This Morning: The “Give America a Raise” Bus Tour Comes to Nashua

Give America a Raise

Give America a RaiseWashington DC – Americans agree: No one who works should live in poverty. Yet that’s exactly what’s happening to workers around the country who are earning the current minimum wage. While the federal minimum wage has stayed the same since 2009, the price of food, gas, utilities, and basic necessities has, with inflation, made it nearly impossible to live anywhere in America on $7.25 an hour or $15,000 a year.

 It’s long past time for Congress to give America a raise. And to help drive the point home, Americans United for Change has hit the road with the 11-State “Give America a Raise” Bus Tour supporting President Obama’s plan to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour.  The tour will end outside the U.S. Capitol on April 3.

Next stop: in front of the Nashua Public Library TODAY, Tuesday, March 25 at 9:30 AM, with Rev. Gail Kinney of South Danbury Christian Church and US Department of Labor official Laura Fortman.

It’s been more than five years since minimum wage workers have gotten a raise – workers that include child care providers, janitors, and nursing assistants and who are 35 years old on average. It was hard enough to live on $15,000 a year in 2009, and it’s near impossible in 2014.

All that stands in the way of stronger economy – built from the middle out – are Tea Party Republicans in Congress who only seem to care about voting for minimum tax responsibility for huge corporations that outsource jobs.

Raising the minimum wage would provide a needed boost not just for the millions of struggling low-wage American workers that can barely survive on $7.25, but for the U.S. economy as a whole.  It will create jobs because it puts more money in the pockets of workers who will quickly inject it back into the economy. Millions of people with more money to spend on goods and services means businesses will need to hire more workers to meet the demand.  Decades’ worth of research done after previous minimum wage increases shows nothing but net economic benefits as a result, which is why so many successful business leaders and over 600 economists are calling on Congress to raise it again now.

No one who works a full-time job should have to live in poverty.

According to MIT, the living wage in Nashua is $21,422 a year be able to afford housing, medical care, transportation and food. If full-time New Hampshire workers made $10.10 an hour, they would earn $21,008 a year.

#RaiseTheWage

A Strong Safety Net Is Keeping People Out Of Poverty

poor child poverty hunger

Fifty years ago this week, in his first State of the Union speech, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a “War On Poverty.” Johnson’s declaration came just weeks after succeeding to the White House upon the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

“This budget, and this year’s legislative program, are designed to help each and every American citizen fulfill his basic hopes — his hopes for a fair chance to make good; his hopes for fair play from the law; his hopes for a full-time job on full-time pay; his hopes for a decent home for his family in a decent community; his hopes for a good school for his children with good teachers; and his hopes for security when faced with sickness or unemployment or old age.

Unfortunately, many Americans live on the outskirts of hope — some because of their poverty, and some because of theft color, and all too many because of both. Our task is to help replace their despair with opportunity.”

This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort.

It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest Nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it. One thousand dollars invested in salvaging an unemployable youth today can return $40,000 or more in his lifetime.”

Making poverty a national concern set in motion a series of bills and acts, creating programs such as Head Start, food stamps, work study, Medicare and Medicaid, which still exist today. The programs initiated under Johnson brought about real results, reducing rates of poverty and improved living standards for America’s poor.

As Shawn Fremstad writes in his blog on the Center for Economic and Policy Research, “there is a good historical case to be made that the “war on poverty era” continued at least through 1974 and arguably 1977 (and it was definitely over by Reagan’s election). As a practical matter, Nixon did much more to build on Johnson’s anti-poverty initiatives than to tear them down.

While Johnson may have initiated the War on Poverty, it was Nixon who institutionalized much of it.

For example, while the Food Stamp Program (now SNAP) was expanded from a pilot program to a permanent one in 1964, only about 1.5 percent of the U.S. population were receiving benefits the month after Johnson left office, and the decision to operate a food stamp program as well as the eligibility standards was still left to local areas. It was legislation adopted during the Nixon Administration (particularly in 1971 and 1973) that made food stamps a truly national program with uniform eligibility standards and availability nationwide. By October 1974, about 7 percent of Americans were receiving benefits. And it was the Food Stamp Act of 1977, which owes its existence in large part to the bipartisan efforts of Senator Bob Dole and George McGovern that established the modern program we have today.

Similarly, Supplemental Security Income was established in 1972 to replace state programs for the elderly and disabled (funded under the Social Security Act) with a federal program with uniform eligibility criteria throughout the nation. And the EITC was first established in the Tax Reduction Act of 1975, signed by President Ford. Both SSI and the EITC had their beginnings in Congressional debates in the early 1970s over President Nixon’s otherwise ill-fated Family Assistance Plan proposal.

And, in 1969, Nixon called for adding an automatic COLA to Social Security as well as an across-the-board benefit increase); he signed both into law in 1972.”

