Americans Want to Believe Jobs Are the Solution to Poverty. They’re Not.

From today’s New York Times:

U.S. unemployment is down and jobs are going unfilled. But for people without much education, the real question is, Do those jobs pay enough to live on?

These days, we’re told that the American economy is strong. Unemployment is down, the Dow Jones industrial average is north of 25,000 and millions of jobs are going unfilled. But for people like Vanessa, the question is not, Can I land a job? (The answer is almost certainly, Yes, you can.) Instead the question is, What kinds of jobs are available to people without much education? By and large, the answer is: jobs that do not pay enough to live on.

In recent decades, the nation’s tremendous economic growth has not led to broad social uplift. Economists call it the “productivity-pay gap” — the fact that over the last 40 years, the economy has expanded and corporate profits have risen, but real wages have remained flat for workers without a college education. Since 1973, American productivity has increased by 77 percent, while hourly pay has grown by only 12 percent. If the federal minimum wage tracked productivity, it would be more than $20 an hour, not today’s poverty wage of $7.25.

American workers are being shut out of the profits they are helping to generate. The decline of unions is a big reason. During the 20th century, inequality in America decreased when unionization increased, but economic transformations and political attacks have crippled organized labor, emboldening corporate interests and disempowering the rank and file. This imbalanced economy explains why America’s poverty rate has remained consistent over the past several decades, even as per capita welfare spending has increased. It’s not that safety-net programs don’t help; on the contrary, they lift millions of families above the poverty line each year. But one of the most effective antipoverty solutions is a decent-paying job, and those have become scarce for people like Vanessa. Today, 41.7 million laborers — nearly a third of the American work force — earn less than $12 an hour, and almost none of their employers offer health insurance.

Read the complete article here.

He said he refused his company’s Bible study. After being let go, he’s suing.

From today’s Washington Post:

A 34-year-old painter is suing Dahled Up Construction, a company based south of Portland, Ore., for allegedly firing him after he refused to join a Christian Bible group for employees. Ryan Coleman is seeking $800,000 from the company after its owner allegedly said participation in the Bible group was required if he wanted to keep his job.

Coleman told The Washington Post that when he explained to the company’s owner, Joel Dahl, that he had different beliefs, Dahl said: “If you want to keep your job, everybody needs to attend. If not, I’m going to be forced to replace you.”

Coleman said he initially took part in the weekly, hour-long Bible classes for six months, fearing he wouldn’t be able to find another job.

Dahl’s attorney, Kent Hickam, described Dahl as a “second-chance employer.” Dahl told the Oregonian that he once served prison time for attempted second-degree assault and struggled with drugs and alcohol. He said he started Dahled Up Construction in 2016 after years of staying sober with the hope of hiring other convicted felons or those who have battled addiction.

Read the complete article here.

Why You Should Tell Your Co-Workers How Much Money You Make

From today’s New York Times:

So how much do you make?

It’s a loaded, deeply personal and often uncomfortable question. Along with our weight and age, our salary is a number to which we’ve assigned almost incomparable value.

And, when we’re asked, what many of us really hear is this: What’s your worth as a person?

“Money is so tied up with really complex and difficult emotions, like shame, success, fear of failure and how people view you,” said Brianna McGurran, a money expert at the personal finance blog NerdWallet. “So when you’re talking about how much you earn, or how much you’re saving, a lot of people end up tying that to their self-worth.”

She added: “Salary is so close to our identity. It’s the core part of all of this.”

That money — along with sex, politics and religion — is a topic best avoided in polite conversation is a cultural concept many of us are raised on, and taboos around discussing income can be particularly sensitive.

Read the complete article here.

In victory for unions, judge overturns key parts of Trump executive orders

From today’s Washington Post:

A federal judge late Friday dealt a victory to federal employees and the unions that represent them, invalidating overnight key provisions of a series of Trump administration executive orders aimed at making it easier to fire employees and weaken the unions.

