Economy

The Supreme Court's Challenge to Housing Segregation

For decades, the Fair Housing Act's potential was squandered. A recent Court decision may finally change that. 

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) In this April 8, 2013 picture, a boy shoots a basketball into a makeshift basket made from a milk crate and attached to a vacant row house in Baltimore. I n June, the Supreme Court issued several decisions with big policy implications. Its rejection of a challenge to Obamacare and its endorsement of the right to same-sex marriage have received the attention they were due. A third decision, confirming that the Fair Housing Act prohibits not only policies that intend to perpetuate racial discrimination and segregation, but those that have the effect of doing so, was equally momentous. Yet because the ruling concerned an obscure (to the public) and technical phrase (“disparate impact”), it has been more difficult to understand. To comprehend its significance, a review of its background is in order. Roots of the Fair Housing Act In over 100 cities during the summer of 1967 African Americans rioted, in rebellion against segregated and inadequate ghetto conditions...

Why Labor Law Should Stop Leaning So Hard on the Wagner Act

As the National Labor Relations Act turns 80, we should remember what the law was designed to do—and what it wasn't. 

AP Photo/Mike Groll
AP Photo/Mike Groll A fast-food worker raises her fist during a rally for a $15 an hour wage at the Empire State Plaza Concourse, Wednesday, April 15, 2015, in Albany, New York. T he Wagner Act turns 80 this week and it’s about time that we lessen the old man’s load. For too long, this legislation that was meant to encourage workplace democracy has actually shouldered much of the burden of our nation’s employer-centered social welfare state. It’s high time to get citizens’ health care, pensions and even guaranteed basic wages off its back, and to allow the Wagner Act to do its job: giving workers in the U.S. a real voice on the job. Signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on July 5, 1935, the Wagner Act (or National Labor Relations Act) marked the first time private-sector workers in the U.S gained permanent federal backing for organizing unions. Under the Wagner Act, if the government certified that the workers had a union—usually through a union election—then their...

The EU's Future in the Wake of the Greek Crisis

This weekend may mark a turning point for Greece's debt crisis, but Europe's problems don't stop there. 

AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza
AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza A man sells Greek and European Union flags during a rally organized by supporters of the YES vote for the upcoming referendum in front of the Greek Parliament in Athens, Tuesday, June 30, 2015. T he endgame in the Greek crisis remains murky at this hour despite Alexis Tsipras’s apparent capitulation to the demands of Greece’s creditors: the so-called Troika or “Institutions” consisting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Commission (EC), and the European Central Bank (ECB). With surprise developments occurring daily if not hourly, it is difficult to stand back from what has transpired to date in order to assess the implications for the future of the European Union and the Eurozone. Still, the exercise is worth attempting. A number of depressing conclusions emerge. No matter how the saga ends—whether in “Grexit” (Greek abandonment of the euro) and the self-imposed austerity that must inevitably follow, or in an agreement with the...

Will the New Federal Overtime Protections Apply to You?

The Labor Department just announced that millions of Americans will now be eligible for overtime protection for the first time. 

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais In this June 26, 2015, photo, President Barack Obama speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Editor’s note: In 2013, Economic Policy Institute vice-president Ross Eisenbrey co-authored with economist Jared Bernstein a paper that first proposed expanding the eligibility of workers for overtime pay. Yesterday’s Labor Department ruling closely follows their proposal. T he overtime rules the Department of Labor announced yesterday are hugely important. They would restore in one action most of the overtime protections that have been lost over the past four decades through neglect and hostile regulatory changes, and prevent them from ever eroding again. Altogether, 15 million salaried workers would gain the right to time-and-a-half overtime pay or have their existing rights strengthened. Since the New Deal, the law has protected workers from being forced to work overtime without getting paid for it. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938...

Greece: Only the 'No' Can Save the Euro

As Greece prepares for a referendum on its creditors' demands for austerity, the future of Europe hangs in the balance. 

AP Photo/Petros Karadjias
AP Photo/Petros Karadjias Pedestrians walk by posters for the NO vote in the upcoming referendum, in central Athens, on Wednesday, July 1, 2015. G reece is heading toward a referendum on Sunday on which the future of the country and its elected government will depend, and with the fate of the euro and the European Union also in the balance. At present writing, Greece has missed a payment to the IMF, negotiations have broken off, and the great and good are writing off the Greek government and calling for a “Yes” vote, accepting the creditors' terms for “reform,” in order to “save the euro.” In all of these judgments, they are, not for the first time, mistaken. To understand the bitter fight, it helps first to realize that the leaders of today's Europe are shallow, cloistered people, preoccupied with their local politics and unequipped, morally or intellectually, to cope with a continental problem. This is true of Angela Merkel in Germany, of François Hollande in France, and it is true...

