Not Just the Long-Term Unemployed: Those Unemployed Zero Weeks Are Struggling to Find Jobs

Apr 17, 2014Mike Konczal

Leave aside for a moment the difficulty that the long-term unemployed, those who were unlucky and have been looking for a job for more than 52 weeks, have in finding a job. Even those who have been unemployed zero weeks are having trouble finding jobs in this economy. And this is important evidence against the idea that the labor market is doing better than people realize if you just ignore the long-term unemployed.

Here’s a data point that I’m particularly interested in: how often are employed people going straight to another job, rather than leaving their job and enduring a period of unemployment before finding new work?

Though most people think of the employed spending some time in unemployment before starting a new job (an idea that was central to the recent theory that quit rates predicted a healthy job market), a substantial number of people move directly from one job to another without ever counting as unemployed. Since our statistics (and most of the economic models) are set up to observe people who are looking for work but are unable or unwilling to accept a job, these steadily employed workers can go missing in the discussion. That’s a shame, because historically they comprise almost half of all those who accept a new job.

The Rortybomb blog has long been a fan of the job flows data, or the statistics that show who is moving between employment and unemployment and in and out of the labor force. However, the easiest way to access this data didn’t distinguish between those who stayed employed with a single employer and those who stayed employed but moved between different employers.

Luckily, someone pointed me in the direction of the Employer-to-Employer Flows in the U.S. Labor Market [1], compiled by the Federal Reserve, which breaks out those who move from one employer to another without being unemployed (described as “EE transitions” for the rest of this post). This data is current through the end of 2013.

If the economy is heating up significantly and the long-term unemployed aren’t capable of taking jobs, then the EE transition rate should be increasing. So how is it doing?

This is the percentage of the employed who are in EE transition (the results are the same for EE transition as a percentage of the labor force). As we can see, it declined during the crisis and hasn’t recovered even as of 2013.

Let’s also look at this from a different point of view: what percentage of those taking jobs are currently employed? If the economy was heating up and the unemployed or those out of the labor force couldn't take jobs, we would expect this to increase. Taking EE transitions as a percentage of all those who are transitioning into new jobs, we see the following:

New hires are increasingly coming from the ranks of the unemployed and those not in the labor force rather than the currently employed. Where the employed were 40 percent in the 1990s, and 35 percent in the pre-crisis 2000s, it's down to 30 percent now.

Why does this matter? First off, these quits also create a new job opening, which the unemployed can take. There’s a significant labor economics literature that argues that job-to-job transitions are a major driver of wage growth for workers (starting here and continuing to this day, h/t Arin Dube). If the number of people moving directly from one job to another is in decline, that’s a bad sign for wage growth, as well as inflation and monetary policy. This appears to be undertheorized and not discussed enough in academic or policy discussions.

But why is this happening? The American Time Use Survey hasn’t been able to tell me whether the employed are spending more or less time searching for other jobs since the recession started; the sample size is too small to make conclusive predictions about changes. If potential wage gains are a primary motivation of job-to-job transitions, then lack of wage growth or even inflation could be contributing to less churn in the economy.

When it comes down to it, the problems of those who aren’t working and want a job are similar to the problems of those who are working but want a new job. As Alan Krueger found in this chart in his recent paper (also see Ben Casselman's chart here), the rate of successful job searches is down not just for the long-term unemployed, but also for the short-term unemployed, when compared to 2007. It appears the same holds true for those with an unemployment duration of zero.

[1] The page indicates that it was last updated in 2004, or perhaps 2011. But the excel document has data through the end of 2013. Sneaky.

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:

  

Leave aside for a moment the difficulty that the long-term unemployed, those who were unlucky and have been looking for a job for more than 52 weeks, have in finding a job. Even those who have been unemployed zero weeks are having trouble finding jobs in this economy. And this is important evidence against the idea that the labor market is doing better than people realize if you just ignore the long-term unemployed.

Here’s a data point that I’m particularly interested in: how often are employed people going straight to another job, rather than leaving their job and enduring a period of unemployment before finding new work?

Though most people think of the employed spending some time in unemployment before starting a new job (an idea that was central to the recent theory that quit rates predicted a healthy job market), a substantial number of people move directly from one job to another without ever counting as unemployed. Since our statistics (and most of the economic models) are set up to observe people who are looking for work but are unable or unwilling to accept a job, these steadily employed workers can go missing in the discussion. That’s a shame, because historically they comprise almost half of all those who accept a new job.

