Friday, January 30, 2009

Hallelujah for Books

Maira Kalman at the New York Times. Gorgeous.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

What Do YOU Think?

Hey all my student and recent grad readers: How are you coping with college costs, student loans, and a generally dismal economy?
I'm going on WNET's It's The Economy, NY next week to talk about it. Would love to hear your stories.

More Cash to Student Lenders

The US Treasury has committed up to $60 billion to a scheme cooked up by Citigroup and Morgan Stanley to funnel more money to student lenders, who have seen a credit crunch situation and drying up of the secondary market similar to other purveyors of consumer credit.
This is outside the auspices of the $700 billion bailout.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the government should stop subsidizing the middleman! Instead, this is an excellent opportunity to shift to the direct loan program,where students get their funds directly from the Treasury without Citigroup or anyone else taking a cut in between. Colleges across the country are already voting with their feet for the simpler, cheaper, all-government program.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

College Tuition Tops All Categories in Cost-of-Living Increases

According to a new report from the American Institute for Economic Research:

* Excluding food and fuel, prices generally increased the most from 1990 to 2008 for CPI items heavily influenced by government policy, such as education and health care. Also near the top: government services. College tuition and fees, for example, increased 248.4 percent; hospital services, nursing homes and adult day care increased 222.6 percent; educational books and supplies jumped 182.5 percent; dental care 153.9 percent; garbage and trash collection 129.7 percent; prescription drugs 120.5 percent; physicians’ services 104.6 percent; city public transportation services 95.5 percent.

New Piece on Reality Sandwich

The fundamental mistake for all of us who care about people and the planet is in failing to forcefully relate all of our priorities in a holistic vision

New Video on Current TV!

Check it out:

Monday, January 26, 2009

How We Got Here

Six Errors on the Path to the Financial Crisis

1) Too many derivatives
2) Too much leverage
3) Too much subprime
4) Too many foreclosures
5) Letting Lehman fail
6) No restrictions on the Tarp $

No Frills Degree


Leading education officials yesterday proposed a new kind of higher education institution that would offer a "low-cost, no frills" bachelor's degree.
No sports teams. No extracurriculars. No super gymnasium or plum dorm room.
No extras at all.
The schools instead would offer an accelerated, year-round program much like a community college, but they would offer four-year degrees as opposed to two-year associate degrees.

The Problem With the Pell Grant as an Economic Stimulus

Andrew Leonard has a post over at Salon defending a little piece of the stimulus package which would raise the average Pell Grant by $350, to $5350. He argues that this is an effective short term stimulus, because it's equivalent to putting money in the pockets of low-income families who are sending students to college ( the Pell Grant is means tested); and it's an effective long-term stimulus as well because it will help more people stay in school, from where they'll go on to better careers.

You'd think I'd be all for this, and I am in favor of increased higher education aid. But the system is so broke that throwing in more cash is unlikely to help poor families or the economy in the short term.

First, Colleges tend to raise tuition in economic downturns, and this one is no exception. It's likely that the extra Pell Grant money will simply be applied to higher tuition bills, going to supplement decreases in state support for universities.
Second, colleges are not subject to any sort of oversight as to whether they allocate aid to serve students on the basis of need rather than merit. So they could take the extra Pell Grant money and give it to a specific student who has the right ethnic, sports, or extracurricular background for their mix, and pass over another student who is just as qualified and for whom that grant money would make the difference in whether they can attend college at all.
Finally, Pell Grants are usually only part of the picture for students trying to pay for college. They use other grants and loans as well. And a higher Pell Grant award may simply result in the student being able to borrow less in subsidized federal student loans, keeping the overall picture exactly the same.

So it's hard to see how the extra Pell Grant awards will really result in more money going into the pockets of low income families. Reforms to make college more affordable--like publishing tuition increases and demanding some accountability from colleges to cut costs--might actually be more helpful.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Death and Taxes 2009

This poster shows where all our tax dollars are going. It is really, really cool and so is the website. It's an easy way to find out that for example, funding for career and technical education was down 30% last year.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Get Your War On

Ten Best Green Jobs For The Next Decade

Crossposted from

"It's time to bail out the people and the planet," says Van Jones, author of The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems. We agree, and this guide to to sustainability-focused career paths will help retrofit and solar-charge your work life.
Solar Power Installer
Energy Efficiency Builder
Wind Turbine Fabricator

Conservation Biologist
Green MBA and Entrepreneur
Sustainability Systems Developer
Urban Planner

Friday, January 16, 2009

Next Generation Investing

A new article of mine from Fast Company, about Thrive, a financial advisory engine by, and for, 20somethings. FC's crack designer Henry created this cool graphic.

"Thrive's success is emblematic of a nascent industry shift toward tech-driven financial-advice tools. Instead of pushing you to check your portfolio performance every two minutes and trade! trade! trade!, new Web-based services seek to empower users by simplifying investing and financial planning. "

Monday, January 12, 2009

Party's Over

Thanks, Ted Rall. Accurate, erudite and terrifying as usual.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Made By Hand

A great story. At the Henry Street Settlement House on the Lower East Side of New York there is an 85-year-old lady named Ruth Taube who has taught people since 1966 --for free--how to sew, knit, crochet, upholster, repair shoes, furniture and electrical wiring, build and fix things themselves. Some of her students have been coming for 25 years plus.