Here's How to Make the Fed More Transparent and Accountable

Fed leadership has long been dominated by the 1 percent. The Community Advisory Council could help change that. 

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik The Marriner S. Eccles Federal Reserve Board Building, Friday, June 19, 2015, in Washington. T he Federal Reserve has long faced fierce scrutiny from members of Congress, community leaders, and the press for its lack of transparency. Fed Chair Janet Yellen, still early in her term, has signaled an intention to improve transparency and hold the Fed accountable to the public interest, and she’ll face an important test this month as she starts deciding whom to appoint to the newly formed Community Advisory Council. In the most recent example of Fed’s insular system of governance, Bloomberg Business revealed concerning news about the recent appointment of Patrick Harker as president of the Philadelphia Federal Reserve. Harker had served on the bank’s Board of Directors prior to his appointment, and was even on the search committee interviewing candidates for the presidential slot. Then, in a behind-the-scenes maneuver reminiscent of Dick Cheney’s infamous self-...

Are the Dems Being Sucker-Punched on Trade?

With TPP on the ropes, passage hinges on a paltry worker assistance program. 

Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/AP Images
Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/AP Images House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi conducts her weekly news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center, June 4, 2015. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . T hanks to a last-minute deal last Thursday between President Obama and the Republican leadership in Congress, the fast-track bill is still alive. Its passage depends on whether a handful of Senate Democrats can be persuaded to go along. Quick recap: The trade negotiating authority that Obama needs to complete his cherished Trans-Pacific Partnership has been linked to passage of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). The House at first voted down assistance in order to kill the whole deal, but then Republicans promised a separate vote on adjustment assistance; and so the House on Thursday narrowly approved fast track, 218-208, with 28 Democrats in support. Now the Senate has to concur. Back in May, when the Senate voted for the package that was rejected by the House, 14...

A Big Test for Janet Yellen

The Fed has a lot of power to hold big banks accountable. A grassroots coalition wants Yellen to use it. 

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen speaks during a news conference following a Federal Open Market Committee meeting in Washington, Wednesday, June 17, 2015. A coalition of California community groups and a local legal aid agency have come up with a novel way to hold a major L.A. area bank accountable for the devastation it has caused Southern California communities as a result of its risky and predatory practices. The California Reinvestment Coalition (CRC) and Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (NLSLA) have asked Janet Yellen—chair of the Federal Reserve, the country’s top bank regulator—to halt a planned takeover of Pasadena-based OneWest Bank by the New Jersey-based CIT Group until these banks pay reparations for the damage they caused. CRC and NLSLA have suggested a price tag of $3 billion to create and preserve affordable housing in Los Angeles County. For a decade up to 2008, banks lived high on the hog as federal regulators looked...

With Oregon's Bill, Paid Sick Leave Gains Momentum

How Oregon became the fourth state to mandate paid sick leave. 

Doug Geisler
Doug Geisler B uilding on a strong and growing level of momentum nationwide, on Friday, the Oregon legislature passed a bill that mandates paid sick leave. Governor Kate Brown, a progressive Democrat, is sure to sign the bill, making Oregon the fourth state to pass mandated paid sick leave. The vote is a significant win for a nationwide movement that’s been quietly gaining steam among cities, states, and presidential candidates in recent years. It’s also coming not a moment too soon. Half of the Oregon’s private sector workers don’t have access to paid sick leave; about 80 percent of the state’s low-wage workers are without it—this legislation will mandate access for somewhere north of 500,000 Oregon workers. The bill mandates that employers with more than 10 workers must offer up to five days of paid sick leave; businesses with less than 10 employees still must provide protected sick leave, though it may be unpaid. Both full-time and part-time workers are covered. The success in...

Bad Faith

Why real debt relief is not on the table for Greece. 

Sipa via AP Images
Sipa via AP Images Angela Merkel, German chancellor, and Greece Primer Minister Alexis Tsipras give a joint press conference, after the meeting, at the German chancellery on March 23, 2015, in Berlin. R eaders of the financial press may be forgiven for thinking that the negotiations between Greece and Europe have one feckless partner—the new government of Greece—and one responsible partner, a common front of major governments and creditor institutions, high-minded in their pursuit of rational policies and the common European interest. The view from Athens is different. On June 11, I attended the hearing of a Greek parliamentary commission investigating the Greek debt. Phillipe Legrain, former adviser to the then-EU President José Manuel Barroso, testified. Legrain is a technocrat, an economist, and a very reserved individual. He spoke in measured tones. The original crime in the Greek affair, Legrain said, was committed in May 2010, when it became clear that the country was insolvent...

