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American Family Voices Campaign To Unite Progressives On Economic Agenda

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Sherrod Brown,
Rep. Raul Grijalva, progressive movement advocates, and business leaders
make the argument for a progressive economic agenda.


Washington, D.C. — Today, American Family Voices is launching a new campaign uniting progressive politicians, movement advocates, and socially conscious business leaders to make the argument for a progressive economic agenda, with the video release of “Fairness AND Growth: the Progressive Economic Alternative.” On Friday, October 2nd, AFV, in collaboration with State Innovation Exchange, will convene the “Forging an Alliance Between Progressive Leaders and Socially Conscious Businesses” conference to advance this agenda.

What does such an agenda look like? To make an expanding and prosperous middle class the engine of our economy again, we support ending corporate welfare and closing tax loopholes; increasing wages and strengthening working families; protecting the dignity of retirement by strengthening Social Security and Medicare; investing in infrastructure, education, and green energy to create more jobs; and taming the power of Wall Street.

Our video features exclusive interviews with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Sherrod Brown, Rep. Raul Grijalva, Dr. Gabriela Lemus of Progressive Congress, Damon Silvers of the AFL-CIO, Deepak Bhargava of Center for Community Change, Khalid Pitts of USAction, small business owner MaryAnne Howland, New Resource Bank President Vince Siciliano, and economist Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute, and quotes from Pope Francis, Richard Trumka, and Robert Reich.

The president of American Family Voices, Mike Lux, said, “Together, these voices tell the story of how a movement is rising once again to create an economy that raises working families up instead of enriching wealthy elites — an economy based on a prosperous and expanding middle class, not a trickle-down fantasy.”

Since the beginning of 2015, a variety of organizations and individuals have promoted a progressive economic agenda:


Alliance for a Just Society

American Family Voices

Campaign for America’s Future

Center for Community Change

Center for Popular Democracy

Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights


National People’s Action

Progressive Change Campaign Committee

Progressive Congress

Roosevelt Institute

The Progressive Agenda Coalition


Working Families Party

“The emperor has no clothes: Reaganomics simply doesn’t work for the majority of Americans,” said AFV Executive Director Lauren Windsor. “This country was not built to be a serfdom. We need a progressive economic agenda to ensure we don’t become one.”

New Report Shows Ways To Help Small Businesses And Economy Include Raising The Minimum Wage

“Economic Agenda for America’s Future” includes set of short and long-term policy recommendations Washington can act on now and in the future that will drive economic growth, job creation and competitiveness 

(Image Sam Howzit FLIKR CC)

(Image Sam Howzit FLIKR CC)

Washington D.C.–Today, Small Business Majority released its updated Economic Agenda for America’s Future, a set of short and long-term policy recommendations government leaders can follow to ensure an environment where entrepreneurs, and our economy, can thrive. The Agenda outlines things Washington can do to bolster small business – including simple actions that can be taken during the next few months.

The recommendations range from action on access to capital, taxes, infrastructure, healthcare, immigration and freelance economy to minimum wage, workforce training, clean energy and exports, and are all tied to creating economic opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs.

“There is no denying the impact our 28 million small businesses have on our economy,” said John Arensmeyer, Founder & CEO of Small Business Majority. “Yet, small businesses too often find their needs being subordinated to those of big business, and sometimes even hijacked to support ideologically driven polices that don’t benefit them. Moreover, policymakers fail to recognize the rapid expansion of our new Internet-driven freelance economy, where much of the dynamic and innovative entrepreneurial activity happens today.”

Small businesses represent 99 percent of employer firms, employ half of all private sector employees and pay around 40 percent of U.S. private sector payroll. Small businesses and entrepreneurs have long been America’s engine for job growth and today more jobs are created by small businesses and the self-employed than any other way in America.

“Until we recognize and support the vital role of small businesses, we’re not giving our economy the best chance to flourish,” Arensmeyer said. “We must have a clear economic agenda that ensures we’re creating an environment where small businesses thrive, that provides the resources for small businesses to succeed and that ensures an economy that works for everyone. Focusing on small businesses and entrepreneurs is the surest way to drive the nation’s growth, job creation and competitiveness.”

The Agenda outlines things Washington can do over the next couple months that will create greater opportunity for entrepreneurs, which include:

  • The Securities and Exchange Commission can release final rules for crowdfunding to provide more opportunities for small business to access capital.
  • Congress can expand support for the State Small Business Credit Initiative, which funds new and existing state programs that support lending to and investment in small businesses.
  • Congress can pass long-term reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank to ensure small businesses have access to global markets.
  • The Administration can facilitate the sharing of online tax data between the IRS and lenders, which will streamline the lending process for small businesses.
  • Congress can permanently raise the small business expensing (sometimes called Section 179 expensing) level to $500,000, and allow small businesses to deduct up-front the cost of purchasing new equipment, software and property.
  • Increasing the national minimum wage to $12 per hour.
  • Passing a comprehensive immigration law guaranteeing eventual citizenship for those who play by the rules and contribute to our economic success, coupled with appropriate and reasonable employment verification provisions

The list of things Washington can do to help small business over the next two years is even greater. To read the full agenda visit: http://www.smallbusinessmajority.org/economic-agenda

For an executive summary of the report, visit: http://www.smallbusinessmajority.org/economic-agenda/downloads/Economic-Agenda-2015-Executive-Summary.pdf

Colin Van Ostern: Should NH be more like TX?


By Colin Van Ostern

Heads turned sharply in Concord this week when NH Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley and House Speaker Shawn Jasper both shared a press release inviting local businesses to relocate from New Hampshire to Texas. It was sent out originally by the Governor of Texas to New Hampshire political reporters Thursday, “Inviting New Hampshire Businesses to Seek New Opportunities in Texas.” All because Governor Hassan won’t approve an unbalanced state budget that, among other problems, creates special corporate tax giveaways without paying for them.

