Monday, March 23, 2020

[NJFAC] Fwd: Left-Behinds Will be Left Behind during and after the CV Crisis


Frank Stricker introduces Helen Epstein, "Left Behind," a review-essay in The New York Review of Books, March 26, 2020, on Anne Case and Angus Deaton's Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism, and Jennifer M. Silva, We're Still Here: Pain and Politics in the Heart of America.
           
            In response to the CV crisis, it is possible that Republicans and Democrats will see that trillions are spent to keep the economy from falling into a long Great Depression. (And, perhaps, help to re-elect Donald Trump.) But you can bet that not much will be done about deep social and economic problems, including these two: extreme income inequality and the dearth of good jobs. The people discussed in Helen Epstein's review won't get much help.
            For several years now Anne Case and Angus Deaton have studied the surprising upturn in mortality rates among white adults without bachelor's degrees. Deaths of despair, the authors call them. Suicides, drug overdoses, and alcohol-related deaths have risen among this population. Many of those suffering the sharpest increases in mortality are at the center of the opiod epidemic. Over the years they saw their world ripped apart when factories and other businesses shut down. They joined millions of black people in urban neighborhoods and rural areas around the country who, for decades, have been poor, unemployed, and victims of politicians and business leaders who don't care. Low-education white males, too, have been left behind by globalization, anti-unionism, automation, and taxing and spending policies that favor the rich and accentuate rather than moderate income inequality.
            Although major economic indexes have been improving for a decade and jobs are more plentiful than in 2010, there are still millions of drop-outs and left-behinds. Not much has been done for millions of them--white, black, or brown. The new progressives in Congress have programs that will help these people, but some Democratic Party leaders and funders are aggressively centrist. Worse, Republicans, starting with the President, are always working to take away health care for millions of Americans. They have not been willing to spend for a large-scale infrastructure program, they don't want to tax the rich for anything, and they won't lift the federal minimum wage from its sub-poverty level of $7.25. Mr. Trump has not succeeded in restoring manufacturing to its former glories, nor has he been able to "bring back" coal. Jennifer Silva's book is the sad story of joblessness and social disarray in a Pennsylvania coal town.         One wonders why poor whites in red states don't vote for politicians who are inclined to support real solutions. For now Democrats are more likely to be fixers than are Republicans.
            I can think of several reasons why poor whites vote against their own economic interests. Racism is a major factor. For example, I might be receiving government benefits, but I feel good thinking that Democrats are the party of welfare-giveaways and the party of black people, who, undeservedly, get the lion's share of government benefits. Also, we know that Democrats love the immigrants and immigrants are the reason I don't have a good job. Other explanations include the so-called social issues such as gun rights, abortion rights, and gay rights. Also, as Helen Epstein suggests in her review, hyper- individualism and self-blame muddle people's heads about class power and about the realities of interdependence. This phenomenon may especially afflict poor white males (It's a white man's country, right? Why haven't I succeeded?) Many poor whites end up not voting or voting for politicians who are fighting to take their Medicaid away.
            One final explanation is that many Democrats, including presidents, have not been staunch champions of the working class for quite a while. In fact, until Trump, not one president of either party opposed free trade treaties that made it easier for businesses to export factory jobs. Bill Clinton pushed for NAFTA. (However, it is true that two thirds of Democrats in Congress voted against NAFTA while three fourths of Republicans voted for it.) In recent decades, few Democrats have worked hard to protect and expand unions. Some of this has changed in recent years, due to the influence of Bernie Sanders and people like him. Whether Joe Biden has gotten the message is not certain.
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I believe that I have posted Helen Epstein's article on my Facebook page.
The views expressed here are Frank Stricker's, and do not represent the views of the National Jobs for All Network or California State University, Dominguez Hills.
 

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Monday, March 16, 2020

[NJFAC] NJFAN Chair Trudy Goldberg Interviewed on Economic Update by Economist Richard Wolff


National Jobs for All Network
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P.O. Box 96, Lynbrook, NY 11563 · njfan@njfac.org · www.NJFAC.org 

 
Dear Friends of NJFAN:
 
The latest Democracy At Work's Economic Update features our own Trudy Goldberg.  Here's how you can access this episode of Economic Update: "Using Unemployment Against Workers," in which Trudy discusses the need for a Federal Job Guarantee with the show's host, Rick Wolff.  Trudy does an excellent interview on how employers use unemployment as a tool to control workers and the real level of unemployment and under employment.   Trudy is on at about the 15-minute mark of this half-hour show. 
 
