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Economy Gains 266,000 Jobs in November; Unemployment Down Slightly to 3.5%

Wednesday, December 11th, 2019

The U.S. economy gained 266,000 jobs in November, and the unemployment rate was essentially unchanged at 3.5%, according to figures released Friday morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In response to the November job numbers, AFL-CIO Chief Economist William Spriggs tweeted:

 

Last month’s biggest job gains were in manufacturing (54,000), health care (45,000), leisure and hospitality (45,000), professional and technical services (31,000), transportation and warehousing (16,000) and financial activities (13,000). Mining lost jobs (-7,000). Employment in other major industries—including retail trade, construction, wholesale trade, information and government—showed little change over the month.

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for teenagers (12.0%), blacks (5.5%), Hispanics (4.2%), adult men (3.2%), whites (3.2%), adult women (3.2%) and Asians (2.6%) showed little or no change in November.

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) declined in November and accounted for 20.8% of the unemployed.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on December 10, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.

Medicare for All’s jobs problem

Tuesday, November 26th, 2019

Rachana PradhanDeanna Mazur, the daughter of a retired steel mill worker who works as a medical billing manager, finds some things to like about the “Medicare for All” policy that she’s been hearing politicians talk about. She likes the notion that all Americans would have health insurance. And it would simplify her own job quite a bit if there were only one place to send medical bills, instead of the web of private companies and government programs that she deals with now. “It would definitely be easier,” Mazur says.

Then again, if it were that easy, her job might not exist at all.

Mazur’s job and those of millions of others have helped turn health care into the largest sector of the nation’s economy, a multitrillion-dollar industry consisting in part of a huge network of payers, processers, and specialists in the complex world of making sure everything in the system gets paid for. If the health care system were actually restructured to eliminate private insurance, the way Medicare for All’s advocates ultimately envision it, a lot of people with steady, good-paying jobs right now might find themselves out of work.

“What if my job doesn’t exist anymore?” she asked in a recent interview.

This question has particular resonance in this part of Pennsylvania, a must-win swing state in the presidential race, which has already seen massive job dislocation from the decline of manufacturing. As Pittsburgh’s iconic steel industry has been gutted, the city’s economy has been hugely buoyed by health care, which has grown into the region’s largest industry — employing about 140,000 people, or 20 percent of the regional workforce. The city’s former U.S. Steel complex is now, appropriately enough, the headquarters of a mammoth hospital system, one of two health care companies deeply entrenched in the city’s economy.

There are lots of health reform ideas that wrap themselves in the “Medicare for All” label, ranging from a single government-run system to plans that maintain a role for private insurance companies. But under the most ambitious schemes, millions of health care workers would be at least displaced if not laid off, as the insurance industry disappears or is restructured and policymakers work to bring down the costs of the system by reducing high overhead and labor costs. The reform proposals being promoted by Democratic presidential candidates have barely grappled with this problem.

Initial research from University of Massachusetts economists who have consulted with multiple 2020 campaigns has estimated that 1.8 million health care jobs nationwide would no longer be needed if Medicare for All became law, upending health insurance companies and thousands of middle class workers whose jobs largely deal with them, including insurance brokers, medical billing workers and other administrative employees. One widely cited study published in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated that administration accounted for nearly a third of the U.S.’ health care expenses.

Even if a bigger government expansion into health care left doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals’ jobs intact, it would still cause a restructuring of a sprawling system that employs millions of middle-class Americans.

Claire Cohen, a Pittsburgh-based child psychiatrist, voted for Bernie Sanders, the architect of the most sweeping version of Medicare for All, in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. She says the national discussion about single payer and its overwhelming focus on paying higher taxes or losing private insurance misses the point ? she argues individuals would see greater benefit from a health care system without premiums, copays and other costs that increasingly make health care out of reach. But the question about jobs, she says, is a “legitimate” issue ? one she says people haven’t completely thought through.

“You don’t want to leave all these people in the lurch without jobs,” Cohen said.

Having it both ways

The idea of one national health plan covering all Americans has steadily grown more popular in public opinion polls over time, a sea change that coincides with Medicare for All becoming near orthodoxy for progressive Democrats. Prior to 2016, when Sanders made it the linchpin of his insurgent run for president, less than half of Americans supported setting up a such a system, according to Kaiser Family Foundation polling. Now, just over half of the public backs it.

When it comes to the costs of reform, taxes are the headline issue, and the movement’s advocates on the national stage ? Sanders and fellow Democratic presidential contender Elizabeth Warren, among others ? have largely had to defend Medicare for All against charges that middle-class taxes would have to go up to finance a new government-run system. But the question of what single-payer health care would do to jobs and the economy has largely been overlooked. In the past, Sanders has answered questions about the economic ramifications with vague claims about transitioning to other jobs in the health sector.

“When we provide insurance to 29 million people who today don’t have it, when we deal with the problems of high deductibles and copayments and more people get the health care that they want and they need, we?re going to have all kinds of jobs opened up in health care,” Sanders claimed during a 2016 CNN town hall when asked by a retired health insurance worker what would happen to jobs in the industry. “And the first people in line should be those people who are currently in the private health insurance industry.”

Economists dispute the extent to which this would occur. Robert Pollin, co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst who has consulted with Sanders’ and Warren’s teams over Medicare for All, says that while people could be retrained for different jobs, there are no guarantees they’d work in the newly created government health care system, since one of the goals is to cut down on administrative overhead. “You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have savings through administrative simplicity and more jobs. The government won’t need these people,” Pollin said.

