Employers regularly engage in tactics to suppress unions: Examples at Starbucks, Amazon, and Google illustrate employers’ anti-union playbook

The U.S. labor movement has seen a resurgence in union activity in recent years. In 2022, more than 16 million workers were represented by a union—an increase of 200,000 from 2021. Union election petitions with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) increased by 53% during fiscal year 2022, the highest single-year increase since fiscal year 2016. Further, unions saw their highest approval rating in more than 50 years.

Despite this resurgence, the current unionization rate (11.3%) is well under half what it was roughly 40 years ago. This is because of decades of attacks on the right to organize and, increasingly, employers’ use of “union avoidance” consultants, including in response to recent union organizing campaigns at Starbucks, Amazon, and Google. These campaigns—illustrated below—are representative of employer response and hostility toward workers attempting to organize.

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State and local governments have spent less than half of their American Rescue Plan fiscal recovery funds: Recovery funds should be used to rebuild the public sector

On March 13, the U.S. Treasury Department released data and an interactive dashboard showing how state and local governments have been using the $350 billion in State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) appropriated by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). These funds have fueled transformative investments and contributed to a strong recovery from the pandemic recession, and state and local governments should use their remaining SLFRF allocations to rebuild the public sector and support working families.

SLFRF spending by state and larger local governments (cities and counties with a population over 250,000) totaled just over $114 billion by December 31, 2022, an increase of $13 billion in the final quarter of the year. Six states—South Carolina, Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee, South Dakota, and Mississippi—have spent less than 10% of their funding. All six have Republican governors and Republican majorities in their legislatures.

One of SLFRF’s main purposes was to allow states to restore their public-sector capacities quickly. There were 376,000 fewer public-sector workers in February 2023 than three years earlier. States should be using their SLFRF dollars to fill open positions and retain experienced employees by increasing the compensation of public-sector workers, one-third of whom are paid less than $20 an hour.

Evidence suggests states that have chosen to invest larger shares of their SLFRF dollars are having greater success in recruiting and retaining state employees in a highly competitive job market. As seen below, states that have spent less than 30% of their SLFRF allocation have seen their state government workforces recover more slowly compared with those that have spent over 30%. States, therefore, have an excellent opportunity to spend their recovery funds in rebuilding the public sector and restoring public services.

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Recent banking failures add another reason to halt interest rate hikes

The debate over the Federal Reserve’s proper course of action for the rest of 2023 was getting a little stagnant in recent months. The argument centered on whether inflation’s persistence was really a sign of an overheated economy that still needed cooling or if it was due to stubbornly large—but dampening —ripples stemming from the huge pandemic and war shocks of previous years. The recent failures of Silicon Valley and Signature banks and chaos in other corners of the banking sector definitely provide a new twist to this debate.

My view on what the Fed should do now in the wake of banking failures is relatively straight-forward:

  • Before the Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) failure, it was already clear that the Fed should pause interest rate hikes at this week’s meeting, based largely on consistent deceleration of nominal wage growth. 
  • The SVB failure and subsequent banking turmoil are far more likely to be demand-destroying events than not. If one thought the Fed already should be reducing the pace of their rate hikes (or even pausing entirely) due to labor market cooling, the fallout from SVB just means this cooling will happen more quickly and hence the case for halting further rate hikes is stronger.
  • It is a genuine problem that interest rate hikes of nearly 5% in a year cause this much distress in the financial sector, indicating a clear failure of bank management and supervision. These failures should be addressed going forward. But they exist today and the fallout of them clearly provides another argument for standing pat on further rate increases.

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Why ‘right-to-work’ was always wrong for Michigan: Restoring workers’ rights is key to reversing growing income inequality in Michigan

The Michigan state legislature is poised to make history this week by repealing an anti-union “right-to-work” (RTW) statute enacted in 2012. This repeal is an important step toward empowering workers to address historic levels of income inequality and unequal power in our economy, and would mark the first time a state has repealed a RTW law in nearly 60 years.

For decades, Michigan boasted the highest unionization rate in the country—and relatively higher median wages resulted for the state’s workers. In this blog post, we find that as recently as 2005, Michigan’s unionization rate was 1.69 times the national rate, and the state’s median wage was 6% higher than the national median.

