In this issue: the magical thinking coal jobs; the new American Dream takes a village; from middle class to poverty; and worker self-directed nonprofits.
This week marked a number of rollbacks for the fight against climate change all in the name of increasing dirty energy jobs. The Daily Caller breaks down the Trump administration's plan to roll back Obama-era environmental rules:
The executive order not only paves the way for the EPA to undo most or all of the “Clean Power Plan” but also
- lifts a short-term ban on new leases for coal mining on public lands;
- effectively blocks fulfillment of U.S. intentions under the Paris climate agreement;
- requires recalculation of the “social cost of carbon,” probably resulting in low levels that would make it difficult to justify regulations restricting carbon dioxide emissions on a cost/benefit basis; and
- eliminates a requirement that all federal agencies include climate-change effects in calculating costs and benefits of future environmental permits.
Cartoonist Jeff Darcy in Cleveland.com noted, "While Trump's order promises to revive the coal industry, it also helps coal's number one competitor, natural gas, by making it easier to drill and transport gas...One way Trump can really help coal workers, is by repairing, not replacing Obamacare, which some suffering from black lung, have said helped them stay alive."
Christopher Ingraham notes in the Washington Post, the coal industry employs fewer people than the fast food chain Arby's or even America's theme parks.
In fact as noted previously, the solar industry now employs far more people than the entire fossil fuel sector--and the clean energy sector is growing jobs 12 times faster than the entire rest of the economy. In the New York Times, Hiroko Tabuchi explains why coal mining might increase but not so much for the jobs (which the industry has been steadily shedding since 1950):
Even coal executives remain muted in their optimism about the Clean Power Plan rollback, which they say is nowhere near enough to return coal to its dominant perch atop power markets and put tens of thousands of coal miners to work.
Then there is the technology.
Caterpillar’s autonomous trucks are already being used at mines in Western Australia. “An autonomous truck doesn’t need to stop for lunch breaks or shift changes,” Caterpillar said in a promotional page on its website. And it is proceeding with semiautonomous drills, including a system that lets one worker control three drills at once.
So why keep up the talk on coal? The Post's Ingraham had this to say:
Of course, part of the fixation on coal is because mining has always loomed large in the American imagination. There's something mysterious and ennobling about the dangerous endeavor to extract valuable commodities from deep within the earth, something that's missing from, say, used-car sales or ski-lift operation.
There's also a larger economic debate about coal's impact on the economy, given the large role it plays in generating the nation's electricity. But while the industry's impact is large, its payrolls aren't.
Not only are energy jobs in the fossil fuel sector not going to meet the promise of half a century ago but failing to address climate and environmental issues pose serious risks to our most vulnerable communities. A consortium of doctors have been sounding the alarm the fact that climate change is already making kids, especially poor kids, sicker due to longer allergy seasons and disease bearing insects. And as Van Jones notes over at CNN, clean power is not only good for combatting climate change but dirty energy cause significant immediate health problems for vulnerable communities:
If we follow the [this] trajectory, we're going to be bringing smog back to American cities, accelerating asthma rates in children, putting more poison in the groundwater and costing a lot of Americans their lives...For example, Kamita Gray in Brandywine, Maryland is living on the frontlines of some of the worst pollution in America. Brandywine is in Prince George's county, which has a population that is 65% African American. This community has three power plants in its backyard already. Two more are being developed. The air quality is so bad there that when the wind blows, people do not leave their homes.
In Fortune, Cornell's David Wolf calls on the private sector to move forward on sustainability initiatives and says government should get out of the way:
What Americans need now is for their leaders to allow and facilitate this transition. When Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, political leaders did not attempt to squash this innovation to protect those industries producing lamps run on gas or whale oil. When Henry Ford came up with a more efficient way to manufacture cars, he was not thwarted by political leaders obsessed with protecting the horse-and-buggy industry...We need both private and public leadership that embrace a creative vision for the future, not nostalgia for the past.
Fools Still in Love With the American Dream
There is a stark difference in employment between rural and urban communities that poverty discussions often overlook and RealClearPolicy offers a number of charts and researchers discuss why they matter. In this one segment, University of Oregon's Steven Beda looks at the psychological impact:
The identity of rural communities used to be rooted in work. The signs at the entrances of their towns welcomed visitors to coal country or timber country. Towns named their high school mascots after the work that sustained them, like the Jordan Beetpickers in Utah or the Camas Papermakers in Washington. It used to be that, when someone first arrived at these towns, they knew what people did and that they were proud to do it. That’s not so clear anymore. How do you communicate your communal identity when the work once at the center of that identity is gone, and calling the local high school football team the “Walmart Greeters” simply doesn’t have the same ring to it?
Menawhile you might be interested in this Bloomberg story on how Utah's Mormonism offers a different approach to upward mobility. In this TED talk, journalist Courtney E. Martin looks at what the new American Dream looks like in the 21st Century noting we need to reclaim interdependence and the village life:
All right, so we're not finding steady employment, we're not earning as much money, and we're not living in big fancy houses. Toll the funeral bells for everything that made America great. But, are those the best measurements of a country's greatness, of a life well lived? What I think makes America great is its spirit of reinvention. In the wake of the Great Recession, more and more Americans are redefining what "better off" really means. Turns out, it has more to do with community and creativity than dollars and cents...