The Rortybomb blog has long been a fan of the job flows data, or the statistics that show who is moving between employment and unemployment and in and out of the labor force. However, the easiest way to access this data didn’t distinguish between those who stayed employed with a single employer and those who stayed employed but moved between different employers.

Luckily, someone pointed me in the direction of the Employer-to-Employer Flows in the U.S. Labor Market [1], compiled by the Federal Reserve, which breaks out those who move from one employer to another without being unemployed (described as “EE transitions” for the rest of this post). This data is current through the end of 2013.

If the economy is heating up significantly and the long-term unemployed aren’t capable of taking jobs, then the EE transition rate should be increasing. So how is it doing?

This is the percentage of the employed who are in EE transition (the results are the same for EE transition as a percentage of the labor force). As we can see, it declined during the crisis and hasn’t recovered even as of 2013.

Let’s also look at this from a different point of view: what percentage of those taking jobs are currently employed? If the economy was heating up and the unemployed or those out of the labor force couldn't take jobs, we would expect this to increase. Taking EE transitions as a percentage of all those who are transitioning into new jobs, we see the following:

New hires are increasingly coming from the ranks of the unemployed and those not in the labor force rather than the currently employed. Where the employed were 40 percent in the 1990s, and 35 percent in the pre-crisis 2000s, it's down to 30 percent now.

Why does this matter? First off, these quits also create a new job opening, which the unemployed can take. There’s a significant labor economics literature that argues that job-to-job transitions are a major driver of wage growth for workers (starting here and continuing to this day, h/t Arin Dube). If the number of people moving directly from one job to another is in decline, that’s a bad sign for wage growth, as well as inflation and monetary policy. This appears to be undertheorized and not discussed enough in academic or policy discussions.

But why is this happening? The American Time Use Survey hasn’t been able to tell me whether the employed are spending more or less time searching for other jobs since the recession started; the sample size is too small to make conclusive predictions about changes. If potential wage gains are a primary motivation of job-to-job transitions, then lack of wage growth or even inflation could be contributing to less churn in the economy.

When it comes down to it, the problems of those who aren’t working and want a job are similar to the problems of those who are working but want a new job. As Alan Krueger found in this chart in his recent paper (also see Ben Casselman's chart here), the rate of successful job searches is down not just for the long-term unemployed, but also for the short-term unemployed, when compared to 2007. It appears the same holds true for those with an unemployment duration of zero.

[1] The page indicates that it was last updated in 2004, or perhaps 2011. But the excel document has data through the end of 2013. Sneaky.

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:

  

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Daily Digest - April 16: The Ideas Generation

Apr 16, 2014Tim Price

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That '70s Show, Starring Ted Cruz (New Republic)

Despite conservatives' tendency to compare Barack Obama to Jimmy Carter, today's economic challenges are the opposite of those the U.S. faced in the 1970s, writes Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal.

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That '70s Show, Starring Ted Cruz (New Republic)

Despite conservatives' tendency to compare Barack Obama to Jimmy Carter, today's economic challenges are the opposite of those the U.S. faced in the 1970s, writes Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal.

When Tax Refunds Aren't Just a Bonus, But a Lifeline (ThinkProgress)

Twenty-eight million low-income families depend on the Earned Income Tax Credit to make ends meet, writes Bryce Covert, but not all poor parents qualify for it, and tax preparers' fees can hurt those who do.

In Many Cities, Rent Is Rising Out of Reach of Middle Class (NYT)

A new analysis finds 90 U.S. cities where the median rent excluding utilities is more than 30 percent of the median gross income, writes Shaila Dewan, and it's putting the squeeze on renters and the recovery.

The Sad, Slow Death of America's Retail Workforce (The Atlantic)

The retail sector's sales and jobs numbers are up, writes Derek Thompson, but as business becomes more efficient and moves online, the workforce is increasingly concentrated in low-paying superstore jobs.

3 big things to look for in Yellen's first monetary policy speech (WaPo)

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is likely to discuss labor market strength, inflation expectations, and the need for financial regulation in today's address to the Economic Club of New York, reports Ylan Q. Mui.

