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A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

‘Preemption’ laws either irony or hypocrisy

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, April 28, 29 or 30

When North Carolina lawmakers recently passed a bill after just nine hours of discussion in a special session, most media coverage focused on language nullifying a Charlotte ordinance that let transgender people use public bathrooms in accordance with their gender identity and also extended discrimination protections to transgender citizens. However, the law, signed by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, also sought to “supersede and preempt” other local ordinances.

Such controversial laws are about more than checking who uses what bathrooms. Prohibiting what laws cities can pass and enforce, it’s a phenomenon called “preemption,” and given the South’s long-time claim to advocate for so-called states’ rights above federal laws, it’s either irony or hypocrisy.

In North Carolina and elsewhere, preemptive laws ban towns, counties and other local levels of government from approving ordinances ranging from minimum wages, paid sick leave and fracking restrictions to sanctuary-city immigrant protections, plastic-bag bans and fire sprinklers.

“Agriculture, guns and knives, minimum wage increases and employee benefits … and a wide range of environmental protections were the most common targets of preemption,” said Marc Pertschuk of the Preemption Watch advocacy group. “But perhaps the newest trend was exemplified by bills that sought blanket preemption of ALL local authority over ANY topic already addressed at the state level, limiting local control and democratic processes across public health, safety and social justice.”

Conservative legislatures are being helped by the right-wing, Koch brothers-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which at its December conference warned of “draconian” restrictions against fracking.

In some states, corporate-cozy lawmakers have become ardent foes of local control or the grassroots activism that sparks change, especially if those ordinances are progressive or worker-friendly.

Besides forbidding local governments from enacting nondiscrimination laws (Mississippi, Arkansas and other states), at least 29 legislatures have introduced bills to block local laws, according to another advocacy group, PR Watch. Such preemption statutes aim to override ordinances:

* requiring higher minimum wages (Michigan and Oregon) and “living-wage” ordinances (Florida),
* paid sick days (Arizona and Missouri),
* mandates on reasonable scheduling for retailers (Michigan),
* “home rule” authority for communities (Oklahoma),
* regulating e-cigarettes (Pennsylvania and Wisconsin),
* rules on the sale of firearms (Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Wyoming),
* rules on fracking (Florida, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Wyoming),
* limits on businesses using plastic bags (Arizona),
* requirements for providing broadband access to residents (Missouri),
* “sanctuary cities” protecting undocumented immigrants from detention or worse (Texas),
* obligations to label foods that are Genetically Modified Organisms (Congress), and even
* residential fire sprinklers (Nevada and Tennessee),

However, some pushback has started. In Minnesota, legislators are considering a measure to restore rights to local governments, and in Oregon a ballot initiative this fall could empower local jurisdictions to set their minimum-wage thresholds above the statewide standard.

“The good news is that there has never before been a national grassroots movement this powerful and diverse fighting for the right to protect our families, communities and workers at the community level,” Pertschuk said.

[PICTURED: Graphic from the National Partnership for Women and Families.]

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Report underscores importance of Workers Memorial Day

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., April 25, 26 or 27


Workers Memorial Day will be marked from coast to coast on Thursday (April 28) with marches, rallies and solemn remembrances of everyday workers who’ve been injured or killed on the job, and a new report from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) lends timeliness and credence to those memories and concerns.

Nationally, sobering statistics show that risks at work aren’t confined to history books. Thousands of U.S. workers last year were casualties of workplace dangers.

OSHA has reported that 2,644 workers lost fingers, arms and legs through amputations requiring hospitalization last year, and an additional 7,636 suffered on-the-job injuries needing hospitalization.

“In a small Illinois town, a worker at a food processing plant was hospitalized after his arm was mangled in a screw conveyor,” the federal agency reported. “Following an inspection that resulted in citations, the plant installed guards and handrails around the machinery, added a nitrogen monitoring system for another part of the plant, and conducted extensive employee training.

“Then he urged other employers in the area to check for hazards and invited OSHA to make a presentation to the local Chamber of Commerce,” the report added.

