On August 12, 2019, Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang tweeted, “I’ve done the MATH, it’s not immigrants taking our jobs, it’s automation. Instead of blaming immigrants, let’s give our citizens the means to thrive through the fourth industrial revolution.” This, like much of Yang’s and others’ current discourse regarding automation, is focused on an exaggerated fear that automation can and soon will replace workers’ roles in production, resulting in widespread job loss. But for hundreds of years, technological progress has continually reshaped the way work is done—and yet this progress has never resulted in a long-term decline in the labor force. Focusing on overstated risks of job loss from automation distracts from efforts to advocate for higher wages, better benefits, and increased bargaining power—issues that have been, and will continue to be, essential to the well-being of workers and their families.
However, while there is no reason to believe that automation will lead to widespread, sustained decline in the overall number of jobs, there will be specific jobs, industries, and workers for whom the impact of automation will come with real costs, at least in the short term. One industry in which concerns about automation may be warranted in the near term is transportation. Ford and Volvo have both announced plans to put fully autonomous vehicles on the road as early as 2021; Honda has announced a partnership with GM to begin developing autonomous vehicles; and Nissan recently introduced “no-hands driving” on highways in its ProPilot 2.0. While consumer skepticism may slow down the industry’s timelines, many advances have already been made: Most new cars have computerized driver assistance options; Tesla’s Autosteer has logged at least one billion miles of supervised autonomous driving; and Caterpillar is already producing autonomous vehicles for hauling mining materials.Read more
On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will release September’s numbers on the state of the labor market. As usual, I’ll be paying close attention to nominal wage growth as well as the prime-age employment-to-population ratio, which are two of the best indicators of labor market health. Friday’s report will also give us a chance to examine the “teacher shortfall”—the gap between local public education employment and what is needed to keep up with growth in the student population.
Thousands of local public education jobs were lost during the recession which began in 2008, and those losses continued deep into the official economic recovery, even as more students started school each year. This has been true of public sector jobs in general—continued austerity at all levels of government has been a drag on public sector employment, which has failed to keep up with population growth.
Teacher strikes in several states over the last few years have highlighted deteriorating teacher pay as a critical issue. My colleagues Sylvia Allegretto and Larry Mishel find that average weekly wages of public school teachers have fallen over the last two decades and the teacher wage penalty continues to grow, reaching a record 21.4% in 2018. My colleagues Emma García and Elaine Weiss have further documented shortcomings and teacher shortages and recently how much teachers have to pay out of their own pockets for school supplies for their classrooms. Low pay makes it harder to attract and retain teachers who have the qualifications associated with teacher effectiveness in the classroom.
The costs of a significant teacher employment gap are high, consequences measurable: larger class sizes, fewer teacher aides, fewer extracurricular activities, and changes to curricula. Last year, the local public education job shortfall remained large. To solve this problem, state and local governments need to fund more teaching positions and raise pay to close the teacher pay gap and attract and retain the qualified teachers our children deserve. On Friday, I will compare where jobs in public education should be, using the pre-recession ratio, student population growth, and the most recent jobs numbers.
The state income data from the American Community Survey (ACS), released this morning by the Census Bureau, showed that in 2018, household incomes across the country rose—albeit more slowly, and in fewer states, than in the previous year. From 2017 to 2018, inflation-adjusted median household incomes grew in 33 states and the District of Columbia (14 of these changes were statistically significant.) This marks a decline from the broader growth seen between 2016 and 2017 when median household incomes grew in 40 states and the District of Columbia, with 24 of those changes being statistically significant.
The ACS data showed an increase of 0.2% in the inflation-adjusted median household income for the country as a whole—an increase of just $130 for a typical U.S. household and a slowdown in growth compared to the past three years: household incomes increased by 3.8% in 2015, 2.0% in 2016, and 2.5% in 2017. [i] Despite these increases, households in 23 states still had inflation-adjusted median incomes in 2018 below their 2007 pre-recession values, which makes this year’s slowdown particularly disappointing.
From 2017 to 2018, the largest percentage gains in household income occurred in Idaho, where the typical household experienced an increase of $2,085 in their annual income—an increase of 3.9%. Maryland remains the state with the highest median household income at $83,242, having experienced a slight increase (0.6%) from 2017 to 2018. The District of Columbia has the highest median household income in the country at $85,203—though comparing D.C. to states is problematic, since D.C. is a city, not a state. Read more
The 2018 American Community Survey (ACS) data released today shows that the slowdown in income growth from 2017 to 2018 reported earlier this month by the Census Bureau also indicates a slowdown in progress reducing poverty in many states. From 2017 to 2018, the poverty rate decreased in 36 states and the District of Columbia, with 14 of those states experiencing statistically significant declines. For comparison, from 2016 to 2017, poverty fell in 42 states plus the District of Columbia, with 20 states and the District of Columbia having statistically significant reductions.
The poverty rate rose in 14 states, with increases of 1.3 percentage points in Rhode Island, and 0.8 percentage points each, in Connecticut and Arkansas—although only Connecticut’s increase was statistically significant.
The continued reductions in poverty rates for most states are welcome news; however, most states have still not recovered to their 2007, pre-Great Recession poverty rates. Moreover, 38 states had higher poverty rates in 2018 than in 2000.
