MotherJones has an entire package on the ways in which Americans are being overworked. Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery discuss why workers have to do more with less money while corporate profits continue to grow:
Consider a recent Wall Street Journal story about "superjobs," a nifty euphemism for employees doing more than one job's worth of work—more than half of all workers surveyed said their jobs had expanded, usually without a raise or bonus.
In all the chatter about our "jobless recovery," how often does someone explain the simple feat by which this is actually accomplished? US productivity increased twice as fast in 2009 as it had in 2008, and twice as fast again in 2010: workforce down, output up, and voilá! No wonder corporate profits are up 22 percent since 2007, according to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute. To repeat: Up. Twenty-two. Percent.
This is nothing short of a sea change. As University of California-Berkeley economist Brad DeLong notes, until not long ago, "businesses would hold on to workers in downturns even when there wasn't enough for them to do—would put them to work painting the factory—because businesses did not want to see their skilled, experienced workers drift away and then have to go through the expense and loss of training new ones. That era is over..." Everything is tilted in favor of the employers...The employee has no leverage. If your boss says, 'I want you to come in the next two Saturdays,' what are you going to say—no?"
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has some interesting charts on union membership including an interactive map showing the decline in membership by state. Demos' Ned Resnikoff says the decline has been bad for all workers, not just those in unions:
Because blue-collar worker income in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark is so high, Americans are often surprised to learn that none of the Nordic social democracies have minimum wage laws. The truth is that they don’t need them, thanks to the immense (albeit gradually waning) power of Scandinavian labor unions. Organized labor in that region of Europe has used its power to set a de facto wage floor, rendering parliamentary action superfluous...
The United States has never had anything close to Denmark’s union density, so the American labor movement was never able to play Nordic labor’s decisive role in setting wages. But the organizing wave that took place during and after the Great Depression certainly made unionization into a clear and present danger for employers in key industries. Setting higher wages at non-union shops became a way to compete for workers, but it also helped mollify existing employees and remove an incentive they might have for seeking union representation.
The Center for American Progress' Brendan Duke argues that the way to keep productivity strong is to raise wages:
The 1929–1950 increase in wages was at first a result of several policies that directly raised workers’ wages, including the first federal minimum wage, the first federal overtime law, and the National Labor Relations Act, which made it easier for workers to join a union and bargain with their employers. The entry of the United States into World War II further drove investment higher, as the economy converted into what Gordon describes as a “maximum production regime.”
It is striking that during this period of rapid productivity growth, wages for production workers grew even faster than productivity growth did. The current debate about whether a typical worker’s compensation has kept track with the economy’s productivity typically envisions productivity growth as the precondition for wage growth. But Gordon’s research implies that the relationship can go both ways: Not only can productivity growth raise wages, but higher real wages also can boost productivity growth—the main reason for slow gross domestic product growth—by giving firms a reason to purchase capital.
You also might be interested how new worker protections are playing out in New York. Over at Slate, Henry Grabar says that a paid sick leave law in NYC did not kill jobs. And workers paid via pre-paid card will get new protections in New York State from hidden fees and other penalties that whittle their money:
The cards are prevalent in the retail and service industries — Walmart and McDonald’s are among the large companies that use them — and card issuers say they can be beneficial for employees who lack bank accounts by giving them a safer, more secure way to store their accrued wages and spend them.
But critics say that the cards are too often forced on low-wage workers, who then see their scant paychecks devoured by hidden or unavoidable fees. A 2014 report by the New York attorney general found that workers at some companies paid fees averaging as much as $20 a month...Nationally, payroll card use has grown quickly. Around $12 billion in wages flowed through them last year, according to an estimate from the Aite Group.
Also in the New York Times is a set of charts showing the contours of inequality for each state--illustrating the growing wage issues for the poor and middle class. Over at NYT's Upshot, Deirdre McCloskey looks at what she says stop worrying about inequality and start worrying about poverty:
In any case, the problem is poverty, not inequality as such — not how many yachts the L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt has, but whether the average Frenchwoman has enough to eat. At the time of “Les Misérables,” she didn’t...
We can improve the conditions of the working class. Raising low productivity by enabling human creativity is what has mainly worked. By contrast, taking from the rich and giving to the poor helps only a little — and anyway expropriation is a one-time trick. Enrichment from market-tested betterment will go on and on and, over the next century or so, will bring comfort in essentials to virtually everyone on the planet, and more to an expanding middle class...Give masses of ordinary people equality before the law and equality of social dignity, and leave them alone, and it turns out that they become extraordinarily creative and energetic.
Speaking of inequality and the law, small counties such as Dearborn in Indiana put a lot more people in prison than their more populous counterparts, write Josh Keller and Adam Pearce:
Just a decade ago, people in rural, suburban and urban areas were all about equally likely to go to prison. But now people in small counties are about 50 percent more likely to go to prison than people in populous counties.
The stark disparities in how counties punish crime show the limits of recent state and federal changes to reduce the number of inmates. Far from Washington and state capitals, county prosecutors and judges continue to wield great power over who goes to prison and for how long. And many of them have no interest in reducing the prison population...But many criminal justice experts say that the size of the disparities undercuts the basic promise of equal protection under the law.