Recently the program was threatened with cutbacks, but her students fought to save it.
"Maybe Ms. Taube evaded the ax just long enough to enjoy a bustling revival — thrift and repair are in, after all, and a free class is harder than ever to come by. Her workshop combines both, as well as the perspective of someone who started sewing in the Great Depression and is still toiling away, finding joy, as she has her whole life, in creative resourcefulness."

A new green economy means far more people learning and using skills like these. It saves money, builds community, and is creative. The young hipster version is Church of Craft, which meets nationwide--monthly in Brooklyn at the Etsy Labs ( is an online marketplace itself dedicated to all things handmade). A new craft store just opened up a few blocks from me in Williamsburg, too.

More sewing, gardening, home projects, canning and cooking from scratch are all on my list of resolutions for 2009. ReadyMade magazine is another great resource along these lines.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Do Students Deserve a Bailout?

So argues Jeffrey Sims in the Chronicle of Higher Ed today (unfortunately, the article's behind a paywall.)
So, too, argue the folks at Screw College Loans, who are trying to raise private money for the cause.

Here's the case: Students who made the decision three or four years ago to borrow $20,000+, including a rising proportion of private student loans, for college were borrowing under artificially free-flowing lending conditions. Loans were marketed aggressively, directly to students (pdf) , just like mortgages. There was a booming secondary market in student loans, which were bundled into securities just like mortgages; and loan consolidation was over marketed too, as aggressively as refinancing/home equity loans.
The federal government encouraged all of this by providing capital and subsidies to the lenders who did it in the name of increasing access to college. The sense of an irresponsible free-for-all was bolstered by the fact that Sallie Mae--the student loan equivalent to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac--actually became a completely private corporation in 2004 in order to expand even more into private student loans and collections.

Above all, students and families assumed that the return on the degree would continue to increase. The experts all said so. The College Board releases a report titled "Education Pays" every year. Again, just like housing prices.
However, the median income of households headed by a person with a bachelor's degree has actually dropped slightly, in constant dollars, since 2000.
 2007 $77,605  
2006 78,013
2005 76,921
2004 75,101
2003 84,864
2002 79,705
2001 78,661
2000 80,208 Source: Census Bureau
So, students borrowed too much money, on expectations of high return that were not met by reality.
Does this add up to exploitation worthy of a bailout?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Debt is Down. Uh - Oh!

This same thriftiness, embraced by families across the U.S., is also a major reason the downturn may not soon end. Americans, fresh off a decades-long buying spree, are finally saving more and spending less -- just as the economy needs their dollars the most.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Voting Age of 16 at

A reader writes:
Dear Anya Kamenetz:

I remember your opinion piece "You're 16, You're Beautiful and You're a Voter" in The New York Times.

This idea got into the final round of voting at because it
placed in the top 3 of its subcategory.

Voting in the final round begins [today] Monday, January 5, 2009 and will end on Thursday, January 15, 2009. After all the ideas are voted on by the users of the site, the top 10 ideas will be discussed at a National Press Club meeting on January 16th, will have a national advocacy campaign created to support of each of them, and will be presented to President Obama on his inaugural day, January 20th.

Lower the Voting Age to 16:
Allow 16 and 17 year olds, who must pay taxes and are often charged as adults for crimes, to participate in elections:

U.S. citizens who wish to express their support for this idea need to create an account at with their name and email address, and press the button for whatever ideas they choose to support. They must cast their vote by January 15th at the latest.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

The Student Loan Bailout

The Department of Education is bestowing capital onto student lenders at the rate of as much as $500 million per week! to keep the subsidized student loan program afloat in the wake of the credit crunch. It would be cheaper and simpler if they cut out the middleman and simply expanded the direct loan program, where students get funds directly from the Treasury. In fact, as lenders bow out and leave them in the lurch, schools are flocking to direct lending. The only group that misses out if we switch to direct lending altogether is the remaining middleman lenders, like Sallie Mae and Citibank. They would lose their fat subsidies and guarantees.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Reading in NYC January 13

I'll be giving a reading in a couple of weeks for a new anthology I have an essay in. It should be an interesting evening.
You can read the essay here if you're curious.
Manhattan, NY: Daniel Pinchbeck, Ken Jordan, Anya Kamenetz, and Jonathan Phillips will read at McNally Jackson, 52 Prince St b/t Lafayette and Mulberry. Tues, Jan. 13, 7-9p

Ask Not For Whom the Pell Tolls

OK, sorry for the pun. It's a holiday.
Longtime Rhode Island Senator Claiborne Pell died today at the age of 90. He was a progressive giant of the senate whose namesake Pell Grant remains the most important source of need-based funding for college, although in the thirty years since the Pell been introduced, its buying power has been severely outstripped by tuition cost increases.

Today the maximum Pell Grant is $4731, compared to average tuition & fees, room& board at a public university of $14333. Keep in mind that very few people are awarded the maximum, as it's based on a complicated formula of family income and the cost of attendance.