Brooks’s Recovery Gender Swap

Jul 17, 2013Mike Konczal

How are men doing in our anemic economic recovery? David Brooks, after discussing his favorite Western movie, argues in his latest column, Men on the Threshold, that men are "unable to cross the threshold into the new economy." Though he'd probably argue that he's talking about generational changes, he focuses on a few data points from the current recession, including that "all the private sector jobs lost by women during the Great Recession have been recaptured, but men still have a long way to go."

Is he right? And what are some facts we can put on the current recovery when it comes to men versus women?

Total Employment

Men had a harder crash during the recession, but a much better recovery, when compared with women.

Indeed, during the first two years of the recovery expert analysis was focused on a situation that was completely reversed from Brooks' story. The question in mid-2011 was "why weren't women finding jobs?" Pew Research put out a report in July 2011 finding that "From the end of the recession in June 2009 through May 2011, men gained 768,000 jobs and lowered their unemployment rate by 1.1 percentage points to 9.5%. 1 Women, by contrast, lost 218,000 jobs during the same period, and their unemployment rate increased by 0.2 percentage points to 8.5%."

How does that look two years later? Here's a graph of the actual level of employment by gender from the Great Recession onward:

If you squint you can see how women's employment is flat throughout 2011, when men start gaining jobs. Since the beginning 2011, men have gotten around 65 percent of all new jobs. That rate started at 70 percent, and has declined to around 60 percent now. So it is true, as Brooks notes, that women are approaching their old level of employment. But the idea that the anemic recovery has been biased against men is harder to understand. The issue is just a weak recovery - more jobs would mean more jobs for both men and women, but also especially for men.

Occupations

But maybe the issue is the occupations that men are now working. As Brooks writes, "Now, thanks to a communications economy, [men] find themselves in a world that values expressiveness, interpersonal ease, vulnerability and the cooperative virtues." This is a world where they either can't compete, or won't. The testable hypothesis is that men are doing poorly in occupations that are traditionally female dominated.

However the data shows that men are moving into female-dominated occupations, and taking a large majority of the new jobs there.

How has the gendered division of occupations evolved since 2011? Here is first quarter data from 2011 and 2013 of occupations by gender from the CPS. As a reminder, your occupation is what you do, while your industry is what your employer does. Occupation data is much noiser, hence us moving to quarterly data:

Ok that's a mess of data. What should we be looking for in this?

First off, men are moving into occupations that have been traditionally gender-coded female. Office support jobs, which Bryce Covert and I found were a major driver of overall female employment decline from 2009-2011, are now going to men. Men have taken 95 percent of new jobs in this occupation, one that was only about 26 percent male in 2011. We also see men taking a majority of jobs in the male-minority service occupations. Men are also gaining in sales jobs even while the overall number of jobs are declining. That's a major transformation happening in real-time.

(Meanwhile, it's not all caring work and symbolic analysts out there. There's a massive domestic energy extraction business booming in the United States, and those jobs are going to men as well. If you were to break down into suboccupations this becomes very obvious. Men took around 100 percent of the over 600,000+ new "construction and extraction" jobs, for instance.)

It'll be interesting to see how extensive men moving into traditionally female jobs will be, and to what extent it'll challenge the nature of both them and that work. Much of the structure of service work in the United States comes from the model of Walmart, and that comes from both Southern, Christian values and a model of the role women play in kinship structures and communities.

As Sarah Jaffe notes in her piece A Day Without Care, summarizing the work of Bethany Moreton, "Walmart...built its global empire on the backs of part-time women workers, capitalizing on the skills of white Southern housewives who’d never worked for pay before but who saw the customer service work they did at Walmart as an extension of the Christian service values they held dear. Those women didn’t receive a living wage because they were presumed to be married; today, Walmart’s workforce is much more diverse yet still expected to live on barely more than minimum wage."

How will men react when faced with this? And how will their bosses counter?