New on Next New Deal

Millennials Are Shifting the Public Debate with the Power of Their Ideas

Taylor Jo Isenberg, the Roosevelt Institute's Vice President of Networks, introduces the Campus Network's 2014 10 Ideas journals, collecting top student policy proposals on economic development, health care, education, equal justice, energy and the environment, and defense and diplomacy.

The Pay's the Thing: How America's CEOs Are Getting Rich Off Taxpayers

Roosevelt Institute Fellow and Director of Research Susan Holmberg explains why we must close the CEO performance pay tax loophole in order to curb the rise of income inequality in the U.S.

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What Is Economic Growth Without Shared Prosperity?

Apr 14, 2014Joelle Gamble

It's time for the U.S. to recognize that policies to push economic growth must focus on average Americans, not "job creators."

It's time for the U.S. to recognize that policies to push economic growth must focus on average Americans, not "job creators."

Rampant inequality is putting the future of the American economy in peril. The financial recovery we have experienced the past few years has only led to massive gains for top earners and little to no change for average Americans. Decades of policies that throw more benefits to the top have not “trickled down” to the average household.

But more importantly, our current idea of economic progress is skewed. The wealthy have created this idea that “job creators” are a class of people who can magically restore out economy, ignoring the fact that entrepreneurship and innovation come from all economic statuses.

America needs to shift our economic narrative away from a heavy emphasis on GDP-based growth and toward a model that promotes prosperity for everyone. We need to think about how we generate demand in order to create jobs. This demand comes from average Americans having the ability to engage meaningfully in the economy, with fair wages without discrimination in the workplace. In short: economic progress must involve prosperity for all Americans, not just “job creators.”

Legislative battles at the local, state, and federal levels around equal pay and the minimum wage will prove crucial to changing our conception of what constitutes good economic policy. Victories in these fights represent tangible ways in which the average American worker can better his or her own economic prospects and simultaneously grow the economy.

We are seeing progress now. In January, the city of Seattle began pushing to raise the minimum wage for city workers to $15.00 per hour. Earlier this week, the state of Maryland voted to raise its minimum wage from the federal $7.25 to $10.10 per hour. Meanwhile, President Obama continues his push for federal action.

Meanwhile, in the United States, women make an average of $0.77 for every $1.00 earned by men, but growing movements are pushing the needle in the right direction. The President signed directives to clamp down on gender discrimination by federal agencies and contractors. Americans show strong bipartisan support for paid sick leave and family leave. Municipalities, are pushing through bills to make this support a reality –in New York City, Mayor De Blasio has already expanded the paid sick leave law that was established in 2013.

While the most sustainable and sweeping changes on these fronts may be best achieved at the federal level, many of the real policy battles are playing out in cities and states. This presents a real opportunity to involve a wide swath of Americans in economic justice work in their neighborhoods. If organizers on the ground build power to push a prosperity-centric policy agenda forward through both community building and new technology platforms, we can see a real shift in the narrative of what economic progress looks like in this nation.

Joelle Gamble is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network National Field Strategist.

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Daily Digest - April 14: A Business Plan for a Better Environment

Apr 14, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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MBAs Will Turn Brownfields Into Green—if Investors Help Them Out (Quartz)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Georgia Levenson Keohane writes that the social venture competitions becoming common in MBA programs could push sustainability and social change, if Wall Street will fund the proposals.

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MBAs Will Turn Brownfields Into Green—if Investors Help Them Out (Quartz)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Georgia Levenson Keohane writes that the social venture competitions becoming common in MBA programs could push sustainability and social change, if Wall Street will fund the proposals.

Even As Jobs Numbers Seem Better… (Campaign for America's Future Blog)

Unemployment claims have dropped, and the jobs lost in the recession have been restored, but that's just catch-up. Dave Johnson pulls job creation ideas from a new Roosevelt Institute report, "A Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency: 15 Ways We Can Create Good Jobs in America Today."

  • Roosevelt Take: Read the full report, produced by the Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative.

Low-Wage Workers Pay the Price of Nickel-and-Diming by Employers (LA Times)

Michael Hiltzik points out that wage theft is most common in low-paid, labor-intensive, female-heavy industries. Without sufficient government enforcement, workers are forced to fight back on their own.

What If the Minimum Wage Were $15 an Hour? (The Nation)

Sasha Abramsky looks at the political situation in Seattle, where the push for a $15-an-hour minimum wage is taking center stage. He suggests that if Seattle pulls this off, it will dramatically shift the national conversation.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute President and CEO Felicia Wong gave the closing remarks at Seattle's Income Inequality Symposium.

