ARCHIVES


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, August 21, 2016

Workers must demand respect and a return on their political support

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, August 18, 19 or 20

Why should workers and their organizations side with winners if labor will be the loser?

Politically, union support for foes of labor and its issues is so typical it’s no longer surprising, and it cannot be explained as some social version of the Stockholm Syndrome, where victims under threat or pressure come to identify with their captors.

Logically, a result would be to not only to “gain a seat at the table” instead of being “on the menu,” as it’s said, but to expect or insist – demand, even – real consideration. For that, it’s necessary for labor to acknowledge flaws in its political approach over the last 34 years and overcome embarrassing and ineffective tactics.

Arguably, the future of organized labor – at least government’s labor policy – depends on Hillary Clinton defeating Donald Trump, whose campaign can confuse the task before working Americans. After all, the real-estate tycoon has blasted the North American Free Trade Agreement and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal more vigorously than Clinton. So it’s up to labor to get out the vote and – more importantly – inform everyday working people of the importance of politics, especially this election year.

“In no other advanced democracy are workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively more subject to the vicissitudes of elections than in the United States,” commented Georgetown University historian Joseph McCartin in the Washington Post.

Indeed, since the National Labor Relations Act became law in 1935 by connecting unions to Congress’ function to regulate interstate commerce instead of make collective bargaining a civil right, labor has been susceptible to whims or worse from elected officials, judges appointed by politicians or a National Labor Relations Board picked by whichever party’s in power.

Worse, Ronald Reagan’s breaking of the air traffic controllers union in 1982 largely neutralized labor’s main weapon, the strike. (Compare hundreds of work stoppages in the 1950s to 12 major strikes last year.)

“If Trump wins and Republicans hold the Senate, unions will face three Republican-controlled branches of government more uniformly hostile to union rights than ever before,” warned McCartin.

To prevent that, labor must revive its political power to include valued influence, not just campaign contributions, canvassing and calling from phone banks. Further, unions must overcome actions that can only be charitably considered foolish.

For instance, the United Food and Commercial Workers endorsed Clinton despite her years serving on the board of longtime UFCW nemesis Wal-Mart, and the Service Employees endorsed her even though she didn’t support a $15 minimum wage, a key SEIU drive.

“The SEIU-UFCW endorsements of a candidate so diametrically opposed to the unions' longstanding primary campaigns brings labor's strategic crisis into sharper focus,” wrote New York labor organizer Andrew Tillett-Saks in Truth-Out.org. “The SEIU-UFCW early endorsement of Clinton in the primaries was nearly as absurd as a Muslim-Latino coalition for Trump would have been.”

Other unions also defied common sense, such as the Teachers, whose Clinton endorsement startled a rank and file wondering about her advocacy for charter schools. Generally, unions excused their support of such a candidate by reasoning that a truly pro-labor candidate couldn’t win, or that they hope at least their union would see some benefit. The latter rationale is the opposite of solidarity, of course, like Wisconsin public-safety unions endorsing Republican Scott Walker ostensibly for immunity from his nefarious union-busting law there.

“Selling out the rest of the working class in the name of a union's own members -- the essence of the ‘narrow-transactionalism’ political strategy -- never has worked and never will,” Tillett-Saks added. “Ironically, when unions only ‘look out for their own members,’ they doom these very members to eventual slaughter. As unions fight only for improvements on an ever-shrinking island of union workers, they eventually drown in the rising tide of non-union poverty and powerlessness.”

In the short term, organized labor must think of all unions – all workers – and command a policy commensurate with their commitment, support and votes for a candidate.

And this year, that candidate must be Clinton.

“If Clinton wins and brings in a Democratic Congress on her coattails, labor will be poised to translate its recent victories into bigger breakthroughs,” McCartin said.

If we demand it.

[PICTURED: Graphic of 1956 poster from lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com.]

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Minimum wage hike has more gains than losses, research shows

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Aug. 8, 9 or 10

The minimum wage is going up in isolated places, such as California, Minnesota, New York City, Seattle and Washington, D.C. However, many elected Republicans and business lobbies continue to argue against helping low-wage workers, and they do so despite a body of evidence that’s shown its positive effects.