President Nixon also signed legislation enacting the Women, Infants, and Children program (WIC). The program provides nutritious foods, nutrition education, and referrals to free health and social services to pregnant, postpartum and lactating women and their infants and children up to age five.

(To see what other Presidents have done to increase the well-being of America’s children watch our video Presidents Helping Children.)

We have been hearing, and I am sure will continue to hear, legislators declare that the war on poverty has been a failure. But I beg to differ. That assumption is incorrect. The truth is that the percentage of poor Americans went down substantially in the sixties, from 22.2 percent to 12.6 percent, a 43 percent reduction in six years. These programs were also adequately funded during that time, a critical component to ensuring success.

We also know that without many of the programs established in the sixties, the poverty rate would be much higher today. What has failed is our legislators’ determination to continue the war on poverty in a meaningful way. Cuts to funding, changes in the structure of some of the programs, and shifting political ideologies have all impacted progress. But legislation aimed at strengthening instead of shredding the safety net here in the State can put us back on the right course.

There is legislation being proposed at the State level that will have a direct impact on poverty in our state. In the next few weeks and months we will update you on the bills and action that you can take to continue the war on poverty here at home.

As President Johnson said in his State of the Union address, “Poverty is a national problem, requiring improved national organization and support. But this attack, to be effective, must also be organized at the State and the local level and must be supported and directed by State and local efforts.”

Low Income Families Are Suffering From Federal Budget Cuts (From Every Child Matters Education Fund NH)

poverty

By Mary Lou Beaver,
New Hampshire Campaign Director, 

Every Child Matters Education Fund

 

Mary Lou Beaver

MaryLou Beaver

NHLogo

Each year, to track the progress toward the goal of cutting poverty in half in 10 years, Half in Ten publishes an annual report that examines 21 different indicators of economic security and opportunity. On Tuesday, Half In Ten released their new report, Resetting the Poverty Debate: State of the States 2013.

Here are some excerpts from the report:

Poverty Rate

The percentage of people in poverty—defined as having an annual income below $23,492 for a family of four—did not change nationally from 2011 to 2012, remaining at 15 percent, or 46.5 million Americans. Similarly, the percentage of people with incomes of less than half the poverty line—sometimes referred to as deep poverty—remained at 6.6 percent in 2012. These measures do not account for the impacts of the Earned Income Tax Credit, nutrition assistance, and other noncash benefits on income.

To substantially reduce the share of Americans living below the poverty line, policymakers first need to immediately shift their focus from austerity to job creation and investment in people. The poverty rate remains high today due in large part to an excess of poorly compensated jobs. We need to turn bad jobs into good ones by increasing the minimum wage, supporting poorly compensated workers’ efforts to join unions, and ensuring that all workers have basic benefits such as paid sick leave.

Child Poverty Rate

Nationally, 21.8 percent of children ages 18 and younger were living below the poverty line in 2012. But children end up in poverty because their families are in poverty. When the incomes of the adults who reside with children—mainly parents—are not sufficient to meet the basic needs of the family, child poverty rates get worse. One considerable factor contributing to these high rates is family employment. Over the past several years, the rate of family unemployment has remained very high. While the family unemployment rate fell from 12.1 percent in 2011 to 10.1 percent in 2012, the share of families with at least one unemployed parent looking for work was still higher than the national average unemployment rate of 8.1 percent in 2012.

High School Graduation Rate

One of the national indicators that has shown improvement over the past several years is the on-time graduation rate for high school students, which measures the percentage of students that enter high school as freshmen and graduate within four years. The on-time high school graduation rate increased from 75.5 percent in the 2008-09 school year to 78.2 percent in the 2009-10 school year, its highest level since 1974.

Children who participate in state-funded prekindergarten programs are more likely to graduate from high school on time. Nationwide, total state funding for pre-K programs decreased by nearly $60 million in the 2010-11 school year. This is the second year in a row for which inflation-adjusted spending dropped, following a $30 million decrease in the 2009-10 school year. By contrast, Vermont had the best on-time graduation rate in the country and also maintains one of the best pre-K programs, increasing its enrollment by 25 percent in 2011.

Gender Wage Gap

Even though our economy has been growing slowly and steadily, women are among the groups that are still not sharing in its gains. In 2012, median annual earnings for women working full time and year round were $37,791, 76.5 percent of the median annual earnings—$49,398—of men working full time and year round.  The gender wage gap did not change significantly from 2011 to 2012, and there has been little progress in closing the gender wage gap since 2001.

Unequal pay means lower earnings for women and higher poverty rates for both married couples and female-headed households. In the 1990s, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimated that boosting women’s pay to men’s levels would cut the poverty rate in half for both single mothers and married couples and by even more for single women without children. Passing the Paycheck Fairness Act would reduce the gender wage gap. Policies such as increasing the minimum wage, expanding investments in child care, and improving pay for workers in female-dominated occupations such as care work would help narrow the gender wage gap.

