Port Drivers Take on Low Wages in an Industry Built on a Lie

Jul 14, 2014Richard Kirsch

Port truck drivers aren't indepedent contractors: they're employees of companies that pay them too little for long hours, with no benefits or worker protections.

It’s a David and Goliath story, only in this case there are 120 Davids taking on a hidden Goliath of an industry that every day touches everyone who is reading this in hundreds of ways. The port trucking industry is built on an illegal fiction, designed to rip off the 120 drivers who went on strike at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach this week.

Port truck drivers aren't indepedent contractors: they're employees of companies that pay them too little for long hours, with no benefits or worker protections.

It’s a David and Goliath story, only in this case there are 120 Davids taking on a hidden Goliath of an industry that every day touches everyone who is reading this in hundreds of ways. The port trucking industry is built on an illegal fiction, designed to rip off the 120 drivers who went on strike at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach this week.

They are not alone; 49,000 port truck drivers around the country work long hours at low pay with no benefits or basic worker protections like unemployment insurance or workers compensation, because the industry misclassifies them as independent contractors. The drivers’ courageous action is one more facet of a surging labor and community movement, which is starting to take on the captains of America’s low-wage economy.

Virtually everything you are wearing now that was made overseas came through our nation’s ports. So did every imported item in your office or home. Port truck drivers transported those goods from ship terminals to rail yards and warehouse centers, for distribution to stores around the country. Starting more than 30 years ago, when the trucking industry was deregulated during the Carter administration, the industry was taken over by firms with a business model based on driving down drivers’ incomes by treating them as independent contractors instead of employees.

The new model was based on a lie. The drivers weren’t really independent truck drivers, with their own rigs. They still worked for one distribution company, which totally controlled everything about their work – their hours, their shipments, the rates they were paid. The company supplied the trucks they drove. But by insisting the drivers accept the new arrangement if they wanted to work, the companies avoided paying payroll taxes, workers compensation, and unemployment benefits, let alone health or retirement benefits. The drivers were forced to pay to lease, fuel and maintain the trucks out of their own paychecks.

The result of this scam has been high profits for the companies, lower wages and no workplace protections for the drivers, plus big losses to the social insurance funds. This arrangement put employers who complied with the law by continuing to treat their workers as employees at a competitive disadvantage.

The port drivers' story is emblematic of the forces that crushed America’s middle class. Good paying, often union jobs were replaced by low wage, no-benefit jobs. "Manufactured in the U.S." was displaced by foreign goods, sold to consumers through the Wal-Marts and Home Depots and other giant retailers that perch at the end of global supply chains. Government, stripped of resources and will by corporate lobbyists and their wholly-owned elected officials, sat by while the law was violated and social insurance programs were weakened. And corporate profits soared.

But times are beginning to change. The strike in Southern California carries with it all the elements and power of the new movement of low-wage workers and their allies to create a good jobs economy. The foundation of the strategy is the willingness of low-wages workers to risk their jobs to fight back. The strategy is driven by strategic, legal, and financial assistance supplied by labor unions, partnerships with community groups, and public campaigns against big brand names.

The strikers, like many other port drivers, are mostly immigrants who often don’t speak English. Only recently did they become aware that their rights were being violated, after a free legal clinic was set up by two community groups at the port. Since then, drivers have filed more than 400 claims against companies under California’s wage and hour laws. The first 19 rulings resulted in an average award of $66,240, largely for wage and hour violations and illegal paycheck deductions for items like truck leases.

The claims are part of an aggressive legal strategy, which includes filings under California’s wage and hour laws, class action suits, and claims that the companies are violating federal labor laws. The goal is for the firms to face such an onslaught of fines and court orders that they will begin to realize it would be better to abide by the law, rather than continue to defend their practices in court. California Attorney General Kamala Harris could be hugely helpful here if she used the growing number of cases to insist on an industry wide compliance settlement.

The companies are fighting back. “It’s all out war,” an attorney for two workers who were fired for both supporting a union and pressing wage claims, told me. Green Fleet, the company that fired the workers and one of the companies being picketed, is using the full arsenal of union-busting tactics, including firing workers who are leading union efforts and hiring union busters who threaten workers. The company’s goal is to terrify other workers, so that they won’t support forming a union or file wage claims.

