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New Studies Show Strong Correlation Between Declining Union Density and Rising Income Inequality

"Two recent studies from the United States and the United Kingdom have added to the growing body of empirical evidence that shows a strong correlation between declining union density and rising income inequality."

"A new research paper prepared by acclaimed U.K. authors and social epidemiologists, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, shows how the weakening of the labour movement during the last quarter of the 20th century has had a significant impact on the ability of working people to influence their standard of living and quality of life."

"The research paper, entitled The importance of the labour movement in tackling inequality, was prepared for the U.K.-based Centre for Labour and Social Studies and was drawn from a more extensive report by the authors entitled, The World We Need, written for the International Labour Organization (ILO).”

"This paper argues that ‘we must now recreate a movement with the political and social influence that enabled the former labour movement to achieve the major reductions in inequality during the middle decades of the 20th century. A fairer and more sustainable future is possible.’"

"Meanwhile, a study [entitled Union Strength, Neoliberalism, and Inequality: Contingent Political Analyses of U.S. Income Differences Since 1950] by Dr. David Jacobs, Professor of Sociology, and Lindsey Myers, a doctoral student in sociology, both from Ohio State University, has concluded that a major cause of growing income inequality in the United States has been ‘the politically induced decline in the strength of unions.’”

"Their research shows that the role that union decline has played in growing income inequality may actually be larger than many of the favourite explanations offered by economists, such as the education gap in the United States. ‘Among their contributions to income equality, unions reduce pay differences within companies and use their influence to lobby on behalf of the working and middle classes,’ the researchers say."

National Union of Public and General Employees, July 15, 2014: “New studies show strong correlation between declining union density and rising income inequality”

Centre for Labour and Social Studies, July 2014: “The importance of the labour movement in tackling inequality,” by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (16 pages, PDF)

ILO’s International Journal of Labour Research, Vol. 6, Issue 1, 2014: “The world we need,” by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett [this article begins on page 19] ](160 pages, PDF)

American Sociological Review, June 9, 2014: “Union Strength, Neoliberalism, and Inequality: Contingent Political Analyses of U.S. Income Differences since 1950,” by David Jacobs and Lindsey Myers

Beyond Stagnation

Dissent’s Summer 2014 issue features a “special section [which] seeks to provide a fuller, progressive answer to the question of how we should respond to stagnation. One common theme of the essays that follow is that ‘recovery’ from the economic crisis is not enough. We need to do more than just recreate the conditions that led to the crash. These articles are pieces, far from complete, of an alternative economic strategy. Each of the authors looks with care at some of our most urgent problems and proposes ideas that would shift the balance of power back toward workers and address the problems of stagnation that bedevil the American economy.”

"Dean Baker and Jared Bernstein point out that workers’ bargaining power depends crucially on the unemployment rate. When unemployment is high, workers are easily replaced and must take whatever wages, benefits, and working conditions are offered. When full employment exists, workers have power to demand, and receive, more. Baker and Bernstein describe a menu of ideas to move us toward full employment.”

"The best fiscal and monetary policy can be undone by a financial system that appears to have been designed for booms and busts. Jennifer Taub takes a dim view of most of the reform efforts taken since 2008. She proposes to break up banks that are ‘too big to fail’ and recommends an alternative agenda in which the financial sector works for the rest of the economy, rather than the other way around.”

"Alan Aja, Daniel Bustillo, William Darity, Jr., and Darrick Hamilton vigorously dispute the idea that economic problems confronting blacks reflect ‘self-sabotaging attitudes and behaviors.’ They call for ‘targeted universalism’ — universal programs like ‘baby bonds’ (government accounts created at birth that would help young adults fund education, a down payment, or a small business) and a federal job guarantee — that seek to address problems suffered disproportionately by minorities.”

"Congress stands as a major obstacle to progressive policy. Amy Hanauer argues that there are significant but frequently overlooked progressive economic policies — relating to employment standards, waste removal and recycling, conservation, housing, and education — being implemented by states and cities. These efforts, while important in their own right, can also serve as a ‘blueprint for federal action.’”

"Heather Boushey’s ambitious essay advocates building a political coalition around work-family policies such as paid family and medical leave, universal child care and elder care, and an overhaul of labor law to guarantee both flexible work hours and predictable work schedules. Boushey draws on the experience of the New Deal and the Great Society, which delivered relief to workers and the poor while creating a political coalition that protected these gains. In her view, these institutions need updating to meet the needs of families where women are almost as likely to be in paid work as men.”