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:

  

 

How are men doing in our anemic economic recovery? David Brooks, after discussing his favorite Western movie, argues in his latest column, Men on the Threshold, that men are "unable to cross the threshold into the new economy." Though he'd probably argue that he's talking about generational changes, he focuses on a few data points from the current recession, including that "all the private sector jobs lost by women during the Great Recession have been recaptured, but men still have a long way to go."

Is he right? And what are some facts we can put on the current recovery when it comes to men versus women?

Total Employment

Men had a harder crash during the recession, but a much better recovery, when compared with women.

Indeed, during the first two years of the recovery expert analysis was focused on a situation that was completely reversed from Brooks' story. The question in mid-2011 was "why weren't women finding jobs?" Pew Research put out a report in July 2011 finding that "From the end of the recession in June 2009 through May 2011, men gained 768,000 jobs and lowered their unemployment rate by 1.1 percentage points to 9.5%. 1 Women, by contrast, lost 218,000 jobs during the same period, and their unemployment rate increased by 0.2 percentage points to 8.5%."

How does that look two years later? Here's a graph of the actual level of employment by gender from the Great Recession onward:

If you squint you can see how women's employment is flat throughout 2011, when men start gaining jobs. Since the beginning 2011, men have gotten around 65 percent of all new jobs. That rate started at 70 percent, and has declined to around 60 percent now. So it is true, as Brooks notes, that women are approaching their old level of employment. But the idea that the anemic recovery has been biased against men is harder to understand. The issue is just a weak recovery - more jobs would mean more jobs for both men and women, but also especially for men.

Occupations

But maybe the issue is the occupations that men are now working. As Brooks writes, "Now, thanks to a communications economy, [men] find themselves in a world that values expressiveness, interpersonal ease, vulnerability and the cooperative virtues." This is a world where they either can't compete, or won't. The testable hypothesis is that men are doing poorly in occupations that are traditionally female dominated.

However the data shows that men are moving into female-dominated occupations, and taking a large majority of the new jobs there.

How has the gendered division of occupations evolved since 2011? Here is first quarter data from 2011 and 2013 of occupations by gender from the CPS. As a reminder, your occupation is what you do, while your industry is what your employer does. Occupation data is much noiser, hence us moving to quarterly data:

Ok that's a mess of data. What should we be looking for in this?

First off, men are moving into occupations that have been traditionally gender-coded female. Office support jobs, which Bryce Covert and I found were a major driver of overall female employment decline from 2009-2011, are now going to men. Men have taken 95 percent of new jobs in this occupation, one that was only about 26 percent male in 2011. We also see men taking a majority of jobs in the male-minority service occupations. Men are also gaining in sales jobs even while the overall number of jobs are declining. That's a major transformation happening in real-time.

(Meanwhile, it's not all caring work and symbolic analysts out there. There's a massive domestic energy extraction business booming in the United States, and those jobs are going to men as well. If you were to break down into suboccupations this becomes very obvious. Men took around 100 percent of the over 600,000+ new "construction and extraction" jobs, for instance.)

It'll be interesting to see how extensive men moving into traditionally female jobs will be, and to what extent it'll challenge the nature of both them and that work. Much of the structure of service work in the United States comes from the model of Walmart, and that comes from both Southern, Christian values and a model of the role women play in kinship structures and communities.

As Sarah Jaffe notes in her piece A Day Without Care, summarizing the work of Bethany Moreton, "Walmart...built its global empire on the backs of part-time women workers, capitalizing on the skills of white Southern housewives who’d never worked for pay before but who saw the customer service work they did at Walmart as an extension of the Christian service values they held dear. Those women didn’t receive a living wage because they were presumed to be married; today, Walmart’s workforce is much more diverse yet still expected to live on barely more than minimum wage."

How will men react when faced with this? And how will their bosses counter?

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:

  

 

Business people armwrestling image via Shutterstock.com.

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Daily Digest - July 17: Wall Street's Election Day Fears

Jul 17, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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Why Spitzer’s Return Terrifies Big Finance (Naked Capitalism)

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Why Spitzer’s Return Terrifies Big Finance (Naked Capitalism)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Thomas Ferguson argues that Eliot Spitzer as New York City Comptroller would be a threat to the political power of Wall Street. With control of the public pension funds, Spitzer could change how the city does business with the financial industry.

