The Rebirth of Unions

Jul 2, 2012Hye Mi Ahn

Unions are a crucial aspect of the U.S. economy and should be adapted to be made more efficient rather than dismissed or eliminated. 

Unions are a crucial aspect of the U.S. economy and should be adapted to be made more efficient rather than dismissed or eliminated. 

In a letter to the president of the National Federation of Federal Employees in 1937, President Roosevelt wrote: "Organizations of government employees have a logical place in government affairs. The desire of government employees for fair and adequate pay, reasonable hours of work, safe and suitable working conditions, development of opportunities for advancement, facilities for fair and impartial consideration and review of grievances, and other objectives of a proper employee relations policy, is basically no different from that of employees in private industry." 

But the days of elected officials supporting organized labor may be behind us for good. Scott Walker, the Governor of Wisconsin who stripped government employees of collective bargaining rights, easily survived a recall election recently, inciting Republicans to declare that the backbone of the American labor union had been finally and truly broken. The discussion then turned to the implications for Democrats in the 2012 election, but the uncertain future for labor unions should not be dismissed so easily. 

Unions played a vital role in buoying the middle class throughout the 20th century, and they still remain a prominent fixture in countries around the world. During the 1950s—the height of unionization in the United States—membership rates hovered around 35p ercent and the public attitude toward unions was generally favorable. Progressives like President Roosevelt understood the importance of healthy unions to level the playing field between labor and management, and as a necessary check on the free market, so that employers would be beholden to their workers as well as shareholders and profits.

But in the following decades, several factors contributed to the steady decline of unions. As the United States began to move away from manufacturing, the middle class that supplied unskilled labor to the economy began to lose its collective power and political clout. Stonemasons, construction workers, and machine operators were laid off as the skills-focused service industry dominated the economy. Globalization led to the mass outsourcing of traditional middle class jobs. The relentless advent of technology required employees to have specific training or college degrees, when their positions weren’t replaced entirely by machines.

Unsurprisingly, income inequality grew larger as union membership rates fell during this time. And when union membership rates slow down, so do blue-collar wages. The middle class share of aggregate income has been in consistent decline since the 1960s, to an alarmingly low level today. 

In light of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the ongoing discussion of class warfare, it would be easy to presume that the "99%" would support labor unions that have been the historical equalizer between management and the working class. However, the fact that Scott Walker remains governor today is a sure sign that the existing model of unions, especially in the public sector, is unsustainable in an era of global economic turmoil. Eventually, budget deficits must be dealt with at every level of government, and austerity will spare few of the perks, like pensions and health benefits, that are associated with union membership.

But the election results should not be taken as the final word. Just as the motive for profit does not drive all employers to act ruthlessly, unions should not be assumed to exploit powers like collective bargaining to freeze out non-union members or hold employers hostage with strikes. Likewise, unions do not inherently cause inflation, unemployment, or state budget deficits, according to leading economists.

Here are some findings from a report by the Economic Policy Institute that show how unions benefit society as a whole:

  • “Unions raise wages of unionized workers by roughly 20% and raise compensation, including both wages and benefits, by about 28%.”
  • “Unions reduce wage inequality because they raise wages more for low and middle-wage workers than for higher-wage workers, more for blue-collar than for white-collar workers, and more for workers who do not have a college degree.”
  • “Strong unions set a pay standard that nonunion employers follow. For example, a high school graduate whose workplace is not unionized but whose industry is 25% unionized is paid 5% more than similar workers in less unionized industries.”
  • “Unionized workers receive better pension plans. Not only are they more likely to have a guaranteed benefit in retirement, their employers contribute 28% more toward pensions.”

There was a spurt of experimentation in the 1990s when companies and unions from AFL-CIO cooperated to form teamwork strategies that improved efficiency. Industry giants like Xerox Corp. found the initiatives to be so successful that they moved hundreds of jobs back to the United States and invested in their unionized workers for higher quality output and increased competitiveness. This is a norm in other industrialized nations; the history of modern European states shows a robust relationship, not fatal incompatibility, between organized labor and firms.

In the United States over the past few decades, unions have become saddled with an unsavory reputation of being ineffective, stubborn components of the economy that prioritize membership benefits at the expense of efficiency. The cozy, symbiotic financial relationship between public unions and elected Democrats hasn’t helped either. Instead of fanning the flames of the management-labor divide, as the unions tried to do with the recall effort in Wisconsin, unions should direct their energy to adapting and becoming cooperative elements in the free market by working with firms to generate productivity.

As the nation grapples with growing inequality, we should not categorically reject the place of unions in our economy. And as technology and changing business models reshape the global economy and feed the growing income gap as they have in the past, unions could prove to be critical at resuscitating the middle class now and protecting workers’ rights in the future. 

