EPI’s decades-long effort to move the issues of income inequality and stagnant wages to the top of the national agenda crossed a threshold in 2015. Growing recognition of these problems coincided with momentum on implementing critical solutions such as expanding overtime pay protection and raising the federal minimum wage. Following are just some of the ways EPI’s research, data, and testimony influenced policymakers, informed the media, and engaged activists and ordinary Americans in the drive to improve working families’ living standards this past year. Download PDF
EPI research makes wages a key issue in the presidential election
American workers’ stagnating wages grabbed the spotlight in the 2016 election, thanks in part to EPI research identifying the causes of wage stagnation: the policy choices that are driving the benefits of economic growth to an increasingly tiny share of households. This research, part of EPI’s Raising America’s Pay (RAP) initiative, has been amplified by top news sources, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post, and used by candidates such as Hillary Clinton, who tweeted EPI’s graph showing how American workers’ productivity has increased while their wages have flatlined.
EPI’s New York Times op-ed and 11-point policy agenda move wage conversation from problems to solutions
EPI President Lawrence Mishel’s New York Times op-ed calling for wage-raising policies to replace “tried-and-failed” trickle-down policies led to EPI’s How To Raise Wages report and the accompanying “Agenda to Raise America’s Pay.” The agenda—a series of concrete, achievable policies such as updating overtime rules and raising the minimum wage—was hailed by The Washington Post as “the liberal plan to save the middle class.”
EPI’s pay–productivity graph proves Americans aren’t being rewarded fairly for their work
Those pushing to give American workers a well-deserved pay raise often display EPI’s annually updated graph comparing pay and productivity growth, which shows that Americans are increasing their productivity—they just aren’t getting any of the benefits. Clinton has tweeted the graph more than once, and, along with the accompanying research report, it has garnered headlines in Politico, Vox, the Fiscal Times, the Seattle Times, and the Boston Globe.
CEO pay graph shows why economic gains aren’t trickling down
In August, following EPI’s update of its influential CEO pay report, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) voted to require the nation’s 4,000 public companies to each disclose the difference between their CEO’s salary and their median worker pay, starting in 2017. Top media such as the New York Times editorial board criticized the huge CEO pay levels identified by EPI that are helping fuel rising inequality.
EPI chart on union membership featured in Smithsonian museum
Extravagant CEO pay isn’t the only cause of rising inequality. EPI’s chart mapping rising inequality against declining union membership is featured in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s “American Enterprise” exhibition that opened in July 2015.
EPI connects wage stagnation to the hostile environment for collective bargaining
In 2015, EPI’s research on the wage-depressing effects of declining unionization and right-to-work (RTW) laws led to calls by the New York Times editorial board and others to claw back policies that weaken unions. Through testimony and reports, EPI spread the word that wages in RTW states are 3 percent lower than in other states.
EPI fought right-to-work (RTW) legislation in Wisconsin, New Mexico, and West Virginia
EPI has taken an active approach to state action on RTW, ensuring that lawmakers considering RTW are not misled by false promises. State-level policy analysts have used EPI data and material to warn legislators of the pitfalls of potential RTW laws.
EPI plays crucial role in new overtime pay rule benefiting millions
Hardworking, middle-class Americans have seen their wages stagnate as the benefits of the economic recovery have gone to the wealthy few. This weakening of the middle class is associated with the weakening of labor standards that protect workers, including overtime standards. EPI played a major role in the administration’s plan to raise the salary threshold for overtime pay, “one of the most consequential regulations of Obama’s second term,” noted the Washington Post.
By connecting the dots, EPI research increased support for minimum-wage hikes
EPI Economist Elise Gould’s February report, 2014 Continues a 35-Year Trend of Broad-Based Wage Stagnation, made a debate-changing connection between public policies and the state of American wages. Specifically, efforts to raise the minimum wage got important validation. Gould found that while hourly wages stagnated or declined for nearly all workers in 2014, those in the bottom 10 percent saw a 1.3 percent rise due to minimum-wage increases in 18 states, where 57 percent of U.S. workers reside. (EPI research had been used by proponents of minimum-wage increases in all 18 states.) This finding shows that public policies can be an important tool for raising wages—and that solid research can drive good policy.
