislators at every level, community leaders, students, and everyday citizens. He encouraged students to become involved in their communities in various ways and encouraged them in “letting their voice be heard at the ballot box.”
Third year UCR student Dinorah Macias, said she is most concerned about who the next president will be and the impact they will have on the Supreme Court. She wants the next president to have a “progressive view.”
“The next presidential election is particularly important, we’re going to have this legislative ideology going on for how long,” said Macias. “We need a president that embodies our views”
UCR political science major sophomore Nnado Udongwu said he was thankful Takano was addressing the rising cost of higher education.
“He wants to help a lot on education which is good I have a little brother and sister,” said Udengwu.
Udengwu is the oldest son of Nigerian immigrants who each have two jobs so their children can receive their educations and have a better quality of life.
“I’m worried about the burden on parents,” he said.
According to Takano student debt has skyrocketed to 1.2 trillion dollars, more than credit card debt and auto loan debt burdening over 40 million Americans.
“And every year students are taking out even more debt,” states Takano.
Takano supports President Obama’s proposal to offer two years of free community college tuition for students and has introduced legislation to regulate for-profit colleges.
According to Takano for-profit colleges enroll 13 percent of all postsecondary school students, but account for nearly half of all student loan defaults. On average, for-profits allocate about 23 percent of revenue to recruiting and marketing, 19 percent to profit, and just 17 percent to academic instruction.
“As a former high school teacher and a community college trustee, I’ve seen enough of these abuses and we’re putting together reasonable accountability standards. It will also ensure that our students and taxpayer dollars are being well spent, and that students are receiving quality, affordable education.”
“Our students learned much from the lecture, I would hope – at the very least, they learned what needs to be done and what part they need to play in engaging various levels of government and civil society in serving minority needs in education, health and other opportunities,” said Deolalikar.
To view future lectures visit http://spp.ucr.edu/events/