Nathalie Baptiste

Nathalie Baptiste is a writing fellow at The American Prospect

Recent Articles

Report: ‘Racial Rules’ Widen Economic Inequality for African Americans

A new study explores the historical roots of the widening racial inequality gap.

AP Photo/Alan Diaz
The income gap between rich and the poor Americans is the highest it has been in nearly 100 years, but the racial inequality gap is even wider. From high school graduates to graduate degree holders, black men and women today continue to earn less than similarly skilled white men and women. Yet missing from this conversation is a full understanding of the historical forces that have constrained African American earning power. The Washington-based Roosevelt Institute, a nonprofit economic think tank, recently released the study, “ Rewrite the Racial Rules: Building an Inclusive American Economy ,” that explains how the country’s racial history affects the national economic landscape that African Americans must navigate. “A series of racial rules has really set the foundation for the racial and economic inequality,” explains Andrea Flynn, an Institute fellow who co-authored the study. The end of slavery did little to address income disparities between whites...

University of Texas Affirmative Action Program in Peril

The Court's decision could impact college admissions programs nationwide. 

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
After being denied admission to University of Texas at Austin, Abigail Fisher sued the prestigious public university, alleging that her application was rejected because of her race. Fisher is white. The Supreme Court ruling will hinge on whether affirmative action should play a role in the college admissions process. The high court decision, expected as early as Thursday, will not only affect the University of Texas, but it could have a ripple effect at colleges nationwide. “It wouldn’t be legally applicable to the entire country, but it would fuel future lawsuits against other universities,” says Vinay Harpalani, a Savannah Law School constitutional law professor. Affirmative action has increased the number of nonwhites and women enrolled at universities and colleges across the country but remains unpopular among conservatives. Edward Blum, the director of the Project on Fair Representation, who encouraged Fisher to sue the University of Texas, is also behind the...

CFPB Takes Aim at Payday Loan Debt Traps

For two decades, the payday loan industry has preyed on low-income workers by offering short-term loans with sky-high interest rates and fees. Now the five-year-old Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is taking the first major steps to curb the sector’s predatory practices.

Under the proposed regulations announced this week, payday lenders must ensure that a borrower can afford the loan and meet his or her major financial obligations and basic living expenses. The rules would also limit the number of times a lender may withdraw money from a borrower’s bank account without reauthorization after two unsuccessful attempts. The final rules are expected to take affect in late 2017.

Typically, a borrower goes to a payday lender company and writes the lender a check for a specific sum of money—on average, Americans write payday loan checks for $375. The borrower then receives cash. The lender cashes the check or, on the individual’s next payday, withdraws the funds from the borrower’s bank account.

Payday lenders do not require borrowers to offer proof of financial ability to repay a loan: To qualify, a borrower only needs to provide checking account details, valid identification, and pay stubs or other proof of employment. The proposed regulations would prohibit payday lenders from providing funds to borrowers who have not been prequalified for short-term high interest loans.

The payday loan industry rakes in $7 billion in fees annually. According to the CFPB, the median fee for every $100 borrowed is $15. Interest rates are astronomical, averaging about 300 percent or higher. Coupled with the repeated attempts to withdraw funds from the borrower’s account, which lenders are permitted to do once the repayment period begins, repaying the loan can quickly become unmanageable.  

“The most profitable borrowers are the ones who can’t repay the loan,” said Mike Calhoun, the president of the Center for Responsible Lending, a nonprofit organization that promotes fair financial practices, during a telephone news conference.

Most payday lenders set up shop in low-income communities and communities of color, areas that often lack access to mainstream banking institutions. “This vulnerability is what payday lenders are counting on,” said Lindsay Daniels, the director of National Council de La Raza’s Wealth Building Initiative.

The payday lending industry is pushing back against the consumer watchdog’s regulatory push, claiming that these businesses provide a vital service to people with scant financial resources. Critics of the industry counter that borrowers have other options. “Even a pawn shop is better than these payday loans,” said Hilary Shelton, the director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau. “Some credit unions make short-term loans available that are not as nearly predatory or costly,” he added.

However, the proposed regulations are not a cure-all. Daniels says that the regulations don't go far enough to protect borrowers from practices like loan flipping, whereby lenders compel a borrower to renew a loan even though the individual has been unable to repay the original amount borrowed. “We are concerned that people will continue to experience problems because there are loopholes,” she said.

Pennsylvania Offers Clean Slate to Ex-Offenders

Pennsylvania is poised to become the first state in the nation to limit access to criminal records for certain nonviolent offenders. In April, the Pennsylvania General Assembly took up the consideration of bills that aim to help ex-offenders reintegrate into society without the permanent stigma of a criminal record.

Under the Clean Slate Act, people convicted of nonviolent misdemeanors would have their criminal records automatically sealed after ten years. Juvenile records would be sealed after seven years and records for most minor offenses, known as summary offenses in Pennsylvania, would be sealed after five years. People who are charged with an offense, but not convicted of a crime, will have those records sealed after 60 days. Today, eligible ex-offenders must hire an attorney or file a petition to have their records sealed. Nearly three million Pennsylvanians have criminal records.

The Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to move its bill to the Senate on Tuesday and the House Judiciary Committee is expected to follow suit with its plan, which is identical to the Senate version. The bills have broad support from Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly as well as from Democratic Governor Tom Wolf. “We’re hearing nothing but three cheers for ‘clean slate’ across the aisle,” says Rebecca Vallas, the managing director of the Center for American Progress’s Poverty to Prosperity program.

The bill garnered praise early on from a bipartisan coalition working on criminal justice reform. “We’re encouraged that Pennsylvania is taking a step forward to improve access to jobs and remove hurdles to educational opportunities for residents across the Commonwealth,” said Andy Hoover, the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s legislative director, in a statement.

Tim Head, executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a right-wing Christian non-profit based in Georgia, released a statement calling the bill an “important first step in putting a stop to the vicious cycle of incarceration and, instead, providing an opportunity at redemption for those exiting the justice system and working to rebuild their lives.”

A criminal record can hinder a person’s access to housing, employment, and education opportunities, which are critical ways to get re-established in a community. In turn, the failure to get back on one’s feet after being released from prison helps fuel recidivism rates among ex-offenders. State recidivism rates have been declining, but 60 percent of ex-convicts in Pennsylvania re-offend within three years, according to state Department of Corrections data.

Vallas believes that many people will no longer face these barriers under the new law. “I think it is safe to say that it’ll be in the hundreds of thousands,” she says.  Other states are also likely to enact “clean slate” laws. Last fall, Michigan Republican Senator Rick Jones announced his intention to introduce similar legislation.

Maryland Senate Race Comes Down to Turnout

High voter turnout, especially in Baltimore and among Sanders supporters, could give Donna Edwards the edge in the competitive Democratic primary.

(Photo: AP/Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Marylanders head to the polls Tuesday to decide who will likely replace Senator Barbara Mikulski, the longest-serving woman in the Senate, who is retiring after 30 years on Capitol Hill. The Democratic primary race has pitted white establishment progressive Chris Van Hollen against black populist insurgent Donna Edwards in a highly competitive contest largely defined by race. Van Hollen polls well among whites, and Edwards shows robust support from African American voters. But the key to the victory runs through Baltimore, where Edwards holds an edge over Van Hollen and a mayoral primary race is likely to increase turnout. A Monmouth University poll conducted last week was the first to show any candidate with a double–digit lead and Van Hollen jumped way out in front: 52 percent of likely Democratic primary voters favored Van Hollen, while Edwards was the favorite of 36 percent of those surveyed. But poll numbers tell a different story when it comes to race and gender. Edwards,...