But after lawmakers passed RTW in 2012, Michigan’s unionization rates declined faster than in the nation as a whole, and the state’s relative median wage fell below the U.S. median. Attacks on Michigan workers’ rights have especially benefited the rich—declines in unionization rates have been accompanied by dramatic increases in income inequality, with half of all income in the state now going to the top 10%.

The repeal of RTW in Michigan—in tandem with Illinois voters approving a constitutional Workers’ Rights Amendment (which bans future RTW laws) in 2022 and Missouri voters overwhelmingly rejecting their legislature’s attempt to impose RTW restrictions in 2018—would also signal an important turning point after a decade of extreme anti-union state legislation in the Midwest that has suppressed wages and eroded job quality.

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Two years later, American Rescue Plan funds are still a transformative resource: State and local governments—particularly in the South—should invest unspent funds in workers, families, and communities

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) celebrated its second anniversary on March 11. In those two years, ARPA has supported a strong economic recovery and, through its provision of $350 billion in State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF), allowed state and local governments to make transformative investments in their communities.

At the time of President Biden’s inauguration on January 20, 2021, the U.S. economy had recovered less than 60% of the 22 million jobs lost during the pandemic recession. Overall, 26.8 million workers—15.8% of the workforce—were either unemployed, out of work due to the pandemic, or employed but experiencing a drop in hours and pay. Additionally, key economic indicators suggested that the economic recovery had begun to reverse.

The American Rescue Plan Act was both a vital emergency measure that helped the nation through the worst of the COVID pandemic and a significant step toward addressing the nation’s economic inequalities. The $1.9 trillion package provided fiscal relief at the necessary scale to counteract the negative economic impacts of COVID. As a result, 2021 and 2022 saw the highest job growth of any of the past 40 years.

As ARPA enters its third year, state and local policymakers should use their remaining SLFRF dollars to rebuild public-sector workforces and support low-wage workers and their families. In particular, many Southern states have significant amounts of unspent funds, and workers, families, and underfunded public services could greatly benefit from the local economic boost SLFRF investments allow.

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High and rising teacher vacancies coincide with a steep decline in the overall well-being of the teaching profession

In a recent EPI report investigating the national teacher shortage, we documented a large and growing number of teaching vacancies, which we linked to poor compensation and highly stressful working conditions. The data we assembled show that teacher pay has been falling relative to college graduates in other fields since 1979, and reported levels of teacher stress are comparable to other jobs that are typically recognized as being stressful, such as nursing or being a manager or executive. A recent working paper by Matthew A. Kraft and Melissa Arnold Lyon has similar findings after casting an even wider net over the data.

In their report, Kraft and Lyon examine four broad sets of indicators of the overall well-being of the teaching profession: professional prestige, interest in teaching, enrollment in preparation programs, and job satisfaction. They compile nationally representative time-series data and find compelling evidence of four distinct periods in the status of teaching over the last half century: a rapid decline in the 1970s, a quick rise in the early- to mid-1980s, no significant change over the next 20 years, and the start of a steep decline around 2010. Kraft and Lyon’s findings since 2010 are very similar to what we found: While the pandemic exacerbated challenges facing teachers, “most of these declines occurred steadily throughout the last decade suggesting they are a function of larger, long-standing structural issues with the profession.”

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February jobs report shows a resilient but sustainable labor market: The Fed should not put the economic recovery at risk

Below, EPI economists offer their initial insights on the jobs report released this morning, which showed 311,000 jobs added in February and wage growth continuing to decelerate. 

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Job openings fell in January, while layoffs increased

Below, EPI senior economist Elise Gould offers her initial insights on today’s release of the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) for January. Read the Twitter thread here.

Five principles for making state and local reparations plans reparative

We are still living in the aftermath of 2020’s overlapping crises of racial injustice, our nation’s polycrisis. Between the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ensuing economic recession, and the public police murder of George Floyd, we saw a harsh truth about the structure of American political economy: White supremacy has shaped our institutions such that their outcome is consistent Black precarity and premature death.