Health care workers are interwoven throughout the economy, employed by large institutions like hospitals, health insurance companies and nursing homes but also in places like small accounting firms that help clinicians get reimbursed for care, and as independent brokers who help sell insurance products to customers.

Mazur handles medical billing for physicians through Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance, the last of which is the most complicated. Under Medicare for All, “They don’t have to worry about, am I going to get paid for this service based on what insurance the patient has? It would be the same rules for everybody.”

In Pittsburgh, workers in the health care economy interviewed for this article weren’t necessarily against a single-payer system, even if it meant their work would be personally affected. But they did consistently say that Democratic candidates for president need to make the employment implications clearer.

Marc Schermer, a Pittsburgh-based insurance broker who sells health plans to individual customers as well as small businesses, says he’d likely experience a temporary setback but believes he’d manage since he sells other kinds of insurance, too. He even thinks single payer is an idea “he could get behind” because removing private insurance companies from the system would simplify things.

“I’m pretty well diversified so that if suddenly the ‘Medicare for All’ thing happened, and companies like United and Highmark and UPMC and Aetna were brushed aside, I would still have something to do,” Schermer said. “But there are a lot of people who are employed directly by those companies who would be up a creek.”

Medicare for All isn’t predicted to disrupt all job types and could even potentially benefit certain types of health care workers ? for example, by expanding the need for caregivers because of a proposed expansion of long-term care benefits. And Medicare for All would provide health benefits to tens of millions who are still uninsured, creating additional demand for doctors and other providers. Still, others are likely to be lost in the short term.

“We vilify the health care industry, but it provides jobs to a lot of people, and not just jobs for wealthy people but jobs for everyday people,” said Janette Dill, a researcher at the University of Minnesota who has studied the rise of health care-related employment among the working class. “That’s one thing it’s really good at.”

Health care jobs in Allegheny County, the region surrounding Pittsburgh, grew from roughly 90,000 in 1990 to around 140,000 this year, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. Another 9,500 people work directly for health insurance companies and about 3,200 work for insurance agencies or brokerages, which includes people who sell health insurance policies.

The power of the health care industry in southwestern Pennsylvania is inescapable. Hospitals and clinics controlled by two competing health care behemoths, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, dot Pittsburgh’s streets. The two companies have slowly moved in on the other’s territory and saturated Pittsburgh’s health care market, with the iconic UPMC brand operating a health insurance arm, and Highmark BCBS running the Allegheny Health Network system of hospitals and clinics.

Both companies declined to comment on the potential impact of Medicare for All on their workforces.

University of Massachusetts researchers who analyzed the 2017 version of Sanders’ Medicare for All bill estimated that nationwide more than 800,000 people who work for private health insurance companies and a further 1 million who handle administrative work for health care providers would see their jobs evaporate.

The workers generally earn middle-class wages, according to the November 2018 study forecasting the economic ramifications of Sanders’ plan. The median annual income of a worker employed in the health insurance industry is nearly $55,000; for office and administrative jobs at health care service sites, it’s about $35,000, researchers said.

“The savings don’t come out of the sky,” said Pollin. “The main way we save money is through administrative simplicity. That means layoffs. There’s just no way around it.”

Extra dollars, extra life?

Of course, the larger problem behind the question of job losses is just how much of the U.S. economy should be devoted to health care.

Economists say there isn’t a magic number for how large or small the health care sector should be. But they often express concern that the U.S. gets too little benefit for the amount of money it spends, with spending levels twice that of many other developed nations and actual health outcomes significantly lower. Much of that money goes to overhead, in the form of middlemen like insurers and the surrounding industries.

“The problem is you’re spending extra dollars right now, and it’s not at all clear you’re getting extra life for it,” said Katherine Baicker, a health care economist and dean of the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy.

Cutting those excess costs has appeal to economists, who prioritize efficiency and value for money. But politically it can be a challenge when what looks like an “excess cost” from a distance looks like a good-paying job to the person who holds it. Nationally, the growing health care sector was an economic bright spot even during the Great Recession, continuing to add jobs while others shed millions of workers, according to an analysis from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Medicare for All also wouldn’t be the first, nor likely the last, initiative that would cause economic upheaval for a major jobs engine. Baicker argues that the jobs piece isn’t a metric that people should use to judge whether single payer is worth it, because in a dynamic economy different sectors grow while others shrink.

“What you need is transition help for those people whose sectors are shrinking,” Baicker said. We may all be better off in the long run when we can produce all the food we need with many fewer people working in agriculture … that doesn’t mean that you can instantaneously turn a farmer into a software engineer or a nurse into a financial expert.”

There’s some precedent for federal programs that help individuals whose jobs have been upended because of broader economic policy decisions, including the Trade Adjustment Assistance program that helps workers displaced by global trade.

The latest Medicare for All bills in the House and Senate, championed by members in Democrats’ most liberal wing, include provisions addressing assistance for displaced workers. The House version spearheaded by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington state, mandates that for up to five years at least 1 percent of the new health care program’s budget will be spent on efforts to prevent dislocation for health insurance administrative workers or individuals who perform related work at health care organizations.

“This happens every time there’s innovation,” said Jayapal, who co-chairs the House’s Progressive Caucus. “It happens with Lyft and Uber. It happens with movie cameras instead of still photographs. This is part of what happens as you make things better.”

Sanders’ legislation appears to be more limited. The bill allows — but doesn’t require ? that such assistance be provided to workers and caps the amount at 1 percent.