I can’t imagine a public policy dispute with a member of the other party that would cause me, as an elected official, to actively invite businesses to leave my state as Senator Bradley and Speaker Jasper did this week.  But let’s look past the backwards priorities and political gimmicks – on the substance, are they right?  Should New Hampshire try to be more like Texas?

Taxes?  It’s true Texas has low corporate taxes.  To keep them low, they rely on a hefty sales tax – which New Hampshire does not have. An Austin businessman pays an extra 8.25% on every supply he buys. So taken on the whole, the Tax Foundation found this year that Texas’s overall business tax climate ranked 10th in the nation.  Not bad, but still behind New Hampshire at 7th.

Workforce?  I’ve managed a $100 million business for a local manufacturer and currently work in a leadership role at our state’s fastest growing large employer – and I can tell you unequivocally that the most important resource for every great business is its people.  In New Hampshire, 91% of adults have a high school degree – the 4th highest state in the country, with high rates of bachelor’s and advanced degrees as well. Texas is dead last; 50th of 50 states. More Texans work at the minimum wage than almost any other state.  Only one in three adults in Texas have health insurance; again, 50th in the nation.

Quality of life? New Hampshire famously ranks as the #1 state in which to live, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development. #1 in the country to find a home. #1 state to earn a living. #1 safest state.  On those rankings, Texas scores 38th, 47th, 25th, and 30th. And yes, our unemployment rate is 3.8% vs Texas’s 4.3%.

Welcoming & inclusive to all?  New Hampshire was one of the first states in the nation to embrace marriage equality; in Texas, a state constitutional amendment bans this basic human right. New Hampshire town meetings are famous. Our voter turnout leads the nation; Texas – well, you get the idea (47th).

The point is not just to compare brag sheets. New Hampshire succeeds because of a smart, balanced, and forward-looking portfolio of unique competitive advantages: our world-class workforce, best in the nation quality of life, inclusive community, and uniquely low taxes.  The ideologically-driven approach to state budgets that the Governor of Texas, Jeb Bradley and Shawn Jasper are pushing would undermine our workforce, weaken our high quality of life, and add a $90 million hole in the budget. 

It’s simply not worth spiking in-state college tuition, threatening to kick 41,000 NH citizens off newly expanded healthcare, undermining safe roads and bridges, and passing a deeply unbalanced budget that would result in even more cuts or tax increases later in the year, all to draw high-fives from conservative Republican governors in the Deep South.

Texas is a great state and it certainly has competitive advantages of its own (its beef brisket is admittedly hard to deny).  But when it comes to our overall tax climate, our workforce, our communities, and our quality of life – well, don’t mess with the Live Free or Die state.  That goes for Texas Governors and lawmakers here in New Hampshire alike.

Colin Van Ostern (www.vanostern.com) represents 49 towns across the state on New Hampshire’s publicly elected Executive Council, including Rochester, Dover, Concord, Franklin, and Keene.



Quality of life & related stats:http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/10/07/why-the-south-is-the-worst-place-to-live-in-the-u-s-in-10-charts/

Educational attainment: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_educational_attainment

Business tax climate: http://taxfoundation.org/article/2015-state-business-tax-climate-index

Uninsured: http://www.texmed.org/uninsured_in_texas/

Minimum wage: http://www.bls.gov/regions/southwest/news-release/MinimumWageWorkers_Texas.htm

Sales Tax: http://window.texas.gov/taxinfo/local/

Unemployment: http://www.bls.gov/web/laus/laumstrk.htm

Marriage equality: http://www.freedomtomarry.org/states/entry/c/texas

Voter turnout: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2013/03/12/the-states-with-the-highest-and-lowest-turnout-in-2012-in-2-charts/

AFL-CIO Press Conference Ends with TPP Critics Being Locked Out of US Trade Representative Office

Show Us The Jobs TPP AFLCIO Banner

(Washington, DC, Tuesday, June 2) – Today, under the backdrop of a huge “Show Us the Text, Show Us the Jobs” banner, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler and Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre gathered with critics of Fast Track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to reinforce the message that working people won’t stand for another bad trade deal.

At the end of the press conference, a delegation of critics that included a faith leader, a nurse, an environmental activist, a veteran, a postal worker and a student walked to the United States Trade Representative’s office to ask to read the text. A large crowd followed and all were disappointed when they tried to enter the public visitor entrance and found the doors locked.

Earlier in the morning, Representatives Rosa DeLauro and Lloyd Doggett, Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen and critics of the TPP made it clear that they are not going to let another bad trade deal sail through Congress.

“Even though this trade deal will affect 40 percent of the world’s GDP, and even though no prior trade deal USTR has negotiated has ever lived up to its promises, and even though the administration has promised that this would be the most progressive, transparent trade deal in history, we still can’t see the text.” said Shuler.

Fast track supporters argue that the public will have 60 days to read the text on the internet before the President signs it.

“That is no change if we can’t make amendments to it. We need to see exactly what’s different in this Fast Track authority that’s any different from NAFTA or CAFTA, Gebre said. “We’re for trade that uplifts everybody. We’re against trade that drops everybody down and unfortunately our government over and over and over again has decided to drag us down instead of lift us up.”

Rep. Lloyd Doggett, who has been asking to see the text for months wants answers.

“If this agreement were so good you’d be able to read it. But they’ve got a lot to hide in this agreement,” said Doggett. “On issue after issue we need to see the contract and we need to be able to read the text.”

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who has been championing the fight against Fast Track in Congress, fired up the crowd.

“Thank you for letting the country know about the dangers of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Fast Track,” DeLauro said. “Thank you for pressing Congress and the administration and saying do the right thing for the American people.”

Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen looked out at the crowd and reiterated that American workers are unified in opposition to Fast Track.

“Are you on the side of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or are you on the side of the American worker?” Cohen said. “Are you a corporate democrat or a people’s democrat? We had 30 years of work for less.