S10 Episode 10: Using Unemployment Against Workers
 
 
We have created shorter clips of this interview as well that will be shared on our social media pages. Here is one of them: https://youtu.be/FE7Hcve_GHw
 
Here is the audio link for the show:
 
 
For Jobs & Peace, Logan Martinez
 
Outreach Coordinator / National Jobs For All Network  
 www.njfac.org   /  937-260-2591 /  loganmartinez2u@yahoo.com  

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June Zaccone
National Jobs for All Coalition
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Friday, February 28, 2020

[NJFAC] Would Raising the Federal Minimum Wage to $15 Lift Many Workers? by frank stricker

            In 2019 House Democrats passed the Raise the Wage Act. It would lift the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 in 2025. How many and what kinds of people would such a $15 minimum wage help? And by how much? Here are key takeaways from research by David Cooper at the Economic Policy Institute.
 
1. The $15 minimum would lift 23.2 million workers directly and 10.2 indirectly as employers raise wages above $15 to attract and keep employees. More than 33 million workers would get a raise. That's about a fifth of the U.S. work force, and equivalent to the combined population of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark. In other words, a lot of people.
 
2. What kinds of people will the new minimum help the most? Will it mainly lift teens who, in the conservative narrative, do not need help because they live at home and, apparently, come from affluent families?  The simple answer is no.
--Most of those who would gain from the new minimum would be at least 20 years old.
--Two of three would be full-time workers.
--Two of three would be women.
--Almost 5 million of those helped would be single parents.
--6.2 million would come from the population labeled poor by the federal government. (Sad to say, many will still be poor, whether or not $15 lifts them above federal poverty lines. Even for a full-time, year-round worker, $15 an hour is just over $31,000 a year. That will not make a person in high rent areas or an adult with one dependent in almost any location unpoor.)
 
3. In which business sectors will the most employees get a bump? 19.6% of all the gainers would be in the retail sector, 18.6% in restaurant and food services, and 13.6% in healthcare.  
 
4. What will be the average increase for an affected worker over what her pay would have been otherwise? The total dollar increase for a year-round worker will amount to $2,800, or 13.3%.
 
5. In which states would workers get the largest benefits? Many of the answers almost write themselves. Workers in states with weak or no minimum wage laws will gain a lot. In almost every southern state, workers would gain significantly more than the national average of a 13.3% hike. Working poor people in Texas would get a 17.5% increase and those in Mitch McConnell's Kentucky would get an 18% hike. Non-southern states that get a higher than average boost from the $15 federal wage include Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. States whose workers get little boost from the federal $15 wage must be doing something right. Some are already climbing. They include California, Colorado, Missouri, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Arizona.
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The main source for this post is an Economic Policy Institute Fact Sheet by David Cooper, Raising the Federal Minimum Wage to $15 by 2025 Would Lift Wages for over 33 Million Workers (July 17, 2019).
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Frank Stricker is a board member of the National Jobs for All Network and emeritus professor of history at California State University, Dominguez Hills.

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Monday, January 20, 2020

[NJFAC] Are Real Wages Rising?

Are Real Wages Rising or Not?    Frank Stricker
            Lately, some reporters have acknowledged that wage growth is not as fast as one would predict with unemployment below 4%. Some of them question whether unemployment is really as low as the headline rate. If unemployment is still significant, worker bargaining power must be weaker than expected. Of course, the low unionization rate also means employees cannot take full advantage of tighter labor markets.
            Real wage growth hasn't been all that great. Several reporters  (for example, AP writers in the Los Angeles Times business section and Ali Velshi on MSNBC) are misleading their audiences by focusing only on nominal wage increases. The other day I saw Mr. Velshi worry that a 2.9% increase in workers' pay packets was not as fast as expected in a strong economy. It wasn't, but after inflation is factored into the equation, the situation is much worse.
            Could the average employee buy 2.9% more stuff in December of 2019 than in December of 2018? Nope. In terms of purchasing power, a rank-and-file worker in the private sector had a real wage increase over the year of 0.7%. Yes, inflation is on the low side--just 2.3% last year--but that's enough to eat up modest wage increases of 2 to 3%. In terms of real pay, the average American worker essentially stood still last year.
            Some low-wage workers are doing better, due to market conditions and state and local minimum wage laws. For example, in California, the state minimum jumped 8.3% on January 1 to $13 an hour and the state's minimum has been advancing every year since 2017. But many states and cities do not have their own minimum wage laws. They are covered by the federal minimum, which is just $7.25 an hour. This absurdly low minimum ought to go down in history as a sign of just how morally corrupt are many people in the American leadership classes. And the situation is even worse in some states. Federal law permits states to allow employers of workers in tipped occupations to pay as little as $2.13 an hour. Employers are supposed to lift pay to $7.25 if tips don't do it. But many employers don't. In effect, federal law is an invitation to wage theft.
            Last year the Democratic House of Representatives passed the Raise the Wage Act. It would increase the federal minimum to $15 and eliminate the tipped-wage provision. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that a $15 minimum could lift 40 million workers. The current Senate will not pass this bill, even though it is quite moderate and the wage would not get to $15 for several years.
            I've discussed last year's wage history, but how about trends? The real hourly wage for private-sector non-farm rank-and-file workers has finally surpassed the peak it reached in 1972-1973. Good. But, OMG, it took almost half a century to do it. In the 19 years since 2000 the average real wage increased a total of 13.7%. That's better than many other periods since the 1960s, but at less than 1% a year, it won't lift many people to a decent living standard.
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Frank Stricker is a board member of NJFAN and emeritus professor, California State University, Dominguez Hills. His views are his own and not those of his organizations. His book, American Unemployment: Past, Present, and Future, will be out in June.