This confluence of tragedies brought awareness of the Black American condition to a new generation. It also reinvigorated interest among academics and policymakers to finally do something about the problem of racial disparities (though activists and community organizers largely never lost interest in this).

This renewed awareness and interest in addressing racial disparities brought attention to arguably the only structural solution to persistent Black-white economic and social disparities, one that we have put off as a country for generations: reparations for slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and mass incarceration.

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The Supreme Court is poised to strike down affirmative action and student loan forgiveness: These decisions would threaten college enrollment and completion for students of color

In the wake of the appalling decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court is yet again at the forefront of repealing sweeping legislative precedent that will change the lives of millions of Americans. Following arguments from Harvard University and the University of North Carolina on whether race-conscious admission programs are lawful, the Supreme Court is expected to overturn affirmative action in college admissions later this year. 

Similarly, the Supreme Court will hear arguments later this month over President Biden’s student loan debt relief plan that would forgive at least $10,000, and up to $20,000, for tens of millions of federal student loan borrowers. The Supreme Court will likely strike down the plan.

Both affirmative action and student loan debt forgiveness are critical measures for college access and completion for students of color. Sadly, these statutes, along with many others, have been targeted and threatened within the courts over the yearsleaving students of color to bear more acute barriers to higher education and more disparate socioeconomic outcomes.

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U.S. trade deficit hits another record high in 2022

The U.S. goods trade deficit reached a record $1.182 trillion in 2022—an increase of $105 billion from the 2021 trade deficit—according to U.S. Census Bureau data released this morning. Below, EPI senior economist Adam S. Hersh offers his initial insights. Read the Twitter thread here

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EPI retracts fact sheet on employer violations in union elections

The Economic Policy Institute recently published a fact sheet on illegal employer behavior during union election campaigns. Out of an abundance of caution, we are retracting the fact sheet due to inaccuracies with the underlying data. Instead, we refer readers to earlier research showing that U.S. employers are charged with violating federal labor law in four out of every ten union election campaigns. 

 

EPI will update the data in a forthcoming report. We deeply regret the error.  

Labor market off to a strong start in 2023: 517,000 jobs added in January as unemployment rate hits historic low

Below, EPI economists offer their initial insights on the jobs report released this morning, which showed 517,000 jobs added in January, the unemployment rate hitting a historic low of 3.4%, and wage growth slowing. 

From EPI senior economist, Elise Gould (@eliselgould):

Read the full Twitter thread here.

From EPI president, Heidi Shierholz (@hshierholz):

Read the full Twitter thread here.

 

What to watch on jobs day: Upward revisions in employment expected after record two-year job growth

On Friday, we will see the first labor market data for 2023. Along with the latest on payroll employment, unemployment, and wage growth, we will also get the final benchmark revisions for the establishment survey (CES). Preliminary benchmark revisions suggest job growth will be even stronger over the last two years than the 11.2 million previously reported. These benchmark revisions will be wedged back from April 2021 through March 2022, with the entire revision raising (or lowering) the level of jobs in March 2022 and consequently affecting subsequent job levels.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) will also revise their industry classification system, which will result in about 10% of employment reclassified into different industries (mainly impacting detailed retail and information sectors). Friday’s jobs report will also include new population controls based on Census estimates for the household survey (CPS).

In addition to these important survey changes and annual benchmarking, the jobs report will show us where the economic recovery from the COVID-19 recession stands at the beginning of 2023. Taken together, the last two years of payroll employment growth have been remarkable. As shown in Figure A, the two years of job growth were the best in nearly 40 years.

This rapid recovery was not luck. Instead, it is the direct result of historic relief and recovery measures that matched the scale of the problem, like President Biden’s American Rescue Plan (ARP), which provided an essential boost with continued enhanced unemployment insurance benefits, aid to state and local governments, and the expanded Child Tax Credit.

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Job openings increased in December, but remain significantly lower than March 2022 peak

Below, EPI senior economist Elise Gould offers her initial insights on today’s release of the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) for December. Read the Twitter thread here.