The report also shows OSHA found previously unsuspected patterns of injuries and amputations in entire industries, citing dozens of fingertip amputations suffered by workers at food slicers in Southern grocery store delis and restaurants.

“Too often, we would investigate a fatal injury only to find a history of serious injuries at the same workplace,” the report said. “Each of those injuries was a wake-up call for safety that went unheeded.”

And, as other studies demonstrate – notably of Michigan workers’ comp claims – employers vastly underreport on-the-job injuries. The report estimated that half of such severe injuries may go unreported, especially since this report covered only large firms.

The report also reflected findings from the first year of a new OSHA rule ordering employers to report within 24 hours any time a worker suffers any on-the-job injury requiring hospitalization. Before 2015, the agency required prompt reports, within eight hours, only if a worker died. That mandate stayed the same.

The point of the new rule was to pressure employers to clean up their acts on their own. However, the report has revealed an epidemic of severe on-the-job injuries.

For example, slaughtering and processing plants were seventh on OSHA’s list of groups of companies with such injuries last year, as 213 workers were severely injured in those facilities. That figure trailed “foundation, structure and building exterior contractors,” with 391 severe injuries, building equipment contractors (343), mining support activities (325), nonresidential building contractors (271), the U.S. Postal Service (229), hospitals (221) and grocery stores (215). Another 16 groups of firms had from 100 to 201 severe injuries each.

For details on Workers Memorial Day, go to http://www.aflcio.org/Issues/Job-Safety/WorkersMemorialDay.

[PICTURED: Graphic from Catholic-Labor Network.]

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Supreme Court nominee not a sure-thing progressive

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, April 21, 22 or 23

The nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to fill the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy resulting from the unexpected death of Judge Antonin Scalia might cause labor to take heed of the old saying, “Be careful what you wish for.”

While Garland during his 19-year tenure on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit generally has favored labor, that could be because of his “strong views favoring deference to agency decision-makers,” according to Tom Goldstein of SCOTUSBlog, instead of his having a strong pro-labor viewpoint.

Garland’s judicial record on labor cases led many union leaders to endorse President Obama’s nominating the Chicago native. For example, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka praised Garland’s “impeccable credentials and deep experience.”

However, it’s useful to temper any expectations with context in considering what kind of Supreme Court Justice Garland would be. As Goldstein said, Garland seems to have been a cautious judge who usually agreed with government agencies, whether the National Labor Relations Board or the State Department.

In fact, when Garland served with current Chief Justice John Roberts on the Court of Appeals for two years, Garland agreed with Roberts 85 percent of the time in 34 cases on which they both worked.

Looking at cases they shared, Roberts concurred when Garland wrote that union activists could legally leaflet one of their employer’s facilities despite not working at that job site, but Garland signed on when Roberts overruled an NLRB ruling that a group of college workers had bargaining rights. Also, the two agreed in refusing to hear a lower court case permitting the Bush administration’s requirement that government contractors post information about employees’ right to not join unions.

They also disagreed a few times, such as Garland’s dissent in a Roberts’ opinion that two contractors didn’t break the law by delivering defective train cars to Amtrak.

“Given his preference for restraint, it’s unlikely that Garland would significantly counter the Court’s pro-business tilt of the past four decades,” commented Justin Miller, a writing fellow at The American Prospect magazine. That’s significant at a time when the Supreme Court – including its “liberals” -- has grown more supportive of big business’s interests even as everyday Americans’ anger at the corporate agenda has increased, according to Noam Scheiber in the New York Times. Scheiber noticed “a growing rift between the country and the nation’s highest court on questions of economic power and support for big business.”

As Galesburg native and independent journalist David Moberg wrote in In These Times magazine, “It’s hard to give [Garland] a clear political label, but Garland does not seem to be as progressive on workers’ rights issues as Scalia was reactionary.”

True, Garland -- appointed to the Appeals Court by President Bill Clinton -- upheld NLRB’s Unfair Labor Practice charges 18 out of 22 times, but, again, that arguably was in support of a government agency.

