The Black Working Class Was Hit Especially Hard by Factory Job Loss and Industrial Flight

Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch

Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch Digital Media Director, Alliance for American Manufacturing

If you’ve visited the Internet sometime over the past two-and-a-half years, you almost certainly have come across a diner story.

You know the one. A reporter from a big fancy news outlet with its headquarters in New York City or D.C. flies out to a working-class town in Ohio or Michigan or Pennsylvania or maybe even Wisconsin and stops at the local diner — or maybe a sports bar. There, the reporter talks to people over pancakes and coffee or chicken wings and beer about their political opinions and why they think Donald Trump got elected president, then files a story and immediately flies home.

There were so many of these stories in recent years — full disclosure: we shared them and even are featured in some — that predictably there was pushback. One of the criticisms is that these pieces aim to figure out the white working-class voter but leave out the voices of people of color who also live in these places.

While some folks have taken pains to capture diverse voices — Chris Arnade comes to mind — there are examples where this criticism is valid. Slate was among the outlets that critiqued The New York Times for visiting Youngstown, Ohio, but failing to capture the voices of the majority-minority city, which is 43 percent black.

And Slate went a step further, sending reporter Henry Grabar to Buckeye State to get the perspective of “the people in Youngstown, Ohio that the national media usually ignores.” Grabar’s report highlights the unique struggles that the black community in Youngstown has faced over the past several decades, writing that whatever “went wrong for the white working class here went even worse for their black counterparts.”

It’s not just Youngstown. Back in 2016, Gerald D. Taylor — himself a Youngstown native! — highlighted some of these issues in the report Unmade in America: Industrial Flight and the Decline of Black Communities. As Taylor notes, manufacturing in the mid-20th century allowed many black families the opportunity to begin to build a nest egg, own their own homes and move into the middle class.

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Across the Border: Teaching Service-Learning as Labor Activism

Michelle Fazio Associate Professor, University of North Carolina

Summer is already in full swing and with that comes the promise of fresh, local produce available at community-supported agricultural (CSA) farms and farmers’ markets. North Carolina, ranked as the leading producer of tobacco and sweet potatoes according to the USDA, has long held the position of being one of the highest-producing and diversified agricultural leaders in the U.S. Many of my students who live in the rural Southeast region of the state come from farming backgrounds themselves and, as a result, have a strong understanding of what it takes to run a family farm.

However, my students, like most consumers, are far less familiar with the realities of the over 150,000 migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their dependents who labor each year on these farms, contributing to billions of dollars in North Carolina’s economy. These individuals—both H-2A (temporary agricultural workers) and undocumented immigrants—remain invisible to most and are the second lowest paid workers nationwide, making on average $11,000 per year. Without access to overtime, sick leave, workers’ compensation, or the ability to fight wage discrimination, farmworkers have the fewest workers’ rights in the nation, yet, as we know, their labor hand-picking food feeds the world.

Farm work is dangerous work. According to Charles D. Thompson, Jr. and Melinda F. Wiggins, farmworkers suffer from many job-related illnesses due to prolonged exposure to sun, heat, and pesticides and often have limited access to drinking water in the fields. Unsanitary living conditions, including inadequate toilet facilities, also result in multiple occupational hazards that range from dermatitis and Green Tobacco Sickness (GTS) to respiratory illness and repetitive work injuries. Farmworkers are also extremely isolated from other communities and face food insecurity, lack access to pre-natal care or health care for children, and suffer from depression.

These matters were exacerbated by the devastation caused by last fall’s Hurricane Florence, which flooded the Southeastern corridor for weeks. As NPR reported, fear over Trump’s anti-immigration policies and inflammatory rhetoric frightened farmworkers away from seeking much-needed food and medical assistance. The severe flooding left many out of work and in need of shelter, but workers were either unable to leave their camps because of their remote location or did not qualify for assistance. Fortunately, local non-profit agencies devoted to promoting migrant farmworker justice, such as the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry (EFwM) and Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF), answered the call and provided bottled water and other supplies. They also initiated a fund-raising campaign to support the rebuilding of homes and additional services for the workers and their families.