Workers Locked Out of USTR – YouTube Video and Twitter pictures and video

Read:  AFL-CIO Analysis of TPP and USTR Interaction


Every Child Matters Grills #FITN Candidates On Working Family Issues

“I think minimum wage is a classic example of a policy that is best carried out in the states,” Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina recently told MacKenzie Flessas at WMUR-ABC TV’s “Conversation with the Candidate” in New Hampshire.


“To me, a national minimum wage does not make a lot of sense,” the former corporate CEO said in response to a question that began with the observation that, “In New Hampshire, someone who earns minimum wage earns less than $300 per week.”

MacKenzie is ECM’s New Hampshire field director. She and other ECM staff have also elicited replies during sessions of the TV campaign series from South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, Ohio Governor John Kasich and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Some highlights are provided here, and the full questions and remarks can be found at WMUR’s website.

ECM was able to ask former Florida Governor Jeb Bush a question today during taping of a program that will be broadcast Friday evening, May 29.

Senator Graham told ECM state director Mary Lou Beaver during one WMUR studio conversation that he has been a leading Republican champion in Congress for early childhood programs because, “by the time you are five years old, 90 percent of your mental development is there.” Graham promised that if he runs for president and wins, he will partner with states to assure adequate nutritional support for kids. But he warned that more ambitious plans to help children– “to give them a chance to compete in the twenty-first century” –will require entitlement reform.

Former Governor Perry told Beaver that he would “repeal Obamacare” and allow states to be laboratories of innovation for health care, suggesting health savings accounts, allowing insurance to be sold across state lines and tort reform as hopeful ideas. That was in response to a question from ECM about how to ensure that low-income children and their parents in New Hampshire would not lose health care access if the Affordable Care Act had to be replaced.

Governor Kasich said that he supports keeping the Earned Income Tax Credit to help low-wage working families, but he declined to endorse expanding or strengthening the program when asked. Kasich pointed instead toward education, including online programs, to help people get jobs that would pay more.

ECM will continue to ask candidates questions about policies that affect kids as part of our 2-year effort to put children at the center of campaign discussion during the presidential election process. In New Hampshire, Save the Children Action Network, a sponsor of the “Conversation with the Candidate” series, is a key partner in the effort to highlight early childhood issues.

We’ll continue to let you know what the candidates say!

The Economy, Education & What America Deserves


Matthew D'Amico

Matthew D’Amico

By Matthew D’Amico

With the school year underway and children getting ready to learn new things about the world, there is great worry as to the state of education in America today. As the father of an 8-year-old boy who attends public school, I know the concern parents have about their children doing well in school. And as a political coordinator for a labor union representing public employees throughout New York State, I’ve seen that working men and women are deeply troubled about our economy. Watching parents having to struggle to provide the basic necessities affects children, even while they are sitting in classrooms about to learn math or the history of the American Revolution. It is shameful that more than 16 million children live in poverty in America, which has such great wealth. And millions more are near poverty, with their parents living paycheck to paycheck—if they are lucky enough to have a job at all. With these agonizing worries—which no person, let alone a child, should have to go through—the ability of children to learn is made unnecessarily more difficult.

We should all be doing everything we can to make sure our public schools are well-funded, so that every child gets a good education. However, there are many people who are now attacking that great thing—free public education—wanting to privatize our nation’s schools as a source of profit for themselves. There are now more than 6,000 charter schools nationwide, double the number from just a decade ago. They’re publicly funded, but privately run. These charter schools are now part of the growing privatization of public education. Here is what I read on Forbes.com: “dozens of bankers, hedge fund types and private equity investors…gathered to discuss…investing in for-profit education companies.” But according to the National Education Association, “Privatization is a threat to public education, and more broadly, to our democracy itself.”

Why this is happening now is clearly explained by Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education, in her commentary What Education & the Economy Are For.  It is a must-read for all who are concerned with education, including the worry that the ‘public’ will be eliminated from public education. In it too is the explanation of why there are such ferocious attempts to do away with unions, and it is also what is behind the drive to privatize public schools. Ms. Reiss writes:

“Eli Siegel is the philosopher to explain: ‘The purpose of education is to like the world through knowing it.’ This idea is fundamental to the Aesthetic Realism method, which has been enabling children of all backgrounds to learn successfully—including children who had been thought incapable of doing so. To like the world through knowing it is why we should learn the alphabet, find out about numbers, continents, atoms, history. To like the world is the purpose of everyone’s life. Meanwhile, humanity has lived for centuries with a system of economics completely opposed to that purpose.

“The profit system has not been based on the fact that this world should belong rather equally to every child from birth so he or she can have a full chance to benefit from it. Profit economics has instead been based on contempt. The profit motive is the seeing of human beings in terms of: how much money can I get out of you?; how much labor can I squeeze from you while paying you as little as possible?; how much can I force a buyer to pay for my product, which she may need desperately?

Ethics, Unions, & America’s Children

“In 1970 Eli Siegel explained that this contemptuous way of economics had failed after thousands of years. The profit system might be made to stumble on awhile, but it would never recover. The fundamental cause of its failure, he said, was the force of ethics working in history. For example: 1) People on all the continents know more, can produce more things, and so ‘there is much more competition…with American industry than there used to be.’ 2) Unions, by the 1970s, had been so successful in their fight for decent wages—so successful in bringing people lives with dignity—that big profits for stockholders and bosses who don’t do the work could no longer be easily extracted from American workers.

“The persons trying to keep the profit system going cannot undo the first of those factors. So they have been trying ferociously to reverse the second: there has been a vicious, steady effort to have workers be paid less and less, be made poorer and poorer. And to achieve this, one has to undermine, even extinguish, unions—because unions are the power which prevents workers from being swindled, kicked around, humiliated, impoverished, robbed.

“Meanwhile, there are America’s children. They are literally abused day after day by those persons trying to impoverish the American people so as to maintain the profit system. Many children come to school hungry. Many don’t have warm coats for winter. Home (if a child has one) is often a place of economic deprivation—and the accompanying anger.