As Catherine Fisk wrote in onlabor.org, appointing a genuine progressive -- or at least someone sympathetic to labor itself and not the government agencies responsible for enforcing labor law -- could be momentous for workers.

“Scalia’s death should put the brakes on National Right to Work’s effort to speed a case to the Court asking it to eliminate exclusive representation for home care workers or, perhaps, even for all public sector workers,” Fisk wrote. “Not only that, but a newly-constituted Court might decide that ‘Harris v. Quinn’ was wrong to eliminate fair share fees for home care workers and that ‘Knox v. SEIU Local 1000’ was wrong to prohibit unions from charging nonmembers for mid-term assessments.”

Further, adding a truly liberal voice could open the door to challenges on several 5-4 decisions that undermined workers’ rights, she said. Still, Garland might be influential on cases that center on the National Labor Relations Act, arbitration agreements, and workers’ First Amendment rights.

For now, however, labor has the Garland nomination (and an obstructionist Senate), and he is what he is. As to the common ground between him and Roberts, that could mean Roberts is less of a conservative firebrand than feared, or that Garland is more moderate than many would have preferred. Finally, progressives might recall another familiar saying -- a line made famous by conservative Republican President Ronald Reagan: “Trust but verify.”

[PICTURED: Labor activists demonstrate outside the U.S. Supreme Court building this winter. Photo from North Bergen Federation of Teachers]

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Where your federal taxes are going

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., April 18, 19 or 20

Emancipation Day, April 16, was a Saturday this year, so many public workers had the day off on Friday, the usual tax-deadline day: April 15.

The deadline was moved to Monday, April 18.

Few American taxpayers feel financially emancipated, though – especially when we pay taxes. That’s understandable, but that annual annoyance might turn to eager anger when it’s realized where our federal tax dollars actually go.

“Americans might be surprised to learn how their tax dollars are spent,” Lindsay Koshgarian, research director at the National Priorities Project, which just released its yearly report on how the U.S. Congress decided to spend our money.

“For example, 25.4 cents of every federal income tax dollar goes to the Pentagon and military, while just 3.6 cents goes to education,” Koshgarian said. “What we see in poll after poll is that Americans would like to see more investment in domestic-spending programs such as job training, infrastructure improvements, and education programs. Unfortunately, what the data shows us is that our tax dollars don't reflect our priorities.”

Besides plenty to the Pentagon and a pittance to education, here’s a breakdown of other expenditures, according to NPP’s compilation of federal tax data:

Out of each 2015 tax dollar, Health gets 28.7 cents, Interest on the federal debt 13.7 cents, Unemployment & labor 8 cents, Veterans benefits 5.9 cents, Food & agriculture 4.6 cents, Government 2.9 cents, Housing & community 1.9 cents, Energy & environment 1.6 cents, International affairs 1.5 cents, Transportation 1.2 cents, and Science 1.1 cents.

Illinoisans’ share of federal taxes is the ninth highest in the country, NPP shows: The average federal income taxes paid here is $13,978 – $1,000 higher than the U.S. average.

Of course, in one way that’s good news. Since income taxes are based on what we’re paid as a group, Illinoisans together have a substantially higher income than dozens of states.

The top 10 states in sending income taxes to Washington, D.C., are Connecticut ($21,367), the District of Columbia ($18,997), New York (18,094), Massachusetts ($17,338), New Jersey ($17,287), California ($15,496), Wyoming ($15,204), Texas ($14,594), Illinois ($13,978) and North Dakota ($13,757).

However, further detailing what Illinoisans pay, that $13,978 average includes $3,547.32 for the Pentagon (including $97.82 for nuclear weapons), but just $223.30 for energy and the environment (including a scant $45.24 for the Environmental Protection Agency).

So an average Illinois tax payment funds nukes twice as much as the agency responsible for ensuring clean air, water, etc., plus it chips in $36.87 for the federal prison system but just $9.94 for homeless assistance grants, NPP reports.

