Poverty & Wealth

It’s Not a Skills Gap That’s Holding Wages Down: It's the Weak Economy, Among Other Things

Workers’ ability to handle technological advances doesn’t explain what’s happened to American wages.

(Photo by: Hendrik Schmidt/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)
(Photo by: Hendrik Schmidt/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images) A robotic welding system for Volkswagon car body shells is featured at the Industrial Museum in Chemnitz, Germany. T he inadequate quantity and quality of American jobs is one of the most fundamental economic challenges we face. It’s not the only challenge: Poverty, inequality, and stagnant mobility loom large, as well. But in a nation like ours, where wages and salaries are key to the living standards of working-age households, all these challenges flow from the labor market problem. OK, but this is a supposed to be an article about technology. What’s the linkage between technology and this fundamental problem? As a D.C.-based economist who’s been working on the issue of jobs and earnings for almost 25 years, trust me when I tell you that most policy makers believe the following: “Yes, there’s a problem of job quantity and quality, but it’s largely a skills problem. Because of recent technological advances, most notably...

Tragedy, Privation and Hope: Joy Boothe's Inspiring Journey to Moral Monday

Horrifically orphaned and raised with prejudice, she built a house and a new life with her own hands. Now hers are among many building a movement for justice.

©Jenny Warburg
©Jenny Warburg Joy Boothe (in black pants) at a sit-in outside the office North Carolina Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger in June 2014, protesting Republican education cuts. W hen Joy Boothe showed up at last week’s Moral Monday rally in her hometown of Burnsville, North Carolina, she was fighting both sleep- and sun-deprivation. Boothe had just driven in from Asheville, 35 miles away, where her husband was recovering from a double knee replacement. “Despite my fears of leaving my husband’s hospital room for the first time in four days,” she told the small crowd gathered in the town square, “I’ve come to stand with you today. It’s that important. It’s that important. ” Boothe, a vice president of the local NAACP branch, was referring to the ongoing political upheaval in Raleigh, the state capital, four hours east of this small mountain town. There, an emboldened Republican legislative majority had cut unemployment benefits, turned away federal Medicaid funds, slashed education...

In Political System Disconnected From Society's Ills, Remedies Pushed to Fringes of Public Debate

(Kike Calvo via AP Images)
(Kike Calvo via AP Images) More than 100,000 people march through midtown Manhattan on Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014 as part of the People's Climate March, a worldwide mobilization calling on world leaders meeting at the UN to commit to urgent action on climate change. F or half a century beginning with Franklin Roosevelt, there was a direct connection between the problems that afflicted American society and the remedies on offer from our democratic system. High unemployment? The New Deal, the World War II mobilization, and the postwar boom took care of that. Stagnant wages? With unions, growing productivity, minimum wage laws, and other regulation of labor standards, American real wages tripled. Education? The G.I. bill, massive investment in public universities, community colleges, and later in public elementary and secondary education produced a better educated and more productive population. And until the 1980s, public higher education was practically free. The exclusion of blacks from...

Henry McCollum’s Innocence and the Stakes for Death Row Inmates in a Red State

When North Carolina's Republican lawmakers repealed the Racial Justice Act, those on death row who were wrongfully convicted lost a crucial tool for getting a second chance.

©Jenny Warburg
©Jenny Warburg Henry McCollumn rises in a courtroom in Lumberton, North Carolina, to learn of his release from prison after serving 31 years for a crime he didn't commit. O n Tuesday, September 2, in a courtroom packed with his family members, his original lawyer, and even members of the family of the eleven-year old girl from Red Springs, North Carolina, he had been convicted of raping and murdering, death-row inmate Henry McCollum saw his conviction overturned after being in jail for thirty-one years. “Henry, I think, was overwhelmed,” said Vernetta Alston, a staff attorney at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, which helped with McCollum’s case. “I think it's still taking him a while to soak it all in. I think folks were very relieved.” The decision not only granted McCollum his freedom but it also took away an archetype. McCollum was used by conservatives as a rationale for capital punishment, his face used on campaign mailers to paint Democrats as soft on crime. Justice...

The Politics of Pre-K: How A Program Known to Help Poor Mothers Could Doom Your Candidacy

When the emphasis is kept on how it's good for business, early-childhood education is popular. Just don't call it childcare. 

(AP Photo/The Monitor, Gabe Hernandez)
(AP Photo/The Monitor, Gabe Hernandez) I n Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race, education has emerged as one of the most heated issues. A Quinnipiac University poll released this month found education ranked as the most important issue for voters, after jobs and the economy. Despite contentious politics surrounding reform of public education from kindergarten through twelfth grade, Republican incumbent Tom Corbett and Democratic challenger Tom Wolf have discovered that plugging expansion of pre-kindergarten programs wins them political points without treading into treacherous waters. That is, as long as they don't mention the mothers who will inevitably benefit, too. The governor’s record is haunted by his 2011 budget, from which he cut nearly $900 million in public education funds—a decrease of more than 10 percent. The severe cuts have garnered national attention , particularly for Philadelphia—the state’s largest school district—which wrestled with a $304 million cut this past school...

