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President Obama Reelected—But Where Is the Pathway to Good Jobs?

2:15 pm in Uncategorized by Amy B. Dean

With Barack Obama’s reelection last night, we witnessed the labor movement once again, as in every successful Democratic presidential race in recent decades, saving the president. Its ground troops and financial backing provided the bulwark to shore up Obama’s lead against Romney. By aiding in Obama’s victory, unions helped avert the crisis that the election of Romney/Ryan would have represented—an attack not only on organized labor, but on women’s rights and the whole of the social safety net.

But what, in terms of a positive agenda, should working people expect that’s different from when President Obama was first elected? After the election of the last two Democratic presidents, organized labor had a clear legislative priority to hand to the successful candidate—the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) in the case of Obama’s first term, and a proposed ban on striker replacement in the case of President Clinton. In both cases, labor waited for the White House to lead on those issues, and that never happened. Neither EFCA nor the striker replacement ban came to pass.

This time around, labor does not have a single marquee piece of legislation that it is rallying around. We already know that any worker-friendly legislation that the White House advances will certainly face a blockade from Congressional Republicans. But that’s no excuse for the president to neglect using the bully pulpit to stand in defense of the rights of working people.

This is not a question of transactional politics. It’s not an issue of President Obama showing appreciation to labor for helping with his reelection. The need to revive the right to collective bargaining is important for a far more fundamental reason: without strengthening the ability of workers to negotiate for living-wage jobs, President Obama’s vows to restore the American middle class have little chance of being fulfilled.

Voters affirmed that the message presented by the Obama campaign was correct: the administration had inherited an economic mess, and under Obama’s presidency we have begun a recovery; it’s not moving fast enough, but the administration has put us on the right path. A Republican win would have destroyed any hope of achieving a true recovery for the 99 percent.

While that message is valid, Obama hasn’t provided an answer for how to make sure that new jobs that are being created in the economy are good jobs. In fact, the evidence is that the preponderance of jobs being created in the recovery do not support a middle-class standard of living. The National Employment Law Project’s report from August of this year, entitled The Low Wage Recovery and Growing Inequality, found that, during the recession, low-wage jobs grew 2.7 times as fast as middle- and high-wage jobs together. A total of 58 percent of the jobs created were low-wage jobs.

It’s not just the latest recession that has resulted in the loss of good jobs: the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) published a report in July that estimated that, since 1979, the economy has lost about one-third (28 to 38 percent) of its capacity to generate good jobs. One look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ list of the top thirty fastest-growing occupations bears out CEPR’s observation: a majority of the jobs listed pay less than $50,000 per year.

In the end, the only path to making new jobs into good jobs is to restore and support workers’ collective bargaining rights.

The reason our country has so often gotten itself into the position of being stuck in low-wage recoveries is that no president has taken on the issue of making the right to bargain collectively legal again in this country. If Obama does not address this in his second term, his administration will continue to watch the majority of Americans experience economic hardship.

The key issue for the president’s second term will be whether he understands that the health of our democracy has depended on having an enfranchised middle class, something that was built through collective bargaining and cannot be restored in its absence. If President Obama fails to recognize the stakes, the stated goals of his economic agenda—the creation of good jobs and the rescue of the American middle class—will be perpetually out of reach.

Four years ago, candidate Obama made a commitment to stand shoulder to shoulder with working people if their rights were ever threatened. That time has come. America’s working and middle class is in a fight for its life. The only question that remains in Obama’s second term, given that legislative remedies are not available, is whether America will see the president send a message by walking the picket lines and being an unabashed public spokesperson for workers’ rights.

Originally posted on The Century Foundation.

Rooting Out the Fake Job Creators

5:42 pm in Uncategorized by Amy B. Dean

Without serious accountability, the rallying cry for more “job creation” is likely to amount to nothing more than empty rhetoric.

Rahm Emanuel

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Ed Gillespie, a senior adviser to Mitt Romney, recently declared on Face the Nation that that President Barack Obama “is hostile to job creators,” reciting a standard Republican canard.

Especially since movements such as Occupy Wall Street began shining a spotlight on inequality, right-wingers have tried to rhetorically position the rich as engines of economic progress. However, the tired policies of trickle-down tax cuts don’t boost jobs.

For their part, liberals are advocating a new wave of spending to stimulate the economy. Yet, given a hostile Congress deep into election-year politicking, a jobs plan reliant on expanding government outlays is dead in the water. To bring much-needed relief to an ailing job market, we need a different solution.