The NLRB ruled in the workers' favor, establishing that they are employees, not independent contractors, but Green Fleet is appealing in order to delay any relief. The fired workers’ attorneys are asking a federal judge to immediately order the companies to rehire the workers who were fired and to inform all the workers of their right to form a union and protest unfair labor practices.

In the face of this illegal harassment, the 120 drivers at Green Fleet and other firms walked off the job. They want to join the Teamsters union, which is providing key strategic support to their efforts through their Justice for Port Drivers campaign. Many drivers recently saw the benefits of unionization when drivers won union representation at Toll Global Holdings, an Australian based company, which is unionized in their home country. The unionized drivers actually get paid for the hours they spend waiting to pick up merchandise, and receive better wages and benefits.

Los Angeles’ well-organized community-labor coalition, led by LAANE, has turned out hundreds of picketers to join the drivers. The picketers block company trucks driven by drivers who have not joined the strike. The pickets create even longer lines of trucks at the marine terminals, where ships arrive with containers full of goods. This is one way that the strikers can exercise the economic power to get the companies to settle. The Teamsters report that already some terminals have told the companies being struck to stop picking up goods in order to clear the blockade.

Another weapon in the campaign is public pressure on the big brands that are the ultimate beneficiaries of the low-wages paid to the port drivers. All of Skechers shoes are delivered by Green Fleet. Protestors attended Skechers’ annual shareholder meetings, have leafleted stores, and this week had a plane fly over the company’s flagship L.A. store with a banner that read, “Skechers – laced with misery”. As LAANE’s Danny Feingold points out, unlike some other retailers, such as Nike, Skechers has refused to sign a code of conduct with labor standards for its contractors.

Another element in the port drivers' campaign, as in low-wage workers' campaigns nationally, is a push to change public policy. There are some 75,000 port drivers around the country, of whom 49,000 are misclassified as independent contractors. The New York and New Jersey legislatures both passed bills in the last year toughening standards and enforcement for misclassification of port truck drivers. While New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie vetoed that state’s bill, the New York legislation signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo includes strict standards and most importantly, civil and criminal penalties.

There is a new movement growing in America, comprised of courageous low-wage workers and backed by unions, community groups, and activists to take on the huge companies that drive the low-wage economy. From fast food, to Wal-Mart, to workers who make car seats and immigrants who wash cars, the movement is learning a new strategy, based on mobilizing workers and the public. The twin goals of this movement are to enable workers to organize unions and to enact new public policy to rebuild the middle class. You can support the movement now, and lend a hand to port drivers who are on strike, by making with a contribution to the Justice for Drivers Hardship Fund. Remember, the device on which you are reading this now was delivered by a port driver.  

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

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Daily Digest - July 11: Public Internet Infrastructure Provides a Link to the Future

Jul 11, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Government Should Invest in Fiber Optics (NYT)

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Government Should Invest in Fiber Optics (NYT)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford writes that U.S. cities can increase competition and expand affordable high-speed Internet access to all residents by building municipal fiber networks.

Gap Between Minimum Wage and Tipped Wage Hits Record High (MSNBC)

Tipped workers make a much lower median wage, reports Ned Resnikoff, and tipped workers face a poverty rate twice that of other workers.

Fannie-Freddie Propose Liquidity Rules for Mortgage Insurers (Bloomberg)

Zachary Tracer and Clea Benson explain newly proposed capital requirements for mortgage insurers, which would demand that they hold a greater amount of liquid assets against their risk exposure.

The Verdict is in: Obamacare Lowers Uninsured (Politico)

The trend is unmistakable, writes David Nather: millions have newly obtained insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Even those who oppose the law can't find anything bad to say about that.

Right-Wing “Populism” is a Joke: Poor-Bashing, Immigrant-Hating and a Revolting Agenda (Salon)

Heather Digby Parton explains how right-wing populism, which places blame for economic problems on "economic parasites," pushes policies that don't help the right's supposed base.

Losing Sparta: The Bitter Truth Behind the Gospel of Productivity (VQR)

Esther Kaplan looks at the closure of one highly productive, award-winning lighting fixture plant in Sparta, Tennessee to explain why productivity isn't enough to improve the economy.

