Summer has officially arrived, and with it an influx of interns has come to the nation’s capital. Many of these young men and women will spend the summer working in congressional offices for no pay. While information on the use of unpaid interns is not available for every congressional office, EPI conducted an informal survey and found that at least three-quarters of all House offices use unpaid interns. More than half of all Senate offices, meanwhile, have unpaid interns, according to a survey by the advocacy group Pay Our Interns.
Congress is not alone in its practice of offering unpaid internships—in fact, far from it. Unpaid internships are common in every sector, and have come to be considered a necessary prerequisite for getting a job—despite the fact that most unpaid internships are actually against the law. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)—the foundation of modern labor law in the United States—requires that anyone doing work for an employer, including interns, be paid at least the minimum wage.
The Department of Labor (DOL) is tasked with enforcing the FLSA and has developed a six-point test to determine whether an internship must be paid as employment covered by the FLSA or is, instead, training or education. In recent years, in a number of high-profile cases courts have upheld and applied the DOL’s test, and determined that an employer had violated the FLSA when it failed to pay its interns for their work. While Congress is exempted from the laws protecting interns, it sets a powerful example by not paying its interns, and the practice has a far-reaching impact on society as well as public policy.
While the new administration in Washington appears to be in a rush to use its executive branch power to undo all the efforts of the previous administration to protect hourly paid employees, a more worker-friendly, forward-looking group in the U.S. Congress has decided it’s time to push back by offering a clearer, alternative approach—by re-introducing the Schedules That Work Act (SWT)—previously S. 1772 and H.R. 3071. The purpose is to address both the causes and consequences of the intensifying use of more unpredictable, last minute scheduling of work—well documented recently in an article in The New York Times.
The national bill attempts to create elements of what some other states and cities in the United States, and developed countries around the globe, have already proposed, legislated or implemented. The Schedules That Work Act entails three main features, with the overarching idea of setting a minimum floor standard that reduces any short-term cost advantage for employers who rely on scheduling practices that shift all the costs of uncertainty in their business on to hourly paid employees.
One, it grants an employee the right to request that his or her employer modify the number of hours or times the employee is required to work or be on call, the location of work, and the amount of notification time he or she receives of work schedule assignments. The process would ensure that employers give due consideration to these requests, in a timely, good faith, and interactive manner. And it protects against employer retaliation for making such adjustment requests. It outlines the grounds for denying a change, if there is a bona fide business reason for denying it, particularly if the request is made because of the employee’s serious health condition, caregiver responsibilities, or enrollment in a career-related educational or training program, or if a part-time employee requests such a change for a reason related to a second job. Such a right to request has worked well in countries such as the U.K. and Australia, and is so successful and harmless for employers that it has been expanded to cover all employees, not just those with caregiving responsibilities. With a recent national survey showing that almost half of U.S. workers have no input into their work scheduling—and only 15 percent can set their own daily start and end times for work—this will help provide workers some voice, if not say, in the scheduling of their daily and weekly work schedules.
For millions of hourly workers, a predictable, stable work schedule is rare. Work hours can vary not just week to week, but even day to day for millions working in retail, restaurant, hospitality, and building cleaning jobs. Two scheduling techniques often used in these industries can wreak havoc on workers: just-in-time and on-call scheduling. Employers use just-in-time scheduling to account for predicted consumer demand, which often leaves workers with just a few days’ notice of their hours. On-call scheduling provides even less notice, as workers know the length of their schedule just hours before a shift starts. These methods make it impossible for people to balance their work with personal responsibilities like taking classes, maintaining another job, caring for a sick relative, or arranging child care. The Schedules That Work Act, which is being introduced today by Representative Rosa DeLauro provides hourly workers with protections they are not often given by their employers: advance notice of schedules and the right to request a schedule change.
Workers in retail and food services are less likely on average to be able to decide, or have any input into, their own schedules. Nearly half of low-wage and/or hourly workers have no input into their work hours, including the inability to make even minor adjustments. Nine-out-of-ten workers in retail and fast food service jobs report variable hours, and part-time workers are even more likely to have variable and unpredictable schedules. The lack of fair scheduling shifts the cost of uncertainty from employers to employees who already carry the burden of low wages and minimal benefits. At the same time, unpredictable schedules lead to higher turnover as workers leave to find a more stable work schedule or are fired due to the inability to meet on-call demands. This turnover is a significant cost to employers in terms of profitability, productivity, and service.
Everyone loves apprenticeships (including me) as a basic model for learning work-related skills, but for the most part, policymakers don’t think very hard about why there’s so little apprenticeship in the United States. For that reason, we’re likely to continue talking about how great apprenticeship is but not making significant investments in it. President Trump’s underwhelming plan to expand apprenticeship, unveiled this past week, won’t change that. His initiative will add $100 million (less than a dollar per U.S. worker) to the budget for apprenticeship and give employers more flexibility (i.e., unilateral control without objective oversight or minimum standards) in structuring new apprenticeships but does little to address the underlying reasons why the United States lags behind our peers when it comes to apprenticeships.
The president likes apprenticeship for some of the same reasons we do. People can “learn while they earn,” without taking on debt—unlike many college graduates. In high-quality apprenticeships, with strong connections to employers and/or unions, people learn skills that are really needed on the job. In a wide range of occupations, including professions, craft and technical work, and caring occupations, a high proportion of critical skills are acquired on-the-job through learning-by-doing and informal mentoring. For that reason, apprenticeship and other models (e.g., internships, coops) that integrate classroom and workplace learning are more effective than years of classroom education followed by work without structured support for learning. Although the president didn’t point this out, apprenticeship also carries with it an implicit message of respect for the occupation—the idea that experienced workers possess significant skills and you need a proven mechanism like apprenticeship to transmit that knowledge to new initiates.