Governments run on taxpayer dollars – nearly half of all federal revenues come from individual income taxes, NPP says. And that’s a strong argument for why federal spending and the federal budget (which seems as difficult to pass on Capitol Hill as it is in Springfield) ought to reflect Americans’ preferences and priorities.

“Individual taxpayers’ income taxes are the largest source of federal revenues every year – which means individuals are the primary bill-payers of the federal government,” Koshgarian said. “That's why the federal budget belongs to all of us – and why we should know how our tax dollars are being spent.”

Even more to the point, that’s why we should demand representatives make decisions in our interests.

Contact Bill at Bill.Knight@hotmail.com; his twice-weekly columns are archived at billknightcolumn.blogspot.com

Monday, April 18, 2016

Labor Board could remove franchise ‘shelter’

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., April 14, 15 or 16

Customers stopping by McDonald’s on Thursday may see demonstrators calling for $15 an hour pay and a union in what organizers say is another day of protests targeting the fast-food chain in dozens of U.S. cities. However, a judicial hearing that opened in New York a month ago could have far wider implications for the corporation and its employees who’d like a raise or at least a vote to unionize.

A March 10 National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) hearing before an administrative law judge in New York eventually could force McDonald’s to bargain with unions that its workers authorize to represent them, but it also could potentially change the whole notion of business franchises as a way to shelter or shield companies that actually control the wages, hours and working conditions from taking responsibility for its labor force.

If the NLRB rules that the fast-food company is a “joint employer,” the corporation would have to bargain with workers’ unions, and unions would gain an opportunity for organizing in the huge – and relatively low-wage – restaurant sector, which no longer employs teens, but adults of all ages struggling to get by.
The case comes two years after the NLRB said that McDonald’s could be held jointly responsible with franchisees accused of threatening, punishing or discharging workers who took part in some of the first strikes fighting for $15 an hour wages.

Based in Oak Brook, Ill., McDonald’s is appealing, claiming that franchises are independent and control their own operations. Workers’ advocates argue that McDonald’s closely watches and controls working conditions virtually by the minute at all McDonald’s locations, whether or not they’re franchises, from hiring to staffing.

The company says about 90 percent of its 14,000-plus U.S. outlets are run by franchisees. A big reason companies choose to franchise – or to outsource work to staffing agencies – is to shift workplace responsibilities elsewhere. But if a company is ruled to be a joint employer along with the smaller franchisee company, the parent company can become involved in labor relations that it otherwise escapes.

The roots of this wrangling go back to November 2012, when the nationwide “Fight for 15” campaign first organized many fast-food workers to rally, picket or strike. The Labor Board received 291 claims of Unfair Labor Practices for subsequent retaliation for “concerted activities,” which are protected under federal law, and the NLRB consolidated those accusations into 13 complaints against McDonald’s and some of its franchisees. The hearing is addressing those complaints specifically and the joint employer issue generally.

There’s recent precedent for a worker-friendly decision. In August, the labor board ruled 3-2 that a Browning-Ferris facility in California was a joint employer with a staffing agency that provided workers, noting that even indirect control over working conditions – or a company reserving the right to exert such control – established a joint-employer situation.

“It is not the goal of joint-employer law to guarantee the freedom of employers to insulate themselves from their legal responsibility to workers, while maintaining control of the workplace,” the NLRB wrote in the Browning-Ferris ruling.

The Labor Board said the previous definition – where direct control was required – "failed to keep pace with changes in the workplace and economic circumstances” such as a growing use of temporary workers, employed through outside agencies, who have few job protections traditional workers have.

Browning-Ferris appealed the August ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Although corporations have claimed that a joint employer decision would hurt business, worker advocates say that it would just mean fewer violations of labor law because parent companies and their franchises alike would have to monitor management. Further, if the Labor Board finds that McDonald's is a joint employer, union organizers say it's possible that the fast-food chain might consider recognition of workers’ organizations.

