Poverty & Wealth

Raising Wages From the Bottom Up

(Photo courtesy of USW Local 675)
(Screenshot of video from International Brotherhood of Teamsters) A picket line of truckers in Long Beach, California, in 2014. This article appears in the Spring 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . I n 1999, while he was working at a local immigrant service center in Los Angeles, Victor Narro began encountering a particularly aggrieved group of workers. They were the men who worked at carwashes, and their complaint was that they were paid solely in tips—the carwashes themselves paid them nothing at all. At first, the workers came by in a trickle, but soon enough, in a flood. Narro, whose soft voice and shy manner belie a keen strategic sensibility, consulted with legal services attorneys and discovered that while every now and then a carwash was penalized for cheating its workers, such instances were few and far between. “There were no regulations overseeing the industry,” Narro says. The state’s labor department conducted no sweeps of the carwashes to...

Why the Feds Can't Seem to Rein in For-Profit Colleges -- Or Stop Giving Them Money

For-profit colleges have mastered predatory lending while still relying heavily on federal dollars. 

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) Makenzie Vasquez, from left, Pamala Hunt, Latonya Suggs, Ann Bowers, Nathan Hornes, Ashlee Schmidt, Natasha Hornes, Tasha Courtright, Michael Adorno and Sarah Dieffenbacher, pose for a picture in Washington, Monday, March 30, 2015. Former and current college students calling themselves the “Corinthian 100” say they are on a debt strike and refuse to pay back their student loans. The name comes from Corinthian Colleges Inc., which operated the for-profit Everest College, Heald College and WyoTech schools before agreeing last summer to sell or close its 100-plus campuses. This article was originally published by Demos . L ast week, after some dogged journalistic legwork by Inside Higher Ed ’s Michael Stratford, the Department of Education released a list of 560 colleges that have been placed under a level of extra scrutiny—known as “Heightened Cash Monitoring”—due to concerns about a college’s finances or administrative capacity, or as the result of an...

Did JPMorgan Try to Bribe Dem Power-Brokers? (Depends What Your Definition of 'Bribe' Is)

They've got a problem with Elizabeth Warren. And they want party leaders to do something about it.

iStockPhoto/© jgroup
D id one of the largest banks in the United States accidentally acknowledge an attempt to bribe members of Congress? A widely published Reuters story reported that four major U.S. banks have threatened to withhold expected campaign contributions from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee unless “Democrats, including [Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth] Warren and Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown ... soften their party's tone toward Wall Street.” But the article specifically notes: “JPMorgan representatives have met Democratic Party officials to emphasize the connection between its annual contribution and the need for a friendlier attitude toward the banks, a source familiar with JPMorgan's donations said. In past years, the bank has given its donation in one lump sum but this year has so far donated only a third of the amount, the source said.” A person familiar with JPMorgan's donations—who may or may not be a JPMorgan representative—told a Reuters reporter that JPM told party...

The Feds Are Finally Moving to Regulate Payday Lending

The new rules are good, but could be better. 

AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin Payday loan businesses, some of them open 24-hours a day, advertise their services in Phoenix, Arizona. This article originally appeared at Demos.org . T oday, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a blueprint for new regulations pertaining to payday loans and car title loans. The regulations will not include an interest rate cap, the holy grail for advocates, because industry allies watered-down the provisions (I discuss the fight over payday lending in my recent Atlantic article). These regulations are still important. The proposed regulations include two major options and payday lenders would choose which to follow. Both are aimed at preventing borrowers from falling into “debt traps,” where they constantly roll over their loan. • The first are “prevention requirements.” In these, lenders would determine before lending the ability of an individual to repay the loan without re-borrowing or defaulting (and verify would a third party). Borrowers...

Legions of Women Workers in U.S. Still Lack Minimum Wage and Labor Protections

The legacy of slavery and prescribed gender roles continues to rob millions of their fair share.

(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Billy Smith II In this Dec. 2014 photo, Eileen Merize, left, helps 93-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran Harold Utsler look through some of his paper work at her home in Katy, Texas near Houston. The Houston Chronicle reports Utsler is one of three veterans who live in Merize's home through the Medical Foster Program, which helps disabled elderly veterans live with "foster families" rather than in large nursing homes. I t’s Women’s History Month—what a nice idea to recognize that women actually make history and aren’t just along to make dinner for the history-makers! In 1980, President Jimmy Carter declared seven days in March to be National Women's History Week, and President Ronald Reagan followed suit. In 1987, Congress expanded the commemoration on the calendar, giving women a whole month. We have come so far. Putting sarcasm aside, it is true that the 20th century included concrete advances for women in America. Starting with the New Deal, women workers...

Chart: The Way We Pay Tipped Workers Disproportionately Harms Women

They're the majority of the people who work primarily for tips, and they make even less than their male counterparts.