Today, the Acting Solicitor General switched the government’s position in National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc, from arguing in favor of working people to arguing in favor of big business. The move is deeply disappointing, and represents a stark departure from standard practice. It is the clearest indication yet of where the Trump administration stands: with corporate interests and against working people.
The Murphy Oil case is significant for workers. It will determine whether mandatory arbitration agreements with individual workers that prevent them from pursuing work-related claims collectively are prohibited by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). These agreements have become increasingly common.
The NLRA guarantees workers the right to join together to improve their terms and conditions of employment and prohibits employers from interfering with or restraining the exercise of these rights. In Murphy Oil, the National Labor Relations Board is arguing that agreements that force workers to waive their right to pursue work-related claims on a class or collective basis interfere with workers’ rights under the NLRA and are prohibited. The Solicitor General argued this position just last October, and there has been no change in the law since then. As a matter of fact, just last month the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that these mandatory arbitration agreements and class action waivers are prohibited by the NLRA. The only thing that has changed is the administration.
It is worth noting how unprecedented this move is. The most recent example of the Solicitor General changing positions is a Reagan administration-era case, Bob Jones University v. United States. In that case, the government changed its position to advocate in favor of an institution’s right to adopt racially discriminatory policies while enjoying tax exempt status. It was a shameful switch. And, the Solicitor General lost. Today’s decision is also shameful. The Acting Solicitor General is arguing against workers’ rights to join together to advocate for better wages and working conditions. Like the Bob Jones University about-face, this switch, puts the Acting Solicitor General and the Trump administration on the wrong side of history and, hopefully, the wrong side of the Supreme Court in this important case.
It is becoming routine in the Trump administration to assign each week a policy theme. Last week was “infrastructure week,” which sounded promising but for the fact that the Trump administration had already proposed a budget that would slash infrastructure investment. This week is “workforce development” week. Again, in spite of the designation, workforce development does not fare well under the Trump budget proposal, which included significant cuts to job training grant programs. More troubling than the gimmicky, hollow marketing the administration routinely employs to mask these budget maneuvers is the true tradition of the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress: diligently working each week to strip working people of hard-fought rights. This week, the Trump administration and congressional Republicans focused their efforts on taking away workers’ right to join together and bargain for better wages and working conditions.
Union busters get a break
On Monday, the Trump Department of Labor (DOL) announced that it will rescind the “persuader rule.” When workers seek to form a union, some employers choose to hire union-avoidance consultants—known as “persuaders”—who craft and deliver anti-union messages and campaign materials in the workplace. They may directly talk with workers or indirectly influence workers by scripting speeches or developing talking points for managers or supervisors. Just like political campaign disclosure laws, the persuader rule would have helped ensure that workers knew the source of the anti-union views, materials, and messages that they receive during a union organizing campaign. Workers often do not know that their employer has hired a consultant to defeat a union organizing campaign. The persuader rule simply required that employers and the consultants they hire file reports for all persuader activities, to help ensure that workers are given information about the source of campaign material. Scrapping the rule gives union-busting firms a break and robs workers of the ability to make an informed choice in a union election.
This article was originally posted on Good Jobs First’s blog.
When the term “Rustbelt” was coined in the 1980s and activists learned the early warning signs of a plant closing, one of those indicators was tax dodging. If a company knew it was planning to close a factory, it would often challenge its property tax assessment or seek other tax breaks. And why not? If it didn’t expect to be hiring locally in the future, why should an employer care about the quality of the schools?
The national trend today looks like the Rustbelt 1980s on steroids. President Trump’s budget proposal follows the playbook that corporate lobbyists have long pushed in state legislatures: tax cuts for companies and the rich, coupled with dramatic cuts to services that benefit everyone. The resulting permanent damage to those public services begs the question: is Corporate America intentionally disinvesting, abandoning our nation?
In recent years, states and localities across the country have made drastic cuts to essential public services. Texas eliminated over 10,000 teaching jobs, and ended full-day preschool for 100,000 low-income kids. The city of Muncie, Indiana eliminated so many firefighter positions that the area of the city that fire trucks can reach within eight minutes was cut in half. In Milwaukee, budget cuts left the public transit reaching 1,300 fewer employers in 2015 than in 2001.
Last week was “infrastructure week” at the White House. On the face of it, that should be excellent news. But while the president’s rhetoric about the importance of infrastructure was on the mark, his actual plans are empty promises, given that the recently released Trump federal budget plan actually guts infrastructure.
Further, the president did not talk about the men and women who build our roads, schools, and hospitals. He did not talk about the kind of jobs his vague plans would create.
Here in the South, WDP and the EARN network think about jobs all the time. We understand that families are constantly thinking about how they will put food on the table, how they will keep a roof over their children’s heads, and maybe, just maybe, they will be able to put a little money away so they can retire at some point.
Build a Better South focuses on those families.
By rescinding the persuader rule, Trump is once again siding with corporate interests over working people
Yesterday, the Trump administration took yet another step against working people by announcing that the Department of Labor (DOL) will rescind its “persuader rule,” which would have helped level the playing field for workers by letting them know the source of the anti-union messages they receive during union drives.