Even in Pittsburgh, not everyone is worried that a national health care law would gut the area’s leading industry yet again. When manufacturing declined in the 1980s in the region, “nobody really cared” and workers were just told to “suck it up” in response to job loss, said Ed Grystar, a longtime union organizer and chair of the Western PA Coalition for Single-Payer Healthcare.

Grystar, who says he spent most of his life negotiating contracts for nurses, says Medicare for All represents a “monumental shift for social justice” to help people access something they deserve. The current system, with its out of control prices and dysfunction, “can’t go on.”

As for the insurance jobs?

“Who cares if [insurance companies] go out of business?’’ Grystar said in an interview. “This is a net positive for society as a whole.”

This article was originally published by Politico on November 25, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Rachana Pradhan is a health care reporter for POLITICO Pro. Before coming to POLITICO, she spent more than three years at Inside Health Policy focusing on implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Prior to that, Pradhan worked at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville, Va., and spent most of her time covering city government (with the occasional foray into stories on urban chicken-keeping and the closure of neighborhood pools).

Pradhan is a rare local of the Washington, D.C., area and graduated from James Madison University. She was also news editor of JMU’s student newspaper, The Breeze.

The Future of U.S. Jobs Looks Bleak. Unions Are the Answer.

Friday, September 6th, 2019

Image result for heidi shierholzWe were just handed a wake-up call. Newly released numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics project that six of the ten occupations expected to have the most total job growth over the next decade pay less than $27,000 a year. Three of those six are low-paying jobs in the restaurant industry. Even more striking is the concentration of low-paid healthcare jobs at the top of the list, with personal care aides at number one and home health aides at number four. These jobs are disproportionately held by women and by people of color.

The low earnings in these fast-growing jobs provide a grim glimpse into what the future of work in the United States will look like if nothing changes. But this future is not ordained. These jobs pay poorly  because we allow it. Weak labor standards (such as a low federal minimum wage and weak overtime protections), weak enforcement of these standards, and labor law that does a poor job of protecting workers’ right to unionize, all mean employers have the power to suppress workers’ wages. This will continue to be the case unless we, as a society, make different choices—choices that empower workers and give them more power in their workplaces.

For those who might respond that these low-paid workers should just go to college to get a decent-paying job, the new BLS data has an answer for you. In 2028, only 27.2 percent of jobs will be in occupations where a college degree (or more) is typically required. In other words, even in nine years, a college degree won’t actually be required for a huge share of the jobs employers will need workers to do. If everyone gets a college degree, those non-college jobs will simply be filled by college grads. Put yet another way, college cannot solve this. Unless you’re willing to write off almost three-quarters of the labor market as undeserving of a decent job, we need another approach. We need to make sure even those 72.8 percent of jobs that don’t require a college degree are good jobs.

The good news is that we know how to do that. We must implement strong labor standards, strong enforcement of those standards, and reform labor law so that workers who want to join a union are able to do so. As we think about these different choices for our future, it’s worth noting that manufacturing jobs weren’t always good jobs—in fact, they were often terrible, and dangerous. Unionization changed that. Unionization could do that for the fast-growing jobs of the future, too.

This article was originally published at In These Times on September 5, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Heidi Shierholz is Senior Economist and Director of Policy at the Economic Policy Institute. From 2014 to 2017, she served the Obama administration as chief economist at the Department of Labor.

Trump thinks tariffs will add U.S. manufacturing jobs. Economic reality says they won’t.

Monday, August 26th, 2019

Adam BehsudiWhen then-Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina went to a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Kent International in 2014, the bicycle company had grand plans for expansion at its assembly plant to make its products in the United States.

“Manufacturing, it’s never as easy as it looks and people kind of laughed at us, but won’t be laughing very much longer,” Kent International Chairman and CEO Arnold Kamler said. “We are not reinventing the wheel; we just have a really talented bunch of workers and managers.“

President Donald Trump had promised that his steep tariffs on Chinese goods would help bring jobs back to the U.S. But five years later, paradoxically, it is the very tariffs that Trump has imposed that have kept that plant in Manning, S.C., from expanding, Kamler said in an interview.

Firms are indeed moving out of China but are not flocking to the United States, undermining the central promise of Trump’s trade war. Cheaper labor markets in Southeast Asia are the ones benefiting the most amid the trade war that has ratcheted up duties on Chinese goods.

In fact, the administration’s actions have prompted Kent International to still rely on its joint venture partner, Shanghai General Sports, to supply more of its bicycles. For its part, Shanghai General is planning to build a factory on a plot of land in Cambodia. By the end of year, 40,000 square feet of production capacity will be complete.

Kamler estimates that 30 percent of the company’s annual production of 3 million bicycles will come from Cambodia, at the expense of China.

The tariffs are also taking a toll on Kent International’s ambitions to bring jobs to the U.S. The company needs steel tubes as components in the welding assembly line, which currently can only be bought at a reasonable price from foreign suppliers.

The administration’s tariffs on steel and aluminum imports — as well as the threat of new tariffs on the majority of the components used in bicycle production — has meant that additional phases of bringing jobs to the U.S. have yet to happen.

The latest U.S. economic trends aren’t helping efforts. U.S. economic growth has slowed this year and the 3 percent growth Trump promised last year was revised down to almost 2.5 percent.

Manufacturing job trends are also cooling. The latest U.S. jobs report showed manufacturing employment rose by an average of 8,000 per month so far in 2019, compared with an increase of 22,000 jobs per month in the sector in 2018.