The national poverty rate, as measured by the ACS, fell 0.3 percentage points to 13.1 percent in 2018, making it nearly the same as the ACS poverty rate in 2007, when it was 13.0 percent. It remains 0.9 percentage points above the rate from 2000.
Between 2017 and 2018, West Virginia had the largest decline in its poverty rate (-1.3 percentage points), followed by Delaware (-1.1 percentage points), Louisiana (-1.1 percentage points), Idaho (-1.0 percentage points), and Arizona (-0.9 percentage points). Poverty increased most in in Rhode Island (1.3 percentage points), Connecticut (0.8 percentage points), Arkansas (0.8 percentage points), Maine (0.5 percentage point), Montana (0.5 percentage point), and Iowa (0.5 percentage point). Read more
More than eight million workers will be left behind by the Trump overtime rule: Workers would receive $1.4 billion less than under the 2016 rule
Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Labor announced its final overtime rule, which will set the salary threshold under which salaried workers are automatically entitled to overtime pay to $35,568 a year. The rule leaves behind millions of workers who would have received overtime protections under the much stronger rule, published in 2016, that Trump administration chose to abandon.
For quick details on the history of this rulemaking, see this statement. The two tables below show just how many workers this administration is turning its back on with this rule, and how much money workers will lose. Using the same methodology used by the Department of Labor in their estimates of the economic impact of the rule, I estimate that 8.2 million workers who would have benefited from the 2016 rule will be left behind by the Trump administration’s rule, including 3.2 million workers who would have gotten new overtime protections under the 2016 rule and 5.0 million who would have gotten strengthened overtime protections under the 2016 rule. As the table shows, this administration is turning its back on 4.2 million women, 2.7 million parents of children under the age of 18, 2.9 million people of color, and 4.6 million workers without a college degree.
Number of salaried workers left behind by the Trump overtime rule, by demographic group
|Workers left behind by 2019 rule||Under the 2016 rule||Under the 2019 rule|
|Total workers left behind||Workers who would have gotten new protections under 2016 rule||Workers who would have gotten strengthened protections under 2016 rule||Total affected workers||Workers with new protections||Workers with strengthened protections||Total affected workers||Workers with new protections||Workers with strengthened protections||Total salaried workers|
|Not a parent||5,500,000||2,170,000||3,330,000||9,060,000||3,060,000||6,000,000||3,550,000||890,000||2,660,000||37,470,000|
|Less than high school||310,000||40,000||270,000||800,000||60,000||740,000||500,000||30,000||470,000||1,980,000|
Note: Subtotals may not add up to totals due to rounding. Following the methodology used by the U.S. Department of Labor, the estimates include all workers affected by the federal salary threshold increase, and do not account for higher state salary thresholds.
Source: EPI analysis of pooled Current Population Survey Outgoing Rotation Group microdata, 2016–2018, following the methodology used in the U.S. Department of Labor’s 2019 final rule, “Defining and Delimiting the Exemptions for Executive, Administrative, Professional, Outside Sales and Computer Employees,” 29 CFR Part 541 (published September 24, 2019).
With this rule, the Trump administration is cheating workers out of billions. The annual wage gains from this rule are $1.4 billion dollars less than they would have been under the 2016 rule—and these annual earnings losses balloon over time because the Trump administration neglected to include automatic indexing in their rule. Once again, President Trump has turned his back on the working people of this country.
The total annual wages workers will lose under the Trump overtime rule will grow to $1.8 billion in the first 10 years of implementation : Projected wages workers lose under the Trump overtime rule relative to the 2016 rule in the first 10 years of implementation of the Trump rule
|Projected standard threshold under the 2016 rule||Standard threshold under the 2019 rule||Wages lost under the 2019 rule relative to the 2016 rule||Total wage increase under the 2016 rule||Total wage increase under the 2019 rule|
Notes: Subtotals may not add up to totals due to rounding. Following the methodology used by the U.S. Department of Labor, the estimates include all workers affected by the federal salary threshold increase, and do not account for higher state salary thresholds. Calculations account only for wage increases of workers with new protections (i.e., they do not account for workers with strengthened protections).
Source: EPI analysis of pooled Current Population Survey Outgoing Rotation Group microdata, 2016–2018, following the methodology used in the U.S. Department of Labor’s 2019 final rule, “Defining and Delimiting the Exemptions for Executive, Administrative, Professional, Outside Sales and Computer Employees,” 29 CFR Part 541 (published September 24, 2019).
The Trump-appointed National Labor Relations Board proposed a rule last week that would rob graduate teaching assistants and other student employees of the rights to organize and collectively bargain. This is just the most recent example of the board’s attack on working people. Last month, the board determined that misclassifying workers as independent contractors does not violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Before that, the General Counsel’s office released a deeply flawed memo that found that Uber drivers were not employees under the NLRA.
The trend with the Trump board seems to be to take a statute which broadly protects private sector workers and whittle away at its scope. At a time when worker advocates are demanding more workers have the right to a union and collective bargaining, the Trump board’s graduate teaching assistant proposal demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of the modern workforce.