Hye Mi Ahn is a rising senior at Carleton College, and a Roosevelt Institute summer intern. 

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Why Obama’s New Immigration Policy is Good for the Economy

Jun 21, 2012Tim Price

Protecting undocumented workers doesn't mean they'll "steal" American jobs. Quite the opposite.

Protecting undocumented workers doesn't mean they'll "steal" American jobs. Quite the opposite.

Last Friday, the Obama administration announced that it would halt the deportation of young undocumented immigrants who would qualify for the DREAM Act and grant them work permits. The usual suspects leaped into action with shouts of “amnesty!” and charges that President Obama was once again selling out his country to serve his cosmopolitan principles. One reporter from the right-wing Daily Caller was so irate that he started heckling Obama during the statement announcing the new policy, asking whether it was “good for the American people.” But this move will in fact benefit Americans, and anyone concerned about America’s workers and the health of its economy should be pushing the administration and Congress to go even farther.

In the ongoing battle between the 1 percent and the 99 percent, undocumented immigrants undoubtedly fall into the latter category. According to Pew research, 62 percent of undocumented workers are employed in construction, hospitality, manufacturing, or wholesale and retail trade, and “in specific occupations like cooking, painting, washing cars, packaging by hand and installation of carpets and floors, they may make up 20 percent or more” of the total workforce. Although the same study finds that many of these workers make at least minimum wage, the Urban Institute reports, “About two-thirds of undocumented workers earn less than twice the minimum wage, compared with only one-third of all workers.” Moreover, research from the Dallas Fed notes that although they are covered by minimum wage laws, “undocumented workers paid less than the minimum wage are probably unlikely to seek legal redress for fear of revealing their undocumented status.”

In short, these workers perform lousy jobs for lousy pay, with little bargaining power, limited legal recourse if they’re mistreated by their employers, and no safety net to catch them if they get sick or lose their jobs. Dirt cheap, easily exploited, and readily disposable, they represent the model American worker for elites who rail against organized labor, social programs, and business regulations.

Bringing undocumented immigrants out of the shadows and acknowledging them as full and active participants in the workforce is essential, not just to improve their own economic standing but to increase economic justice for all workers. Conservatives often cast this as an us-versus-them conflict, warning that undocumented workers are out to “steal” our jobs and that granting them legal status will only create more competition for low-income Americans. But they're already here whether we choose to acknowledge them or not, and as Cristina Jimenez writes at The American Prospect (h/t Travis Waldron), “As long as a cheap, compliant pool of undocumented labor is available, employers have every reason to take advantage of the situation, keeping wages as low as possible.” No one’s out picking fruit under the hot California sun because of the great dental benefits; they’re doing what they need to get by, and their employers have them over a barrel. To put it another way, Terence O’Sullivan of the Laborers’ International Union of North America says, “Workers don’t depress wages. Unscrupulous employers do.”

The alternative to granting undocumented workers the legal protection they need to combat this exploitation is mass deportation, but rounding up and expelling 11 million people at a cost of $23,480 a head would be both inhumane and totally unaffordable. On the other hand, allowing them to stay and granting them legal status would actually help to reduce the deficit. According to a report from the National Council of La Raza, undocumented workers already contribute about $8.5 billion into Social Security and Medicare each year in addition to paying sales and property taxes. Far from being freeloaders, they pay $80,000 more in taxes per capita during their working lives than they take in from government services. But even if some of these workers were to achieve legal status through the DREAM Act and begin receiving the full benefits they deserve, the CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation estimate that factors including their newly reportable income and decreased Homeland Security costs would generate $1.7 billion in new revenue and reduce the deficit by $2.2 billion over the next 10 years. The question of “Which do I loathe more, deficits or immigrants?” may represent a real Sophie’s Choice for some on the right, but it’s clear that deficit hawkery is incompatible with opposition to immigration reform.

Even if you’re not one of those people who wakes up in a cold sweat thinking about the debt-to-GDP ratio, there’s reason to believe the American economy has holes these undocumented immigrants could fill. (Not literally, though they do that too.) As President Obama has emphasized, the U.S. is falling behind other developed countries in college completion rates, which could soon lead to a shortfall in high-skilled workers. Luckily for us, among the undocumented immigrant population there are millions of young men and women who grew up in America, identify as American, and want to go to college and pursue their careers here. We just need to stop giving them reasons to be afraid to do so.