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The Fed should stand pat on further interest rate hikes at this week’s meeting: Inflation is easing even as the labor market remains strong

Inflation and all of its main drivers sharply decelerated in the last half of 2022. This was the case even though the pace of economic growth accelerated in the second half of the year and unemployment remained very low.

The Federal Reserve’s “dual mandate” is meant to balance the risks of inflation versus the benefits of fast growth and low unemployment. Right now, the benefits of low unemployment are enormous, and the risks of inflation are retreating rapidly. If the Fed lets the current recovery continue apace by not raising interest rates further at this week’s meeting, 2023 could turn out to be a great year for the economic fortunes of American families.

It is time for the Fed to stand pat on interest rate increases and wait to see how the lagged effects of past increases enacted in 2022 will filter through to the economy. Continuing to raise rates in the early stretches of 2023 will be a clear mistake and pose an unneeded threat to growth in the next year. In particular, the Fed should note the following:

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Historic job growth in 2022 reflects strong but uneven economic recovery: State and local lawmakers should prioritize rebuilding the public sector in 2023

On Tuesday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released state employment and unemployment data for December 2022, giving us a full picture of employment changes in the past year.

Nationwide, the U.S. economy added 4.5 million jobs in 2022, the second-strongest year for job growth in the past 40 years (after 2021), and a testament to the success of pandemic relief and recovery measures. Although the private sector has recovered quickly, public-sector employment—particularly in state and local government—remains weak. With billions of dollars in relief funds for state and local recovery yet to be spent, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine and rebuild the public sector. State and local lawmakers should seize it.

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The debt limit is the world’s highest-stakes horoscope: Not raising the debt limit would guarantee a recession

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen announced last week that the federal government had reached the statutory debt limit and that her department had begun “extraordinary measures” to meet required spending obligations. It is estimated that by July these extraordinary measures will no longer be able to keep some spending obligations from being missed.

The fact that the statutory debt limit can inject such chaos into the American political system and economy is truly odd. The debt limit measures nothing coherent and has no relationship to any serious measure of the economic burden imposed by the nation’s debt. It has as much relevance to the nation’s objective economic health as today’s horoscope. Yet if it’s allowed to bind, disaster would result. And if the price of convincing House Republicans to raise the debt limit is large cuts to federal spending, this still ensures grave damage to the economy and vulnerable families.

The debt limit—and particularly its relationship to the objective economic facts of the nation’s fiscal health—is poorly understood by too many. In this post, we make the following points about the debt limit in the current moment:

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A record share of earnings was not subject to Social Security taxes in 2021: Inequality’s undermining of Social Security has accelerated

Social Security payroll taxes are not collected on earnings over a set cap. In 2021, this cap was $142,800, so workers making more than this enjoyed the benefit of zero Social Security taxes on all earnings in excess of this cap.

However, rising income inequality is skewing this tax structure even further to the benefit of top earners and diminishing funding for the crucial retirement program so many Americans rely on.

Social Security’s payroll tax—of which employees pay 6.2% and employers 6.2% each—has a cap that rises with growth in the national average wage index compiled by the Social Security Administration (SSA). In 2023, for example, the cap is set at $160,200. But since wage growth for top earners continues to outpace average wage growth, a growing share of total earnings is spilling over the cap and escaping taxation, eroding Social Security revenues.

Significant reforms to Social Security made in 1983 set the cap at a level so that 90% of all earnings would be subject to taxes. Over time, rising inequality meant that this share shrank as more earnings for higher-wage workers spilled over the cap. In 2020 and 2021, the share of earnings subject to Social Security taxes hit the lowest levels since before the 1983 reform. In fact, by 2021, the share of earnings subject to Social Security taxes was at the lowest level in nearly 50 years (since 1972).

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The Department of Homeland Security took a positive step by clarifying and streamlining the process to protect migrant workers in labor disputes

Today, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a streamlined process that provides clarity on how migrant workers who are victims of, and witnesses to, labor and employment violations can come forward to request temporary protections, including protection from deportation through deferred action and employment authorization. This is a positive step that will protect the rights of workers to be treated and paid fairly and to organize and join unions, and allow them to assist labor standards enforcement agencies with their investigations.