The Consumer Watchdog’s Work Will Last–For Now (MSNBC)

Adam Serwer speaks to Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal on why the Senate GOP spent so long opposing Richard Cordray's nomination to direct the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. Mike says they opposed any nominee, in an attempt to weaken the CFPB.

Reminder: Don’t Pay Attention to Wall Street’s Whines About Regulation (NY Mag)

Kevin Roose looks at Wall Street bank profits over the past ten years, and concludes that we should ignore their complaints about regulation. It turns out that the financial industry is resilient and will find a way to increase profits no matter the restrictions.

McJobs Are the Future: Why You Should Care What Fast Food Workers Earn (The Atlantic)

Jordan Weissmann refutes the claim that no one is making a career or supporting a family off a minimum wage fast food job. Most fast food jobs aren't minimum wage - but making another fifty cents per hour doesn't get a person above the poverty line.

OECD Doesn’t See Unemployment Falling Until Late 2014 (WSJ)

Paul Hannon reports that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development predicts that it will be some time before unemployment begins to drop. Like many others, it recommends avoiding austerity policies because they will slow growth.

Charles Koch on the Poor: Let Them Eat 'Economic Freedom' (The Nation)

Leslie Savan explains the problems with a new ad put out by Charles Koch that claims anyone making over $34,000 a year is part of the 1%. That's true on a global scale, but doesn't mean anything for people living in poverty in the U.S..

New on Next New Deal

Why Trayvon Is Inspiring America to Put Stand Your Ground Laws on Trial

Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline DC chapter Director of Programming Naomi Ahsan argues that the Zimmerman verdict is a sign that Americans need to challenge Stand Your Ground laws. Beyond the collective anger at that decision, these laws contribute to systemic racism.

The Egyptian Coup Isn't the End of Democracy. It's a Demand for Justice.

Former Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Policy Director Reese Neader breaks down the current situation in Egypt. He explains why this is not the "death of democracy," but a push for better democracy than was achieved in 2011.

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Daily Digest - July 11: Corporate Profits Don't Want Living Wages

Jul 11, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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Wal-Mart Plans to Exit DC Over 'Living Wage' Bill (All In With Chris Hayes)

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Wal-Mart Plans to Exit DC Over 'Living Wage' Bill (All In With Chris Hayes)

Chris Hayes speaks with Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren about how Walmart has fought these laws in the past. Walmart presents itself as a provider of good jobs in urban regions, Dorian says, but its unwillingness to pay a living wage speaks otherwise.

Big Cable’s Sauron-Like Plan for One Infrastructure to Rule Us All (Wired)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford explains how cable monopolies want to charge everyone for access to specific pockets of data. With data consumption caps on the user side, the cable companies will dampen access for all.

The Recession That Always Was (TAP)

Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow Nona Willis Aronowitz speaks to Millennials in Milwaukee for whom the recession is just more of the same. For these low-wage workers, the only change is that the middle-class is finally noticing their struggle.

Do We Have the Will to Fight for the Jobless? (WaPo)

Katrina vanden Heuvel is concerned that Washington is ignoring the continuing jobs crisis. She has a list of policy suggestions that Congress could take up to get Americans back to work.

Wages Have Fallen Fastest In The Lowest Paid Jobs (ThinkProgress)

Bryce Covert reports that the lowest-wage jobs have seen the largest drops in compensation since 2009. Since low-wage jobs make up the bulk job growth right now, it's of particular concern.

The Beginning of the End of LGBT Workplace Discrimination? (MoJo)

Thomas Stackpole suggests that the time may have finally come when we can pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. It is still legal to fire someone for their sexual orientation in 29 states.

The Republican Plan to Cut Food Stamps Even More (MSNBC)

Ned Resnikoff thinks that separating farm subsidies and SNAP will allow House Republicans to introduce a food stamp bill with even more cuts. That would make conferencing the Senate and House bills more painful, since the gap would start even wider.

