Let's start with a cartoon on unemployment versus labor participation:
There are a lot of people no longer in the formal U.S. labor force with participation down to a 38-year low, reports Market Watch:
One of the most disappointing parts of a dismal U.S. jobs report for September was another decline in the percentage of Americans in the labor force.
The so-called labor-force participation rate continued its steady march lower, falling to 62.4% in September, government data show. That’s the lowest reading since October 1977, long before Americans turned sour on first-year President Jimmy Carter.
In other words, barely six in 10 of all working-age Americans have a job or are looking for one.
Over at the Wall Street Journal, Eric Morath looks at the connection between participation and the disabled workforce:
[D]isabled Americans, who are typically eligible for government benefits, are not seeking jobs in greater numbers. That could be because people with disabilities also are most likely to work in low-wage jobs. The most common positions are janitors, cashiers and material and stock movers, according to the study.
“As a result, this subpopulation is less motivated to rejoin the labor force once they get on the Social Security Disability benefit rolls simply because the costs of job searches, health care and living may well exceed the expected wage and benefits from employment,” the authors wrote.
Federal and state programs attempt to encourage beneficiaries to seek work, but those policies may be ineffective because they treat Americans with disabilities as a single group, the report said. Labor-force participation varies greatly by type of disability. The study found 26% of those with vision or hearing difficulties are in the labor force, but just 15% of those with cognitive difficulties have a job or are seeking employment.
You also might be interested in this York, PA editorial lauding Starbucks as a community employer and participant in part for the work on hiring folks with disabilities:
It's been 20 years since Starbucks opened its roasting plant in East Manchester Township, perfuming the air of northeastern York with its distinctive coffee scent...
But here's what hasn't gotten old about this friendly corporate neighbor: decent-paying jobs, benefits for part-time workers, "Bean stock" for employees, hiring veterans, helping employees with tuition, and now an "Inclusion Academy" for on-the-job-training of people with physical or mental disabilities.
The Center for American Progress' Judith Warner discusses why supporting working women is important for reducing inequality:
The United States’ unique lack of work-family policies puts a singular burden on women, who, despite progress in men’s participation in domestic tasks, still bear the lion’s share of responsibility for unpaid work at home. Women often lack time off to care for a newborn, the ability to pay for high-quality child care, and access to the kind of predictable and family-friendly work scheduling that permits attendance at parent-teacher conferences and trips to the pediatrician. This results in a troubling number of American women pushed into lower-paying types of jobs or out of the workforce because of their family care needs. This is particularly true for low-income workers, who are the least likely to have access to work-family reconciliation policies. In the same period that U.S. income inequality has skyrocketed, women’s labor force participation rates have stalled—a phenomenon that Cornell University economists Francine D. Blau and Lawrence M. Kahn have attributed in part to the United States’ lack of family-friendly policies.
American workers’ unequal access to work-family supports means that American women have an unequal shot at staying employed. Parents do not have anything close to an equal opportunity to do their best for their kids, and American children have a grossly unequal chance of getting the kind of attention, care, and financial stability they need. Inequality is reproduced multigenerationally.
Surprise, the real reason people do not save enough for retirement is they don't have money, argues Teresa Ghilarducci in the Atlantic:
Since at least the Victorian era, there has been a ready retort. The problem isn’t a lack of money, many have insisted—it’s misspending. In fact, Victorian social reformers spearheaded a financial-literacy campaign, inflicting “home economics” on a generation of girls. The blame for bad behavior and insufficient savings was placed squarely on women, who were accused of failing to manage their household’s finances...
Foisting financial literacy or personality transplants onto workers wouldn’t be necessary if there existed a universal savings account, modeled on Social Security. If all workers were automatically enrolled in a savings account that couldn’t be tapped into until retirement (or disability, if that came first), they wouldn’t be burdened with investment decisions. The various proposals for such an account assume a similar structure: The government would let workers contribute to it directly from their paychecks, and it would be managed for them by an independent, government-appointed committee, much like the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation or the board that oversees Social Security.
So let's have another cartoon on the connection between poverty and education:
Over at the New York Times. Eduardo Porter has more to say on the gap between the wealthy and the poor when it comes to education:
Education is today more critical than ever. College has become virtually a precondition for upward mobility. Men with only a high school diploma earn about a fifth less than they did 35 years ago. The gap between the earnings of students with a college degree and those without one is bigger than ever.
And yet American higher education is increasingly the preserve of the elite. The sons and daughters of college-educated parents are more than twice as likely to go to college as the children of high school graduates and seven times as likely as those of high school dropouts.
Only 5 percent of Americans ages 25 to 34 whose parents didn’t finish high school have a college degree. By comparison, the average across 20 rich countries in an analysis by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is almost 20 percent...
Even the best performers from disadvantaged backgrounds, who enter kindergarten reading as well as the smartest rich kids, fall behind over the course of their schooling.
The challenges such children face compared to their more fortunate peers are enormous. Children from low socioeconomic backgrounds are seven times more likely to have been born to a teenage mother. Only half live with both parents, compared with 83 percent of the children of college graduates.