The overnight ruling by U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson in Washington was a setback to the White House’s efforts to rein in the power of federal unions. Though federal employees’ pay is set by Congress, their unions have retained significant power even as private-sector unions have been in decline.

The three executive orders, issued just before Memorial Day, had sought to severely restrict the use of “official time” — on-duty time that union officials can spend representing their members in grievances and on other issues. The rules also limited issues that could be bargained over in union negotiations. And it rolled back the rights of workers deemed to be poor performers to appeal disciplinary action against them.

Read the complete article here.

In America, wage growth is getting wiped out entirely by inflation

From today’s Washington Post:

Rising prices have erased U.S. workers’ meager wage gains, the latest sign strong economic growth has not translated into greater prosperity for the middle class and working class.

Cost of living was up 2.9 percent from July 2017 to July 2018, the Labor Department reported Friday, an inflation rate that outstripped a 2.7 percent increase in wages over the same period. The average U.S. “real wage,” a federal measure of pay that takes inflation into account, fell to $10.76 an hour last month, 2 cents down from where it was a year ago.

The stagnant pay comes despite accelerating U.S. growth, which has increased in the past year and topped 4 percent in the second quarter of 2018 — the highest rate since mid-2014.

The lack of raises have befuddled economists and policymakers, who hoped that after job openings hit record highs and the unemployment rate dipped to the lowest level in decades, employers would give beefy raises to attract and retain employees. But so far, gains have been slight, and small recent increases are now being eclipsed by rising prices.

Inflation hit a six-year high this summer, driven in part by a jump in energy costs. The price of a gallon of gas has increased 50 cents in the past year, up to a national average of $2.87, according to AAA. Some analysts expect the climb in energy prices to halt soon, which should bring the overall inflation rate down and possibly lift real wages slightly.

Consumers are also paying more for housing, health care and car insurance, the federal government reported Friday. Additional price hikes could be coming as President Trump’s new tariffs boost prices of cheap imported products U.S. consumers rely on. And many economists warn that growth might have peaked for this expansion.

Read the complete article here.

Employers Are Finally Ready to Talk About How Much They Pay

From today’s Bloomberg News:

Up until last week, none of the 170 employees working at Verve, a marketing company, knew what anyone else made. Now, everyone’s salary is listed on an internal document for everyone to see.

By 2019, all 1,100 employees at CareHere, a Nashville based health-care company, will know the pay ranges for all positions in the company. Fog Creek, a New York-based software company with about three dozen employees, did the same last year. As did Hired, an online job search network in San Francisco that employs 200 people.

Employers have long discouraged talking about money at work, in part because obscuring salary information keeps compensation costs down. But that attitude is starting to change. In a survey of almost 2,000 employers by the consulting firm Willis Towers Watson, more than half of the respondents said they plan to increase transparency around pay decisions in the next year.

Pay transparency can mean a lot of things. A minority of companies are taking the most extreme approach, where everyone knows what everyone else makes. A larger share of companies are letting employees in on the voodoo behind their pay practices and explaining what goes into compensation decisions. Others are revealing pay ranges for positions and posting that information alongside job listings.

“Many of us who entered the workforce a longer time ago entered into a culture where you didn’t talk about pay,” said Sandra McLellan, who heads Willis Towers Watson’s North America rewards practice. “Today, people are much more comfortable discussing what they earn.”

Employees now have more access to compensation data than ever before—just not necessarily from their employer. Sites such as Glassdoor and Fairygodboss aggregate and list pay information for thousands of jobs across industries, giving workers a clearer picture of how their pay stacks up against that of their co-workers. Even LinkedIn has a feature that breaks down pay by job title and location.

The proliferation of information is leading to some issues for employers. More than anything, people want to feel like they’re being paid fairly, surveys have found. Armed with this new information, many of them are going to their managers and complaining that they’re not.

Read the complete article here.

