Richard Rothstein

Richard Rothstein is a Prospect contributing editor, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, and senior fellow at the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at U.C. Berkeley School of Law.

Recent Articles

Toward a More Perfect Union: New Labor's Hard Road

The labor movement has new life, but faces immense obstacles. Here's what it can accomplish.

N o single strategy can reverse a 20-year decline in average wages and its threat to our postwar pattern of broadly distributed prosperity. But it's hard to imagine a successful set of policies that doesn't include a revival of labor unions. With the election of John Sweeney as AFL-CIO president, and a fresh commitment to organizing, many union supporters (inside and out of the labor movement) are newly optimistic. However, the obstacles remain daunting. At their 1954 zenith, unions represented 39 percent of private-sector workers. By 1973 when wages began to stagnate, the union share had fallen to 28 percent. Today it's barely 10 percent. A labor movement representing one worker in ten can't bargain effectively, especially when union strength has diminished in leading industries where master contracts once established national patterns. The once fully unionized auto industry now includes union-free Japanese and European transplant factories, ghost voices for wage restraint at Big...

The Parent Panacea

Gloria Molina has been Los Angeles County's First District Supervisor since 1991, when courts ordered the creation of a protected Latino seat on the County Board of Supervisors. Akin to the mayoralty of the nation's biggest Mexican-American "city," the post has given the former congresswoman a chance to promote her view--widely shared across the country--that greater parent involvement is the key to boosting the academic performance of disadvantaged children. She's tried dramatic measures, like having the district attorney threaten parents with jail time when children are habitually truant. But last year, Molina explored gentler approaches, having her staff look for examples of successful parent involvement programs that she might introduce to the schools in her community. To her surprise, the landscape was already cluttered with such programs. At the 800-student Murchison Street Elementary School in Molina's own East L.A. district, her staff...

The Starbucks Solution: Can Voluntary Codes Raise Global Living Standards

Starbucks, Wal-Mart, and Levi Strauss say they will do the right thing all over the world. That's better than if they made no commitment, but it may not be much.

S oon after protesters leafleted Starbucks stores because its Guatemalan coffee bean pickers earn less than that country's $2.50 daily minimum wage, Starbucks announced it would henceforth require growers to pay wages meeting "basic needs" of plantation workers. After NBC's Dateline filmed children working for Wal-Mart's Bangladesh garment suppliers, Wal-Mart adopted a contractor's "code of conduct." Following an expose that Levi Strauss contractors in Saipan had virtually enslaved imported Chinese women and paid them less than the legal minimum wage, the company vowed to do future business only with contractors whose workers are "fairly compensated . . . and not exploited in any way." A "toycott" of imported Chinese products provoked Toys "R" Us to adopt a code forswearing child labor. Reebok and Nike both now have codes for Third World workers, announced in response to Dutch and American protests (a recent Nation article noted that Nike paid Michael Jordan more for promotion in 1992...

The Global Hiring Hall: Why We Need Worldwide Labor Standards

Years ago we decided to banish child labor within our borders. Will such standards now be extended to the global economy -- or abandoned entirely?

Global labor standards may now become a mainstream public issue. NAFTA represents the first time a major trade agreement secures labor rights, albeit minimally. President Clinton may attend the 75th anniversary meeting of the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva this June—a meeting that will consider endorsing the right of industrialized nations to bar imports from nations with little "social progress." Clinton and Jacques Delors, president of the European Union, have suggested that labor and social standards could be the subject of the next round of trade negotiations. In a world of widespread poverty, high unemployment and integrated markets, global labor standards are necessary to keep the poverty of poor nations from depressing the decent living standards of rich ones. When Third World workers' purchasing power lags their output, they can't afford to consume the fruits of their own production or to buy many exports from the industrial nations. As a result, the...

Are Black Diplomas Worth Less?

Relative to whites, minorities have made impressive gains in education attainment. Why are they still falling behind economically?

T he passage of Proposition 209, the California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), has signaled to many the beginning of the end for affirmative action [see Peter Schrag's " When Preferences Disappear "]. Evidence from California shows, however, that while the gap between white and minority educational achievement has narrowed, the gap between white and minority wages has continued to increase. This evidence strongly suggests that, contrary to the claims of many CCRI supporters, California's labor markets have not outgrown the need for interventions to correct bias, intentional or otherwise. Even conservative economists acknowledge that affirmative action was responsible in the late 1960s and 1970s for raising blacks' wages and bringing them more in line with the qualifications of black workers. But whether minority (especially black) wages are still less than what their qualifications warrant is a more difficult question than it appears. Educational attainment (measured by years of...

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