Also in the Atlantic, a review of a book by Dale Russakoff on the attempt by Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg to reform Newark public schools via a $100 million gift:
Without taking an ideological stance in the contentious public debates about the direction of education in America, Russakoff shows readers how a dreamy-seeming union of idealists, money, and opportunity might breed confusion and conflict as readily as hope and renewal. She underscores the maddening complexities of reinvigorating and managing a struggling school system in a downtrodden urban area. Some education reformers characterize teachers’ unions as a major impediment to progress, but The Prize dives into the whole stew of potential obstacles. As the Newark example demonstrates, when it comes to handling a $1 billion budget (particularly one enhanced by philanthropists’ gifts), school and district administrators, for-profit education consultants, and politicians have much at stake besides improving test scores and vanquishing socioeconomic inequality. Parents and teachers alike may not harbor any love for a bloated school district’s inefficient, ineffective status quo. Nonetheless, they may resist a message of change when they feel the messengers’ tone and tactics are condescending, even “colonial,” as one school board member puts it to Russakoff...
What actually happened fell short of the imagined transformation. Newark was a hard place to get a good public education, and it still is. Some, but hardly all, of the charter schools are performing well, but test scores elsewhere are uneven. Since 2011, 60 percent of principals across the district departed their positions. And while graduation rates have somewhat improved, the general consensus seems to be that that status quo persists. The district’s future is tenuous amid budget cuts and layoffs. “Two hundred million dollars and almost five years later,” writes Russakoff, “there was at least as much rancor as reform.”
Late last month the MacArthur Foundation named its latest set of "geniuses", fellows who are working on things including poverty, inequality and jobs, reports Marrielle Mondon over at Next City. You can see all the 2015 geniuses (each of whom will receive $625,000) here in this NPR story. Meanwhile Salon's Thomas Frank discusses what he see are the flaws of MacArthur's "Genius Fellowships":
My point here is not that some particular Genius didn’t deserve the prize. Few of the MacArthur Fellows represent genuinely poor choices. But many are certainly unoriginal choices, choices that by definition do nothing to advance creativity or innovation, as they are given to people who already have tenure, or recognition, or funding.
This particular criticism of the Genius Grant has been around since the beginning, but instead of changing course and concentrating on the business of finding brilliant but obscure people, the Foundation seems to have persuaded itself that rewarding the amply rewarded isn’t really a problem at all. When the Chicago Tribune asked program director Cecilia Conrad a few weeks ago what the foundation was “trying to achieve,” she replied that the goal of the Fellowships was inspiration—it was trying to motivate the non-Geniuses of the world...
And that, in turn, struck me as one of the most evasive justifications for a large expenditure of money that I have ever read. Does a MacArthur Fellowship really enhance a Genius’s powers of inspiration, if the Genius in question is already a much-honored figure, or a best-selling author, or the host of a national weekly radio show? Then there’s the obvious flaw in the idea of giving 600 grand to one person in order to inspire someone else: Why not simply approach that someone else and inspire them more directly? (By, I don’t know, making college cheaper or something.)
In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Berkley's Robert Reich says economics should not be left to the economists:
The cartoon version of our economy contains a private sector and a public sector. The private sector, the so-called free market, is the domain of economics. The public sector, the government, is the domain of political science.
But that cartoon version masks an important reality. There can be no market without rules. Even the basic building blocks of the market — property, acceptable monopoly power, contract, liability, and bankruptcy — depend on rules and how they’re enforced. And those rules are the products of government. Legislators, administrative officials, and judges are continuously engaged in readjusting, resetting, or reinventing them. Without government there can be no free market.
Economic analysts and advisers play a significant role in the making and changing of rules. The field of public policy, largely the handiwork of economists, is important and valuable to the extent it helps the public and public officials anticipate the outcomes of various alternative rules. But the field can go awry when it takes a further step and presumes to advise officials and the public about what is in the public interest.
The Ford Foundation's Darren Walker is back, this time opining on moving "toward a new gospel of wealth":
Today, in this new period of rising inequality, it is timely that we reflect on the principles of philanthropy as originally set forth in Carnegie’s influential “Gospel of Wealth”—to consider to what degree they point to the realities and responsibilities of philanthropy in our time, and to openly acknowledge and confront the tension inherent in a system that perpetuates vast differences in privilege and then tasks the privileged with improving the system...
As Henry Ford II, framer of the modern Ford Foundation, wrote in a 1976 letter to his fellow trustees, the foundation is “in essence, a creature of capitalism.” Therefore, he suggested, we ought to “examine the question of our obligations to our economic systems and to consider how the foundation, as one of the system’s most prominent offspring, might act most wisely to strengthen and improve its progenitor.”
To put it more bluntly, we were established by a market system and endowed by the money of the past century’s 1 percent. We are stewards of enormous resources—participants in and beneficiaries of a market system. As a result, our work is quite literally enabled by returns on capital. In turn, I believe we are obligated “to strengthen and improve” the system of which we are part. My conviction is no anathema to capitalism... Philanthropy’s role is to contribute to the “flourishing” of the “far greater part”—to help foster a stronger safety net and a level playing field. With each generation, we should be guided by our legacy of support for social progress and human achievement in the spirit of the Green Revolution, advances in public health and human rights, social movement building, creative expression and cultural innovation, and so much more.