The DREAM Act, if it were ever passed, would give undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before age 16 a path to citizenship if they meet certain criteria, including the completion of a college degree or military service. It’s been introduced several times in Congress (originally by Republican Orrin Hatch) but blocked by the GOP on the grounds that it would grant amnesty to those who entered the country illegally – an idea so radical only a bleeding heart liberal like Ronald Reagan could support it. President Obama’s new plan doesn’t even go that far. It will allow some undocumented immigrants to work here legally, but it provides no clear path to citizenship or the rights and privileges that come with it. They won’t be able to vote, for instance, although taxation without representation has been something of a sore spot in American history.

As the president himself admitted in his Rose Garden address on Friday, this new policy is only “a temporary stopgap measure” until Congress can pass a comprehensive immigration reform plan. And while the politics of setting the age limit for the policy at 30 are clear, since the “crime” of immigrating here as children is harder to hold against them, it’s cold comfort for the millions of older undocumented workers who need and deserve some relief. But it’s still an important step forward, and not just on the moral grounds that, as the president stated, “We are a better nation than one that expels innocent young kids.”

Instead of blaming undocumented workers for taking American jobs (and casually referring to them as “illegal aliens,” which criminalizes their existence and makes them sound like something that’s going to abduct and probe us in the middle of the night), we should recognize them as victims of the same exploitative system that Occupy protesters have been grappling with since last fall. Is giving legal recognition to undocumented workers good for the American people? It’s a step toward acknowledging that there’s no such thing as a second-class citizen and that all working men and women deserve fair compensation. What could be more American than that?

Tim Price is Deputy Editor of Next New Deal.

Immigration services image via Shutterstock.com.



 

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Mike Konczal and Sarah Leonard on the Myth of American Meritocracy

Jun 11, 2012

On the latest episode of "Fireside Chats," Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal brings in Sarah Leonard, editor at Dissent and The New Inquiry, to discuss the ways that student debt and unpaid internships have completely skewed the labor market.

On the latest episode of "Fireside Chats," Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal brings in Sarah Leonard, editor at Dissent and The New Inquiry, to discuss the ways that student debt and unpaid internships have completely skewed the labor market. Mike used to think of internships as an equal opportunity mechanism, but then realized "you have to be able to feed yourself, you have to be able to survive," something that's hard to pull off when you're deep in debt and not making any money.

As Sarah bluntly puts it, "American meritocracy has always been a myth," but now these two forces have conspired even more to allow "people who make it to the top" to consolidate power there and "consolidate it for their children." Not only does a young person need money to take an unpaid position, but those who go into debt to get through college have an even harder time doing so if they need to work to pay off those loans. "Internships are absolutely a reinforcer of privilege," she concludes.

Mike compares student debt to the indenture system that brought Europeans to America's shores: it was set up "to solve an economic problem, a problem of travel," and now we have a similar problem in which we need to "get people who have significant talents to grow the economy to the spaces where they have their talents fully developed and they’re capable of exercising those talents." The biggest question? "How do we pay for it?" In other words, how do we make it affordable for everyone to have people get the education they need to best contribute to the economy?

Compounding this, Sarah notes that the language around student debt is about "investing in yourself," but in reality the need to take on massive amounts of debt to get an education isn't a way to open up opportunities at all. "It restricts your freedom after college," she says.

Watch the full segment below for their discussion of precarious work, the future of organized labor, and "Sex in the City" feminism:

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Mike Konczal on “Fireside Chats”: Tough Times make Liberal Reform Tougher

Jun 5, 2012Danielle Bella Ellison

In the latest episode of “Fireside Chats,” Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal talks with David Frum, Daily Beast writer and author of the new novel Patriots. In the clip below, they take on why Democrats have had trouble gathering support for stimulus programs during the current recession. “We’ve gone from Speaker Pelosi and the new Obama presidency and the idea of this wave of progressive energy to really trying to fight between the center and the center right,” Konczal notes.

In the latest episode of “Fireside Chats,” Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal talks with David Frum, Daily Beast writer and author of the new novel Patriots. In the clip below, they take on why Democrats have had trouble gathering support for stimulus programs during the current recession. “We’ve gone from Speaker Pelosi and the new Obama presidency and the idea of this wave of progressive energy to really trying to fight between the center and the center right,” Konczal notes.

As Konczal explains, “The real New Deal that we think of – the core economic security and managing the business cycle and so on – occurred in ’35,” when the economy was expanding. Meanwhile, “the conservative agenda to roll back the Great Society and the New Deal” unfortunately becomes more feasible in tough economic times like ours. The public becomes more risk averse and prefers austerity policies to big and potentially risky spending programs. Major liberal reforms, however necessary and beneficial they may be, are just very hard to pass during bad economic times.

The current grim economic condition, as well as the increase in media culture and accelerating ethnic change, have caused a transformation of American politics. Watch the full conversation below in which Konczal and Frum discuss this transition, what a Romney budget would look like, and the future of Obamacare.

