“Essentially anywhere you go in the United States right now, you’re going to encounter “help wanted” signs. But just because a bar or restaurant or gas station wants a worker doesn’t mean a worker wants to work for them. The millions of jobs available aren’t necessarily millions of jobs people want.
“A lot of what people are seeing are low-paying jobs with unpredictable or not-worker-friendly scheduling practices, that don’t come with benefits, don’t come with long-term stability,” Shelly Steward, director of the Future of Work Initiative at the Aspen Institute, told Recode. “And those are not the types of jobs that any worker is eager to take on.””
“Tim Brackney, president and COO of management consulting firm RGP, refers to the current situation as the “great mismatch.” That mismatch refers to a number of things, including desires, experience, and skills. And part of the reason is that the skills necessary for a given job are changing faster than ever, as companies more frequently adopt new software.”
“This is all wrong. With reasonable design parameters, a welfare state does almost nothing to discourage core potential workers from working. And there’s nothing wrong with a situation in which the elderly, teenagers, parents of very young kids, and people with severe disabilities and their caretakers don’t work. A strong welfare state has big benefits for its recipients, and it helps stabilize the macroeconomy and prevent deep recessions. Last, but by no means least, a strong welfare state creates a situation where regulatory policy questions can be evaluated on the merits with the knowledge that people will be taken care of rather than used as a backdoor to support jobs and incomes.”
“America’s original cash welfare program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), suffered from very real design flaws that genuinely did discourage work. The best and most natural fix would have been to spend more on the program so benefits didn’t phase out so sharply. But congressional Republicans in the mid-1990s were determined to use the flaws in the program to all but eliminate cash welfare, and after a bit of hemming and hawing, Bill Clinton went along with it and claimed it as a victory. As Dylan Matthews details, that ended up being a disaster for the poorest Americans.
But it did achieve its political objective of opening up space for two other kinds of programs. On the one hand, you have cash assistance programs that are tied to work (Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit). On the other hand, you have programs — Medicaid, SNAP, Section 8 housing vouchers — that don’t require work but also don’t give you cash. There’s also TANF, which is a federal program that gives grants to states to help them organize a cash welfare system whose benefits are only temporary (that’s what the T stands for) and conditioned on finding work within two years. The states are given huge discretion on how to run this program, often using the money for things other than delivering cash benefits.
Then America also has a separate, much more generous welfare state for senior citizens — Social Security and Medicare — and there seems to be a social consensus that the elderly are deserving of help. Stuck somewhere in between are disability programs, which are formally part of the Social Security system but politically speaking seen as “welfare” programs in part because there are always questions about the rigor of the diagnostic criteria.”
“living in poverty — and especially growing up in poverty — has really bad impacts, and providing assistance can deliver useful long-term benefits.
A recent paper by Manasi Deshpande, for example, shows that when kids lose their SSI benefits, it has a negative long-term impact on their younger siblings’ earnings”
“This is a powerful finding because the younger sibling’s situation is not the target of the program. It’s simply showing that delivering extra financial resources to the family improves the kids’ long-term situation — better nutrition, more focus on school, whatever it is.
A study of the rollout of the SNAP program, similarly, shows that kids whose parents got benefits while they were in utero or up to age five ended up better educated, living in better neighborhoods, and less likely to be disabled as an adult than kids whose parents started getting the benefits when the kid was in their teens. The children also ended up less likely to receive social assistance programs themselves. All of these effects are modest in scale, but the impact on adult receipt of social assistance is large enough that SNAP “pays for itself” in fiscal terms separate from the benefits to the beneficiaries. SNAP benefit availability also appears to reduce obesity and reduce the number of days kids miss school due to illness.
A comprehensive study of one of America’s first cash welfare programs — mothers’ pensions — showed that women who got the benefits lived longer while their sons earned 20 percent more as adults and were less likely to be overweight (they couldn’t track daughters because of name-changing). By the same token, kids whose parents benefit from more generous EITC benefits have higher math scores and are more likely to graduate high school.”