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'Eye-Popping': Analysis Shows Top 1% Gained $21 Trillion in Wealth Since 1989 While Bottom Half Lost $900 Billion

Jake Johnson Staff Writer, Common Dreams

Adding to the mountain of statistical evidence showing the severity of U.S. inequality, an analysis published Friday found that the top one percent of Americans gained $21 trillion in wealth since 1989 while the bottom 50 percent lost $900 billion.

Matt Bruenig, founder of the left-wing think tank People's Policy Project, broke down the Federal Reserve's newly released "Distributive Financial Accounts" data series and found that, overall, "the top one percent owns nearly $30 trillion of assets while the bottom half owns less than nothing, meaning they have more debts than they have assets."

The growth of wealth inequality over the past 30 years, Bruenig found, is "eye-popping."

"Between 1989 and 2018, the top one percent increased its total net worth by $21 trillion," Bruenig wrote. "The bottom 50 percent actually saw its net worth decrease by $900 billion over the same period."

 

"Enormous crisis," Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) tweeted in response to Bruenig's analysis.

"We have the worst inequality in this country since the 1920s," wrote Jayapal, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. "Three wealthiest people in America have as much wealth as the bottom 50 percent."

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Reposted from Common Dreams

Federal Minimum Wage Reaches Disappointing Milestone

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

A disgraceful milestone occurred last Sunday, June 16.

That date officially marked the longest period that the United States has gone without increasing federal the minimum wage.

That means Congress has denied raises for a decade to 1.8 million American workers, that is, those workers who earn $7.25 an hour or less. These 1.8 million Americans have watched in frustration as Congress not only denied them wages increases, but used their tax dollars to raise Congressional pay. They continued to watch in disappointment as the Trump administration failed to keep its promise that the 2017 tax cut law would increase every worker’s pay by $4,000 per year.

More than 12 years ago, in May 2007, Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. It took effect two years later. Congress has failed to act since then, so it has, in effect, now imposed a decade-long wage freeze on the nation’s lowest income workers.

To combat this unjust situation, minimum wage workers could rally and call their lawmakers to demand action, but they’re typically working more than one job just to get by, so few have the energy or patience.

The Economic Policy Institute points out in a recent report on the federal minimum wage that as the cost of living rose over the past 10 years, Congress’ inaction cut the take-home pay of working families.  

At the current dismal rate, full-time workers receiving minimum wage earn $15,080 a year. It was virtually impossible to scrape by on $15,080 a decade ago, let alone support a family. But with the cost of living having risen 18% over that time, the situation now is far worse for the working poor. The current federal minimum wage is not a living wage. And no full-time worker should live in poverty.

While ignoring the needs of low-income workers, members of Congress, who taxpayers pay at least $174,000 a year, are scheduled to receive an automatic $4,500 cost-of-living raise this year. Congress increased its own pay from $169,300 to $174,000 in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession when low income people across the country were out of work and losing their homes. While Congress has frozen its own pay since then, that’s little consolation to minimum wage workers who take home less than a tenth of Congressional salaries.

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Congress has never let the federal minimum wage erode for this long

David Cooper

David Cooper Senior Economic Analyst, EPI

June 16 marks the longest period in history without an increase in the federal minimum wage. The last time Congress passed an increase was in May 2007, when it legislated that the minimum wage be raised to $7.25 per hour on July 24, 2009. Since the minimum wage was first established in 1938, Congress has never let it go unchanged for so long.

When the minimum wage remains unchanged for any length of time, inflation erodes its buying power. As shown in the graphic, when the minimum wage was last raised to $7.25 in July 2009, it had a purchasing power equivalent to $8.70 in today’s dollars. Over the last 10 years, as the minimum wage has remained at $7.25, its purchasing power has declined by 17 percent. For a full-time, year-round minimum wage worker, this represents a loss of over $3,000 in annual earnings. Moreover, since its historical peak in February 1968, the federal minimum wage has lost 31 percent in purchasing power—meaning that full-time, year-round minimum wage workers today have annual earnings worth $6,800 less than what their counterparts earned five decades ago.

A simple way to fix this problem once and for all would be to adopt automatic annual minimum wage adjustment (or “indexing”), as 18 states and the District of Columbia have done. The Raise the Wage Act of 2019 would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2024—boosting wages for nearly 40 million U.S. workers—and establish automatic annual adjustment of the federal minimum wage. Automatic annual adjustment would ensure that the paychecks of the country’s lowest-paid workers are never again left to erode.

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Reposted from EPI