(Photo: iStockPhoto/ © powerofforever)
This article was originally published on the website of the Economic Policy Institute . U nder federal law, employers of tipped workers are only required to pay their tipped staff a base wage of $2.13 per hour—an amount that has not been raised since 1991—provided that the sum of an employee’s weekly tips plus their base wage equates to an hourly rate of at least the minimum wage. Consequently, tipped work is overwhelmingly low-paying, even after accounting for tips. In 2013, the median hourly wage for tipped workers, including their income from tips, was $10.22 per hour, compared with a median hourly wage of $16.48 for workers overall. Low-paying tipped work disproportionately harms women: as the figure below shows, 67 percent of tipped workers are women, yet they still make less than their male counterparts—$10.07 for women at the median versus $10.63 for men. (These data include tips.) Economic Policy Institute CLICK HERE TO VIEW LARGER IMAGE. This loophole for tipped employers is...

Students Declare Nationwide Boycott of Wendy's Over Farmworker Concerns

Taco Bell, Burger King, McDonalds, and Walmart are already party to the worker-protection contract the targeted fast-food chain refuses to sign.

© Coalition of Immokalee Workers
© Coalition of Immokalee Workers On March 22, students and activists from across the U.S. came together in St. Petersburg, Florida, for the Concert for Fair Food. There the group, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), announced a nationwide student boycott of the Wendy's fast-food chain for its refusal to join in an agreement designed to protect the farmworkers who harvest the produce used by the chain. This article originally appeared at Facing South , the website published by the Institute for Southern Studies. S tudents from colleges and high schools across the U.S. declared a nationwide boycott of the Wendy's fast-food chain over its refusal to join the Fair Food Program created to help eliminate farmworker poverty and abuse. The announcement came at the Parade and Concert for Fair Food held on Saturday, March 21, in St. Petersburg, Florida, by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a Florida-based group that promotes human rights for farmworkers. The boycott is part of a...

7 Reasons Why the 99 Percent Keeps Losing

iStockPhoto/© porcorex
iStockPhoto/© porcorex This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post . O ur current political situation is unprecedented. The vast majority of Americans keep falling behind economically because of changes in society's ground rules, while the rich get even richer—yet this situation doesn't translate into a winning politics. If anything, the right keeps gaining and the wealthy keep pulling away. How can this possibly be? Let me suggest seven reasons: 1. The Discrediting of Politics Itself The Republican Party has devised a strategy of hamstringing government and making any remediation impossible. Instead of the voters punishing Republicans, the result is cynicism and passivity, so the Republican strategy is vindicated and rewarded. The media plays into this pattern by adopting a misleading narrative that makes the gridlock in Washington roughly the equal fault of both parties—with lazy phrases such as "Washington is broken," or "politics is broken," or "partisan bickering." (...

Why the Real Story of the Irish Exodus to America Isn't Taught in Schools

The famine that brought vast numbers of Irish to the U.S. wasn't caused by nature; it was caused by ruthless capitalists.

(Photo: Lawrence Collection, National Library of Ireland)
(Photo: Lawrence Collection, National Library of Ireland) During the potato blight of the 1840s, tenant farmers were not allowed to partake of the grain, poultry and other edibles they raised, and were often evicted, as shown above, by ruthless landlords when they could not meet the rent under the duress of starvation. This article was produced by the Zinn Education Project , and is part of the project's If We Knew Our History series. “ Wear green on St. Patrick’s Day or get pinched.” That pretty much sums up the Irish-American “curriculum” that I learned when I was in school. Yes, I recall a nod to the so-called Potato Famine, but it was mentioned only in passing. Sadly, today’s high school textbooks continue to largely ignore the famine, despite the fact that it was responsible for unimaginable suffering and the deaths of more than a million Irish peasants, and that it triggered the greatest wave of Irish immigration in U.S. history. Nor do textbooks make any attempt to help...

The Dance of Liberals and Radicals

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo) U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, right, talks with civil rights leaders in his White House office in Washington, D.C., January 18, 1964. The movement leaders, from left, are, Roy Wilkins, executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); James Farmer, national director of the Committee on Racial Equality; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; and Whitney Young, executive director of the Urban League. This essay originally appeared at The Huffington Post . M arch 15 was the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson's best speech, his "We Shall Overcome" address applying the final round of pressure on Congress to enact the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Much of the speech invoked the bravery, dignity and historical rightness of Martin Luther King, Jr., and his fellow movement activists. All of which puts me in mind of the complex relationship between liberals and radicals. History shows that liberals...

Sharing the Wealth

Why can’t we broadly distribute the wealth produced from America’s common resource pool? Conservative Alaska manages to do it.