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Why the Unemployed Are the "Forgotten Man" of 2012

May 31, 2012Tim Price

Instead of finding a solution to the jobs crisis, today’s politicians are making life harder for the unemployed.

Instead of finding a solution to the jobs crisis, today’s politicians are making life harder for the unemployed.

The “Forgotten Man” may be most commonly associated with Amity Shlaes’s book of the same name, an alternate history in which the New Deal made the Great Depression worse. But back in the spring of 1932, while campaigning against incumbent President Herbert Hoover, FDR invoked the phrase in a now-famous radio address. In it, he called for a policy response to the Great Depression that would “rest upon the forgotten, the unorganized but indispensable units of economic power,” policies that would “build from the bottom up and not from the top down, that put their faith once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.” The un-Shlaesed among us will recognize that the programs he launched once elected did exactly this, lifting up millions of Americans who had fallen to the bottom of the economic ladder – much to the chagrin of those still clinging jealously to the top rungs. But it seems there’s no such help coming to today’s forgotten men and women, the millions of unemployed Americans who our policymakers alternately overlook or actively punish for their misfortune.

It probably sounds strange to say that the unemployed have been forgotten when the state of the economy is the centerpiece of this year’s elections. But while politicians on both sides of the aisle talk a lot about the economy and jobs in the abstract, they’re easily distracted by minutiae and rarely seem to give much thought to the unemployed as living, breathing people. President Obama’s current economic plan seems to consist of reminding voters that Bain Capital once bankrupted a steel mill in Kansas, while Mitt Romney uses 8 percent unemployment as a cudgel against the incumbent but offers no solutions of his own besides something something tax cuts blah blah confidence.

Meanwhile, as Shaila Dewan reported in the New York Times this week, “Hundreds of thousands of out-of-work Americans are receiving their final unemployment checks sooner than they expected, even though Congress renewed extended benefits until the end of the year.” Over 5 million Americans fall into the category of long-term unemployed, meaning they have been out of work for over six months. Yet by next month, Dewan notes that over half a million of them will have prematurely lost their unemployment benefits this year thanks to cutbacks at the federal level.

At the same time, state governments are forcing new applicants to jump through more and more hoops to get out of paying them the benefits they deserve. Though 27 percent of all unemployed Americans received state benefits last year, Florida Governor and Observer-lookalike Rick Scott cut the number in his state to 15 percent last year by imposing particularly onerous requirements. The most extreme of these efforts was his attempt to subject unemployment applicants to a mandatory drug test, which was blocked (for now) by a federal judge. Florida may not give you your unemployment benefits, but by God, you’re going to give the Sunshine State your urine.

Given how many Americans are out of work, they would seem to form a natural constituency for politicians eager to win over swing voters. (That sounds cynical, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that altruism isn’t a major factor here. I know, it’s a stretch.) Yet instead of courting their support, policymakers are treating them like misbehaving puppies who need to be whacked over the nose with a newspaper. What gives? In part, this is due to conservatives’ knee-jerk opposition to government intervention and their belief that UI benefits can prolong high unemployment by discouraging recipients from seeking work. Studies have shown that UI benefits may be responsible for a fraction of a percentage point of our current unemployment rate, but Mike Konczal has a good rundown of why extending them provides a net economic benefit anyway. Aside from these policy differences, politicians in general just aren’t responsive to the needs and desires of anyone except for their richest constituents and Super PAC funders, who aren’t very concerned about whether some laid off factory worker in Ohio can feed his kids this week.

But there’s more to this conservative opposition than ideology or apathy. Cutting back on benefits is one thing, but why should they go out of their way to denigrate and humiliate the jobless? Mark Schmitt argues that Republicans found themselves adrift after they succeeded in passing welfare reform, since the “specter of the non-working poor could no longer be reliably evoked, and nothing with a similar power to divide voters has emerged to take its place.” But the economic crisis has proven to be a goldmine, providing them with a new underclass of jobless Americans whom they can portray as modern-day welfare queens. Look at these lazy slobs buying flat screens and diamond necklaces with their lavish unemployment benefits while the rest of us slave away at our hedge funds to make ends meet! “Much like arguments blaming the financial crisis on ACORN, Fannie Mae, and the push for low-income homeownership,” Mark notes, this approach “shifts the responsibility for unemployment onto the unemployed themselves.” For many politicians, this is the perfect one-two punch: it gets them the votes they need to win office, and once they’re in office, it takes away their responsibility to actually do anything about the biggest problem facing the country.

