Archive for the ‘economy’ Category
Monday, November 16th, 2015
October provided good news for the economy. The economy added 271,000 jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a big increase over September’s number of 137,000 jobs. The unemployment rate also fell fractionally from 5% to 5.1%.
Average hourly private-sector earnings were up 9 cents, which, if sustained, will finally start producing real wage gains for ordinary working Americans.
In response to the October jobs report, AFL-CIO Chief Economist William E. Spriggs said:
While this month’s numbers are good, job growth has yet to deliver sustained wage gains that working people need to lead better lives. This means we face the deeper challenge of fashioning policy changes to create the institutional structure for shared prosperity; aggressive, progressive solutions, not corporate driven trade deals. Unfortunately, while our economy remains fragile, the now public TPP text proves our fears of just how damaging it could be to our economy. The fight for full employment and rising wages starts with rejecting this bad deal and embracing economic policies that put people and families first.
AFL-CIO Senior Economic Policy Adviser Thomas Palley added:
This report is strong, which is good news. But the report also reveals the contradictions in our economy. Good news for Main Street is interpreted as bad news by Wall Street. The challenge for the Federal Reserve, and the standard by which it will be judged, is to ensure this type of news becomes ‘normal’ and not a one month exception that is used to justify hitting the brakes.
This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on November 10, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.
Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015
The Pope’s visit to the USA this week comes just two months before pivotal UN climate talks that could lead to a global climate agreement. Climate change will be high on his agenda in planned addresses to the UN and Congress, and it is likely that one of his central concerns will be the economy. Pope Francis did not mince words in his recent encyclical on the theme of climate change and one of the main targets of his searing critique was our current economic system. He bemoaned that “the earth’s resources are … being plundered because of short-sighted approaches to the economy, commerce and production.” He chastised the dominance of the speculative finance sector over the economy, and the folly of looking to market growth to solve all social ills.
His core message is that we are currently locked in an economic growth model based on the premise we have an inexhaustible planet. The way the global economy is currently run will not ensure our long-term physical survival. There are some glaring signals that it won’t ensure our economic survival either. For starters, the financial crisis of 2008 and evidence that patterns of growing inequality are stunting economic growth. Recent admissions from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that economic trickle down theory doesn’t work have further cast doubt on the logic of the current system.
Alongside experts such as the Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and established economic institutions such as the IMF, the Pope is not alone in raising the alarm on “unbridled capitalism.” So in order to solve the greatest challenges of our time, climate change and inequality, we need an economic system that serves us better. However, it seems that beyond identifying and agreeing upon the problem, we often stop short at imagining solutions.
But there are signs that the seeds of a stronger and more responsible economy may already be taking root. Interest in existing models of enterprises, banks, cooperatives and networks that put social and environmental principles before profit is growing. These businesses have a strong emphasis on collective ownership, management and decision-making. Financial decisions are not left to the power of a few, whether government bureaucrats or corporate CEOs, but overseen more democratically by the main generators and beneficiaries of economic activity: the workers and customers.
This rich and diverse tapestry of economic activity witnessed around the world has been called a number of things: social economy, solidarity economy, local economy, new economy, the next system. Interest in the promise of these approaches has even spurred the UN to form a task force to investigate the potential of the social and solidarity economy in contributing to global development goals.
Sounds like a nice idea, but is this really economically viable? Surprisingly yes, and in many cases these enterprises are much more resilient and successful than current models that can result in job losses, bankruptcy and financial crashes. A recent UN report concluded that worker- and customer-owned banks made less risky decisions and outperformed investor owned banks during the recent global financial crisis. Research reveals that worker-owned cooperatives also have similar economic and social benefits that make them a better business model for communities and the economy as a whole.
One well-known example is that of Mondragon Cooperative Corporation, a highly successful worker-owned company of over 70,000 employees based in Spain. The company operates internationally and has a diverse portfolio, including the manufacture of industrial machinery. The 10th-largest company in Spain in terms of asset turnover, Mondragon had lower levels of unemployment compared to the rest of Spain during the 2008 recession and still remained globally competitive. Instead of firing staff during the economic downturn, employees voted to take pay cuts and top managers took their share of the burden. The Spanish cooperative is not alone. Over 2008, in the midst of the financial crisis, the combined turnover of the world’s 300 largest cooperatives was an impressive $1.6 trillion, comparable to the GDP of the ninth largest economy in the world.