The challenge ahead is to reinvent the social safety net to fit this increasingly fragmented economy. We need portable health benefits. We need policies that reflect that everyone deserves to be vulnerable or care for vulnerable others, without becoming destitute. We need to seriously consider a universal basic income. We need to reinvent labor organizing. The promise of a work world that is structured to actually fit our 21st century values, not some archaic idea about bringing home the bacon, is long overdue — just ask your mother.
In this 2014 essay, Pulitzer Prize winning author William McPherson, who died last month, offers a look at his descent from the middle class into elderly poverty. McPherson offered an early buyout from the Washington Post, thought he would make enough money as a freelancer and that his pension and health benefits would cover the costs as he grew older, but instead he found himself with higher medical costs and pension of dubios value:
I am not trying to exaggerate my own particular plight. I’ve never had to apply for welfare, or Medicaid, or food stamps. I have asked the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to subsidize my rent and a District office to subsidize my medical insurance payments. That involved a lot of paperwork but not a lot of lines, and I am very glad to live in subsidized housing with a number of people who really run the gamut. One of them is the great-grandson of Leo Tolstoy. Another fled Bulgaria as the Communists were taking over, eventually came to the United States, speaks several languages, and worked for the Library of Congress. There are refugees from one regime or another, from all parts of the world. They come in all colors. Some were trained as lawyers, some have doctoral degrees, some were teachers. There are journalists and writers. What we have in common is we are all older, we are all poor, and each of us has, to a greater or lesser degree, the ailments that come with age...
I am ashamed to have gotten myself into this situation. Unlike many who are born, live, and die in poverty, I got where I am today through my own efforts. I can’t blame anyone else. Perhaps, it should be humiliating to reveal myself like this to the eyes of any passing stranger or friend; more humiliating to friends, actually, some of whom knew me in another life. Most of my friends probably don’t realize or would rather not realize just how parlous my situation is. Just as well. We’d both be embarrassed.
Although I am embarrassed by my condition, and ashamed of myself for putting myself there, I feel grateful to have had some of these experiences and even more grateful to have survived them.
This New York Times article looks at the choices facing working-class kids when it comes to college. Meanwhile, in the Atlantic a look at research on the black-working class, which is working longer but seems to be falling behind economically:
With the increased hours of labor and climbing education levels, it would stand to reason that black workers in 2015 were in a better economic position than they were in 1979—but that’s not really true. Black-white wage gaps are actually larger now than they were in 1979. The growing discrepancy is even more pronounced for the same low-income workers who are adding the most work hours. In 1979, white workers in the bottom 10 percent of earners made 3.6 percent more than black workers in the lowest income bracket. In 2015, the poorest white workers made 11.8 percent more.
In the Stanford Social Innovation Review, the Century Foundation's Amy Dean says that in order to tackle inequality, philanthropy needs to partner with labor:
[D]espite the important accomplishments of unions, organized labor is often excluded from the social landscape of many nonprofit and philanthropic practitioners. In a 2006 article, SSIR managing editor Eric Nee asked a timely and provocative question: “Why do nonprofits talk a lot about partnering with business and government, yet rarely talk about building partnerships with trade unions?”
..The too-common distance between unions and nonprofits is mirrored in the philanthropic world. In the past, the relationship between labor and foundations has been fraught. Legally, labor unions are funded by their members and are prohibited from taking money from foundations. Culturally, unions are organizations of working people, while foundations are organizations of the affluent, setting the stage for tension and acrimony. So great has the chasm been between labor and philanthropy that literature on the subject is scant.
Meanwhile, Alana Semuels in the Atalnatic looks at modern philanthropy and what it means for democracy:
There’s long been a debate in academic circles about what role foundations should have in democracies. In an essay in the book Philanthropy in Democratic Societies, published last year, the Stanford sociologists Aaron Horvath and Walter W. Powell argue that a particular form of new philanthropy, which they call “disruptive philanthropy,” can be harmful. They define disruptive philanthropy as philanthropy that competes with the government to provide services, rather than collaborates with it, Horvath told me, in a phone call. The trouble is that this type of giving can reshape the public agenda. “Disruptive philanthropy seeks to shape civic values in the image of funders’ interests and, in lieu of soliciting public input, seeks to influence or change public opinion and demand,” Horvath and Powell write. Charter schools are a prime example—they are often funded to compete with the public-school system, and eventually replace it. Often, these gifts are made with little public oversight or input, and yet make huge changes to public policy.
In Nonprofit Quarterly, Simon Mont argues that the future leadership of the sector will be found in worker self-directed organizations:
The struggle to find replacement executive directors is just one symptom of a problem that is holding the sector back from achieving its full potential. We have built our organizations around an idea that our leadership should come from either a single individual or a small group. This leads to the consolidation of responsibility and power in the people who occupy those positions and the creation of positions within organizations that demand long hours, compromised personal lives, and distance from personally fulfilling client and program work in order focus on administration...Everyone is capable of this kind of leadership. Committed staff at nonprofit organizations are already doing it simply by contributing to their teams. Our organizational models ignore people’s ability to contribute and instead prescribe a very defined role for them. Shared leadership happens when we maximize everyone’s ability to step into, at the right times, the leadership they are most suited for while coordinating our activity to achieve an impact larger than the sum of its parts.