EPI has joined hundreds of other immigrant and worker rights organizations to call on DHS to clarify the process for how migrant workers engaged in labor disputes can request status protections. This will help workers and whistleblowers overcome their very rational fears about coming forward to report labor and workplace violations. EPI has also called for DHS to grant deferred action and parole to migrant workers in labor disputes with more frequency and regularity across a broad range of disputes, and in response to a broad swath of labor and workplace violations. This action by DHS deserves praise, and I look forward to its swift implementation.

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Workers are 46% more likely to make below $15 an hour in states paying only the federal minimum wage

The crisis of low pay is widespread throughout the United States and will remain so until federal and state policymakers prioritize the economic hardships of low-wage workers. Even after the rapid inflation of the past 18 months and the recent unprecedented wage growth for lower-wage workers, 21 million workers are still paid less than $15 per hour.

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State and local governments should use ARPA pandemic funds in 2023 to rebuild the public sector and support working families and children

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021 created a $350 billion state and local fund to help fight the pandemic and support an economic recovery. Sadly, more than $150 billion remains unspent and is sorely needed to bolster public-sector employment and the care economy.

The ARPA dollars earmarked as part of the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (SLFRF) have fueled transformative investments across the country, but there’s more to be done now.

As 2023 begins, state and local governments should prioritize spending relief funds on three critical areas that are incredibly important for the welfare of children and families:

  • rebuilding the public sector
  • expanding access to paid leave
  • bolstering our systems of care through increasing access to quality child care and elder care, and supporting the workers who perform that work.

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Job growth strong in December as wage growth slows

Below, EPI economists offer their initial insights on the jobs report released this morning, which showed 223,000 jobs added in December and wage growth slowing. 

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Proposed FTC rule would ban noncompete agreements and empower workers

Today, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a proposed rule that, if finalized, would ban noncompete agreements. EPI research has found that at least 36 million workers—27.8% of the private-sector workforce—are required to enter noncompete agreements, which are employment provisions that ban workers at one company from working for, or starting, a competing business within a certain period of time after leaving a job.

In response, EPI president Heidi Shierholz shared a Twitter thread applauding the proposed rule. 

From EPI president, Heidi Shierholz (@hshierholz):

 

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Job openings remain significantly lower than 2022 peak

Below, EPI senior economist Elise Gould offers her initial insights on today’s release of the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) for November. Read the full Twitter thread here.

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More than 8 million workers will get a raise on New Year’s Day: 23 states and D.C. will see minimum wage hikes ranging from $0.23 to $1.50 an hour

On January 1, 23 states and Washington, D.C. will increase their minimum wages, raising pay for an estimated 8.4 million workers across the country.1 In total, workers’ wages will increase by more than $5 billion, with average annual raises for affected full-time workers ranging from $150 in Michigan to $937 in Delaware. In addition, 27 cities and counties will increase their minimum wages on January 1, adding to the number of workers likely to see increased earnings.

The state with the stingiest increase is Michigan with a 23-cent raise bringing the total to $10.10 an hour, while the biggest hike of $1.50 an hour is in Nebraska, raising the rate to $10.50 an hour.2 Washington, D.C. will not increase its regular minimum wage, but will increase its tipped minimum wage by 65 cents to $6.00 an hour as a result of a ballot measure to eliminate the tipped minimum wage by 2027. When the New Year’s celebrations die down, Washington will be the state with the highest minimum wage of $15.74 an hour.

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Proposed New York state minimum wage legislation would boost wages for nearly 2.9 million workers: Minimum wages would range by region from $20 to $21.25 per hour by 2026

Key takeaways:

  • Proposed Raise Up New York legislation, sponsored by State Senator Jessica Ramos and Assembly Member Latoya Joyner, would raise the minimum wage to $21.25 an hour in New York City and suburban Nassau, Westchester, and Suffolk counties by 2026. It would also raise upstate New York’s minimum wage to $20 an hour by 2026. 
  • Starting in 2027, upstate New York would catch up to the statewide wage, and both would be adjusted each year to keep up with rising consumer prices and worker productivity.
  • We find that nearly 2.9 million workers—32% of the state’s workforce—would receive raises averaging $3,307 a year.
  • These minimum wage increases would be a vital support for low-wage workers in one of the most expensive states in the nation and arrive at a time when the purchasing power of workers’ wages has been eroded rapidly by recent price increases.