Besides pay disparities, other work challenges also hold women back, such as paid sick leave.

Lack of Health Insurance Coverage

One of the biggest expenses that pushes families into poverty is out-of-pocket spending on medical expenses, usually due to a lack of health insurance. In 2012, 10.6 million people fell into poverty due to out-of-pocket medical expenses, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Nationally, our recent investments in this indicator have shown improvement. The percentage of people without health insurance has gone down, falling from 15.7 percent in 2011 to 15.4 percent in 2012.  Since 2010, the number of people without health insurance has decreased by 2 million, in part due to provisions in the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, that have increased coverage among young people. As the full law goes into effect in 2014, further improvements in this indicator are expected.

In too many states, however, low-income nonelderly adults are not able to benefit from part of the ACA that was designed to help them—Medicaid expansion. They are much more likely than higher-income adults to be uninsured. They also fail to receive needed medical care and have problems paying medical bills. However, 24 states are refusing to implement the ACA’s option to expand Medicaid cover- age to most uninsured people with incomes of less than 138 percent of the federal poverty line.

Massachusetts has the lowest rate of residents earning 138 percent of the federal poverty line without health insurance. Only 7.6 percent of the state’s residents lack any kind of health care coverage due to its health insurance program. The state has also chosen to expand Medicaid.

Hunger and Food Insecurity

The food-insecurity indicator measures the share of total households that experienced difficulty providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of money or resources. In 2012, 14.5 percent of households—17.6 million households, to be exact—were food insecure. The change in food insecurity from 2011 to 2012 was not statistically significant.

Although food insecurity increased during the first year of the recession, it has essentially remained stable since then. This is likely due in large part to the effectiveness of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. Recent research found that in 2011 and 2012, SNAP contributed to reductions in food insecurity among families who obtained program benefits. Yet SNAP funding has suffered recently. In November 2013, a temporary boost to SNAP funding made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act expired, cutting the average SNAP benefit for a family of three by $29. This expiration took effect in November 2013; those relying on the program now have, on average, $1.40 per person per meal.

On top of that, many lawmakers in Congress have demanded further draconian cuts—as much as $39 billion over 10 years—in a recent House proposal. Policymakers should reject proposals that would damage SNAP’s responsiveness to economic conditions by radically altering its structure, as well as moves to further cut benefits.

Affordable and Available Housing

Nationally, there were only 57 affordable and available units per 100 renter house-holds with very low incomes in 2011, the most recent year for which data are available, compared to 58 units in 2010. The number of renters with “worst-case needs” continued to increase in 2011.

Left alone, sequestration could cut housing vouchers for as many as 185,000 families by the end of 2014. These cuts are already seriously impacting the states. Congress should reverse the across-the-board cuts in housing that are part of sequestration and increase investments in rental-housing assistance and development.

The bottom line is this: Low-income families in states across the country are suffering from too many years of reckless efforts to reduce the federal deficit. Although many states need to improve local policies—especially those that hinder the ability of low-income families to access federally funded programs—the state- by-state results from our indicators show that the budget choices we make at the national level have consequences. The effects of sequestration will continue into next year and for many years thereafter. “It is like a slowly growing cancer,” says Steven Warren, vice chancellor of research and graduate studies at the University of Kansas. In 2014, sequestration will only get worse. The cuts will be deeper.

Many of this year’s cuts simply have not been implemented yet. And the one-time fixes that agencies made this year to mitigate sequestration’s impacts are no longer an option moving forward.

 

Raising The Minimum Wage Would Lift Families Out Of Poverty (By NH AFL-CIO Pres Mark MacKenzie)

NH AFL-CIO Logo

NH AFL-CIO LogoWhen thinking about the minimum wage, it is easy to conjure up the outdated image of teenagers flipping burgers or making milkshakes at the neighborhood restaurant. Minimum wage jobs are seen as a rite of passage into adulthood, something to be left behind once young people graduate from school and settle into permanent jobs.

Yet for too many workers, these minimum wage jobs are permanent jobs. Every day, millions of Americans struggle to support families while earning the minimum wage. These workers are frequently forced to forgo basics — food, housing, clothing — or even rely on public assistance to make ends meet. As we approach the new year, legislation has been proposed on both the federal and state levels to increase the current $7.25 per hour minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and New Hampshire’s minimum to $9. The New Hampshire AFL-CIO supports these proposals as good economic policy and a much-needed boost to millions of families struggling to make ends meet.