Executive Pay: Invasion of the Supersalaries (NYT)

Rising CEO pay is a major contributing factor to today's economic inequality, writes Peter Eavis. But there's disagreement on how to induce companies to pay CEOs less and average workers more.

The Wall Street Second-Chances Rule: Scandal Makes the Rich Grow Stronger (The Guardian)

Heidi Moore writes that on Wall Street, losses, bankruptcies, and even criminal investigations aren't enough to knock top CEOs out of the business. Profits conquer all, so even financiers embroiled in scandal keep their power.

New on Next New Deal

A Millennial’s Case for Fixing Social Security

Brian Lamberta, Northeast Regional Communications Coordinator for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network, explains why and how Millennials should try to fix Social Security instead of giving up on it.

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Daily Digest - April 10: 15 Ways to Put America Back to Work

Apr 10, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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America Can Attain Full Employment with a Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency (Next New Deal)

Jeff Madrick, Director of the Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative, argues that government can create more and better jobs if lawmakers can get over their current fatalism.

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America Can Attain Full Employment with a Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency (Next New Deal)

Jeff Madrick, Director of the Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative, argues that government can create more and better jobs if lawmakers can get over their current fatalism.

  • Roosevelt Take: Read the Rediscovering Government Initiative's new report, "A Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency: 15 Ways We Can Create Good Jobs in America Today," here.

Obamacare: 9.3 million & Counting (The Big Picture)

Thom Hartmann speaks with Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch, who looks forward to when the GOP gets past obstructionism and we can focus on ways to improve the Affordable Care Act.

Long-Term Unemployment Is Elevated Across All Education, Age, Occupation, Industry, Gender, And Racial And Ethnic Groups (Working Economics)

Heidi Shierholz argues that the prevalence of long-term unemployment across all demographics proves this crisis has nothing to do with workers, and everything to do with employers who aren't hiring due to lack of demand.

The Politics Around Welfare Show Why the Poor Need a Real Break, Not Just a Tax Break (The Nation)

Michelle Chen argues that the Earned Income Tax Credit shouldn't be the key pillar of anti-poverty efforts, as it's only a once-a-year boost that leaves out too many people living in poverty.

Forget Obamacare: Vermont Wants to Bring Single Payer to America (Vox)

Sarah Kliff explains that Vermont's governor is determined to see single payer health care in his state because it will cut statewide health care costs by millions. His current challenge: funding the program.

U.S. House Republicans Prepare a Second JOBS Act bill; Critics See Dangers (Reuters)

The bill is supposed to make it easier for startups to raise money, writes Sarah N. Lynch, but critics see it as an attempt at deregulation that reduces the amount of information potential investors can access.

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America Can Attain Full Employment with a Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency

Apr 9, 2014Jeff Madrick

A new report from the Rediscovering Government Initiative lays out 15 ways the government can create more and better jobs starting right now.

A new report from the Rediscovering Government Initiative lays out 15 ways the government can create more and better jobs starting right now.

After five long years, the economy has at last produced enough new jobs to compensate for the 8 million lost in the Great Recession of 2009. But in that same period some 7 million more Americans reached employment age, and we have only produced about half the jobs we need to keep up with population growth. To make matters worse, the jobs created during the recovery pay on average much less than those lost. Yet rather than pulling out all the stops to create more and better jobs, too many politicians and economists tell us we can’t move too quickly. They cite limitation after limitation: inflation fears, budget deficits, skills mismatches, and so on. Americans deserve better than this defeatism. We deserve bold action.

In a new report, A Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency, the Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative offers fifteen ideas that could get us back to true full employment and at the same time build a foundation for rapid economic growth in the future. We are demanding a full-court press to recreate the economic opportunity that America once offered. We emphasize some ideas that have been heard before, but many that are forced to the back seat or are hardly talked about at all.

There are taboos among policymakers that are holding us back. Above all, we must take fiscal stimulus seriously again. Today’s economy operates far below its growth potential. The fiscal stimulus we need should not only make the social safety net whole but also be tied to aggressive investment in transportation, communications, and clean technologies that have been badly neglected.

