Economic Justice Posts

Fair Wages Aren’t Enough, Workers Need Hours, Predictability, too

Fast-Food-EmployeesThere’s no question that working families across the country are struggling to get by; wages for most income levels have been stagnant or declining over the past decade, while the cost of living has continued to increase.

One key to helping working families is increasing wages so that there are more living wage jobs available. However, increasing the minimum wage is only part of the solution for helping families whose low-wage jobs do not always include steady work.

Living wage calculations, like those produced by the Alliance for a Just Society, must make assumptions to remain consistent year after year. One of those assumptions is that workers have jobs where they can actually work 40 hours per week, year-round (for 2,080 hours per year). For many workers, this assumption doesn’t match their reality.

For retail and restaurant workers, a steady schedule with enough hours can be hard to come by. Retail salespersons and food preparation and service workers are two of the top five occupations with the greatest projected job growth between 2012 and 2022, but are also low-wage occupations, with 2013 median annual wage of $21,140 and $18,330, respectively. These jobs are also often shift work, without set schedules. Continue reading »

Everyone Benefits When Workers Earn Living Wages

The South Korea government is taking an interesting approach to stagnating wages. The South Korean Ministry of Strategy and Finance is pushing a policy to offer tax credits to those firms that increase worker pay.

This legislation — which, if approved by the South Korean parliament, would go into effect in January — creates a policy incentive for firms to increase wages. As in America, wage growth in South Korea is “not keeping pace with corporate profits in South Korea, where household debt is rising while companies hoard cash,” according to this Bloomberg story.

Sound familiar?

Continue reading »

LeeAnn Hall: Three Reasons Why Harris v. Quinn Matters to All of Us

This article was originally published in Huffington Post.

Screen shot 2014-06-30 at 5.50.01 PMThe Harris v. Quinn ruling on Monday was a huge step backward in the national effort to develop rights and protections for home care workers. It’s also a clear call to action for all of us not to become complacent or take for granted the rights and protections that were hard fought and hard earned by the labor movement.

In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that home care workers who do not wish to support the union that bargains on their behalf, can no longer be required to pay their “fair share” of the costs of collective bargaining with the state — even though they benefit from that bargaining process.

The attack on these public sector workers dramatically undermines decades of state-level progress in professionalizing the home care industry and ensuring that the people taking care of our nation’s grandparents and disabled people are paid decent wages, work in humane conditions, and can afford to take care of their own families.

This ruling is troubling for the home care workers it will affect — most of whom are women and people of color. Many make less than minimum wage. It is also troubling for all of us who understand that workers are more able to provide quality care when they are treated with dignity, paid fair wages, and have a voice on the job. Continue reading »

Tools to Rescue Underwater Homeowners When Outreach Isn’t Enough

Photo by: Alan Pollock, Workers World

Photo by: Alan Pollock, Workers World

As previously discussed in Alliance reports, the housing crisis is over for some, but there are still millions of homeowners across the country struggling to pay off mortgages that are valued at more than the current worth of their homes. When combined with a sluggish labor market forcing many families to make due on less than before the recession, paying more than something is worth is not only dissatisfying, but often impossible.

In communities of color that still have high numbers of underwater mortgages, the effect on individuals overflows into the community, preventing entire neighborhoods from fully recovering from the recession.

During the height of the recession, there was sometimes a temptation to put the blame on borrowers who took out loans that they could not afford or with fine print they ignored, despite the fact that many homeowners were steered into these loans by banks looking to make a quick sale. Struggling homeowners were viewed as not smart with their finances and not reading or understanding the fine print, suggesting that it was the borrowers who needed to change.

As the crisis moved beyond subprime mortgages and property values dropped across the country, more and more “smart” people fell into foreclosure. Finally, the blame shifted appropriately to the banks, but solutions continued to focus on homeowners. Continue reading »

Reversing the Trend: A Longitudinal Study of Living Wage and Minimum Wage

Screen shot 2014-05-28 at 11.03.10 AMA new report, “Reversing the Trend” by the Alliance for a Just Society, finds that Mayor Ed Murray’s minimum wage proposal reverses a minimum wage trend that is increasingly unable to meet the basic living needs of workers. Seattle’s proposed $15 minimum wage would be the highest in the country.

Analyzing more than a decade of data, this chart shows that while the path to a $15 an hour minimum wage is a step in the right direction toward addressing income inequality – living wage still exceeds projected minimum wage levels offered in the mayor’s model.