A $13 Minimum Wage Isn’t Enough (In These Times)

Carlos Ballesteros says that organizers in Chicago want a union no matter the minimum wage increase they obtain, because they will still need consistent hours and scheduling.

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Daily Digest - July 10: Communities Need a Better Kind of Banking

Jul 10, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Banks that Actually Serve Communities, What a Novel Idea (Philanthropy New York)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Banks that Actually Serve Communities, What a Novel Idea (Philanthropy New York)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Saqib Bhatti explains how community banks, unlike their national Wall Street-based counterparts, keep profits and funds in the community, where they support growth.

Port Truckers’ Strike Sends Ripples Through Labor World (MSNBC)

Ned Resnikoff looks at why the small port truckers' strike in Los Angeles is getting so much attention. He cites research from Roosevelt Institute Fellow Annette Bernhardt on worker misclassification.

SCOTUS’ Quiet Expansion of Harris (In These Times)

The Court's order in Schlaud v. Snyder could lead to a dramatic reversal in labor law, which would assume those who did not vote for a union are against it, writes Moshe Marvit.

Report: NY Tax Breaks Don’t Do Much to Create Jobs (The Journal News)

Joseph Spector says a new report from the state Authorities Budget Office shows that special tax breaks from local development authorities appear to have little effect on generating jobs.

Study: States That Raised Minimum Wage Had Stronger Job Growth (USA Today)

Paul Davidson reports on a new study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which shows a higher increase in payrolls over 10 months in states that increased their minimum wage.

Thomas Perez On Lawmakers Who Dis The Jobless: 'I Wanna Punch 'Em' (HuffPo)

In a meeting with the press about labor data, the Labor Secretary made harsh comments about lawmakers who still aren't helping the long-term unemployed, writes Arthur Delaney.

Jobs Are Staying Vacant Longer Than Ever (WaPo)

The average duration of job vacancies has hit a new high of 25.1 days, writes Catherine Rampell, but the evidence does not suggest there is a skills mismatch holding back hiring.

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Detroit's Revitalization Funds Could Re-Empower Residents, Too

Jul 9, 2014Dominic Russel

Through participatory budgeting, Detroit could bring its resident's hyper-local expertise to the revitalization process.

Through participatory budgeting, Detroit could bring its resident's hyper-local expertise to the revitalization process.

The city of Detroit is suffering. It has the highest unemployment rate of the nation’s largest cities at 23 percent, the highest poverty rate at 36.4 percent, and has been listed by Forbes as America’s most dangerous city for five years in a row. As a result of its shrinking population, the city needs $850 million worth of blight removal and cleanup. On top of this, Detroit had an estimated $18 billion in debt in 2013, which caused the state of Michigan to essentially force the city to declare bankruptcy in a desperate attempt to save it.

Detroit urgently needs funding for any revitalization efforts. One source that the city receives each year is in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) from the federal government. The grant is one part of the funding that the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) distributes to metropolitan cities. The CDBG is the portion that must go to community development projects, including the rehabilitation of residential and non-residential buildings, the construction of public facilities and improvements, and more. CDBG budgeting also must include a mechanism for citizen participation.

Detroit’s current method for allocating CDBG funds is broken, as evidenced by both their inability to completely distribute funding and the lack of citizen involvement in the process. Each year from 2010 to 2012 the city failed to spend a portion of their CDBGs, nearly causing the federal government to recapture money and diminish future grants. Again in 2014, the city is making a last-minute amendment to their CBDG plan, reallocating $12 million to avoid a recapture. This was necessary, in part, because the city allocated funds to programs that no longer exist. The main citizen participation program is the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund (NOF), in which service organizations apply for funding from the CDBG. This process, however, is limited to organizations and leaves no outlet for individual residents. In fact, individuals have only one public hearing annually for the entire HUD program. The interests of residents are not effectively being channeled into spending. All of this adds up to a system in need of reform.

Detroit has the opportunity to use CDBGs to develop a more citizen-involved allocation process. This can be achieved by creating a participatory budgeting (PB) program, which empowers citizens to allocate a portion of their own government resources and has been recognized by the United Nations as a “best practice” for local governance. A Detroit model could be based off programs in Chicago and New York City. These programs include a series of workshops where residents brainstorm ideas and elect community representatives who turn the ideas into full proposals. Residents then vote on the proposals, and the winning projects are put into action.

