ISSUE BRIEF: This Month in Economic Justice

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Economic Justice

Every Friday, PRA brings you a monthly update on a different social justice issue. This week, we are recapping the last month in Economic Justice.

Wisconsin Judge Rules In Favor of Unions, Holds WERC in Contempt of Court
A Madison judge found the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission in contempt of court for enforcing provisions of the collective bargaining restrictions signed into law by Governor Scott Walker in 2011 that had previously been ruled unconstitutional. The Judge also issued an injunction which barred any future attempts to enforce these restrictions on any union in the state. The WERC was in the process of preparing certificate elections for over 400 school district worker unions to take place in November. The commission had claimed the previous ruling had only applied to unions in Madison and Milwaukee, giving them the right to enforce the restrictions across the rest of the state. In his decision on Monday, Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas ruled that his previous decision in 2012 had already wiped the provisions from existence. School districts are free to once again negotiate wages, hours, vacation, and workplace conditions. Judge Calos  also scolded the WERC for “conduct [that] was nothing more than an attempt to elude the application of a judgment the commissioners knew full well applied.”

Income Gap Rises to Highest Levels in Over a Century
Over the past few decades, the income gap between the richest and poorest Americans has continuously increased. Now, the gap has reached its highest level in the past 100 years.The L.A Times reported in September that between 1993 and 2012, the real incomes of the wealthiest Americans grew 86.1 percent, while the bottom 99 percent of wage earners only grew 6.6 percent. These statistics come from an examination of IRS data by economists at UC Berkely, the Paris School of Economics, and Oxford University. The study attributes the cause of the increasing income gap not only to technological advancements and outsourcing, but to the reduced power of progressive tax policies, along with “changing social norms regarding pay inequality.”

Coalition of Immokalee Workers Honored for Protecting Rights of Laborers
On October 16th, The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) were honored at the Four Freedoms Awards ceremony, an annual event hosted by the Roosevelt Institute. The award honors individuals and groups that “exemplify Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s vision of Democracy outlined in his famous January 14th, 1941 address”, remembered as the “Four Freedoms Speech”. The group joins past recipients such as Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, Elie Wiesel, the Dalai Lama,  and Bill and Hillary Clinton. The CIW is a worker-based human rights organization which began in 1993. They are a non-hierarchical organization which uses grassroots organizing to advocate for economic justice and labor reforms. They are most known for their Campaign for Fair Food program, which sets to “educates consumers on the issue of farm labor exploitation and forges alliances between farm workers and consumers in an effort to enlist the market power of major corporate buyers to help end that exploitation”. Through the campaign, they have successfully negotiated fair food agreements with food retailers such as McDonald’s, Whole Foods, Sodexo, and Subway to establish more humane labor standards for farm workers.

Young Children of Color in the U.S Face “Crisis Levels of Poverty”
The most recent Census Bureau data shows 42 percent of African-American children and 37 percent of Latino children under the age of 5 live under the poverty line. Growing up in poverty adds extensive physical and mental stress on young children during their most cognitive years, and affects future educational and health outcomes. These numbers are further troubling, as conservatives in Congress just finished reducing federal spending on children, with  $4.2 billion in sequester cuts to children services in 2013. Adding more salt to the wound, the bipartisan organization Family First is reporting that “Congress is considering a budget plan that would lock in or deepen these cuts for next year.”

Job Market Slowly Improves
The jobs report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the month of September was released on October 22nd. Originally scheduled for October 4th, the report was delayed by the 16 day shutdown of the federal government. Though the economy added 148,000 jobs and unemployment hit a five-year low, the economy did not progress at a desired rate. The findings suggest that employers may have held back on hiring new workers in lieu of the potential government shutdown. Economists estimate the federal shutdown cut $25 billion from the U.S economy, which helped slow economic growth to about 2 percent for the current quarter.