Across-the-board tariffs on all Chinese imports could create more than 1 million U.S. jobs in five years, contends the Coalition for a Prosperous America, a major backer of Trump’s tariffs. The reality, however, is other nations with lower wages are the ones benefiting from the president’s strategy.

“The majority of jobs are going to other countries,” said Jeff Ferry, chief economist for the coalition, which has advocated a complete decoupling from the Chinese economy to benefit the U.S.

The group‘s study found only a small gain in production returning to the U.S. the first year of a blanket tariff, representing only about 0.2 percent of the more than $500 billion worth of imports from China. By year 5 though, that number would increase to 13 percent compared to the value of last year’s imports from China, he said.

For his part, Trump pledged that his strategy to escalate the trade war against China would create jobs in the U.S. in the long term.

“Tariffs are a great negotiating tool, a great revenue producer and, most importantly, a powerful way to get companies to come to the USA and to get companies that have left us for other lands to COME BACK HOME,” Trump tweetedlast month.

Acecdotal evidence, not hard numbers.

There have been some prominent announcements from companies trumpeting that they have “reshored,” or brought jobs back to the United States.

Stanley Black & Decker said this year it would move production of its Craftsman line of tools, which it acquired from Sears, from China to Texas where it would add 500 jobs. High-end furniture seller Restoration Hardware said in a recent earnings report that tariffs were spurring it to bring some manufacturing to the U.S.

The U.S. Commerce Department published this year a “case study” on reinvesting in the U.S., highlighting the experiences of six companies moving production to America. The report makes the case “that anecdotal evidence of hundreds of reshoring cases is very real,” but it also admits that tariffs are a “challenge” for companies wanting to move production to the U.S.

Half of the companies profiled by the Commerce Department highlight the harm of tariffs on investment decisions.

Quality Electrodynamics, an Ohio-based company that designs and produces parts for medical devices, “recommended that the U.S. government could promote reshoring and expansion in the United States by revising U.S. tariffs on Chinese components in a way that does not disadvantage U.S. companies.”

Those working to find ways to increase reshoring say the tariffs are making it harder for companies to make decisions on where, or even whether, to add capacity.

Harry Moser, president of the nonprofit Reshoring Initiative, said he agrees 100 percent with the goals of Trump’s tariffs, but said they have had a “modest net negative” effect on jobs coming back to the U.S. as companies look elsewhere to relocate production.

Based on the Reshoring Initiative’s own study, 2018 was a banner year for the return of jobs to the U.S., but that progress dropped off in 2019. Already, $250 billion worth of imports are subject to a 25 percent tariff, and Trump has threatened to slap duties on almost all that the U.S. brings in from China.

Trump has announced that he would hit an estimated $112 billion in imports from China with a 10 percent as of Sept. 1, while another $160 billion subject to the duty as of Dec. 15.

“Clearly Trump caused work to come here more by the things he did on taxes than by pounding on the table with tariffs,” Moser said. “The uncertainty caused by the tariffs are hurting reshoring and foreign direct investment.”

Trump’s trade chief, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, acknowledged recently that tariffs were diverting some production to the U.S. but also to other countries.

“The imposition of tariffs can have many effects, including modifications to supply chains,” he wrote in a response to a written questions from Congress on whether tariffs are benefiting producers in other countries.

“I have closely followed reports of manufacturing coming back to the United States from China or going to third countries in some instances,” he said.

Sebastien Breteau, the CEO of Hong Kong-based supply chain inspection company Qima, said the data his firm collects supports the theory that neither China nor the U.S. is winning the trade war.

The company, which has 6,000 clients worldwide, has seen a 13 percent drop for China-based inspections from U.S. companies.

Meanwhile, inspections for U.S. clients increased 21 percent in Vietnam, 25 percent in Indonesia and 15 percent in Cambodia. Mexico inspections for U.S. clients jumped by a staggering 119 percent in the first six months of 2019.

“There is a clear sign that in the trade war between the U.S. and China, the winner is not going to be the U.S. and it’s not going to be China,” he said. The winners are “going to be Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia and very likely Mexico and Bangladesh.”

The Qima data is supported by a recent report from consulting firm AT Kearney, which found that imports from low-cost Asian countries in 2019 outpaced U.S. manufacturing output.

A report by the investment firm China International Capital Corporation released last month estimated that across eight manufacturing sub-sectors in China, the first two batches of tariffs from the United States would likely result in 1.5 million job losses in China. The authors said that looking across the whole manufacturing sector, “this estimate may be low.”

However, there is little evidence to suggest that many of these jobs are flocking to the United States.

George Whittier, CEO of Morey, a Chicago-based custom electronics manufacturer, said his company still relies on imported parts to make GPS tracking devices and controllers for vehicles. Most of those components imported from China are subject to tariffs, but the finished products are not. The result is more time spent haggling over costs with existing customers rather than expanding production and jobs.

Whittier also questioned whether the U.S. labor pool could absorb a major increase in manufacturing. He said he has 15 positions open that he has been unable to fill even after raising the offered salaries twice.

“If there was this big boom of manufacturing coming back from China into the U.S., I gotta be honest, I have no idea where the workers are going to come from,” he said.

Kamler, of Kent International, said previous discussions with the Trump administration had been frustrating because of a perspective that only goods made from “start-to-finish in the U.S.” count as “real” domestic manufacturing. But he added that recent talks with the Commerce Department had been more fruitful.

Kamler has formed a coalition of 12 American companies in an attempt to bring an entire supply chain cluster back to the United States. If the alliance can prove that it’s assembling entire bicycles in the United States, it would “be able to import all the component parts for five years, duty free,” Kamler said.