Action to fight climate change could benefit from new economic approaches. Take the two sectors that contribute the most to global carbon emissions: energy and agriculture. In Germany, community-owned energy cooperatives are booming, supporting the rapid uptake of renewable energy without having to depend on the patronage of reluctant utility companies. The impressive success of wind power in Denmark is due largely to the rapid spread of community-owned wind turbines. In the United States, the move away from utility-scale power plants is also happening. Recent studies show that levels of solar power generation in the U.S. have been underestimated by as much as 50 percent. This is due to the exponential growth in rooftop solar, which is not yet systematically recorded. The opportunity to magnify the potential of small-scale energy producers could be immense.
With regards to agriculture, the UN advocates ecologically friendly methods based around small-scale farming, with more local production and consumption. This could lead to higher yields, better protect food systems from the impacts of climate change and reduce emissions from this sector. Agricultural cooperatives are critical to the success of smallholder farming, allowing independent farmers to remain competitive through collective purchasing and distribution networks. Climate action that supports agricultural cooperatives and low-emission, climate-proof farming methods could have positive economic, food security and climate outcomes.
Action on climate change could both support and benefit from a more stable and democratic economy. Climate finance and subsidies currently being swallowed by the fossil fuel industry could be redirected to promote locally owned and managed energy and farming, using socially responsible financial institutions to manage these funds. The result could be a stronger economy that works better for both people and the climate.
In his encyclical, the Pope entreated us to “seek other ways of understanding the economy and progress”. A framework for a more democratic, collectively owned and managed economy could be part of this. The re-imagination of the economy is already in motion. It’s time for the climate movement to get on board.
This Blog originally appeared on In These Times on September 23, 2015. Reprinted here with permission.
About the Author: Gaya Sriskanthan has over a decade of experience working on climate change, environmental protection, and sustainable development with a range of organizations including the United Nations and the UK Department for International Development. She currently focuses on indigenous peoples’ rights and civil society inclusion in climate change action. Follow her on Twitter: @gayasktn.
Sunday, September 6th, 2015
The economy added 173,000 jobs in August while the unemployment rate fell to 5.1 percent, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Analysts had expected 220,000 jobs to be added. That’s the lowest unemployment rate since March of 2008.
August jobs reports are frequently unreliable, however, and tend to get revised upward in later reports. The initial report tends to get an extra 90,000 jobs on average in later months, more than double the jobs added from revisions in other months. And revisions for June and July added an additional 44,000 jobs compared to what was originally reported.
August job growth was led by 56,000 in health care, 33,000 in professional and business services, 26,000 in food and drink services, and 19,000 in finance.
Wages rose by 8 cents in August following a 6-cent rise in July, but have risen just 2.2 percent over the last year, in line with record low rates.
This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on September 4th, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.
Thursday, August 27th, 2015
As Labor Day looms, more Americans than ever don’t know how much they’ll be earning next week or even tomorrow.
This varied group includes independent contractors, temporary workers, the self-employed, part-timers, freelancers, and free agents. Most file 1099s rather than W2s, for tax purposes.
On demand and on call – in the “share” economy, the “gig” economy, or, more prosaically, the “irregular” economy – the result is the same: no predictable earnings or hours.
It’s the biggest change in the American workforce in over a century, and it’s happening at lightening speed. It’s estimated that in five years over 40 percent of the American labor force will have uncertain work; in a decade, most of us.
Increasingly, businesses need only a relatively small pool of “talent” anchored in the enterprise – innovators and strategists responsible for the firm’s unique competitive strength.
Everyone else is becoming fungible, sought only for their reliability and low cost.
Complex algorithms can now determine who’s needed to do what and when, and then measure the quality of what’s produced. Reliability can be measured in experience ratings. Software can seamlessly handle all transactions – contracts, billing, payments, taxes.
All this allows businesses to be highly nimble – immediately responsive to changes in consumer preferences, overall demand, and technologies.
While shifting all the risks of such changes to workers.
Whether we’re software programmers, journalists, Uber drivers, stenographers, child care workers, TaskRabbits, beauticians, plumbers, Airbnb’rs, adjunct professors, or contract nurses – increasingly, we’re on our own.