EPI’s Family Budget Calculator remains one of the best tools in the push to raise the minimum wage
In August 2015, EPI released the newest version of its Family Budget Calculator, showing what it takes to make ends meet in 618 communities. Compared with the federal poverty line and the Supplemental Poverty Measure, EPI’s family budgets provide a more accurate and complete measure of economic security in America. The family budgets show how much it costs for families to attain a modest but adequate standard of living, accounting for costs such as housing, child care, food, transportation, and health care. EPI’s Family Budget Calculator was featured in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Fortune, Time, and CBS Moneywatch. It also garnered coverage in many regional and local media outlets, including the Sacramento Bee, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dallas Morning News, Fox 5 DC, WAMU-FM, and Philadelphia Magazine.
EPI research highlights need for accessible, affordable child care
In October, EPI released a study showing that high-quality child care is out of reach for working families, especially minimum-wage workers. “Child care costs would now devour at least 30 percent of a minimum-wage worker’s earnings in every state,” explained the Washington Post. The study also found that child care costs for a 4-year-old are more than the average cost of in-state tuition at public colleges in 24 states and the District of Columbia. Citing EPI’s findings, an op-ed in The New York Times speculated that the high cost of child care is a big reason why American women are falling out of the labor force.
EPI announces bold agenda to raise women’s wages
In November, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, and other progressive leaders joined EPI to release EPI’s Women’s Economic Agenda. The agenda outlines 12 bold yet achievable proposals to close the gender pay gap and increase women’s economic security.
Though the situation has improved since President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, when women made 59 cents for every dollar earned by men, women still earn a lot less than men. In 2014, the median woman earned 82.9 cents for every dollar paid to her male counterpart. Closing the gender wage gap is absolutely essential to helping women achieve economic security—and so is policy action to address the factors that have depressed worker wages generally, explained EPI’s Elise Gould at the agenda’s release event (and in an accompanying blog post).
EPI elevates fair scheduling as a policy goal for women and all workers
Among the policy proposals in EPI’s Women’s Economic Agenda is fair scheduling. Specifically, the agenda calls for requiring employers to provide more advance notice in setting and changing work schedules and to end uncompensated “on-call” scheduling. (“On call” scheduling is when shift workers are called to work on short notice, and aren’t paid if they are sent home because it turns out to be a slow day.) As an EPI report pointed out, more than one-third of women hourly workers in their prime childrearing years (age 26–32) receive their work schedules with advance notice of one week or less.
EPI makes clear link between the Fed, monetary policy, and ordinary Americans
Thanks in part to EPI’s work explaining the complicated world of the Federal Reserve, 2015 may mark the year that ordinary workers recognized the role of Fed policy in their well-being and argued that their interests deserve a role in monetary policy.
EPI’s work on government-sponsored racial segregation framed the post-Ferguson debate and influenced Supreme Court
In March 2015, The Making of Ferguson—a 2014 EPI report by Richard Rothstein on how systematic government-sponsored racial segregation laid the groundwork for racial tension in Ferguson, Mo.—was cited in the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation of the Ferguson police department. Rothstein’s argument that we can’t fully address police violence against blacks without understanding how race-conscious public policy created segregation and concentrated poverty helped widen the debate.
EPI’s education work highlights the important link between socioeconomic status and equality of opportunity
Socioeconomic status is the single largest factor influencing children’s school readiness, according to Inequalities at the Starting Gate, an EPI report published in June. Examining a group of students who entered kindergarten in 2010, EPI’s Emma Garcia found gaps in cognitive skills such as reading and math, and in noncognitive skills such as persistence and social skills, between children in lower and higher social classes. Education Week cited several key findings from the report.
EPI data on trade and lost jobs weakens support for ‘fast track’ and TPP
In 2015, EPI’s work on trade showed that past trade deals have been a bust for American workers, and that American jobs have been lost due to increasing trade deficits with China and other countries that manipulate their currency. Due in great part to EPI’s work, a large and growing number of people are aware of the downward pressure on jobs and wages from ill-conceived trade deals such as the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP).
EPI exposes abuses of guestworker program that displaces U.S. workers
EPI Research Associate Ron Hira worked closely with New York Times reporter Julia Preston on her November exposé of corporations that abuse the H-1B visa to replace U.S. workers with foreign guestworkers who are paid much less for doing the exact same job.
EPI provided the economic argument for repealing the Affordable Care Act’s health excise tax
Through presentations at academic conferences, Hill briefings, op-eds, blog posts, and outreach to a variety of reporters and publications, EPI altered the debate about the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) excise tax on high-cost employer-sponsored health insurance plans, misleadingly called the “Cadillac tax.” Due to EPI’s work, the explicitly positive story spun on the excise tax turned into a more nuanced appreciation of its downsides, chiefly that the tax on expensive health insurance plans could cut care along with costs and serves as an unambiguous cut in after-tax pay for workers.