Reclaiming Our Rights: Going Proactive to End Discriminatory Abortion Restriction

Women are sick of politicians meddling in their health care decisions for cheap political points. Young people are hitting the road to let them know.

(All* Above All)
All* Above All I turned thirty-eight this year. This month the Hyde Amendment will also be thirty-eight, and since its passage, we have seen a growing number of abortion restrictions proposed and enacted across the country. The Hyde Amendment, passed by Congress in 1976, restricts abortion coverage for the young people, women and families most in need. It prevents federal dollars from being used to cover abortion. And while there is an exception in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the pregnant woman, it is enforced irregularly. There is no health exception to this policy for women covered by federal insurance plans. We have watched Congress pass this amendment year after year, for thirty-eight years. For nearly four decades we have watched this restrictive policy beget new anti-abortion, anti-women and anti-sex ballot measures, amendments, and legislation. We take on these fights one by one, state by state, defending the right to control our bodies. We win some, and we...

Congress Didn't Pay a Lot to Go to College: Today's Students Shouldn't Either

Building photo: Architect of the Capitol - Dome: Carol M. Highsmith/Library of Congress
Architect of the Capitol This article originally appeared on the website of Demos . O ne of the oldest attack lines in politics is that a candidate or elected official is “out of touch” with the American people. The phrase, deployed often and by both parties, is often used to outline how a statement, voting record, or ideology is on the minority side of public opinion. In other cases, it’s used to target legislators who have served several terms, inferring that their tenure in office has left them too cozy and unresponsive to the needs of constituents. In the case of both Mitt Romney and John Kerry , it was used to infer that the very life experiences of a candidate left them out of touch with those of the “everyday American.” It’s designed to remove any and all appearances of empathy from the equation. In some cases, it’s actually true. Look no further than the cost of higher education. This week, the Senate was expected to (but looks like it no longer will) vote on a bill to allow...

Tenants Facing Eviction in Era of Skyrocketing Rents Need Legal Assistance

Without legal assistance, tenants often miss crucial steps and find themselves out of a home.

(AP Photo/Ricardo Figueroa)
(AP Photo/Ricardo Figueroa) Y ears after we’ve supposedly recovered from the housing crisis, millions of Americans are at risk of losing their homes, and housing is still one of the most troubling aspects of America’s growing inequality problem. The evidence is clear: Rents are rising in cities across the country, and the New York Times reported earlier this month that evictions are soaring nationwide. Tenant-landlord standoffs in U.S. cities are also becoming increasingly common—and bitter. But despite this bleak overall picture, some tenants are winning eviction battles and ultimately staying in their homes. How? What’s the difference between those who protect their homes and those who are at risk of falling into homelessness? Most often, outcomes depend on one factor: whether tenants have legal help. Across the country, civil legal aid programs are helping people under threat of evictions understand their rights, navigate the court system, and, most importantly, stay in their homes...

A Book for the People of Ferguson -- And Oppressed People Everywhere

Fred Ross's change-making Axioms for Organizers is updated for the Internet age, and for a new generation battling discrimination and police brutality.

fredrosssr.com
M ost residents of Ferguson, Missouri, have probably never heard of Fred Ross, Sr., but they could use his help now. Ferguson's population is two-thirds African American, but the mayor, almost all members of the city council and school board, and 95 percent of the police department is white, and in last year's municipal election only 7 percent of blacks came to the polls. Ross—perhaps the most influential (but little-known) community organizer in American history—had a successful career mobilizing people to challenge police brutality, fight segregation, and organize voter registration and voter turnout campaigns. Ross taught people how to channel their anger and frustrations into building powerful grassroots organizations that can win concrete victories that change institutions and improve people's lives. He understood that while sporadic protests can draw attentions to long-neglected problems, it requires the hard day-to-day intentional work of organizing to build power and give...

Want to Fix the Jobs Crisis? Build a Federally Funded Worker Education Infrastructure

Critics are wrong when they say that, as one solution to underemployment, job training is a failure. Successful programs are plentiful, but they are small and scattered.

Photo: Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI)
Photo: Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI) Job training in cooperation with the NewCourtland Network in Pennsylvania. W ith unemployment still high, and millions discouraged from even looking for work, there is considerable interest in ways to connect people to jobs. Certainly stimulating the economy is essential to creating more opportunity. But what can we do to help people make the connections to employers who are looking for workers? Job training programs would seem to be a logical answer, a key step in moving someone from unemployment, or underemployment due to obsolete skills, into well-paying work. But there is much skepticism that training programs perform well. Reports of scandals surrounding proprietary schools with low placement and high debt feed this doubt. But focusing on these failures misses the larger point. Best-practice models exist, and are slowly diffusing. The challenge lies not in ignorance about what works, but how to reach scale in delivering quality...

