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The Thriving World, the Wilting World, and You
Inequality and how we contribute to it. Speech given at Aspen.

The Aspen Consensus says, "Do more good" — not "Do less harm."
We talk a lot here about giving more. We don’t talk about taking less.
inequality  philantrophy  harm  good 
17 hours ago by drmeme
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More on the World Report issued this week by Piketty and others. The richest 1 percent of humanity reap…
Inequality  from twitter_favs
yesterday by sdp
CDC gets list of forbidden words: fetus, transgender, diversity - The Washington Post
The Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases — including “fetus” and “transgender” — in any official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.
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yesterday by asterisk2a
Millennials Are Screwed - The Huffington Post
"In what seems like some kind of perverse joke, nearly every form of welfare now available to young people is attached to traditional employment. Unemployment benefits and workers’ compensation are limited to employees. The only major expansions of welfare since 1980 have been to the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, both of which pay wages back to workers who have already collected them.

Back when we had decent jobs and strong unions, it (kind of) made sense to provide things like health care and retirement savings through employer benefits. But now, for freelancers and temps and short-term contractors—i.e., us—those benefits might as well be Monopoly money. Forty-one percent of working millennials aren’t even eligible for retirement plans through their companies."



"The most striking thing about the problems of millennials is how intertwined and self-reinforcing and everywhere they are.

Over the eight months I spent reporting this story, I spent a few evenings at a youth homeless shelter and met unpaid interns and gig-economy bike messengers saving for their first month of rent. During the days I interviewed people like Josh, a 33-year-old affordable housing developer who mentioned that his mother struggles to make ends meet as a contractor in a profession that used to be reliable government work. Every Thanksgiving, she reminds him that her retirement plan is a “401(j)”—J for Josh.

Fixing what has been done to us is going to take more than tinkering. Even if economic growth picks up and unemployment continues to fall, we’re still on a track toward ever more insecurity for young people. The “Leave It To Beaver” workforce, in which everyone has the same job from graduation until gold watch, is not coming back. Any attempt to recreate the economic conditions the boomers had is just sending lifeboats to a whirlpool.

But still, there is already a foot-long list of overdue federal policy changes that would at least begin to fortify our future and reknit the safety net. Even amid the awfulness of our political moment, we can start to build a platform to rally around. Raise the minimum wage and tie it to inflation. Roll back anti-union laws to give workers more leverage against companies that treat them as if they’re disposable. Tilt the tax code away from the wealthy. Right now, rich people can write off mortgage interest on their second home and expenses related to being a landlord or (I'm not kidding) owning a racehorse. The rest of us can’t even deduct student loans or the cost of getting an occupational license.

Some of the trendiest Big Policy Fixes these days are efforts to rebuild government services from the ground up. The ur-example is the Universal Basic Income, a no-questions-asked monthly cash payment to every single American. The idea is to establish a level of basic subsistence below which no one in a civilized country should be allowed to fall. The venture capital firm Y Combinator is planning a pilot program that would give $1,000 each month to 1,000 low- and middle-income participants. And while, yes, it’s inspiring that a pro-poor policy idea has won the support of D.C. wonks and Ayn Rand tech bros alike, it’s worth noting that existing programs like food stamps, TANF, public housing and government-subsidized day care are not inherently ineffective. They have been intentionally made so. It would be nice if the people excited by the shiny new programs would expend a little effort defending and expanding the ones we already have.

But they’re right about one thing: We’re going to need government structures that respond to the way we work now. “Portable benefits,” an idea that’s been bouncing around for years, attempts to break down the zero-sum distinction between full-time employees who get government-backed worker protections and independent contractors who get nothing. The way to solve this, when you think about it, is ridiculously simple: Attach benefits to work instead of jobs. The existing proposals vary, but the good ones are based on the same principle: For every hour you work, your boss chips in to a fund that pays out when you get sick, pregnant, old or fired. The fund follows you from job to job, and companies have to contribute to it whether you work there a day, a month or a year.

Seriously, you should sign up. It doesn’t cost anything.

