Poverty & Wealth

Exporting Financial Instability

Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement could set back the gains made by emerging and developing countries after the financial crisis.

(AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
(AP Photo/Vincent Thian) Activists wave Malaysian flags during a protest against Trans-Pacific Partnership ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's Malaysia visit, outside the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, April 25, 2014. T he late Dr. Martin Luther King is praised for saying “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Along the same lines, if we learned anything from the global financial crisis it is that financial instability anywhere is a threat to financial stability everywhere. The Obama administration appears not to have learned that lesson. The trade treaty agenda announced at the State of the Union address is an injustice that will rob our trading partners of the ability to prevent and mitigate a financial crisis. That could not only spell instability for our trading partners, but for the U.S. economy as well. At the State of the Union, Obama asked the Congress to grant him the authority to finish the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—a trade and...

Are the Elites Catching Up with the People?

(Rex Features via AP Images)
I nequality has at last arrived as the issue that mainstream politicians can’t ignore. You see it in Obama’s better-late-than-never embrace of “middle-class economics” as the signature theme in his State of the Union address; and in a surprisingly leftish report of a commission co-chaired by former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. The new report by the Commission on Inclusive Prosperity , convened by the Center for American Progress, is frank in its acknowledgment of the inequality crisis. “Today, the ability of free-market democracies to deliver widely shared increases in prosperity is in question as never before,” the report declares. It calls for several measures of the sort that the labor movement, the Economic Policy Institute, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and others on the left edge of Democratic politics have been urging for years. What’s surprising is not what’s being said but who’s saying it. For instance, the commission offers a frank statement of what’s wrong with...

'Housing First' Policy for Addressing Homelessness Hamstrung By Funding Issues

The new approach may spring from good intentions, but is undermined by a lack of affordable housing stock.

(AP Photo/The El Paso Times, Mark Lambie)
(AP Photo/The El Paso Times, Mark Lambie) Andre Stokes, who is homeless, tries to stay warm in a shelter he built in downtown El Paso Tuesday, January 13, 2015. Temperatures were in the 30s, which is unusual for the El Paso area. I n an era of shrinking financial resources, policymakers, providers, and activists who work on homelessness prevention and care in the United States have been forced to develop new strategies. There was a time when officials at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) saw it as their responsibility to provide both housing and supportive services for homeless individuals, but now HUD now is refocusing its budget predominately on rent and housing—with the hope that other local, state, and federal agencies will play a greater role in providing supportive care. However, whether other organizations will actually be able to pick up those costs and responsibilities remains unclear. The first major federal legislative response to homelessness was the...

Labor at a Crossroads: The Case for Union Organizing

The labor movement has been growing while shrinking—growing through organizing.

(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
T he union movement is 3.5 million members smaller than 40 years ago, and the forces that brought that about are as energetically engaged and powerful as they have ever been. From that undeniable fact, it has been wrongly concluded: Union organizing is impossible, futile, or a thing of the past The labor movement is dead, or dying The best hope for workers is through something different from trade unions and collective bargaining. These conclusions are very disconcerting to this organizer. I am upset that there’s so little acknowledgement of the millions of workers who have risked much to try to unionize. Thousands are doing it today. And so little acknowledgement of those who have done it and succeeded. They number a million and a half. How do I know that? I know it from my own experience; it’s the work with which I have been immersed for those 40 years. And I know it by virtue of simple arithmetic. The 3.5 million members by which labor has shrunk is net. I simply added the net...

McMorris-Rodgers and Anti-Choice Marchers All For 'Life' Until It's Born

She's all for the fetus, until it's born and needs health insurance. Or anything.

(AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)
E very January 22, anti-choice activists travel to Washington, D.C., to participate in the March for Life. It’s their way of marking the anniversary of Roe v. Wade , the U.S. Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in all 50 states. The signs carried by the marchers always declare their love of babies and their desire to protect families. Their end goal, however, is to eliminate abortion nationwide; the organizers have also recently taken on the false and scientifically incorrect idea that oral contraceptives are actually abortifacients. Science be damned, the march is usually attended by hundreds of thousands of people from all over the country—including a congressional delegation. This year, U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, a Republican from Washington State, together with Representatives Dan Lipinski, Democrat of Illinois; and Chris Smith, the New Jersey Republican, will be represent Congress at the march. U.S. Senator Tim Scott, Republican of South Carolina,...