In Detroit, the city’s Planning and Development Department can ensure projects conform to HUD guidelines and lead outreach. The department would target traditionally underrepresented viewpoints by aiming outreach at neighborhoods with low- and moderate-income residents, using public schools for outreach to students and parents, and locating meetings and voting stations in areas that are accessible for underrepresented groups. A PB process has the potential to engage Detroit residents and better utilize their hyper-local knowledge to allocate CDBG funding.

On the night Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan was elected in 2013 he said, “Detroit’s turnaround will not occur until everyday Detroiters are involved in this effort.” He has the opportunity to create a clear path to this community involvement for all Detroiters by using participatory budgeting to determine how to spend a portion of the city’s federal grants. Not only would this make Duggan’s dream a reality, but it would reform an antiquated allocation process that has nearly cost the city millions of dollars.

Dominic Russel, a Michigan native, is a rising sophomore at the University of Michigan and is a Summer Academy Fellow interning at the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network as the Leadership Strategy Intern.  

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Daily Digest - July 9: America's Workers Need a Vacation

Jul 9, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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America Gets Summer Vacation All Wrong (U.S. News & World Report)

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America Gets Summer Vacation All Wrong (U.S. News & World Report)

Pat Garofalo points out the dissonance between long summer vacations for students, which lead to learning losses, and the United States' lack of paid vacation time for workers.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute Director of Operations Sarah Pfeifer Vandekerckhove and Policy Intern Candace Richardson look at possible solutions to low-income students' summer learning losses.

Buying a Home: The American Dream That Won’t Die (MSNBC)

Suzy Khimm looks at post-housing crisis options for low-income would-be homeowners. Opportunities are limited, and there is continued discrimination against minorities seeking mortgages.

Democrats Push Bill to Reverse Supreme Court Ruling on Contraceptives (NYT)

The bill could hit the Senate floor as early as next week, reports Robert Pear, but it faces long odds in the House, since Speaker Boehner approves of the Hobby Lobby decision.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute Fellow Andrea Flynn explains how the Hobby Lobby and McCullen rulings increase the barriers to women accessing health care.

Corporate Tax Scam Watch: The 'Inversion' Craze (LA Times)

Michael Hiltzik explains why companies look to "inversions," corporate restructuring in a foreign country, to avoid paying their fair share of taxes, and considers possible remedies.

NFL Cheerleaders Got An Early Advantage In Their Lawsuit Against The Buffalo Bills (Business Insider)

A judge said the evidence supports the Buffalo cheerleaders' claim that they are employees of the NFL team, reports Allan Smith, which allows their wage theft case to move forward.

New on Next New Deal

Detroit's Revitalization Funds Could Re-Empower Residents, Too

Roosevelt Summer Academy Fellow Dominic Rushe lays out one way Detroit could introduce participatory budgeting, allowing citizens to help decide where community development funds are most needed.

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Daily Digest - July 8: Will the Stock Market Boom Be a Bust for the Economy?

Jul 8, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Stiglitz: I'm 'very uncomfortable' with current stock levels (CNBC)

Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz emphasizes the difference between a strong stock market and overall economic strength, reports Antonia Matthews.

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Stiglitz: I'm 'very uncomfortable' with current stock levels (CNBC)

Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz emphasizes the difference between a strong stock market and overall economic strength, reports Antonia Matthews.

Union Wins $15 Minimum Wage for L.A. Schools' Service Workers (LA Times)

Howard Blume says the school board's unanimous approval of higher wages shows the growing power of the service workers' unions in Los Angeles, where many union members are also parents.

Why the Supreme Court’s Attack on Labor Hurts Women Most (The Nation)

Michelle Chen argues that limiting home health care workers' ability to organize will prevent many others in low-wage domestic work, primarily women, from improving working conditions.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch looks at the challenges presented by the Harris v. Quinn ruling.