The federal government can itself create useful, good-paying jobs in transportation, teaching, and health care. A carefully crafted federal job creation program, as was successfully enacted under FDR, can work today. Fifty billion dollars worth of new jobs could go a long way toward helping Americans.

The repressive effect on jobs and wages that results from aggressive Wall Street practices is all but invisible in Washington. Academic economists are almost as bad as the Washington think tanks in paying too little attention to how big finance can undermine both jobs and wages. Our report highlights the findings of researchers such as Eileen Appelbaum, formerly of Rutgers, and Rosemary Batt of Cornell, who show that the leveraged buyout and privatization crazes have on average led to many lost jobs and significantly less spending on R&D. It also showcases the work of William Lazonick of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, who has long called attention to how massive corporate stock buybacks may help shareholders in the short run but hurt the American economy by diverting investment.

Poor wages are also part and parcel of America’s economic failure. Today’s typical household earns no more after inflation than it did almost 20 years ago. Only 44 percent of Americans think they are middle class, the lowest level recorded. However, until fairly recently, raising the minimum wage has also been taboo. The bill before Congress to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 may still not pass, but intelligently designed studies suggest such a hike could lift not just 1 million, as the Congressional Budget Office has too conservatively estimated, but 6 million people out of poverty and provide raises for about 25 million people. Similarly, we need an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit to childless adults, which the president supports.

Most tragically, we neglect our young. Six million or so Americans ages 16 to 24 are neither in school nor have a job. Dozens of local agencies have been created to place these “opportunity youth” on a middle-class track. But they badly need to be scaled up, and federal support is the only way to do so.

The new interest in funding pre-kindergarten in New York City and elsewhere is welcome. But help has to come much earlier in the lives of children in poverty. One in every five America children under the age of six live in poverty, the second-highest rate in the rich world. A growing body of research shows unambiguously how poor children are cognitively and emotional deprived—and how bleak their futures inevitably are. In America more than in any other rich country, inequality begins at birth. We need to address this crisis to begin building the economy of the future.

If America wants a strong future, it had also better invest more in technological research. Government research has been the heart of the innovation economy, as economists have increasingly shown. But Congress mindlessly cut such research last year. It must be revived and expanded. Other recommendations in our report include investments in energy, national paid family leave policies, and re-vamped workforce training.

The decline of work is not inevitable, and there are more ideas than the 15 we present in our report. We calculate that we can get the unemployment rate below 5 percent and raise wages with a combination of such programs, without incurring a dangerously growing budget deficit.

But bankrupt ideology, narrow politics, and bad economics are robbing the nation of its confidence and hope for the future. A comprehensive jobs plan is not even being attempted in America. Failure becomes contagious. Let’s end the fatalism about employment in America now and win back the nation’s hard-won optimism. 

Jeff Madrick is the Director of the Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative.

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Daily Digest - April 9: The Social Safety Net is Popular Because It Works

Apr 9, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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The One Part of the Charity vs. Social Welfare Argument That Everyone Ignores (The Week)

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The One Part of the Charity vs. Social Welfare Argument That Everyone Ignores (The Week)

Building on Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal's piece in Democracy Journal on the myth that private charity could replace government, Matt Bruenig argues that the status quo bias – "let's hold on to what works" – protects social safety net programs once they're in place.

Bill to Restore U.S. Unemployment Insurance Likely to Deadlock in Congress (The Guardian)

Dan Roberts reports that John Boehner will not allow a vote on extended unemployment insurance, which lapsed in December, without provisions to encourage job growth, though the GOP hasn't offered any big ideas.

Labor Department Intervenes on Behalf of Hearst Interns (ProPublica)

In its first amicus brief in an unpaid internship lawsuit, the Labor Department urged the court to use stricter standards to determine whether an unpaid internship is permissible, writes Kara Brandeisky.

Banks Ordered to Add Capital to Limit Risks (NYT)

Federal regulators will increase the leverage ratio, which measures the amount of capital a bank must hold against its assets, writes Peter Eavis. Supporters say this rule is simpler and easier to enforce than other parts of financial reform.

Fed Gives Banks More Time on Volcker Rule Detail (Reuters)

Douwe Miedema reports that banks will get two additional years, through July 21, 2017, to sell off collateralized loan obligations, which the Volcker Rule deems too risky for banks to invest in.