As our economy struggles out of recession, many Americans have been forced to take jobs previously held only by teenagers or housewives looking to earn a little extra money. Today, less than a quarter of minimum-wage workers are teenagers. Most are breadwinners in their families, and 55 percent work full time. The median age of a low-wage worker is 34 years old. And 56 percent of all minimum-wage earners are women, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Even as the demographics of minimum-wage workers have shifted, their pay remains too low to support a family. The annual income for a full-time employee making the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is $15,080. Living below the poverty line, that is not enough to afford rent on a two-bedroom apartment in New Hampshire and all of the other 49 states, The New York Times has reported.

According to a study by researchers at the university of California-Berkeley, more than half (52 percent) of front-line fast-food workers must rely on at least one public assistance program to support their families. As a result, the fast-food-industry business model of low wages, non-existent benefits, and limited work hours costs taxpayers an average of nearly $7 billion every year, the National Employment Law Project reports. Jobs should lift workers out of poverty, not trap them in poverty.

If the federal minimum wage had kept up with inflation, today it would be about $10.75 an hour, instead of $7.25. If the minimum wage had kept up with productivity, it would be $18.75. If it had grown at the same rate as wages for the wealthiest 1 percent, it would be over $28 per hour.

Raising employee wages would increase purchasing power, create more jobs and lift the economy.

On the federal level, the benefits of the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which would incrementally increase the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2015, are more than apparent. More than 30 million workers would be positively affected by this bill. It would boost consumer demand, generate $32 billion in new economic activity, and create 140,000 new full-time jobs, NELP has shown. The law would have a significant impact on the millions of children living in poverty in this country, as 23.3 percent of all children in the U.S. have a parent who would be helped by a raise in the minimum wage, according to Economic Policy Institute data.

More than four out of five economists say the benefits of increasing the minimum wage would outweigh the costs. Further, a study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would create jobs while causing no reduction in the availability of minimum wage jobs.

Raising the minimum wage is crucial to our future economic growth. Five of the six fastest-growing sectors of the American economy are in low-wage industries — home health aides; customer service representatives; food preparation and serving workers; personal and home care aides and retail salespersons, Bureau of Labor Statistics data show. To rebuild a strong middle class and create an economy of shared prosperity, our country must pay fair wages in these growing sectors.

More than 80 percent of the American public supports raising the wage to $10.10 an hour, and 74 percent say it should be a top priority for Congress. It is time for the actions of our elected representatives to reflect the wishes of their constituents. Only by ending this vicious cycle will we be able to help America achieve an economy that truly works for all Americans.

Mark S. MacKenzie is president of the New Hampshire AFL-CIO.

The PISA Results Are In So What Does That Mean? AFT Explains

MHT Save Our Schools Rally

Today the mainstream media was quick to jump on the PISA school rankings. The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a ranking of schools worldwide that occurs every three years.

The results are clear, what we are doing in the United States is not working.  The current political agenda to attack teachers, slash budgets, and starve our public schools is actually moving us backwards.

Everyone knows and understands that we need to make changes in our schools.  The key is how we make those changes. What changes are truly going to help our children learn and grow?

The President of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, released the following statement after the results we announced.

“Today’s PISA results drive home what has become abundantly clear: While the intentions may have been good, a decade of top-down, test-based schooling created by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top—focused on hyper-testing students, sanctioning teachers and closing schools—has failed to improve the quality of American public education. Sadly, our nation has ignored the lessons from the high-performing nations. These countries deeply respect public education, work to ensure that teachers are well-prepared and well-supported, and provide students not just with standards but with tools to meet them—such as ensuring a robust curriculum, addressing equity issues so children with the most needs get the most resources, and increasing parental involvement. None of the top-tier countries, nor any of those that have made great leaps in student performance, like Poland and Germany, has a fixation on testing like the United States does.

“The crucial question we face now is whether we have the political will to move away from the failed policies and embrace what works in high-performing countries so that we can reclaim the promise of public education.”

After the 2009 PISA report, Weingarten visited the top-performing nations of Japan, China, Singapore, Finland, Canada and Brazil to talk with teachers, principals, students and government officials about what makes their systems work for students, teachers and parents. Many of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s recommendations informed the AFT’s Quality Education Agenda and its Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education  principles.

AFT also released a short five-minute video that explains how we can learn from the PISA results.  The results show that we need to be supporting our teachers and creating an environment of mutual collaboration with our teachers unions.

We also need to look deeply at two of the major factors impacting our schools. The poverty level of the students, and the continual budget cuts that are starving our schools.

While pundits on the right say we are overpaying for our children’s education the truth is far from that.  We also fall far behind many of the other countries in funding for schools in impoverished areas.

See what the facts are behind the media headlines in the PISA results.

Read more on how we are ‘starving our public schools’ and AFT’s plan to ‘Reclaim the Promise’ of public education.

Hedrick Smith Speaks to the Community about Who Stole the American Dream.