Still, he said he was told the alliance would only get the tariffs eliminated if it could prove that it could increase U.S. bicycle assembly from 600,000 annually to 4 or 5 million. Kamler said the industry would ultimately have to seek permanent relief from tariffs through legislation, which he said is in the early stages of being developed.

“These things don’t happen so fast, but this is a long-term play and this is actually my hope and part of my legacy that I’m hoping to leave, that I can help bring back the American bike industry,” he said.

Counterfeiting, not tariffs, prompt some moves

For other companies, the threat of intellectual property, or I.P., theft and not tariffs has driven decisions to relocate production to the U.S.

Isaac Larian is the chief executive officer of MGA Entertainment, the world’s largest privately owned toy company. Last year, one of his company’s brands, Little Tikes, reshored production of fashion accessories for its line of L.O.L. Surprise! Dolls to an existing plant in Hudson, Ohio, in a bid to avoid fake versions of its products from being sold to consumers.

“The biggest problem we face in China is the theft of I.P. There are over 200 factories in China that make L.O.L. Surprise! counterfeit products and very little can be done about it,” Larian said. “These counterfeit products are unsafe for children.”

He said MGA tested moving one item’s production to the U.S. and found it was successful. Now, it plans to move more accessories, especially because toys made in China are among the items subject to a 10 percent tariff as of Dec. 15.

“It will definitely affect business due to lower sales, and we are looking at options” to move more manufacturing out of China, he said, adding that “it is too late for this year.”

Another toy seller, Unit Bricks, examined moving production to the U.S. by pricing out the plastic elements of its production as well as packaging. But the company decided it was unaffordable at this stage because profit margins on toy sales are too thin to justify the costs of relocating production to the U.S.

“Everything is about margins,” said Timothy Stuart, the owner of the educational toy maker. “The issue with the U.S. is that labor intensive items become too expensive.”

“All production is in China for us: plastic, wood, packaging. Industry follows labor, and America can’t afford cheap labor,” said Stuart.

With the threat of a new tariffs looming, Stuart said that his business could absorb a 10 percent levy, but should it rise to 25 percent, “we would have zero choice at that point” but to leave China.

“Frankly, I still have hope that the 10 percent won’t hit, but we are prepared for it and have already spoken to customers. They’ve increased the quantities of their orders, so that helps,” said Stuart.

But should things escalate, the U.S. and Poland are both active options but due to the higher cost, “the U.S. is the last resort.”

This article was originally published at Politico on August 24, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Adam Behsudi is a trade reporter for POLITICO Pro. Prior to joining POLITICO, he covered international trade policy for Inside U.S. Trade, where he tracked down the latest news on the Trans-Pacific Partnership from exotic locales such as Auckland, New Zealand; Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia; and Leesburg, Va.Before writing about anti-dumping, export controls and other trade subjects, Behsudi covered city hall for the Frederick News-Post. He got his start in journalism chasing crooked sheriffs and other crime-related news in the mountains of western North Carolina for the Asheville Citizen-Times

Behsudi earned his bachelor’s degree in 2005 from the University of Missouri. With the hope that journalism could return as a growth industry within his lifetime, he earned a master’s degree in interactive journalism from American University in 2010.

Every American Should Be Guaranteed a Job. The Green New Deal Could Make That Happen.

Monday, August 12th, 2019
fed•er•al jobs guar•an•tee

noun

1. A government policy to provide a job for anyone who wants one

We’ve been talking about this for a while, right?

Yes! President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed a “second Bill of Rights” in his 1944 State of the Union, a list of economic and social rights including “the right to a useful and remunerative job.”

“Full employment” has been the official goal of the U.S. government since 1978, with the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act following advocacy from labor groups as well as Coretta Scott King. Early versions of the bill included an actual jobs guarantee, which was cut out of the final legislation.  A jobs guarantee was also part of Jesse Jackson’s 1988 presidential platform.

Are any of this year’s presidential candidates supporting a jobs guarantee?

Several! Cory Booker (N.J.) introduced a Senate bill—co-sponsored by Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.)—to create a three-year pilot program in up to 15 “high-unemployment communities” to provide jobs with at least a $15 wage.

Bernie Sanders (Vt.) arguably goes further, invoking FDR’s call for a second Bill of Rights and a full jobs guarantee.

If the point is to keep people out of poverty, why not just give people money or provide better social services?

Why not all of the above? A universal basic income is preferred by some, but there’s no need to choose just one policy to answer economic inequality. Jobs advocates argue there is plenty of fulfilling work to be done and that a jobs guarantee would strengthen the bargaining position of workers in the private sector. The Sanders campaign website, for example, suggests childcare, elder care and green infrastructure as areas to emphasize.

Speaking of which, isn’t a jobs guarantee part of the Green New Deal?

That’s right—a Green New Deal could fund millions of jobs to dramatically scale up clean energy production, build and run public transportation, and prepare communities to adapt to the realities of a warming planet. While a jobs guarantee is already popular—52% of Americans support it, according to a poll by Civis Analytics—polling commissioned by the Sunrise Movement indicates that a jobs guarantee focused on green jobs and climate protection is even more popular.

Saving the planet and ending poverty at the same time? Certainly sounds worth a try!

This article appeared originally in In these Times on August 12, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

Maine Union Members Answer the Call on Path to Power

Thursday, July 25th, 2019

Kenneth-Quinnell_small

Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1253 member Tina Riley never had any desire to get involved in politics until she was recruited to run for the Maine Legislature in 2015.