Unions help union and nonunion workers in countless ways. They raise wages, make workplaces safer, and close the gender pay gap. Most importantly, unions let workers have their voices heard on the job. The ability of people to join together to negotiate for better working conditions and pay is even more important in an era of forced arbitration, where women who are sexually harassed often cannot get justice in a courtroom and workers who are being cheated out of minimum wage often cannot file class action lawsuits. All workers deserve a voice in their workplaces, and a union is one of the best ways for working people to make sure they are getting treated fairly on the job.
But many employers fight unionization efforts at every turn, by hiring professional anti-union consultants—“persuaders”—to bust their employees’ organizing drives with sophisticated anti-union campaigns. Union-busting firms promise to equip employers with “campaign strategies” and “opposition research,” and produce anti-union videos, websites, posters, buttons, T-shirts, and PowerPoint presentations for employers to deploy against their workers’ unionizing efforts. Employers spend large amounts of money to hire anti-union consultants—sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Policy Watch: Another week of weakening labor laws and making us more susceptible to a financial crisis
In the midst of a chaotic week, Congress and the Trump administration found time to quietly attack important worker protections and undermine the rules and regulations that make our economy fairer for working people and their families. Yesterday, the House passed legislation that makes our economy more susceptible to financial crises in the future, exposes consumers and investors to heightened risk of abuse in their dealings with the financial sector and rolls back the “fiduciary rule,” which requires financial advisers to act in the best interest of their clients. On Wednesday, Secretary of Labor Acosta testified in support of President Trump’s budget request for fiscal year 2018 that slashes funding for the agency that protects workers’ wages and health and safety by 20 percent. And in a symbolic anti-worker move, the Trump administration also withdrew Department of Labor guidance designed to help employers understand their obligations under the law.
Today, the Department of Labor regulation known as the “fiduciary rule” was officially implemented. So, all financial advisers are finally, technically required to act in the best interest of clients saving for retirement. This is a huge win for savers but, while the rule’s fiduciary standard is now in effect, it comes with a couple of catches. Important compliance provisions built into the rule’s exemptions have been delayed until January 1, 2018. DOL has made it clear that it will not enforce the rule until then, either. Until the rule has been fully implemented and is being fully enforced, retirement savers will keep losing money to unscrupulous financial advisers.
People in states represented by the cosponsors of the CHOICE Act lose $12.1 billion each year due to conflicted retirement advice
Yesterday, the Financial CHOICE Act of 2017 passed the House of Representatives along party lines, with 233 Republicans and no Democrats voting in favor of the bill, and 185 Democrats and one Republican voting against it. In the event it were to also pass the Senate and become law, the CHOICE Act would do profound, broad-based damage to the future financial security of America’s working families.
Among the many damaging things the bill does is to repeal of the Conflict of Interest rule, aka the “fiduciary” rule. The fiduciary rule is the regulation that requires that financial professionals advising retirement savers act in the best interest of their clients—like doctors and lawyers are already required to do. The rule prohibits financial advisers from doing things like steering clients into investments that provide the adviser a higher commission but provide the client a lower rate of return. This rule is sorely needed—conservative estimates put the cost to retirement savers of “conflicted” advice at $17 billion a year. It is noteworthy that today is the day that the fiduciary rule was implemented. This is a huge win for retirement savers, though this big step forward comes with a couple of glaring catches.
Today the U.S. House of Representatives begins consideration of the Financial CHOICE Act of 2017, a sweeping bill that would make a number of extensive changes to the institutions that oversee the American monetary and financial system.
The CHOICE Act is frequently (and accurately) described as an effort to undo much of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which is the critical banking regulation passed under President Obama after the financial crisis of 2008/2009 to help avert future crises. The provisions in the CHOICE Act that repeal major parts of Dodd-Frank have rightly received a great deal of attention. But, there is more to the CHOICE Act than rolling back Dodd-Frank. Below we highlight two lesser-known but highly concerning components of the bill.
The CHOICE Act would make major and undesirable changes to the governance and conduct of the Federal Reserve.
The status quo of the Federal Reserve should not persist. Governance should become more transparent and representative and policy should weigh the economic interests of low and middle-wage workers more highly. But the reforms proposed in the Financial CHOICE Act go in precisely the wrong direction regarding both governance and policy conduct of the Fed.
In regard to governance, the Financial CHOICE Act proposes expanding the influence of regional Federal Reserve Bank presidents on the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), at the expense of the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors (BOG). Regional presidents are chosen through largely opaque processes led by regional Federal Reserve Bank boards of directors. These regional boards are dominated by financial and corporate interests. Fed Governors, conversely, are nominated by the President and must be confirmed by the Senate. This insures at least some modicum of democratic accountability. Voting rights on the FOMC are supposed to be split 7-5 in favor of the BOG (currently there are two vacancies on the BOG, so the regional banks already have parity).
As the Trump administration considers weakening the long-awaited “fiduciary rule”, industry-backed groups continue to release transparently self-serving “research” purporting to show that the rule, which protects retirement savers against sales pitches disguised as financial advice, will do more harm than good.
Most recently, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a report misleadingly entitled, The Data Is [sic] In: The Fiduciary Rule Will Harm Small Retirement Savers. The data actually show nothing of the kind. As the Consumer Federation of America has pointed out, even comparing a partial estimate of the harm done to savers from conflicted advice with an inflated estimate of the cost of implementing the rule shows that the rule’s benefits vastly outweigh its costs.