Small-scale versions of this idea have been offsetting the inherent insecurity of the gig economy since long before we called it that. Some construction workers have an “hour bank” that fills up when they’re working and provides benefits even when they’re between jobs. Hollywood actors and technical staff have health and pension plans that follow them from movie to movie. In both cases, the benefits are negotiated by unions, but they don’t have to be. Since 1962, California has offered “elective coverage” insurance that allows independent contractors to file for payouts if their kids get sick or if they get injured on the job. “The offloading of risks onto workers and families was not a natural occurrence,” says Hacker, the Yale political scientist. “It was a deliberate effort. And we can roll it back the same way.”

Another no-brainer experiment is to expand jobs programs. As decent opportunities have dwindled and wage inequality has soared, the government’s message to the poorest citizens has remained exactly the same: You’re not trying hard enough. But at the same time, the government has not actually attempted to give people jobs on a large scale since the 1970s.

Because most of us grew up in a world without them, jobs programs can sound overly ambitious or suspiciously Leninist. In fact, they’re neither. In 2010, as part of the stimulus, Mississippi launched a program that simply reimbursed employers for the wages they paid to eligible new hires—100 percent at first, then tapering down to 25 percent. The initiative primarily reached low-income mothers and the long-term unemployed. Nearly half of the recipients were under 30.

The results were impressive. For the average participant, the subsidized wages lasted only 13 weeks. Yet the year after the program ended, long-term unemployed workers were still earning nearly nine times more than they had the previous year. Either they kept the jobs they got through the subsidies or the experience helped them find something new. Plus, the program was a bargain. Subsidizing more than 3,000 jobs cost $22 million, which existing businesses doled out to workers who weren’t required to get special training. It wasn’t an isolated success, either. A Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality review of 15 jobs programs from the past four decades concluded that they were “a proven, promising, and underutilized tool for lifting up disadvantaged workers.” The review found that subsidizing employment raised wages and reduced long-term unemployment. Children of the participants even did better at school.

But before I get carried away listing urgent and obvious solutions for the plight of millennials, let’s pause for a bit of reality: Who are we kidding? Donald Trump, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are not interested in our innovative proposals to lift up the systemically disadvantaged. Their entire political agenda, from the Scrooge McDuck tax reform bill to the ongoing assassination attempt on Obamacare, is explicitly designed to turbocharge the forces that are causing this misery. Federally speaking, things are only going to get worse.

Which is why, for now, we need to take the fight to where we can win it.

Over the last decade, states and cities have made remarkable progress adapting to the new economy. Minimum-wage hikes have been passed by voters in nine states, even dark red rectangles like Nebraska and South Dakota. Following a long campaign by the Working Families Party and other activist organizations, eight states and the District of Columbia have instituted guaranteed sick leave. Bills to combat exploitative scheduling practices have been introduced in more than a dozen state legislatures. San Francisco now gives retail and fast-food workers the right to learn their schedules two weeks in advance and get compensated for sudden shift changes. Local initiatives are popular, effective and our best hope of preventing the country’s slide into “Mad Max”-style individualism.

The court system, the only branch of our government currently functioning, offers other encouraging avenues. Class-action lawsuits and state and federal investigations have resulted in a wave of judgments against companies that “misclassify” their workers as contractors. FedEx, which requires some of its drivers to buy their own trucks and then work as independent contractors, recently reached a $227 million settlement with more than 12,000 plaintiffs in 19 states. In 2014, a startup called Hello Alfred—Uber for chores, basically—announced that it would rely exclusively on direct hires instead of “1099s.” Part of the reason, its CEO told Fast Company, was that the legal and financial risk of relying on contractors had gotten too high. A tsunami of similar lawsuits over working conditions and wage theft would be enough to force the same calculation onto every CEO in America.

And then there’s housing, where the potential—and necessity—of local action is obvious. This doesn’t just mean showing up to city council hearings to drown out the NIMBYs (though let’s definitely do that). It also means ensuring that the entire system for approving new construction doesn’t prioritize homeowners at the expense of everyone else. Right now, permitting processes examine, in excruciating detail, how one new building will affect rents, noise, traffic, parking, shadows and squirrel populations. But they never investigate the consequences of not building anything—rising prices, displaced renters, low-wage workers commuting hours from outside the sprawl.

Some cities are finally … [more]
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yesterday by robertogreco

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