Student Loan Deal Reached In Senate Threatens To Raise Future Costs (HuffPo)

Shahien Nasiripour reports on a late-night bipartisan deal that ties interest rates to the 10-year Treasury note. It does place a cap on interest rates, but that cap is higher than the 6.8% legislators have been decrying while working on this deal.

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Daily Digest - July 8: Rebranding Doesn't Solve GOP Problems, or Workers'

Jul 8, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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Can libertarian populism save the Republican Party? (WaPo)

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Can libertarian populism save the Republican Party? (WaPo)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal thinks that the libertarian populist agenda that some are suggesting for the GOP is just a rebranding and doesn't help the working class or unemployed. A platform that fails to address the jobs crisis won't help in 2014.

Why Republicans Want to Tax Students and Not Polluters (Robert Reich)

Robert Reich is frustrated that the GOP is following the Koch brothers' lead and blocking climate bills with revenue increases, even as they support raising student loan interest rates. We shouldn't put lowering the deficit on people paying back student loans.

Oregon Lawmakers Pioneer Tuition-Free 'Pay it Forward, Pay it Back' College Plan (ABC News)

Susanna Kim reports on Oregon's brand new plan for financing public higher education: students attend tuition-free, but pay the state a small percentage of their income for twenty years following graduation.

The Legacy of the Boomer Boss (NYT)

Gar Alperovitz thinks that as business owners prepare to retire, the morally and economically sound option is to sell their business to the workers. It's a better legacy, he argues, then handing over your hard work to a corporation.

Congress Is Squandering the Opportunity of a Lifetime (TAP)

Jamelle Bouie says that it is time to take advantage of low interest rates and solve our jobs and infrastructure problems simultaneously. There won't be a better moment — Fed interest rates are already starting to rise.

The Jobs Report was Pretty Good! The Market Response Isn’t. (WaPo)

Neil Irwin sees the financial markets making all-or-nothing responses to every piece of data available, from statements by the Fed to Friday's jobs numbers. The problem is that one datapoint on jobs isn't enough to make informed predictions about our economic future.

A Good Jobs Report, but a New Low-Wage Reality (MSNBC)

Suzy Khimm points out that while we created more jobs than expected in June, many were in low-wage fields, and the number of workers who work part-time because they can't find full-time work is still up. This is a problem that job creation alone won't solve.

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Daily Digest - July 5: Part-Time World

Jul 5, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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The Part-Timer Problem (TAP)

Harold Meyerson wonders if the employer mandate would really have helped many get health insurance in the first place, since full-time jobs have been on the decline for years. Saner, he thinks, would be to separate employment and health care entirely.

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

The Part-Timer Problem (TAP)

Harold Meyerson wonders if the employer mandate would really have helped many get health insurance in the first place, since full-time jobs have been on the decline for years. Saner, he thinks, would be to separate employment and health care entirely.

Job Creation and the Affordable Care Act Have Little to Do with Each Other (On The Economy)

Jared Bernstein argues that the Affordable Care Act should not effect job growth, and in fact could lower the cost of labor. Besides that, he thinks we should judge the bill as a health care bill, because it isn't a jobs bill.

The GOP’s Endless War on Obamacare, and the White House Delay (Robert Reich)

Robert Reich suggests that the delay in implementing the employer mandate will only give Republicans more time to attempt to convince Americans that they don't want this law that will help to reduce health care inequality.

As Sequestration Cuts Bite, Congress is Content with Recrimination (The Guardian)

Heidi Moore sees the lack of action to fix sequestration as a sign of the larger problem of Congress's unwillingness to actually pass a budget or any other major legislation. She thinks the window for that work will close as soon as midterm campaigns begin.

How the Sequester Savages the Long-Term Unemployed (The Nation)

George Zornick reports that as sequestration continues, cuts to Emergency Unemployment Compensation are putting the long-term unemployed in an even tighter spot. His interview subject points out that meanwhile, Congress is still drawing a full salary and benefits.

