Funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, the federal government’s response to the economic and health ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowed more states and cities to experiment with using community groups to connect with workers as Minneapolis did. That’s according to a report from the Economic Policy Institute and the Center for Labor and a Just Economy at Harvard Law School.
The report highlighted efforts in several cities and states.
In 2021, Maine started a program with $1 million in ARPA funds for job training, help accessing unemployment benefits, and worker outreach with the support of community organizations, the AFL-CIO, and a legal aid group, according to the EPI report. In Seattle, the city’s Office of Labor Standards staff have monthly and quarterly meetings with community-based organizations. Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco also have close partnerships with community organizations as do San Diego and Santa Clara counties in California.
In Iowa, the cities of Coralville, North Liberty, and Iowa City and Johnson County allocated $322,000 in ARPA funds over five years to the Center for Worker Justice in Eastern Iowa, which investigates wage theft cases and helps put community pressure on employers to pay their employees, and has assisted workers in recovering lost wages.
The UPS strike authorization vote also reflects the increasing willingness of workers in a range of industries to exercise collective power to seek better conditions for themselves, their coworkers and future generations. And it’s not just about pay. Railroad workers last fall sought paid sick days. The Amazon Labor Union was formed because of concerns about Covid safety. Kellogg’s workers went on strike in 2021 over a two-tier compensation structure. And on Friday, workers in about 150 Starbucks locations went on strike over the company’s alleged restricting of Pride decorations in some locations.
“We’re seeing reinvestment, but the majority of it is going to the South, which in many cases looks like American maquiladoras,” said Adam Hersh, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute at theChicago Federal Reserve’s annual auto industry outlook conference in January. (Maquiladoras are factories in Mexico run by foreign companies looking to employ cheap labor and avoid tariffs.) He noted that unionization in the South is less than 4 percent, creating a wage gap between the North and the South in the auto sector greater than the 15 percent wage gap for all industries.
Indeed, a report from the Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, suggests that corporate profits contributed more to overall inflation in 2020 and 2021 than labor or material costs. Higher rental car prices and corporate profits may be part of this trend.
Between 2019 and 2022, the inflation-adjusted wages of workers in the tenth percentile of the wage distribution increased by nine per cent, according to a study published earlier this year by Elise Gould, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, in Washington, D.C. When I spoke to Gould on Tuesday, she said that, based on wage data from industries such as leisure and hospitality, which employ a lot of low-wage workers, it appears that this trend has kept up into 2023. “Low-wage workers have had a bit more leverage, and that is reflected in the wage data,” Gould said. “They are doing better than before.”
The move drew sharp criticism from labor advocates. The Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning labor think tank, called the bill “one of the most dangerous rollbacks of child labor laws in the country” and asserted that much of the law violates federal labor law.
“There is a focus for them right now, particularly on the state level, on policies that erode investments in public education, increase the desperation of the poorest families by restricting access to Medicaid or food assistance, while also, of course, taking down guardrails on excessive hours or hazardous work for children,” said Jennifer Sherer, the senior state policy coordinator at the Economic Policy Institute.
Workers at childcare facilities also rarely receive health insurance benefits. As reported by the Economic Policy Institute, “Just 15.0 percent of childcare workers have employer-sponsored health insurance through their own job, compared with 49.9 percent of workers in other occupations.”
Independent workers making low wages aren’t so happy with their pay. A 2020 survey of hundreds of gig workers analyzed by researchers at the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank focused on policy around low- and middle-income workers, found those working for digital platform companies like Uber, Instacart or DoorDash often reported poor working conditions and low pay. One in five gig workers often couldn’t afford enough food to eat, the survey found.
A study last fall from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute said the U.S. could lose 75,000 auto jobs if EVs become half of all cars sold by 2030. But the report also said different jobs will be created, and the U.S. could gain 150,000 jobs from the transition if policy focuses on domestic market share and assembling vehicles here.
All of this is exacerbated by the widespread layoffs, which are also shining a light on the precarity that foreign workers are forced to endure. An Economic Policy Institute publication states that:
The H-1B visa program was created to fill labor shortages in professional fields and could be a valuable temporary work visa program, but new data show it is being subverted by employers that are not facing labor shortages and by outsourcing firms.
For example, while wages fell far behind the growth of economic productivity from 1979 onward, Turchin cites analysis from the Economic Policy Institute indicating that three-fourths of that gap was due to elite-driven policy shifts: weakened labor standards, the erosion of collective bargaining, corporate globalization and so-called fiscal austerity.
According to a report by the Economic Policy Institute, the median hourly wage for servers in the United States, including tips, was $11.42 in 2019, while the median hourly wage for non-tipped workers was $18.58. However, the report notes that the tipped minimum wage has not kept pace with inflation, resulting in a decline in purchasing power for tipped workers.
Some H-1B visa holders in the U.S. have been among the thousands of tech workers laid off this year, sending them scrambling to find new employers within a 60-day “grace period” or return to their home country.
State legislatures including Iowa and Arkansas are rolling back child labor law protections. Ultra conservative groups, including the National Restaurant Association, are pushing bills that allow 14-year-olds to work the night shift cleaning meat packing plants and 15-year-olds to work on assembly lines. We’ll ask guests from the Economic Policy Institute why, what can be done, and ask how weakening child labor laws impacts and exploits some of our most vulnerable children, immigrants.
Additionally, new data from the Economic Policy Institute reaffirms the current strength of the job market for young workers. The study found the youth unemployment rate for workers between 16 and 24 tumbled to 7.5 percent in March. While that is nearly double the national rate of 3.7 percent, it also marks the lowest level since 1953.
Deutsch, campaign director for the California Coalition for Worker Power
and Gerstein, director for the State and Local Enforcement Project at the
Harvard Law School Center for Labor and a Just Economy, detail the
importance of community enforcement programs in holding employers
accountable for wage violations. It’s detailed in their report “Power in
partnership,” which was published on June 8 by the Economic Policy
Institute and Harvard Law School’s CLJE.
According to a report from the Economic Policy Institute, overtime work can increase the likelihood of having an irregular schedule and working split shifts. The food website Mashed reported that McDonald’s has been flagged for not paying workers overtime pay. In 2016, McDonald’s agreed to pay $1.75 million in backpay and $2 million in lawyer fees to settle a lawsuit where 800 workers alleged the food chain giant violated California law by not paying overtime.
Democrats mostly hailed the bills as beneficial for average workers, while Republicans mostly criticized the bills as being too pro-union.
The bills garnered support from the AFL-CIO, the American Federation of Government Employees, the American Federation of Teachers, the American Postal Workers Union, Communication Workers of America, the Economic Policy Institute, the National Urban League, and Oxfam America, according to Committee chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
That strike is only the most recent and widely reported strike among public employees. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that there was a 50 percent increase in strike activity in 2022 over the previous year.
Meanwhile, the national Black jobless rate in May slid to the lowest on record at 4.7%, reaching the narrowest gap with white workers ever.
“It’s good to see improvement overall,” says Kyle Moore, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute. “But the fact that disparities continue to exist in relative terms in some places means that there can still be work done.”