Tag Archives: jobs

Record Drop in New York City Unemployment

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Record-Setting Three-Month Drop in New York City Unemployment

Unemployment is down both in New York City and in New York State, according to a New York State Department of Labor report released November 20, 2014.

Unemployment for New York State fell to 6.0% from 6.2% in October.

The improvement was even more dramatic for New York City.

In October, the city's unemployment rate fell from 6.8% to 6.4%. which in the past three months adds up to a record-setting 1.4% drop in unemployment.

Hopefully, with the consumer price index also dropping 0.2% in October for the region (after holding steady in September), this means a little financial relief for the millions of New Yorkers who have too regularly endured an economic "recovery" of mostly low-wage jobs.


Featured photo via photologue_up/flickr


 

VIDEO: Warren and Krugman talk economics at CUNY

krugmanwarreninconversationatcuny

 
The following description via the CUNY TV Youtube channel

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Paul Krugman, economist and columnist for The New York Times and Distinguished Scholar at the Luxembourg Income Study Center, at the Graduate Center, CUNY, engage in a discussion of public policy, economics and the middle class. Moderator: Janet Gornick, Director of the Luxembourg Income Study Center, CUNY. Taped at CUNY Graduate Center, Sept. 4, 2014. (90 min.)

Check out other great CUNY shows here.


 
 

Poverty is not Inevitable: What we can do–NOW!

Looking for change. Changing poverty now.

Inequality and poverty are suddenly hot topics, not only in the United States but also across the globe. Since the early 1980s, there has been a growing underclass in America. At the same time a much smaller class, now called the superrich, built its wealth to levels of opulence not seen since France’s Louis XVI. Despite this, the resulting inequality went mostly unnoticed.

When the Great Recession of 2008 hit, and the division between the very wealthy and the rest of us came starkly into focus, various people and groups, including the Occupy movement, began insisting more publicly that we tax wealth. But still, helping the poor has been mostly a discussion on the fringes.

At last, the terms of public debate have changed, because inequality and poverty now are debated regularly in the mainstream media and across the political spectrum, not solely by labor, by the left, and by others imagining a new economy.

Inserting such a controversial topic into mainstream discourse is French economist Thomas Piketty. His 700-page tome, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, shocked everyone this year when it made The New York Timesbestseller list and bookstores found themselves backordering an economics book for legions of eager readers. Piketty did exhaustive searches of tax records from Great Britain, France, and the United States, going as far back as the late 18th century in France. Using sophisticated computer modeling and analyses, the professor from the Paris School of Economics debunks a long-held assumption—that income from wages will tend to grow at roughly the same rate as wealth—and instead makes a compelling case that, over time, the apparatus of capitalism grows wealth faster than wages. Result: Inequality between the wealthy and everyone else will widen faster and faster; and, without progressive taxation, his data show we’ll return to levels of inequality not seen since America’s Gilded Age.

Piketty, no Marxist, says a solution lies in a “confiscatory” tax on wealth: Tax salaries over $500,000 at 80 percent worldwide, and tax wealth at 15 percent worldwide. Every year.

Unless we can reverse the inequality trends of the past 35 years, Piketty says, the ensuing social chaos will eventually destroy democracy. Unfortunately, not even Piketty sees much chance of all nations on Earth simultaneously enacting his tax plans.

But at least he sparked a widespread discussion. And fortunately, others have been digging deeply, thoughtfully into the same questions, and they have some practical as well as achievable ideas for reversing poverty and inequality trends.

Investigation

Pulitizer Prize-winner Hedrick Smith authored a pageturner called Who Stole the American Dream? Despite his whodunnit title, Smith reveals the perps long before you finish the book. The former New York Times reporter uses data and real-life stories to build a case against American CEOs and the politicians who do their bidding.