This hasn’t prevented the Chamber and others from claiming that the rule will harm investors by restricting access to retirement services, limiting investment options, and increasing fees paid for investment advice. These claims are based on surveys of firms with an interest in weakening or overturning the rule, conducted by industry associations and conservative groups who are in many cases ideologically opposed to government regulation. As EPI Vice President Ross Eisenbrey recently told the acting Solicitor of Labor, affected industries invariably predict dire outcomes from regulations they oppose since they are rarely called to account when their predictions prove unfounded.
Even if the industry’s questionable predictions that the rule could cause some retirement savers to experience reduced access to investment products or advice are borne out, it doesn’t follow that investors will be harmed by the fiduciary rule. The rule’s purpose is to ensure that any retirement investment advice serves the investor’s best interest, not the adviser’s self-interest. The fact that salespeople masquerading as financial planners will no longer be able to offer conflicted advice that steers people to costly products doesn’t mean investors will be harmed—to the contrary. And since bad products and services crowd out good ones, the anticipated fiduciary rule—despite the Trump administration’s delay in implementing it—has already expanded the market for low-cost investment options.
It has been declared “infrastructure week” by the Trump administration. On the face of it, that should be excellent news. The U.S. economy would benefit enormously from an ambitious increase in public investment, including infrastructure investment. Such investment would create jobs and finally lock-in genuine full employment in the near-term, and would provide a needed boost to productivity growth (or how much income and output each hour of work generates in the economy) in the medium-term. Further, infrastructure investments would ensure that we do not leave future generations a deficit of underinvestment and deferred maintenance of public assets.
This clear need is why we at EPI have been such enthusiastic backers of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) plan to boost infrastructure investment. The CPC investment plan is up to the scale of the problem, and it confronts the need to make these investments head-on, without accounting gimmicks or magical thinking about where the money for these investments will come from.
Despite being long-standing and loud proponents of the need for more infrastructure investment, however, we cannot say we expect much from the Trump administration’s infrastructure week. Why not? Because the most common theme in the Trump administration’s approach to infrastructure is pure obfuscation about how it will be paid for. If you’re not willing to say forthrightly how you’re going to pay for infrastructure investments, you really cannot be serious about it. As the old adage goes, “show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value”.
The recently released Trump federal budget plan guts infrastructure, period. Read the link—the damage the Trump budget would do to public investment and infrastructure is staggering. This alone should make any open-minded person extraordinarily skeptical of their claims to value infrastructure spending.
The Trump campaign plan on infrastructure was notable only for its shallowness and its determination to increase cronyism in infrastructure provision. The plan claimed that the problem with American infrastructure investment was a lack of innovative financing, and that the private sector could somehow be convinced to build infrastructure at no cost to taxpayers. This was obviously false. Even long-standing, bipartisan efforts to leverage private sector financing of infrastructure have ranged from disappointing to disastrous. And in no case did they provide a free lunch to taxpayers—unless taxpayers have a huge preference to paying tolls to private companies rather than the same amount of tolls or taxes to governments.
The problem holding back increased investment in American infrastructure is simple: politicians are simply unwilling to increase public spending in a transparent way. This must be overcome—America needs a significant investment in public assets, and it needs this investment to be transparent, subject to democratic accountability, and long-lived.
The sketch of the new Trump infrastructure effort included in their budget shows clearly that they do not get this. Instead, the plan is more obfuscation and magical thinking. They claim their plan will lead to $1 trillion in new investments. Yet only $200 billion in new federal spending is specified (and again, this must be balanced against the enormous cuts to public investment already embedded in their overall budget plan). Where does the rest of the funding come from? In a word, nowhere. There is hand waving about leveraging the private sector and vague claims that federal “divestment” from infrastructure provision will somehow empower state and local governments to do more (but without any new funding source for these governments!). But like Trump’s campaign plan, this is an unserious document meant to sound like an infrastructure investment plan, but one that would radically underinvest in projects overall, and which would prioritize projects that can provide profits to private entities (like toll roads to airports) rather than projects that provide the largest welfare boost to vulnerable communities (say replacing lead-laced water pipes for communities like Flint, Michigan).
As the Trump administration kicks off “infrastructure week”, remember that its recent budget is an absolute disaster for public investment
Back in March, the Trump administration released its “skinny” budget. The skinny budget laid out the administration’s priorities for the next two years of discretionary spending. This skinny budget made absolutely disastrous cuts to nondefense discretionary (NDD) spending. This matters to most Americans because the NDD portion of the budget is where the vast majority of public investment is funded.
NDD spending is already on an extraordinarily austere path under current law. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that by 2027 NDD budget authority as a percentage of GDP will fall by one-fifth, reaching a historic low of 2.4 percent. Trump’s skinny budget wanted us to get to this anemic level by next year.
And the details of the recently released full ten-year budget are far worse.
The Trump administration’s budget would cut NDD budget authority as a percentage of GDP by 56 percent, slashing it to an unprecedented 1.4 percent of GDP by 2027. CBO estimates that NDD spending will account for just 13 percent of all federal spending over the next ten years, but half of it is public investment. The full Trump budget would be an unprecedented disaster for public investment.
Historical and projected nondefense discretionary budget authority as a percentage of GDP, FY1976—FY2027
|Year||President’s Budget||CPC budget||Historic||Current Law||Historical Average*|
*Historical average reflects the average nondefense discretionary budget authority as a share of GDP between FY1980 and FY2007 (the last year before the onset of the Great Recession).