Back in 1932, FDR told voters that the Hoover administration had either “forgotten or it does not want to remember the infantry of our economic army.” Today’s Republicans, heirs to the Hoover legacy, would also like to obfuscate the crisis and make us forget the real circumstances of its victims. They know that if Americans see it clearly, they’ll also recognize that the only moral and practical response is one that provides more and better government aid rather than less. If progressive policymakers stop playing dead and start fighting back hard against these cuts to unemployment benefits, they may be surprised by how many troops they can rally to their side.

Tim Price is Deputy Editor of Next New Deal. Follow him on Twitter @txprice.

 

Empty pocket image via Shutterstock.

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ObamaCare Isn't Just About Health Care – It's a Winning Jobs Issue

May 31, 2012Richard Kirsch

Voters won't have to worry about losing their health insurance when they lose their jobs if Barack Obama is still president in 2014.

Massachusetts is the only state in the country where you don’t have to worry about losing your health insurance if you lose your job, and it will remain that way if Mitt Romney, the man who signed that Massachusetts bill into law, gets elected president. But if President Obama beats him, every state in the Union will join Massachusetts in 2014.

Voters won't have to worry about losing their health insurance when they lose their jobs if Barack Obama is still president in 2014.

Massachusetts is the only state in the country where you don’t have to worry about losing your health insurance if you lose your job, and it will remain that way if Mitt Romney, the man who signed that Massachusetts bill into law, gets elected president. But if President Obama beats him, every state in the Union will join Massachusetts in 2014.

The number one issue in the election, the issue that will decide who will be living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue next January 20th, is jobs. President Obama’s reelection prospects will be determined by how many of the small percentage of voters who are up for grabs decide that they might as well give Romney a chance, since their economic prospects are just as shaky now as when President Obama took office. It might help if they could see ObamaCare as a jobs issue, which it clearly is.

Many of the independent voters who will determine the presidential election are confused by the Affordable Care Act, as its passage has offered no relief for a major worry in their lives: if they lose their job, they’ll lose their health insurance. Or maybe they’ve already been forced to take a job without health insurance, or are self-employed or out of work. In that case, they may well be among the 51 million uninsured Americans who are worried that one major illness will wipe out whatever financial security they have left. Other swing voters might like to leave their jobs and start a small business, but they are locked into their current jobs until they reach 65 and qualify for Medicare. All that will change in 2014 if they vote for President Obama – which they might be more likely to do if they knew that.

Starting in 2014, health insurance will be affordable for the great majority of people who don’t get coverage at work. Most will qualify for heavily subsidized private health insurance through the new health insurance marketplaces (exchanges) that will be set up in each state. Many others in low-wage jobs will be eligible for coverage under Medicaid, which will be expanded to cover families up to 133 percent of the poverty level, around $30,600 for a family of four.

ObamaCare is more than a health care bill; it is a major step toward addressing the gaping inequities in our economy, where incomes and wealth for the richest 1 percent keep rising while most Americans are treading water or drowning. Three decades ago, a job came with good health care, along with rising wages and a pension. Now only 56 percent of the workforce gets health care on the job. With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s coverage expansions in 2014, almost all workers will have access to affordable health coverage, even if they don’t get the insurance at work.

President Obama and Mitt Romney are both working hard to appeal to the hard-pressed middle class. For Democrats, ObamaCare should be a core part of this appeal and the most powerful rebuttal to attacks on the legislation. The president and Democratic candidates for Congress around the county can reach swing voters on health care if they make the stakes in the election very clear: a vote for Romney and Republicans in Congress is a vote to leave Massachusetts as the only state in the nation in which you don’t have to worry that losing your job will mean losing your health care. A vote for Obama and Democrats will mean that, come 2014, Americans will finally have the security that – job or not – they will have health coverage for themselves and their families.

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.

 

Medical bills image via Shutterstock.

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Defending Krugman: The Importance of Keynesian Economics

May 25, 2012Jeff Madrick

Keynes was right: increased government spending in the U.S. is necessary to decrease unemployment and raise demand in the near-term.

Paul Krugman hardly needs defending, but his views about the need for Keynesian stimulus in the U.S. right now are coming under considerable fire from centrist and left-of-center economists. I find this disturbing because Krugman’s view abides by basic Keynesian principles that seem to have been discarded by many who profess themselves Keynesians. Is there a wide misunderstanding of Keynes?

Keynes was right: increased government spending in the U.S. is necessary to decrease unemployment and raise demand in the near-term.

Paul Krugman hardly needs defending, but his views about the need for Keynesian stimulus in the U.S. right now are coming under considerable fire from centrist and left-of-center economists. I find this disturbing because Krugman’s view abides by basic Keynesian principles that seem to have been discarded by many who profess themselves Keynesians. Is there a wide misunderstanding of Keynes?

