Sean McElwee

Sean McElwee is a research associate at Demos.

Recent Articles

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...

One Big Reason for Voter Turnout Decline and Income Inequality: Smaller Unions

The decline of labor unions has shifted the balance of power not only in the country at large, but within the Democratic Party. Hello Wall Street; bye-bye voters...

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
T wo of the most commonly cited reasons for the lack of more liberal policymaking in the United States are the decline in unions and the rising class bias in voter turnout . In the 2014 midterm congressional elections, the Democrats’ rout was largely attributed to a failure of their coalition to turn out at the polls. What is rarely examined, however, is the relationship between a decline in voter turnout and the dwindling number of union members. And as that turnout has declined, the control of the financial class over the entire political system—Republican and Democrat—has taken hold. Over the last several decades, union membership in the United States has declined precipitously , from 24 percent of all wage and salary workers in 1973 to 11.1 percent today . At the same time, our economy has increasingly begun to favor the wealthiest members of society. The labor share of income has reached the lowest level it’s been since 1929, and that diminished income is distributed incredibly...

How to Reduce the Voting Gap

Demos
This post originally appeared at Demos.org Over the last three decades, research suggests, the class bias of the voting public has increased dramatically. In the 2012 election, there was a 33 point gap between the turnout rate of the highest bracket ($150,000 or more) and the lowest bracket ($10,000 or less). My article explores the implications of this gap, but it’s also important to know the causes. Demos.org Registration: The first part of the problem is registration. One study finds , “state voter registration laws pose a substantial barrier” to the mobilization of low-income voters. We can see this in the Census data from the 2012 election (below). Among eligible voters in the highest bracket 87.1 percent were registered in 2012, compared with only 63.2 percent of those in the lowest bracket. This registration gap certainly plays a role in turnout inequality, and unnecessary burdens don’t help. Worse, many states are currently purging their voter rolls , which primarily affect...

Can We Make Environmentalism a Centrist Issue?

Flickr/Manos Simonides
Flickr/Manos Simonides F or decades, thinkers on the left have wondered why the working class regularly votes against its own interests, upending what Marx believed would be an inevitable march from democracy to socialism. In his book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? , Thomas Frank argued that social issues obscure economic motives, and indeed the most salient non-economic one has always been race, at least in this country. In America, conservative politicians have exploited racism to their own benefit, first to disempower blacks with Jim Crow, then to undermine the union movement, and more recently to undercut support for welfare programs, as Ian Haney Lopez recently documented in Dog-Whistle Politics . Nixon’s “law and order campaign” played on racial fears, as did Reagan’s denunciation of “welfare queens.” Republicans played at race to win solid majorities for decades while actively working against the interests of the majority of Americans. The left has much to learn about this...