The Deliberate March Toward Poverty

America Keeps People Poor on Purpose: A Timeline of Choices We've Made to Increase Inequality (Click on Photo)

 

Between 1945 and 1973, Smith notes, U.S. workers’ productivity grew by 96 percent, and they were rewarded with a 94 percent increase in their wages. Between 1973 and 2011, years that parallel a collapse of the middle class, U.S. workers’ productivity grew by 80 percent, yet those evermore-productive employees saw only a 10 percent increase in their wages. Millions who created that wealth were thus pushed into poverty or to its precipice, while those who fancy a neomedieval economic system transferred billions in profits, generated by that labor, upward to themselves.

Gar Alperovitz is a professor of political economy at the University of Maryland. Like Smith, Alperovitz asks a question with his book’s title: What Then Must We Do? To be more accurate, he might have called it “Here’s What We’re Already Doing”—to create fresh models that can inspire a new economy.

What makes Alperovitz’s ideas valuable is that he not only lays out an array of alternatives already keeping people from poverty, but solutions we also can build upon to create strategies that, over time, might replace corporate capitalism.

And replacing capitalism no longer is farfetched. In 2013, Alperovitz was invited to address the Academy of Management, a group mostly of corporate advisers and business school professors with 20,000 members worldwide, “and the entire focus of the meeting was: Is capitalism over?—and, if so, where are we going?” Alperovitz pointed out during an extended conversation. “Even these people are now open to new ideas.”

Smith makes a similar point. The American system is now so obviously broken that even some corporate leaders are calling for a “domestic Marshall Plan” to repair our economy. From their thinking and others, he puts forward a proposal to reclaim the American Dream.

Start, he says, by creating a public-private partnership to generate 5 million new jobs rebuilding infrastructure—bridges, highways, and rail corridors. Increase government investment in science and high-technology research to bolster U.S. innovation and spur a manufacturing renaissance.

Make income tax fairer, which will decrease inequality, then fix the corporate tax structure so it promotes American jobs and curtails outsourcing. At the same time, force China to live up to ethical trading principles because that would generate up to 4 million U.S. jobs.

We can cut the Pentagon budget by $1 trillion—not much more than 10 percent of annual military spending—over the next decade, Smith says, and pump the money into this domestic Marshall Plan. We should also refinance millions of homes now “underwater” and strengthen safety-net programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

The bad news: Much of this new Marshall Plan depends on congressional action, where such ideas have little chance as long as the current gridlock prevails.

“Changing America’s direction will not be easy,” Smith says. “It will happen only if there is a populist, grassroots surge demanding it, like the mass movements of the 1960s and 1970s.”

Our political system is as broken as our economic system. But Americans could mobilize to reform electoral politics and reduce the influence of money in elections. And for those who are disenchanted with government, Smith recommends that they take a look at how well it’s working for the mobilized and active financial superclass.

In the meantime

Inequality.... the history of how we got here.

While we’re working on mobilizing to take back our democracy, we can start from the bottom up to “democratize wealth,” as both Piketty and Alperovitz say we must. Alperovitz puts less faith in top-down institutions than does Smith (the subtitle of What Then Shall We Do? is Straight Talk About the Next American Revolution ). He lays out bottom-up solutions already in practice across America that offer superior alternatives to the status quo. Here’s a sampling:

Worker ownership.

It’s not just little startups and co-ops. Alperovitz points to the company ranked 48th on the Forbes list of the largest U.S. private companies: Hy-Vee, a Midwestern supermarket chain that currently has more than 69,000 employees and more than $8 billion in sales, is owned by employees through a profit-sharing program. W.L. Gore & Associates, makers of Gore-Tex, has been owned since 1974 by its workers—currently more than 10,000 in 30 countries generating annual revenues of about $3 billion.

Already, some 11,000 companies employing 10.3 million people operate under such employee stock-ownership plans, with more forming regularly.

Social enterprises.

Pioneer Human Services, in Seattle, is a textbook example of this model, a form of democratized ownership that uses the money it earns as well as the enterprises it creates to achieve broader social purposes. According to Alperovitz, a large portion of Pioneer’s $67 million annual budget comes from businesses it created. The organization produces thousands of machined parts for Boeing, caters more then 1,500 meals a day for hospitals and other facilities, and employs almost 1,000 people usually classified as impaired or unemployable. Pioneer is but one of many such social enterprises doing good and democratizing wealth.