Notes: For the president's budget, this figure uses CBO's projections of GDP. Data for 2016 represent actual spending. Data for 2017 exclude CHIMPs.
Source: EPI Policy Center analysis of Congressional Budget Office and Office of Management and Budget data.
This highlights the enormous gap between Trump administration rhetoric about boosting infrastructure investment and the reality of their policies. Trump campaigned on a $1 trillion infrastructure proposal, but has never backed this up with a real plan. First, the campaign’s original plan was simply not serious, and would not have led to anywhere near $1 trillion in net new investment forthcoming. Next, the skinny budget cut the Department of Transportation by 13 percent. And these are not just cuts to some abstract bureaucracy, included are cuts to actual infrastructure funding. About 21 percent of those cuts come from ending the TIGER discretionary grants program that fund state-level infrastructure projects.
The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals a noticeable slowdown in job growth this year. Adding in May’s 138,000 net new jobs, monthly job growth averaged 162,000 so far in 2017, and just 121,000 over the last three months, down from an average monthly gain of 187,000 jobs in 2016. While employment growth would be expected to slow as the economy approaches genuine full employment, other indicators suggest we are not that close to full employment yet, so this explanation seems insufficient. Specifically, at this point in the recovery, we should be looking to not only add jobs, but also see stronger wage growth in those jobs.
But this is not what we’ve seen. Unfortunately, wage growth has been flat over the last year. The latest data indicates that year-over-year nominal hourly wages grew 2.5 percent in May. In fact, as shown in the figure below, wage growth has averaged 2.5 percent over the last two years. If anything, we’ve seen a bit of a slowdown in wage growth this spring, and it is still below levels consistent with the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent inflation target combined with trend productivity growth of 1.5 percent. So, why has wage growth continued to be below target levels after recovery has gone on so long? The simple answer is that while the recovery has been long, it has also been weak. And this weakness combined with the extraordinary damage done during the Great Recession means that slack remains.
Nominal wage growth has been far below target in the recovery: Year-over-year change in private-sector nominal average hourly earnings, 2007–2017
|Date||All nonfarm employees||Production/nonsupervisory workers|
*Nominal wage growth consistent with the Federal Reserve Board's 2 percent inflation target, 1.5 percent productivity growth, and a stable labor share of income.
Source: EPI analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Employment Statistics public data series
But, you say, the unemployment rate fell to 4.3 percent in May, its lowest in 16 years! Unfortunately, the unemployment rate fell for the wrong reasons and isn’t fully reflective of the state of the labor market. That is, in the past when unemployment was roughly as low as it is today, the labor force participation rate—notably that of the prime-age population—has been much higher. Today, there are lots of would-be workers on the sidelines not being counted, who would take a job if offered one. And, the drop in the unemployment rate in the past month is more of a sign of people giving up on finding a job than more people becoming employed. In the last month, the labor force participation rate fell 0.2 percentage points and the employment-to-population ratio also fell 0.2 percentage points. Taken together, that means that the slight drop in the unemployment rate is, in fact, due to would-be workers leaving the labor force, not getting jobs.
More and more analysts, including many at the Fed, seem to have decided that the U.S. economy has reached full employment. They might be right, but the data on this is far from a slam dunk—and the costs of prematurely declaring full employment and working to slow the recovery far exceed the costs of waiting too long to restrain growth and allowing some wage and price inflation.
While the unemployment rate has ticked down considerably over the last few years, there still seems to be considerable slack in labor force participation, as evidenced most strongly in quite depressed employment-to-population ratios of even prime-aged (25-54 year old) workers. If this weren’t the case—if the apparent slack in these employment and participation numbers wasn’t real—we would be seeing faster wage growth as employers bid up wages to attract and retain the workers they want. So, what am I looking for in Friday’s jobs report, and what do we need to see to validate judgements that we have attained genuine full employment? Signs of stronger wage growth.
Year-over-year nominal wage growth has picked up over the last several years (as shown in the figure below). It’s now at about 2.7 percent growth, up from 2.4 percent the previous year, and up from an average of about 2.0 percent in 2010 through 2014. While this is certainly a welcome sign, it is still below levels consistent with the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent inflation target combined with trend productivity growth of 1.5 percent.
Under new bill’s election standard, unions would never win an election—and neither would the bill’s cosponsors
Before leaving for recess last week, congressional Republicans introduced a bill that would make it more difficult for workers to form a union and collectively bargain. The misleadingly named Employee Rights Act has been introduced in prior Congresses as well. The legislation would strip workers of many rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). For example, it would prohibit voluntary employer recognition of a union. (Under existing law, an employer is free to recognize a union and bargain with its workforce when workers show majority support for the union.) The bill also reinstitutes unnecessary delay in the union election process, mandating that parties litigate issues likely to be resolved in the election.
Perhaps most ridiculous is the bill’s requirement that a union win the support of the majority of all workers eligible to vote in the union election—not just those workers who vote. Imagine if the bill’s sponsor, Congressman Phil Roe (R–Tenn.), had had the same requirement in his own election. He would have lost, and so would all of his Republican colleagues who cosponsored the bill.