Usually, the anti- crowd claims that businesses mandated to pay more will cut jobs to make up for higher costs. But, at most, it’s a trade-off, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which in its 2014 report “The Effects of a Minimum-Wage Increase on Employment and Family Income” showed that raising it from the current U.S. minimum wage of $7.25 to $9, for example, could result in a loss of some 100,000 jobs, but about 7.6 million low-wage workers would see a boost in their weekly earnings.

Indeed, an increase in the federal minimum wage would likely have broad effects, with some studies saying it could echo across the economy, raising the pay of almost 30 percent of U.S. workers.

Who would those workers be? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most minimum-wage workers are between 16 and 24 years old, women, African-American, single, part-time employees, or have less than a college education – or some of each demographic.

In 2015, the BLS said, “Minimum wage workers tend to be young. Although workers under age 25 represented only about one-fifth of hourly paid workers, they made up about half of those paid the federal minimum wage or less. Among employed teenagers (ages 16 to 19) paid by the hour, about 11 percent earned the minimum wage or less, compared with about 2 percent of workers age 25 and older.”

Dale Belman of Michigan State University and Paul Wolfson of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth in their 2014 book “What Does the Minimum Wage Do?” – which draws on about 200 papers – write, “Moderate increases in the minimum wage are a useful means of raising wages in the lower part of the wage distribution that has little or no effect on employment and hours. This is what one seeks in a policy tool, solid benefits with small costs.”

Ground-breaking research into the question occurred in 1993 in the 26-page paper “Minimum Wages and Employment: A Case Study of the Fast-Food Industry in New Jersey and Pennsylvania” by Princeton’s Alan Krueger (now Chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers) and David Card, published in American Economic Review. Their two main findings were that “prices of fast-food meals increased in New Jersey relative to Pennsylvania, suggesting that much of the burden of the minimum-wage rise was passed on to consumers,” and data showed “no evidence that the rise in New Jersey’s minimum wage reduced employment at fast-food restaurants in the state.”

More recently, 2004’s “The Effect of Minimum Wage on Prices” from the University of Leicester analyzed a variety of research on the subject and found that most employers respond to minimum-wage hikes not by cutting jobs or production but by raising prices modestly. For instance, they reported, a 10-percent increase in the minimum wage would increase food prices by no more than 4 percent and overall prices by no more than 0.4 percent, obviously far less than the wage increase.

Elsewhere, respected research supporting the widespread benefits of raising the minimum wage demonstrated that:

* Consequences of a minimum-wage increase were “strong earnings effects and no employment effects of minimum-wage increases.” (Arindrajit Dube, T. William Lester and Michael Reich in Review of Economics and Statistics in 2010.)

* “The minimum wage is a useful tool if the government values redistribution toward low-wage workers, and this remains true in the presence of optimal nonlinear taxes/transfers,” conceding that in some labor-market conditions, it could be better for the government to subsidize low-wage workers and keep the minimum wage relatively low. (David Lee at Princeton and Emmanuel Saez at UC-Berkeley in The Journal of Public Economics in 2012

* Workers at McDonalds and other big restaurant chains have to rely on government aid programs much more than other workers, meaning taxpayers underwrite employers’ wage scale. So raising the minimum wage could shift some of the burden back to companies, which labor economists regard as only fair. (In 2013’s “Fast Food, Poverty Wages: The Public Cost of Low-wage Jobs in the Fast-Food Industry,” by six researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of California at Berkeley.)

[PICTURED: Graphic from onepercenttakers.com.]

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Labor resistance, persistence pay off

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, August 11, 12 or 13

A few related occurrences – three rulings by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and three mass actions by different union members – show that resistance and persistence can pay off.

Last month, the NLRB ruled that part-time or contingent workers can unionize, reversing a standard set under George W. Bush’s NLRB 12 years ago. It means that workers who want to unionize can include colleagues who are contract or other indirect workers who share a “community of interest” with regular employees – without employers’ permission. The old standard let companies deny permission (and use contingent workers or subcontractors as barriers to workers organizing).

That decision followed the NLRB’s ruling in “American Baptist Homes,” re-establishing a test for whether companies using “permanent replacement” in strikes are actually motivated by desires to bust unions. That may halt the trend started when President Reagan hired scabs to replace striking air traffic controllers in 1981.

And in December 2014, the NLRB adopted a rule amending procedures to streamline the process for resolving representation disputes.

“Simplifying and streamlining the process will result in improvements for all parties,” commented Board Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce.