And what we’re paid, here and now, depends on what we’re worth here and now – in a spot-auction market that’s rapidly substituting for the old labor market where people held jobs that paid regular salaries and wages.
Even giant corporations are devolving into spot-auction networks. Amazon’s algorithms evaluate and pay workers for exactly what they contribute.
Apple directly employs fewer than 10 percent of the 1 million workers who design, make and sell iMacs and iPhones.
This giant risk-shift doesn’t necessarily mean lower pay. Contract workers typically make around $18 an hour, comparable to what they earned as “employees.”
Uber and other ride-share drivers earn around $25 per hour, more than double what the typical taxi driver takes home.
The problem is workers don’t know when they’ll earn it. A downturn in demand, or sudden change in consumer needs, or a personal injury or sickness, can make it impossible to pay the bills.
So they have to take whatever they can get, now: ride-shares in mornings and evenings, temp jobs on weekdays, freelance projects on weekends, Mechanical Turk or TaskRabbit tasks in between.
Which partly explains why Americans are putting in such long work hours – longer than in any other advanced economy.
And why we’re so stressed. According to polls, almost a quarter of American workers worry they won’t be earning enough in the future. That’s up from 15 percent a decade ago.
Irregular hours can also take a mental toll. Studies show people who do irregular work for a decade suffer an average cognitive decline of 6.5 years relative people with regular hours.
Such uncertainty can be hard on families, too. Children of parents working unpredictable schedules or outside standard daytime working hours are likely to have lower cognitive skills and more behavioral problems, according to new research.
For all these reasons, the upsurge in uncertain work makes the old economic measures – unemployment and income – look far better than Americans actually feel.
It also renders irrelevant many labor protections such as the minimum wage, worker safety, family and medical leave, and overtime – because there’s no clear “employer.”
And for the same reason eliminates employer-financed insurance – Social Security, workers compensation, unemployment benefits, and employer-provided health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
What to do? Courts are overflowing with lawsuits over whether companies have misclassified “employees” as “independent contractors,” resulting in a profusion of criteria and definitions.
We should aim instead for simplicity: Whatever party – contractor, client, customer, agent, or intermediary – pays more than half of someone’s income, or provides more than half their working hours, should be responsible for all the labor protections and insurance an employee is entitled to.
Presumably that party will share those costs and risks with its own clients, customers, owners, and investors. Which is the real point – to take these risks off the backs of individuals and spread them as widely as possible.
In addition, to restore some certainty to peoples’ lives, we’ll need to move away from unemployment insurance and toward income insurance.
Say, for example, your monthly income dips more than 50 percent below the average monthly income you’ve received from all the jobs you’ve taken over the preceding five years. Under one form of income insurance, you’d automatically receive half the difference for up to a year.
But that’s not all. Ultimately, we’ll need a guaranteed minimum basic income. But I’ll save this for another column.
This post appeared in Our Future on August 24, 2015. Originally posted at RobertReich.org. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Robert B. Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century.
Tuesday, June 30th, 2015
For the past several decades, the idea that high levels of inequality were good for the economy dominated political and economic thought. Politicians believed the trickle-down theory that enabling “job creators” to get richer would help us all, and economists provided cover for this line of thinking because they thought there was a tradeoff between growth and equity.
But, as inequality has risen to extreme levels in the United States, the foundations of the economy have weakened, and America is now experiencing the kinds of problems that plague less-developed countries. The United States now must confront high levels of societal distrust that make it hard to do business, governmental favors for privileged elites that distort the economy, and fewer opportunities for children of the middle class and the poor to get ahead—wasting vast quantities of human potential.
Fortunately, a new class of economists and policymakers are now challenging the old, flawed, ideas about inequality. Academics have begun to rethink their views about the decline of the middle class, and progressive politicians are finally starting to openly contest the logic underlying supply-side after years of failing to do so. There is a growing realization that a strong middle class is not merely the result of a strong economy—as was previously thought—but rather a source of America’s economic growth.
The new direction on economic policymaking cannot arrive soon enough, because our economy continues to suffer deeply from a financial crash caused in large part by high levels of inequality. Rebuilding the middle class is critical, as a strong middle class performs four vital functions in the US economy.