“Medicaid expansion has saved over 20,000 lives since it was enacted. A study of a previous expansion in the 1980s showed that kids who grew up benefitting from expansion paid more in taxes and were less likely to need EITC benefits than those who did not benefit from that Medicaid expansion. A separate study shows that the grandchildren of women who benefitted from that expansion are less likely to have low birth weight. Those kids are not old enough to study adult outcomes yet, but we know that low birth weight kids are likely to have lower IQs and generally worse outcomes in terms of education and income.
Last but by no means least, kids whose families get housing assistance earn more as adults and “childhood participation in assisted housing also reduces the likelihood of adult incarceration for males and females from all household race/ethnicity groups.””
“The big problem with this patchwork of programs is that it’s so much a patchwork.
Eligibility rules and procedures vary by state. If you move, you might lose benefits which creates a significant disincentive to relocate even when doing so might have other major benefits. The cash programs phase in and phase out in an odd way that delivers too little assistance to the poorest while creating very steep marginal tax rates on somewhat higher-income families.
Social Security, by contrast, is really convenient. You can earn a living in New Jersey and take it with you to Florida when you retire. And the coverage is so broad that it even takes a bite out of child poverty thanks to kids who live with older parents or older relatives and kids who receive the benefit if one of their earning parents dies or becomes disabled.”
“And to the best of my knowledge, there’s no real magic to the means-testing programs. SNAP does a lot to help people and so does housing assistance and so does Medicaid, but basically all for the same reason that cash does — the money is fairly fungible and having more money is helpful.”
“”Using data from a nationally representative survey of older adults, we find that higher Social Security income significantly improves health outcomes among the elderly. Specifically, we find that increases in annual Social Security benefits led to significant improvements in functional limitations and cognitive function, and that the improvements in cognition function were larger for individuals with better cognition.””
“In practical terms, there’s nothing wrong with an incremental approach. We should keep fighting to expand Medicaid in the states that haven’t done it yet. We should try to pass Joe Biden’s proposal to make Section 8 vouchers available to everyone who qualifies. We should listen to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and put more money into TANF—it’s 40 percent smaller than it was when it was enacted merely because of inflation. We should also require that states actually use a large share of the grants for cash assistance, instead of for other vaguely-related-to-welfare stuff like abstinence programs.
But in bigger picture terms we ought to do what I advocate in my book One Billion Americans and create what’s basically Social Security for Parents — a truly universal cash allowance for parents of young kids. Michael Bennett and Sherrod Brown have a plan for a child allowance worth $300/month for kids under six and $250/month for kids under 17. It’s a great plan. To be even more ambitious, I would recommend they drop the means testing (theirs phases down to zero for married couples earning over $200,000) and add a one-time baby bonus payment (you could think of it as nine months’ worth of payments during pregnancy). And conceptually, I think you should probably consider eliminating SNAP, Section 8 housing assistance, and weird stuff like LIHEAP and instead just making monthly checks even bigger. You could also scrap the family size adjustment in EITC and turn it into a narrower wage subsidy.
What you’d definitely do is take away the tax code’s backdoor subsidies for parents and instead give middle class — and even wealthy — parents access to this same allowance that everyone gets.
This would massively reduce child poverty with all kinds of ancillary benefits for child development and long-term growth.”
“often spend so much time talking about the potential for robots to take our jobs that we fail to look at how they are already changing them — sometimes for the better, but sometimes not. New technologies can give corporations tools for monitoring, managing, and motivating their workforces, sometimes in ways that are harmful. The technology itself might not be innately nefarious, but it makes it easier for companies to maintain tight control on workers and squeeze and exploit them to maximize profits.
“The basic incentives of the system have always been there: employers wanting to maximize the value they get out of their workers while minimizing the cost of labor, the incentive to want to control and monitor and surveil their workers,” said Brian Chen, staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project (NELP). “And if technology allows them to do that more cheaply or more efficiently, well then of course they’re going to use technology to do that.”