What seems to upset people is that Krugman argues the government must spend more money now, almost regardless of what it spends it on. The Keynesian thesis is that economies can settle at a high level of unemployment rather than re-adjust to the optimum unemployment level—or level of economic activity—on their own. This was a response to the classical, pre-Depression view that the beauty of free markets was a self-adjustment process based on falling prices in downturns. But ultimately the problem is a lack of demand, and Keynes advocated budget deficits to support an increase in demand.

The lack of demand in the economy now is palpable. Krugman’s contention is that in the near-term, we can solve this problem if we have the will to do so. The economy can reduce its rate of unemployment fairly rapidly with adequate Keynesian stimulus. It is clear that monetary stimulus at this point is not enough.

This view is not incompatible with longer-term concerns about the economy -- inadequate education for too many, infrastructure decay, old energy technologies, and so on. Many seem to criticize Krugman for not acknowledging “structural” changes in the economy, and they implicitly agree with classical conservative observers that the unemployment rate really can’t fall much below 7 percent. I can’t speak for Krugman, but he seems to be saying that we should not mix up longer-term structural issues with near-term demand inadequacy. It’s very likely the unemployment rate can fall much farther without igniting inflation.

I can’t see how he is wrong about this; indeed, he is urgently right about it. We are facing a year or two when the federal government will likely contract spending and will certainly not increase stimulus markedly. Of even greater concern is the refusal in Europe to recognize that austerity—the opposite of Keynesian advice right now—will lead to further recession, which in turn could spill over to the U.S., jeopardizing Obama’s candidacy.

When so many commentators criticize Krugman’s view, insisting that any new spending must be investment in infrastructure, must not go to the military, or that there should be no new spending at all, they are ignoring the Keynesian process. Krugman will not advocate against military spending cuts (and I certainly wouldn't myself). But priorities are important here. Let’s keep them clear.

In sum, let’s understand that more aggregate demand now will reduce the unemployment rate. There is a near-term solution, not to America’s long-term issues, but to an economy that is sputtering and may lead to a political environment in which those who plan to do more damage win office.  

One of the true advances in contemporary thinking is that both a power and a duty of government is to use fiscal and monetary policy to ameliorate downturns and create economic expansions. This is the legacy of Keynes, well supported by empirical research.  

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Jeff Madrick is the Director of the Roosevelt Institute’s Rediscovering Government initiative and author of Age of Greed.

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New Deal Numerology: An Equitable Arrangement

May 25, 2012Tim Price

 

This week's numbers: $607 billion; 20%; 115; $12 million; 13

$607 billion... is a transactional number. That was the aggregate value of private equity’s buyout deals at their 2007 peak. If you could sum up that period in two words, they'd be "job creation." And if you had three more words, they'd be "there was no."

 

This week's numbers: $607 billion; 20%; 115; $12 million; 13

$607 billion... is a transactional number. That was the aggregate value of private equity’s buyout deals at their 2007 peak. If you could sum up that period in two words, they'd be "job creation." And if you had three more words, they'd be "there was no."

20%... is an encouraging number. That's how much of the private equity firms' value was due to tax breaks on debt during their rise in the 1980s. If debt were like beer, our tax code would be the frat boy telling them to chug until they pass out.

115... is an acquired number. That’s how many companies Bain Capital bought out while Mitt Romney worked there. One of them was Staples, which would later base its “Easy Button” ad campaign on the real life stories of the millionaires who owned it.

$12 million... is a rewarding number. That’s how much Bain made from its buyout of GST, a steel mill that went bankrupt two years after Romney left. It must have been tough to decide whether to send his old partners condolences or congratulations.

13... is a resigned number. That’s how many years it’s been since Romney worked at Bain. It’s odd that he’d rather not focus on any of his experience since then, but his base likes firing people a lot more than giving them health care.

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How Long Will Grads Be Stuck Working In Cafes, Restaurants, and Unpaid Internships?

May 25, 2012Elena Callahan

Without government action, a generation of college graduates will continue to flounder in unemployment or minimum wage jobs.

Without government action, a generation of college graduates will continue to flounder in unemployment or minimum wage jobs.

While reading Robert Reich’s post the other day about the horrible economy the Millennial generation is graduating into, I wondered what my life would have been like had I graduated in 2008. That year, almost three-quarters of graduates found a job within a year. I was supposed to graduate in 2008, but I ended up switching majors, taking time off, and graduating in 2010. And what a difference two years makes. Now, like so many of those who graduated with me, I’ve yet to land a full-time job and have been lucky enough to string together part-time work and internships. Too many graduates face un- or underemployment and will continue to languish unless the government acts.

