Workers are gaining power

Workers are gaining power

Last week Gov. John Bel Edwards signaled that he would become the latest governor to end the federal $300 per week benefit going to unemployed people. He’ll do so in exchange for a $28 per week increase to Louisiana’s lowest-in-America unemployment benefits that won’t kick in until 2022. It comes after corporations and lobbyists pushed the false narrative that people aren’t working because unemployment benefits are too high. But as Ezra Klein explains in the New York Times, the rush to strip benefits reveals something deeper and more constant in our politics. 

The American economy runs on poverty, or at least the constant threat of it. Americans like their goods cheap and their services plentiful and the two of them, together, require a sprawling labor force willing to work tough jobs at crummy wages. On the right, the barest glimmer of worker power is treated as a policy emergency, and the whip of poverty, not the lure of higher wages, is the appropriate response.

Klein explains why policies that would give workers more power – like a universal guaranteed income – are non-starters for many in the corporate world. 

I suspect the real political problem for a guaranteed income isn’t the costs, but the benefits. A policy like this would give workers the power to make real choices. They could say no to a job they didn’t want, or quit one that exploited them. They could, and would, demand better wages, or take time off to attend school or simply to rest. When we spoke, [Derek] Hamilton tried to sell it to me as a truer form of capitalism. “People can’t reap the returns of their effort without some baseline level of resources,” he said. “If you lack basic necessities with regards to economic well-being, you have no agency. You’re dictated to by others or live in a miserable state.”

The gender poverty gap 
Poverty is more harmful to boys than for girls, according to new research from the Brookings Institution. Boys that grow up in poverty are less likely to get a college degree, be in paid work and married, while they are more likely to be incarcerated and remain in poverty. Richard R. Reeves and Sarah Nzau explain what could be causing these disparities between sexes when it comes to poverty.  

Boys seem particularly most strongly influenced by the family environment, as well as by school quality or neighborhood poverty. These findings are consistent with research showing the particularly sharp impact of poverty and disadvantage for boys, which also has implications for race equity—since Black boys are much more likely to be raised in lower income or socially disadvantaged households.

Critical race theory becomes nationwide lightning rod 
Louisiana wasn’t the only state where legislators tried to ban the teaching of America’s history of systemic and institutional racism in public schools. There is a national effort underway to outlaw the teaching of critical race theory. As Stateline’s Stephen Kearse explains, this is bigger than just preventing teachers from telling students about our country’s racist past. 

“This isn’t just about critical race theory as a body of work. This is about any form of antiracist speech, because these are also the jurisdictions that are trying to pass restrictions on protest,” [Cheryl, law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles] Harris said, referring to new curbs on public demonstrations that Republicans have pushed in response to Black Lives Matter. … [Adrienne, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor of education] Dixson, who was a public school teacher in Louisiana before becoming a professor, worries about students’ access to information. “I think we have to be really wary about legislating ideas that people can engage in,” she said, “because what they’re doing is saying, ‘You can’t know this. You can’t think about this. You can’t talk about this question.’ That’s fascist.”

Less oversight for dangerous leaks 
Oil and gas companies in Louisiana already benefit from numerous tax exemptions and lax enforcement of dangerous leaks. But a bill by Rep. Danny McCormick, awaiting a signature or veto from Gov. John Bel Edwards, would give these companies even less oversight. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Sara Sneath explains the lack of enforcement by the Louisiana State Police and the latest efforts to make corporations even less accountable for the pollution they inflict on our communities. 

The Louisiana State Police – which oversees pipeline safety – issued 34 fines and five warning letters in the past five years. A quarter of those penalties were reduced: three were lowered, five were replaced with warning letters, and two were dismissed. The fines that did stick were low, between $2,250 to $8,000. …  Despite the record of lax enforcement by the State Police, gas companies in the state say they are being treated unfairly and have lobbied for legislation to loosen requirements around reporting pipeline leaks. Louisiana has more gas pipelines than any other state except Texas, and more gas pipeline projects are planned in the state to support the growing demand for US natural gas exports

Number of the Day
– Total amount that U.S. hospitals sought from patients from lawsuits and other predatory billing practices. (Source: John Hopkins University via Axios