“Then, there are the schools themselves. In recent decades, as traditional venues for profit-making have fared ill, persons have looked for new ways to use their fellow humans for private gain. Behold—that huge ethical achievement in human history, public education! And the profit-seekers thought, ‘There’s a whole new industry for us here!’ The one reason for the enormous effort to privatize America’s public schools—and that includes through vouchers and through charter schools—is: to use the lives and minds of America’s children to make profit for a few individuals.

“This use of public schools is related to the effort to privatize public sector work in various fields throughout America: to have public monies used—not for the American people, not to respectfully employ public sector workers—but to finance private enterprises. And through it all, again, a big aim is to undo unions so workers can be paid less and the money can go instead to some private-profit-maker.”

What Ms. Reiss is writing about is a national emergency. No child, whether in Alabama, rural Maine, or the South Bronx, should have to go to bed hungry, or have their basic right to an education be a means of profit for some corporation or individual. The time is now for our nation’s leaders to be courageous and answer with honesty this urgent ethical question asked by Eli Siegel: What does a person deserve by being alive?

AFL-CIO Releases An Election Night Survey Of What Union Members Were Voting On

AFL-CIO Survey CoverFROM HART RESEARCH ASSOCIATES Election Night Voter Survey of 803 general election voters in  11 Senate battleground states. The 11 States surveyed are as follows: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, North Carolina, New Hampshire  For a link to survey highlights visit: http://bit.ly/1s5rhMa

  • This election was about the economy: Asked to choose one or two priorities from a broad list, economic issues such as “the economy and jobs (42),” “Healthcare” (29), “Social Security” (18), and “Government spending and the deficit” trumped “Terrorism and national security” (17) and Taxes (11).
  • Raising wages is good for workers and the economy:  68% of voters said that “raising wages and salaries is good because it improves people’s standard of living and boosts the economy by putting money in people’s pockets.” Voters supported “raising the federal minimum wage to ten dollars and ten cents per hour” by 62-34%.
  • Congress and the president must invest in key economic priorities: The electorate’s economic focus is underscored by the answer to this question: “Which one of the following do you think should be the higher priority for the president and Congress right now–(A) reducing taxes on businesses and individuals or (B) investing in key priorities like education, healthcare, and job creation?” “Investing in key priorities” (67%) dominated “Reducing taxes.” (29%)
  • The 2014 electorate remains deeply pessimistic about Republicans in Congress and whether they can fix the economy: Asked “Do you think that Republicans in Congress have a clear plan for strengthening the economy and creating jobs?,” only 29% of the electorate said yes, while 62% said no.
  • The electorate is struggling economically: 54% say their income is falling behind the cost of living while only 8% say that there income is going up faster than cost of living.  33% say their income is staying about even with the cost of living.
  • Voters “feel that corporations had too much influence over this year’s elections” (62%): whereas only 5% said corporate influence was “too little.”

Along the same lines, 55% strongly agree with the statement that “politicians from both the Democratic and Republican parties do too much to support Wall Street financial interests and not enough to help average Americans, while 25% somewhat agree, and only 13% disagree (only 4% strongly).

  • Empowered union members supported working family candidates: While the non-union electorate voted 6% more for Republicans than Democrats, union voters preferred Democrats by 26%. That difference continued over key demographic groups: while non-union seniors (65+) voted 21% more for Republicans than Democrats, union seniors voted Democratic by a margin of 35%. Similarly, Republicans won non-union white women voted by 25%, and union member white women voted for Democrats by that same margin – 25%.  Non-union voters who make less than $50,000 per year voted for Democrats 1% more than Republicans, while their union counterparts voted for Democrats 35% more than Republicans.
  • Corporations should pay their fair share of taxes: 66% supported using tax revenue from closing corporate loopholes to reduce the budget deficit and make public investments while only 22% were in favor of reducing tax rates on corporations.

That’s consistent with the finding that 73% of voters support “increasing taxes on the profits that American corporations make overseas, to ensure they pay as much on foreign profits as they do on profits made in the United States,” while only 21% oppose such a plan.

  • More funding is needed for public schools and higher education:“Increasing funding for public schools from preschool through college was supported 75-21%,” while “raising taxes on the wealthy and large corporations to fund priorities like education, job training, and deficit reduction” was ahead 62-32%.
  • No fast-track authority for NAFTA style trade agreements: By 49% to 36% voters oppose having Congress give the president fast-track authority for a new Pacific trade agreement.
  • Social Security benefits should be increased rather than cut: Increasing Social Security benefits, paid for by having high-income people pay Social Security taxes on all of their wages was supported 61-30%, whereas raising the Social Security retirement age won only 27% support, with 66% opposed.

    Along similar lines, voters are opposed 76-18% to the idea of raising the age at which seniors are eligible for Medicare and oppose “Cutting the Medicaid health program” by a similarly overwhelming margin of 76-17.


Granite State Rumblings: 10 Ways To Cut Poverty And Grow The Middle Class

Happy Family ( FLIKR CC David Amsler)

Happy Family ( FLIKR CC David Amsler)

I spend a lot of time writing and working on poverty related issues and to some it may seem that I have little interest in talking about or protecting the middle class. This is not case. Issues that affect those living in poverty and policies that help move individuals out of poverty all relate to and have a direct impact on the middle class. A large and stable middle class has been central to America’s wealth and stability for decades. To help make the case, I am sharing a recent brief from Rebecca Vallas, Associate Director of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress and Melissa Boteach, Vice President of Half in Ten and the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center.

The Top Ten Solutions to Cut Poverty and Grow the Middle Class

The Census Bureau released its annual income, poverty, and health insurance report yesterday, revealing that four years into the economic recovery, there has been some progress in the poverty rate as it fell from 15 percent in 2012 to 14.5 percent in 2013, but there was no statistically significant improvement in the number of Americans living in poverty.
Furthermore, low- and middle-income workers have seen little to no income growth over the past decade, as the gains from economic growth have gone largely to the wealthiest Americans.