Four Years Into Recovery, Austerity’s Toll is At Least 3 Million Jobs (Working Economics)

Josh Bivens and Heidi Shierholz look at data that demonstrates just how much austerity has cost job growth over the past four years, and suggest that ending austerity policies, starting with sequestration, is the most logical next step.

Rosy Data Suggest Faster Job Growth (WaPo)

Ylan Mui explains why some groups are saying that the jobs numbers being released this morning will be higher than recent months. Others think it is more likely that job growth will prove to continue at the same slow and steady pace.

 

 

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Daily Digest - July 2: Staying in Small Town, USA

Jul 2, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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Roosevelt’s Legacy, Burning Brightly (NYT)

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Roosevelt’s Legacy, Burning Brightly (NYT)

Edward Rothstein reports on the newly renovated Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, NY. The overhaul, the first since FDR dedicated the library in 1941, has been open to the public since Sunday.

Bright Kids, Small City (TAP)

Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow Nona Willis Aronowitz speaks to Millennials who have chosen to live in Harrisburg, PA on why they are staying in the Rust Belt, reversing a fifty-year trend of young people moving away. A risk-averse approach to money is central to that decision.

Washington Shrugs as Student Loan Rates Double (MSNBC)

Suzy Khimm explains why no one in Congress seems to be doing anything about yesterday's student loan interest rate hike. Congress feels no urgency when the next set of loans won't be taken out until August, so they’re taking a break for the holiday instead.

We Must Hate Our Children (Salon)

Joan Walsh can't come up with any other reason that we would accept the idea that incurring massive amounts of debt for school is a necessary part of starting out in life.

Don't Blame Unemployment Insurance for Our Jobs Crisis (The Atlantic)

Matthew O'Brien looks at a study that shows that the labor market is just broken, and collecting unemployment insurance doesn't stop people from looking for jobs. Cutting benefits just keeps people from being able to pay their bills, which doesn't exactly help the economy.

War on the Unemployed (NYT)

Paul Krugman questions why the benefit cuts in North Carolina and other actions against the unemployed aren't getting more attention. Punishing the unemployed won't increase economic growth, which means it won't help anyone get a new job faster.

Non-Union Federally-Contracted Workers Will Stage Second Strike Today (The Nation)

Josh Eidelson continues to report on the strikes organized by Good Jobs Nation to pressure the federal government to raise labor standards for federal contractors. Strikers report violations of minimum wage and overtime laws by contractors who work in federal buildings.

The Truth About Immigration Reform and the Economy (Robert Reich)

Robert Reich counters three myths about how immigration reform will affect the economy. Our economic struggles, both short-term and long-term, could actually be nicely solved by a large increase in young workers paying into the system.

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Daily Digest - June 26: The Costs of Climate Change

Jun 26, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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Helping the Economic Climate (U.S. News & World Report)

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Helping the Economic Climate (U.S. News & World Report)

David Brodwin disagrees with those who argue that we cannot "afford" to fight climate change. There are immense money-saving options built into climate change plans, and a broad-based carbon tax could be the best solution.

  • Roosevelt Take: Former EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson was honored at this month's Roosevelt Institute Distinguished Public Service Awards for her work on climate change in the Obama Administration. Watch our video honoring her here.

Grayson Announces Bill to Let Workers Personally Sue Bosses Who Retaliate (The Nation)

Josh Eidelson explains how Congressman Grayson's bill addresses weaknesses in the National Labor Relations Act, expanding workers' legal recourse to include civil cases against the individual instead of the corporation and significantly increasing related fines.

Employers Still Dodging Minimum Wage Law 75 Years After Its Passage (HuffPo)

According to Saki Knafo, 26% of low-wage workers report being paid less than minimum wage, and 76% report being denied overtime pay, primarily due to incorrect classification as contractors. These violations are so widespread that the Department of Labor can't handle all the cases.