First, a strong middle class helps society run relatively smoothly, with higher levels of trust among its citizens. People need to be able to trust one another enough to do business with one another. When there is little trust, the cost of doing business shoots up—or, as economists put it, transaction costs increase.
Second, a strong middle class leads to better governance. A thriving economy depends on a well-functioning government that provides critical services, such as roads and schools, with relatively little corruption. As the middle class has weakened and inequality has risen, the wealthy have gained excessive political power and the middle class has become less civic-minded, leading to a host of governmental dysfunctions.
Third, the middle class is a source of stable consumer demand, which enables businesses to invest in new products and hire additional workers—thereby fueling growth. As consumer demand in the years prior to the Great Recession was based heavily on middle-class debt, the economy was unstable. And now that the middle class is so weak—burdened by stagnant incomes, high debt levels, and underwater mortgages—it can’t consume enough to keep the American economy going.
Finally, a strong middle class creates more human capital. In the modern economy, a skilled, healthy, and entrepreneurial workforce is a driver of economic growth—at least as much as the physical capital of factories and machines. As inequality has risen and the middle class has weakened, America has not developed the full human potential of its middle and working classes.
To have strong and sustainable growth, the economy needs to work for everyone. That’s why we need to focus policy on rebuilding our economy from the middle out.
About the Author: The author’s name is David Madland. David Madland is the author of Hollowed Out: Why the Economy Doesn’t Work Without a Strong Middle Class and the Managing Director for Economic Policy at the Center for American Progress. Follow Madland on Twitter: @DavidMadland
Friday, June 26th, 2015
Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics issued its numbers for inflation and for real wage movements. The numbers reflected the weak numbers of the first quarter for economic growth: Zero inflation and zero real wage growth in the past three months. The economy is showing signs that it is fragile. It can be spoofed by international developments that raise the value of the dollar and slow U.S. export growth, or by bad weather—events, the Federal Reserve cannot control or easily predict.
So what is the Federal Reserve doing? At its June Open Market Committee Meeting, where Federal Reserve policy is set, the Fed stayed put on interest rates. Yet, it gave indications that it was considering giving in to the stampede for the Fed to act sometime this year to raise interest rates in a deliberate move to slow the economy. A policy to slow the economy is based on beliefs, not on the hard data before us on wages or inflation. This is regrettable.
The deeper reality is that the Fed took unprecedented moves to build up huge reserves of U.S. Treasuries. What is really going on is more that the speculators on Wall Street are nervous. They are afraid that somehow, from some unknown source, inflationary pressures will rapidly appear and the Fed will quickly unwind its position with, for some of them, disastrous consequences on bets they have placed on bond prices. They would prefer the certainty of having the Fed start to unwind its position now, slowly divesting itself of its bond reserves and easing the economy to higher interest rates. This has nothing to do with the economy, and everything to do with Wall Street speculation. Unfortunately, the press plays sycophant to these speculators, who are constantly quoted as giving “economic” advice when they state with certainty the need for the Fed to raise interest rates.
Sources of global instability abound. The discussions over the Greek debt, the Eurozone bankers and the International Monetary Fund are far from a workable solution. In the meantime, the Swiss Franc is rising uncontrollably in response to that uncertainty. Iraq, Syria, Yemen and the ongoing conflict with ISL make the Mideast equally unpredictable. And, if snows were the issue in the first quarter, the California drought, the Texas floods and Midwest tornadoes so far this quarter should not make anyone confident that the current hurricane season is going to be a sleeper. Further incidents in Charleston and now Charlotte with violent attacks on African American churches and the constant stream of discontent with the ongoing and unresolved issue of police misconduct make the domestic situation equally volatile. With so many uncontrollable and unpredictable risk factors that could slow the economy, the fears of Wall Street speculators should and must take a back seat.
These risks are not all unrelated. A more robust U.S. economy will help the world economy and help reduce some risks associated with weak economic performance; especially in the Eurozone. And a more robust U.S. economy will hopefully speed job growth to reduce the economic tensions that overlay the raw social tensions domestically.