Additional NLRB hearings are ahead in Chicago and elsewhere for additional “Fight for 15” Unfair Labor Practice accusations.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Budget stalemate worse than feared

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., April 11, 12 or 13

Comparing this year’s Illinois state government spending to last year’s, there are highlights – or, LOWlights: State workers’ health-care insurance has 0 percent funding; there’s 1 percent funding for public universities and the community college board, and 3 percent for the Capital Development Board.

It wouldn’t be paranoid to see such choices as punishment from a governor who seems to have little regard for state workers, colleges, and construction projects.

Besides the budget stalemate, bouncing back from an ever-deepening hole is daunting, according to a new analysis by the Fiscal Futures Project, which notes that the deadlock has resulted in continued spending while revenue is down significantly. This convergence of decreased revenue and uncoordinated spending is causing unfair allocations and aggravating an already massive deficit.

The analysis, from the University of Illinois’ nonpartisan Institute of Government and Public Affairs, used Illinois Comptroller data as of December 31 to detail the picture at the Fiscal Year’s halfway mark.

The report – “Consequences of Inaction: The Effects of the Budget Stalemate on Revenue and Spending at the Midpoint of Fiscal Year 2016” – shows that Illinois had revenue of about $30 billion (46 percent of FY15 revenue at this point). Researchers project final revenue for FY16 of about $63.7 billion (a decline of $1.9 billion from FY15). Nevertheless, “the state is allocating expenditures for some categories at rates similar to FY15,” said David Merriman, co-director of the project, “while others are receiving almost nothing.”

The report notes, “In February 2015, Rauner proposed a budget that purported to be balanced but relied on more than $2 billion in savings from a pension reform proposal based on an untested legal theory and the highly implausible assumption that it could survive both legislative scrutiny and legal challenges and be implemented on the first day of the new Fiscal Year. The Democrat-majority General Assembly countered by passing a budget for FY16 that was $4 billion in deficit without new sources of revenue. Governor Rauner vetoed most of the proposed budget, but did sign an appropriations bill for elementary and secondary education.”

Then “the governor announced his willingness to consider new revenue only if the General Assembly passed his business-friendly ‘Turnaround Agenda’,” adds the project, co-authored by Merriman, Richard Dye and Andrew Crosby. “There has been little progress in resolving these issues.”

Responding to complaints, Rauner later signed limited appropriations for state Lottery winners, Motor Fuel Tax disbursements for local governments, and a few small expenditures.

Other spending is on “autopilot” by legal factors – the three C’s: Continuing appropriations (state laws covering such things as pension payments or debt-service obligations); Consent decrees (agreements to provide services to settle lawsuits); and Court orders (obligations imposed by judges).

The analysis shows dwindling revenues (receipts from taxes, fees, federal grants and smaller sources) but enduring expenditures (payments actually being made), and the spending totals $28 billion (about 40 percent of the $70 billion spent last year).

“Comparing all-funds sustainable revenue for FY15 ($65.6 billion) to all-funds spending in FY15 ($69.8 billion), FY15 had a deficit of $4.2 billion,” according to the report. “Projected total sustainable revenue for FY16 is $63.7 billion, but the ‘benchmark’ amount needed to achieve prior year spending levels is $70.3 billion – a deficit of $6.6 billion.”

Besides effects on municipalities and townships, social-service agency clients and college students, the consequences create financial burdens ahead.

“Although Illinois has thus far spent almost nothing on state employee health care, state employees continue to be insured and are undoubtedly accruing expenses for their care,” the analysis says. “Providers simply have not yet been paid. Thus, Illinois is effectively borrowing money from providers and will eventually have to make payments for FY16 that will probably be similar to those in FY15.

“An enormous deficit to start was made much worse by the scheduled drop in income tax rates and the scheduled increase in pension payments.”

To fund state government to meet anticipated needs, cuts would have to be uneven, the analysis shows. First to be paid would be those already receiving some payments. Next would be those with spending authority from a FY16 budget AND the “three C’s.” Last would be those recipients with approval to pay just labor costs.