Had the Trump board considered any data or conducted any meaningful analysis of the academic workplace in developing the proposed rule, it would have discovered that the last several decades have seen significant changes in labor conditions. Universities have increasingly relied on graduate teaching assistants and contingent faculty, with the growth in graduate assistant positions and non-tenure track positions outpacing the increase in tenured and tenure-track positions between the Fall of 2005 and Fall 2015.
These positions have dramatically lower compensation than faculty. The average salary of a graduate teaching assistant during the 2015-2016 school year was $35,810. Individuals who are working while enrolled in graduate school deserve livable wages. One way to address this issue is through collective bargaining—the very right the Trump board seeks to rob from these workers.
Further, in spite of the majority’s insistence that collective bargaining will harm “academic freedom,” there is a wealth of evidence to the contrary. Public universities have had graduate student worker unions for 50 years. In 2016, more than 64,000 graduate student employees were unionized at 28 institutions of higher education in the public sector. The colleges and universities with union represented student employees have not reported a loss of “academic freedom” as the Trump board suggests.
In reality, union-represented graduate student employees at public universities have reported that they enjoy higher levels of personal and professional support than that reported by non-union represented students. Unionized and nonunionized student employees report similar perceptions of academic freedom. However, union-represented graduate student workers did report receiving higher pay than non-union represented graduate student workers. Perhaps this is one reason why there have been so many successful organizing campaigns on campuses across the country the last few years. Student employees at several private universities have unionized and won better working conditions–better pay, better health care, better child care. The Trump board’s proposal would rob student employees of these gains.
The Trump board is committed to rolling back workers’ rights to a union and collective bargaining. They routinely advance political proposals based on flawed facts and legal reasoning. Through decisions, general counsel memos, and rulemaking the agency is making it more and more difficult for working people to have a voice in the workplace. All workers deserve the basic right to a union. The NLRB is the agency responsible for ensuring that right and we must hold them accountable for betraying their statutory duty.
Members of the public are invited to comment on the Trump board’s most recent proposal. Comments can be submitted here.
The notion that hard work is all that’s needed to achieve a prosperous or even comfortable living in the United States has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years as stagnant wages for most workers have led to talk about the demise of the American Dream.
Randy Schutt, a long-time progressive activist and researcher, has created a simple model to help illustrate just how much dumb luck, mere chance and circumstance, can play a role in who becomes wealthy and who remains poor.
The project, intended to illustrate certain nuances about economic inequality to students and researchers, is called “The Chancy Islands: A Land of Equally Capable People But With Unequal Luck.”
His imaginary archipelago includes places like Rugged Island and Mercy Island, the first unforgiving, the latter much less so, and everything in between—Flat Island, Combo Island, Parity Island, etc.
“We’re always told that if you work hard and persist through adversity that you can rise above your humble (or horrible) circumstances and become wealthy. But that isn’t true,” Schutt said. “Most people are so beaten down by our economic system that they have to be lucky just to get by. And they have to be very lucky to do well and extremely well to get super rich.”
The statistics bear our Schutt’s narrative. Economic mobility, defined as the chance that someone born in the bottom fifth of the income distribution can sweat their way to the top fifth, is extremely low in the United States (around 7.5%)—and actually much lower than other rich nations, because of a much weaker social safety net.
You can explore the models for yourself by going to the website. But Schutt comes to the following conclusion after having examined all of the different combinations and possibilities exhaustively:
“It turns out that even with absolutely no differences in talent or effort, severe inequality can still arise just from the random shocks of wealth-depleting natural events such as serious illnesses, bad accidents, and natural disasters,” said Schutt. “Some households will amass vast fortunes without having done anything to justify their windfall; others will slide into poverty and homelessness without having done anything to warrant their impoverishment.”
Schutt adds, on a hopefully note, that his model also suggests “a few simple mitigation measures can almost completely rebalance such a society, essentially eliminating any long-term inequality.”
Such policies include, perhaps unsurprisingly, taxing the wealthy in ways that are becoming increasingly popular with the American electorate.
Yesterday’s Census Bureau report on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage in 2018 shows that while there was a slowdown in overall median household income growth relative to 2017, income growth was uneven by race and ethnicity. Real median income increased 4.6% among Asian households (from $83,376 to $87,194), 1.8% among African American households (from $40,963 to $41,692), 1.1% among non-Hispanic white households (from $69,851 to $70,642), and only 0.1% among Hispanic households (from $51,390 to $51,450), as seen in Figure A. The only groups for which income growth was statistically significant were Asian and Hispanic households.
In 2018, the median black household earned just 59 cents for every dollar of income the median white household earned (unchanged from 2017), while the median Hispanic household earned just 73 cents (down from 74 cents).
Real median household income, by race and ethnicity, 2000–2018
Note: Because of a redesign in the CPS ASEC income questions in 2013, we imputed the historical series using the ratio of the old and new method in 2013. Solid lines are actual CPS ASEC data; dashed lines denote historical values imputed by applying the new methodology to past income trends. The break in the series in 2017 represents data from both the legacy CPS ASEC processing system and the updated CPS ASEC processing system. White refers to non-Hispanic whites, black refers to blacks alone or in combination, Asian refers to Asians alone, and Hispanic refers to Hispanics of any race. Comparable data are not available prior to 2002 for Asians. Shaded areas denote recessions.