The moves started to restore the NLRB’s role – to enforce the National Labor Relations Act, which makes collective bargaining the country’s statutory policy.

The NLRB might do more. For example, for years it’s been open to organized labor pushing for equal access for unions if companies force workers to attend meetings opposing unions. More than 100 scholars have petitioned the NLRB to establish that rule, but the Board usually acts on procedural, not philosophical, disputes (like an Unfair Labor Practice complaint or a representation petition). So it may take a case about a representation loss involving mandatory meetings for the NLRB to consider the question.

Further, the Board could reverse Right To Work laws since such state laws have had few federal challenges (and only recent state challenges). A key argument is that Congress’ intent in the Taft-Hartley Act (enacting RTW) was to ban union membership as a condition of employment, not whether unions could negotiate mandatory fees for services.

“Recent NLRB actions prove that the time is ripe to challenge the rules of the system that keep unions shackled,” commented former Teachers organizing director Shaun Richman. “I’ve spent most of my career complaining about how slow and ineffective the NLRB is. That bias should not blind us to the opportunity of the moment.”

That opportunity could overcome decades-old barriers to progress. Labor’s been hobbled by a “that’s the way we’ve had to do it” attitude – not a surrender but an acceptance of feared consequences with GOP-dominated NLRBs and labor relations threatened by permanent replacements.

“We assume that sometime in the past, someone smarter than us considered all the possible options and settled on what we are currently doing as the best possible choice,” Richman said. “What if that isn’t what it is?”

Indeed, in three recent labor disputes, unionized workers decided to defy conventional wisdom and take action.

First, last year, 40,000 Chrysler workers rejected a two-tier contract by a 2-1 vote. Despite management’s promise to bring newer, lower-paid workers up to everyone else, United Auto Workers negotiators tentatively agreed to Chrysler continuing its two-tier system (where 45 percent of workers earned lower pay). The rank and file forced Chrysler to keep bargaining and gave union negotiators collective strength to keep at it – and a plan to return all Tier-2 workers to standard wages was achieved.

In May, retired Teamsters saw the results of organizing when the Treasury Department rejected the Central States Pension Fund’s plan to slash retirees’ benefits, so thousands of people were given time to seek better solutions.

Finally, 39,000 Verizon workers in June ended a walkout forcing the employer to retreat from outsourcing call-center jobs, requiring transfers to other states, and an atmosphere of harassment. The company also improved wages and pensions.

“The three cases share one common characteristic,” wrote Jane Slaughter in Labor Notes, “ – grassroots action by tens of thousands of rank-and-file members – getting in someone’s face, in numbers.”

The victories weren’t complete. The Chrysler contract includes ways temporary workers can be exploited; Teamsters’ pension fund’s shortfalls need a bailout and legal reform (not easy with this Congress); and Verizon workers accepted concessions in health care. Still, UAW, IBT and CWA workers should be proud.

“Challenging bad labor law involves breaking the law [and] the NLRB is the sheriff tasked with taking them to court,” Richman said. “Is it crazy to think that this NLRB might treat bad labor law the way that Obama’s Justice Department treated the Defense of Marriage Act? In the court because they have to be, but conceding that the law is unjust?”

[PICTURED: Graphic from ctdevilsadvocate.com.]

Thursday, August 11, 2016

With pot decriminalization, time to free prisoners, families

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Aug. 8, 9 or 10

Two recent events concerning imprisonment now lead to two key questions.

Gov. Bruce Rauner on July 30 signed a bipartisan measure decriminalizing marijuana in Illinois, and Pres. Barack Obama on Aug. 3 commuted sentences for 214 inmates, mostly nonviolent offenders. So shouldn’t Rauner now release Illinois prisoners incarcerated for pot offenses? And since lawmakers worked across the aisle to decriminalize marijuana (thereby reduce costs, courts’ caseloads and overcrowded jails), shouldn’t that cooperation extend to prisoners and their families facing their own colossal, unjust costs?

In before-and-after moments, it seems logical to expect – demand – a response from Springfield.
After all, the White House explained that Obama’s move was due to “outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws,” and that certainly applies to those still locked up for pot.

Before, Illinoisans convicted of possessing up to 10 grams of marijuana faced six months in jail and a $1,500 fine. After, instead of jail time, the penalty will be a fine of $100 to $200.

Is Illinois at another before-and-after moment? Gouging prisoners and their families before, or charging fairer fees for purchases from phone calls to toiletries after?