The Top 10 Percent of White Families Own Almost Everything

Chart: Demos - Photo: Rui Vieira/PA Wire (Press Association via AP Images)
This article was originally published by Demos. T he Federal Reserve released the 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances on Thursday. The overall wealth distribution picture is grim and getting worse: The top 10 percent of families own 75.3 percent of the nation's wealth. The bottom half of families own 1.1 percent of it. The families squished in between those two groups own 24.6 percent of the national wealth. The present wealth distribution is more unequal than it was in 2010, the last year this survey was conducted. Specifically, the top 10 percent increased their share of the national wealth by 0.8 percentage points between 2010 and 2013. The bottom half and middle 40 percent saw their share of the national wealth fall by 0.1 and 0.7 percentage points respectively. These wealth figures bring to mind a 1955 Red Scare era educational film , which presses at one point: In order to have a proper appreciation of the American economic system, we must know how the national income is divided in...

What Happens When the Person Taking Care of Your Mom Can’t Earn a Living Wage?

When the Supreme Court ruled that unions could not collect dues from the home-care workers they represent, the justices set workers and their clients on a course that could harm them both.

(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman) Tanya Melin of Chicago, right, Service Employees International Union members, home care consumers, workers, and allies rally in support of home care funding at the Illinois State Capitol Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012 in Springfield, Illinois. O n June 30, the Supreme Court ruled that a key strategy used by unions to raise the earnings and professionalism of home-care workers was illegal. Since the 1990s, the labor movement has worked with states and countries to get laws or executive orders to allow home-care workers to be treated as employees of public authorities rather than as individual contractors. The result has been to allow these workers to form unions and to bargain collectively with government for better wages and working standards. In the Harris v. Quinn case, however, the Court held that workers could still unionize, but that they were not true public employees. Unions thus could not collect dues from workers who choose to remain outside the bargaining...

What's Missing in the American Media: Working People

So far this year not a single representative of a labor union has appeared on any of the four Sunday network talk shows, according to a new report. And entertainment TV has abandoned the working class.

Wind Dancer Productions in association with Carsey-Werner Company
Wind Dancer Productions in association with Carsey-Werner Company A still from a 1988 episode of Roseanne, which ran on CBS from 1988 to 1997. This article originally appeared on BillMoyers.com , the website of the Moyers & Company television program. W orking Americans are woefully underrepresented in our mainstream media. According to an analysis by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), the media watchdog group, so far this year “not a single representative of a labor union” has appeared on any of the four Sunday network talk shows (NBC’s Meet the Press , ABC’s This Week , Fox News Sunday and CBS’s Face the Nation ). And it’s not that they were too preoccupied with Beltway politics to examine issues that affect working families. According to FAIR, during the year these “shows touched on issues like poverty, jobs and workers’ rights. There were even discussions of efforts to organize college athletes… But representatives of organized labor were not part of these...

Labor's New Groove: Taking the Struggle From Streets to Legislatures

(AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
(AP Photo/Paul Beaty) Demonstrators rally for better wages outside a McDonald's restaurant in Chicago, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013. Demonstrations planned in 100 cities are part of push by labor unions, worker advocacy groups and Democrats to raise the federal minimum wage of $7.25. L abor Day, 2014, comes at a time when Americans have concluded—correctly—that their country is downwardly mobile. In a Rutgers University poll released last week, 71 percent of Americans said they believed the changes to the economy caused by the Great Recession are permanent. (Asked the same question in November 2009, just 49 percent chose the “permanent” option.) Only 14 percent agreed with the description of American workers as “happy at work,” while 68 percent said American workers were “highly stressed” and 70 percent agreed they were “not secure in their jobs.” The economic data released last week confirm Americans’ pessimism. In a study for the Economic Policy Institute, economist Elise Gould reported...

Why the Legacy of Katrina on New Orleans Is Different From Disasters That Befell Other Cities

Nine years after the storm, why is it that divine retribution remains in the discussion when considering Katrina?

(AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Rescue personnel search from victims as they traverse the New Orleans 8th Ward in the flooded city of New Orleans on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005. Water continued to rise after the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina, which pounded the coast on August 29. H ow to remember Hurricane Katrina? I consider this each year as the anniversary approaches. I assume it’s something that most people do when the anniversary of a traumatic event draws near. New Orleans is not my hometown; I grew up two hours northwest from it in Louisiana’s fourth largest city, Lafayette . The day before Katrina reached land, my sister, who was in law school at Loyola University, called me (I was living in New York at the time) and said she was driving home. Everything from news to gossip portended the same: that Katrina was a beast and everyone should get out, or, at the very least, find adequate shelter. She fit as much from her apartment into her car as was humanly possible, boarded up her windows as best she could and...

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