Source: EPI analysis of Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement Historical Poverty Tables (Table H-5 and H-9)
Based on EPI’s imputed historical income values (see the note under Figure A for an explanation), 11 years after the start of the Great Recession in 2007, only African American households remained below their pre-recession median income. Compared with household incomes in 2007, median household incomes in 2018 were down 2.1 percent for African American households, but up 0.7% for Asian households, 2.3% for non-Hispanic white households, and 13.1% for Hispanic households. Asian households continued to have the highest median income, despite large income losses in the wake of the recession.
The 2018 poverty rates also reflect the patterns of income growth between 2017 and 2018. As seen in Figure B, poverty rates for all groups were down slightly or unchanged, but remained highest among African Americans (20.7%, down 1.0 percentage point), followed by Hispanics (17.6%, down 0.7 percentage points), Asians (10.1%, up 0.4 percentage points), and whites (8.1%, down 0.4 percentage points). African American and Hispanic children continued to face the highest poverty rates—28.5% of African Americans and 23.7% of Hispanics under age 18 lived below the poverty level in 2018. African American children were more than three times as likely to be in poverty as white children (8.9%).Read more
Today’s report from the Census Bureau shows a marked slowdown in median household income growth relative to previous years. Median household incomes rose only 0.9%, after rising 1.8% in 2017 and following impressive gains in the two years prior: a 5.1% gain in 2015 and a 3.1% gain in 2016. Median nonelderly household income saw a similar rise of 1.0% this year after gaining 2.5%, 4.6%, and 3.6% in the prior three years, respectively.
After falling for both men and women by 1.1% each in 2017, inflation-adjusted full-time annual earnings for both men and women rose in 2018, by 3.4% and 3.3%, respectively. Men’s earnings are finally above both their 2007 and 2000 levels.
While the gains in household income are markedly slower than in previous years, they nonetheless represent another small step toward reclaiming the lost decade of income growth caused by the Great Recession. Part of the slowdown in income growth in 2017 and 2018 relative to 2015 and 2016 is driven by increases in the pace of inflation. However, as discussed below, this year’s report reminds us that the vast majority of household incomes (when corrected for a break in the data series in 2013) have still not fully recovered from the deep losses suffered in the Great Recession.
Nonelderly household incomes improve
The Census data show that from 2017 to 2018, inflation-adjusted median household income for nonelderly households (those with a householder, or head of household, younger than 65 years old) increased 1.0%, from $70,944 to $71,659, as shown in Figure A. Median nonelderly household income is an important measure of an improving economy, as those households depend on labor market income for the vast majority of their income. This continued, albeit much slower, increase after larger gains in the prior three years is better than nothing. Median household income for nonelderly households, which finally recovered to its pre-recession level in 2017, was 1.2%, or $876 above its 2007 level in 2018. It’s important to note that the Great Recession and its aftermath came on the heels of a weak labor market from 2000 to 2007, during which the median income of nonelderly households fell significantly, from $73,322 to $70,783—the first time in the post–World War II period that incomes failed to grow over a business cycle. Altogether, from 2000 to 2018, the median income for nonelderly households fell from $73,322 to $71,659, a decline of $1,663, or 2.3%. In short, the last four years should not make us forget that incomes for the majority of Americans have experienced a lost 18 years of growth.Read more
This fact sheet provides key numbers from today’s new Census reports, Income and Poverty in the United States: 2018 and The Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2018. Each section has headline statistics from the reports for 2018, as well as comparisons to the previous year, to 2007 (the final year of the economic expansion that preceded the Great Recession), and to 2000 (the historical high point for many of the statistics in these reports). All dollar values are adjusted for inflation (2018 dollars). Because of a redesign in the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement (CPS ASEC) income questions in 2013, we imputed the historical series using the ratio of the old and new method in 2013. All percentage changes from before 2013 are based on this imputed series. We do not adjust for the break in the series in 2017 due to differences in the legacy CPS ASEC processing system and the updated CPS ASEC processing system, but these differences are small and statistically insignificant in most cases.
Median annual earnings for men working full time grew 3.4 percent, to $55,291, in 2018. Men’s earnings are up 1.0 percent since 2007, and are 1.5 percent higher than they were in 2000.
Median annual earnings for women working full time grew 3.3 percent, to $45,097, in 2018. Women’s earnings are up 5.8 percent since 2007, and are 12.3 percent higher than they were in 2000.
Median annual earnings for men working full time in 2018: $55,291
Change over time:
- 2017–2018: 3.4%
- 2007–2018: 1.0%
- 2000–2018: 1.5%
Median annual earnings for women working full time in 2018: $45,097
Change over time:
- 2017–2018: 3.3%
- 2007–2018: 5.8%
- 2000–2018: 12.3%
Next Tuesday is the Census Bureau’s release of annual data on earnings, income, poverty, and health insurance coverage for 2018, which will give us a picture of the economic status of working families 11 years into what is now the longest economic expansion in United States history. This data is particularly important because it gives us insight into how evenly (or unevenly) economic growth has been distributed across U.S. households. Other data sources that are released more than once a year too often provide only averages or aggregates— but next week’s Census release gives a much more textured picture of how the U.S. economy is working for typical households. In particular, next week’s release will help us chart the progress made by the typical American household in clawing back nearly two decades of lost income growth—the result of a failure of incomes to return to the business cycle peaks of 2000 during the slow early-2000s recovery and expansion, and the Great Recession. We’ll be paying particular attention to differences in the recovery across racial and ethnic groups.