According to the Ella Baker Center’s 2015 report “Who Pays? The True Cost of Incarceration on Families,” there are enormous prices to pay beyond legal expenses and time. Based on surveys with 1,000 people in 14 states, the study shows that routine expenses can mean a year’s household income, plus the strain on marriages and children. One in three families with someone behind bars is forced into debt for costs of visits and phone calls alone, says the report, which makes three recommendations: reduce the population of jails and prisons, lift barriers to employment and housing for those released, and restore opportunities for ex-inmates.

“Savings from criminal justice reforms should be combined with general budget allocations and invested in job training and subsidized employment services to provide the foundation necessary to help individuals and their families succeed prior to system involvement,” the report says.

The National Association of State Budget Officers says the nation annually spends $80 billion to lock up 2.4 million people in jails and prisons – spending that dwarfs what’s spent on housing, transportation and higher education, according to the Pew Center on the States. But incarceration also burdens families for generations.

Resulting resentment by prisoners and their families has led to unrest, with hunger strikes, boycotts and other concerted activities at Cook County Jail and penitentiaries at Stateville and Menard, plus similar actions in Alabama, California, Texas and Wisconsin, all protesting overcrowding and poor conditions, unpaid labor or high prices for everyday items like toothpaste and calls home. The Illinois Department of Corrections collects a 50-percent commission on items available at commissaries (sandwiches reportedly can cost $6), and IDOC can charge an additional 25 percent above the cost for commissary goods, plus a 7 percent surcharge fee.

Reasonable observers might sympathize – especially with nonviolent offenders – but bilking inmates and families can be a lucrative revenue source for the state and vendors.

“In 2013, there was $30 million deposited into [IDOC’s] 523 Fund, which was made up from commissions from phone calls, commissary as well as federal funds,” according to Brian Dolinar, who works with the Illinois Campaign for Prison Phone Justice.

“Said to ‘benefit inmates,’ the money is used to cover general expenses like medical treatment and law libraries, as well as pay for guard salaries,” Dolinar added.

One step toward a more just arrangement is a bill on Rauner’s desk, HB 6200, which would prohibit charging more than 7 cents per minute for calls (and meet Federal Communications Commission rules). Its chief House sponsor was Carol Ammons; in the Senate Jacqueline Collins. The bill passed the Senate unanimously on May 27, was approved by the House 79-38 on May 31, and was sent to Rauner June 27. (Although both Republicans and Democrats supported the measure, most area Republican State Representatives – including Dan Brady, Norine Hammond, Keith Sommer and Mike Unes – opposed it. GOP Rep. Tom Bennett of Pontiac was an exception, backing the bill.)

Meanwhile, time passes, and a nationwide prison work stoppage called for Sept. 9 seeks to “demand the end to prison slavery,” organizers say. “We will end it ourselves by ceasing to be slaves.”

Free nonviolent marijuana convicts; free families from excessive fees.

[PICTURED: Graphic from thedailychronic.net.]

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Anti-environment labor stereotype proves false

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, August 4, 5 or 6


Stereotypes about union members are about as worthwhile as stereotypes about minorities, cops or women.

Worthless, that is.

So the kneejerk generalization that most rank and file unionists oppose environmental regulations should be given all the weight of typecasting union members as selfish, lazy thugs.

A new study demonstrates that that anti-green assertion by union members just isn’t true.

Unionists are more likely than the country’s general population to have pro-environmental attitudes and take action on those attitudes, according to a report analyzing several national surveys that’s to be published in Labor Studies Journal.

In it, the authors show workers’ outlooks and behaviors about a range of environmental issues are supportive of sustainable approaches. Specifically, the study compares union and non-union workers, and the numbers are revealing – and hopeful for those who’d not only like to work for decent wages, reasonable hours and good working conditions, but on a planet that will continue to provide work for them and their children.

The study was conducted by Jeremy Brecher (author of “Global Village or Global Pillage”), who works with the Labor Network for Sustainability, and Todd Vachon, a University of Connecticut doctoral candidate in sociology and president of UAW Local 6950, UConn’s graduate employee union local. They analyzed 19 survey items related to environmental issues, and in 13 of the 19, union members were more supportive of environmental policies than non-union members. In the other six items, there was little difference between unionists and everyone else.