She knew it would be a challenging race. The district was traditionally a union stronghold, but it had been trending conservative in recent years due to a decline in union membership caused by union busting, layoffs and mill closures. But with strong union support and preparation, Riley said, she had the tools she needed to run her first successful campaign in 2016, narrowly winning by 57 votes.

Riley was instrumental this session in requiring the use of registered apprenticeship programs on larger renewable energy projects as a way to build good jobs in the energy sector and blocking attempts to weaken electrical licensing standards.

“The state employees union and the teachers union are quite visible to the Legislature. They’re focused on the kinds of jobs in which their members are engaged. Most people are less aware of how trade unions operate,” Riley said. “Sometimes legislators would speak disparagingly of short-term construction jobs. They needed to hear that thousands of construction workers depend on those jobs to feed their families—and they did hear it. And it changed their thinking at times.”

Riley herself came into the union through an IBEW apprenticeship nearly 30 years ago and has worked as a maintenance mill electrician as well as run her own contracting firm with her husband, who is a union worker at the Rumford Mill.

For union members considering a run for office, she encourages them to take the Maine AFL-CIO Worker Candidate Training as well as meet with party leaders and local legislators to learn about the job.

“I think it’s essential that we, as a legislature, be extremely cost-conscious, but foremost, we need to consider the overall well-being of the people we serve,” Riley said. “Good jobs, with good pay and dignified treatment by our employers, is a critical piece of that overall well-being, and it is always the union voice that brings that perspective to the table.”

When Rep. Scott Cuddy, an IBEW 1253 member, talks about the need for more labor voices in the Maine Legislature, he gets pretty passionate.

“You can serve in the Legislature,” he advises union members. “Every union member that I’ve met who has shown any interest in politics could absolutely do a great job in the Legislature. And I really hope they do, because there needs to be more of us.”

Cuddy knew he wouldn’t have an easy path to the Statehouse when he made the decision to run. After losing his initial race in 2016, he persisted and won his seat in the 2018 election. He had just started a night job installing lighting on the Bar Harbor Airport runway, but he was able to campaign during the day and take candidate training offered by the Maine AFL-CIO.

“It was actually the best job I could have had in terms of getting the time to knock on doors,” he said. “So by the time I was done with that, I was so happy when the election rolled along.”

Cuddy says union members bring a unique perspective to government in that they have a sense of class consciousness and understanding of the employer-employee relationship. He says that many union members are uniquely suited to legislating because they understand how to negotiate, so they can prevent bills from getting watered down in the political process.

Cuddy emphasizes that union members also can have a positive influence on their colleagues. He noted that while some legislators may not want to listen to a union staffer, they are more willing to hear from other legislators on important labor bills.

“A lot of decisions get made in the caucus room,” Cuddy said. “People stand up, they make their pitch, and when you have union members in the room who can talk about the importance of collective bargaining rights, it carries a lot of weight.”

This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on July 24, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Michael Gillis is a writer at AFL-CIO.

Trump administration backs off from slashing Job Corps centers after bipartisan outcry from Congress

Friday, June 21st, 2019

The Trump administration’s move to slash federal jobs and job training for rural youth hasn’t gone according to plan. In fact, it’s not going to go at all after bipartisan outcry. The plan to shut down nine Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers, with 16 more to be privatized or shifted to state control, was scrapped Wednesday.

More than 1,100 federal workers at centers that train disadvantaged youth and young adults were slated to be laid off under the plan, which would have hit some rural communities hard. Those rural communities are often represented by Republicans, who objected vociferously to the layoffs and closures. That’s why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opposed the plan, which would have closed two centers in Kentucky, and why a letter from 51 members of the House and Senate was resoundingly bipartisan. (It more or less goes without saying that if the closures had targeted heavily Democratic areas, Republican lawmakers would have been all for it.)

“[In] 2017 1,200 students at CCCs participated in fire assessments, providing the equivalent of 450,000 hours of service during the height of the fire season,” the 51 lawmakers wrote. “Students at CCCs also provided 5,000 hours of support in response to Hurricane Harvey.”

And what do you know? The Trump administration decided it was easier to back down than to anger all those rural Republicans—the elected ones writing letters and, presumably, the average people who were going to lose out because of the closures. Funny how that works.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on June 20, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

 

Renewable industry employed 11 million people in 2018

Friday, June 14th, 2019

The number of workers employed by the renewable energy industry keeps growing. In 2018, at least 11 million people around the world held jobs across the renewables sector, from manufacturing and trading to installation.

According to the sixth annual jobs report by the International Renewable Energy Agency, the majority of these jobs are concentrated in China, the European Union, Brazil, and the United States.

The figures show a steady increase over the years. In 2017, there were 10.3 million jobs. This was up from 9.8 million in 2016 and 8.1 million in 2015.

This growth comes at the same time as countries are setting clean energy generation records. The U.K. recently went at least 10 days without generating any coal power, while last month in the U.S. renewable energy generation surpassed coal generation for the first time in history.

11 million people were employed in the renewables industry in 2018. Credit: IRENA.
11 MILLION PEOPLE WERE EMPLOYED IN THE RENEWABLES INDUSTRY IN 2018. CREDIT: IRENA.

In the United States, the number of people working in renewables is just under the amount employed by the fossil fuel industry. Last year saw a slight uptick in these jobs, with just over 1.1 million people employed in petroleum fuels, natural gas, coal, and biomass across the country.