The Fed must expand its view of measures of full-employment. The Wall Street gamblers base their assumptions on full employment from a time gone by. For instance, economists today still persist in viewing the high African American unemployment rate as a “structural” issue, since African American workers are assumed to be so low-skilled they cannot find jobs in a modern economy. So, they ignore the warning signs that job growth is frail when the African American unemployment stalls, as it has, at around 10%.
In May, the unemployment rate for adult African American workers (those older than 25) with associate degrees was 5.6%, which was higher or about the same as the unemployment rate for white, Asian and Hispanic high school graduates. Those numbers are inconsistent with full employment. They indicate a market where employers are very free to pick and choose which workers they want. A faster growing economy will force employers to be less choosy.
The slow economy cascaded higher educated workers down into jobs that require less education. If the economy does not speed up, that misallocation of productive capacity could become permanent, as employers may continue to seek only college graduates to serve coffee. This costs us in loss productivity growth. It is another sign of a labor market that is not at full employment.
Locking in high African American unemployment and college degree requirements for entry-level jobs is not in the economy’s interest. And covering Wall Street bets isn’t either.
This blog was originally posted on AFL-CIO blog on June 26, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: The author’s name is William E. Spriggs. William E. Spriggs is the Chief Economist for AFL-CIO. His is also a Professor at Howard University. Follow Spriggs on Twitter: @WSpriggs.
Wednesday, March 18th, 2015
Posted on 05 March 2015.
It’s a good thing when we use real words to describe the truth. When bankers rip off people with mortgage scams, it’s robbery–even if they get away with it because we have a government unwillingness to jail them. And, once and a while, a politician gets it right.
Kudos to NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for calling the wage theft of fast food workers what it is. A crime. No, a crime wave:
At a press conference at his lower Manhattan office, Mr. Schneiderman, a Democrat, linked the recent decision against Ronald Johnson of New Majority Holdings, LLC—who a judge found had rounded down workers’ hours, paid below minimum wage and failed to reimburse upkeep costs of delivery vehicles—as part of a larger string of abuses his office has uncovered. The attorney general highlighted underpayment at 21 other fast food restaurants citywide—at franchises like Domino’s Pizza and McDonald’s—affecting 16,000 workers and for which has reaped $19 million in recovered wages.“There is an effort by thousands of businesses, unfortunately, to underpay workers what they are legally owed. And we have to go after them and treat it like a crime wave, which is what it is. It’s a crime wave. We’re talking about millions and millions, even hundreds of millions of dollars,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “If this money was just being stolen, by some organized gang of crooks, you bet everyone would know about it and be on it. This is something we treat just as seriously.”[emphasis added]
His point is that this goes way beyond one particular fine. It’s broad, it’s deep, it’s persistent.It’s a crime.
Maybe he needs to school the people at the Justice Department about what a crime is. And to call it like it is.
About the Author: Eric Schneiderman is a political/organizing/economic strategist. President of the Economic Future Group, a consultancy that has worked in a couple of dozen countries on five continents over the past 20 years; his goal is to find the “white spaces” that need filling, the places to make connections and create projects to enhance the great work many people do to advance a better world. He’s also publisher/editor of Working Life.
See more at: http://www.workinglife.org/the-bio-stuff/#sthash.zfgd8cpI.dpuf
Friday, December 6th, 2013
President Barack Obama today said that “a relentless, decades-long trend”—“a dangerous and growing inequality and lack of upward mobility…has jeopardized middle-class America’s basic bargain: that if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead.”
The president declared that “making sure the economy works for every working American” is the “defining challenge of our time” and drives everything he does as president. His proposals to reduce inequality include an increase in the minimum wage and “ensuring that our collective bargaining laws function as they’re supposed to, so unions have a level playing field to organize for a better deal for workers and better wages for the middle class.”
In the speech at a community center in a low-income area of Washington, D.C., which was hosted by the Center for American Progress, Obama said, “[T]he premise that we are created equal is the opening line in the American story.” He highlighted a series of efforts throughout American history to put those words into practice—from Abraham Lincoln starting a system of land grant colleges; to Theodore Roosevelt fighting for an eight-hour day and worker protections; to Franklin D. Roosevelt fighting for Social Security, unemployment benefits and a minimum wage; to Lyndon B. Johnson fighting for Medicare and Medicaid.