“This finding runs against the mainstream-media mantra of ‘jobs versus the environment,’ a frame which portrays unionized workers as self-interested and materialistic, putting their own personal gains above all else, including the environment,” Brecher and Vachon say. “A more informed historical analysis would reveal a long record of environmental concern among unionized workers and their organizations that overlaps and intermingles with the sporadic ‘news event’ conflicts that occasionally flare up between workers and environmentalists.”

A good example of a labor organization that’s worked to protect its members and also the environment is the United Steelworkers, which not only backed the first Clean Air Act; but has been a leader in the BlueGreen Alliance with the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Environmental Defense Fund – along with AFSCME, the Amalgamated Transit Union, Communications Workers, SEIU, United Auto Workers, and United Association of Plumbers & Steamfitters.

“Such pro-environmental policies reflect a little-recognized desire and even activism for environmental protection among union members,” the co-writers say. “That isn’t to deny that unions face an inescapable tension. On the one hand, they are principally organized to protect the work-related interests of their members. On the other hand, they have a responsibility to represent the broad class and social interests their members share with other workers, citizens and human beings, and to protect the future of the labor movement. From time to time, these interests come into conflict.”

In fact, in the General Social Survey (GSS),
* Americans were asked to agree or disagree with the statement “We worry too much about the future of the environment and not enough about prices and jobs today,” and 43 percent of nonunion respondents disagreed. However, 48 percent of the unionized respondents disagreed;
* people were asked if they’d signed a petition about an environmental issue in the past five years, and 25 percent of the general population said yes, but 32 percent of union members said yes; and
* asked whether they belonged to an organization whose main aim is “to preserve or protect the environment,” 8 percent of the population said yes, but 12 percent of union members belonged to such environmental groups.

The dominant, corporate media’s usual narrative frames stark choices for unions: either resisting policies that could benefit the nation but hurt job prospects, or ignoring the duty of fair representation to ensure union members that their interests are protected.

The reality is that unionists and their unions care about the world, too, and can work to see environmental progress while guarding that workers don’t have to shoulder an unfair burden of changes.

“Unions have the opportunity to pursue another course,” the authors say, “ – not trying to preserve environmentally destructive jobs, but fighting for economic security and/or new jobs with equal or better wages and benefits, … providing a ‘just transition.’ Fighting for such a transition can be a crucial point of convergence between environmental and labor advocates.”

[PICTURED: Graphic from azquotes.com.]

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Bipartisan move targets SLAPP suits

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Aug. 1, 2 or 3

The First Amendment guarantees more than the freedoms of speech and the press, which most Americans can name. When I used to do First-Amendment workshops for Junior High classes, I’d offer a mnemonic gimmick (a memory device) to help kids remember all the components of the First Amendment:

GRASP.

It stood for Grievance, Religion, Assembly, Speech and Press (and I often had to explain what was meant by a “redress of grievance” – which is central to being an American: seeking solutions to problems).

Now another abbreviation imperils the reason behind the First Amendment:

SLAPP.

It stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.

SLAPP suits for years have been used not by government – against which the First Amendment protects citizens – but business interests, and as many know, citizens don’t have First Amendment protections against private enterprise. (Call your boss a corrupt nincompoop, and you’ll realize freedom of speech ends at the employees’ entrance.)

SLAPP suits have dragged into court people who disputed medical claims; community supporters of a longshoremen’s labor dispute; a food co-op calling for a boycott of Israel for occupying Palestinian lands; members of a literary group that help a reading to back workers organizing at Guess, Inc.; folks alleging tampering of evidence concerning climate change; labor unions; and opponents of proposed mega-livestock farms.

The legal weapon is used to try to silence critics and discourage future opponents, hoping to intimidate or swamp aggrieved Americans with complex and sometimes costly legal maneuvers, sometimes for years. On their face, SLAPP suits violate every tenet of the First Amendment except Religion (reducing that memory gimmick to “GASP,” maybe). However, again, it’s not government but business that uses the tactic.

Now some are calling for a federal law to counter them.

Twenty-eight states, including Illinois, have some statutory protections against SLAPP suits, allowing meritless lawsuits to be quickly tossed. But 22 don’t, so a federal law makes sense, and U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, a Texas Republican, last year introduced the SPEAK FREE Act (HR 2304), and this summer the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice held hearings on the bill.

