Poverty & Wealth

Obama's Trade Agreements Are a Gift to Corporations

Trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership are about dismantling critical regulations on health, safety, labor, and the environment. 

(Photo by Alex Milan Tracy/NurPhoto/Sipa USA) (Sipa via AP Images)
(Photo by Alex Milan Tracy/NurPhoto/Sipa USA) (Sipa via AP Images) Protesters gathered outside the Smith Center to speak out against the fast-track of the Trans-Pacific Partnership in Portland, Oregon, on January 31, 2014. This article originally appeared at The Boston Globe . L ate last week, legislation moved forward that would give President Obama authority to negotiate two contentious trade deals: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). But for the most part, these aren’t trade agreements at all. They’re a gift to corporations, here and in partner countries that view purely domestic regulations as restraints of trade. If these deals pass, the pharmaceutical industry could get new leverage to undermine regulations requiring the use of generic drugs. The tobacco industry has used similar “trade” provisions to challenge package label warnings. A provision in both deals, known as Investor State Dispute Settlement, would allow...

Faculty Join Fast Food in the Fight for $15

On campuses across the country, adjunct professors are starting to organize against rock-bottom pay and tenuous job security. 

Faculty Forward USC
Faculty Forward USC Adjunct faculty march for better pay and working conditions at the University of Southern California on April 15, 2015. A s yesterday’s Fight for $15 protests wound to a close across the country, it’s become clear that this movement is not a fleeting effort—it’s here to stay. The focal point has primarily been on the most visible low-wage workers: fast food and retail workers whose pay perpetually hovers around minimum wage. And their employers seem to be taking a small, yet encouraging, step in the right direction as both McDonald’s and Wal-Mart recently announced increases to their respective minimum wages. However, another employment sector that’s not typically associated with low wages was prominent yesterday as well: the American professoriate. Higher education institutions in the United States employ more than a million adjunct professors. This new faculty majority, about 70 percent of the faculty workforce , is doing the heavy lifting of academic instruction...

Calls From Home

In a region dominated by coal companies and privatized prisons, activist Amelia Kirby charts a new path for her community. 

(AP Photo/David Goldman)
(AP Photo/David Goldman) In this Oct. 17, 2014 photo, an unreclaimed strip mine just across the state line from Kentucky's Harlan County stands in Virginia as seen from the Kentucky side of Black Mountain in Lynch, Ky. A melia Kirby was driving in a particularly beautiful part of her home county in the late 1990s when she noticed the construction. She thought it was yet another strip mine, taking off the tops of mountains to extract the coal beneath. But instead, it was the beginnings of a prison. Amelia’s double-take was indicative of a general shift in central Appalachia, an area roughly spanning eastern Kentucky, eastern Tennessee, western Virginia, and southern West Virginia. As the coal industry has declined in an area long synonymous with it, states have turned to prisons as an alternative form of economic development. Since 1992, central Appalachia has seen the construction of four federal, three state, and one private prison, with another federal prison potentially on the way...

Federal Contract Workers and the Fight For a Living Wage

How your tax dollars are creating millions of underpaid jobs—and how workers are fighting back. 

Tommy Wells/Flickr
Tommy Wells/Flickr Public employees at a 2013 Good Jobs Nation rally in Washington, D.C. T oday, workers in hundreds of cities across the United States will take to the streets to protest meager minimum wages that are keeping them in poverty. Fight For 15 organizers and activists are speaking out against low wages. McDonald’s, Walmart, and other mega-corporations employ a good number of those workers, but the biggest creator of low-wage jobs in the United States is none other than the federal government through federal contracting. In 2013, a coalition of labor groups started Good Jobs Nation (GJN) to fight to increase and recover wages for government contract employees. On April 9 of this year, GJN released a report, “ The Return of Federal Sweatshops? How America’s Broken Contract Wage Laws Fail Workers ,” which details how the federal government creates poverty-wage jobs and how workers on federal contract routinely don’t receive their fair amount of pay. Alongside the report, the...

Why California's Drought Is the Nation's Problem

Rising food prices, unsafe drinking water—climate change will only make things worse unless stronger measures are taken.

