In a clear sign of change in Washington, President Barack Obama invited about 100 labor leaders, worker advocates, and researchers — including EPI’s Ross Eisenbrey and Heidi Shierholz — to a meeting at the White House Friday morning. He signaled a clear break with the anti-labor policies of the past eight years, saying: “I do not view the labor movement as part of the problem. To me, it’s part of the solution.”
The occasion was the announcement of a new task force on the middle class, chaired by Jared Bernstein, a long-time EPI economist who recently left to serve as chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden. Bernstein plans to hold meetings around the country on economic initiatives, such as infrastructure investment, to ensure that all federal programs and policy changes have the effect of building, rather than tearing down, the nation’s middle class.
No time to waste
Economic and related political developments have been moving fast lately, and EPI is running to keep up with them. Fortunately, our recently launched Web site allows more flexibility for rapid response, and we have been making full use of it.
For example, on Friday, EPI economist Josh Bivens quickly reacted to the morning release of GDP numbers from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, showing the economy shrank by 3.8% in the fourth quarter of 2008 — the worst quarter in 26 years — and was essentially flat for the full year. Within an hour, he had posted a Quick Take on EPI’s home page noting the news was “terrible — but totally expected.” By noon, Bivens had written a more detailed analysis for the press and conducted three television interviews.
Two weeks earlier, EPI economist Heidi Shierholz sprung into action when the Bureau of Labor Statistics released a similarly grim report on job openings showing that there were 3.8 applicants for every job opening, up from 1.8 a year earlier. “With so few job openings it is easy to understand why nearly a quarter of unemployed workers have been out of a job for over six months,” she wrote.
EPI President Lawrence Mishel and EPI economist Robert Scott also contributed opinion and analysis pieces on the mistake of including tax cuts in the stimulus package, on growing union membership numbers, and on the Obama administration’s tough position toward China currency manipulation. To keep up, you can register for email alerts or for RSS feeds through the Web site, or simply make a habit of checking www.epi.org.
Extending our network
EPI is seeking to work even more closely with allied groups than it has in the past, in part to take full advantage of the historic opening to change the economic paradigm. As part of this effort, EPI Outreach Coordinator Christian Dorsey has pulled together a “Good Jobs for All” coalition, with 27 member groups at this time, to ensure that jobs created by any economic recovery package are career-sustaining and inclusive of women and minorities. At the very least, the Good Jobs group hopes to ensure that publicly funded job-creation programs do not exacerbate existing inequalities in the labor market.
On another front, Research and Policy Director John Irons and External Affairs Director Nancy Cleeland are working with four other public-interest groups, including OMB Watch and the Project on Government Oversight, to monitor and examine the economic impacts of the Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and other financial rescue packages.
EPI plans to make even greater use of our meeting room this year. We kicked things off on Jan. 27 with a packed crowd that gathered for a fascinating look at the failures of U.S. trade policy with China, led by the former chief negotiator for China trade under the Clinton administration, Robert Cassidy. In his view, the pact he helped negotiate — like other ‘free’ trade agreements — has been a mistake that has cost Americans jobs, income, and stability. One major problem with such agreements is that they protect the interests of multinational corporations rather than workers. Cassidy’s full remarks are here and audio of the full discussion will be posted on our Web site soon. Related materials include a research paper on jobs lost to China trade by economist Robert Scott, and a recent book by Josh Bivens exploring how trade reduces wages for a majority of U.S. workers.
Upcoming: On Feb. 11, EPI will partner with The American Prospect, Demos, and the Campaign for America’s Future to present a full-day conference on Thinking Big about the new economy we must create to replace the failed models of the recent past. Keynote speaker is the Nobel prize-winning New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, and panelists include Rep. George Miller of California and Gov. Edward Rendell of Pennsylvania.