The Unexpected Benefit of Telling People What Their Coworkers Make (The Atlantic)

On Equal Pay Day, many spoke up for pay disclosure as a way to reduce the wage gap. Emiliano Huet-Vaughn's research shows that pay transparency also significantly increases worker productivity.

New on Next New Deal

Is Short-Term Unemployment a Better Predictor of Inflation?

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal argues that we should not ignore long-term unemployment while analyzing how the economy is doing. That makes the Great Recession data make more sense, he says, but isn't applicable today.

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Daily Digest - April 7: Monopolies are a Net Loss for Economic Growth

Apr 7, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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How to Build a High-Speed Broadband Network in Seattle (Seattle Times)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford explains how Internet service provider monopolies limit the Seattle mayor's goals for economic growth, and how the city could go about installing high-speed fiber.

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How to Build a High-Speed Broadband Network in Seattle (Seattle Times)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford explains how Internet service provider monopolies limit the Seattle mayor's goals for economic growth, and how the city could go about installing high-speed fiber.

Not Your Grandpa’s Labor Union (Boston Globe)

Leon Neyfakh looks at efforts to reshape labor organizing in light of precarious relationships between employees and employers. He speaks to Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren about the approach he and colleagues take with the Future of Work Initiative.

  • Roosevelt Take: The Future of Work Initiative recently released a white paper on labor regulation and enforcement by Fellow Annette Bernhardt, and a report on worker organizing by Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch.

U.S. Adds 192,000 Jobs in March as Unemployment Rate Remains at 6.7% (The Guardian)

Job growth was lower than economists expected, says Heidi Moore, which seems to confirm that the U.S.'s economic recovery is, as Fed Chair Janet Yellen put it, "far from complete."

Labor Secretary: Long-term Unemployment Keeps Me up at Night (Five Thirty Eight)

Ben Casselman speaks to Tom Perez following the release of the March jobs report. Perez says government needs to do more for the long-term unemployed, but the cost of such programs is challenging.

Obama To Sign Executive Orders On Equal Pay (HuffPo)

Laura Bassett reports that the president's orders will mirror the likely-to-fail Paycheck Fairness Act, which is meant to hold contractors more accountable for sex- or race-based salary differences.

Under Pressure, Wal-Mart Upgrades its Policy for Helping Pregnant Workers (WaPo)

Unfortunately, writes Lydia DePillis, while Wal-Mart's new policy is an improvement, it still might not be enough to ensure the company accommodates pregnant workers on the job instead of forcing them out of work.

New on Next New Deal

Labor Law for All Workers: Empowering Workers to Challenge Corporate Decision Making

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch concludes his series on his new report on labor reform by discussing additional policy proposals that push back on the major challenges of organizing workers in today's economy.

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Labor Law for All Workers: Empowering Workers to Challenge Corporate Decision Making

Apr 4, 2014Richard Kirsch

This is the sixth and last in a series of posts summarizing a new Roosevelt Institute report by Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch, entitled "The Future of Work in America: Policies to Empower American Workers to Ensure Prosperity for All." The report provides a short history of how the rise and decline of unions and then explores reforms in labor policy to empower American workers to organize unions and rebuild the middle class.  Today’s post outlines possible policy solut

This is the sixth and last in a series of posts summarizing a new Roosevelt Institute report by Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch, entitled "The Future of Work in America: Policies to Empower American Workers to Ensure Prosperity for All." The report provides a short history of how the rise and decline of unions and then explores reforms in labor policy to empower American workers to organize unions and rebuild the middle class.  Today’s post outlines possible policy solutions to several major challenges to organizing workers in today’s economy. Over the next year, the Future of Work project will be exploring many of these ideas in depth. Their inclusion here is to begin surfacing ideas, rather than as final recommendations for reform.

If we are to give American workers the ability to bargain for a fair share of the wealth they create, we need strengthen labor law – as discussed in my last post – and bring in 34 millions workers (one-in-four) who are now excluded from the National Labor Relations Act.  These include domestic workers, farmworkers, front-line workers with minimum supervisory responsibilities, and public employees. The law should also be extended to include many workers now considered “independent contractors, ” even though an employer effectively determines their pay and working conditions. Examples range from truck drivers and cab drivers to adjunct faculty.

