Politics Faulted for Loss of Good Jobs

 A new report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research says fewer  American workers today have a “good job” compared to the past, largely because of policy decisions that have undercut labor.

According to the report,  Where Have All the Good Jobs Gone, fewer than a quarter of American workers have a “good job.”

 A good job is defined as one that pays at least $37,000 per year, has employer-provided health insurance and an employer-sponsored retirement plan.

 The report states that one-fourth (24.6 percent) of the workforce in 2010 (the most recent year for which data are available) had a “good job.” This figure was down from 27.4 percent in 1979.

 The report’s authors, John Smith and Janelle Jones, attribute the decline in good jobs to policy decisions, rooted in politics, that have resulted in a drastic loss of workers’ bargaining power and the restructuring of the labor market since the end of the 1970s.

They say the American economy has lost about one-third of its capacity to generate good jobs since 1979. 

 According to the report:

  •  The share of private-sector workers who are unionized fell from 23 percent in 1979 to less than 8 percent today.
  •  The inflation-adjusted value of the minimum wage today is 15 percent below what it was in 1979.
  • Several large industries, including trucking, airlines, telecommunications, and others, have been deregulated, often at a substantial cost to their workers.
  •  Many jobs in state and local government have been privatized and outsourced.
  •  Trade policy has put low- and middle-wage workers in the United States in direct competition with typically much lower-wage workers in the rest of the world.  
  • A dysfunctional immigration system has left a growing share of our immigrant population at the mercy of their employers, while increasing competitive pressures on low-wage workers born in the United States.
  • Fiinally, leaders have placed  increased emphasis on controlling inflation rather than achieving full employment.

 “In our view, these policy decisions, rooted in politics, are the main explanations for the decline in the economy’s ability to generate good jobs,” state the authors.

  The report says the data show only minor differences in the deterioration of the economy’s ability to generate good jobs between 2007, before the Great Recession began, and 2010, the low point for the labor market. The deterioration relects long-run changes in the U.S. economy, not short-run factors related to the recession or recent economic policy.

 The report  controls for the age and education of the American workforce.

* The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) was established in 1999 to promote democratic debate on the most important economic and social issues that affect people’s lives.

US Leader in Social Injustice

A new international report serves as an indictment of policies that make the United States a leader in social injustice, including alarming poverty and inequality in the workplace.

The U.S. ranks 27th in terms of social justice among the 35 member nations of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, (OECD), which  promotes policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.

The OECD report, entitled Social Justice in the OECD – How Do the Member States Compare? Sustainable Governance Indicators 2011, says that America, with its alarming poverty levels, lands near the bottom of the weighted social justice index, ranking only slightly better than its neighbor Mexico (30) and new OECD member Chile (29).

The OECD’s analysis places much of the blame for the U.S.’ dismal social justice ranking on inequality in the workplace – the US ranks16th in labor market inclusion (see list below) among the OECD’s 35 member countries, behind Canada (8) and Mexico (10).

The OECD says exclusion from the labor market substantially limits individual opportunities for self-realization, contributes to an increase in the risk of poverty, and can even lead to serious health stresses: “So long as gainful employment remains the primary means by which not only income, but also status, self-respect and social inclusion are distributed in developed societies, inclusion in the labor market must be a high priority for a just society” (Merkel/Giebler 2009: 198).

To calculate labor inclusiveness, the OECD analyzed employment and unemployment rates for 55- to 65-year-old workers, foreign-born workers, women as compared to men, and the long-term unemployment rate and the degree of labor market exclusion experienced both by young and by low-skilled workers.

According to the OECD,  a sustainable social market economy able to combine market efficiency with social justice requires the state to take on more than a minimalist “night watch man” role. Rather, it requires a strong state led by actors that understand the need for social equity as a means of ensuring participation opportunities.

Generally, the U.S. ranks 22nd for unemployment and long-term unemployment.

Here’s the OECD’s labor inclusiveness ranking:

1. Iceland

2. Norway

3. Switzerland

4. South Korea

5. Australia

6. New Zealand

7. Netherlands

8. Canada

9. Denmark

10. Mexico

11. Japan

12. Finland

13. Austria

14. Sweden

15. United Kingdom

16. United States

17. Chile

18. Germany

19. Luxembourg

20. Portugal

21. France

22. Czech Republic

23. Ireland

24. Belgium

25. Italy

26. Greece

27. Poland

28. Turkey

29. Hungary

30. Spain

31. Slovakia.

How the Justice Dept. Gets Away With It

 The U.S. Department of Justice is advertising for experienced, licensed “volunteer”  attorneys to work for a year or two without pay alongside Assistant U.S. Attorneys, who earn a starting salary of more than $75,000.

If such an  advertisement was placed by a private employer, it would raise questions of legality? How does the Justice Dept. get away with blatant exploitation of workers?

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to pay workers the minimum wage and overtime except in a few limited circumstances – those who volunteer for religious, charitable, civic or humanitarian non-profit organizations and (you guessed it) individuals who volunteer to perform services for a state or local government agency.  The only time a for-profit employer can get away without paying a worker is when the worker is a so-called “intern,”

All of this comes at a time of high unemployment for lawyers, particularly graduating law school students.

The Wall Street Journal did a story on Sept. 2, 2011 stating there currently is less than one opening for every 100 working attorneys. Unemployment is a serious problem for attorneys, just as it is for every other occupation right now.  The unpaid “volunteers”  displace regular employees. Also, there is just something downright hypocritical about the situation. How can federal prosecutors go after employers who violate the FLSA with a straight face?

Finally, there is a great deal of “classism” in our society. We bemoan the immigrant farm worker who is cheated by the big farm corporation but it’s OK for some reason to exploit attorneys?  Is it some kind of misguided vanity that allows the bar to look at a situation such as this and fail to see the problem?

Without the  FLSA exemption, the use of unpaid Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys (SAUSA) would clearly violate the FLSA.

The SAUSA does not qualify as an intern because training is not the primary purpose of the SAUSA; because the government derives benefit from the SAUSA’s work; and, the SAUSA is doing the work of a regular employee and replaces regular employees.

The SAUSA is already a trained, licensed, experienced professional.  In fact, they have to have “outstanding” academic records and “superior” research and writing skills.   The SAUSA works alongside paid Assistant U.S. Attorneys doing legal research, drafting briefs, conducting hearings and trials, and attending judicial proceedings .  The “volunteer” gets nothing except the dim, uncertain hope of future employment.

Imagine a situation where a SAUSA, who is working for nothing, prosecutes a for-profit employer for failing to pay just wages and overtime.

The DOL issued a “fact sheet” last year listing the circumstances that dictate whether or not an intern must be paid. Essentially, a for-profit institution does not have to pay an employee whose work serves only his or her own interests.  The DOL listed six criteria to determine whether a worker is a bona fide intern:

  1. The internship is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

There is little question that a SAUSA does not qualify as an “intern” and that is probably why the SAUSA is not called an intern.

Ironically, the Justice Department advertisements assure that it is an “Equal Opportunity/Reasonable Accommodation” employer.

(Note: this is Part II of a story written on Sept. 7, 2011, Justice Department Seeks Law-Unteers)