“Worsening Jobs Crisis”: America’s Middle Class Is Burning To The Ground, While Washington Fiddles With Scandal Nonsense
At last, some excellent economic news for folks long-mired in the stagnant labor market!
At least, those were the headlines recently trumpeted across the country. “Jobs Spring Back,” exclaimed a typical headline or report that companies added a better than expected 165,000 private-sector jobs in April. Wow — the thunderous, three-year boom of prosperity that has rained riches on Wall Street is finally beginning to shower on our streets, right?
Well, as dry-land farmers can tell you, thunder ain’t rain. Read beneath the joyful headlines hailing April’s uptick in job numbers, and you’ll see the parched truth.
For example, more than a third of working-age Americans are either out of work or have given up on finding a job. Also, last month’s hiring increase was almost entirely for receptionists, waiters, clerks, temp workers, car-rental agents and other low-wage positions with no benefits or upwardly mobile possibilities. On the other hand, manufacturing — generally the source of good, middle-class jobs — did not add workers in April and has cut some 10,000 jobs in the last year.
Especially problematic was the continued rise in underemployment — people wanting full-time work, but having to take part-time and temporary jobs. Underemployment is also pounding college graduates. While they’ve been more successful than non-grads at landing jobs, they’re not getting jobs that fit their career goals or even require the degrees they spent money and time to obtain. Indeed, many of those rental agents and restaurant employees you encounter hold four-year degrees, forcing everyone else to scramble for the few, even lower-paid jobs further down the skill ladder.
Meanwhile, the next graduating class is already beginning to flood into the labor market from colleges and high schools with nowhere to go.
In May, another headline shouted: “Stock Market Soars.” It expressed delight that the Dow Jones Average topped 15,000 for the first time in its history.
Yet this index of Wall Street wealth gives a totally false picture of our nation’s true economic health. Yes, the privileged few are doing extremely well. But the workaday many are struggling — and falling further and further behind as the jobs market sinks steadily from mere recession down into depression.
The monthly unemployment reports don’t tell the depths of misery that’s out here in the real world, beyond the view of Wall Street and Washington elites. For example, President Obama hailed the news that unemployment dipped to 7.5 percent in April. Unstated, though, was the stark reality that this good-news dip was not due to a jump in job offerings, but to a bad-news labor market so weak and discouraging that more and more Americans are dropping out of it or never entering it.
More than a third of our working-age population is no longer even in the job market, and only 58.6 percent of us are employed. Put the opposite way, 41 percent of the potential workforce is not working — about 102 million people. One more statistic, and it’s a chiller: More than one out of five American families report that, last year, not a single family member had a job.
Our people are trapped in a jobs crisis that is sucking the economic vitality out of our nation, but our leaders refuse even to acknowledge it, much less cope with it. In fact, corporate chieftains are deliberately exacerbating the crisis by hoarding trillions of dollars that ought to be rushed into job-creating expansions, and politicians keep adding to the casualties by gleefully eliminating the middle-class jobs of hundreds of thousands of teachers, firefighters, police and other valuable public employees.
America’s middle class is burning to the ground, while Washington fiddles with nonsense and Wall Street feathers its own nest. It’s disgraceful.
By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, May 15, 2013
The West, Texas chemical and fertilizer plant where at least 15 were killed and more than 200 injured a few weeks ago hadn’t been fully inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration since 1985. (A partial inspection in 2011 had resulted in $5,250 in fines.)
OSHA and its state partners have a total of 2,200 inspectors charged with ensuring the safety of over more than 8 million workplaces employing 130 million workers. That comes to about one inspector for every 59,000 American workers.
There’s no way it can do its job with so few resources, but OSHA has been systematically hollowed out for years under Republican administrations and congresses that have despised the agency since its inception.
In effect, much of our nation’s worker safety laws and rules have been quietly repealed because there aren’t enough inspectors to enforce them.
That’s been the Republican strategy in general: When they can’t directly repeal laws they don’t like, they repeal them indirectly by hollowing them out — denying funds to fully implement them, and reducing funds to enforce them.
Consider taxes. Republicans have been unable to round up enough votes to cut taxes on big corporations and the wealthy as much as they’d like, so what do they do? They’re hollowing out the IRS. As they cut its enforcement budget – presto! — tax collections decline.
Despite an increasing number of billionaires and multi-millionaires using every tax dodge imaginable – laundering their money through phantom corporations and tax havens (Remember Mitt’s tax returns?) — the IRS’s budget has been cut by 17 percent since 2002, adjusted for inflation.
To manage the $594.5 million in additional cuts required by the sequester, the agency has announced it will furlough each of its more than 89,000 employees for at least five days this year.
This budget stinginess doesn’t save the government money. Quite the opposite. Less IRS enforcement means less revenue. It’s been estimated that every dollar invested in the IRS’s enforcement, modernization and management system, reduces the federal budget deficit by $200, and that furloughing 1,800 IRS “policemen” will cost the Treasury $4.5 billion in lost revenue.