According to the IRENA report, solar power remains the top employer within the renewables industry, providing 3.6 million jobs last year, accounting for a third of the entire industry’s workflow. This is in part due to expansion in India and Southeast Asia as well as Brazil. China, however, remains the leading solar employer, representing 61% of all jobs in 2018.

Meanwhile, 2.1 million people worked in the biofuel industry, another 2.1 million jobs were in hydropower, and wind employed 1.2 million people.

A third of all renewable jobs globally, the report states, are held by women. This is compared to a 22% average in the oil and gas industry. However, previous reports have shown that at least in the solar industry in the United States, the majority of jobs still go white men.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly said that tackling climate change means losing jobs. But as this report shows, in fact the opposite is true.

The findings in IRENA’s latest report support a study released last December by the International Labour Review which found that accelerating the transition to clean energy could add 24 million jobs globally by 2030.

In a press statement Thursday, Francesco La Camera, the director-general of IRENA, said countries are investing in renewables not just because of climate concerns, but also because it makes economic sense.

“Beyond climate goals,” he said, “governments are prioritizing renewables as a driver of low-carbon economic growth in recognition of the numerous employment opportunities created by the transition to renewables.”

This article was originally published at AFL-CIO on June 13, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kyla Mandel is the editor for the climate team. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, Mother Jones, and Vice. She has a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, specializing in science, health, and environment reporting. You can reach her at kmandel@thinkprogress.org, or on Twitter at .

Trump takes aim at firefighting jobs with largest federal cut in a decade

Wednesday, May 29th, 2019

The Trump administration is planning to cut over a thousand jobs — including many wildland firefighting jobs — in what’s thought to be the largest federal jobs cut in a decade. The move comes ahead of another wildfire season and amid threatened halts to financial assistance following deadly fires last year.

The latest attempt in what appears to undermine wildfire preparedness includes ending a federal program that trains young people for jobs including wildfire fighting, while at the same time withholding wildfire reimbursements California officials say are owed from last year. All of this serves to deepen the feud between President Donald Trump and West Coast states over disaster assistance. Meanwhile, multiple states are preparing for another brutal wildfire season based on current federal projections.

In an announcement buried on the Friday before the Memorial Day weekend, the Trump administration announced that it will end a program under the Forest Service, run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers (CCCs) train young people between the ages 16 to 24 in rural and disadvantaged areas for jobs including wildland firefighting and forestry, in addition to disaster recovery. The 25 centers are predominantly in the South and West and located on federal lands, with more than 3,000 students employed by the program.

Nine of the centers will close, with another 16 set to move to state control or to be taken over by private entities, as control of the program shifts to the Labor Department. Centers in Washington, Oregon, Kentucky, Montana, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Virginia, and North Carolina are all slated for closure. Roughly 1,100 jobs will be lost — potentially the largest federal workforce reduction in a decade.

“As USDA looks to the future, it is imperative that the Forest Service focus on and prioritize our core natural resource mission to improve the condition and resilience of our Nation’s forests, and step away from activities and programs that are not essential to that core mission,” USDA head Sonny Perdue wrote in a letter to Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta on Friday.

The program has suffered from safety issues, along with inconsistencies in job placement. But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed dismay over the massive job cuts, while union leaders have slammed the decision as “a coordinated attack on the most vulnerable populations in the country.”

In a statement following the announcement, National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) National President Randy Erwin lamented the potential implications for wildfire fighting in particular.

“[O]nly the CCC’s [sic] train students to serve as wildland forest firefighters to help with fire suppression operations during fire season,” Erwin said. “There is no plan for this loss of resources to the country which has seen more powerful fires with each passing year.”

Wildfires have become significantly more deadly and destructive in recent years, with the season now considered to run virtually year-round amid worsening climate impacts and urban sprawl.

According to Wildfire Today, one of the CCCs slated to close in Kentucky sent personnel on 40 assignments in 2016 alone. And a review by NFFE found that more than 300 students provided more than 200,000 hours of wildfire-related support in 2017. It is unclear, however, what the loss of the CCCs might mean for efforts to combat wildfires during this year’s fire season.

That reduction in wildfire assistance comes amid ongoing sparring between Trump and California. Last November, the president largely blamed the state for its wildfire problems, accusing California of “gross mismanagement of the forests” and threatening to withhold federal aid. Now, the Forest Service is accusing California of overbilling with its $72 million reimbursement request, money the state owes its fire agencies for last year’s work on federal lands.

The Forest Service is demanding proof of “actual expenses” for the services rendered on public lands and has launched an audit into the California Fire Assistance Agreement (CFAA), which reimburses the state for such costs. That means the federal government is now withholding more than $9 million of the total amount requested from California, even as the state stares down another wildfire season.

The 2018 wildfire season is connected with at least 100 deaths and involved the efforts of thousands of firefighters in California alone. This year could be equally dire, with western parts of Washington already prepared for an exceptionally bad season. That area has seen an abnormally dry year so far, with outdoor burns already reported throughout the month of March, which is unusual.

“Scared,” Dave Skrinde, a fire district chief in Washington, told local reporters, speaking about the wildfire season. “That’s my gut feeling.”

And according to the National Interagency Fire Center, Washington isn’t the only statethat needs to be on heightened alert for wildfires over the next few months. Areas across the West — including parts of Oregon, which is losing a CCC — are at risk. Warming temperatures in Alaska, meanwhile, have made the state more vulnerable to wildfires, with southeast Alaska currently experiencing its first recorded extreme drought in history.