Disneyland reaches a tentative contract settlement with workers, ending a heated battle that lasted months

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Walt Disney Co. reached a tentative settlement Monday with four unions at the Disneyland Resort, putting an end to a contentious dispute that attracted the attention of Sen. Bernie Sanders and prompted a ballot measure to require the Burbank media giant to pay resort workers a “living wage.”

Although details of the settlement were not disclosed, the agreement appears to end a heated, months-long contract dispute with about 9,700 employees who work in the eateries and retail shops, operate the attractions and provide maintenance at the two Anaheim theme parks, the Disney hotels and nearby shopping district.

“The Disneyland Resort and Master Services Council are proud to have reached a tentative agreement, which we are hopeful will be ratified later this week,” the park and the council that represents the workers said in a joint statement. “We have had a successful history of working together since Disneyland Park opened in 1955, and this contract continues that shared commitment to cast members.”

Union members vote on the proposed contract Thursday. Negotiations began in April for the contract that was set to end in June. Employees have been working under an extension to the contract.

The unions have been pushing Disney to pay a “living wage” by, among other tactics, commissioning a study that looked at the economic hardship of the workers and sponsoring a rally featuring Sanders, who called on Disney to share its wealth with employees who are struggling to make ends meet.

The unions were successful in collecting at least 13,185 valid signatures — or at least 10% of the city’s voters — to put on the Nov. 6 ballot a measure requiring large hospitality companies that accept a subsidy from the city to pay at least $15 an hour, with salaries rising $1 an hour every Jan. 1 through 2022. Once the wage reaches $18 an hour, annual raises would then be tied to the cost of living.

Read the complete article here.

Further Thoughts on a Job Guarantee

From today’s New York Times “Opinion” Section by Paul Krugman:

As I wrote the other day, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may call herself a socialist and represent the left wing of the Democratic party, but her policy ideas are pretty reasonable. In fact, Medicare for All is totally reasonable; any arguments against it are essentially political rather than economic.

A federal jobs guarantee is more problematic, and a number of progressive economists with significant platforms have argued against it: Josh BivensDean BakerLarry Summers. (Yes, Larry Summers: whatever you think of his role in the Clinton and Obama administrations, he’s a daring, unconventional thinker when not in office, with a strongly progressive lean.) And I myself don’t think it’s the best way to deal with the problem of low pay and inadequate employment; like Bivens and his colleagues at EPI, I’d go for a more targeted set of policies.

But I’m fine with candidates like AOC (can we start abbreviating?) proposing the jobs guarantee, for a couple of reasons. One is that realistically, a blanket jobs guarantee is unlikely to happen, so proposing one is more about highlighting the very real problems of wages and employment than about the specifics of a solution. Beyond that, some of the critiques are, I think, off base.

Here’s the way some of the critiques seem to run: a large share of the U.S. work force – Baker says 25 percent, but it looks like around a third to me – makes less than $15 an hour. So offering these workers a higher wage would bring a huge rush into public employment, implying a very expensive program.

What’s wrong with this argument? The key point is that all those sub-$15 workers aren’t just sitting around collecting paychecks: they’re producing goods and (mostly) services that the public wants. The public will still want those services even if the government guarantees alternative employment, so the firms providing those services won’t go away; they’ll just have to raise wages enough to hold on to their employees, who would now have an alternative.

Now, that doesn’t mean zero job loss. Employers might replace some workers with machines; they would have to raise prices, meaning that they would sell less; so private employment might go down.

But all this is true about increases in the minimum wage, too. And we have a lot of evidence on what minimum wage increases do, because we get a natural experiment every time a state raises its minimum wage but neighboring states don’t. What this evidence shows is that minimum wage hikes have very little effect on employment.

So if we think of a job guarantee as a minimum wage hike backstopped by a public option for employment, we should not expect a mass migration of workers from private to public jobs.

Read the complete article here.