Votes cast for winning candidate as a share of eligible voters and actual winning share, 2014 and 2016 elections
|Votes cast for winning candidate as share of all eligible voters (Employee Rights Act election requirement)||Winning election results|
|Rep. Phil Roe||TN 01||20.7%||35.5%||82.8%||78.4%|
|Rep. Joe Wilson||SC 02||24.0%||36.2%||62.4%||60.2%|
|Rep. Doug LaMalfa||CA 01||24.1%||33.8%||61.0%||59.1%|
|Rep. Jeff Duncan||SC 03||23.0%||38.8%||71.2%||72.8%|
|Rep. Rob Woodall||GA 07||25.2%||38.6%||65.4%||60.4%|
|Rep. Gus Bilirakis||FL 12||NA||45.9%||Ran unopposed||68.6%|
|Rep. Richard Hudson||NC 08||22.8%||35.6%||64.9%||58.8%|
* US citizens, ages 18 and up are considered eligible voters (see Citizen Voting Age Population from the American Community Survey).
The Employee Rights Act is a clear example of Republican contempt for workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively. The legislation rigs the union election system, instituting standards for unions that no elected official could survive.
On the same day that Rep. Roe and his colleagues introduced their anti-worker legislation, Democrats introduced a bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2024. The proposal would lift pay for 41 million workers—nearly 30 percent of the U.S. workforce. Raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour would begin to reverse decades of growing pay inequality.
H-2B crabpickers are so important to the Maryland seafood industry that they get paid $3 less per hour than the state or local average wage
Earlier this week, Washington D.C.’s WAMU aired a report highlighting—and celebrating—the hardworking Mexican women on Maryland’s Eastern Shore who pick crabmeat by hand. The Mexican women are in the United States temporarily, on a nonimmigrant guestworker visa called H-2B, which allows employers to hire migrant workers for non-agricultural seasonal jobs. The subheading of the story reads “Maryland crab processors say they couldn’t stay in business without Mexican guestworkers.” A tweet with an accompanying GIF from WAMU suggests that the reason employers hire H-2B workers to pick crab is because they’re so fast at what they do.
— WAMU 88.5 📻 (@wamu885) May 22, 2017
Impressive to say the least. I don’t doubt how productive and valuable these workers are. Their bosses say they’re the heart of the crab industry. But upon closer inspection, it seems the seafood companies don’t really think this important work is worth a fair wage. The companies have lobbied tenaciously to make sure that the legal and regulatory framework of the H-2B visa program allows them to legally underpay their workers compared to what they would have to pay to attract workers in the free market—and the two employers featured in the WAMU story are perfect examples.
This week, the Trump administration published its full budget request for fiscal year 2018. The proposal makes it clear that President Trump has no intention of honoring his State of the Union pledge to work to create “jobs where Americans prosper and grow.” The Trump budget would impose a major drag on economic growth and lead to job-losses totaling 1.4 million in 2020. Beyond the stark job-loss numbers, the budget proposal includes severe cuts to anti-poverty programs including food stamps and children’s health insurance. Below is information on the Trump budget cuts to worker protection programs.
The Trump budget reduces funding for the Department of Labor (DOL) by nearly 20 percent. Most of the cuts come from job training programs. However, the Trump budget also severely reduces funding for unemployment insurance program administration. On top of this cut, Trump’s budget would require this already stretched program to administer a new program— six weeks of paid family leave—with no new funding. Currently, only one in four jobless workers collect unemployment benefits and only 21 states have adequate reserves in the event of another recess.
One agency within the DOL would receive a substantial increase in funding under the Trump budget. The Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) would see its funding increase by 20 percent. OLMS is responsible for enforcement of the Landrum-Griffin Act, which requires unions to report on their finances and gives the Secretary of Labor the authority to investigate unions and audit union finances. This budget increase stands in stark contrast to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) which would see its funding cut by six percent.. The NLRB is responsible for enforcing workers’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act which gives workers the rights to organize and join unions and bargain collectively with their employers for better pay, benefits, and working conditions. Unlike OLMS, which has jurisdiction only over union activities, the NLRB’s jurisdiction covers the right of all workers—whether union members or not—to seek better wages or working conditions. In spite of this, OLMS gets the additional funding in Trump’s budget while the agency tasked with protecting workers’ rights sees its funding reduced.
Yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its analysis of the American Health Care Act (AHCA)—legislation designed to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The House of Representatives passed the AHCA earlier this month, in its second attempt at doing so , before the CBO released a score. The bill makes substantial changes to current law, which have large effects on both the costs of care and the coverage rates. I’m going to walk through some key provisions and their effects on specific populations, and compare these effects to those in the version of the AHCA that the CBO scored in March. The bottom line is that, if the AHCA becomes law, the number of uninsured Americans will grow by 23 million by the year 2026—just a bit lower than the 24 million more people who would have been uninsured under the original bill. This is the result of about 14 million fewer people on Medicaid, 6 million fewer with nongroup insurance coverage, and 3 million fewer with employer-sponsored health insurance; substantially fewer people will be on nongroup coverage under the House-passed bill than in the originally-score bill, while more will be covered by employers, likely because of provisions that make the nongroup market considerably less desirable.
The total change in coverage from all these sources is shown in the figure below, copied in its entirety from Figure 2 in the CBO cost analysis. The share of each age group without coverage under current law is shown in the first bars of each set in dark blue, under the March 23 CBO score in the second set in the lightest blue, and under the legislation passed by the House is shown in the third set (mid-tone blue). The three sets of bars on the left show coverage rates for nonelderly adults below 200 percent of the federal poverty line (FPL), while the three sets of bars on the right show coverage rates for those above 200 percent of FPL. The width of the bars represents the relative size of the population, so you can see that adults between 19 and 29 years of age are more likely to be lower income, while those between 30 and 64 years of age are more likely to be higher income. In general, low-income adults are more likely to be uninsured under current law, but that difference is exacerbated under the proposed legislation. However, no group is spared. While low-income people face much higher rates of uninsurance, even significant shares of high-income young and middle-aged adults will be less likely to be covered.
