Shutdown forces federal workers to consider career changes just to make ends meet

Casey Quinlan

Casey Quinlan Policy Reporter, ThinkProgress

Federal workers and contractors are growing increasingly weary with the partial government shutdown as they begin to feel the financial squeeze, leading many to reconsider government work.

Last Friday, many federal workers missed their first paychecks since the shutdown began on December 22 over demands from President Donald Trump that Congress fund a $5 billion wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. On Saturday, the shutdown became the longest in U.S. history, currently stretching into its fourth week, at 26 days.

ThinkProgress spoke with federal workers and contractors who are making tough choices about whether or not to look for other jobs, or stay in the federal government even if they are able to get back to work soon. The employees quoted in this story asked not to be identified by their actual names out of fear of retaliation.

“It has just been a nightmare”

Drew, a federal worker within the Department of Agriculture, said the shutdown is particularly difficult for them as they’re in their 20s and in the beginning of their career. When asked what they’re doing to stay afloat financially, Drew said they’re not going anywhere or doing anything that requires spending money. They have cancelled any unnecessary regular spending.

“I covered bills for this month but it’s a question of next month of whether I will be able to make it because I do unfortunately live paycheck-to-paycheck and my savings are rather limited,” Drew said. “It’s been terrible for my economic situation. It’s been terrible for my personal life. It has just been a nightmare.” 

2017 CareerBuilder report that polled 2,000 managers and more than 3,000 full-time employees found that 78 percent of full-time workers said they lived paycheck to paycheck. Drew added that it’s particularly tough that they can’t help cover expenses for their group house, which affects everyone else they live with.

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Yet Another Sign Tariffs Are Working

Cathalijne Adams

Cathalijne Adams Researcher, AAM

The United States produces a lot of aluminum scrap each year – the most in the world, actually. But, thanks to Chinese tariffs on American aluminum imports, most of that scrap has had nowhere to go (China is a huge aluminum scrap market.). Thus, it‘s now fulfilling considerable domestic demand for aluminum, which means most aluminum products purchased in the States in 2018 weren’t made anew but composed of recycled metal.

With that said, America's own Section 232 tariffs on aluminum are having their desired effect: more aluminum production in the United States.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

"The Trump administration’s tariffs on foreign aluminum drove imports of the metal down 20% last year, Harbor Aluminum says, while domestic production rose 20%. Pushing up U.S. aluminum production was the tariff’s intent."

A December 2018 study from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) corroborates this growth, evidencing a projected 67 percent increase of U.S. primary aluminum production between 2017 and 2018. EPI also cites several smelters that have been restarted or expanded and will create over 1,000 new jobs.

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HGTV’s Home Town Stars Commit to Revitalizing America’s Small Towns and Manufacturing

Cathalijne Adams

Cathalijne Adams Researcher/Writer, AAM

Today’s a big day for Ben and Erin Napier to say the least! Season Three of their hit show, Home Town, premieres tonight at 9 p.m. EST and their Made in USA furniture lines, Laurel Mercantile Co. Home and Scotsman Co. American Heirloom, debut in over one hundred stores this month! 

Though their show centers on refurbishing the homes of Laurel, Miss., the Napiers’ home town, their mission extends well beyond the town limits. As the Napiers state at the start of every Home Town episode, they’re committed to inspiring the revitalization of small towns all across the country. In the couple’s efforts to inspire investment in America’s small towns, they’ve embraced the American manufacturing industries that have sustained these locations.

 “We recognize that our show is about revitalizing small-town America, Laurel, and without small-town industry, mainly American manufacturing, you don’t have small-town America,” Ben Napier said.

Though approached by an endless stream of companies seeking branding and licensing deals with the husband-and-wife duo, the Napiers have chosen to partner with the legendary Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Co. -- a name that’s already earned a lot of attention in its own right, having been profiled in Beth Macy’s Factory Man.

Rather than join the herd of retailers manufacturing furniture offshore, the Napiers manufactured their furniture, Laurel Mercantile Co. Home and Scotsman Co. American Heirloom, in Vaughan-Bassett’s legendary Galax, Va., factories.

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Time to Make a Deal on the Federal Minimum Wage

By Wade Rathke
Center for Working-Class Studies

The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 per hour since 2009.  Until last year, when the unemployment rate dropped almost to the level of full employment, wages were stagnant, exacerbating inequality.  In 2018, average hourly earnings went up 3.15% and closed the year with a 3.9% jump.  Even with those recent adjustments, workers still need a federal minimum increase.

The Raise the Wage Act offers the prospect for change.  The bill was introduced in May 2017 by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, but it died in committee in 2018 with 170 co-sponsors, Democrats all.  It proposed a dollar-a-year increase over seven years, eventually reaching $15.00 – more than twice the current minimum.  It would also phase out lower pay for tip-credit workers who are currently frozen at $2.13 per hour as well as disabled worker exceptions.

The Fight for $15 campaign, largely engineered and financed by the Service Employees International Union, has been a key force in defining $15.00 an hour as the goal.  Their work has helped set eight states on the path to establishing minimum wages of between $12 and $15 per hour in coming years, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, and Washington.  Thirteen cities, including New York City, Seattle, and San Jose, are already at $15 or higher.  While Fight for $15 has created momentum for the new Democratic House majority, today’s leaders should not forget the lessons learned from decades of living wage fights.

On January 18, 1997, ACORN and Local 100, United Labor Unions (then affiliated with the SEIU), presented voters in Houston, Texas with what seemed a radical proposal at the time: a city ordinance to raise the minimum wage to the level of $6.50 per hour for all workers.  Only months before, the federal minimum had finally risen from $4.25 per hour to $4.75.  In a patronizing campaign against us, service industry and general business employers insisted that they understood our demand, but we were going about it the wrong way, and our proposal would cost jobs.  While we won in lower-income and working-class districts, we lost the election 2 votes to 1. In River Oaks, the district where former President George H. Bush lived and voted, we garnered just one vote.

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