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PaperbackCoverIf you are like me, you have probably never heard of Hedrick Smith before.  Those people a little older than me know his work very well.  Hedrick was a journalist and the former head of the Washington D.C. bureau for the New York Times.  He covered at least four Presidents as a reporter and is an accomplished author.  Hedrick even won a Pulitzer Prize for his work in Russia and Eastern Europe in 1974.

Hedrick’s newest book is called ‘Who Stole the American Dream?’ and it provides a very detailed description of what happened to the middle class in America.

  • What lead to the sub-prime mortgage crisis that nearly bankrupted America?
  • What happened to the labor unions and prosperity of the middle class?
  • Why is business now more powerful in Washington than the people our elected officials are supposed to be representing?

HSmith 2Hedrick addressed all these topics in his lecture to a group of about 50 people at the NH AFL-CIO office last week.

After saying that “being here reminds me of the heyday of the labor movement,”  Hedrick started his lecture by asking the question “How did we get to here?”  How did we get to a point in America where you are either just barely getting by or one of the ultra-wealthy?

Hedrick said “Some people ask me, aren’t you preaching to the choir?” when speaking to labor groups.  His response: “All the choir members need to sing from the same sheet music.”  We will not be able to fight back against these changes until we understand how we got here.  Hedrick described his book as an intellectual arsenal for the labor movement and other socially progressive organizations.

Rebuilding America with excess money from the DOD.

“Labor is a strong protector of the middle class,” Hedrick said. “The heyday of the middle class was a time when the labor movement was strong.”

Hedrick talked about how we need to rebuild our infrastructure and get Americans back to work, how we need to focus on what is happening here, and stop spending all of our tax dollars fighting in other countries.  “Why are we building bridges in Kandahar, and not in Kansas?” Hedrick asked.  He explained that too much of our federal budget is going to the Pentagon; Defense spending is higher now than it was in the Cold War – even though, during the Cold War everyone was afraid of an all-out nuclear war.

In his book, Hedrick details how much money we have spent on the current ‘wars’ that we are involved in: an estimated $3.5 to $4.5 trillion dollars have been spent, even though taxes have not been increased to pay for it.  Even now, as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are winding down, the “extra” money Congress spent on those war efforts is still in the federal budget.  That means Defense is enjoying grossly inflated appropriations – even though there are no actual ‘wars’ to fight.

Hedrick suggested that if we need to find the money to rebuild our roads and bridges, we should start by looking at the Pentagon budget.  He also proposed the idea of mandatory military service, if not for everyone then for everyone in Congress.  “We would go into a lot less wars if we had mandatory (military) service,” he said.  Hedrick also questioned Congress’ ability to make decisions about war if the representatives have never served themselves.

Stakeholder Capitalism vs. Shareholder Capitalism

HRSmith 4There are two very different perspectives about how a business should be run.  On one hand there is the view – best described by Henry Ford – that a company is there to produce something, and pay people a wage high enough that they could become your customers.  This is commonly referred to as ‘Stakeholder Capitalism’.

There is one rule for the industrialist and that is: Make the best quality of goods possible at the lowest cost possible, paying the highest wages possible.”
HENRY FORD

On the other hand, there is the current business philosophy that companies are only there to make their owners and shareholders money.  This is called ‘Shareholder Capitalism’.

This difference is a major focus in Hedrick’s new book.  He spent a majority of the time during last week’s discussion talking about the differences between these two views – and how ‘Shareholder Capitalism’ has led to the decline of the middle class.

Hedrick explained that ‘Stakeholder Capitalism’ drove the American economy after World War II.  From 1945-1970, the productivity of American workers went up by 96%.  At the same time, the average median income grew by 94%.  “Growth in productivity lead to shared prosperity,” Hedrick observed.  Everyone from the poor to the wealthy prospered during these years – in fact, those at the bottom of the wealth spectrum benefitted even more than those at the top.

Then, beginning in the 1970s, businesses moved into ‘Shareholder Capitalism’.  Productivity continued to rise by leaps and bounds, yet workers’ wages stayed flat.  The added revenue the company received from the higher productivity had to go somewhere – and it went right to the executives and shareholders. This is why the average CEO’s salary is now 380 times higher than the average worker’s salary.  [Read Citigroup’s report “Plutonomy: Buying Luxury, Explaining Global Imbalances” here.]

Through the 1970s, CEOs knew that shared prosperity was good business. “The job of the CEO was to balance the needs of all the Stakeholders,” Hedrick explained.  That means balancing the wages of the workers with the cost to consumers, and the need to turn a profit for the shareholders.  This was the job of the CEO.  Some of those needs were very simple.  The workers needed money.

The middle class had been the major consumer in our economy.  Middle class Americans are spenders, not savers: they spend 90% or more of what they bring home.  For the majority, the only savings they accrue is paying off their mortgages.   If the middle class does not have money to spend (like our current situation) then the economy is very slow to recover from any economic downturn.