But congressional Republicans aren’t interested in more revenue. Their goal is to cut taxes on big corporations and the wealthy.
Representative Charles Boustany, the Louisiana Republican who heads the House subcommittee overseeing the IRS, says the IRS sequester cuts should stay in force. He calls for an overhaul of the tax code instead.
In a similar manner, congressional Republicans and their patrons on Wall Street who opposed the Dodd-Frank financial reform law have been hollowing out the law by making sure agencies charged with implementing it don’t have the funds they need to do the job.
As a result, much of Dodd-Frank – including the so-called “Volcker Rule” restrictions on the kind of derivatives trading that got the Street into trouble in the first place – is still on the drawing boards.
Perhaps more than any other law, Republicans hate the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Yet despite holding more than 33 votes to repeal it, they still haven’t succeeded.
So what do they do? Try to hollow it out. Congressional Republicans have repeatedly denied funding requests to implement Obamacare, leaving Health and Human Services (the agency charged with designing the rules under the Act and enforcing them) so shorthanded it has to delay much of it.
Even before the sequester, the agency was running on the same budget it had before Obamacare was enacted. Now it’s lost billions more.
A new insurance marketplace specifically for small business, for example, was supposed to be up and running in January. But officials now say it won’t be available until 2015 in the 33 states where the federal government will be running insurance markets known as exchanges.
This is a potentially large blow to Obamacare’s political support. A major selling point for the legislation had been providing affordable health insurance to small businesses and their employees.
Yes, and eroding political support is exactly what congressional Republicans want. They fear that Obamacare, once fully implemented, will be too popular to dismantle. So they’re out to delay it as long as possible while keeping up a drumbeat about its flaws.
Repealing laws by hollowing them out — failing to fund their enforcement or implementation — works because the public doesn’t know it’s happening. Enactment of a law attracts attention; de-funding it doesn’t.
The strategy also seems to bolster the Republican view that government is incompetent. If government can’t do what it’s supposed to do – keep workplaces safe, ensure that the rich pay taxes they owe, protect small investors, implement Obamacare – why give it any additional responsibility?
The public doesn’t know the real reason why the government isn’t doing its job is it’s being hollowed out.
By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, May 4, 2013
Corporations are obligated to disclose how much their CEOs earn compared to the average worker, thanks to Section 953(b) of the financial reforms of 2010 known as Dodd-Frank.
However, three years after that bill became law, some of the nation’s largest corporations are battling regulators to prevent such disclosure, according to Bloomberg.
“The fact that corporate executives wouldn’t want to display the number speaks volumes,” said Phil Angelides, who was the chairman of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which investigated the collapse that led to the Great Recession.
Angelides says that the attempt to block this provision is just one example of the “street-by-street, block-by-block fight” that corporations and Wall Street are waging against implementation of the modest reform package that passed only after it was weakened to garner Republican support in the Senate.
Groups including the American Insurance Association, Business Roundtable, National Investor Relations Institute, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have petitioned the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), making the argument that “it is unclear how the pay ratio disclosure will be material for the reasonable investor when making investment decisions.” They claim that calculating such ratios is time consuming and almost impossible for multinational corporations.
Without obligated disclosure, there’s no clear way to assess CEO-to-worker ratio. In 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported large-company CEO compensation was 319 times the median worker’s pay. Currently the average multiple of CEOs to a typical worker is 204 — up 20 percent since 2009, according to statistics collected from workers’ compensation estimates.
Bloomberg‘s Elliot Blair Smith and Phil Kuntz point to Ron Johnson, the recently ousted CEO of J.C. Penney, who earned a whopping 1,795 times what a typical $8.30-an-hour JCP salesperson took home.
The AFL-CIO has been attempting to counter the corporate lobbying with an effort to make the SEC put in place what is already law.
“The impact of high levels of CEO pay on employee morale is particularly important in today’s weak economy, when workers are being asked to do more for less,” suggests an online petition it is circulating to pass on to the government regulators.
“Estimates by academics and trade-union groups put the number at 20-to-1 in the 1950s, rising to 42-to-1 in 1980 and 120-to-1 by 2000,” Smith and Kuntz write.
Even if corporations are forced to disclose how much their top executive is paid, there are a variety of ways for them to cloak compensation.
Still the Campaign for America’s future calls enforcing Section 953(b) a crucial test for new SEC chair Mary Jo White to find out if she’ll be a “watchdog or a lap dog for Wall Street.”
By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, May 2, 2013
We’re still legislating and regulating private morality, while at the same time ignoring the much larger crisis of public morality in America.
In recent weeks Republican state legislators have decided to thwart the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in “Roe v. Wade,” which gave women the right to have an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, usually around 24 weeks into pregnancy.
Legislators in North Dakota passed a bill banning abortions after six weeks or after a fetal heart beat had been detected, and approved a fall referendum that would ban all abortions by defining human life as beginning with conception. Lawmakers in Arkansas have banned abortions within twelve weeks of conception.