Traditional co-ops.

Alperovitz says that more than 130 million Americans—more than 40 percent of the population—belong to one or more co-ops. Not just food co-ops but also agricultural co-ops, electric co-ops, insurance co-ops, retail co-ops (such as REI) and retailer-owned co-ops (such as ACE Hardware), health care co-ops, high-technology industry co-ops, artist co-ops, and credit unions. The Alliance to Develop Power, in Western Massachusetts, has developed what Alperovitz calls an $80 million “community economy” of housing co-ops and other cooperatively controlled businesses.

Community development corporations.

Almost 5,000 such organizations now operate in larger U.S. cities. These primarily incubate small businesses and develop low-income housing. In Newark, Alperovitz says, the New Community Corporation employs about 600 neighborhood residents, manages 2,000 housing units, and has built up $500 million in assets. Profits from its businesses, which include a shopping center, help support day-care and afterschool programs and a nursing home.

Land trusts.

Hundreds of these exist today, both urban and rural. By taking land out of the speculative market and democratizing ownership, such nonprofits prevent gentrification and support low- and moderate-income housing with development profits. By 2012, Alperovitz says, 255 land trusts were operating in 45 states and the District of Columbia.

Government-owned and operated businesses.

Today, more than 50 percent of cities larger than 100,000 are making municipal equity investments in local business. Now is the time, Alperovitz says, to expand these investments to co-ops, employee-owned businesses, social enterprises, and nonprofit land development. “If you’re going to get serious about systemic change—not just ‘projects’—you’re ultimately going to have to consider what government does,” he says, “and how it can be used to further the vision and the model you affirm.”

Already forms of this are happening from Cleveland to San Diego. One of the first was Boston, which in 1976 renovated historic Fanueil Hall, transforming it into Faneuil Hall Marketplace, a downtown retail center with 49 shops, 18 restaurants and pubs, and 44 pushcarts. Instead of turning things over to its joint-venture partner, Rouse Company, the city kept the property under municipal ownership and took profits in lieu of property taxes from Rouse. The strategy earned the city 40 percent more revenue that it would have collected in taxes.

Another example: More and more cities are building—and owning—hotels and using the profits to shore up their emaciated budgets. Dallas, Texas, not known for left-wing collectivism, opened the city-owned $500 million, 23-story, 1001-room Omni Dallas Hotel in 2011.

Transform too-big-to-fail-banks,

"Building from the bottom up, over time, is actually how you transform systems.”

and other private corporations that teeter on insolvency, into public utilities. The next time Bank of America’s risky scams threaten to implode the world’s economy, Alperovitz says we should bail out the bank—and assume public ownership of the corporation. If that idea seems radical, it arose from the militantly conservative economists of the Chicago School of Economics during the Great Depression.

“Every industry should be either effectively competitive or socialized,” wrote Harry C. Simon, one of the school’s revered thinkers. Simon and seven of his conservative colleagues proposed a “Chicago Plan” that called for public ownership of Federal Reserve Banks, nationalizing the creation of money, and turning private banks into highly restricted savings-and-loan associations.

Or, in Alperovitz’s 21st century version, “Take them over; turn them into public utilities.”

Need for strategy

Plenty of other ideas for democratizing wealth exist now, all of which can start small and scale up to large, even national enterprises that provide wellpaying jobs. But, Alperovitz cautions, “What hasn’t happened yet is that people haven’t seen this change strategically; they’re mainly developing ‘projects’—and I think the next level will be when people begin to realize that this could be a powerful strategy, not just for building a movement, but actually for building political power.”

At the moment corporations “certainly have the power. But I’m a historian; I think in decades,” he says, “not months. Power comes and goes. It could take 20, even 50 years,” adding that in the face of so much money and corporate power “it might not be possible to change the system.

“Or,” he adds, after a perfectly timed pause, “as in the case of ending apartheid; as in the case of the American Revolution; as in the case of the French Revolution; as in the case of the women’s revolution; as in the case of the fall of communism—building from the bottom up, over time, is actually how you transform systems.”