(Photo: Governor's Press Office, California)
View image | gettyimages.com I t was the worst kind of photo op. California Governor Jerry Brown and other state employees assembled in the Sierra Nevada mountain community of Phillips Station two weeks ago for the annual snow survey. Every year since 1941, April 1 has been the day of reckoning—a time to take stock of the winter’s accumulation and plan for how much spring runoff may help fill the state’s reservoirs, feed its rivers and streams, and be available for irrigated agriculture. This year was grim. The area, at nearly 7,000 feet of elevation, usually has about five feet or more of snow at this time of year. But this year, there was no snow on the ground. Brown launched a press conference in the middle of a field of brown grass and announced mandatory drought restrictions for the state as part of an executive order that aims to restrict urban water use by 25 percent in the next year, spur the replacement of lawns with drought tolerant plants, and increase efficiency and...

Today's GOP: The Party of Jefferson Davis -- Not Lincoln

(Photo: Mathew Brady [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
(Photo: Mathew Brady [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons) Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, as captured by photographer Mathew Brady in 1861. This essay originally appeared in The Washington Post . O ne hundred and fifty years ago Thursday, after Union infantry effectively encircled the Army of Northern Virginia, Robert E. Lee sent a note to Ulysses S. Grant proposing a meeting to discuss terms of surrender. With that, the Civil War began to end. And at some point in the future, it may yet. The emancipation of the slaves that accompanied the North’s victory ushered in, as Abraham Lincoln had hoped, a new birth of freedom, but the old order also managed to adapt itself to the new circumstances. The subjugation of and violence against African Americans continued apace, particularly after U.S. Army troops withdrew from the South at the end of Reconstruction. Black voting was suppressed. The Southern labor system retained, in altered form, its most distinctive...

The Opportunity Dodge

It's an empty promise—because the chance to thrive will never be good amid great inequalities.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)
(AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File) Conservative politicians like Jeb Bush, shown here speaking at the Economic Club of Detroit in February, avoid addressing inequality and focus instead on what they call "the opportunity gap." This article appears in the Spring 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. And click here for a free PDF of this 25th Anniversary Issue of the Prospect . W e think of America as the land of opportunity, but the United States actually has low rates of upward mobility relative to other advanced nations, and there has been no improvement in decades. Creating more opportunity is therefore a worthy goal. However, when the goal of more opportunity is offered instead of addressing income inequality, it’s a dodge and an empty promise—because opportunity does not thrive amid great inequalities. It is important to distinguish between opportunity (or mobility) and income inequality. Concerns about mobility relate to strengthening the chances that children who grow up with...

Brewing Human Rights Crisis in Baltimore as City Threatens Mass Water Shutoffs

Residents warn move is part of global trend towards the 'commodification of our basic needs.'

Davide Restivo
Davide Restivo/Wikimedia Commons This article originally appeared at Common Dreams . I n what residents warn is a mounting human rights crisis, the city of Baltimore has commenced sending 25,000 notices, the vast majority to city and county residents, threatening to shut off water if delinquent bills are not paid within ten days. The organization Food & Water Watch estimates that 75,000 residents are under immediate threat of having their taps turned off, in a city beset with rising water rates and housing costs, where nearly one out of four people live below the federal poverty line. Jessica Lewis, co-founder of the Right to Housing Alliance, a human rights organization led by people most affected by the affordable housing crisis in Baltimore, told Common Dreams that local communities are in the process of assessing the impact and getting organized. "A lot of renters we work with are angry but also tired, because they see more and more of the costs of having a place to live...

Raising Wages From the Bottom Up

(Photo courtesy of USW Local 675)
(Screenshot of video from International Brotherhood of Teamsters) A picket line of truckers in Long Beach, California, in 2014. This article appears in the Spring 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . I n 1999, while he was working at a local immigrant service center in Los Angeles, Victor Narro began encountering a particularly aggrieved group of workers. They were the men who worked at carwashes, and their complaint was that they were paid solely in tips—the carwashes themselves paid them nothing at all. At first, the workers came by in a trickle, but soon enough, in a flood. Narro, whose soft voice and shy manner belie a keen strategic sensibility, consulted with legal services attorneys and discovered that while every now and then a carwash was penalized for cheating its workers, such instances were few and far between. “There were no regulations overseeing the industry,” Narro says. The state’s labor department conducted no sweeps of the carwashes to...

Why the Feds Can't Seem to Rein in For-Profit Colleges -- Or Stop Giving Them Money

For-profit colleges have mastered predatory lending while still relying heavily on federal dollars. 

