Climate Resilience Workforce Act

Climate Resilience Workforce Act

Climate Resilience Workforce Act

Migrant workers and formerly incarcerated people have long done the hard work of recovering from hurricanes and other climate disasters. That’s especially true in Louisiana, where undocumented workers played a crucial role in rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. These workers sometimes suffer brutal exploitation, practices that must end as we head toward a future with more frequent and intense climate disasters. This week Rep. Pramila Jayapal introduced the Climate Resilience Workforce Act to provide workers with basic workplace protections, health care, and a pathway to citizenship. Reporter Zoya Teirstein at Grist has more details:

In addition to establishing basic rights for resilience workers, the act would create an Office of Climate Resilience in the White House, which would coordinate federal activities that relate to climate resilience and disaster recovery. It would create “millions of jobs” in the climate resilience sector by providing states, counties, cities, tribal governments, labor organizations, and community-based nonprofit organizations with new grants for climate resilience projects that offer workers a guaranteed wage, the right to organize, and healthcare. The bill would eliminate barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated people by awarding grants to contractors that prioritize hiring people with criminal records. It would establish a federal pilot program that would allow people who engaged in climate resilience labor while incarcerated in state prisons — for abysmally low hourly wages —  to obtain federal jobs in the same kind of work upon release.

Inflation cancels out pay raises
A tight labor market during the pandemic has given workers more negotiating power as evidenced by nationwide union campaigns and 4.7% hourly wage growth in 2021. But rising inflation means workers’ paychecks have less purchasing power now than before the pandemic. The New York Times, in a staff editorial, says the economy is failing the “Big Mac test”:

Most Americans don’t share the administration’s sunny view of its economic record, and it is little mystery why: The average worker’s paycheck doesn’t buy as many hamburgers as it did last year. (Using hamburgers to measure inflation is a twist on The Economist magazine’s Big Mac Index, which tracks the price of the classic hamburger in different currencies.)

For workers at the economic margins, the story is a bit more positive: 

Lower-wage workers have seen particularly strong wage growth. For workers in the bottom third of the wage distribution, Arindrajit Dube, an economist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, estimates that average wage gains have exceeded inflation. (If inflation remains strong, however, the number of workers in that fortunate category is likely to shrink. And even for those workers, the pace of wage growth adjusted for inflation is weaker than it was in the two years before the pandemic.)

Invest in people, not prisons
At a recent New Orleans City Council hearing on crime in the city, Police Superintendent Sean Ferguson advocated punitive approaches to crime reduction, such as broken-windows policing. In a letter to the editor in the Advocate, Ernest Johnson, director of the New Orleans non-profit Ubuntu Village, explains that rather than investing in reactive carceral institutions, the city must proactively invest in improving the material conditions of families and young people. 

We live in a city facing serious poverty. New Orleans is increasingly unaffordable, especially for workers earning close to the minimum wage, and rents have continued to rise even while residents struggle to recover from Hurricane Ida. The pandemic has thrown already precarious employment into further disarray, and it has also disrupted day care arrangements. These are dynamics that lead to desperation, and desperation fuels crime.

Betting on early childhood
Starting this weekend, Louisianans in 55 of our 64 parishes will be able to legally wager on sporting events on mobile phones – just in time for the weekend’s NFL’s conference championship games. Gamblers who lose money can take comfort in the fact that casinos will pay 15% of their winnings in taxes (10% on in-person wagers), with a chunk of that money earmarked for early childhood education.  Greg LaRose at the Louisiana Illuminator reports that it’s unclear how much new money will result: 

Projections on how much tax revenue mobile sports betting will generate for Louisiana have not been definitive, in part because the timeline for the apps to go live has been somewhat of a moving target. A bigger factor has been the pandemic’s impact on the economy, which has in turn affected what’s being spent on gambling. . . . Sports betting in all forms is forecast to create $30 million in new tax revenue annually for the state, according to legislative fiscal office projections. A quarter of that money is reserved for early childhood education, with a $20 million ceiling. Local government will receive up to 10%, and as much as $500,000 is set aside for compulsive gambling program.

Number of the Day 
$579.9 million – The estimated cost of damage to Louisiana’s commercial fishing industry due to storms from August 2020 to August 2021 (Source: LSU Ag Center via WWL-TV)