Dissent, Summer 2014: “Beyond Stagnation,” by By Mark Levinson and John Schmitt

Dissent Summer 2014 issue

Watch John Oliver Explain How Broken America’s Prison System Is

"On [the July 21, 2014] edition of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver continued his strong run of main stories—see, for instance, his recent segments on net neutrality and income inequality—with 17 minutes on America’s exceptionally high incarceration rate, the horrendous conditions inside many American prisons, the problems with privatization, the tastelessness of jokes about prison rape, and the disproportionate criminal penalties meted out to people of color for low-level drug offenses.”

"The riff was inspired by prison reform hearings held last week by the House Judiciary Committee, and it includes a clip from perhaps the most heartbreaking Sesame Street skit I’ve ever seen.”

Slate, July 21, 2014: “Watch John Oliver Explain How Broken America’s Prison System Is,” by David Haglund

Is Social Mobility a Myth?

[C]an anyone get ahead? With the gap between rich and poor widening to Gilded Age levels, if not beyond, lately the question has attracted even more attention than usual.”

"Vast inequality may be acceptable to most citizens if anyone, or at least anyone’s grandchild, has a fair shot at the top. But if wealth and poverty simply perpetuate themselves within families, ever wider inequality becomes ever harder to justify. In America, the debate about inequality is, inevitably, also a debate about mobility."

"Mobility is hard to measure, however, turning not just on who earns what today but on how what people earn — and what they have — relates to their parents’ income and wealth, and their grandparents’ and prior generations’ too. Economists, to their credit, are increasingly stepping up to this difficult empirical challenge. Some are tackling the politically touchy question of whether mobility is greater in America than in western-European countries."

"Others are investigating whether mobility in America has declined in recent years."

"Gregory Clark, an economic historian at the University of California at Davis, has looked at these questions through a different lens. Clark, too, finds that mobility here is no greater than in Europe, and that U.S. mobility hasn’t declined. But he comes to a more fundamental, far more powerful conclusion. Clark argues that mobility is always the same — in all societies, and in every era. Mobility, he claims, is ‘a universal constant’; over time we thrive or not according to a ‘social law of motion,’a ‘social physics of intergenerational mobility.’ And to make matters worse, the universal speed at which families and groups change their social position is slow — a lot slower than everyone thinks on the basis of previous research.”

"The implications are profound. If mobility is constant, then the ability of social institutions to affect it must be negligible."

"The fact that Clark is measuring something broader … helps explain why he estimates mobility to be so much slower. What’s actually being measured, by Clark and everyone else, is not mobility, but its opposite: the degree of persistence (in income, say) from parent to child."

"But how does Clark get at the persistence of his all-encompassing concept of status? His method relies on the tendency, in most societies, for a son to bear his father’s surname (hence his book’s title: The Son Also Rises). Specifically, Clark measures the persistence of status by looking at what has happened over time to groups of people bearing names that, at some point in the past — generations or even centuries ago — indicated socioeconomic status either well above or well below that of the general population.”

"[T]he advantage of looking at surnames is twofold. First, it enormously increases the spans of time Clark can study—up to 900 years in some of his English examples. Second, it allows him to examine countries, like India, where the kinds of directly linked parent-and-child data other researchers use aren’t available and may not be for decades, if ever."

"No doubt economists and others will debate the relative merits of Clark’s method, along with what he’s trying to measure. But the important question is whether mobility is as slow as he says — and whether it really is a ‘universal constant.’ Those claims are well worth taking seriously, in part because his more comprehensive notion of socioeconomic status — a concept economists typically don’t try to grapple with — does seem like what really matters."

The Atlantic, June 25, 2014: “What’s in a Name? Everything.,” by Benjamin M. Friedman

Princeton University Press: “The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility,” by Gregory Clark

The Economist, February 1, 2014: “Have and have not”

Minds that Matter

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"A new policy, released today, aims to provide user-friendly guidance on how to define, assess, handle and resolve human rights issues related to mental health and addiction disabilities. The Policy on preventing discrimination based on mental health disabilities and addictions was released by the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC).”

"The Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code) protects people with mental health disabilities and addictions from discrimination and harassment under the ground of “disability.” The Code makes it public policy in Ontario to recognize the inherent dignity and worth of every person and to provide for equal rights and opportunities without discrimination.".

