This workplace perk could make it easier to save for emergencies

From today’s CNBC News:

If your car breaks down or you get sick, do you have enough money saved to cover the unexpected expense? If you’re like many Americans, the answer is probably no.

A recent survey from personal finance website Bankrate found that just 40 percent of Americans have enough saved to cover a $1,000 unexpected expense. Research from Prudential found that 60 percent of families have experienced some kind of financial emergency in the past year.

What’s more, the median American household’s liquid net worth is just about $813, according to Prudential. When faced with a cash crunch, individuals tend to turn to their retirement accounts through loans or hardship withdrawals, credit cards or payday loans.

“If you don’t have that buffer, it could be a time of enormous stress. And in that time of stress, often people will tap sources that are not ideal for them,” said Phil Waldeck, president of Prudential Retirement.

That has prompted Prudential to launch a new option for emergency savings that can be added alongside its retirement plans. The savings is an after-tax contribution that allows employees to automatically put money away in low-cost investments such as money market or so-called stable value funds.

Read the complete article here.

First teachers’ strike in 30 years leaves half a million L.A. students in limbo

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

With umbrellas in one hand and picket signs in the other, Los Angeles teachers braved cold, drizzly weather Monday morning as they walked off the job in their first strike in 30 years to demand smaller class sizes, more support staff at schools and better pay.

L.A. teachers go on strike

“Let’s be clear, educators don’t want to strike,” United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl said to a crowd of supporters during a morning news conference at John Marshall High School in Los Feliz. “We don’t want to miss time with our students. We don’t want to have less money for the car payment or less money for the school supplies that we always end up buying ourselves.”

The strike became inevitable when negotiations broke off late Friday afternoon between the L.A. Unified School District and the teachers union after more than 20 months of bargaining.

Schools are open during the strike, but it’s not clear how many students will head to classes in the nation’s second-largest school system. Staffers at some schools said attendance appeared to be low Monday, but official numbers were not immediately available.

During the last teachers’ strike, about half of the district’s students went to school. The plan at many schools for this strike is to gather students into large groups so they can be supervised by fewer adults. It’s not clear how much learning will be going on outside of the real-time civics lessons happening on the sidewalks.

Read the complete article here.

Amazon announces it’s raising minimum wage for U.S. workers to $15 per hour

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Amazon is boosting its minimum wage for all U.S. workers to $15 per hour starting next month.

The company said Tuesday that the wage increase will benefit more than 350,000 workers, which includes full-time, part-time, temporary and seasonal positions. It includes Whole Foods employees. Amazon’s hourly operations and customer service employees, some who already make $15 per hour, will also see a wage increase, the Seattle-based company said.

Amazon raising minimum wage for U.S. workers to $15 per hour

Amazon has more than 575,000 employees globally. Pay for workers at Amazon can vary by location. Its starting pay is $10 an hour at a warehouse in Austin, Texas, and $13.50 an hour in Robbinsville, N.J. The median pay for an Amazon employee last year was $28,446, according to government filings, which includes full-time, part-time and temporary workers.

Amazon said its public policy team will start pushing for an increase in the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

“We intend to advocate for a minimum wage increase that will have a profound impact on the lives of tens of millions of people and families across this country,” Jay Carney, senior vice president of Amazon global corporate affairs, said in a statement.

Read the complete article here.

The stock market boom has given CEOs a raise. What about average workers?

From today’s PBS News Hour:

Over the past few years, many economic indicators have returned to where they were before the Great Recession — among them, the unemployment rate, which has dropped below the 5 percent mark of 2007, housing prices and the stock market, which has nearly doubled its pre-recession peak.

Another, buoyed by rising stock prices: the enormous pay difference between CEOs of the largest U.S. companies and their employees, who earn more than 300 times less than those at the top, according to new data.

Here’s a closer look at the issue.

How has CEO compensation changed?

In 2000, the average CEO was paid 343 times more than the average worker, according to the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute. That number dropped to about 188-to-1 in 2009.

It has since rebounded to 312-to-1 last year, according to a report from the Economic Policy Institute.

From 2016 to 2017, the average pay of CEOs from the top 350 publicly traded firms increased 17.6 percent — to $18.9 million — even after being adjusted for inflation, the group found.

How to close the gap

The reason for the pay disparity between CEOs and employees is relatively simple. Closing the gap is much more complex.

A number of methods have been proposed to close the gap, including a cap on compensation, clawbacks for poor performance or executive misconduct, and, as mentioned previously, mandatory publishing of CEOs’ salaries.

James Galbraith, the director of the University of Texas Inequality Project who also served as an adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, said U.S. companies should look to other countries where laws encourage business leaders to reinvest in their tangible products instead of their stocks.

Read the complete article here.

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.

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.