GOP Response: The Breadbags of Empathy

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
I magine going to the doctor and saying, "My back is killing me. I can barely move. What can you do to help me? Should we do an X-ray? Physical therapy? Medication?" And the doctor responds, "Yeah, I hurt my back once. It was awful. So I know exactly what you're feeling. Anyway, thanks for coming in—just see the receptionist on the way out to pay your bill." That's not too far off from what we heard from Senator Joni Ernst in the GOP response to the State of the Union address last night. I'm particularly interested in this part: As a young girl, I plowed the fields of our family farm. I worked construction with my dad. To save for college, I worked the morning biscuit line at Hardees. We were raised to live simply, not to waste. It was a lesson my mother taught me every rainy morning. You see, growing up, I had only one good pair of shoes. So on rainy school days, my mom would slip plastic bread bags over them to keep them dry. But I was never embarrassed. Because the school bus would...

The Politics of Gesture

(AP Photo/Mandel Ngan, Pool)
(AP Photo/Mandel Ngan, Pool) President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Janunary 20, 2015, in Washington. A version of this article first appeared at The Huffington Post . I f Tuesday's State of the Union address told us anything, it's this: We are seeing a somewhat bolder Barack Obama. In his speech, the president unveiled a litany of what he calls "fourth-quarter initiatives." Some of these can be accomplished by executive order; most will require legislation. The measures that can be achieved by presidential order include reducing the down-payment or interest on federally insured mortgages to stimulate home ownership. Obama has already used his executive power to suspend deportation of some 5 million undocumented Dreamers and in some cases their parents. He has required federal contractors to pay something closer to a living wage. He recently ordered federal agencies to give new parents up to six weeks...

What Obama Should -- and Shouldn't -- Say in State of the Union Address

While he's taken steps to improve Americans' wages, there's still more the president can do. 

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) President Barack Obama delivering his 2011 State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. This article originally appeared at the website of the Economic Policy Institute . T onight President Obama will deliver his State of the Union address, which gives him an opportunity to lay out his priorities and set an agenda for the year ahead. At the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), we have argued that raising wages is the central economic challenge . It is terrific news that the president will address wage stagnation in his speech. After a year of strong job creation but continued stagnant wage growth, many economists and commentators—not to mention the American people—are beginning to focus on wages. Even the new GOP-controlled Congress is paying lip service to the middle class squeeze (but is offering no program to address these challenges). So we are now entering into a great debate about what can be done...

Labor at a Crossroads: Time to Experiment

New organizing will be propelled by committed activists, but will have to be sustained by huge numbers of members and supporters.

Working America
This article is published as part of " American Labor at a Crossroads: New Thinking, New Organizing, New Strategies ," a conference presented on January 15, co-sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute, The Sidney Hillman Foundation, and The American Prospect . (View agenda here .) Find our Labor at a Crossroads series here . I love the breadth and gusto of the new labor organizing, which includes plenty of innovation based in old labor organizing as well. This mash-up of practical experiences will help produce breakthrough tactics and strategies. There is also a question of purpose—is our aim to improve working conditions, or is it to build a more powerful working class? These are related, clearly, but suggest different strategies and structures. Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, is a laboratory for change. Here are three areas at the top of our list for exploration in this realm. Changing minds Pollsters call this “the frame”—but really, it’s ideology. Working...

Remedy for an Ailing Civil Justice System: Preventive Legal Care

The proper and efficient administration of justice is in jeopardy when we leave so many people to their own devices in our courts.

(iStockPhoto/© bbbrrn)
(iStockPhoto/© bbbrrn) W e’ve come to recognize the value of preventive medicine as a society. We know that patients do better and our government saves money when people get annual check-ups and screenings, diabetics have access to regular treatment and women receive proper prenatal care, so that we are able to avoid the costly and sometimes deadly issues that arise if we wait until they arrive in the emergency room. What would it look like if we took the same approach for legal help? What if we recognized that people are more likely to be able to stay in their homes if they have access to adequate legal assistance for wrongful evictions or foreclosures, rather than spending millions of taxpayer dollars on shelters once people have lost their homes and have nowhere else to turn? In Massachusetts, the Boston Bar Association (BBA), which I currently lead, recently released a Task Force report that shows that taking a preventive approach to legal issues, in the same way we do for public...

Labor at a Crossroads: How We Know We Haven't Yet Found the Right Model for the Worker Organizations

If we had already found the right model for a powerful, scalable, sustainable organization uniting low-wage workers, then organizers would learn about problems at particular worksites from the workers themselves, not Reddit.