Dean Paton wrote this article for The End of Poverty, the Fall 2014 issue of YES! Magazine. Dean is executive editor of YES!

Blue-Collar Temp Workers face a Modern “Harvest of Shame”

Work Gloves

This story was done in collaboration with VICE News. Watch the series.

CRANBURY, N.J. — Half a century ago, the legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow came to this pancake-flat town in central New Jersey to document the plight of migrant farmworkers for a television special called "Harvest of Shame."

Today, many of Cranbury's potato fields have been built up with giant warehouses that form a distribution hub off Exit 8A of the Jersey Turnpike.

But amid this 21st century system of commerce, an old way of labor persists. Temporary workers make a daily migration on buses to this area, just as farmworkers did for every harvest in the 1960s. Temp workers today face many similar conditions in how they get hired, how they live and what they can afford to eat. Adjusted for inflation, many of today's temp workers earn roughly the same amount as those farmworkers did 50 years ago.

Across the country, farms full of migrant workers have been replaced with warehouses full of temp workers, as American consumers depend more on foreign products, online shopping and just-in-time delivery. It is a story that begins at the ports of Los Angeles and Newark, N.J., follows the railroads to Chicago and ends at your neighborhood box store, or your doorstep.

The temp industry now employs 2.8 million workers — the highest number and highest proportion of the American workforce in history. As the economy continues to recover from the Great Recession, temp work has grown nine times faster than private-sector employment as a whole. Overall, nearly one-sixth of the total job growth since the recession ended has been in the temp sector.

Many temps work for months or years packing and assembling products for some of the world's largest companies, including Walmart, Amazon and Nestlé. They make our frozen pizzas, cut our vegetables and sort the recycling from our trash. They unload clothing and toys made overseas and pack them to fill our store shelves.

The temp system insulates companies from workers' compensation claims, unemployment taxes, union drives and the duty to ensure that their workers are citizens or legal immigrants. In turn, temp workers suffer high injury rates, wait unpaid for work to begin and face fees that depress their pay below minimum wage.

Temp agencies consistently rank among the worst large industries for the rate of wage and hour violations, according to a ProPublica analysis of federal enforcement data.

It is one of our fastest-growing industries, yet one of the few in which the injury rates have been rising.

A ProPublica analysis of millions of workers' comp claims found that in five states, representing more than a fifth of the U.S. population, temps face a significantly greater risk of getting injured on the job than permanent employees. In Florida, for example, temps were about twice as likely as regular employees to suffer crushing injuries, dislocations, lacerations, fractures and punctures. They were about three times as likely to suffer an amputation on the job in Florida and the three other states for which records were available.

The disparity was even worse when we looked just at dangerous occupations, such as manufacturing, construction and warehousing. In Florida, temps in blue-collar workplaces were about six times as likely to be injured as permanent employees doing similar jobs.

Day Davis, 21, was crushed by a machine at a Bacardi bottling plant barely 90 minutes into the first day on the first job of his life. Samir Storey, 39, suffocated from hydrogen sulfide gas on his first day when he was assigned to clean the inside of a tank at a paper mill. Mark Jefferson, 47, died after collapsing from heat stroke after a long day on a garbage route.

Here too, the plight of the lowest level workers has changed little. The workers who reaped the nation's fruit and vegetables also passed out from working in the heat or became sick from pesticides such as DDT.

In "Harvest of Shame," two Florida towns — Belle Glade and Immokalee — became symbolic of the plight of farm labor. Today, researchers have identified "temp towns," such as New Brunswick, N.J., and Little Village in Chicago, Ill. "Temp towns" are often densely populated Latino neighborhoods teeming with temp agencies. Or they are cities where it has become nearly impossible for anyone, even for whites and African-Americans with vocational training, to find blue-collar work without going through a temp firm.

New Jersey has five of the counties — Middlesex, Passaic, Burlington, Camden and Union — with the highest concentration of temp workers in the country.

Lou Kimmel, an organizer for New Labor, a workers advocacy center in New Brunswick, said that when he first started working there, the founder used to say, "We're all farmworkers in a way."