What happened with incomes in recent years?
After adjusting the series to account for changes to the survey made in 2013, in 2017 real (inflation-adjusted) median incomes for American households rose just 1.8 percent and only managed to return to their pre-Great Recession peaks, even coming off of two years (2015 and 2016) of impressive across-the-board improvements. It is important to note, however, that some of the improvements in inflation-adjusted income we saw in 2015 and 2016 were driven by atypically low inflation—0.1% in 2015, and 1.3% in 2016. We didn’t get a similar boost from low inflation in 2017 (inflation increased 2.2% in 2017), and don’t expect one in 2018 (inflation increased 2.4% in 2018). We anticipate that an additional year of even modest growth will likely bring the broad middle class back to 2000 incomes. But, for non-elderly households, the latest data will be likely still below the peak reached 18 years prior.
Real median household income, all and non-elderly, 1995–2017
|All households||All households- imputed series||All households- new series||Non-elderly households||Non-elderly households- imputed series||Non-elderly households- new series|
Note: Because of a redesign in the CPS ASEC income questions in 2013, we imputed the historical series using the ratio of the old and new method in 2013. Solid lines are actual CPS ASEC data; dashed lines denote historical values imputed by applying the new methodology to past income trends. Non-elderly households are those in which the head of household is younger than age 65. Shaded areas denote recessions.
Source: EPI analysis of Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement Historical Income Tables (Tables H-5 and HINC-02)
What do we expect in this year’s release?
Given the data we’ve seen for 2018 from other sources, it is likely that earnings, income, and poverty in the 2018 Census data will show some improvement over the past year. But it is also likely that this pace of improvement will be significantly slower than the average of the previous three years. As the economy steadily strengthens, we’ve seen progress in key labor market indicators, including participation in the labor market and payroll employment, which should boost household labor earnings. The unemployment rate ticked down another 0.5 percentage points in 2018, similar to the drop between 2016 and 2017. The overall labor force participation rate was unchanged between 2017 and 2018, but the employment-to-population ratio continued to increase, 0.3 percentage points overall and 0.8 percentage points for the prime-age population (25-54 years old). These are similar to the increases found between 2016 and 2017.
There’s a reason millions of American workers are still feeling left out from what on the surface looks like a fairly strong economy: a distinct absence of consistently strong wage growth.
The unemployment rate has stayed at or below 4.0 percent since March 2018. But, nominal wage growth continues to be weaker than expected and, in fact, appears to be decelerating this year so far. In our nominal wage tracker that measures year-over-year changes, wage growth has flat-lined in recent months and has yet to reach the Federal Reserve’s target zone (given inflation targets and productivity potential). Looking at more-recent trends—wage growth between the first and second quarters of this year—there has actually been a deceleration in wage growth this year. The Employment Cost Index, released last month, also shows a marked deceleration in private sector wage growth.
Last month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) also released preliminary benchmark revisions to payroll employment for April 2018 through March 2019. Each year, the BLS benchmarks total nonfarm payroll employment to state unemployment insurance tax records. While revisions in most years tend to be relatively small and don’t get officially incorporated into the historical numbers until the final revisions are released in February, this year’s revisions came in much higher. The preliminary estimate of the benchmark revision indicates a downward adjustment to March 2019 total nonfarm employment of -501,000. This means that, between April 2018 and March of 2019, there were a half million fewer jobs created than initially reported. Over the last ten years, preliminary revisions averaged about -92,000, so -501,000 is large in comparison. And, usually the difference between the preliminary revision and final is plus or minus 40,000. Therefore, it’s likely the final revisions will also be around 500,000 fewer jobs in that period.
The figure below illustrates what this means for job growth over the last two years. Here, I’m comparing April 2017 through March 2019, linearly interpolating the 501,000 losses equally over the 12-month period. Initially, it appeared that payroll employment growth increased between the year ending in March 2018 and March 2019, with monthly employment growth going from an average of 193,000 to 210,000. With these sizable downward revisions, average monthly employment growth actually fell from 193,000 to 168,000 over those two periods.Read more
Raising the federal minimum wage isn’t just the right thing to do for workers—it’s also good for the economy
Raising the federal minimum wage, which has now lapsed for the longest ever period without an increase, will benefit millions of low income workers and lift more than one million Americans out of poverty.
There is widespread agreement in the economics profession these days that, in contrast to outdated textbook theories, higher minimum wages have done exactly what they’re supposed to do: raise pay for low-wage workers with little, if any, effect on employment.
That’s why it was surprising to see Mitch Albom, a millionaire fiction author and sports columnist, argue so vocally and misguidedly against the prospect of an increase in a recent opinion piece in the Detroit Free Press.
The Raise the Wage Act, which boosts the minimum wage from the current paltry $7.25 per hour to $15 an hour by 2025, has passed the House of Representatives, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to even bring it up for a vote in the Senate.