In 1948, the United Auto Workers (UAW) and the CEO of General Motors Charlie Wilson signed the first collective bargaining agreement that included a lifetime pension.  This means that after you put in your many years of service to GM they would pay you a salary for the rest of your life.  This trend continued in union and non-union companies for the next few decades.  GM became the model for industry and labor relations throughout the country.

By 1980, 84% of all companies with 100+ employees had a full pension for their retired workers; 70% of them had full healthcare coverage for retirees as well.

Hedrick ArnieAlpertNow that ‘retirement security’ has all but disappeared.  Only 30% of companies with 100+ employees offer a pension; and only 18% offer retiree healthcare.  Those numbers go down every year, as workers who retired with these ‘outdated’ pensions are passing away.

GM used to be the template for a successful industry, now Wal-Mart is the template,” said Hedrick.  Wal-Mart is the modern day success story in the world of ‘Shareholder Capitalism’: they have experienced massive growth and high stock returns.  Just disregard the fact that they do not offer healthcare to the majority of their employees, or pay wages that would keep their workers out of poverty.

In ‘Shareholder Capitalism’ the stakeholders (consumers, shareholders, and workers) are in conflict with each other.  The shareholders are the only people the CEO cares about: business is all about profits and stock prices.  This is also why corporations like Wal-Mart buy back their stock to continue to drive up stock prices.

The middle class is not getting their share of the pie,” said Hedrick.  “The system (economy) will not work until the middle class get more of the pie

The middle class used to drive the political bus

Hedrick discussed how the middle class used to drive our political system.  Especially from the 1960s through the 1980s the middle class effected the most change.

The middle class was made up of many different movements, including the civil rights movement, the environmental movement, and the women’s movement.   Hedrick noted that organized labor was right there in the middle of it: labor was there helping to safeguard the rights of all workers, regardless of color or gender, and ensuring that all were paid equally.

For many years, labor and these organizations pushed the political system.  Hedrick noted that the AFL-CIO nationally seems to be making a push to be more like the labor movement of the past.  Labor is working with outside groups to help workers who are not official union members.  Hedrick praised the union groups who are helping to push legislation in Congress and state Legislatures to raise the minimum wage.

Hedrick described one other thing that helped these organizations move the middle class ahead.  It’s something that has been completely lost in today’s political system: hope.

People in the middle class used to believe that when something was broken in Washington that together they could change it.  They effected a great deal of political change and helped move our country forward.   Many people do not feel they can make a difference anymore.  We need bring hope back. We need people to believe again.

The Shift In Political Power

All through the 1960s, the middle class prospered and dominated the political system.  Now that is completely the opposite.  Business and their paid lobbyists control Washington.  What happened to cause this major shift?

Hedrick asked, “How many of you have ever heard of the Powell Memorandum?”  Hedrick admitted that until he started writing Who Stole The American Dream he had never heard of it before either.  Even though Hedrick was a journalist in Washington, D.C. in 1974, he had never heard of it.  It was not given to the press or the public; instead, it was shared “under the table. ‘

Lewis Powell was conservative, a corporate lawyer, and eventually a Supreme Court Justice. The 1974 ‘Powell Memorandum’ drafted a plan for business and industry to counter middle class movements.  Powell said, “These movements and regulations are killing the free enterprise system.”  He argues that the business industry needed to organize (like many of the other movements of the time), that they needed to put people on Capitol Hill and use their collective will to influence the regulations and policy changes that are hurting business.

Does that sound familiar?”  Hedrick asked the AFL members.

Starting in the mid-1970s, business took this message to heart.  They created the ‘Business Round Table’, a group of businesses who pooled their resources to lobby Congress.  Now the BRT is the largest single lobbying group in the nation’s capital.  The US Chamber of Commerce went from 6,000 members in 1974 to over 600,000 members in 2010.

These changes shifted the power from the people and pushed it toward the business community.  These lobbyists started pushing more and more money into the political system and began to overpower the voices of the people.  They quickly got to work: pushing for lower taxes, lower regulations and what they called ‘business-friendly’ policies.

“They started by deregulating trucking and telecom,” said Hedrick.

In 1978, with a Democratic President and both Houses of Congress controlled by Democrats, the business lobby passed some of the most damaging laws for American workers.  For example, they changed the tax code and wrote in paragraph 401 sub-section K to allow executives to have a tax shelter for their earnings.  The 401(K) provisions quickly became the answer to lowering retirement costs and keeping more profits.  Some companies, such as ENRON, even forced their workers to use their 401(k)s to buy stock in the company – which would force stock prices up and up. But then if the company goes under, as ENRON did, the workers have completely lost their retirements as well as their jobs.