Some of the most innovative and effective organizing of low-wage workers is being done by new types of worker organizations. Worker centers and other groups can and often do perform public services, such as job training, occupational safety and health training, monitoring compliance with labor laws and enrolling workers in a variety of public programs. Government funding should be awarded to the worker groups for these services. Public entities could also bargain directly with worker groups, such as those representing home health care workers. And when government directly or indirectly pays for workers – for example home health care workers are funded by Medicare and Medicaid, – it should require that workers have decent wages and benefits, and provide sufficient funding.

We should also imagine broadening the scope of traditional labor law in the United States, to challenge traditional corporate prerogatives in the economy. When corporate growth comes at the expense of workers, it slows down the economy, because workers have less to spend. Corporations hurt communities when they relocate to seek lower paid workforces and lower taxes, or lobby against worker protections. When corporations lobby for lower taxes, they shirk their responsibility to pay for public services – from the roads on which they transport their goods, to the schools that educate their workers – resulting in deteriorating services and higher taxes on individuals and other businesses that do not get tax breaks.

Organized workers can serve as a powerful antidote to the concentration of corporate power. The law should block corporations from transferring jobs from unionized to non-unionized facilities and from making long-term investment decisions that modernize non-union facilities at the expense of union facilities. Under current law, these practices are banned only when the NLRB can prove that the employer was motivated by anti-union bias, a high bar that is difficult to reach.

The law should require unionized employers to recognize the union as the representative of new workers at any new facilities that the employer establishes or acquires. Unionized employers should not be allowed to close their business or specific facilities without first offering them for sale on the market. Bankruptcy courts should not be able to change union contracts without permission from the union.

The scope of subjects over which employers are currently required to bargain with their employees could be expanded to a number of other subjects that impact workers and communities, including the introduction of new products, decisions to invest in new facilities, pricing, and marketing. In that way, the welfare of workers - not just the interests of shareholders and executives – would be considered in business decisions. Strikes could also be allowed over a broader range of corporate policies, including decisions that impact communities and consumers.

Workers could also be given more of a role in corporate decision-making by requiring employers to allow the formation of “works councils,” an organizational form common in European countries. Works councils are established jointly by employers and worker organizations to represent workers in decisions in the workplace, ranging from personnel and management decisions to policies governing working conditions and major investments and locations. The current provisions in the NLRA, which are designed to block the formation of employer-controlled unions, may need to be amended to clarify that works councils may be set up when the workers approve of the councils and are not objectively dominated by the employer. Another measure would require that corporate boards of directors include representatives of unions, who would have full access to all corporate data.

Local, state, and federal governments could leverage public contracts and subsidies to require employers to comply with workers’ rights to organize. For example, they could prohibit employers from running anti-union campaigns and they could require the recognition of card check elections or other forms of establishing majority support. Government could also require that firms that receive public contracts and subsidies meet standards for pay and benefits, as President Obama has done with his recent executive order establishing a $10.10 minimum wage for workers of federal government contractors.

I’ll conclude with an observation about the politics of the variety of purposely-ambitious policy ideas I’ve outlined in the last two posts in this series. Good ideas can play a key role in organizing workers and in the other ways of making change. It is much easier to get where you want to go if you know where you want to go. Good ideas give people hope that there can be a better world and help them see the way forward.

But the power to win these policies will come through organizing people at work and in their communities, through changing culture and the public’s understanding of the importance of organized workers in moving the economy forward. The most important of these will be organizing workers to demand that they receive a fair share of the wealth they help create.

We hope that the ideas and discussion generated by the Future of Work in America will inspire Americans to ensure that every job respects the dignity and value of every worker, as we build an America of broadly shared prosperity.

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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Labor Law That Would Support Organizing in Today’s Economy

Apr 3, 2014Richard Kirsch

This is the fifth in a series of posts summarizing a new Roosevelt Institute paper report by Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch, entitled the "The Future of Work in America: Policies to Empower American Workers for and Ensure Prosperity for All." The paper report provides a short history of how the rise and decline of unions and then explores reforms in labor policy to empower American workers to organize unions and rebuild the middle class.

This is the fifth in a series of posts summarizing a new Roosevelt Institute paper report by Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch, entitled the "The Future of Work in America: Policies to Empower American Workers for and Ensure Prosperity for All." The paper report provides a short history of how the rise and decline of unions and then explores reforms in labor policy to empower American workers to organize unions and rebuild the middle class. Today’s post outlines possible policy solutions to several major challenges to organizing workers in today’s economy. Over the next year, the Future of Work project will be exploring many of these ideas in depth. Their inclusion here is to begin surfacing ideas, rather than as final recommendations for reform.