It’s not just noncompetes—increased use of anti-competitive contracts has limited workers’ bargaining power and employers’ hiring power
During the 2019 legislative session, lawmakers in a number of states including Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Washington passed laws limiting employers’ ability to impose noncompetition agreements (noncompetes) on low and middle-income workers. Noncompetes have traditionally been used to protect highly confidential information or trade secrets, and the trend to restrict them is in part a response to outrageous examples of employer overuse of noncompetes to prevent very low-wage workers like sandwich makers and security guards and even no-wage workers like unpaid summer interns from going to work for competitors. These new laws are important steps to safeguard employees’ ability to move jobs and employers’ ability to hire qualified candidates.
Yet while noncompetes matter tremendously, they are only one part of a larger story about how anti-competitive contracts—sometimes not even disclosed to workers themselves—are negatively impacting workers’ wages and mobility in our economy.
As Dr. David Weil documented in his landmark book, The Fissured Workplace, as companies have grown increasingly more specialized, our workplaces have concurrently grown more fragmented. For example, during most of the twentieth century, a commercial bakery would have employed almost every person in the line of production and distribution: the workers on the assembly line, the delivery drivers, the custodians, the office staff, and the accountant. Today, many of those positions would be outsourced to employees of different specialized firms: the temporary staffing company, the logistics company, the janitorial company, and the outside accounting firm.
Don’t be fooled by the Trump administration’s Labor Day pitch on overtime policy—it’s going to cost workers billions
Soon, the Labor Department under the Trump administration will release its final rule on worker overtime. The rumor is that the administration may showcase the rule around Labor Day and claim they are taking steps to help workers. That means an important public service announcement is in order: do not be fooled! Workers would lose billions under this rule.
It is likely that the final rule will not depart radically from the proposal the administration laid out earlier this year, which was to raise the overtime salary threshold (the threshold under which salaried workers are automatically entitled to overtime pay) to $35,308 a year. This is a dramatic weakening of a rule published just three years ago. In 2016, following an exhaustive rule-making process, the Labor Department finalized an overtime rule that would have increased the salary threshold to $47,476, (which was the 40th percentile of the earnings of full-time salaried workers in the lowest wage census region). However, a single district court judge in Texas enjoined the Department from enforcing the rule, and the court later erroneously held the rule to be invalid. Instead of defending the threshold from the egregiously flawed logic of the judge, the Department abandoned the rule and proposed their much weaker threshold, which is roughly the 20th percentile of the earnings of full-time salaried workers in the lowest-wage census region.
It’s useful to note that if the rule had simply been adjusted for inflation since 1975, today it would be roughly $56,500. This is more than $20,000 higher than the Trump administration’s level! The Trump administration’s weaker rule will leave behind an estimated 8.2 million workers who would have gotten new or strengthened overtime protections under the 2016 rule. This includes 4.2 million women, 3.0 million people of color, 4.7 million workers without a college degree, and 2.7 million parents of children under the age of 18. Further, the annual wage gains are $1.2 billion dollars less under the presumed Trump rule than under the 2016 rule—and these annual earnings losses will grow from $1.2 billion to $1.6 billion over the first 10 years of implementation because, unlike the 2016 rule, the Trump administration rule almost surely will not include automatic indexing.
It’s the beginning of the school year and teachers are once again opening up their wallets to buy school supplies
It’s the beginning of the school year, a time of eager anticipation and hopeful expectations. Amid the excitement, parents are engaged in practical tasks, including opening their wallets to stock their children’s backpacks with school supplies. Teachers, too, are gearing up to go back to their classrooms by opening their wallets to buy classroom supplies. An overwhelming majority of them—more than nine out of 10—will not be reimbursed for what they spend on supplies over the school year, according to survey data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
The nation’s K–12 public school teachers shell out, on average, $459 on school supplies for which they are not reimbursed (adjusted for inflation to 2018 dollars), according to the NCES 2011–2012 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS). This figure does not include the dollars teachers spend but are reimbursed for by their school districts. The $459-per-teacher average is for all teachers, including the small (4.9%) share who do not spend any of their own money on school supplies.
Unlike the data from the more recent 2015–2016 survey (now called National Teacher and Principal Survey or NTPS), the 2011–2012 SASS microdata provide state-by-state information, allowing us to see how much teachers spend on supplies by state. The map below shows the inflation-adjusted state-by-state spending. We know that the figures in the map are not an atypical high driven by the Great Recession because the 2011–2012 spending levels are lower than spending levels in the 2015–2016 NTPS data. The figure after the map shows that teachers’ unreimbursed school supply spending has actually increased overall since the recovery.
Last year, on the 50th anniversary of the “Kerner Commission” report, the Economic Policy Institute, collaborating with the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at the University of California, Berkeley, and Johns Hopkins University’s 21st Century Cities Initiative, hosted a conference on “Race & Inequality In America,” not only to commemorate the report but to re-assess its findings and conclusions. The conference assembled prominent national experts in the fields of housing, employment and labor markets, criminal justice, health, and education to consider where the black-white divide has narrowed, where it has stayed the same, and where it has widened.
In The Road Not Taken we have now summarized the conclusions of these experts, adding some additional perspectives with the benefit of another year of hindsight. We focus particularly on how far we have come, or not come, in housing segregation and criminal justice disparities over the last 50 years. In particular, we examine the recommendations of the 1968 commission and note how few have ever been implemented.