With flat incomes and inequality stuck at historically high levels, one might assume that chronic economic insecurity and an off-kilter economy are the new normal and that nothing can be done to fix it. But there is nothing normal or inevitable about elevated poverty levels and stagnant incomes. They are the direct result of policy choices that put wealth and income into the hands of a few at the expense of growing a strong middle class.

The good news is that different policy choices can bring different outcomes. When the government invests in jobs and policies to increase workers’ wages and families’ economic security, children and families see improved outcomes in both the short and long term.

Here are 10 steps Congress can take to cut poverty, boost economic security, and expand the middle class.

1. Create jobs

The best pathway out of poverty is a well-paying job. To get back to prerecession employment levels, we must create 5.6 million new jobs. At the current pace, however, we will not get there until July 2018. To kick-start job growth, the federal government should invest in job-creation strategies such as rebuilding our infrastructure; developing renewable energy sources; renovating abandoned housing; and making other common-sense investments that create jobs, revitalize neighborhoods, and boost our national economy. We should also build on proven models of subsidized employment to help the long-term unemployed and other disadvantaged workers re-enter the labor force.

In addition, the extension of federal unemployment insurance would have created 200,000 new jobs in 2014, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Indeed, every $1 in benefits that flows to jobless workers yields more than $1.50 in economic activity. Unfortunately, Congress failed to extend federal unemployment insurance at the end of 2013, leaving 1.3 million Americans and their families without this vital economic lifeline.

2. Raise the minimum wage

In the late 1960s, a full-time worker earning the minimum wage could lift a family of three out of poverty. Had the minimum wage back then been indexed to inflation, it would be $10.86 per hour today, compared to the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and indexing it to inflation—as President Barack Obama and several members of Congress have called for—would lift more than 4 million Americans out of poverty. Nearly one in five children would see their parent get a raise. Recent action taken by cities and states—such as Seattle, Washington; California; Connecticut; and New Jersey—shows that boosting the minimum wage reduces poverty and increases wages.

3. Increase the Earned Income Tax Credit for childless workers

One of our nation’s most effective anti-poverty tools, the Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC, helped more than 6.5 million Americans—including 3.3 million children—avoid poverty in 2012. It’s also an investment that pays long-term dividends. Children who receive the EITC are more likely to graduate high school and to have higher earnings in adulthood. Yet childless workers largely miss out on the benefit, as the maximum EITC for these workers is less than one-tenth that awarded to workers with two children.
President Obama and policymakers across the political spectrum have called for boosting the EITC in order to right this wrong. Importantly, this policy change should be combined with a hike in the minimum wage; one is not a substitute for the other.

4. Support pay equity

With female full-time workers earning just 78 cents for every $1 earned by men, action must be taken to ensure equal pay for equal work. Closing the gender wage gap would cut poverty in half for working women and their families and add nearly half a trillion dollars to the nation’s gross domestic product. Passing the Paycheck Fairness Act to hold employers accountable for discriminatory salary practices would be a key first step.

5. Provide paid leave and paid sick days

The United States is the only developed country in the world without paid family and medical leave and paid sick days, making it very difficult for millions of American families to balance work and family without having to sacrifice needed income. Paid leave is an important anti-poverty policy, as having a child is one of the leading causes of economic hardship. Additionally, nearly 4 in 10 private-sector workers—and 7 in 10 low-wage workers—do not have a single paid sick day, putting them in the impossible position of having to forgo needed income, or even their job, in order to care for a sick child. The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, or FAMILY Act, would provide paid leave protection to workers who need to take time off due to their own illness, the illness of a family member, or the birth of a child. And the Healthy Families Act would enable workers to earn up to seven job-protected sick days per year.

6. Establish work schedules that work

Low-wage and hourly jobs increasingly come with unpredictable and constantly shifting work schedules, which means workers struggle even more to balance erratic work hours with caring for their families. Ever-changing work schedules make accessing child care even more difficult than it already is and leave workers uncertain about their monthly income. Furthermore, things many of us take for granted—such as scheduling a doctor’s appointment or a parent-teacher conference at school—become herculean tasks. The Schedules That Work Act would require two weeks’ advance notice of worker schedules, which would allow employees to request needed schedule changes. It would also protect them from retaliation for making such requests—and provide guaranteed pay for cancelled or shortened shifts. These are all important first steps to make balancing work and family possible.

7. Invest in affordable, high-quality child care and early education

The lack of affordable, high-quality child care serves as a major barrier to reaching the middle class. In fact, one year of child care for an infant costs more than one year of tuition at most states’ four-year public colleges. On average, poor families who pay out of pocket for child care spend one-third of their incomes just to be able to work. Furthermore, federal child care assistance reaches only one in six eligible children.

Boosting investments in Head Start and the Child Care and Development Block Grant, as well as passing the Strong Start for America’s Children Act—which would invest in preschool, high-quality child care for infants and toddlers, and home-visiting services for pregnant women and mothers with infants—will help more struggling families obtain the child care they need in order to work and improve the future economic mobility of America’s children.

8. Expand Medicaid

Since it was signed into law in 2010, the Affordable Care Act has expanded access to high-quality, affordable health coverage for millions of Americans. However, 23 states continue to refuse to expand their Medicaid programs to cover adults up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level—making the lives of many families on the brink much harder. Expanding Medicaid would mean more than just access to health care—it would free up limited household income for other basic needs such as paying rent and putting food on the table. Having health coverage is also an important buffer against the economic consequences of illness and injury; unpaid medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy. Studies link Medicaid coverage not only to improved health, improved access to health care services, and lower mortality rates, but also to reduced financial strain.

9. Reform the criminal justice system and enact policies that support successful re-entry

The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world. Today, more than 1.5 million Americans are behind bars in state and federal prisons, a figure that has increased fivefold since 1980. The impact on communities of color is particularly staggering: One in four African American children who grew up during this era of mass incarceration have had a parent incarcerated.

