Jake Blumgart

Jake Blumgart is a freelance reporter-researcher living in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter.

Recent Articles

Happy Birthday, Welfare Reform

Fifteen years after President Clinton cut a hole in the social safety net, poor Americans are paying the price.

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)President Clinton prepares to sign legislation in the Rose Garden of the White House Thursday, Aug. 22, 1996, overhauling America's welfare system.
Fifteen years ago today, Bill Clinton signed the law that created the program commonly known as welfare-to-work, fulfilling a campaign promise to "end welfare as we know it." Today, there is little doubt that the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act did just that, removing what had been a large cash-assistance program from the social safety net. The decline continues. With the law's federal authorization expiring September 30 and the numbers of impoverished Americans climbing ever higher, welfare is a dead letter in most states. The effectiveness of a government aid program can best be judged by its performance during periods of economic turmoil. By almost any measure, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the program created by the 1996 law, has failed to cushion the neediest through recessions. While in 2009 the food-stamp program responded to the increased need for government assistance, growing by 57 percent, the number of TANF caseloads merely...

Bonds of Steel

Can alliances with unions in Mexico and Europe return the United Steelworkers to its former strength at home?

From the 1930s through the 1980s, the United Steelworkers (USW) and its sister industrial union, the United Auto Workers, were the heart of organized labor in America. If the woman in the street or the legislator in D.C. had been asked to name the most powerful union in the country, the USW would have been at the top of the list. And deservedly so: With a membership topping 1 million, correspondingly vast coffers, immense political sway, and industry-wide bargaining power, it won the kinds of contracts and prominence that few other unions ever gained in America's notoriously conservative political economy. Everyone knows what happened next. With great power comes great complacency, and by the 1980s the American steel industry no longer maintained its once commanding grip on the international steel market. Coupled with an increasingly piratical global corporate culture, the industry suddenly and violently collapsed, scattering steel production to cheaper labor markets abroad. In the 25...

The Long Fight for Labor

Why is Barack Obama having such a difficult time undoing Bush-era damage to the Department of Labor?

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
On Feb. 4, a full year into Barack Obama's presidency, conservative influence over the Department of Labor finally loosened. After a grueling nine-and-a-half-month confirmation process, Patricia Smith overcame the Senate hold on her nomination as Labor Department solicitor, the third ranking position within the department. Her victory had been anything but certain: Fierce Republican opposition had already compelled another Obama Labor Department nominee, Lorelei Boylan, to withdraw her nomination as head of the vital Wage and Hour Division. The slow, grinding process of reforming the department, particularly the Wage and Hour Division, has proved exceptionally difficult, and it isn't over yet. George W. Bush staffed his Department of Labor with rigidly pro-business ideologues who allowed the department's investigative functions to wither. Obama promised to end conservative influence over the department, freeing the career staff to fulfill the agency's core missions. The president...

A Tour of Six States

Snapshots of the fiscal crisis across the nation.

North Carolina North Carolina's fiscal crisis isn't unique, but in a region where tax increases have long been political poison, the way state officials are dealing with it is. The numbers are intimidating: The 2009–2011 budget showed a $4.6 billion difference each year between the revenues needed to maintain reasonable levels of service and the state's ability to raise those revenues. All told, that is about 25 percent of the state's general fund. In comparison, the state's previous worst shortfall during the 2001 recession was only 10.8 percent. Fierce cuts to public spending were widely anticipated. "We've never had a shortfall of that size in our state," says Meg Gray Wiehe, public-policy analyst for the North Carolina Justice Center. "But the cuts could have been much, much worse than what ultimately ended up happening." That's because North Carolina's Democrat- controlled Legislature decided against getting slash-happy. Instead it balanced the budget through three roughly equal...

Taxing Matters

Maine and Washington voters are considering initiatives that would limit their state governments' ability to raise taxes -- and provide crucial social services.

In 2005, the people of Colorado made a counterintuitive move: They approved a referendum that basically guaranteed higher state taxes. With the support of 52 percent of the population, Coloradans suspended the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), a budget-slashing 1992 law that dramatically lowered taxes but severely restricted government's ability to function. A favorite of libertarians nationwide, TABOR left Colorado mired in the early 2000s recession and constrained spending on infrastructure and social services. Funding for higher education dropped and roads were left in disrepair, dissuading businesses from investing in the state. As a result , Colorado's average job growth between 2001 and early 2006 was a minuscule 0.2 percent; the other Rocky Mountain states averaged 8.3 percent. These shocking numbers, coupled with the defeats of TABOR initiatives in Maine, Oregon, and Nebraska the following year, should have completely discredited the program nationwide. Alas, not so. This year...

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