“We built a ladder of opportunity to climb and stretched out a safety net so that if we fell, it wouldn’t be too far, and we could bounce back. As a result, America built the largest middle class the world has ever known. And for three decades after World War II, it was the engine of our prosperity.”
However, Obama said, “starting in the late 70s, the social compact began to unravel.”
A more competitive world lets companies ship jobs anywhere. And as good manufacturing jobs automated or headed offshore, workers lost their leverage, jobs paid less and offered fewer benefits. As values of community broke down and competitive pressures increased, businesses lobbied Washington to weaken unions and the value of the minimum wage.
As trickle-down ideology became more prominent, taxes were slashed for the wealthiest, while investments in things that make us all richer, like schools and infrastructure, were allowed to wither.
The result is “an economy that’s become profoundly unequal.” Income inequality has grown to record levels, with the top 1% having 288 time the net worth of the typical family, with CEO pay soaring from 20 to 30 times that of the average worker to more than 273 times and with the top 10% taking half of all income, up from a third since 1979. In addition, Obama outlined how upward mobility has been squashed at the same time.
The president said that growing inequality and lessened upward mobility “should offend all of us and it should compel us to action. We are a better country than this.” He highlighted that these trends are bad for our economy, pointing to studies that show that economic growth is more fragile in countries with greater inequality.
Obama then presented a “road map” of proposals to reduce inequality and restore economic opportunity:
- Relentlessly push a growth agenda, making America a magnet for good, middle-class jobs in manufacturing and energy and infrastructure and technology, and ending incentives to ship jobs overseas;
- Empower more Americans with the skills and education they need to compete in a highly competitive global economy;
- Empower our workers. “It’s time to ensure our collective bargaining laws function as they’re supposed to so unions have a level playing field to organize for a better deal for workers and better wages for the middle class. It’s time to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act so that women will have more tools to fight pay discrimination. It’s time to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act so workers can’t be fired for who they are or who they love;
- Target programs for the communities and workers who have been hardest hit by the economic change and the Great Recession; and
- Revamp retirement to protect Americans in their Golden Years.
He said that “it was well past time” to raise the minimum wage for a growing service sector that includes “airport workers, and fast-food workers, and nurse assistants, and retail salespeople who work their tails off and are still living at or barely above poverty.”
Obama also called for renewing the extended unemployment insurance program for the long-term unemployed and protection of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that Republicans have targeted for cuts.
It makes a difference for a mother who’s working but is just having a hard time putting food on the table for her kids, [and] it makes a difference for a father who lost his job and is out there looking for a new one that he can keep a roof over his kids’ heads.
He also told congressional Republicans, who have blocked and continue to block action on the economy—from creating jobs to raising the minimum wage to ending tax breaks for corporations that ship jobs overseas:
You owe it to the American people to tell us what you are for, not just what you’re against….If Republicans have concrete plans that will actually reduce inequality, build the middle class, or provide more ladders of opportunity to the poor, let’s hear them.
Read the full speech here.
This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on December 4, 2013. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journaland managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.
Wednesday, June 26th, 2013
I know what it’s like to depend upon coal to feed a family. Many years ago I worked at a steel mill in Ohio. My job was at the coke plant where West Virginia coal was turned into coking coal for the blast furnace. The top of the coke ovens was an area the size of a football field where monstrous machines funneled coal into the ovens. It was my job to put the heavy oven lids back on nice and tight. It was literally as hot as hell up there. It felt like walking barefoot on hot coals. The air we breathed was truly foul but to us it was the sweet smell of something like success. We called it the smell of money because it paid the bills.
Yet as soon as I got a chance to escape the coke ovens, I took it. I got a job bid on a crew at the blast furnace. But I couldn’t escape the coal. Like the devil or a bad check, coal will find you. It followed me to the blast furnace.
Big railroad cars full of coking coal arrived at the blast furnace every two or three hours. In the winter it would get as cold as twenty below zero and the coal would freeze solid into one huge mass. The company said under no circumstances were we to climb into the open-top railroad cars to break up the coal. But the company also made it clear we better hurry up and get that coal offloaded. So in we went, carrying big torches to heat the coal and pry bars to break it up. We prayed that it wouldn’t loosen all at once with the possibility that we might go down the chute with it. Many times on a cold winter night I had to look in on my sleeping babies to motivate myself to leave for work on midnight shift.