For temp workers today, he said, "A lot of the conditions are the same: Low wages, wage theft, unsafe conditions, working with chemicals with no respect and dignity, and no organized effort to try to fight back."

Murrow opened his documentary with the scene of a "shape up," in which labor contractors hawk available jobs. Temp agencies today use a similar system that researchers have called a "modern-day shape up." Temp workers stand on street corners or arrive at agency hiring halls as early as 4 a.m. so the agency's dispatchers can round up enough to fill an order. In New Brunswick, one agency operated for a while out of a neon-lit beauty salon.

One morning last year, in Little Village, Chicago, workers lined up in an alleyway behind a dentist clinic and a shop selling quinceañer adresses. They knew little of where they were going to work, except that everyone called it los peluches— Spanish for stuffed animals — and that a guy named "Rigo" told them there was work. After following the bus, I discovered the warehouse was run by Ty Inc., one of the largest makers of stuffed animals in the world.

Rigo, whose full name is Rigoberto Aguilar, was what's known in Little Village as a raitero, a Spanglish invention that roughly means "a person who gives rides." But raiteros do more than that, essentially serving as immigrant labor brokers for the temp agencies. They recruit the workers, often charging them to apply for the job; then round up the workers in the predawn hours, charging them for the obligatory ride to the warehouse or factory. At the end of the week, the raiteros pick up the workers' paychecks from the agencies and bring them to check-cashing stores, where workers are charged to cash them. If they don't have the money for the ride, dozens of workers said, they don't get their paychecks.

In "Harvest of Shame," the farm laborers had similar brokers known as "crew leaders," who skimmed money from workers' wages.

After ProPublica published a story on the raiteros in Chicago, some temp agencies there stopped using them and started providing free transportation for the workers. Many agencies stopped giving the paychecks to the raiteros — although others continue to operate as they have for years.The Illinois and federal labor departments have launched a joint initiative to investigate issues temp workers face on the job, and have since opened investigations into three temp agencies for issues involving the transportation of workers.

Raiteros, however, are barely better off than temp workers. When I knocked on Aguilar's door one Friday night, he was holding his infant son. He was renting an apartment not much bigger than what the workers have, with peeling paint and mold in the bathroom. He spoke of his own struggles to make ends meet. At one point, his adult son Victor grew angry as we talked about how the temp agency deals with his father.

"They don't want to pay him," his son said. "They have all the people come here. They don't care. Screw you. You take the people. You give them the ride and you charge the fee. We don't want to have anything to do with you."

Here again, the past mirrors the present. Officials at temp agencies and the third-party warehouses told me they are squeezed by the retailers and big-name brands at the top of the supply chain. When workers are killed or don't receive their pay, those companies deny knowledge or responsibility, directing blame at the temp agencies at the bottom.

Such was the case with migrant farmworkers. A farmer told Murrow's correspondent that he was "trapped between what society expects and his market demands." He, too, pointed to the supermarket chains at the top for demanding a price that didn't allow him to improve the poor working conditions.

In "Harvest of Shame," the farmworkers traveled in buses and packed into the backs of trucks. Today, temp workers travel in buses and pack into vans. Workers say the drivers sometimes carry 22 people in a 15-passenger van.

They sit on the wheel wells, in the trunk space, or on milk crates. Female workers complain that they are forced sit on the laps of men they do not know. Sometimes, workers must lie on the floor, the other passengers' feet on top of them.

As before, the products change by the season. But now, instead of picking strawberries, tomatoes and corn, the temp workers pack chocolates for Valentine's Day, barbecue grills for Memorial Day, turkey pans for Thanksgiving, and clothing and toys for Christmas.

Back then, the farms provided housing, often shacks with shoddy bunk beds. Temp workers rent rooms in rundown houses, sometimes in a basement or attic with not much space other than for a bed. It is not uncommon to find a different family in every room. Rosa Ramirez, a 50-year-old temp worker, rents the living room of an old boarding house in Elgin, Ill. There is a cheap mattress on the floor, and a sheet blocks the French doors that separate her room from the hallway. A trap by her door guards against the rats that have woken her up at night.