“It will take more than a handshake, a vote and a signature to restore spending in FY16 to FY15 levels,” the analysts say. “There is a $6.6 billion deficit to deal with. Already months into FY16, it is hard to imagine any new sources of sustainable revenue that could be adopted and cover a gap of this magnitude. That leaves either non-sustainable sources – that is, some form of borrowing that shifts the burden – with interest – of paying for FY16 spending to Illinois taxpayers in future years or [those] huge cuts.”

The 8–page report is online at http://igpa.uillinois.edu/system/files/Consequences-of-Inaction.pdf

Contact Bill at Bill.Knight@hotmail.com; his twice-weekly columns are archived at billknightcolumn.blogspot.com

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Technology comes with benefits, but a price

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., April 7, 8 or 9

A guy in his 60s talks about turning library trash into flea-market treasure by retrieving hundreds of books discarded into dumpsters during remodeling – or some other conversion from traditional libraries to public computer labs where teens watch YouTube videos.

The move from print to digital is more than just switching from hardback books to Kindles, Nooks or tablets. The drive from shelves of classics or even bestsellers to web access or online resources is a symptom of technology killing culture. Society gains – and loses.

Technology has given civilization many benefits, no doubt, from communications and convenience to medical breakthroughs and scientific advances. But no technology is neutral. Its power can be used to dominate individuals and society, and increased power doesn’t necessarily mean increased progress.

In media, the conversion to technology can mean a loss of tangibility, of seeing images on photos and films or text on paper, touching pages and sheet music, smelling the musty marvel of bound volumes, hearing the scratchy charms of decades-old discs of bluesmen, orchestras or poets recorded in boarding houses or theaters now shuttered, reading old letters or just bantering with friends – or foes.

As computer users know, a hard-drive crash or new operating system can lose documents or pictures: poof. Small-town libraries, museums or historical societies look at boxes of old newspapers or postcards and wonder whether web sites or Facebook posts will suffice enough that shelves can be cleared.

However, some places’ pitching such “retro” media, we all can lose books, music, movies and our past.

“In case you were wondering, there were 129 million books in the world as of 2010,” wrote cartoonist and author Ted Rall (“After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back as Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” and the new graphic biography “Bernie”).

“Subscribe to Kindle ‘Unlimited,’ then, and you've got access to less than 0.5 percent of the world's books,” he said.

Worse, technology has unleashed untold numbers of hacks, thefts and cyberattacks that cause some to fret about systems ranging from air traffic control systems to automobiles. Journalist and author Ted Koppel in his book “Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath” reports on the vulnerability of cyberspace, from personal privacy to day-to-day essentials.

“So many of our transactions are now conducted in cyberspace that we have developed dependencies we could not even have imagined a generation ago,” Koppel wrote. “To be dependent is to be vulnerable.

“There may not be a more productive target than one of our electric power grids,” he continued. “There are three power grids that generate and distribute electricity throughout the United States, and taking down all or any part of a grid would scatter millions of Americans in a desperate search for light, while those unable to travel would tumble back into something approximating the mid-19th century.”

Of course, it would be foolish to abandon our smartphones and all technology for “simpler” times that may have had some advantages but also had no indoor plumbing, antibiotics or modern transportation. Nevertheless, it seems past time to appreciate the tradeoffs at stake.

In the play “Inherit the Wind” and its film and stage adaptations and revivals, Henry Drummond – the attorney representing the science teacher on trial for teaching evolution – summarizes. “Progress has never been a bargain,” he says, in Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee’s script. “You have to pay for it. Sometimes I think there's a man who sits behind a counter and says, ‘Alright, you can have a telephone but you lose privacy and the charm of distance. Madam, you may vote but at a price. You lose the right to retreat behind the powder puff or your petticoat. Mister, you may conquer the air but the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of gasoline’.”

If there are sanctuaries from the outbreak of unhealthy dependence on technology, they may be the emergence of “Little Free Libraries” where people share books, or the vanishing value of hand-written notes, or face-to-face conversation.

[PICTURED: Spencer Tracy from Inherit the Wind.]