The Road Not Taken notes that in some ways the last half century has seen progress—the desegregation of workplaces is perhaps the most conspicuous example, although here too, much remains to be done. In some areas, we’re about where we were—residential segregation has not diminished much, if at all. And in some areas, things have gotten much worse—the disparate incarceration of young black men, in particular.
We review the most important policies now needed to break us out of stagnation in the two most critical areas of criminal justice and housing. Reforms in both areas have been largely inadequate, partial or superficial. Unfortunately, many of the policies needed today are no different from those recommended by the Kerner Commission. Some are new. Our chief policy recommendations are these:Read more
Working women and men need and deserve a Secretary of Labor—somebody who will look out for their interests, protect them from unscrupulous employers, set strong health and safety standards, and safeguard their retirement security.
Unfortunately, corporate lawyer Eugene Scalia, the man named by President Trump to be the next Secretary of Labor, is not that person.
Scalia, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, is a partner at the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, where he specializes in labor and employment law and administrative law. He is an active participant in the activities of the Federalist Society—a right-wing legal group. Scalia was nominated in 2001 by President George W. Bush to be Solicitor of Labor, but his nomination was blocked because of opposition over his extreme views against worker health and safety protections. Bush circumvented the Senate and installed Scalia as Solicitor through a recess appointment. Scalia returned to his law firm at the beginning of 2003.
Scalia has built his career representing corporations, financial institutions, and other business organizations—and fighting worker protections like health and safety regulations, retirement security, and collective bargaining rights. Scalia’s reputation as the go-to lawyer for corporations wanting to avoid worker and consumer protections is so notorious that a headline in a Bloomberg Businessweek profile on Scalia read, “Suing the Government? Call Scalia.”1 Here are just a few examples of cases where Scalia, on behalf of corporations and trade associations, has attacked worker and consumer protections:Read more
Remember that ad from the 1980s where that woman keeps asking “Where’s the beef?” I’m feeling a little like her these days, asking “Where’s the wage growth?” It’s true that the labor market continues to chug along. The unemployment rate has been at or below 4.0 percent for the last 16 months, yet, I still find myself looking for the beef—in this case, stronger wage growth.
Earlier this week in EPI’s Macroeconomic Newsletter, Josh Bivens posited two different ways to measure wage growth using the establishment survey (CES) data that’s released every jobs day. The first measure, as EPI typically uses in our nominal wage tracker, tracks growth each month relative to the same month the prior year. For the second, he looks at quarter to quarter changes (at an annualized rate for comparison). While year over year, it’s pretty clear that wage growth has flat-lined in recent months and has yet to reach the Federal Reserve’s target zone (given inflation targets and productivity potential), the second measure shows clearly that there’s actually been a deceleration in wage growth this year. The Employment Cost Index, released yesterday, also shows a marked deceleration in private sector wage growth.
It’s not trickling down: New data provides no evidence that the TCJA is working as its proponents claimed it would
The strongest economically-respectable argument from proponents of the Trump administration’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) was that corporate tax cuts would eventually trickle down to workers’ wages. The theory goes that higher after-tax corporate profits are passed down to shareholders in the form of higher dividends. Higher dividends incentivize households to save more, or attract more savings from abroad. The increased savings push down interest rates, so that it’s easier for corporations to borrow money to invest in new plants and equipment. And this new capital stock gives workers more and better tools to work with, boosting their productivity, and eventually that increased productivity should boost wages.
We’ve explained plenty of times why, in practice, this theory was unlikely to hold (and that even this theory depends on the tax cut not being debt-financed to work—but the TCJA was indeed financed solely with debt). But the bottom-line linchpin for assessing if the TCJA is working as promised is the performance of investment. We now have 18 months of data on investment since the passage of the TCJA, plenty of time for its increased incentives for private investment to have taken hold. But the data doesn’t come close to supporting the story told by TCJA proponents.
On June 11, 2019, EPI participated in the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s (PGPF) “Solutions Initiative.” This project entailed submitting our own model federal tax and budget plan. In a previous post, we described the big picture behind our proposals. And in a recent report, we described the size of the spending and revenue increases in our budget, while paying particular attention to the details of our proposals for raising revenues and the reasoning behind them.
But we also wanted to provide more specific scores for each proposal in the “Budget for Shared Prosperity.” Estimates for spending proposals were put together by EPI and reviewed by independent scorekeepers contracted by PGPF. Estimates for the tax policies in our budget were put together by the Tax Policy Center (TPC). More information on score-keeping can be found in the report for the “Solution’s Initiative.”
Table 1 provides 30-year scores for each of the proposals in the “Budget for Shared Prosperity” in billions of dollars, as well as the effect on debt and deficits. Table 2 provides the net effects of these proposals relative to CBO baseline as a percentage of GDP. And Table 3 provides the net effects of these proposals relative to CBO baseline in billions of dollars.