The business lobby also changed the bankruptcy law to allow the current management to continue to control the company through the bankruptcy process.  Previously, a neutral third party was brought in to divide the company assets and ensure that workers’ pensions were protected; but now, companies can file for bankruptcy and sell off all assets, leaving the workers stranded.  In his book, Hedrick uses the United Airlines bankruptcy as an example of how this policy hurts working families.  We can also see the effects of this change in the aftermaths of the Hostess and Patriot Coal bankruptcies.

The ‘Powell Memorandum’ created a political monster.  Now we have the ‘Gang of Six’, a Washington based lobbying group that “represents 40,000 member companies from beer distributors to furniture suppliers, is the dean of a bloc of a half dozen U.S. trade groups. The groups represent companies that employ more than 22 million people and generate at least $5.2 trillion in goods and services, or almost half of U.S. gross domestic product. If the Gang of Six were a country, it would constitute the world’s second-biggest economy, eclipsing Japan’s $4.7 trillion GDP.”

This ultra-powerful lobbying group is lead by Dirk Van Dongen, the “most powerful man you never heard of,” said Hedrick.  This is the guy that Carl Rove had lunch with the day after President G.W. Bush was inaugurated – that is how powerful Van Dongen is.

Making Change

What can we do about this?  How can we stop this cycle and get back to an age of prosperity again?

Many of Hedrick’s ideas have to do with fixing our broken political system. “We need to get the big money out of politics,” said Hedrick.  “We need to fix the gerrymandering” of our Congressional districts.  We need to have open disclosure on all campaign contributions.  “This may mean we need to go back to publicly funded campaigns again,” said Hedrick.   We need the Federal Election Commission to do a better job of regulating the elections and enforcing the current election rules.  Hedrick continued, “The FEC could pass a rule that would enforce open disclosure tomorrow if they wanted to.”

Hedrick talked about ‘Open Primaries’ as a way of countering gerrymandering.   There would be no such thing as safe districts any longer. Regardless of political party, all candidates would be on the same primary ballot – then the top two candidates in the primary would run against each other in the general election.    Hedrick said that in some ‘Open Primaries’ have resulted in two general-election candidates from the same party.  He also noted that places that had ‘Open Primaries’ saw a 20% increase in voter turnout – because people once again believe that their vote will make a difference.

Hedrick also suggested making changes to the corporate tax structure, particularly reducing taxes for corporations that bring jobs here to the United States and raising taxes on those that send jobs away and keep profits overseas.  “Last year corporations held $1.7 trillion in corporate profits overseas,” said Hedrick. “Now they want to bring it back, so they are pushing Congress for another ‘tax holiday’.”  A tax holiday would allow these corporations to bring their money back from overseas without any penalty.  Many of them would immediately buy up shares of their own corporations, forcing stock prices up, and increasing their returns.  The people (the government) get nothing out of this.

Summary

Income inequality, the fall of the middle class, and the rise of business profits are all related.  Our world is very interconnected and what seemed like minor policy changes 30 years ago have turned out to be some of the most damaging.   We need to take back our political system and get back to making Congress work for the people, not the corporations.

Hedrick Smith laid out a number of these ideas in his hour-long lecture – but there is so much more in his new book.  I recommend that everyone go out a get a copy of ‘Who Stole the American Dream’.

The Info-Graphic That Shows What Is Really Happening To Adjunct Faculty Members

Un-Hired Ed

For many years now we have been telling our children that they need to get a college degree.  For some this is a large university.  For many others this is a small community college like the Nashua Community College.

Earlier this year we talked about the Community College System of NH (CCSNH) and their refusal to sign a contract with the adjunct professors at their schools.  We also talked about how the executive staff of the CCSNH were getting outlandish pay raises while the adjuncts got shafted.

Below is a new info-graphic highlighting some of the other problems facing adjunct professors at colleges across the country.  The biggest problem is pay.  Full tenured professors are making in excess of $120,000 while adjunct professors are lucky to be making $20,000 a year.

This is wrong and something should be done about it.  We need to invest in our schools and colleges to lower the cost for students and increase the pay for faculty.  These are the people who are teaching our children and they are making a little more than a grocery store stock boy.

Un-Hired Ed: The Growing Adjunct Crisis
Source: Online-PhD-Programs.org

American Federation of Teachers Are Disgusted After The Passage Of The So-Called Student Success Act

AFT Logo

WASHINGTON— Statement of AFT President Randi Weingarten on passage of the so-called Student Success Act. The AFT launched a major radio, print and online advertising campaign this week to make clear how this bill would hurt children and public schools.

“The so-called Student Success Act betrays the fundamental promise we make to our children—that all children deserve a high-quality public education that enables them to not only dream their dreams, but achieve them. That Republicans would push through a bill that starves schools of resources and does nothing to address pervasive overtesting shows just how disconnected they are from what children, teachers, parents and our schools need.