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Friday, December 27, 2019

[NJFAC] Way Better than A Christmas Carol by Frank Stricker

Read and be inspired by "Dreamers with Shovels: How the First New Deal Remade America,"
by Nelson Lichtenstein, in The American Prospect, the 2019 bonus issue on the Green New Deal
 
            There are lots of stories we tell ourselves during these holidays. Most ubiquitous of the secular tales is Dickens' Christmas Carol. I have a hard time with the traditional version. For one thing, I know how it is going to end--kinda like A Star is Born. I don't want to put myself through either one again--the latter because it is so depressing and we know it will be (four versions of that are enough for me), and the former because I've seen it a dozen times, and its politics are atrocious. At least in the United States, the capitalist conversion theme has always been a non-starter for 98% of the class. I think it may be worse today. I know: some very rich people have announced that they should be taxed more, but they really are a handful. Most of the very rich--and they are richer than such people have ever been in America--want to be taxed less and think they deserve to be billionaires.* And, according to Paul Krugman, they are not satisfied to live like kings. ("Warren Versus the Petty Plutocrats," New York Times, 9/30/2019). They expect to be treated like kings, lionized as job creators and heroes of prosperity. If Elizabeth Warren is the Democratic nominee, many will vote for Trump, despite his racist authoritarianism and not just because of the giant handouts he gave them in the 2017 tax cut--handouts that Warren wants to take back. They also think that Warren disrespects them. But she does not seem be bothered about big capital's hostility. Nor was another progressive politician. Franklin D. Roosevelt said this about the plutocrats: "They are unanimous in their hate for me--and I welcome their hatred."
            There are plenty of flaws and bad ideas in every politician and Roosevelt had them. But he and other liberals interacted in creative and complex ways with a surging population of poor people and workers, and the result was a huge reset for power relationships in America. Yes, almost nothing was done to directly attack gender inequality or racial inequality and New Deal spending was insufficient to end the depression. But for the mass of the people there was a huge change: more jobs, more income, more job security, less repression from employers and from conservative--often Republican--politicians who had dominated their communities. Blacks in some cities got a disproportionately high number of positions in the WPA and the PWA, and it was often much better working for the federal government in the south than for private employers. "Laborite ethnics"--Roosevelt Democrats--won elections and took over local governments in many industrial towns. They defended freedom of speech for unionists, dismantled some Jim Crow traditions, and ran little New Deals that taxed businesses to pave the streets and build schools. In rural areas, small towns and large cities, thousands of local and federal government projects massively improved infrastructure. Not to mention that the New Deal laid the foundations of the American social-welfare state, including Social Security, the Wagner Act (not much enforced any more), and the minimum wage (so low now that it helps few people).
            Much of the New Deal's social democratic spirit and mass involvement carried over into the war period. One striking example: to track and limit inflation, federal managers not only hired 60,000 employees; they also enlisted and trained 300,000 volunteer "price checkers." And inflation was tamed, despite the greatest federal borrowing and spending spree in U.S. history to that time.
            In his terrific article Nelson Lichtenstein holds up the working-class-New Deal experience as an inspiration for the Green New Dealers of today.  He does not discuss why the spirit of that great movement dissipated. Nor specific lessons for today's social democrats and progressives, except the big point that the kind of big plans they want to realize were the kind that were realized in the 30s, and can be again. Certainly the story Nelson presents is exciting and inspirational. And it really happened.
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*Hold on: Are Krugman and I wrong and Dickens right? Salesforce chief Marc Benioff claimed that "Capitalism as we know it is dead." It is being replaced by businesses that are "driven by values, ethics and a desire to take care of employees." ("Touting Kinder, Gentler Values in Business," Los Angeles Times, Business section, 12/26/2019). Really? Let's check back in five years to see whether there was a surge in real wages and in union membership. I am pretty sure right now that Mr. Benioff  had a little too much Christmas rum and slipped off into Dickensland. Some big banks may serve more eco-friendly food in their cafes, but will workers gain substantial income? Will corporations refrain from so many stock buybacks? Will the lords of Wal-Mart and Amazon get behind unionization? I think we know the answer. If Trump wins again and the ideas of Warren and Sanders are seen to have been repudiated, even the era of good-feelings, paternalistic rhetoric may be over.
 
Frank Stricker is a board member of NJFAN and emeritus professor of history and labor studies, California State University, Dominguez Hills. His new book, American Unemployment, Past, Present and Future, will be out in June. His views here do not necessarily reflect those of the organizations he is part of.

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