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) Makenzie Vasquez, from left, Pamala Hunt, Latonya Suggs, Ann Bowers, Nathan Hornes, Ashlee Schmidt, Natasha Hornes, Tasha Courtright, Michael Adorno and Sarah Dieffenbacher, pose for a picture in Washington, Monday, March 30, 2015. Former and current college students calling themselves the “Corinthian 100” say they are on a debt strike and refuse to pay back their student loans. The name comes from Corinthian Colleges Inc., which operated the for-profit Everest College, Heald College and WyoTech schools before agreeing last summer to sell or close its 100-plus campuses. This article was originally published by Demos . L ast week, after some dogged journalistic legwork by Inside Higher Ed ’s Michael Stratford, the Department of Education released a list of 560 colleges that have been placed under a level of extra scrutiny—known as “Heightened Cash Monitoring”—due to concerns about a college’s finances or administrative capacity, or as the result of an...

Did JPMorgan Try to Bribe Dem Power-Brokers? (Depends What Your Definition of 'Bribe' Is)

They've got a problem with Elizabeth Warren. And they want party leaders to do something about it.

iStockPhoto/© jgroup
D id one of the largest banks in the United States accidentally acknowledge an attempt to bribe members of Congress? A widely published Reuters story reported that four major U.S. banks have threatened to withhold expected campaign contributions from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee unless “Democrats, including [Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth] Warren and Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown ... soften their party's tone toward Wall Street.” But the article specifically notes: “JPMorgan representatives have met Democratic Party officials to emphasize the connection between its annual contribution and the need for a friendlier attitude toward the banks, a source familiar with JPMorgan's donations said. In past years, the bank has given its donation in one lump sum but this year has so far donated only a third of the amount, the source said.” A person familiar with JPMorgan's donations—who may or may not be a JPMorgan representative—told a Reuters reporter that JPM told party...

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...

Legions of Women Workers in U.S. Still Lack Minimum Wage and Labor Protections

The legacy of slavery and prescribed gender roles continues to rob millions of their fair share.

(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Billy Smith II In this Dec. 2014 photo, Eileen Merize, left, helps 93-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran Harold Utsler look through some of his paper work at her home in Katy, Texas near Houston. The Houston Chronicle reports Utsler is one of three veterans who live in Merize's home through the Medical Foster Program, which helps disabled elderly veterans live with "foster families" rather than in large nursing homes. I t’s Women’s History Month—what a nice idea to recognize that women actually make history and aren’t just along to make dinner for the history-makers! In 1980, President Jimmy Carter declared seven days in March to be National Women's History Week, and President Ronald Reagan followed suit. In 1987, Congress expanded the commemoration on the calendar, giving women a whole month. We have come so far. Putting sarcasm aside, it is true that the 20th century included concrete advances for women in America. Starting with the New Deal, women workers...

Chart: The Way We Pay Tipped Workers Disproportionately Harms Women

They're the majority of the people who work primarily for tips, and they make even less than their male counterparts.

(Photo: iStockPhoto/ © powerofforever)
This article was originally published on the website of the Economic Policy Institute . U nder federal law, employers of tipped workers are only required to pay their tipped staff a base wage of $2.13 per hour—an amount that has not been raised since 1991—provided that the sum of an employee’s weekly tips plus their base wage equates to an hourly rate of at least the minimum wage. Consequently, tipped work is overwhelmingly low-paying, even after accounting for tips. In 2013, the median hourly wage for tipped workers, including their income from tips, was $10.22 per hour, compared with a median hourly wage of $16.48 for workers overall. Low-paying tipped work disproportionately harms women: as the figure below shows, 67 percent of tipped workers are women, yet they still make less than their male counterparts—$10.07 for women at the median versus $10.63 for men. (These data include tips.) Economic Policy Institute CLICK HERE TO VIEW LARGER IMAGE. This loophole for tipped employers is...

Students Declare Nationwide Boycott of Wendy's Over Farmworker Concerns

Taco Bell, Burger King, McDonalds, and Walmart are already party to the worker-protection contract the targeted fast-food chain refuses to sign.

© Coalition of Immokalee Workers
© Coalition of Immokalee Workers On March 22, students and activists from across the U.S. came together in St. Petersburg, Florida, for the Concert for Fair Food. There the group, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), announced a nationwide student boycott of the Wendy's fast-food chain for its refusal to join in an agreement designed to protect the farmworkers who harvest the produce used by the chain. This article originally appeared at Facing South , the website published by the Institute for Southern Studies. S tudents from colleges and high schools across the U.S. declared a nationwide boycott of the Wendy's fast-food chain over its refusal to join the Fair Food Program created to help eliminate farmworker poverty and abuse. The announcement came at the Parade and Concert for Fair Food held on Saturday, March 21, in St. Petersburg, Florida, by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a Florida-based group that promotes human rights for farmworkers. The boycott is part of a...

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