“If we believe that every child matters and deserves a fair shot at success, then the actions by policymakers need to match the rhetoric—and this bill falls far short. At a time when nearly half of all children in our public schools are living in poverty, this bill rolls back the historic commitment we began decades ago to help poor and disadvantaged children succeed in school.

“This bad bill was made even worse after passage of an amendment by Reps. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Rob Bishop (R-Utah) that has the potential to divert resources for poor children—resources already being cut by the sequester—to programs and policies that do not have a track record of success and are based on ideology, not results. This amendment undercuts the very essence of Title I: to enable school districts to target and increase funds to schools serving the highest concentrations of poor students.

“Despite efforts to improve the bill on the floor, the fundamental flaws of the Republican proposal made it unfixable. On behalf of public education’s promise and potential to be a pathway of opportunity for all children in America, the Senate must reject this bill.”

AFT Launches A Six-Figure Ad Campaign Targeting Republican Education Bill

HR5_SSA_ad

Six-Figure Radio, Print, Online Ad Campaign in D.C. and Rep. Cantor’s District

The 1.5 million-member American Federation of Teachers launched a six-figure radio, online and print ad buy today in Washington, D.C., and the Virginia congressional district of Rep. Eric Cantor targeting Republicans in Congress for pushing the so-called Student Success Act. The bill dramatically slashes resources for schools; takes away funding for disadvantaged students, English language learners and other students; and does nothing to address pervasive overtesting.

And despite the Republicans’ rhetoric about the federal government not being involved in local decisions, the bill mandates a flawed system of teacher evaluations and gives the federal government, not local schools, more say over how teachers should be evaluated.

“It’s clear just how disconnected Republicans are from what is going in schools in their districts and across the country, and what children, parents and teachers need,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “At a time when nearly half our students are living in poverty, this bill represents a historic abandonment of our commitment to level the playing field for disadvantaged children. And Republicans want to double down on the test fixation that is draining the joy out of teaching and learning.”

The bill has brought together a group of strange bedfellows, with organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Heritage Foundation joining the AFT, The Education Trust, other education groups and the Leadership Council on Civil Rights in opposition to the bill.

The AFT’s ad buy includes radio and online ads in Washington, D.C., and Rep. Cantor’s district in Virginia. The AFT has also partnered with The Education Trust to run full-page ads in Roll Call and The Hill, and is pushing patch-through calls targeting Republican members of Congress.

The Radio ad:

Announcer (at end of ad):
Tell Eric Cantor: More federal government control does not add up to better schools.Call: 804-747-4073 and go to StopGovernmentOverreach.org.

Paid for by the American Federation of Teachers.

Expanding Medicaid Will Greatly Benefit Veterans In NH

Will Thomas

NHLN Note: This another letter to the editor from a concerned NH veteran on why we need Medicaid  expansion. 

Will Thomas

Will Thomas

Dear Editor,

According to a recent analysis by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute, it is estimated that 1500 uninsured New Hampshire veterans and 800 uninsured veterans’ spouses would be among the hard-working, low-income Granite Staters who would be newly eligible for Medicaid if New Hampshire’s government decides to expand it. The governor and the NH House both support expansion of Medicaid while the NH Senate has yet to vote on this issue.

The study cited above reports that out of America’s 1.3 million uninsured veterans (this is disgraceful), 40 percent could qualify for expanded Medicaid benefits under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) otherwise known as “Obama Care.”  Yet, of the half-million uninsured veterans who would be potentially medicaid eligible under the ACA, 3/4 — 414,000 people — have incomes below 100 percent of the federal poverty level and would NOT qualify for exchange subsidies if their state does not expand medicaid. Thus, the vote by NH’s State Senate is crucial.

The Urban Institute study I mentioned does not even take into account the thousands of veterans who have yet to return home from the waning Afghanistan War. Those veterans are mostly young people who will be forced to confront the widespread economic inequality, record homelessness, and unprecedented levels of PTSD and suicide that are plaguing veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Everyone says they “support the troops.”  But, is this only when they are sent off to war, but not when they return?  My organization, Veterans for Peace, has a cadence when we march:  ”They wave the flag when you attack, but when you come home, they turn their back.”  Please, NH State Senators, do not turn your backs on those low-income veterans and their spouses who deserve and need health care.

Will Thomas, Coordinator

NH Veterans for Peace

PS: A letter to the Manchester Union Leader said that the expansion of Medicaid will cost the taxpayers of NH $126 million over 10 years. She neglected to add that NH taxpayers will be sending Israel $116 million over 10 years as part of the $30 billion aid package George W. Bush signed and now, Barak Obama wants to increase to $40 billion! Surely, our NH tax dollars should go to support our veterans and low income folks rather than sending over $116 million to the world’s fourth largest military and to an economically viable country.