Mass incarceration is a key driver of poverty. When a parent is incarcerated, his or her family must find a way to make ends meet without a necessary source of income. Additionally, even a minor criminal record comes with significant collateral consequences that can serve as lifelong barriers to climbing out of poverty. For example, people with criminal records face substantial barriers to employment, housing, education, public assistance, and building good credit. More than 90 percent of employers now use background checks in hiring, and even an arrest without a conviction can prevent an individual from getting a job. The “one strike and you’re out” policy used by public housing authorities makes it difficult if not impossible for individuals with even decades-old criminal records to obtain housing, which can stand in the way of family reunification. Furthermore, a lifetime ban—for individuals with felony drug convictions—on receiving certain types of public assistance persists in more than half of U.S. states, making subsistence even more difficult for individuals seeking to regain their footing, and their families.

In addition to common-sense sentencing reform to ensure that we no longer fill our nation’s prisons with nonviolent, low-level offenders, policymakers should explore alternatives to incarceration, such as diversion programs for individuals with mental health and substance abuse challenges. We must also remove barriers to employment, housing, education, and public assistance. A decades-old criminal record should not consign an individual to a life of poverty.

10. Do no harm

The across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration—which took effect in 2013—slashed funding for programs and services that provide vital support to low-income families. Sequestration cost the U.S. economy as many as 1.6 million jobs between mid-2013 and 2014. Some relief was provided this January, when Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, but many important tools to help low-income individuals and families pave a path to the middle class—such as adult and youth education and training programs, child welfare, and community development programs—were on a downward funding trend even before sequestration took effect.

As Congress considers a continuing resolution to fund the federal government past October 1 and avoid another government shutdown, it should reject further cuts to programs and services such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, which provides vital nutrition assistance to pregnant women and mothers with new babies. Thereafter, Congress should make permanent the important improvements made to the EITC and the Child Tax Credit as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which are set to expire in 2017. And it should avoid additional cuts to vital programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, which suffered two rounds of deep cuts in 2013 and 2014.


It is possible for America to dramatically cut poverty. Between 1959 and 1973, a strong economy, investments in family economic security, and new civil rights protections helped cut the U.S. poverty rate in half. Investments in nutrition assistance have improved educational attainment, earnings, and income among the young girls who were some of the food stamp program’s first recipients. Expansions of public health insurance have lowered infant mortality rates and reduced the incidence of low birth rates. In more recent history, states that raised the minimum wage have illustrated the important role that policy plays in combating wage stagnation.

There is nothing inevitable about poverty. We just need to build the political will to enact the policies that will increase economic security, expand opportunities, and grow the middle class.


The NH Center for Public Policy Studies recently released their report, “What is New Hampshire?” 2014 Edition. Here is just a small piece of the report and here is where to go find and read the rest of it!

New Hampshire is navigating a series of shifting economic, demographic, social and political forces. Among the new trends shaping the state into the 21st Century: an aging population; increasing racial and ethnic diversity; a shift away from the high-growth economic model of the past; and continued demand on the state budget for public services. While the implications of these and other challenges are still unclear, they do raise critical policy questions explored in this report.

Throughout its history, New Hampshire has worn many identities: agricultural outpost on the edge of New England; bustling engine of the Industrial Revolution; oasis for nature-seeking tourists; haven for tax-fleeing transplants. In the early years of the 21st Century, New Hampshire is still evolving amid shifting economic, demographic, social and political forces.

Among the new trends shaping the “new” New Hampshire: an aging population; increasing racial and ethnic diversity; a shift away from the high-growth economic model of the past; and continued demand on the state budget for public services

While the implications of these and other challenges are still unclear, they do raise critical policy questions, including:

  • Economy: New Hampshire suffered the effects of the Great Recession less severely than many other states, but slow job growth continues to gnaw at the state’s economy. As of the summer of 2014, New Hampshire lagged behind the nation and the rest of New England in recovering jobs lost during the recession. What is the state’s economic development plan, especially in relation to demographic trends that show New Hampshire’s population growth slowing in coming years? What specific industries or regions of New Hampshire will help shape the state’s economy in coming years? What regional approaches to economic development will find greatest success?
  • Demographic change: While New Hampshire is consistently rated one of the best places in the country to raise children, our population as a whole continues to age. Meanwhile, our school enrollment continues on a decade-long decline, and several measures of youth well-being in the state show worrisome trends, including rising levels of childhood poverty. What are the implications of these developments on education policy, housing, public services and transportation?
  • Health care: New Hampshire’s health policy landscape faces great uncertainty amid recent reforms at the national level, as well as continued rises in cost and the continued aging of the state’s population. What impact will the shifting health marketplace have on New Hampshire’s economy and the well-being of its residents?
  • Long-term planning: State policymakers face a long list of critical issues in coming years: public infrastructure investment, education finance, corrections spending, health care, and energy policy, among others. Many of these require a long-term perspective and an understanding of multi-year trends. How will the state – which has a two-year budget cycle and a two-year term for all major state offices – manage to plan decades into the future?

This report is our annual survey of the major policy issues and critical questions shaping our future. The data explain where New Hampshire has been, forecast where it is heading, and explore how current trends and policy choices facing the state will affect the well-being of its citizens.

Nightmare on Wall Street? Are Stock Buybacks Creating Another ‘Financial Bubble?’

An American flag festooned with dollar bills and corporate logos flies in front of the Supreme Court during oral arguments in the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.  Image by JayMallin.com

Image by JayMallin.com

Some blog posts are easy to forget. But the one I wrote last week is beginning to give me nightmares.

Here’s why: the stock market keeps hitting record highs. But the so-called “economic recovery” – which started in June 2009 – is just beginning to “trickle down” to us average Americans.

And oh, such a sloooooow trickle! “Although the economic recovery officially began in June 2009, the recovery in household income did not begin to emerge until after August 2011. …Median income in February 2014 [was only] 3.8 percent higher than in August 2011.”

