Key to any discussion of living wages and the social safety net (embracing such programs as the Earned Income Tax Credit, minimum wage laws, social security or child care subsidies) is a knowledge of how much money a person or family needs to maintain an acceptable standard of living. The Economic Policy Institute has issued an updated version of their wonderful tool for gaining insight into this critical question. The Cost-of-Living calculator will tell you how much income is needed to support anywhere from a single person to a family of 6, in any city or county in the country. Two major take-aways will occur to anyone who spends some time with the calculator: (1) the cost of living varies tremendously between different areas (mainly rural vs urban) and (2) in urban areas, current minimum wage laws and the EITC fall far short of providing a basic living for workers at the low end of the wage spectrum.
It may seem axiomatic that so-called "right to work" laws (union leaders like to call them "right to work for less" laws) would be bad for both workers and for the party that chiefly champions workers' concerns—Democrats. After all, the driving force behind these laws is the disempowerment of non-management labor. Now we have proof, in a study conducted by Boston and Columbia universities and the Brookings Institute, that when states pass "right to work" (for less) laws, Democratic voting share diminishes, as do the number of elected officials hailing from working-class backgrounds. Unions are a foundation of any working social democracy: those of us who want a fairer, saner, and more compassionate society must stand unequivocably for the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively.
March 8—The Accidental President has announced tariffs on imported steel and aluminum of 25 and 10 percent, respectively. The tariffs, essentially a tax on imports, will protect steel and aluminum producers from cheaper foreign products, while adding to the costs of manufacturers who use steel and aluminum in the products they make. These costs will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices for everything from canned goods to automobiles and appliances. Most economists consider such tariffs to be counterproductive, moreso when applied to our friend and allies, though some on the left favor protectionism for American manufacturers. The effect of the measure is rapidly being diluted, however, as the Acciental President announces one exemption after another: Canada and Mexico top exporters of metals to the U.S., have already been exempted, and other friendly nations are lined up for the same treatment. China, the bete noir of Trump's unfair trade narrative, accounts for only 3 percent of imported U.S. steel. The measure is looking more and more like standard Trump fare: an ill thought out gesture, capturing media attention, the chief purpose of which is to present the illusion (and what an illusion it is!) that the Accidental President is doing something purposeful.
In the wake of the Democratic Party's positive showing November elections, Jared Bernstein, former economic advisor to Vice President Joseph Biden, offers his prescription for a strong Democratic program going forward. In this WashingtonPost column, Bernstein suggests that direct job creation should form a key part of the Party's platform. If the government can bail out wealthy financial institutions when the economy goes south, Bernstein asks, why should it not come to the aid of the average citizen when globalization, digitalization and other forces beyond their control disrupt employment?
Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin takes to the editorial pages of the New York Times to make a case for a federal jobs program—a cause close the heart of The Social Democrat (see here) and a key plank of any serious social democratic platform. With everything from globalization to technological change to shifting demographics creating continual churn in the employment picture, American workers need mechanisms such as those promoted by Rubin to insure inclusion in the nation's economic life.
October 27, 2017—Will higher wages for service workers scuttle business viability? Apparently Target Corporation doesn't think so. Last month the retail behemoth announced that its wage floor will rise in increments to $15 by 2020, with the first phase, from $10 to $11, going into effect immediately.
August 27, 2017—A pilot program being run by a non-profit in Boston provides stipends to former gang members, many just released from prison, to attend college. This Washington Post article takes a look at the inititiative, which has already seen some success. Governments should take notice: for the social democrat, no citizen is expendable.
Eduardo Porter, in this New York Times "Economic Scene" piece, offers critical insights into how Democrats can take back the nation. He argues for a focus on policies, like apprenticeships for high schools grads, living wages tied to regional cost-of-living indexes, and aid to small business formation, that will open doors of opportunity and rebuild a thriving middle class.
August 14, 2017—Connecting high school graduates with solid careers is one of the foremost challenges facing the nation. This New York Times piece describes how West Virginia is doing something about it, with a major push for career and technical education, featuring simulated workplaces in the schools that prepare students with skills needed by local employers. Overall, only 6% of U.S. students are in technical and career education: West Virginia now has 37%. How about more mature social democracies? In the UK, the percentage is 42; Germany, 59; and the Netherlands, 67.
August 11, 2017—To those who celebrate increasingly human-like machines, columnist Alissa Quart, writing in The Guardian, say "slow down." Noting the loss of "human infrastructure," Quart questions the value of a future without the need for human effort and suggests needed measures to protect human workers.
Writing in the Washington Post, columnist Catherine Rampell argues that a blanket $15 national minimum wage may well decrease employment prospects in lower-income areas of the country. Consider, $15 is higher than the median hourly wage in several states: these states enjoy much lower costs-of-living than coastal urban areas. The Social Democrat supports living wages pegged to regional housing costs.
With some areas of the country facing labor shortages, while others still experience high unemployment, some, including the Accidental President, have said that Americans must "move where the jobs are." Unfortunately, many unemployed Americans do not possess the resources to pick up stakes. A working Social Democrat polity would either facilitate such moves or, better yet, create jobs where the people are.
The Social Democrat finds it fascinating to watch politics in a nation where social democracy is an established, ongoing experiment. No issue has been more prominent in French politics of late than France’s extensive employement code. Critics, like France’s new president, claim that its protections for workers go too far, hindering job creation. For the old-guard socialist left, the employment code is sacred turf, its critics traitors to the leftist project. Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell offers a neat summary of the issue.
The changing face of retail is seeing Amazon fulfillment centers taking a significant role in job creation, replacing, at least to some extent, jobs lost in brick-and-mortar retail. 9 new centers in Illinois alone will employ 8,000. The Social Democrat asks: do the jobs pay a living wage?