Tracking software for remote workers, which saw a bump in sales at the start of the pandemic, can follow every second of a person’s workday in front of the computer. Delivery companies can use motion sensors to track their drivers’ every move, measure extra seconds, and ding drivers for falling short.
Automation hasn’t replaced all the workers in warehouses, but it has made work more intense, even dangerous, and changed how tightly workers are managed. Gig workers can find themselves at the whims of an app’s black-box algorithm that lets workers flood the app to compete with each other at a frantic pace for pay so low that how lucrative any given trip or job is can depend on the tip, leaving workers reliant on the generosity of an anonymous stranger. Worse, gig work means they’re doing their jobs without many typical labor protections.
In these circumstances, the robots aren’t taking jobs, they’re making jobs worse. Companies are automating away autonomy and putting profit-maximizing strategies on digital overdrive, turning work into a space with fewer carrots and more sticks.”
“In a speech on voting rights delivered on Friday, Attorney General Merrick Garland warned that “the dramatic increase in menacing and violent threats against all manner of state and local election workers” is a threat to the country’s democracy.
Garland is right to be concerned. A new survey released by the Brennan Center for Justice found that 17 percent of local election officials in the United States have faced threats because of their job. The same survey, which was released alongside a larger report by Brennan and the Bipartisan Policy Center on threats to America’s elections, found that nearly a third of these officials — 32 percent — have “felt unsafe because of [their] job as a local election official.”
The survey was conducted by Benenson Strategy Group, and it included interviews with 233 election officials “from across the country.”
The Brennan Center’s survey quantifies a phenomenon that appears to have emerged from former President Donald Trump’s conduct during the 2020 election, and his subsequent defeat in that election. Just hours before Garland pledged to prosecute individuals who target election officials in that same speech, Reuters published a long article cataloging some of the threats faced by election administrators and their families.”
“After an intensive, months-long election, only one-eighth of the workers at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama warehouse voted in favor of a union. More than twice as many voted against. Roughly half didn’t vote at all.
The election’s losers are incredulous that they could have fallen short on the merits. Challenges are already underway, accusing Amazon of unfair labor practices such as positioning a mailbox improperly. And to be sure, Amazon appears to have behaved obnoxiously, and perhaps even unlawfully in some instances.
But when nearly 6,000 workers have two months to cast ballots, and the union secures fewer than 750 “yes” votes, the idea that it has what workers want looks a bit ridiculous.”
“Workers have shown that they dislike the hyper-adversarialism and political activism that American unions bring into their workplaces but are eager for more representation, voice, and support than they can achieve individually. What they want, and need, is a middle ground that neither side is offering.
Research has borne this out. In a landmark 1994 survey, Harvard professor Richard Freeman and University of Wisconsin professor Joel Rogers asked more than 2,400 nonmanagement workers whether they would prefer representation by an organization that “management cooperated with in discussing issues, but had no power to make decisions” or by one “that had more power, but management opposed.” Workers preferred cooperation to an adversarial stance by 63 percent to 22 percent, a result that held even among active union members.
In 2017, MIT professor Thomas Kochan conducted a similar survey and found that interest in joining a union had grown and workers wanted a wide range of services that a union could provide to them, including: collective bargaining; health, unemployment, and training benefits; legal assistance; input into work processes; and representation in management decision-making. On the long menu of options, the two that stood out as making workers less likely to join are exact the ones that seem to get union activists most excited: politics and strikes.”
“April, who works at a pet shop in Minneapolis, makes $11.75 an hour. She loves her job, and it pays better than the federal minimum wage, but not by much. She and her partner get by. They still don’t make enough money to afford a car, but they can manage rent, their phones, and internet, and support their 12-year-old daughter.