And we’re not anywhere near “recovered” from the damage caused by the last two recessions. “The February 2014 median was [still] 6.2 percent lower than the median of $56,586 in January 2000.”

So in last week’s blog post, I took a look at the research UMass Professor Bill Lazonick and his team have done, about how top US corporations have been distributing their net income to shareholders rather than reinvesting money in their business (or workers).

What Professor Lazonick found: since 2004, the surveyed companies have returned 86% of net income to stockholders through dividends and stock buybacks. In 2013, those companies spent an average of $945 million just buying back their own stock. Repeat: $945 million is the average. That’s per company. In one year.

So I took a closer look at that, using a couple of companies as case studies. I keep hoping that I’m completely wrong. I’m not an economist, I’m not an expert. I’m just a blogger who looks at things from my own personal perspective.  And when I looked, here’s what I found:


  • CEO Fred Smith owns more than 15 million shares of FedEx (not counting shares held by his wife, his family holding company or his retirement plan.)
  • Last October, FedEx announced plans to buy back 32 million shares – more than 10% of its stock.
  • FedEx borrowed $2 billion to help pay for that stock repurchasing program. Those bonds run from 10 to 30 years.
  • In the past year, FedEx stock has gained over 44 percent. That translates into a huge increase in net worth for Mr. Smith… somewhere between a half-billion dollars (as of my post last week) and $600 million (the stock price kept going up). Yeah… FedEx borrowed $2 billion… and its CEO personally benefited by a half-billion-plus.
  • But maybe there’s a reason why FedEx stock soared by 44%? Let’s see… according to the International Business Times, its ground shipping business grew by 13% and it is trimming employee benefit costs by 13%; and so the overall corporate profits grew by 24%.
  • Corporate profits grew by 24%… but the stock price grew by 44% (benefiting “company executives who receive stock-based compensation”).
  • But of course there are fewer shares of stock now than there were last year, because of the buyback program. So I looked at the company’s “market cap” – or, the total value of all the outstanding shares. And that also grew: from $39.03 billion when the stock buyback was announced last October… to $50.35 billion as of Friday. So the market cap grew by $11.32 billion – or about 29% – during roughly the same time that profits grew by only 24%.
  • Let me recap: The company grew its business a bit, while at the same time cutting employee costs. It borrowed to buy back stock, enriching its CEO. And Wall Street rewarded this behavior. Stock value grew – at a much faster rate than the company’s profits were rising.

wall_streetThat difference between 24% growth in profits and 29% growth in market value? Isn’t that just a “Wall Street bonus” for taking part in this borrow-and-buyback scheme?  But why is Wall Street is rewarding FedEx for moving toward a “loot the company” model of business behavior?

It’s not just FedEx.

One analysis, from June 2014:

Since the end of 2012, using the DOW (NYSEARCA:DIA) companies as a large cap company market proxy, share buybacks in dollar volume have exceeded the actual level of after tax profits recorded by the 30 companies in the index. What this means is that somewhere in the DOW there must be more than a handful of companies, which are either borrowing money or deferring capital expenditures in a potentially harmful manner for the sole purpose of buying their shares back in the market to boost share price.

From last week’s Wall Street Journal:

Companies are buying their own shares at the briskest clip since the financial crisis, helping fuel a stock rally amid a broad trading slowdown.

Corporations bought back $338.3 billion of stock in the first half of the year, the most for any six-month period since 2007, according to research firm Birinyi Associates. Through August, 740 firms have authorized repurchase programs, the most since 2008.

No, it’s not just FedEx.


Back in February, Cisco announced an $8 billion bond issue “to help finance stock buybacks after the shares lost almost 6 percent over six months.”

  • Cisco CEO John Chambers owns about 2 million shares of Cisco stock.
  • Cisco stock was trading at $22.12 when that bond issue/buyback was announced. Now, it’s trading at $25.20. Do the math: that’s about a 14% increase in per-share price; and more than a $6 million increase in Mr. Chambers’ net worth.
  • Cisco’s market cap was $113.95 billion when the bond issue/buyback was announced.   Now, it’s $128.7 billion. Do the math: that’s about a 13% increase in Wall Street’s assessment of the company’s total value.
  • But what’s going on with the actual company?   Last month, Cisco released an earnings statement “that illustrated its troubles as one of the tech industry’s giants competing in a rapidly changing environment.”  Profits are down, compared to last year. And it is planning to eliminate 6,000 jobs.
  • Let me recap: Profits are down, layoffs are pending. But the company borrowed $billions to buy back stock, enriching its CEO and other executives.   And Wall Street rewarded this behavior.

Want to know what worries me most about Cisco? It looks like Cisco’s CEO is selling his stock. According to the filings, he owns a lot less Cisco stock now than he did when the bond issue/buyback was announced. Doesn’t he have any faith in his corporation’s long-term prospects?

It’s not just Cisco.

Bloomberg News:

American companies have seldom spent more money than they are now buying back shares. The same can’t be said for their executives. … While companies are pouring money into their own stock because they have nothing better to do with it, officers and directors aren’t… Insiders buying stock have dropped 8 percent from a year ago, poised for the fewest in more than a decade.

wall street bullAnd even worse? That perspective that companies “have nothing better to do” with their money than buy back stock.

As of a couple of weeks ago:

In total, US companies have announced USD309bn worth of share repurchases year-to-date, up from USD259bn for the same period a year ago, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Do the math. Nine months of stock buybacks equals about 6 million median-wage American jobs.

Let me rephrase that.

The money that US corporations are spending buying back their own stock “because they have nothing better to do with it” could give a $52,000-a-year job to two-thirds of unemployed Americans.  

Or: a job paying more than twice minimum wage to all unemployed Americans.

Instead… Cisco’s cutting 6,000 jobs. FedEx is cutting employee benefits. And who knows what all the other companies in Professor Lazonick’s survey are doing?