The morality brigade worries about fetuses, but not what happens to children after they’re born. They and other conservatives have been cutting funding for child nutrition, healthcare for infants and their mothers, and schools.
The new House Republican budget gets a big chunk of its savings from programs designed to help poor kids. The budget sequester already in effect takes aim at programs like Head Start, designed to improve the life chances of disadvantaged children.
Meanwhile, the morality brigade continues to battle same-sex marriage.
Despite the Supreme Court’s willingness to consider the constitutionality of California’s ban, no one should assume a majority of the justices will strike it down. The Court could just as easily decide the issue is up to the states, or strike down California’s law while allowing other states to continue their bans.
Conservative moralists don’t want women to have control over their bodies or same-sex couples to marry, but they don’t give a hoot about billionaires taking over our democracy for personal gain or big bankers taking over our economy.
Yet these violations of public morality are far more dangerous to our society because they undermine the public trust that’s essential to both our democracy and economy.
Three years ago, at the behest of a right-wing group called “Citizen’s United,” the Supreme Court opened the floodgates to big money in politics by deciding corporations were “people” under the First Amendment.
A record $12 billion was spent on election campaigns in 2012, affecting all levels of government. Much of it came from billionaires like the Koch brothers and casino-magnate Sheldon Adelson —seeking fewer regulations, lower taxes, and weaker trade unions.
They didn’t entirely succeed but the billionaires established a beachhead for the midterm elections of 2014 and beyond.
Yet where is the morality brigade when it comes to these moves to take over our democracy?
Among the worst violators of public morality have been executives and traders on Wall Street.
Last week, JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s biggest bank, was found to have misled its shareholders and the public about its $6 billion “London Whale” losses in 2012.
This is the same JPMorgan that’s lead the charge against the Dodd-Frank Act, designed to protect the public from another Wall Street meltdown and taxpayer-funded bailout.
Lobbyists for the giant banks have been systematically taking the teeth out of Dodd-Frank, leaving nothing but the gums.
The so-called “Volcker Rule,” intended to prevent the banks from making risky bets with federally-insured commercial deposits – itself a watered-down version of the old Glass-Steagall Act – still hasn’t seen the light of day.
Last week, Republicans and Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee passed bills to weaken Dodd-Frank – expanding exemptions and allowing banks that do their derivative trading in other countries (i.e., JPMorgan) to avoid the new rules altogether.
Meanwhile, House Republicans voted to repeal the Dodd-Frank Act in its entirety, as part of their budget plan.
And still no major Wall Street executives have been held accountable for the wild betting that led to the near meltdown in 2008. Attorney General Eric Holder says the big banks are too big to prosecute.
Why doesn’t the morality brigade complain about the rampant greed on the Street that’s already brought the economy to its knees, wiping out the savings of millions of Americans and subjecting countless others to joblessness and insecurity — and seems set on doing it again?
What people do in their bedrooms shouldn’t be the public’s business. Women should have rights over their own bodies. Same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.
But what powerful people do in their boardrooms is the public’s business. Our democracy needs to be protected from the depredations of big money. Our economy needs to be guarded against the excesses of too-big-to-fail banks.
By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, March 25, 2013
Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown announced today that he’s joining the government affairs department of a giant multinational law firm with major Wall Street clients.
“Brown will focus his practice on business and governmental affairs as they relate to the financial services industry as well as on commercial real estate matters,” the firm, Nixon Peabody LLC, said in a press release. Brown will not be a lobbyist, the firm said, but whether he meets the specific legal requirements to be a registered lobbyist or not, it’s clear that he will draw on his contacts and status to help advance clients’ agenda in government. “He can offer many types of legal services to his broad network of contacts,” the firm said.
The head of the Nixon Peabody’s Government Relations practice is ex-New York congressman Tom Reynolds, who now lobbies for Goldman Sachs on “[f]inancial services regulatory and tax issues.” According to the firm, Brown will also work with fellow Massachusettsian Jim Vallee, who abruptly left his job as majority leader of the state House of Representatives last year after getting hired by the firm.
Nixon Peabody contributed $2,500 to a PAC associated with Brown’s reelection campaign last year, the most it gave to any candidate in the country (tied only with a Democratic House member).
Brown was a reliable ally of the financial services industry in the Senate, where he helped water down the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law and influence other bills of interest to banks. It was no surprise, considering how much money they threw at his campaigns. The Securities and Investment sector was the top industry donor to Brown’s 2012 campaign, giving him $3.2 million, on top of the millions he received from the insurance, real estate and finance industries, according to Open Secrets.
The move, however, is a blow to Massachusetts Republicans, who see Brown as their best — and possibly only — hope of retaking a Senate seat or winning the governor’s mansion. Perhaps Brown didn’t think he could win or perhaps he was more interested in cashing in.
It’s notable that Massachusetts voters have replaced Brown, who is now almost literally a Wall Street lobbyist, with Elizabeth Warren, one of the most outspoken critics of the finance industry in the country.
By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, March 11, 2013