My graduation date was delayed because I was a dance major my freshman year, but I realized I wanted to make a difference in the world and felt that switching to the social sciences and humanities would be the best way to do that. As it turns out, though, the arts and humanities are some of the worst areas to study in this economy. According to an A.P. report last month, those who graduated with degrees in zoology, anthropology, philosophy, art history, and the humanities were among those least likely to find jobs. Those who studied nursing, teaching, accounting, or computer science were better off. These things matter when 53.6 percent of college graduates under the age of 25 were jobless or underemployed last year.

These overeducated students are now occupying temp positions and taking jobs in the service and retail industries for a lack of better options. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in March that retail salespersons and cashiers were the occupations with the highest employment in 2011, and not far behind were general office clerks, food preparation, and serving workers like waiters, waitresses, and customer service representatives.

Those are some of the lowest paying jobs out there. Yet many students graduate with huge debt loads they need to pay off right away. According to the New York Times, the average load in 2011 was $23,300.

I don’t regret having chosen sociology as my major. It completely changed my perception of the world and broadened my understanding of why social problems exist. But it definitely didn’t employ me. Since I’ve graduated, I’ve applied to tons of jobs and internships, worked seven different part-time jobs, and volunteered and organized events when I’ve had the time. These jobs have included cafes, a bagel place, a bar, a restaurant, a boutique, and four different babysitting gigs. A lot of my friends have similarly worked at cafes, restaurants, and nanny jobs to pay the bills.

How will graduates succeed if they’re busy making lattes, mixing martinis, or helping customers try on clothes? Some, like myself, have decided that volunteering and interning is the next best thing. But not everyone can afford to take an internship, since most don’t pay and if they do it’s not very much. This ends up making the competition for finding a job even more skewed toward those who have the financial means to take the time away from other jobs. I may not come from a rich family, but I have the opportunity to take an internship where others don’t. As Tim Price recently pointed out, unpaid internships are not just bad for individuals but for the economy too.

So what’s the solution? According to another Pew Research Center study, the Millennial generation, more than any other, believes that government could do more to address our problems. Franklin Roosevelt implemented the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression to employ individuals of all professions and education levels. We need an updated version of the WPA that can give everyone an equal opportunity to enter the workforce and live a dignified life. Over its duration from 1939-1943, it provided almost 8 million jobs. They mostly went to those who suffered long-term unemployment and 90 percent of the jobs went to those who were classified as needy. A program like the National Youth Administration, another result of the WPA, would also be effective in employing teenage and college aged kids with little education and opportunity. Employing those with and without a college degree is absolutely necessary for a healthy economy. 

I know a lot of inspired young Millennials who would be doing more if they had the opportunity, money, time, and resources. Getting everyone back to work, particularly the young, is a step in the right direction.

Elena Callahan is an intern at the Roosevelt Institute.

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Curing the Causes, Not the Symptoms, of the Job and Debt Crises Facing Today’s Graduates

May 24, 2012David B. Woolner

The country is doing little to make college an affordable and realistic goal for American families.

We have believed wholeheartedly in investing the money of all the people on the education of the people. That conviction, backed up by taxes and dollars, is no accident, for it is the logical application of our faith in democracy.

The country is doing little to make college an affordable and realistic goal for American families.

We have believed wholeheartedly in investing the money of all the people on the education of the people. That conviction, backed up by taxes and dollars, is no accident, for it is the logical application of our faith in democracy.

Man's present day control of the affairs of nature is the direct result of investment in education. And the democratization of education has made it possible for outstanding ability, which would otherwise be completely lost, to make its outstanding contribution to the commonweal. We cannot afford to overlook any source of human raw material. Genius flowers in most unexpected places; "it is the impetus of the undistinguished host that hurls forth a Diomed or a Hector." –Franklin D Roosevelt

As has been widely reported in the press of late, students graduating from college this spring are not just facing a jobs crisis; they are also facing a debt crisis. The New York Times recently reported, for example, that the average debt burden for graduating college seniors is now approaching $25,000, with ten percent of all graduates owing more than $50,000 and three percent owing more than $100,000. Taken together, total student loan debt in the United States now exceeds $1 trillion—more than all credit card debt in the country.

Equally daunting are the job prospects that current graduates face. It is estimated that more than half of all 2012 graduates will still be out of work a year from now, as was the case for the 2010 and 2011 graduating classes. What is more, even those graduates lucky enough to find a job will earn wages far below their counterparts who graduated in the years before the Great Recession, making it all the harder for them to keep up with—much less pay down—their student loans.

