Jamila Michener, Ph.D.
I am an assistant professor in the department of Government at Cornell University. I study the politics of poverty, race and public policy in the United States. My book (with Cambridge University Press) is entitled, Fragmented Democracy: Medicaid, Federalism, and Unequal Politics. My work has been cited in the Atlantic and Salon; my commentary has appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio and Vox; my public writing has been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the American Prospect and various other outlets. I also sit on the advisory board of the Cornell Prison Education Program and teach classes in local prisons.
Health Politics and Policy
Class, Inequality, and Labor Politics
Race, Ethnicity and Politics
Health Politics and Policy
Countries of Interest
My research examines: 1) the conditions under which economically and racially marginalized groups engage in the political process and 2) the effects of such engagement 3) the many ways public policy shapes the lives of people in these groups. Particular topics that populate this overarching agenda include: the political causes of racial disparities in poverty rates; the relationship between neighborhood disorder and local political participation; the determinants of state compliance with the public assistance provisions (section 7) of the National Voter Registration Act; and the community level political effects of concentrated disadvantage.
The geographic concentration of disadvantage is a key mechanism of inequity. In the United States, the spatial patterning of disadvantage renders it more than the sum of its individual parts and disproportionately harms economically and racially marginalized Americans. This article focuses specifically on the political effects of Medicaid beneficiaries being concentrated in particular locales. After offering a framework for conceptualizing the community-wide consequences of such policy concentration, I analyze aggregate multiyear data to examine the effect of Medicaid density on county-level voter turnout and local organizational strength. I find that, as the proportion of county residents enrolled in Medicaid increases, the prevalence of civic and political membership associations declines and aggregate rates of voting decrease. These results suggest that, if grassroots political action is to be part of a strategy to achieve health equity, policy makers and local organizations must make efforts to counteract the sometimes demobilizing “place-based” political effects of “people-based” policies such as Medicaid.
Common markers of social class include income, wealth, education and family background. Though these capture staple pedestrian elements of class, they understate something substantial – social class is produced by political experiences. Building on this observation, I argue that social class is constructed and reinforced via political institutions that differentially affect the daily experiences and life trajectories of Americans. Viewing class through this lens (instead of more simply as a function of income or education) enables clarity on two critical features of the American political system: (1) its deeply racialized institutional practices (2) its dual inclusionary/exclusionary governance structures. Most broadly, this essay pushes us beyond a view of class as a set of variables that affect political outcomes and towards inquiry into the ways that political institutions produce class. Ultimately, such a conceptual pivot illuminates additional pathways for transforming economic and political relations in the United States.
The relative political disengagement of people living in poverty poses an enduring challenge to the integrity of American democracy. In 1993, Congress attempted to address this by passing section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act. This law requires that all public assistance agencies serve as voter registration sites. Though advocates had high hopes for section 7, it has proven difficult to implement. Since very early on, state compliance has varied widely, maintaining an overall trajectory of decline. This article explains the reasons for such patterns. By examining changes in compliance between 1995 and 2012, I demonstrate that race is a pivotal determinant of when states incorporate low-income policy beneficiaries into the electorate. I find that state compliance decreases significantly when (i) non-Whites are less active in electoral politics relative to their White counterparts; (ii) African Americans comprise a greater share of the state population; and (iii) welfare bureaucracies employ more Latinos. These findings raise concerns about the political equality of disadvantaged citizens and underscore the need to scrutinize the outcomes of expansionary voting policies. Even more broadly, this research shows how the entanglement of race and poverty in a federalist polity frustrates efforts to advance participatory equality.
Anyone who has lived in, driven through or walked by a ‘‘bad’’ neighborhood has a sense of the attributes that render such places unique: graffiti, litter, public intoxication and much more. According to the well-known theory of ‘‘broken windows,’’ these readily observable corporeal characteristics signal neighborhood disorder and lead to increased criminal behavior. This article inves- tigates the implications of disorder for political behavior, taking particular care to distinguish between the objective tangible conditions of disorder and residents’ subjective interpretations of those conditions. Utilizing exceptionally rich data, this analysis reveals that while certain aspects of objective ‘‘reality’’ are consequential, perceptions of such reality are a more powerful mechanism through which neigh- borhood disorder impacts local political engagement. For some political outcomes, a heightened sense of the problems associated with disorder is linearly associated with an increase in participation. For others, the pattern is parabolic: those who perceive so little disorder that they remain content or so much disorder that they become disaffected are substantially less likely to take action to make their communities better. Ultimately, holding objective contextual features constant, the lenses through which residents interpret things like ‘‘broken windows’’ are critical determinants of grassroots politics. This information, combined with broader understandings of what shapes perceptions of disorder, lays the foundation for structuring policy in ways that facilitate grassroots activism—a vital component of the American democratic process.
Medicaid is the single largest public health insurer in the United States, covering upwards of 70 million Americans. Crucially, Medicaid is also an intergovernmental program that yokes poverty to federalism: the federal government determines its broad contours, while states have tremendous discretion over how Medicaid is designed and implemented. Where some locales are generous and open handed, others are tight-fisted and punitive. In Fragmented Democracy, Jamila Michener demonstrates the consequences of such disparities for democratic citizenship. Unpacking how federalism transforms Medicaid beneficiaries' interpretations of government and structures their participation in politics, the book examines American democracy from the vantage point(s) of those who are living in or near poverty, (disproportionately) Black or Latino, and reliant on a federated government for vital resources.
I appeared in a segment called "Voting While Black"
I appeared on the show "Central Time" in a segment entitled, "Wisconsin Seeking Mandatory Drug Testing For Medicaid Applicants."
I wrote an opinion piece (with co-author Julilly Kohler-Hausmann) entitled, "Why We Shouldn't Drug Test Poor People."
I wrote a post entitled, "People who get Medicaid are made to feel powerless. That pushes them out of politics and toward fatalism."
I wrote a piece entitled, "Playing Offense on Voting Rights"
I wrote a piece entitled, "How Access to Public Assistance Impacts Political Participation."
I wrote a piece describing some of my research: "Perceptions of Risk and Disorder Can Have a Huge Impact on Local Political Engagement"
My voice was featured on a Vox You Tube video entitled, "Medicaid, explained: why it's worse to be sick in some states than others."
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