Conservatives Say Cutting Unemployment Benefits Boosted the Jobs Numbers. This Chart Says Otherwise. (TNR)

Long-term unemployment is still falling at the same slow-and-steady pace as the past few years, writes Danny Vinik, indicating no link to the end of extended unemployment benefits.

Left Pushes Regulators to Lift Curtain on CEO Pay (The Hill)

Labor unions and other interest groups fear that upcoming regulations that require companies to disclose CEO-to-median-worker pay ratios will be diluted, says Megan R. Wilson.

Democrats Can Win with Populism — If They Play it Right (WaPo)

New polling data shows that many voters associate the Republican Party with big business and the wealthy, which Aaron Blakes sees as a key strategic point for Democrats in 2014.

Three Paths to Full Employment (AJAM)

Dean Baker's suggestions include increased government spending, as in the New Deal; reducing the trade deficit; and reducing the supply of labor with policies that push employers to hire more people.

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Daily Digest - July 7: In Corporate America, Pay Comes Before Patriotism

Jul 7, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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On This Fourth of July, Meet Your Unpatriotic Corporations (The Nation)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

On This Fourth of July, Meet Your Unpatriotic Corporations (The Nation)

Greed comes far before patriotism for companies that reincorporate abroad to avoid paying their fair share of taxes, writes Roosevelt Institute board member Katrina vanden Heuvel.

Students Joining Battle to Upend Laws on Voter ID (NYT)

In North Carolina, college students are challenging the state's strict voter ID law on the grounds of age discrimination, reports Matt Apuzzo. This is the very first case of its kind.

American CEOs: In a Class All by Themselves (Truthout)

Sam Pizzigati points out that discussions of executive pay in the U.S. tend to leave out international comparisons, which demonstrate just how extreme American CEO pay can be.

  • Roosevelt Take: White papers from William Lazonick and Roosevelt Institute Fellow and Director of Research Susan Holmberg look at the problems created by high CEO pay, and steps to fix it.

Moaning Moguls (The New Yorker)

James Surowiecki looks at why America's wealthiest complain so much about their supposed mistreatment by society, and why those complaints lack merit.

Obama Calls for a New Crackdown on Wall Street (Mother Jones)

Erika Eichelberger says that the President is calling for further reforms, but has not presented any specific plans, and it isn't clear how he would get anything through Congress.

New on Next New Deal

Where Does $2 Trillion in Subsidies for the Wealthiest Hide in Plain Sight? Capital Gains Tax Breaks.

Preferential tax rates and loopholes for investment income make economic inequality worse, writes Harry Stein, who explains the necessity of reforms proposed in Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz's recent white paper.

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Where Does $2 Trillion in Subsidies for the Wealthiest Hide in Plain Sight? Capital Gains Tax Breaks.

Jul 6, 2014Harry Stein

Research shows that government subsidies for the 1 percent are creating greater inequality. A new white paper by Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz offers solutions.

Research shows that government subsidies for the 1 percent are creating greater inequality. A new white paper by Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz offers solutions.

“What’s the effective rate I’ve been paying? It’s probably closer to the 15 percent rate than anything.” Mitt Romney made national news with that statement during the 2012 presidential election, since it meant he paid a lower effective tax rate than many middle-class Americans. The simple reason for his low tax bill?  The tax code’s special treatment of investment income.

In a recent report published by the Center for American Progress, I examine how government subsidies for investment income are making economic inequality worse. The merits of subsidizing investment income are particularly questionable in light of new research published by renowned French economist Thomas Piketty in Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Piketty finds that economic inequality has increased dramatically in recent decades, and will get even worse as the rate of return on capital from investments largely owned by the wealthy exceeds the overall growth rate of the economy.

Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, Chief Economist at the Roosevelt Institute, takes a hard look at subsidies for investment income in a new white paper on tax reform. Stiglitz advocates taxing capital gains and dividends at the same rates as ordinary income. Under current law, the federal government will deliver an estimated $1.34 trillion in subsidies to investors over the next 10 years in the form of reduced tax rates for capital gains and dividends. Sixty-eight percent of that money will go to the top 1 percent. Stiglitz argues that there is “no justification for taxing those who work hard to earn a living at a higher rate than those who derive their income from speculation.”