The Best Argument for Studying English? The Employment Numbers (The Atlantic)

Jordan Weissmann suggests that people are too hard on humanities majors when they say such degrees are useless for finding a job, because English and history majors have unemployment rates that are on-par with other fields that are not pre-professional.

Paul Ryan Focusing More on Hurting the Poor (NY Mag)

Jonathan Chait lays out Paul Ryan's strategy for poverty these days: cutting benefits wherever possible. Ryan seems to think that the best way to help the un- and underemployed is to cut their food stamps, because hunger is a great motivator.

Spielberg Test: Why the One Percenters Don’t Deserve Twice as Much (MSNBC)

Timothy Noah argues that if even Steven Spielberg's market value has not consistently increased over the past forty years, then there is no reason to assume that the 1% inherently deserve their doubled income share in that time.

Foreclosure settlement a billion-dollar bust (USA Today)

Julie Schmit reports on the inadequacy of a recent settlement orchestrated by the government for victims of foreclosure abuse. Two-thirds of the payouts are only $300, which is clearly not sufficient to make up for the lose of a house.

New on Next New Deal

Can the Taper Matter? Revisiting a Wonkish 2012 Debate

As Ben Bernanke tests the waters for changes to the Fed's stimulus policies, Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal argues that monetary policy is about more than just expectations.

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Daily Digest - June 21: Changing Definitions, Unchanging Realities for Workers

Jun 21, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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Is it Time to Tweak Obamacare? Sen. Joe Donnelly Thinks So. (WaPo)

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Is it Time to Tweak Obamacare? Sen. Joe Donnelly Thinks So. (WaPo)

Sarah Kliff speaks to the Senator, who wants to change the definition of full-time hours in the Affordable Care Act from 30 to 40. He wants to prevent part-time workers from getting their hours cut due to employers who don’t want to offer health insurance.

Who Killed Equality? (Bloomberg)

Ezra Klein says that the usual arguments on economic inequality ignore the power of government to set the rulebook, drawing on the work of Dean Baker. The current set of rules exacerbate income inequality, but they don't have to stay on the books.

The Economy Can’t Recover If the Workers Don’t (Campaign for America's Future)

Robert Borosage is concerned by the Fed's changing tone on the economic crisis and recovery, because as far as most Americans are concerned, we're still in the middle of the crisis. Stock market improvements are not average worker recovery.

Cutting Wages Won’t Create Jobs (The Hill)

Jack Temple argues that when we don't raise the minimum wage, we're effectively cutting it due to inflation, and that isn't helping unemployment. In fact, an increase in the minimum wage would serve as a major stimulus for the economy.

The Unpaid Internship Racket (MSNBC)

Timothy Noah considers the moral failings of unpaid internships, which go alongside their frequent illegality as shown by last week's ruling against Fox Searchlight. Beyond the inequality and abuse, there's the simple formulation that interns are workers, and workers get paid.

Profits Without Production (NYT)

Paul Krugman suggests that the biggest difference between today's economy and the past's is the growth of monopoly rents, or profits tied primarily to market dominance. This depresses perceived return on investments and wages, contributing to our weak recovery.

Bank of America Whistleblowers Allege Rot at the Core of the Mortgage Industrial Complex (HuffPo)

Ray Brescia reports on some of the most serious charges revealed in affidavits filed in litigation against Bank of America. If this is Bank of America's way of reforming its foreclosure practices, then it is clear that more oversight is necessary.

New on Next New Deal

One More Day for Women's Equality in New York

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Andrea Flynn writes on New York Governor Cuomo's Women's Equality Act, which contains one of the most progressive pieces of abortion legislation in the country. But the legislative session ends today, and the State Senate seems unwilling to take a vote on the issue.

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What Will Obamacare Mean for the Low-Wage Work Crisis?

Jun 18, 2013Richard Kirsch

New health insurance marketplaces will make affordable care accessible to millions, but low-wage employees of big businesses may be left out.

One of the biggest issues that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is meant to tackle is the lack of health coverage among low-wage workers. While there is good news for many low-wage workers in the new law, many others will still find themselves locked out of access to affordable coverage. Solving their concerns will be one more part of the huge challenge of confronting the power of mammoth low-wage employers in the new economy.