Updated minimum wage legislation in the New York State Senate and Assembly (S3062D/A7503C) would secure much-needed wage increases for almost 2.9 million workers throughout the state. The proposed Raise Up New York legislation—which would index annual statewide increases to inflation and labor productivity—would help protect workers’ economic security as prices rise, and prevent inequality from widening as the economy grows.

A fair way of calculating the minimum wage

Currently, New York has distinct minimum wage schedules for three different regions in the state: New York City, the suburban counties of Nassau, Westchester, and Suffolk, and the remainder of upstate New York. As shown in Table 1, New York City’s minimum wage is $15 per hour, where it has stood since 2018. Nassau, Westchester, and Suffolk counties’ minimum wage reached $15 per hour at the end of 2021, while the minimum wage for the rest of the state is currently $13.20 with scheduled annual increases that will track nominal labor productivity (real productivity plus inflation) until it eventually reaches $15.00 per hour.

The proposed Raise Up New York legislation would increase the minimum wage for New York City and Nassau, Westchester, and Suffolk counties to $21.25 through 2026, and then increase the minimum wage annually by nominal labor productivity. The tipped minimum wage would also increase while remaining two-thirds of the regular minimum wage as stipulated in New York law.1 The minimum wage for the rest of the state would reach $20.00 an hour in 2026 before catching up to NYC and the suburban counties in 2027.2 The inflation and labor productivity adjustments would follow the same formula that New York has already been using for state minimum wage increases in recent years.

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Beyond the numbers: What teaching shortages look like in practice

In a recent report, we reviewed the size and scope of the national teacher shortage using data from a wide range of public and private sources, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the National Center for Education Statistics, the RAND Corporation, and others. The available data consistently point to a large and growing problem of teacher vacancies that looks unlikely to be filled without substantial efforts to increase job quality for teachers.

But in pulling together our report, we realized that the statistics we presented don’t fully capture what shortages actually look like—in practice—for school districts, teachers, and students. To convey at least a part of that missing texture, we’ve pulled together some recent journalistic and more granular accounts of how state and local school education officials have responded to the long-term rise in teacher vacancies. Unfortunately, almost all of these have proved to be less than ideal for teachers and students.

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EPI’s top charts of 2022: EPI’s most popular charts tell the story of how pandemic setbacks in income inequality were mitigated by pandemic relief

Rising CEO pay, a pandemic further undermining low and middle-income workers, and the growing gap between worker productivity and their pay continued to impede income equality.

Through it all, however, government pandemic stimulus programs gave a lifeline to many of those struggling to make ends meet, helping keep millions out of poverty.

All these important topics were among the Economic Policy Institute’s top charts this year.

Here’s a rundown on what saw the most engagement among EPI’s readers:

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Inflation is easing: Fed should slow rate hikes

Inflation numbers out Tuesday are encouraging, providing more evidence that any movement to continue raising interest rates at breakneck speed and potentially slow the economy needs to be squashed. The Consumer Price Index (CPI)—released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics—rose 0.1% in November, and the all-items index increased 7.1% year-over-year. EPI research director Josh Bivens breaks down what the data tell us about rising prices.

“Inflation can normalize without taking a hammer to the head of the economy,” stresses EPI Research Director Josh Bivens, about the report and any steps by the Federal Reserve to push for steep interest rate hikes at its meeting this week.

“It was a very good report,” he explained. “The remaining inflation in this report was essentially food and shelter.” While rising food prices harm consumers, there’s no policy lever that the Fed has to usefully target these. These price increases are related, he added, to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and global commodity markets more generally, not to any overheating of the U.S. economy.

“On shelter,” he continued, “the data strongly indicate that large rental inflation declines are on the way in 2023—they’ve already shown up in industry data, and these very reliably show up 6-12 months later.” 

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