Stiglitz would also eliminate an expensive, but little-known, provision called “step-up in basis,” which subsidizes inherited wealth. By taking a step-up in basis, heirs selling inherited assets only have to pay taxes on the capital gain that took place since they received the asset – gains that accrued during the previous owner’s lifetime are never subject to income taxes. This tax break will cost about $644 billion over 10 years, with 21 percent of that subsidy going to the top 1 percent. For the wealthiest families, the benefits are staggering: 55 percent of the wealth in estates worth over $100 million is in the form of unrealized capital gains, meaning that these families will never pay income taxes on the majority of their earnings since the heirs will benefit from step-up in basis.

Defenders of tax breaks for investment income argue that these subsidies encourage savings and grow the economy, but over the past 60 years there has been no obvious relationship between economic growth and the top capital gains tax rate. Our economic problems are rooted in a lack of aggregate demand, but tax subsidies for investment income reduce demand even further for two reasons. First, they encourage investors to hold onto their wealth and consume less. Second, these subsidies increase economic inequality by primarily benefiting the rich, who tend to consume a much smaller share of their income than poor or middle-class individuals.

The assumption underlying subsidies for investment income is that wealthy investors are “job creators,” but Stiglitz points out that “much of the income of the top arises from rent seeking (wealth appropriation) – and thus impedes growth and efficiency.” Stiglitz is using the term “rent seeking” in a broad sense to mean income from ownership, monopolies, or special treatment from the government. Rent seeking does not grow the economy; it only redistributes wealth from within the economy to rent seekers. For example, landowners get their income from rents paid by tenants. Stiglitz points out that land is an ideal target for taxation, since taxes cannot possibly reduce the supply of land. Yet the United States is taking the opposite approach by allowing landowners to fully benefit from step-up in basis and reduced tax rates for capital gains.

Tax breaks for investment income are massive in scope, but often overlooked in discussions about the proper size and role of the federal government. These subsidies are part of what Suzanne Mettler calls the “submerged state,” government programs that deliver benefits indirectly, with recipients often not even recognizing that they are benefitting from public assistance.

But government programs administered through the tax code are still government programs. It makes no meaningful difference to the government or to beneficiaries whether a subsidy is delivered in the form of a check from the government, or as a reduction in taxes the beneficiary would otherwise owe (which often takes the form of a higher tax refund check from the government). The nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation explains that tax breaks “are similar to direct spending programs that function as entitlements to those who meet the established statutory criteria.”

The reaction Mitt Romney’s comments may be the best example of just how invisible government subsidies for investment income are for most Americans. Watching Romney deliver the full statement and explain that most of his income comes from investments, it was clear that he did not think he was making news. And he was right – Romney’s statement that day should not have been news. We already knew that he made most of his money from earlier investments, and the tax rate at the time on capital gains and dividends was 15 percent. The only reason Romney’s statement made headlines was that most Americans were either unaware of preferential tax rates for investment income, or did not realize the staggering benefits this subsidy delivers to extremely wealthy individuals.

It is no coincidence that government subsidies for investment income are delivered through the submerged state. These programs are not popular when the American people can clearly see their impact, and they add to the sense that the economic game is rigged for those at the top.

Harry Stein is the Associate Director for Fiscal Policy at the Center for American Progress. Follow him on Twitter @HarrySteinDC.

Image via Thinkstock

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Daily Digest - July 3: America's Workforce is Still Segregated After All These Years

Jul 3, 2014Tim Price

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On the Civil Rights Act's 50th, Workplaces Remain Segregated (Colorlines)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

On the Civil Rights Act's 50th, Workplaces Remain Segregated (Colorlines)

Though the Civil Rights Act brought legal segregation to an end decades ago, people of color are still being pushed into lower-paying occupations, writes Rinku Sen.

  • Roosevelt Take: A new infographic from the Roosevelt Institute's Future of Work initiative outlines five policy proposals that would promote an inclusive workforce.

Domestic Care for Family Members Isn't Valued If Its Givers Are Exploited (Truthout)

In a book excerpt, Sheila Bapat cites research from Roosevelt Fellow Annette Bernhardt and others to show how domestic workers are shut out from standard labor protections.

We Know We Work Too Much. Now How Do We Stop It? (New Republic)

Bryce Covert looks at paid leave and vacation laws, health care reform, work-sharing programs, and other potential statutory solutions to America's oversized workweek.