© Phillip Pessar via Flickr
© Phillip Pessar via Flickr The retail chain Wet Seal kept employees in the dark about plans to close 338 stores, such as this one in Miami's Dadeland Mall, even assuring workers that their jobs were not in peril. Employees responded by posting signs in store windows detailing the company's mistreatment of workers, and by creating a #forgetwetseal hashtag campaign that rocketed to the top of Reddit . This article is published as part of " American Labor at a Crossroads: New Thinking, New Organizing, New Strategies ," a conference presented on January 15, co-sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute, The Sidney Hillman Foundation, and The American Prospect . (View agenda here .) Find our Labor at a Crossroads series here . O n the first Friday in January, the executives of mall retailer Wet Seal held a conference call to inform hundreds of store managers that their stores were closing—effective just days later. Many workers had noticed extremely low inventories and extremely high...

Obama's State of the Union Preview Serves Up Pretty Weak Brew

whitehouse.gov/video screenshot
whitehouse.gov screenshot President Obama delivers remarks about his new community college proposal at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, January 9, 2015. "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized." —Daniel Burnham I recently got an email invitation from a Democratic congressional office to come to a "watch party" to view President Obama's State of the Union address. His "fourth-quarter priorities," according to the White House-inspired talking points of the message, are "home ownership, free community college, and high-paying jobs." That sounds pretty good. But if you unpack the specifics, the president is offering pretty weak tea. Free community college sounds terrific. Community college is the great American institution of the second chance. Obama proposes to have the federal government cover 75 percent of the cost, if states will participate. This could save students an average of over $3,...

Labor at a Crossroads: Can Broadened Civil Rights Law Offer Workers a True Right to Organize?

It's one way to allow victims of anti-union discrimination to sue in federal court for compensatory and punitive damages.

(AP Photo/Alex Sanz)
(AP Photo/Alex Sanz) U.S. Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, is co-sponsoring, with Rep. Keith Elison of Minnesota, legislation that would broaden the Civil Rights Act to include workers who are discriminated against for wanting to join a union. Lewis, shown here on December 22, 2014, discusses the historical film Selma and civil rights in the United States during an interview in Atlanta. Forty-nine years after Lewis and other marchers tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, memories of "Bloody Sunday" are still vivid in his mind. It was one of the defining moments of the civil rights era. This article is published as part of " American Labor at a Crossroads: New Thinking, New Organizing, New Strategies ," a conference presented on January 15, co-sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute, The Sidney Hillman Foundation, and The American Prospect . (View agenda here .) Find our Labor at a Crossroads series here . O rganized labor, which represents only 1...

Why Your Wages Are Idling in Neutral

Low-wage Americans are not the only workers affected by stagnant wages and rising inequality.

(Photo: © WillSelarep/iStock)
This article was originally published by the Economic Policy Institute as part of its " Raising America's Pay " initative. O ver the last 35 years (with the exception of the late 1990s), hourly wages of the vast majority have lagged far behind economy-wide productivity. This failure of wages to grow and rising wage inequality is the primary explanation for the rise of family income stagnation and income inequality over the past generation. Additionally, progress in closing gender and racial wage gaps throughout this period has been either nonexistent (for racial gaps) or disappointingly slow (for gender gaps). Low-wage Americans are not the only workers affected by stagnant wages and rising inequality. The middle class has also experienced stagnating hourly wages over the last generation, and even those with college degrees have seen no pay growth over the last 10 years. Since the late 1970s, wages for the bottom 70 percent of earners have been essentially stagnant, and between 2009...

Meet Austerity's Kissing Cousin: A Terrible Trade Deal

(AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
(AP Photo/Martin Meissner) People protest against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) at the final election party of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) prior E.U. Parliament elections in Duesseldorf, Germany, Friday, May 23, 2014. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . E urope is right on the edge of another downward lurch into prolonged deflation. GDP growth is hovering right around zero. Germany, as an export powerhouse, continues to thrive, but at the expense of the rest of the continent—victims of German-imposed budget austerity demands. The euro, which keeps sinking against the U.S. dollar, is now trading at just $1.20, its lowest level in four and a half years. Unemployment outside prosperous Germany remains stuck at over 12 percent. All of this weakens the political center that supports the E.U., and increases the appeal of far-right parties. (You wonder if Europe's leaders bother to read their own history. When there is protracted...

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