New health insurance marketplaces will make affordable care accessible to millions, but low-wage employees of big businesses may be left out.

One of the biggest issues that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is meant to tackle is the lack of health coverage among low-wage workers. While there is good news for many low-wage workers in the new law, many others will still find themselves locked out of access to affordable coverage. Solving their concerns will be one more part of the huge challenge of confronting the power of mammoth low-wage employers in the new economy.

There has been a lot of coverage about the potential for fast food chains and other employers to cut the hours of some of their employees to under 30 a week in order to avoid having to offer them health coverage. To the extent that employers do cut back hours, it will accelerate a long-trend toward part-time low wage work; part-timers increased from 17 percent to 22 percent of the workforce just from 2007 to 2011.

The surge in part-time work is one aspect of the broader increase in low-wage work. Most of the jobs coming out of the recession are low-wage, which has hastened a trend going back 30 years of a growing number of low-wage jobs with no health benefits. The powerful eroding of good jobs is the greatest threat to broadly-shared economic prosperity. It destroys any promise of people living a middle-class life style, creates a two-tiered society, and undercuts the consumer buying power needed to move the economy forward.

The low-wage economy means more than just low wages. Post-World War II jobs, which came with employer-provided health coverage and a pension, are fast disappearing. Now more than four-in-ten workers do not get health coverage on the job. This includes many employees of small businesses, which do not offer any health coverage. It also includes millions of employees of large businesses, who either are not offered health coverage or can't afford the premiums.

Enter Obamacare. The good news in the ACA for low-wage workers who work for small employers (those with fewer than 50 full-time workers) is that many will have access to affordable health coverage for the first time through the new health insurance marketplaces. They will be able to sign up for subsidies that limit how much they pay in premiums to a percentage of their income and get plans with good benefits and moderate out-of-pocket costs. Those with incomes below 133 percent of the federal poverty level (about $15,000 for an individual) will be eligible for Medicaid in states that agree to expand coverage.

But for those who work for bigger employers – and some two-thirds of minimum wage jobs are at employers of 100 or more – it is not clear whether the ACA will deliver on its promise of affordable coverage. Ironically, part-time workers may come out ahead, with a much better chance of affordable coverage, while full-time low-wage workers may find coverage out of their financial reach.

Millions of people who don’t work more than 29 hours a week for any one employer will be eligible for affordable subsidized coverage through the new marketplaces. And even if employers trim back some workers' hours to get below the 30-hour mark, those workers may end up better financially and gain affordable coverage for the first time.

There will also be some employers who increase the hours of part-time workers to above 30 a week, as the Cumberland Farms stores, which employ 4,500 full-time workers and 2,700 part-timers, plan to do. Noting that  full-time workers stay with the business three to four times longer than part-timers, the Cumberland Farms CEO explains, ““Longer-tenured workers deliver a better experience for the customer.” According to the payroll-processing firm ADP, other businesses are also likely to encourage more workers to become eligible for employer coverage.

But it is not at all clear that full-time low wage workers for bigger employers will be able to get affordable coverage. That is because the big business lobby exercised its muscle in shaping the ACA in the Senate Finance Committee. All the law requires is that employers offer individual employee health coverage that does not cost more than 9.5 percent of an employee’s income in order for the business to escape paying a $2,000-to-$3,000 penalty. In addition, the ACA allows employers to offer plans with very high out-of-pocket costs.

Make no mistake about it; 9.5 percent of wages is a lot for anyone to pay for health insurance, and it is a huge amount for low-wage workers. By comparison, an employee who makes $12 an hour and works a 35-hour week would pay about 6 percent of his or her income on health insurance in the new marketplaces, for coverage which is almost certain to have better benefits and lower deductibles and co-payments.

And here’s the kicker: as long as a worker is offered the less-than-9.5-percent-of-income coverage at work, that worker is not eligible for the much better coverage in the marketplace. And if the worker decides that she can’t afford the premiums, she will be have to pay a penalty for not being insured.