Today, Congress ended its legislative work for the summer. Members return to their districts after a busy week dominated by discussion of the Mueller report. While much of the focus of the 116th Congress has been on investigations of the Trump administration, the House of Representatives has passed several bills that would benefit working people. Just last week, the House passed the Raise the Wage Act which would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in 2025. This critical legislation would increase wages for over 33 million U.S. workers and lift 1.3 million people out of poverty–nearly half of them children. Workers in every congressional district in the country would benefit from this critical legislation. EPI recently released a map that shows the benefits of raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2025 by congressional district.
In March, the House passed the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and guarantee that women can challenge pay discrimination and hold their employers accountable. Since the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, millions of women have joined the workforce. However, more than five decades later, women are still earning less than their male counterparts. On average in 2018, women were paid 22.6 percent less than men, after controlling for race and ethnicity, education, age, and location. This gap is even larger for women of color, with black and Hispanic women being paid 34.9 and 34.3 percent less per hour than white men, respectively—even after controlling for education, age, and location. The Paycheck Fairness Act is crucial legislation in reducing these gender pay gaps and guaranteeing women receive equal pay for equal work.
Last month, Senator Warren (D-Mass.) and Representative Haaland (D-N.M.) introduced the Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act. The legislation sets out to tackle the two-pronged problem with the current early care and education (ECE) system in the Unites States today: affordability and quality. Current funding for the ECE system is insufficient because what parents can afford to pay is simply not enough to provide early educators with a fair wage and ensure high-quality care and education for young children.
The lack of affordability for families has been well-documented. EPI has consolidated information from a variety of sources and crunched the numbers on affordability for each state into handy child care fact sheets. There, you can see just how hard it is for families to pay for ECE for one, let alone two children. And, the problem of affordability isn’t limited to low-income families. In Arizona, the state with the median (middle) value of infant care costs across the nation, a typical family with children would have to pay 20 percent of their income for infant care. The cost is more than one year of in-state tuition for a four-year public college and greatly exceeds the recommended affordability standard of 7 percent.
The proposed legislation tackles affordability by setting limits on how much parents need to pay out of pocket for care. Those with incomes under 200 percent of the federal poverty line (about $40,000 for a two-parent one child family) are fully subsidized, while expenses are capped on a graduated basis up to 7 percent of income for the highest earners. This payment structure recognizes that affordability issues persist in not just the poorest of families but many middle-income families as well.
We recently published a deep-dive into the professional development of teachers—strengths, shortcomings, places for improvement. What we found, in short, was reason for optimism on a few fronts, substantial room for improvement on a much larger number of aspects—and also room for learning more about these systems of supports.
The lastest report of our “Perfect Storm in the Teacher Labor Market” series is devoted to examining the systems of professional supports available to teachers—i.e. the early career, ongoing professional development opportunities, and the learning communities they are part of.
Though in the report we keep the main two themes of “equity” and “quality” used in the teacher shortage series, this time, unlike in previous reports, we navigate grayer areas regarding the framing of the report and the straight correlations between the supports and the shortage. For one, because there is no set of supports deemed as ideal and universally valid in the field, because there is insufficient information about for whom, for what, and why these supports matter , and also because it is unlikely that lack of any specific resource or support can be a sole cause for expelling teachers from the classrooms or not attracting new ones to them (or at least these are less clear than in prior reports).
Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour will be hugely beneficial to low-income Americans, according to a new report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.
At the same time, the analysis forecasts the loss of around 1.3 million jobs. There are good reasons not to take this prediction seriously, as I explain below. But even taking CBO’s findings at face value, an overwhelming share of low-wage workers would benefit from the minimum wage increase.
The main takeaway from the CBO’s report is the estimate that a $15 minimum wage by 2025 would raise wages of up to 27.3 million low-wage workers, decrease income inequality, and reduce the number of families in poverty by 1.3 million. Overall, CBO found that low-wage workers as a group would benefit enormously from the minimum wage increase. According to CBO’s own findings, the increase to $15 would raise total annual earnings for low-wage workers by $44 billion.
When Senator Kamala Harris told former Vice President Joe Biden “that little girl was me,” she evoked a mostly-forgotten era, a half-century distant, when federal courts mandated busing of black children to schools in white neighborhoods.
The court orders were controversial and unpopular amongst almost all whites and many blacks, and yet: assemble a list of African Americans in their mid-to-late 50s or early 60s, and who are the most successful lawyers, political leaders, executives in the non-profit, corporate, and foundation sectors, or otherwise spread throughout the professional and managerial class, and you will find a disproportionate share were bused during the heyday of court-ordered school desegregation—roughly 1968 to 1980.
Masterful books, one by Susan Eaton (The Other Boston Busing Story, 2001) and another by a team led by Amy Stuart Wells (Both Sides Now, 2009) recount interviews with adults who had been bused for desegregation decades earlier. Eaton interviewed 65 African Americans who, as children, took part in a voluntary busing program that transferred students from Boston public schools to white suburbs where family sizes were declining, leaving schools with empty seats. Wells’s team interviewed 215 white and black adults who, as children, had been bused out of their segregated black schools in six cities—Austin (TX), Charlotte (NC), Englewood (NJ), Pasadena (CA), Shaker Heights (OH), and Topeka (KS).[*] The books have lost none of their relevance; indeed, if you are intrigued by Harris’ remark and you missed the Eaton and Wells books the first time around, this is a good time to get them from your local library or used bookstore and catch up.