(AP Photo/The Juneau Empire, Klas Stolpe)
(AP Photo/The Juneau Empire, Klas Stolpe) Governor Sean Parnell announces the 2010 dividend check amount that all Alaskans receive through the state's popular Permanent Fund. Looking on is Department of Revenue Commissioner Pat Galvin, a trustee on the Alaska Permanent Fund Board. This book review appears in the Winter 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . With Liberty and Dividends for All: How to Save Our Middle Class When Jobs Don’t Pay Enough By Peter Barnes 174 pp. Berrett-Koehler Publishers $19.95 I n the mid-17th century, Gerrard Winstanley led a series of protests in England against “enclosure,” the practice of landlords privatizing public lands. Nonviolent, with a utopian communist agenda, Winstanley’s followers, the Diggers, published pamphlets and, more quixotically, sang their hopes and fears. A stanza from one of their songs: “Your houses they pull down, stand up now, stand up now Your houses they pull down, stand up now. Your houses they pull...

Looking Forward to the Sequel

If we don’t alter the power distribution that led to the financial collapse, it will happen again.

(Illustration: Wesley Bedrosian)
(Illustration: Wesley Bedrosian) This book review appears in the Winter 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . The Shifts and the Shocks: What We’ve Learned—and Have Still to Learn—From the Financial Crisis By Martin Wolf 466 pp. Penguin Press $35 M artin Wolf is one of the few people on the planet who can mingle with financial elites without being co-opted by them. Fans of his regular column in the Financial Times —and I am one—are familiar with the power of his writing, the clarity of his logic, and the independence and delightful unpredictability of his views. But Wolf fans beware: While his columns can be devoured as easily as a Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, his new book, The Shifts and the Shocks , tastes more like the side of brussels sprouts that Aunt Millie brought to the holiday dinner—obligatory to consume and good for you, but requiring a lot of chewing. This is dense and at times highly technical reading, laden with jargon only an Oxford economist could...

CPAC Labor Panel Does GOP No Favors in Outreach to Latinos, Women

Organizing among fast-food workers and home health-care aides has clearly gotten under the skin of anti-labor leaders—even as they boast of another anti-union triumph in Wisconsin.

(Photo: Ron Sachs / CNP via AP Images)
(Photo: Ron Sachs / CNP via AP Images) Governor Scott Walker, Republican of Wisconsin, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National at National Harbor, Maryland on Thursday, February 26, 2015. He's expected to sign new anti-union legislation, passed by the Wisconsin Senate on the day before, into law if, as is likely, the bill passes the state assembly. O n February 26, day one of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, a panel convened on the state of the labor movement. To describe the tone of presenters as triumphant would be an understatement. At the Thursday afternoon breakout session titled “There’s No ‘I’ in Teamsters: Obama’s Bow to Big Labor Bosses,” panelists discussed a long list of topics, ranging from the salaries of top union leadership to “pernicious” attacks on franchisers of fast-food restaurants, whose workers have taken to the streets to demand predictable schedules and livable wages...

Historian as History-Maker: Isabel Wilkerson Calls All of America to Account for Racial Injustice

The acclaimed author of The Warmth of Other Suns is not about to let the North off the hook. A conversation with the chronicler of the Great Migration.

(Photo: Joe Henson)
(Photo: Joe Henson) Isabel Wilkerson, author of the award-winning book, The Warmth of Other Suns , the story of the Great Migration of African Americans to the North. T his summer, Ta-Nehisi Coates published a compelling argument for reparations in The Atlantic . This nation, he argued, has inherited a debt. We ought to repay the community that we as a nation have hurt most. In its entirety, the headline read: The Case for Reparations : Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole. The idea? You can stop slavery, you can stop Jim Crow, you can stop discriminatory housing policies, but it doesn’t stop the bleeding. And the first step to healing is reparations. The idea of reparations for African Americans once had credibility, but in recent decades the notion has been scoffed at. Reparations are thought to be...

CPAC 2015: Right-Wing American Dream Kind of Crappy

Republican politicians are rarely shy about expressing some hatred of the government, and Mia Love is no exception.

(Photo: C-SPAN)
(Photo: C-SPAN) (L-R) Raffi Williams of the Republican National Committee, Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA, U.S. Representative Mia Love and U.S. Senator Ben Sasse, appear on a panel about millennials and the American dream at the Conservative Political Action Conference on February 26, 2015. W hat is the American dream? Is it owning a house and having a job you love? Perhaps you want to be able to have children and send them off to school? Well, this year at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, members of the Republican Party are promising to help you make your dreams come true. On Thursday morning, CPAC—an annual gathering at which a broad range of right-wing constituencies are represented—officially started as presidential hopefuls, political pundits, conservative activists and college students filled the Gaylord National Convention Center at National Harbor, Maryland, just outside of the nation’s capital. Because both political parties go through great lengths to...

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