Long-term Unemployment Reaches Highest Rate in Over 60 Years
Though there has been a steady (if sluggish) improvement in employment , the job reports do not factor in unemployed Americans who have given up searching for a job. The percentage of Americans looking for work remains at a 35-year low, as the recession continues to discourage people to look for jobs. Zach Mcdade and Austin Nicholls of the Urban Institute reported in September that “4.2 million Americans—37 percent of the unemployed—have been jobless for longer than six months, the highest rate by far in the last sixty years.” They note the relationship between long-term unemployment and poverty, where the long-term unemployed are more likely to be poor, and the longer a person is unemployed, the harder it becomes for them to find work.

Annual World Food Day Brings Awareness to Global Hunger
On October 16th, activist groups around the world participated in World Food Day. Held on the anniversary of the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, the campaign aims to mobilize advocates to raise awareness, educate, and call for action to end global hunger. The day is observed to “create solidarity among groups working to end hunger and to educate thousands of people, young and old, about the roots of global hunger and the multi-faceted approaches to end it.” Over 450 organizations have taken part in World Food Day, highlighting effective methods of food security and the challenges facing world hunger. One of the central features of World Food Day is their annual teleconference, featuring world leaders and experts in economics, human rights, nutrition, and agriculture.

Study Finds Majority of U.S Fast-Food Workers Require Public Assistance
At the end of August, fast-food workers across the country went on strike, claiming their current median wage of $8.94 dollars per hours was unlivable and simultaneously demanding a wage increase to $15 dollars per hour. An October 15th report by Reuters, using data by the U.S Census Bureau, shows 52 percent of fast-food cooks, cashiers, and other front line staff had relied on at least one form of public assistance from 2007 to 2011. These public assistance programs include Medicaid, food stamps (SNAP), and the Earned Income Tax Credit. In a concurrent report using the same data, the National Employment Law Project found  “the 10 largest fast-food companies in the United States cost taxpayers more than $3.8 billion each year in public assistance.” These companies are placing the burden of providing for their employees on the taxpayers, rather than paying them a livable wage for their service.

State Legislators In Ohio Sue to Prevent Medicaid Expansion
This past Monday, the state legislative board of Ohio approved a request by Governor John Kasich to fund the Medicaid Expansion program under the Affordable Care Act. By Tuesday morning, six Republican state legislators had filed a lawsuit to halt the expansion. The lawsuit calls for the state to reject the proposal, and prohibits the state department from receiving funds from the expansion. The expansion provides Medicaid coverage to uninsured residents in the states who choose to participate, whose earnings are at or lower than 138 percent over the federal poverty level. Set to begin in January 2014, the expansion is 100 percent federally funded for the first three years (free to the states), after which federal funding slowly decreases down to 90 percent in 2020. Despite the extremely low costs to states and the opportunity to provide their most vulnerable citizens with health coverage, 22 states have declined to participate in the expansion, leaving 5.2 million Americans without insurance who would have qualified under the expansion.

Bleak Findings on “Poverty Day”
On September 17th, the U.S Census Bureau released their annual data report on poverty, or as thenation.com contributor Greg Kaufmann refers to it, “poverty day”. Kaufmann argues the biggest takeaway is not in the data itself. Rather, the overlying issue surrounding poverty in America is that “we’ve long known what to do to take the next steps in the fight against poverty, and we still know what to do to take the next steps in the fight against poverty. But we’re not doing it.” Previous reports by the Census Bureau have highlighted the potential methods of combating poverty in the United States. But the findings show they have been continuously neglected. The percentage of Americans living in poverty remains at 15 percent (over 45 million Americans living on less than $18,000 for a family of three annually). This includes 22 percent of all children, 27 percent of African-Americans, 25 percent of Latinos, and 28 percent of Americans living with disabilities. The issue goes beyond missed opportunities to create effective policy, as “we now face a Congress poised to make matters worse for those who are faring the worst in our economy.” The Congressional Budget Office estimates the cuts set by the sequester will cost over 900,000 American jobs by the third quarter of 2014. Beginning in November, there will be cuts to food stamp (SNAP) benefits which will effect 22 million children. And then there is the recent House vote to cut an additional $40 billion to nutritional supplement benefits in September.

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