Porsches, Potholes and Patriots (NYT)

The Fourth of July should prompt a celebration of America's great public investments -- and an acknowledgment that they depended on taxes, writes Nicholas Kristof.

Census: One-Quarter of Americans Now Live in "Poverty Areas" (Slate)

Data from 2010 shows that a growing number of Americans live in areas where more than 20 percent of the population is below the poverty line, notes Jordan Weissmann.

Yellen Drives Wedge Between Monetary Policy, Financial Bubbles (Reuters)

Fed chair Janet Yellen says monetary policy is the wrong tool to curb financial risk, report Michael Flaherty and Howard Schneider. She sees no need to raise rates at present. 

New on Next New Deal

Graduated and Living With Your Parents? You May Be Luckier Than You Think.

Millennials forced to move home may have their economic futures determined by where they were born, writes Roosevelt Campus Network Operations Director Lydia Bowers.

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Graduated and Living With Your Parents? You May Be Luckier Than You Think.

Jul 3, 2014Lydia Bowers

Millennials who are being forced to move back home may have their economic futures determined by the affluence of their birthplace rather than their own ability.

Millennials who are being forced to move back home may have their economic futures determined by the affluence of their birthplace rather than their own ability.

If you could live in Westchester County, NY or Logan County, OH, which would you choose? What if you were young, college-educated, and just entering the workforce? Recent articles about the return of college-educated Millennials, “the boomerang generation," to their parents' homes focus on how income inequality has contributed to the phenomenon overall. But what is critically overlooked is how this situation stratifies inequality within the Millennial generation and reinforces generational economic privilege.

Compare Sarah and Jess. Both graduated from Notre Dame University in 2013 with degrees in English. Both have similar GPAs and campus activities, and as graduation neared, neither was able to find a job. But what makes them different is that after graduation, Sarah moved back in with her parents in Westchester County while Jess moved home to Logan County.  Westchester County has a per capita income of $48,385, an opportunity score (an aggregated score measuring the educational attainment, economic strength, and community health of a town or county) of A-, and is located within easy commuting distance of New York City – a major metropolitan hub with over 8 million residents that provides ample opportunity for job-hunting. Logan County has a significantly lower per capita income of $22,993, and an opportunity score of C+. The nearest metropolitan hub, Columbus, is over an hour away, requiring a burdensome commute for job-hunting. These two women, who were nearly indistinguishable on paper at graduation, have profoundly different economic outlooks after moving home.

Let's imagine both women have the national average amount of student loan debt, $24,301, averaging out to payments of $279.66 a month for the next 10 years. And let's be generous and assume both women are lucky enough to find jobs in their fields at the median per capita income for their respective towns. Sarah, with almost twice the income of Jess, is able to double her monthly loan payments, becoming debt-free five years earlier than Jess and saving over $4,000 in interest. This puts Sarah on the path to financial stability much sooner.

A college degree used to be a ticket out of a predetermined economic destiny based on your location of birth. In a country where the likelihood that a child raised in the bottom fifth income level will rise to the top fifth can range from 4 percent to 25 percent depending on county of residence, college was traditionally viewed as the equalizer – a chance to escape the economic limitations of your hometown. But, for the one-in-five people in their 20s and early 30s currently living with parents, this is no longer the case. With the rising costs of rent in almost every major metropolitan area, many unemployed or underemployed college graduates will find moving home their only option. And if they are fortunate to have a home in an economically robust area, they will have leverage over their counterparts elsewhere. And as most children who come from economically robust areas come from financially privileged families, this is an example of income inequality growing starker through generational privilege.

College graduates aren’t looking for special treatment, but simply the chance to define their own economic destiny. Policies that work in tandem to address the rise in student loan debt, the affordability of housing in urban areas, and the economic growth needed to create jobs for young graduates are part of the solution. But ultimately, we need to address inequality and acknowledge that for some graduates opportunity is not based on potential but hometown. And that a familial zip code matters more than personal ability should be a rallying cry for anyone concerned about the future of a country once viewed as the "land of opportunity” for all.

Lydia Bowers is Operations Director for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

Image via Thinkstock

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