Breaking a promise not to cut Social Security, the Trump administration released a budget that would slash Social Security payments for disabled workers by shrinking many of the federal government’s disability-based programs by $72 billion over the next decade. Press coverage has emphasized that the budget avoids large cuts for programs that benefit mostly older workers, but this is inaccurate—especially for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which disproportionately benefit older Americans.
It is true that the Trump administration is desperate to cut programs like food stamps that overwhelmingly benefit poor children, but it is incorrect to claim that the administration’s draconian budget reductions spare older people. In fact, the administration’s budget cuts are remarkably comprehensive in their cruelty across the age distribution. Cuts to Social Security disability payments will especially burden older Americans, as they are precisely the individuals most likely to be disabled. Do you know people with cancer advanced enough that it prevents them from working? Or how about a family member with diabetes or arthritis? These and other illnesses prevent older Americans in particular from holding steady employment.
The figure below shows that the share of the population receiving disability insurance payments indeed rises rapidly with age. Nearly one-in-ten (9.9 percent) people between the ages of 50 and 65 receives SSDI, in contrast to the small shares of younger individuals receiving these payments. As a result, nearly three quarters of those receiving Social Security disability are between the ages of 50 and 65.
Trump’s budget tried to side-step taxes. Today’s Ways and Means hearing with Treasury Secretary Mnuchin should not.
Today, the House Committee on Ways and Means is holding a hearing on President Trump’s budget proposals, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin providing testimony.
In the past, Mnuchin has claimed that in the Trump administration’s tax plan, “there will be no absolute tax cut for the upper class.” This claim has been dubbed the “Mnuchin rule.” However, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has found that both the Trump campaign and House GOP “Better Way” tax plans flagrantly violate this rule. Tax Policy Center (TPC) estimated that 47 percent of the Trump campaign tax plan would go to the top 1 percent while 76 percent of the House GOP tax plan would go to the top 1 percent in their first years, and this regressivity just grows over time. And the scarce details from the administration on their tax plan have not deviated much from the campaign plan.
Despite this, yesterday at the 2017 Peter G. Peterson Fiscal Summit, Mnuchin again echoed (see 2:08 in the video) this claim, stating that “the president’s objective is to create a middle-income tax cut, it’s not to create tax cuts for the high-end.”
Trump budget proposal is a potential jobs-killer, imposing a major fiscal drag that would radically slow job growth in coming years
Today, the Trump administration published their full budget request for fiscal year 2018. The budget is basically par-for-the-course with recent Republican budgets— doubling down on the austerity policies that have been harming American households for about a decade. But besides containing cruel cuts and deeply-dodgy economic assumptions, this proposal should also dispel any last remaining hope that fiscal policy under the Trump administration would boost, rather than drag, on growth and jobs. Were this proposal enacted, it would put a large and rapidly growing drag on economic growth going forward. All else equal, job-losses stemming from this budget’s spending cuts would total 177,000 in 2018, 357,000 in 2019, and 1.4 million in 2020. While it gets increasingly hard to estimate precise numbers further into the future, the fiscal drag just increases dramatically after 2020.
The economic intuition for why the Trump budget’s cuts would hinder growth is simply that they would reduce growth in economy-wide spending, or aggregate demand. It is always possible that the spending slowdown caused by the Trump budget could be neutralized by spending increases in other parts of the economy. Before the onset of the Great Recession, it was thought that this spending increase could be reliably engineered by the Federal Reserve lowering short-term interest rates. Since the Great Recession, however, the economy saw seven years of historically slow recovery even while the Fed held short-term rates at zero (and undertook other measures to boost growth). The reason for this slow growth despite expansionary monetary policy is clearly historically austere public spending.
This should make clear that while the Fed certainly has the ability to curtail growth by raising interest rates, their ability to offset a negative fiscal shock by lowering rates seems severely constrained. Given that a monetary policy response should not be relied on to neutralize the negative fiscal shock of the Trump budget and the AHCA, we think these estimated job-losses should certainly inform the debate. Further, the federal funds rate (the rate the Fed lowers to offset negative demand shocks) sits at just about 1 percent today, meaning the Fed simply doesn’t have much room to boost the economy in response to contractionary fiscal policy that begins next fiscal year and then ramps up. For reference, in the past five recessions, the peak-to-trough change in the federal funds rate as the Fed aimed to stop the contraction and spur recovery was over 3.5 percent.
Every year, retirement savers lose $17 billion because they receive bad advice from financial advisers—like being steered into investments that provide larger payments to the adviser but lower returns for the saver. Currently, that fleecing of retirement savers is legal. Unlike the strict requirements in place for lawyers and doctors, not all financial advisers are legally required to act in their clients’ best interest. Just over a year ago, the Department of Labor issued a rule (known as the “fiduciary rule”) that would close this loophole and require financial advisers to act in the best interest of clients saving for retirement. But the Trump administration has made its interest in weakening or rescinding this rule clear. Following direction from President Trump, the Department of Labor delayed the implementation of the rule by 60 days, from April 10th to June 9th, to conduct a new “examination” of the rule, despite the fact that the department has already conducted an exhaustive analysis.
Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, after earlier saying he was actively seeking a way to further “freeze the rule,” has now stated that while the Department “should seek public comment on how to revise this rule,” they “have found no principled legal basis to change the June 9 date while we seek public input.” The fact that there will be no further delay is very good news. Further delay of the rule would have been a huge win for the financial industry and a huge loss for retirement savers all across the country, with every additional week of delay costing retirement savers $431 million over the next 30 years. However, while the rule’s fiduciary standard will take effect on June 9th, key compliance provisions built into the rule’s exemptions have been further delayed to January 1st, 2018. Moreover, the department has stated that it will not enforce the rule the during the gap period between June 9th and January 1st. This means the loopholes that allow financial advisers to take advantage of savers are not fully closed, and retirement savers will continue to be harmed during this period. Further, it is far from certain that the rule will in fact become fully applicable on January 1st. The Department has made clear (see Q4 in these Department of Labor FAQs ) that—as requested by the financial industry—they are considering proposing additional changes to the rule and delaying it beyond January 1st. Thus, we can expect further attempts in coming months to weaken and delay the rule—actions that would yet further harm retirement savers. In order to truly protect retirees and working people saving for retirement from predatory financial advisers, we need a fully applicable, vigorously enforced rule to protect their savings from the large losses that conflicted advice is causing.
One year ago, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a final rule to update the Fair Labor Standards Act’s overtime rules. The old rules—written by the Bush administration in 2004—have a loophole that leaves millions of salaried employees without the right to overtime pay (and even without the right to be paid the minimum wage). An employer may legally require salaried employees earning as little as $23,660 a year to work 70 or 80 hours a week with no additional pay. If an employer determines that a salaried employee works in an “executive, professional, or administrative capacity” the employee’s effective hourly pay could fall below $6.00 an hour.
If the new rule had taken effect on December 1, 2016, as planned, 4 million employees would have become entitled to overtime pay and another 9 million would have had their right to overtime pay strengthened and clarified. In 2017 alone, workers would have gotten $1.2 billion in extra pay.
But Republican politicians and big business groups sued to block the rule, and a U.S. District Court judge in Texas blocked the rule from taking effect, not just in Texas, but nationwide. Obama’s Department of Labor appealed the case, but the Trump administration has repeatedly delayed the appeal while it figures out whether to side with the employees or with big business.
This week was the first week in which the Congressional Review Act could no longer be used to block regulations issued in the final months of the Obama administration. But congressional Republicans were undeterred, and continued to advance an anti-regulatory agenda that threatens workers’ health and safety, wages, and retirement security. On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs approved the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA), a sweeping measure that threatens all kinds of important worker protections. That same day, the administration delayed a rule that requires employers to electronically submit injury and illness data that they already record. And yesterday, the House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions (HELP) held a hearing attacking the fiduciary rule, which requires that financial advisers act in their clients’ best interests when giving retirement advice.
The RAA, which was advanced by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, would fundamentally alter the regulatory process, giving corporate interests unprecedented power to interfere with and delay the regulatory process. The bill lets big business and special interests submit alternative regulatory proposals, and requires that agencies consider these proposals and adopt the rule that is least costly for corporations. By prioritizing industry profits over health, safety, and other public goods, the RAA is a direct threat to workers and the American people.
In January 2010, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision allowed corporations, for the first time ever, to spend unlimited money on politics. Within a few months, Republican strategists and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce hatched a plan to take advantage of the newly available corporate cash. They called it Project “RedMap,” or “Redistricting Majority Project.” Its goal was to use corporate money— much of it contributed secretly through the Chamber— to win Republican control of state legislatures in the Fall of 2010. That year’s elections were particularly important because the officials who came into office that year would be charged with redrawing legislative district boundaries based on the 2010 census.
The business lobbyists were more successful than they could have hoped. With their help, eleven states that had previously been governed by a combination of Democrats and Republicans became wall-to-wall Republican, with the GOP controlling both houses of the legislature along with the Governor’s mansion. Critically, this included a swath of traditional swing states with strong labor movements running from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin across the upper Midwest.
Sixty-three years ago on Wednesday, the Supreme Court prohibited school segregation. In the South, Brown v. Board of Education was enforced slowly and fitfully for two decades; then progress ground to a halt. Nationwide, black students are now less likely to attend schools with whites than they were half a century ago. Was Brown a failure?
Not if we consider the boost it gave to a percolating civil rights movement. The progeny of Brown include desegregation of public accommodations and the mostly unhindered right of African Americans to compete for jobs, to vote, and to purchase or rent homes. Brown’s greatest accomplishment was its enduring imprint on the national ethos: the idea of second-class citizenship for African Americans, indeed for any minority group, is now universally condemned as a violation of the Constitution and of American values. None of these transformations came easily, and none are complete, but none would have happened were it not for Brown.
Yet the decision could not accomplish its stated purpose. Today, nearly half of all black students attend majority black schools, with over 70 percent in high-poverty school districts. New York is the most segregated state: two-thirds of its black students attend schools that are less than 10 percent white. A growing number are “integrated” with low-income Hispanics and other recent immigrants, but still isolated from the mainstream.
Because schools remain segregated, we have little chance to substantially boost the achievement of black children, especially those from low-income families. Of course, some children will always surmount their disadvantages and excel. But when separate schools concentrate students who are in poorer health and more frequently absent, who may be homeless or in unstable housing, and whose parents are less-educated, achievement lags when teachers are overwhelmed by non-academic challenges.