There was a small group of environmentalists in town who kept raising hell about the pollution from the steel mills. I understood their point. After all, I was more directly affected by pollution than they were. But they didn’t even give lip service to our need to feed our families. So I dismissed them out of hand. In fact, I hated them and feared the changes they might be able to bring about. Jobs or the environment? An easy choice to make. Jobs are more important.
Eventually I was permanently downsized from the mill. The loss of my job caused severe dislocation for my family. It also caused dislocation in my mind, creating an opening, a new space. Facts and events that had once gone in one ear and out the other began to find a place in my thinking. Global warming. Poisoned rivers and oceans. Black lung disease. Hurricane Katrina. Oil spills. Coal-fired power plants spewing acid and deadly metals into our air.
Slowly and not always surely, I began to realize that the environmentalists I had once rejected as extremists were correct when they said that fossil fuels are destroying the earth. Coal and oil aren’t just causing some problems we can learn to live with in pursuit of economic survival. They are going to make it impossible for humans to live on this planet.
Jobs or the environment? Posing the question that way eliminates any chance of coming up with answers and it ignores the people who live at ground zero of the debate. I know first-hand what goes through the minds of coal miners as they sit at the kitchen table facing a pile of bills. “Yes, I know what some people say about what we do. They may even be right. But just give me one more month on this job so I can pay the rent and the electric and the credit card bill. Then maybe one more month after that and another after that until the youngest finishes school.”
Jobs or the environment? Soon it will be too late and we will have neither. Unless we come together under the banner of both.
This article was originally printed in Love and War: My First Thirty Years of Writing by Lee Ballinger. If you would like to make a comment or to be notified when the book is published, please email [email protected] or go to http://www.facebook.com/leeballingerwrites.
Friday, May 10th, 2013
A stunning 73.4 million young workers are estimated to be jobless in 2013, an increase of 3.5 million between 2007 and 2013, according to an International Labor Organization (ILO) report released Wednesday. Even worse, the number of unemployed young workers is likely to increase through 2018, with the long-term impact felt for decades, the report forecasts.
According to “Global Employment Trends for Youth 2013: A Generation at Risk.”
The youth employment crisis will not be overcome without stronger employment growth. But job growth will not happen on its own. The report urges nations to adopt aggressive policies for improving job growth, including strategies targeting employment of disadvantaged youth. Further, nations must invest in education and training and ensure labor rights are based on international labor standards “to ensure that young people receive equal treatment and are afforded rights at work.
The report also finds:
Increasing the participation of young people in employers’ and workers’ organizations and in social dialogue and improving their awareness about young workers’ rights—including through modules in school curricula—are key instruments for enabling young people to voice their concerns and for improving the quality of jobs available to them.
Among the report’s findings:
- Young workers are increasingly employed in non-standard jobs, including temporary employment and part-time work. Informal employment accounts for half of young workers in the Russian Federation.
- In 2012, youth unemployment was highest in the Middle East (28.3%) and North Africa (23.7%) and lowest in East Asia (9.5%) and South Asia (9.3%).
- Gender gaps in youth unemployment rates are exceptionally large in the Middle East and North Africa.
- In all developing countries surveyed, more young people receive below-average wages than average or above-average wages. This trend is strongest in Cambodia, Liberia, Malawi and Peru, where two-thirds of working young are classified as poorly paid.
- Young people continue to suffer disproportionately from decent work deficits and low-quality jobs, measured in terms of working poverty, low pay and/or employment status and exposure to occupational hazards and injury.
Underlying the inability of young workers to find jobs, the report finds, is the persistent unavailability of quality, full-time jobs; the proliferation of temporary jobs; a skills mismatch; and the growth of informal, subsistence jobs in developing countries.
Packed with charts and graphs, the 150-page report also includes case studies highlighting best practices for addressing youth unemployment, including Peru’s job action plan and the dual apprenticeship program offered in some European countries.
Report: 73.4 Million Young Workers Jobless in 2013 originally appeared on the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center’s website.
This article was posted on the AFL-CIO on May 9, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Tula Connell has a background in journalism—covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia—She started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), She now blogs under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.