Its 32 co-sponsors include 20 Democrats and 12 Republicans, which shows how the threat of SLAPP suits makes for odd allies, from the Planning and Conservation League to the American Civil Liberties Union, from newspaper publishers to unions.

Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary and its Subcommittee, the measure would empower people against whom such lawsuits are filed to move to dismiss SLAPP claims arising from defendants’ oral or written statements or other expressions, or conduct in furtherance of such expressions, in connection with an official proceeding or about a matter of public concern such as subjects tied to health or safety, environmental, economic, or community well-being, government, public officials or public figures, or products or services in the marketplace.

If passed, the law also would require the court to award litigation costs, expert-witness fees, and reasonable attorney's fees to defendants who prevailed.

“Anti-SLAPP statutes are an effective way to terminate meritless lawsuits, thus reducing burdens on the courts, and at the same time promoting the exercise of speech rights,” testified Bruce Brown, director of Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “While journalists and news organizations certainly benefit from these laws, anyone who speaks out on controversial matters enjoys the benefit of anti-SLAPP protections.”

Besides stifling comments on issues of public importance, SLAPP suits put significant power into the hands of corporations with the legal resources to bully regular people who disagree with a product, project, etc. After all, “Congress shall pass no law abridging freedom of speech,’ etc. But Big Business will.

We must GRASP that.

[PICTURED: Illustration from remedialactionlawblog.com.]

Sunday, July 31, 2016

‘Subsidized employment’ shown as win-win-win: report

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

Five years ago this month, a report from the Department of Health & Human Services concluded, “Subsidized employment can help address employers’ reservations by lowering the financial risk of hiring, and potentially offsetting up-front hiring, orientation and training costs, while providing steady work to participants that builds skills.”

Now a new report from Georgetown University underscores that judgment, saying subsidized employment has advantages to workers, employers and government.

Subsidized employment generally refers to third-party employers that get public-funding assistance to underwrite positions, which can be temporary, transitional or permanent. That 2011 study, written with researchers from the Urban Institute, added that those with less than a high school education face a common barrier to employment for low-income workers.

“A lack of formal work experience, especially common among young adults, or a lack of recent work experience (e.g. those who are long-term unemployed) are related factors,” the HHS said. “A lack of relevant work experience may also be a barrier, particularly for older workers, who may need additional training to adapt to new technological and other industry changes.”

It’s been too long since HHS’ report, but maybe “Lessons Learned from 40 Years of Subsidized Employment Programs,” from co-authors Indivar Dutta-Gupta, Matthew Eckel, Peter Edelman and Kali Grant of Georgetown’s Center on Poverty and Inequality, will once more promote increased opportunities for the disadvantaged (and, again, employers and government) – and perhaps this time result in action.

Based on decades of data on various subsidized endeavors’ experiences and experiments, the research defines nine categories of disadvantaged: long-term unemployed workers; older workers who have been pushed out of the labor market due to economic dislocation; disconnected youth; people with work-limiting disabilities; single mothers and non-custodial parents; people with criminal records; disadvantaged immigrants, especially refugees and asylum seekers; people in areas of particularly high unemployment; and people experiencing homelessness.

“Subsidized employment is a promising strategy for boosting incomes and improving labor-market outcomes and well-being – especially for disadvantaged workers,” the researchers show.

Among the many programs the team evaluated were efforts dating to the 1970s in Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, New York City, Philadelphia and St. Paul.

Their key findings:
• The number of disadvantaged people willing to work consistently exceeds the number in competitive employment.
• Subsidized employment programs have a wide range of potential benefits.
• They can be socially cost-effective.
• Subsidized employment programs with longer-lasting interventions and/or complementary supports may be particularly likely to improve employment and earnings.
• Such programs require further innovation to more effectively target specific population subgroups.

The advantages to individuals are jobs and higher income, say researchers, who detail probable consequences:
“Immediate employment and income unavailable through unsubsidized employment; stronger families (higher child support payments paid by participants, lower divorce rates, higher marriage rates); reduced criminal justice system interaction for adults and children; improved health for adults and children; work experience, training, and services offer potential for longer-term gains in labor market and other domains.”

Employers – public, private for-profit and private non-profit – can benefit from lower costs and risks for employing the disadvantaged, the study reports:
“Wage, on-the-job training, or overhead subsidies for hiring targeted workers; subsidies, work experience, and wraparound services lead to larger and more productive workforce immediately and in the future,” researchers said.