The big outstanding question is, what will the bigger low-wage employers do? They could choose to offer affordable coverage to their employees. But the big fast food chains, retail giants, and box stores have a history of offering several levels of coverage to their employees, including bare-bones plans targeted at their lowest paid workers.  

Putting this all together, here is what health coverage for low-wage workers may look like after a couple of years of implementation of Obamacare: good coverage for those who work for smaller businesses and who don’t work more than 29 hours a week for any one employer, but either no coverage or coverage that is costly to buy and to use for many people who work more than 30 hours a week for the biggest low-wage employers in the country.

Seen in this light, Obamacare is one more step toward both improving and exacerbating the low-wage work crisis in the nation. The movement away from employer-provided health coverage is a huge step forward in creating a more just health care coverage system. But justice for low-wage workers at big businesses will mean confronting the power of companies like WalMart, McDonald's, and Bank of America (with its low-wage tellers). This is the same challenge we face in taking the other steps needed to modernize labor standards for the 21st Century: a higher minimum wage indexed to inflation, paid sick days and family leave, and overhauling labor laws so that workers’ rights to form unions is restored. It is fast becoming central to the fight for a new economy that works for all Americans.

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.

 

Health care reform advocates image via Shutterstock.com

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Daily Digest - June 18: The Hunt for Good Jobs Continues

Jun 18, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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“This was really eye-opening for me”: Fed’s Raskin Shocked at Low Quality of Work at Local Job Fair (Reuters)

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

“This was really eye-opening for me”: Fed’s Raskin Shocked at Low Quality of Work at Local Job Fair (Reuters)

Pedro da Costa notes that Sarah Bloom Raskin's comments at A Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency on June 4th were surprisingly personal. Raskin's trip to the job fair helped her to understand just how difficult things are in today's job market.

Minimum Wage: Catching up to Productivity (Democracy)

John Schmitt suggests plans to increase the minimum wage so that low-wage workers get a piece of the pie from our massive productivity gains. Linking the minimum wage to CPI isn’t the solution, because that would just maintain the status quo.

  • Roosevelt Take: Watch John with Brink Lindsey, Ai-jen Poo, and Roosevelt Institute CEO and President Felicia Wong on the panel "Is Education the Answer?" at A Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency.

Dems Rebrand Minimum Wage, Sick Leave As Women's Issues To Pressure GOP (HuffPo)

Laura Bassett and Dave Jamieson see these efforts as an intentional push against the GOP, since the Democrats have such large margins with women voters. By making economic issues into gender issues, they are already in the lead for voter approval.

Florida’s Governor Signs Business-Backed Bill Banning Paid Sick Leave (ThinkProgress)

Bryce Covert reports that Rick Scott has signed a bill that bans local governments from implementing paid sick leave legislation. Apparently Floridians are best served by bringing their infectious diseases to work.

Walmart Bill Vote Bumped to Next Week; Cue the Lobbyists (Washington City Paper)

Aaron Wiener writes on a D.C. City Council bill that would require large retailers whose workers are not unionized to pay a living wage of $12.50 per hour. Unsurprisingly, a Walmart spokesman doesn't like the exemption for organized labor.

Volunteering Lifts Job Prospects of the Jobless (WaPo)

Michael Fletcher reports on a federal study that provides data for something many have assumed: volunteering increases an unemployed person's chance of finding a job by 27%. For those without high school diplomas, who really struggle to find work, the effect is even greater.

The Current U.S. Economy: Text and Subtext (NYT)

Jared Bernstein thinks that the relatively positive IMF assessment of the U.S. economy requires annotation, which reveals the underlying struggles of the middle and lower classes and the problems with our current economic policy.

Will the Robots Steal Your Paycheck? BREAKING: They Already Have (The Atlantic)

Jordan Weissmann examines a study that shows that in countries where the cost of doing business has dropped, worker share of GDP fell as well. He argues that we need to consider how this change affects workers who are being replaced by technology.

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