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Big Bank bonuses high-risk, low-reward for society

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., April 4, 5 or 6

“Income inequality” sometimes can seem abstract or maybe an inevitable condition resulting from a society that permits winners and losers in a financial form of social Darwinism.

But in the United States in the 21st century, the disparity between the very rich and the rest of us is no “survival of the fittest.” It’s the “prospering of the powerful.”

“The widening divide between the haves and have-nots is undermining the American Dream,” said University of Baltimore law professor Michelle Gilman. However, “economic inequality is now firmly on the public agenda as candidates and voters alike look for someone to blame for stagnant wages, entrenched poverty and a widening gap between rich and poor.”

Indeed, presidential contenders as different as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders recognize it (though Trump faults corporations moving overseas and Sanders accuses Wall Street’s power).

Crystallizing the situation is a new report from the Institute for Policy Studies (ISP), “Off the Deep End: The Wall Street Bonus Pool and Low-Wage Workers,” which shows the country’s wealth gap at a time of supposed economic revival.

First, as to that “recovery” – the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in March reported that job growth nationally between September 2014 and September 2015 was up 1.9 percent, and wage growth had a 2.6 percent gain. In Illinois, jobs grew a bit more slowly (1.3 percent) but wages statewide outpaced the country (3.9 percent here).

However, in a county-by-county breakdown, the nation’s seven-year comeback from the Great Recession remains uneven. For instance, Illinois’ McLean County had a 0.5 percent gain in jobs and a 0.3 percent improvement in wages; Peoria had a 0.7 percent gain in jobs and a 3.8 percent improvement in wages; Sangamon had a 0.5 percent drop in jobs and a 1.1 percent uptick in wages; and Winnebago was unchanged in jobs, with a 1.83 percent improvement in wages.

Meanwhile, ISP’s Sarah Anderson found that the total value of 2015 Wall Street bank bonuses were so large that their dollar total was DOUBLE that earned by ALL full-time minimum wage workers in the whole nation.

Let that sink in for a second.

Wall Street banks paid their 172,300 New York City-based employees about $25 billion in bonuses last year, according to New York State Comptroller data. Again, that’s more than TWICE the combined annual earnings of all 895,000 U.S. workers earning minimum wage in full-time jobs: $12 billion.

Just their bonuses.

Considered other ways, that amount would be enough to lift to $15 an hour the wage of either all 2.6 million restaurant servers and bartenders, or all 1.6 million home-health care and personal-care aides, or all 2.6 million fast-food workers preparation and serving workers, the ISP showed.

The annual bonuses are handed out on top of big-bank employees’ base salaries (which already average a robust $404,000 – about eight times the U.S. median household income of $53,657, according to the Census Bureau). It’s the second consecutive year that these Wall Street bonuses have doubled U.S. minimum-wage workers’ total pay.

“Wall Street bonus payouts don’t just violate basic norms of fairness,” Anderson said. “The financial industry’s bonus culture has encouraged the sorts of high-risk behaviors that led to the 2008 financial crisis. And these bonuses also give the American economy far less bang-for-the-buck than would pay raises for the low-paid workers who prepare our food and take care of our vulnerable.

“These low-wage workers tend to spend nearly every dollar they earn, creating beneficial economic ripple effects,” she continued. “The wealthy, by contrast, can afford to squirrel away more of their earnings.”

The bipartisan Dodd-Frank financial reforms of 2010 were supposed to deal with such enrichment of the affluent elite and the related “inappropriate” risks they’re encouraged to take to be eligible for the lucrative payouts. Other nations have such regulations. The European Union, for example, limits such bank bonuses to 100 percent of base pay, or up to 200 percent with special consent by corporate shareholders. However, in 2011 federal regulators proposed a rule limiting the law to top executives.

So what remains after the financial crisis is not only that Wall Street manipulators essentially escaped prosecution and that the Big Banks got even bigger, but that the status quo of abject income inequality continues.

For the elite, economic justice means “just us.”

[PICTURED: Chart from Institute for Policy Studies.]