This article was originally published at Think Progress on May 28, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: E.A. (Ev) Crunden covers climate policy and environmental issues at ThinkProgress. Originally from Texas, Ev has reported from many parts of the country and previously covered world issues for Muftah Magazine, with an emphasis on South Asia and Eastern Europe. Reach them at: ecrunden@thinkprogress.org.

Wisconsin’s Foxconn Deal Enriches Billionaires With Taxpayer Cash

Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

Taiwanese billionaire Terry Gou every once in a while likes to think “outside the box.” Back in 2010, for instance, the giant electronics manufacturer that Gou runs — Foxconn — was facing what corporate flacks like to call a major “PR problem.” Working conditions inside Foxconn’s massive Chinese factories had become so incredibly stressful that workers were committing suicide in shockingly large numbers. They were leaping out factory windows to their deaths.

And what did Gou’s Foxconn do to try to calm the worldwide outrage? The conventional corporate move would have been to dial back the pressure on workers. Foxconn’s move under Gou? The company stretched safety nets in those places where workers would be most likely to leap.

Keeping the pressure on workers — no matter the consequences — has helped Foxconn’s Gou accumulate a personal fortune somewhere north of $6 billion. But Gou has also perfected another sure-fire strategy for piling up the big bucks. He gets taxpayers to give him money. Lots of it.

Gou has cut a wide assortment of subsidy deals over the years, with politicians from Indonesia to Pennsylvania. The deals all follow the same pattern. Foxconn promises to build “job-creating” factories. The political jurisdictions involved hand Foxconn lucrative “incentives” to do the building.

State lawmakers in Wisconsin have now just taken the first step toward approving Foxconn’s biggest subsidy deal yet. The state Assembly has given the green lightto what appears to be the biggest subsidy ever handed out to a foreign firm by a U.S. political entity.

Wisconsin taxpayers will, if this deal gains expected state Senate approval, hand Foxconn $1.35 billion for building a factory complex that will employ 3,000 workers. The total package of “incentives” for Foxconn could hit $3 billion — with $2.85 billion of that in taxpayer cash and another $150 million in various tax breaks — if Foxconn’s operation in Wisconsin ends up employing 13,000 workers.

How much per job would Wisconsin be shelling out? One likely scenario: about $500,000 per job. The worst-case scenario: as much as $1 million per job. And neither number here takes into account the Foxconn deal’s eventual environmental cost. Foxconn will be receiving, besides the taxpayer cash, an exemptionfrom regulations that protect Wisconsin’s wetlands.

So Foxconn gets mountains of cash and a free pass to pollute. What do the people of Wisconsin get? One of the largest “economic development” projects the United States has ever seen, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker crowed last month at a White House ceremony announcing the deal with Foxconn’s Terry Gou and President Donald Trump.

Foxconn’s Jobs

This “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” adds an aide to Walker, will bring thousands of “family-supporting jobs.” The new positions, business boosters for the Foxconn deal trumpet, will pay an average $53,000 per year.

But that $53,000 figure only applies to the first 3,000 jobs Foxconn is promising to create and averageshighly paid managerial positions in with job slots for assembly-line workers. Actual workers at the new Foxconn complex will likely take home much less than $53,000.

How much less? Community groups skeptical about Foxconn want any deal with the company to include a wage floor. They’re seeking stipulations that guarantee workers at least $15 an hour. The Republican statehouse majority in Wisconsin has so far quashed every attempt to set a decent wage minimum.

You can’t support much of a family, critics of the Foxconn deal are contending, on less than $15 an hour. And you can’t spur economic development that creates good jobs, add watchdogs opposed to the Foxconn deal, by handing corporations giant giveaways.

Throwing money at businesses, as former Kansas City mayor Mark Funkhouser notes, has been a “bad idea” ever since cities started “offering bonuses and pecuniary inducements to manufacturers” in the late 19th century.

These inducements have ratcheted up considerably over recent years, even before taking the new Foxconn deal into account. Between 1990 and 2015, a new Upjohn Institute study shows, average “incentive” packages for businesses tripled in value.

The results of this vast upsurge in subsidies?  The U.S. political jurisdictions that did all this subsidizing, the Upjohn researchers found, would have experienced the same economic results without the incentives, observes former mayor Funkhouser, “94 percent of the time.”

What Does Create Good Jobs?

What does spur the economic development that creates good jobs? The city of Richmond in Virginia is moving in one hopeful direction. Richmond has begun an Office of Community Wealth Building that aims to enrich local residents instead of billionaire CEOs. The city is focusing on everything from improving regional transportation systems to fostering locally based social enterprises. The Democracy Collaborative, a national organization, has fashioned a network of localities involved in similar “community wealth building” all across the United States.

These operations could certainly use some encouragement from the federal level. But President Trump has proposed a budget, notes Greg LeRoy of Good Jobs First, that eliminates “successful federal programs that benefit small- and medium-sized manufacturers.” The contradictions between Trump’s budget cuts for these programs and his White House cheerleading for the enormous Foxconn subsidy deal, adds LeRoy, “boggle the mind.”

Foxconn’s Terry Gou would likely see none of these contradictions. That the few should benefit at the expense of the many makes perfect sense to him, as the billionaire makes plain in one of the Gou quotation posters Foxconn has plastered on the walls of its Chinese factories.

“Growth,” proclaims this particular Gou quotation poster, “thy name is suffering.”

This blog was originally published at OurFuture.org on August 28, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: A veteran labor journalist, Sam Pizzigati has written widely on economic inequality, in articles, books, and online, for both popular and scholarly readers.

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