Also of interest is this piece in the Guardian on the public defender crisis:
In recent years the US has begun to reckon with its role as the world’s biggest jailer, home to a manifestly unequal justice system that disproportionately punishes poor people of color. In diagnosing the causes of this problem much of the focus has centered on sentencing reform, but in a country where 95% of criminal cases are settled by plea deal, little attention has been given to the critical state of indigent defense. Around the US, defenders routinely report an increase in overburdening and underfunding, caused by a variety of structural, political and economic drivers.
Up-to-date figures are scant, but according to a 2008 estimate by the American Bar Association, state and county governments spent a total of $5.3bn on indigent defense systems a year, just 2.5% of the roughly $200bn spent on criminal justice by states and local government every year. The depth of crisis varies in each state, indicative of the complex patchwork of defense systems that are funded and administered differently dependent on jurisdiction.
If you have not been paying attention, the murder rate is climbing in cities across America and is particularly acute in Chicago:
Areas with “long-standing conditions of alienation, hopelessness, poverty and lack of opportunities” also have the greatest distrust of the police and the greatest complaints of police abuse, said Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor who directs a civil rights and police accountability project at the law school...Dr. Futterman said the city’s problems were intensified in recent years by the closing of more than 50 public schools in 2013, the dismantling of public housing throughout the 2000s, and the federal government’s successful prosecution of big gang leaders, which destabilized gang hierarchies, territories and illegal drug markets.
You may also be interested in this in-depth look at violence in Chicago from the BBC.
Also in the Guardian, Courtney Smith says the trouble with philanthropy is that money cannot buy equality:
A note about philanthropists’ demographics: three-fourths of foundations’ full-time staff are white and nearly 90% are over 30...This means a lot of people who are not white, male and older are hustling their asses off to understand the sensibility of those who are. They are spending energy being tactical about how they talk about their work and build relationships, however transactional or tokenising. I admire their commitment and acuity, but even if some get good at translating and tap-dancing for dollars, that should not comfort the philanthropic world about its own inclusivity or transparency...
And the truth is, I imagine it’s a disconcerting experience for most philanthropists, too. On some level, they must know that they’re not the wisest authorities on the issues they’re seeking to effect. Money doesn’t make you an expert on poverty alleviation; in fact, it can make you dumber with distance. And yet, traditional philanthropy is set up to put you – the one with financial wealth – in the position of playing god with something you deeply care about. Even if it strokes your ego to be the decider, it’s got to erode your sense of integrity.
How can we reinvent philanthropy with an eye toward true equity? How can we create new cultures and structures that allow resources – financial, experiential, energetic – to flow in ways that feel dignifying? How do we create paradigm-shifting programmes together, not just send LinkedIn requests and push money and paper around?
In Medium, one young, wealthy do-gooder has an aha moment about privilege and the savior complex:
I had to throw out my old ways of being and thinking. My role in the world — guilty privileged person seeking absolution by helping oppressed people to survive — had been torn apart...With this, I discovered a humility in my interactions with others that wasn’t available before. I was learning to feel, for the first time, grief from the loss of my dreams, and it left me more ready to listen.
The September issue of Alliance Magazine looks at the influence exerted by philanthropy and whether it is a good thing:
There are increasing signs of philanthropy influencing policy and policy networks but, as yet, no overarching theory of how it does so. Philanthropic traditions vary, as do the political, social and economic contexts in which foundations operate. Influence can be exerted in different ways – not only through the ‘hard power’ of financial resources but also through the influence wielded behind the scenes and out of public view. It can be exerted by empowering others or funding research. Influence over public policy is only one type of influence, but it is particularly important to debates about the role of private resources in the public sphere.
Meanwhile, following scrutiny over think tanks and their corporate ties in the New York Times, Alan Cantor says they missed the bigger story of designating think tanks as "charities":
[T]he core purpose of many think tanks is to provide a veneer of intellectual sophistication, objectivity, and positive public relations for what are often blatantly partisan and self-interested causes...
It’s fair to ask how it came to pass that these sorts of activities are actually subsidized by the taxpayers through charitable deductions. The answer, as Princeton Professor Stanley Katz has pointed out, is that in the United States charity has not been defined what it is, but what it isn’t. A charity is an entity that does not benefit individual owners – that is, a charity has no shareholders. A charity cannot (explicitly) benefit a board member. And a charity can’t undertake criminal activities. Virtually anything else can be seen as having a charitable mission and a community benefit, including think tanks with obvious partisan interests. And because charitable regulators in most states are grossly underfunded, and because the IRS Tax Exempt Organizations Division is overwhelmed and essentially powerless, brazen operators push the definition of a charitable mission ever further.
How to rein this in? I wish I knew. But a first step for all of us who care about real nonprofits – that is, those that feed the hungry, house the homeless, educate the young, promote the arts and culture, help those with disabilities, and heal the sick – is to speak up.