Missouri voters blocked the state’s ‘right-to-work’ law in perhaps the biggest electoral stunner of the night

From today’s Business Insider:

Missouri voters on Tuesday struck down a right-to-work law by a resounding margin, representing a huge victory to the organized labor movement and a decisive blow to the agenda of the state’s majority-Republican legislature.

In 2017, Missouri Republicans passed legislation to ban compulsory union fees for workers who choose not to join, which would’ve severely limited the influence of the organized labor movement.

Former Gov. Eric Greitens signed the bill into law, but union organizers started a petition to stall its implementation, ultimately gathering enough signatures for the law to be put on hold pending a statewide referendum.

In the end, on Proposition A, roughly 67% voted against the keeping the law, while 33% voted in favor of it.

Supporters of right-to-work laws say workers shouldn’t be forced to join unions and pay membership fees. But opponents contend these fees are necessary to protect worker’s rights, especially given that federal law requires unions to represent all employees — even those who opt out of joining unions.

The Supreme Court in June ruled unions could not require public-sector employees to pay such fees. Twenty-seven states have laws permitting workers in unionized settings to choose not to join and pay membership fees.

Read the complete article here.

Robots or Job Training: Manufacturers Struggle to Improve Economic Fortunes

From today’s New York Times:

For Anthony Nighswander, rock-bottom unemployment is both a headache and an opportunity. For businesses and workers, it could be the key to reversing one of the country’s most vexing economic problems: slow productivity growth.

Mr. Nighswander is president of APT Manufacturing Solutions, which builds and installs robotic equipment to help other manufacturers automate their assembly lines. Lately, business has been booming: With the unemployment rate now below 4 percent, he says he gets calls every day from companies looking for robots to help ease their labor crunch.

The problem is that Mr. Nighswander faces a hiring challenge in his own business, especially because, in this town of fewer than 4,000 people near the Indiana border, the pool of skilled workers is shallow. But rather than turn to robots himself, he has adopted a lower-tech solution: training. APT has begun offering apprenticeships, covering the cost of college for its workers, and three years ago it started teaching manufacturing skills to high school students.

 “I never thought that I would be training high school students in our facilities,” Mr. Nighswander said. “What I knew was that I was in survival mode. I knew the orders for robots and for automation were coming in faster than I could get the jobs out.”
That kind of urgency could prove to be a powerful economic force. The investments in training and automation by Mr. Nighswander and his customers should, over time, make their companies more productive. Multiplied across thousands of companies, those decisions could have benefits for companies and workers that endure even after today’s hot economy inevitably cools.
Productivity — how much value the economy generates in an average hour of work — gets less public attention than more intuitive economic concepts such as employment and wages, but it may be even more fundamental.
Rising productivity — whether through better technology, more educated workers or smarter business strategies — is why people’s economic fortunes, on average, improve over time. When productivity growth is strong, companies can afford to pay workers more without eating into their own profit margins, letting a rising tide lift all boats.
Since the end of the Great Recession, however — and, to a lesser extent, even during the stronger economic times that preceded it — productivity growth has been confoundingly weak, forcing business owners and workers to compete over a relatively meager sliver of economic growth. There have been peaks and valleys, but not since the dot-com boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s has the American economy consistently delivered productivity growth above 2 percent a year.
Now some economists think a rebound could be on the way. For most of the recovery, wage growth has been anemic, suggesting companies faced relatively little pressure to invest in automation or to find other ways to squeeze more production out of workers. But as the labor market tightens, companies’ incentives could be changing.

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.

Massive UC workers’ strike disrupts dining, classes and medical services

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

A massive labor strike across the University of California on Monday forced medical centers to reschedule more than 12,000 surgeries, cancer treatments and appointments, and campuses to cancel some classes and limit dining services.

More than 20,000 members of UC’s largest employee union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, walked off their jobs on the first day of a three-day strike. They include custodians, gardeners, cooks, truck drivers, lab technicians and nurse aides.

Two altercations involving protesters and people driving near the rallies were reported at UCLA and UC Santa Cruz. At UCLA, police took a man into custody Monday after he drove his vehicle into a crowd, hitting three staff members. They were treated for minor injuries at the scene and released, said Lt. Kevin Kilgore of the UCLA Police Department.

The system’s 10 campuses remained open, largely operating on regular schedules, and protests were peaceful and even festive.

At UCLA, workers marched through campus in green union shirts that said “We run UC” and held signs calling for equality, respect and more staff. Some brought children and walked dogs. Drivers honked in solidarity. Hundreds of workers rallied in front of the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, taking taco breaks under green balloons.

Oscar Rubio, a UCLA food services worker, said that staffing at some dining hall stations has been cut from five workers to three, leading to more injuries for those who remain.

Top UC officials “make more money … while we suffer,” Rubio said. “We’re not asking to make like they make. We’re asking to support us enough to pay our rent.”

Read the complete article here.