"Harvest of Shame" reported that migrant farmworkers in 1960 worked 136 days of the year and earned just $900 — $7,087 in today's dollars. Many temp workers struggle to find steady work. In 2010, a good year in which she wasn't out for an injury, Ramirez earned $6,549, according to tax forms she provided.

One of the most memorable scenes in "Harvest of Shame" comes when the correspondent asks the mother of a migrant family, "What is an average dinner for the family?" Surrounded by her children, she replies, "Well, I cook a pot of beans and fry some potatoes."

Remembering this scene, I began asking the temp workers I met the same question. A conversation with one Chicago man, whose family shares an attic with another family, underscored how very little things have changed. "Frijoles y algunas papitas," he said.

Beans and potatoes.

 


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Featured Photo: Valerie Everett/CC/Fickr

Devaluing Work and Workers

(Photo via Fight for 15)

The Great Recession leveled a blow to the middle and working classes from which they haven’t yet recovered.

Given that labor’s pay and prestige in America peaked in the 1960s, this isn’t exactly new. Still, it’s time that all our leaders took this challenge more seriously. After all, we don’t just have the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer anymore. The middle is collapsing.

Between 2000 and 2011, the U.S. economy, at least as Wall Street and the federal government measure it, grew nearly 20 percent after adjusting for inflation. Meanwhile, median income in working-age American households sank by 12.4 percent and had dipped below inflation-adjusted 1994 levels, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Collins Hourly Wage for Labor remains Stagnant

What are some of the forces driving the devaluation of work and workers?

For starters, U.S. employers have shipped millions of jobs abroad or replaced them with technology.

Many of the jobs that stayed stateside without being relegated to robots were stripped of labor protections by relocating factory work to non-union states in the South. Public unions everywhere have fallen prey to a concerted Republican attack like the one Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker launched a few years back.

Those are just a few forces behind the shortchanging of America’s workforce.

There’s also the decline of full-time employment and the rise of a gig economy dominated by precarious part-time and temporary jobs.

This goes far beyond the realm of handymen and graphic designers. With the advent of the Affordable Care Act, even some city governments are paring back hours for their part-timers to less than 30 each week to dodge the obligation of providing them with health insurance. Three-quarters of college instruction is delivered by part-time staff, many of whom earn a pittance despite skyrocketing tuition costs.

And the minimum wage is too skimpy. The federal rate of $7.25 an hour isn’t enough to keep someone working full-time who has at least one dependent above the poverty line. The $10.10-an-hour fix President Barack Obama favors would mark a step in the right direction and it’s good that many states are doing better than that.

But all American minimum-wage workers deserve a raise of the kind that Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has just signed into law.

No one “should play by the rules, work 16-hour days and still be raising their children in poverty,” is how he put it.

Can you guess which kinds of jobs have the best growth potential? Most are low-paid, such as retail clerks, health aides, and food workers. Nurses are the only category with both decent salary and healthy employment prospects, so it’s a shame that so many hospitals are importing theirs from Asia.

Yet another reason for worker (and retiree) impoverishment is the decline in retirement plans. Private and public sector employers alike have long refused to adequately fund the plans they had already negotiated, leading to the collapse of many programs and the retrenchment of others. The golden years have become tarnished, and more retirees are now living with their kids, or vice versa.

What happened? For one thing, employers got better at lobbying against their own current and former workers.

Plus, the propaganda wars against unions and supposed shiftless slackers have succeeded. Profits, not people, have become the centerpiece of American culture. The Republican Party is leading the charge while most of the Democratic Party tags along.

There’s a bit of hope now, with heroic fights to raise the standard and tipped-minimum wages, guarantee a right to paid sick days, strengthen workplace rules, and enforce the right to organize unions.

But aggressively corporate-friendly trade deals, worker-replacing technology, and rampant union-busting are setting up an even bloodier war on labor.

Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies @ESGrecoOtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut. OtherWords.org. This article originally published by OtherWords.