Here’s the thing: buying back stock doesn’t add any intrinsic value to a company. It’s not a new product line, it’s not a new factory, it’s not any kind of investment in the company’s future. All it does is concentrate the stock ownership. Same everything else – just fewer shares of stock. (Sort of like ultra-concentrated dish soap… same basic thing, just in a smaller bottle.)

So, aren’t these rising market caps at least somewhat artificial? Why should a company be worth more, just because it has fewer shares of stock?

Cisco may have declining profits… but its market cap is growing. FedEx may be growing, but its market cap is growing faster. Why?

Here’s the other thing: To accomplish this concentration of stock ownership… corporations are bonding untold billions of dollars. (Yes, that’s another thing I couldn’t find tracked anywhere.)

So yeah, they’re borrowing against the future… to improve stock prices today.

soap bubbleAnd Wall Street is encouraging this.

There’s a technical term for those sorts of artificial increases: they’re called “bubbles.”

And that’s why I’m starting to have nightmares.

I’m wondering when this latest Wall Street bubble is going to burst.

Why the Economy Doesn’t Work for the 99%: Massive Payouts to Corporate Stockholders

We Are the 99 Percent photo by Gawain Jones via Flikr Creative Commons license

Photo by Gawain Jones via Flikr Creative Commons License

Wondering what happened to America’s Middle Class? UMass Lowell professor William Lazonick has some numbers for you.

  • Since 2004, top US corporations have paid 86% of their net income to stockholders through dividends and stock buybacks.

Why that’s important: Money paid out to stockholders is not available for long-term growth investments such as R&D, opening new facilities, updating equipment or hiring new employees. It’s also not being used to give raises to current employees. But I’m digressing. Back to Professor Lazonick:

  • And 86% is just the average return to stockholders. Professor Lazonick names 15 corporations that spent more than their net income on dividends and stock buybacks, including: Time Warner (280%); DirecTV (192%); Hewlett-Packard (168%); Pfizer (137%) and Home Depot (134%).

Wonder how corporations can pay more out to stockholders than they receive in net income? Here’s one possible answer: they can borrow the money. From May 20, 2014 Time Warner Inc. Prices $2.0 Billion Debt Offering: “The net proceeds from the issuance of the notes and debentures will be used for general corporate purposes, including share repurchases.” (Remind you of…say, What Mitt Romney Taught Us About America’s Economy?)

But I’m digressing again. Back to Professor Lazonick, again:

  • The top corporations kept paying dividends through the recent recession, with a barely-noticeable drop between 2008 and 2010. “[T]hrough boom and bust, dividends were stable, and on the rise from 2010. In 2004 mean dividends were $349 million; in 2013 double that amount at $685 million.”

Repeating that: an average of $685 million in dividends per company. Paid out to stockholders, not reinvested in the business. Just in 2013.

Wondering what effect that has on America’s economy? Here’s one example, using a company that paid out much less than $685 million in dividends:

http://2bgr8stock.deviantart.com/art/Money-Cash6-117258936 By 2bgr8STOCKLast year, we estimated what FedEx CEO Fred Smith received – personally – in dividend income: “According to SEC filings, he owns about 15 million shares of the company.  Last year, FedEx paid out a total of 55 cents per share in dividends.  Do the math… and it looks like Mr. Smith received about $8.5 million in dividends (not counting dividends to his family holding company, his wife, or his retirement fund).” Also last year, we estimated what that meant in the larger scheme of things: “his 15 million shares in the company represent only a fraction of the outstanding stock. For Mr. Smith to receive $8.5 million in dividends, personally, the company has to pay out well over $100 million in total dividends – money that could have been invested in new hires, or new planes, or new facilities (or improved employee benefits).”

Now, compare that $8.5 million that we calculated he received as dividends with his $13.7 million “compensation package” that was reported about the same time.

Hey, maybe we did the math wrong. Maybe Mr. Smith didn’t actually get two-thirds again as much in dividends as he got in official “compensation.” It’s really, really hard to track dividend payments to corporate CEOs – that information is not reported anywhere that we have been able to find.

But doesn’t it seem possible that Mr. Smith’s decisions about how FedEx treats its workers… could perhaps be influenced by the fact that he gets a substantial share of the dividends paid out to stockholders? Read FedEx And The Real Reason Why There’s No Jobs: Cut Back On Worker Hours And Raise Profits. Also remember that a federal appeals court just ruled that FedEx improperly classified 2,300 California drivers as “independent contractors” rather than “employees”… to the tune of “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

BTW, it’s not just difficult to track dividend payments to CEOs… it’s also hard to track the effect of stock repurchasing programs on CEOs.

Going back to Mr. Smith… Late last year, FedEx announced plans to buy back up to 32 million shares – or, about 10% of outstanding stock. Since then, the market price of its stock has risen by about $35 a share. Multiply $35 per share by the roughly 15 million shares Mr. Smith owns… and you’re talking some serious numbers.

Not to repeat myself (again), but: that type of information isn’t tracked anywhere. At least, not anywhere we could find.

Going back to Professor Lazonick:

  • The corporations in his survey spent 51% of net income on stock buybacks.

Yep, must be lookin’ real rosy up there in the corporate offices. Extrapolating from our FedEx example, can you imagine how much all those different stock buybacks have enriched America’s CEOs?

EGTRRA signingAnd as near as I can tell, it’s going to keep lookin’ rosy in corporate offices as long as our federal tax system encourages this sort of thing. Ever since the Bush tax cuts, investment income has been taxed at a much lower rate than wage income. Are we really surprised that CEOs are taking more compensation in stock options and awards, rather than traditional wages?

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Meanwhile, yesterday’s New York Times hosted a “Room for Debate” on the policy implications of Professor Lazonick’s research.

Want to know how deeply ingrained the “No New Taxes” ceiling has become, in our public discourse?

Not a single policy expert quoted in that “debate” even suggested that America should return to taxing investment income at the same rate as wages.

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My “Why the Economy Doesn’t Work for the 99%” post from last year is available here.

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