Facing high debt, bleak job prospects, and low wages, many students (and parents) are asking themselves if the high cost of education is really worth it. Current statistics suggest that pursuing a college degree is still a good investment. The unemployment rate among 21- to 24-year-olds with a college education is roughly half what it is for those with only a high school diploma, and the lifetime earnings of a college graduate still exceed the earnings of those without a four-year degree. But if—as some economists argue—our economic problems are more structural than cyclical and high unemployment and low wages will be with us for some time, then taking on a significant debt burden in the pursuit of higher education may in fact be a mistake.

In light of growing concerns about student debt, the Obama administration is pushing a proposal that would require schools to provide straightforward, standardized information on how much debt students should expect to incur over the course of their tenure in college. In addition, a bill has been put forward in the Senate that would require lenders and college financial aid officers to provide students with better information about their borrowing options, including the difference in cost between federal loans and private loans.

While these are welcome steps, they really boil down to treating the symptoms, not the disease. The real issue confronting students today is not the value of a higher education, but the cost. President Obama alluded to this in his 2012 State of the Union address, when he argued that our nation’s colleges and universities should do more to bring down the price of tuition. He also urged the states to make education a higher priority in their budgets. But the truth is that over the past ten years, state support for higher education has declined by about 25 percent, while the cost of tuition and fees at state schools has increased 72 percent.

Like the growing disparity in wealth and income that has emerged in this second Gilded Age, this combination of the decline in state support coupled with the rise in fees for both public and private colleges has rendered the dream of higher education less and less affordable for working families. And, as we have seen, those who do choose to pursue their educational ambitions do so at a huge cost, a cost that is becoming more suspect in a society where good jobs with decent wages are becoming a thing of the past.

In the middle of the 1930s, Franklin Roosevelt confronted a society that was equally burdened by the perils of structural inequality. But he was not content to merely provide relief to those suffering from the despair of unemployment or the scourge of poverty. Indeed, FDR often characterized the relief measures he initiated as temporary. What really concerned him was the far deeper question of structural reform: how to rid America of the one-third the nation that was “ill-clad, ill-housed, ill-nourished.”

It was this motivation that led to some of the most profound pieces of legislation that came out of the New Deal, including the Social Security Act, the National Labor Relations Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the National Housing Act. It also gave us such critical financial reforms as the separation of commercial and investment banking and the creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation under Glass-Steagall, as well as the establishment of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Roughly ten years later, as the Second World War was drawing to a close, FDR returned to this theme with his call for “a second bill of rights”—an “economic bill of rights”—that would include not only the right to “a useful and remunerative job” with an adequate income, but also the “right to a good education.”

To make good on the latter, the Roosevelt administration passed the “G.I Bill of Rights” later that year. The G.I. Bill represents one of the most significant government-led commitments to higher education and job training in our nation’s history. Under its terms, returning veterans received a host of benefits, including full tuition and book and living expense payments for those wishing to pursue a higher education. For those not wishing to go to college, the act also provided support for vocational training. The impact of the G.I Bill on postwar America was tremendous. In the next seven years, approximately 8 million veterans would take advantage of the education benefits. As a result, millions of Americans who might never have dreamed of going to college were able to do so, Millions more enhanced their earning power and job prospects through the vocational training and other educational benefits.

Of course, the G.I. Bill was not free; it required serious expenditures on the part of the federal government. But for FDR and his generation, this was an investment in America’s future well worth making. It was, as Roosevelt liked to say, an investment in our nation’s most precious resource, its “human capital.” To neglect America’s human capital, to cut back on our support for education, was simply not an option, for in FDR’s view if “we skimp on that capital, if we exhaust our natural resources and weaken the capacity of our human beings, then we shall go the way of all weak nations.”

If we are serious about the need to improve our economy, keep America competitive, and provide a hopeful and prosperous future for our children, then perhaps it is time we confronted the real issue that stands at the root of the student debt and jobs crisis: the woefully inadequate level of public support for higher education. No doubt the deficit soothsayers in Congress and elsewhere will tell us that we cannot afford such an investment. But the legacy of the 1930s and 40s suggests quite the opposite. Thanks to the G.I. Bill and the many other provisions of the New Deal, the better educated and better paid work force that emerged in the decades after World War II made the American economy—and the American worker—the envy of the world.

FDR warned us that “no country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources.” Yet the unfair burden we have placed on this generation of Americans—a generation that increasingly sees little reason to pursue post secondary education at such high costs and falling gains—suggests that we have chosen to abandon this lesson. In doing so, we have done much more than merely turn our backs on the millions of young people who dream of going to college. We have turned our backs on America.

David Woolner is a Senior Fellow and Hyde Park Resident Historian for the Roosevelt Institute. He is currently writing a book entitled Cordell Hull, Anthony Eden and the Search for Anglo-American Cooperation, 1933-1938.

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