Here’s one step we can take immediately that should command broad support across the political spectrum. Why not demand accountability for the public support we’re already doling out to companies large and small?

The watchdog group Good Jobs First recently reported that taxpayers currently spend $70 billion per year on business incentives. In return for tax breaks and other subsidies, companies routinely make big promises about the number of jobs they will create.

Sounds great. But there’s rarely any follow-up. We don’t know if these companies are keeping their promises, and they have few incentives to do so.

“Many states fail to even verify that companies receiving subsidies are meeting their job-creation goals and other commitments, and many more have weak penalty policies for addressing non-compliance,” wrote Michelle Lee of Good Jobs First upon the report’s release.

Many people argue that government should be run more like a business. But what company would enact policies that hugely affected its revenue stream without making sure it was getting a worthwhile return on its investment?

Any spending that’s supposed to generate new jobs should hinge on accountability. If a business promises to generate 1,000 new jobs in return for a public subsidy, our states and localities should demand that money back if the jobs never materialize.

Fortunately, we’re seeing some progress in this direction. In its $15-million program providing cash grants to companies that create jobs, Vermont included measures to get its money back from supported businesses if promised jobs don’t materialize. The state will publish online the names and penalties incurred by any companies failing to meet their obligations.

North Carolina and Virginia both have subsidy programs that carefully track grants, and companies must return tax dollars if they don’t prove that the public benefitted from them. Iowa, Oklahoma, and Maryland are also taking commendable steps to ensure accountability.

In other cases, investigative journalists and public interest activists are picking up the slack. They’re holding companies accountable on the public stage for job promises not kept.

One hopeful example has emerged over the past year in Chicago. There, diligent reporters at the Chicago Reader, along with advocates at the Illinois Public Interest Research Group, worked to expose a program known as tax increment financing. Half a billion dollars raised through property taxes were sent annually to fund this program, originally designed to help struggling neighborhoods attract investment that would spur economic development. But in practice, the program became an unaccountable slush fund.

Shamed by the exposé, three businesses — Bank of America, the insurance company CNA Group, and a financial exchange company called the CME Group — announced that they would give back a total of $34 million that the city of Chicago had paid in subsidies. In the case of the first two groups, the businesses had promised — and failed to deliver — a total of 2,700 jobs as a condition for public support.

Additionally, the uproar compelled Mayor Rahm Emanuel to announce reforms to that program, including outside auditing of whether businesses receiving public subsidies were actually meeting job-creation pledges.

Republicans can call for corporate tax breaks and Democrats for public funding to generate jobs. But unless we’re all calling for serious accountability, the rallying cry for more “job creation” is likely to amount to nothing more than empty rhetoric.

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This commentary was distributed by, and cross-posted at, Otherwords.org.

Photo published under Creative Commons license courtesy of Talk Radio News Service

Why are working people invisible in the mainstream media? My interview with Barbara Ehrenreich

8:43 am in Uncategorized by Amy B. Dean

This interview is reposted from Truthout.

Barbara Ehrenreich

Barbara Ehrenreich (Photo: David Shankbone / Flickr)

Best-selling author Barbara Ehrenreich – probably best known for her 2001 book “Nickel and Dimed” – has long been on the forefront of promoting stories about working people in an often hostile media environment. Recently, she has been heading the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. An endeavor inspired in part by the Federal Writers Project of the 1930s, the initiative aims “to force this country’s crisis of poverty and economic insecurity to the center of the national conversation.”

I spoke with Ehrenreich about this crisis of economic insecurity, about the invisibility of working people in the mainstream media, and about the current state of journalism.

That working people are chronically underrepresented in the media – even in times of economic downturn – is a sad reality readily apparent to anyone who has surveyed the American news landscape. Given this, I asked Ehrenreich if she thought this problem has been a constant, or if has it gotten worse in recent years.

“It’s always been something of a problem,” she said, “for two reasons. The first reason I discovered in my years as a freelance writer in the 1980s and 90s. That is: magazines and newspapers want to please their advertisers. Their advertisers want to think they are reaching wealthy people, people who will buy the products. They don’t want really depressing articles about misery and hardship near their ads.”

“The other reason is that typically the gatekeepers in these media outlets, the top editors and producers, have been from a social class quite far removed from what we are talking about. They have no clue. I found that this could be very, very dispiriting.”

“I remember pitching a story to an editor in the 1980s. It had something to do with working-class men. The editor said, ‘Well, can they talk?’”

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