In addition, the study shows that a $15 minimum wage would not have been enough to support a single parent and child even back in 2003, and it would not have been enough to make ends meet for a single person as far back as 2010. Continue reading »

Seeking Creative Ways to Help Underwater Homeowners

Chart by Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society

Chart by Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society

In 2007, the nation’s housing bubble burst, leading to the Great Recession of 2008 and a rapid drop in property values across the country. While the recession officially ended in 2009, more than 9 million homeowners across the country still have mortgages on homes that are now worth less than they owe.

These underwater mortgages not only leave homeowners strapped for cash as they struggle with the residual effects of the recession and slow job growth, but can depress the value of nearby properties when those homes are foreclosed on, and hamper communities’ ability to recover from the economic crisis.

In the Alliance’s 2013 Wasted Wealth report, detailed the devastating impacts of the foreclosure crisis in communities of color. As a recent report by the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society similarly found, the communities of color have disproportionately high rates of underwater mortgages, compounding the existing wealth gap. Continue reading »

Sallie Mae Slap on the Wrist Doesn’t Go Far Enough

Screen shot 2014-05-16 at 6.21.04 PMThis week the Department of Justice levied a $97 million fine against the student debt servicing giant Sallie Mae. The findings of the DOJ’s long investigation revealed a host of bad practices and illegal behaviors at the company, including overcharging on nearly all military service members’ loans, and mishandling borrowers’ payments to maximize late fees and penalties.

The fine is appropriate and offers some sense of justice, but it also feels eerily familiar to the lawsuits levied against the mortgage companies before, during, and after the Great Recession. Time and time again, the Department of Justice, state attorneys general, and regulators all found ample evidence of egregious wrongdoing and rampant fraud, resulting in several multi-million dollar settlements with all the mortgage giants.

Unfortunately, it ended there. There still hasn’t been a single executive of a major bank brought up on criminal charges and held accountable for the actions that caused the housing crisis. There were no structural changes in how the banks operate. These settlements simply became the cost of doing business – and we are still seeing the same reckless and illegal behavior years after they’ve supposedly taken their medicine. Continue reading »

Paid Sick Days: Good for Workers, Good for Business

Screen shot 2014-05-13 at 11.46.28 AMTony Sandkamp, owner of Sandkamp Woodworks in New Jersey, is a supporter of paid sick days for workers – because it makes sense for employees, and it makes sense for his company’s bottom line. Sandkamp, a Main Street Alliance leader, recently joined a panel of business leaders at the New York Regional Forum on Working Families, organized by the White House and the Department of Labor.

Part of the discussion focused on paid sick days. While many employees take it for granted that their employer will still pay them if they are forced to stay home sick a few days each year,many more workers are not given the option. If employees don’t come to work, they aren’t paid. Even scarier, if they miss work because of sickness, they risk losing their job.

“It’s ironic that I am advocating for paid sick leave, given that I think the last sick day I personally took was when I broke my leg in the third grade,” said Sandkamp. “When I worked for the airlines back in my twenties, I earned the ‘perfect attendance’ award for three consecutive years.

“But paid sick days just makes common sense – even for me and my small business,” said Sandkamp. Continue reading »

Seattle’s $15 Wage Plan to Boost Families and Businesses

Alliance for a Just Society Photo by Jason Collette

Alliance for a Just Society Photo by Jason Collette

The day after Republicans in the U.S. Senate blocked a modest minimum wage increase to $10.10, Seattle small business owners with the Main Street Alliance proclaimed their support for a city level $15 minimum wage.

“It is smart and responsible to raise the minimum wage, boost our local economy, and support small business success at the same time,” said Joe Fugere, owner of Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria, who served on the Mayor’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee.

“Main Street Alliance brought a strong small business voice to the process that sought common ground because we know our economy is built from the bottom up, not the top down,” said Fugere. “We recognize that our local economy is stronger when low- and middle-class families have greater economic security and more money to spend. Continue reading »

‘Homeowners Bill of Rights’ Helps Fight Foreclosure in Colorado

62664_452204658127800_477689577_nAfter three years of persistent and tireless work by Colorado Progressive Coalition members, the Colorado legislature this month finally passed meaningful protections for homeowners at risk of losing their homes.

For years horror stories have abounded in the press of banks that lost paperwork, homeowners never speaking to the same person twice, promises of a loan modification while simultaneously foreclosing on the borrower. Abuses by the banks added to the immense stress homeowners – and added to the growing number of foreclosures that could have been prevented.

The package of protections passed by the Colorado legislature is known as the “Homeowners Bill of Rights,” and is similar to those passed previously in California, Nevada, and Minnesota. Continue reading »

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