 

Supreme Court delivers blow to organized labor in fees dispute

From Reuter’s News Service:

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday dealt a big blow to organized labor, ruling that non-members cannot be forced in certain states to pay fees to unions representing public employees such as teachers and police, shutting off a key union revenue source.

The 5-4 ruling overturned a 1977 Supreme Court precedent that had permitted these so-called agency fees, which have been collected from millions of workers who opt not to join unions in lieu of union dues to fund non-political activities such as collective bargaining. The court’s conservative justices were in the majority, with the liberal justices dissenting.

Forcing non-members to pay these fees to unions whose views they may oppose violates their rights to free speech and free association under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, the court said in the ruling authored by Justice Samuel Alito.

“States and public-sector unions may no longer extract agency fees from non-consenting employees,” Alito wrote. In a dissent, Justice Elena Kagan accused the court’s conservatives of “weaponizing the First Amendment” to intervene in economic and regulatory policy.

“This case was nothing more than a blatant political attack to further rig our economy and democracy against everyday Americans in favor of the wealthy and powerful,” public-sector unions including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the union directly involved in the case, said in a statement.

Two dozen states had required agency fees. The ruling means that the estimated 5 million non-union workers for state and local governments who have paid them can stop. Agency fees do not involve federal or private-sector employees.

The decision represented a major victory for conservative activists who long have sought to curb the influence of public-sector unions, which often support the Democratic Party and liberal causes.

With the U.S. organized labor movement already in a diminished state compared to past decades, the ruling now deprives unions of a vital revenue stream, undercuts their ability to attract new members and retain current members, and undermines their ability to spend in political races.

Republican President Donald Trump, whose administration backed the challenge to the fees, welcomed the ruling, writing on Twitter, “Big loss for the coffers of the Democrats!”

Read the complete article here.

In parts of America, Department of Labor hasn’t updated “prevailing wage” for taxpayer-funded work in decades

From Bloomberg News Network:

Thanks to a web of loopholes and limits, the federal government has been green-lighting hourly pay of just $7.25 for some construction workers laboring on taxpayer-funded projects, despite decades-old laws that promise them the “prevailing wage.”

Over the past year, the U.S. Department of Labor has formally given approval for contractors to pay $7.25 for specific government-funded projects in six Texas counties, according to letters reviewed by Bloomberg. Those counties are among dozens around the nation where the government-calculated prevailing wage listed for certain work—such as by some carpenters in North Carolina, bulldozer operators in Kansas and cement masons in Nebraska—is just the minimum wage.

That’s in part because, according to publicly available data from the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, the agency is relying on wage survey data in more than 50 jurisdictions that’s from the 1980s or earlier. Experts said that’s a far cry from what Congress intended when, starting with the Depression-era Davis Bacon Act, it passed a series of laws meant to ensure that private companies contracted for government-backed projects pay their workers at least in the vicinity of what others get for the same work in the same geographic area.

In an emailed statement, the Labor Department didn’t address whether the decades-old data is a problem.

“The Wage and Hour Division carefully plans where to survey on an annual basis to ensure that prevailing wage rates reflect the reality of construction pay practices in a locality. The division identifies potential survey areas based on a number of criteria, including where available data on active construction projects in an area reveal changes in local pay practices such that a survey is necessary,” the department said.

Because government contracts are often required to go to the “lowest responsible bidder,” supporters say prevailing wage rules prevent a “race to the bottom” in which exploitative companies who pay workers less outbid safer, higher-quality firms, and in turn drive down industry standards to pocket more taxpayer dollars. Opponents of prevailing wage rules counter that they’re intrusive mandates that waste money, inflating construction costs in order to help unionized firms beat non-union competitors.

In recent years, the opposition—largely Republicans and industry groups—scored a series of wins, successfully pressing state governments in Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia to repeal their own “little Davis Bacon” rules. By contrast, the federal statutes remain in place, despite the efforts of Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, who said last year  that “no one can claim to be a fiscal conservative if they think the federal government needs to inflate the cost of wages.”

Read the complete article here.