For decades, organized labor has supported federal legislation that aims to correct the imbalances in the NLRANational Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which favor employers and block unionization. The most recent push was for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which President Obama supported when he ran in 2008. However, in the face of threatened filibuster in the Senate by Republicans and a handful of Democrats, the President never made the issue a priority.

The list of potential reforms to the NLRA is as long as the law’s weaknesses. The top priority inof the EFCA was requiring employers to recognize a union once a majority of workers in the workplace had signed a card supporting the union. Card check elections could be expanded to include mail ballots and confidential on-line ballots as methods for demonstrating support from a majority of workers.

Other potential policies focus on leveling the playing field in union elections. Employers could be required to allow union representatives to have access to workers on the employer’s premises and be given equal time to speak to employees, when equal to the time employers spend campaigning against unionization.

Other reforms would create meaningful disincentives for employers, such as substantial penalties for retaliating against workers, rather than the current virtually meaningless penalty of requiring employers to provide back pay. Employers could also be prohibited from hiring replacement workers during a strike or lockout. Indeed, lockouts could be outlawed altogether.

While the reforms above are aimed at correcting long-established imbalances in labor law, other polices would tackle a big challenge in today’s economy. The nation’s biggest employers, fast-food chains and big box stores, have thousands of locations, each with a relatively small number of workers. Organizing these huge employers could be facilitated by allowing bargaining at multiple worksites. This would give unions the right to define the boundaries of bargaining units, either combining the units that exist within a single corporation or bringing together workers who labor for multiple employers within the same industry.

Another approach would require the creation of multi-employer consortia for the purposes of bargaining, allowing for workers to organize for better wages and working conditions in an entire industry.

Another policy would expand the use of hiring halls to a number of industries, potentially modeled after the construction industry. In construction, union members typically work on short-term jobs for multiple employers. These construction workers are hired through union hiring halls, and they receive health and retirement benefits from a multi-employer insurance fund administered jointly with the union.

To build on this model, employers in other industries could be required to hire workers through hiring halls, run by worker organizations. Employers would be required to pay into a fund run by the worker organizations, which would administer portable benefits - – including health coverage, retirement accounts, and earned sick days, family leave, and vacation - – earned by individual workers through their work with multiple employers,

Another transformational policy would be to end the requirement that a union win majority recognition in a given bargaining, with the responsibility to represent all the workers in that unit. Instead, unions would could be allowed to represent only those workers who choose to join the union. Members-only unions could operate across numerous employers within an industry, within a region or across a supply chain. Repealing exclusive representation would allow members-only unions to collectively bargain for their members and to represent only their members in grievances with their employers. A hybrid system would allow members-only unions to function until such time that a majority of workers vote to establish a union with the responsibility of exclusive representation.

In today’s economy, many workers are employed by companies that are largely or wholly dependent on huge companies that drive national and global supply chains. Labor policies must enable workers to seek decent wages and working conditions from those big companies, even if they do not work for them directly.

Companies like Walmart often contract with warehouse companies that almost exclusively handle Walmart-bound products. Policy changes to hold a dominant employer accountable for the companies that it effectively controls, would make a company like Walmart accountable for the conditions in those warehouses and require them to bargain with the warehouse workers. Similarly, it is common in the garment industry for a major retailer to require garment factories to produce items to the retailer’s specifications. The major company would be held accountable to the workers in those subcontracted garment factories. The dominant employer would be responsible if the controlled company violates labor laws, including labor standards, worker organizing and occupational safety and health protections.

Another approach would be to address the now-common practice of employers misclassifying workers as “independent contractors” in order to reduce compensation costs to employees and to exclude those workers from federal labor law protections. If workers are misclassified, all of the employers up the supply chain could be held legally responsible. Anti-trust and labor law should be changed to remove any barriers to worker organizations reaching agreements with a dominant employer that would apply to other firms in the supply chain.

Restoring the right to organize boycotts or strikes of companies in the supply chain, would be another tool for unions to pressure companies upstream or downstream from the company being organized.

Taken together, these measures would level the playing field for workers who now face a huge economic and legal imbalance as they seek a fair share of the enormous wealth being produced by huge, global employers.

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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