The U.S. economy is changing rapidly, and in ways that have tended to erode worker protections and labor’s ability to secure better wages and benefits. The city of Seattle is responding. Seattle raised its minimum wage to $15 per hour, plowed new resources into affordable housing and free community college and worked to provide more financial fairness for workers in the “gig” economy. As the city’s mayor, Jenny A. Durkan, explains in The Washington Post, that work is far from finished:
We need to acknowledge that government policies have helped create and continue racial disparities, including in housing. Lack of access to homeownership is one of the key contributing factors to the racial wealth gap. We need a national housing plan that prioritizes wealth-building and homeownership, especially for communities of color.
The case for economic optimism
The national media has been filled with talk of an upcoming recession, and people are apparently listening: consumer confidence in August suffered its biggest drop since 2012. But The New York Times’ Neil Irwin says that while there are good reasons for concern about an economic downturn, there’s also room for optimism if consumers keep spending and the effects of the trade war are concentrated in a few sectors.
In this benign scenario for the year ahead, strong consumer spending powers the economy forward; the economic damage from the trade wars remains mostly confined to the manufacturing and agriculture sectors; and the Federal Reserve’s shift toward easier money since the start of 2018 kicks in with its usual delayed effects.
The Advocate’s editorial board is bullish on the local economy, especially along the petrochemical corridor in South Louisiana, as a wave of new construction projects get underway.
We believe the impact of major new construction projects will be felt once again, and significantly. Just last month, Methanex announced its third project in Geismar in Ascension Parish, employing about 1,000 construction workers. Those are big numbers, and industrial construction jobs are well-paid.
Water issues in Baton Rouge
The underground aquifer that supplies clean drinking water to Baton Rouge-area homes and businesses has been strained by increased industrial use, leading to the threat of saltwater intrusion. The Louisiana Environmental Action Network is hoping to change that through a new postcard campaign and by putting pressure on state and local elected officials. Stephanie Riegel of the Baton Rouge Business Report:
The campaign comes some three months after the Louisiana Legislative Auditor released a report blasting the agency that was created 45 years ago—the Capital Area Groundwater Conservation Commission— to protect the aquifer from saltwater intrusion, which is largely exacerbated by big industrial users. The audit found that the commission has failed to effectively regulate extractions from the aquifer, noting that since 1975, more than 14 years of freshwater that could have gone to public consumption has been used by big industry instead.
Lester Holt visits Angola
Veteran TV journalist Lester Holt spent two nights locked inside a death row cell at Louisiana State Penitentiary as part of a Dateline NBC episode that airs on Friday. The stunt was part of an effort to explain the long-term repercussions of the tough-on-crime policies that swept the country in the 1980s and 90s. The AP’s David Bauder:
For a black journalist, it was hard to escape the symbolism of working in a field with mostly black inmates, as white corrections officers on horseback watched them. The number of older people he saw in prison was particularly striking to Holt. The show follows two longtime inmates as they find whether or not they will be paroled. He also spoke with a terminally ill prisoner who died before NBC’s special could be aired.
“Louisiana on Lockdown,” a report issued in June by Solitary Watch, the ACLU of Louisiana and Loyola University’s Jesuit Social Research Institute, documented the experiences of the people living their lives in solitary confinement in Louisiana’s prisons. Carl, one incarcerated man who responded to the survey, wrote of pervasive desperation in the Special Housing Unit:
“These cells drive men mad. I have personally witnessed one man take his life, another tried to by running the length of the tier and smashing his head into the front bars, sadly for him he still lives, if you can really call it that… Point is the cells are killing men and they know it”
In 2015, the United Nations recommended a ban on solitary confinement beyond 15 days, and a total ban on the use of solitary confinement as punishment. The vast majority of the survey’s respondents had been in solitary for more than one year, with nearly 30% in confined to a cell for 5 years or longer.
Number of the Day
462- Number of infant deaths in Louisiana in 2018. The state’s infant mortality rate of 8.1 per 1,000 live births is the third-highest in the country (Source: The Advocate)