Her partner lost his job as a body piercer when the pandemic hit. He went on unemployment insurance for a while, and he and April finally found health insurance through a public assistance program. It was more consistent income than they’d seen in quite some time. “We were able to get a little bit of extra money into our accounts for once. We weren’t going paycheck to paycheck for a while. That was wonderful,” April said. “I think a ton of people were finally out of the poverty level with that money.” Her partner has now found a different job that allows him to work from home.
Life is more or less fine, but April said it would be better if they made more. “We would be able to have a house like a normal family,” she added.
April and her family’s situation is quite normal: In 2019, about 39 million people made less than $15 an hour. When the pandemic hit, that number actually fell — not because people were making more but because low-wage workers became unemployed.”
““The fossil fuel industries were unionized in long struggles that were classic labor stories,” said University of Rhode Island labor historian Erik Loomis. “Now, they’re in decline and you have these new industries. But a green capitalist is still a capitalist, and they don’t want a union.”
About 4 percent of solar industry workers and 6 percent of wind workers are unionized, according to the 2020 US Energy and Employment Report. The percentage of unionized workers in natural gas, nuclear, and coal power plants is about double that, around 10 to 12 percent unionized (although still not a huge amount). In addition, transportation, distribution, and storage jobs — which exist largely in the fossil fuel sector — about 17 percent of the jobs are unionized. Still, the solar and wind unionization rates are in line with the albeit very low national rate of unionized workers in the private sector, which is about 6.3 percent.
This is one of the big reasons there’s a real hesitancy on the part of many unions and workers to transition from fossil fuel to renewable jobs: They are worried the jobs waiting for them in wind and solar won’t pay as well or have union protections. This has long been a tension point between environmental groups and labor”
“discouraged workers aren’t the only problem with the unemployment rate. In fact, these days the headline unemployment rate isn’t just an undercount, it actually paints an alternate reality that masks the degree to which low- and moderate-income people are hurting. As a result, policymakers believe these Americans are better off than they actually are.
There are two additional problems with the way we count people who are unemployed.
First, there’s no accounting for how many hours a part-time worker is working. By the BLS’ traditional definition, a handyman or private nurse who works for a single afternoon each week is counted in the headline national unemployment figure as “employed,” even if they want more work but can’t find it. Our unemployment figures make it look like the person working a handful of hours because that’s the only work they can get is just as “employed” as a full-time CEO. In practice, this means that the unemployment rate actively obscures how many workers are living in poverty in part not because they don’t have a job, but because they can’t get enough hours.
Second, the data doesn’t indicate whether the job a worker is doing pays enough to keep them out of poverty. The assumption implicit in the data is that if you’re “employed,” all should be well, but as the growing movement toward raising the minimum wage attests, it’s increasingly clear that many American workers are employed, often full-time, but still living in poverty.”
“even when the economy was purportedly at its peak before the pandemic, approximately a quarter of Americans looking for full-time work at a livable wage couldn’t find it. And then at the nation’s worst moment in nearly a century, that number jumped, showing that 32.4 percent of the workforce was out of luck.”
“The bottom line for too many Americans and for minorities in particular, is that for a long, long time, the American economy has not been performing as well as the headline unemployment rate suggests. And while that may be news to those living in comfortable neighborhoods and suburbs, it will not surprise those living in more downtrodden corners of many cities, let alone those who are living in places like the largely forgotten city where I grew up, York, Pa. Over the last several decades, as businesses including York Dental or York Air Conditioner have either closed facilities or scaled back, middle-class prosperity has become more of an impossible dream than an American Dream.
Washington, D.C., has failed to respond appropriately because the headline unemployment figures, particularly in good times, have given some policymakers of both parties license to embrace a narrative that in the absence of a crisis like the one we’re enduring today, our economic approach works fairly well.
We need an economic agenda born from the realization that the true unemployment picture is much worse than policymakers realize. A quarter of the workforce, including a disproportionate share of minority communities, can’t land a full-time job with a living wage even when the overall economy appears to be healthy. The window through which we view the economy matters. We’ve been using a broken measuring stick to keep track of our success.”