And government – plus society overall – can cut spending and increase tax revenues:
They say results include “higher taxable incomes for adults and children; higher economic output from work done by participants; improved population health for adults and children; reduced criminal justice system expenditures on adults and children.”

The report concedes that subsidized employment is no single, sure-thing cure-all.

“Subsidized employment programs are neither silver bullets for all labor market challenges nor fully mature yet for every reasonable target population of disadvantaged workers,” the report notes. “There is no substitute for worker empowerment or strong labor standards.”

However, the report makes five recommendations:
1. Make subsidized jobs programs a permanent part of U.S. employment policy.
2. Establish substantial, dedicated funding streams.
3. Ensure opportunities for advancement.
4. Promote program flexibility.
5. Facilitate greater innovation.

“Subsidized employment is a proven, promising, and underutilized tool for lifting up disadvantaged workers – particularly those in or at risk of poverty or with serious and/or multiple barriers to employment,” the co-authors say.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Political parties need people’s hopes as much as votes

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

Everyday Americans don’t expect to agree with every position from every candidate. But we’d like to feel we’re heard and that our hopes and inspirations will be acknowledged, not just our awareness that politics sometimes require pragmatic maneuvering.

Life offers joys and woes alike, solutions and new problems, and hope helps us take action on daunting challenges. Looking back from the days between the Republican and Democratic conventions, the long primary season has seemed to offer little hope and even fewer substantial ideas to reform what’s needed.

Social improvements happen when hopes flourish – and when ordinary folks demand dreams be realized. The National Labor Relations Act didn’t create the union movement; the Voting Rights Act didn’t spark the Civil Rights movement; the Paris Peace Talks didn’t spur the anti-Vietnam War movement.

It was the opposite.

Movements matter.

“Radical ideas are outside the mainstream — until they’re not,” wrote American Prospect editor Robert Kuttner. “Then, oddly, they become as American as apple pie.”

But movements can be messy.

Hillary Clinton warns Donald Trump’s troops, “Don’t look for easy answers,” an odd echo of her comments during the primaries, when she criticized Bernie Sanders for unrealistic ideas, claiming she shared the concerns but not his approach. Trump promises actions, however vague or unconstitutional they might be.

Clinton and Democrats’ middle-of-the-road/conservative Democratic Leadership Council wing condemned Sanders and supporter as outliers, even “extremists.”

In reality, the elites in both the Democratic and Republican parties are now funded by big donors and corporate cash, so even Democrats no longer rely on small contributions (like Sanders generated in his long campaign, which raised $222 million, more than 60 percent of which was in small donations averaging $27.)

So who’s extreme?

Clearly, the system – and society – is flawed, and regular people want change, whether Trump or Sanders supporters – or those backing Clinton, the Libertarians’ Gary Johnson or the Greens’ Jill Stein. Anger and Establishment Attitudes are overwhelming hopes and dreams.

Even if Sanders’ proposals wouldn’t pass the current, do-nothing Congress, he at least pushed the conversation and laid out goals, maybe even paths, in a literally selfless way. (Clinton promises, “I’ll be fighting for you” and Trump talks incessantly about “I, I, I,” while Sanders’ slogan was “Not me, YOU.”) Trump and Clinton reveal top-down authoritarianism, liberal or conservative, not bottom-up democracy.

And just as Trump can claim to be more “moderate” on some social issues and Clinton more “centrist” on foreign-policy dangers, what’s that mean? Arguably, centrism splits the middle, with little regard for principles, goodness or hope; moderation is a conciliatory strategy seeking common ground for the common good.)

But Trump fuels fear; Clinton manages processes; Sanders ignites hope.

Further, Trump and the torch-and-pitchfork crowd in Cleveland could make Democrats’ leaders even lazier, depending on the “what other choice do you have” appeal, which voters increasingly resent.

Facing and fighting the struggles won’t be easy, as Stewart Acuff wrote in these lines from his 2016 poem “Justice in History”: “Did Jesus not ask that the cup be passed in Gethsemane?/ We know the result of actions is a fight/ for that which defines what we are about./ Fear is not weakness but our humanity./ Overcoming that fear is the power of the inspired soul/ and our place amongst the greats of our history.”

Inspiration is needed.

Hope helps.

[PICTURED: Graphic from quoteaddicts.com.]