The Real Meaning of Obama's Trade Defeat

Labor is just part of the story. 

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster President Barack Obama walks with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, right and House Minority Assistant Leader James Clyburn of South Carolina, as he visits Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, June 12, 2015, for a meeting with House Democrats. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . T he labor movement won big in the defeat of the trade package Friday. But a lot of the commentators are somewhat mystified. After all, the labor movement is a smaller fraction of the workforce than it was when NAFTA was approved over labor's opposition in 1993. And the industrial workforce today is a much smaller percentage of the total. How could this have happened? Noam Scheiber, writing ( an excellent piece ) in The New York Times , quotes a puzzled John Murphy, senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which suffered a big loss when the trade deal went down. Murphy wondered why service sector unions were part of the opposition. "...

What is Reform? The Strange Case of Greece and Europe

Why creditors' demands would only prolong Greece's crisis. 

AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis
AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis Ruined EU and Greek flags fly in tatters from a flag pole at a beach at Anavissos village, southwest of Athens, on Monday, March 16, 2015. O n our way back from Berlin on Tuesday, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis remarked to me that current usage of the word “reform” has its origins in the middle period of the Soviet Union, notably under Khrushchev, when modernizing academics sought to introduce elements of decentralization and market process into a sclerotic planning system. In those years when the American struggle was for rights and some young Europeans still dreamed of revolution, “reform” was not much used in the West. Today, in an odd twist of convergence, it has become the watchword of the ruling class. The word, reform, has now become central to the tug of war between Greece and its creditors. New debt relief might be possible—but only if the Greeks agree to “reforms.” But what reforms and to what end? The press has generally tossed around the...

Derailment on the Fast Track

Passing TPP just became a lot more difficult.

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais President Barack Obama speaks during his meeting with leaders of the Trans-Pacific Partnership countries on the sidelines of the APEC summit, Monday, November 10, 2014 in Beijing. Editor's Note: On the afternoon of June 12, the House defeated Trade Adjustment Assistance , 302 to 126 with only 40 Democrats voting in favor. Although House Speaker John Boehner vows to hold another vote on TAA next week following the House's passage of trade promotion authority, also on June 12, the vote puts the larger Trans-Pacific Partnership into serious jeopardy. I t’s now looking increasingly like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will go down to defeat. The first hurdle is the House vote scheduled for Friday on trade promotion authority, popularly known as fast-track, giving the executive branch an up-or-down vote in Congress on its Pacific trade deal. In recent days, as President Obama turned up the heat on about a dozen House Democrats, it looked as if...

What Made the Difference at Gawker? The Boss

Management at Gawker has been open to workers' new push to organize a union. That's far from the norm. 

D oes the union victory at Gawker portend a new day for American unions? I wish. No question that the vote of three-quarters of the online media site’s employees to have the Writers’ Guild of America represent them in bargaining with Gawker management is a big deal. The victory marked a breakthrough for unions in one of those new sectors of the American economy from which organized labor has been totally absent. And the importance of the victory was magnified by the pro-union case that Gawker writers made to their readers. But did this victory among Gawker’s largely young and self-consciously hip employees signal that hitherto union-free millennials are now turning to unions? Actually, no—because every recent poll makes clear that a decisive majority of union-free millennials already support unions. Gawker’s writers and editors were simply able to do what millions of millennials would like to do. The crucial difference at Gawker was that their boss let them do it. Every year, both...

Why Voluntary Standards Won't Make the Global Garment Industry Safer

After voluntary codes of conduct failed to prevent the Rana Plaza disaster, garment companies pass the blame. 

AP Photo/A.M. Ahad
AP Photo/A.M. Ahad In this Monday, April 20, 2015 photo, Mahamudul Hasan Ridoy, 27, who worked at Rana Plaza, the garment factory building that collapsed, walks with the help of a crutch at the site of the accident in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh. O n Monday, June 1, police in Bangladesh filed murder and other charges against the owners of the Rana Plaza building, the landlord of the factories that collapsed two years ago, killing at least 1,138 workers and injuring about 2,500. The collapse was a spectacular moment in a sordid history of fires and collapses in the Bangladesh and global garment industry. The cutthroat competition of that industry is a furnace that fuels thousands of deaths and injuries. Last weekend, by coincidence, a conference was held at Harvard, called Transformation Challenges and Opportunities for the Bangladesh Garment Industry. Attending were Bangladesh cabinet members and the heads of two major safety initiatives—The “Accord” and the “Alliance”—as well as...

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