OHRC, July 18, 2014: “New OHRC Policy addresses human rights for people with mental health or addiction disabilities”

Ontario Human rights Commission, July 18, 2014: “Minds that Matter: Report on the consultation on human rights, mental health and addictions” (150 pages, PDF)

Canadian Seniors: Some Are Wealthy While Others Need to Work

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"Higher incomes and net worth are helping make this generation of seniors four times wealthier than their parents were, and nine times richer than today’s millennials, according to a study of seniors’ household finances by Sal Guatieri, a senior economist at the Bank of Montreal."

"At the same time, the country’s work force of employees aged 65 and over has doubled to more than 13 per cent since 1984."

"As more seniors have sought to remain in the workplace, it has become harder for them to find work. The job market is increasingly competitive for seniors, leading to an unemployment rate of 4 per cent, up from 2.3 per cent 30 years ago, Mr. Guatieri noted."

The Globe and Mail, July 14, 2014: “Canadian seniors better off but still want to work,” by Jacqueline Nelson.

BMO, Capital Markets, July 11, 2014: Household Finances: “Are Today’s: Seniors Better Off Than Before?” by Sal Guatieri

Minimum Wages Creep Back to 1975 Level

"A minimum wage job pays roughly the same now as it did in 1975 after fluctuating lower in the 1980s and 1990s, according to a study by Statistics Canada."

"The average minimum wage in Canada in 2013 was $10.14 an hour, while the 1975 minimum wage expressed in today’s dollars averaged out to $10.13."

"That means workers in minimum wage jobs have gained only a penny an hour in purchasing power in 40 years, said Erin Weir, an economist with the United Steelworkers."

"Many provinces have now indexed minimum wage to inflation, meaning those working for the lowest wages won’t fall further behind, but Weir said there is no reason provincial governments can’t raise their minimum wages by more than inflation."

“‘Another point would be to improve labour legislation to make it more practical for workers to join unions and bargain collectively for better wages,’ he said.”

"Business leaders say that raising the minimum wage leads to fewer job opportunities… But more people made minimum wage in 2013 than 15 years ago, according to Statistics Canada – about 6.7 per cent of the workforce, compared to five per cent in 1997."

"Young workers, the less-educated and those who work part-time were most likely to be paid minimum wage."

CBC News, July 16, 2014: “Minimum wages creep back to 1975 level”

The Globe and Mail, July 16, 2014: “Real minimum wages in Canada haven’t budged in almost four decades,” by Michael Babad

Statistics Canada’s The Daily, July 16, 2014: “Study: The ups and downs of minimum wage, 1975 to 2013

No Outside Advice Sought For Drafting of Canadian Prostitution Bill

"The federal government’s prostitution bill is vulnerable to a constitutional challenge, a Canadian lawyers group says – a warning that comes as Justice Minister Peter MacKay revealed the government wrote the bill without outside legal opinions but expects it to pass muster."

"MPs returned to Ottawa Monday [July 7, 2014] for hearings on Bill C-36, tabled after the Supreme Court struck down Canada’s existing prostitution laws seven months ago because they violated the Charter rights of sex workers. Monday’s testimony included calls to amend or scrap the bill entirely, including those from sex workers’ rights advocates, and support of the bill. C-36 largely criminalizes the purchase of sex, rather than the sale, but also places restrictions on where sex workers can advertise or solicit clients."

"Much of the debate dealt with the bill’s constitutionality. Mr. MacKay, who on Monday dismissed calls to refer the bill pre-emptively to the Supreme Court, said he’d sought no outside legal opinions on the matter …."

"The question of Charter compliance looms large in that it would leave the government once again rewriting the law. Leonardo S. Russomanno, speaking on behalf of Canada’s Criminal Lawyers’ Association, told the committee the bill is vulnerable to a challenge."

“‘It really comes down to whether [C-36] would survive a section one [Charter] challenge. And, in my view, it would fail to do so on the basis it’s not proportionate at all,’ Mr. Russomanno told MPs, adding the bill will drive sex workers underground and ‘utterly fails’ to protect them.”

The Globe and Mail, July 7, 2014: “No outside advice sought when drafting prostitution bill, MacKay says,” Josh Wingrove

Pivot Legal Society, July 07, 2014: “Hundreds of legal experts call on federal government to reconsider proposed prostitution laws,” by

Prostitution bill back in the spotlight at Justice committee,”

Cheap at Sea, Pricey on the Plate: The Voodoo of Lobster Economics

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Amid an unprecendent glut, Larry the doomed lobster is followed from a Nova Scotia trap to a Toronto table.

"To the best of my recollection, Larry the Lobster showed up in one of Lloyd Robicheau’s traps some time between dawn and 8 a.m. on a Tuesday. My memory of the event is impaired because at the time I was either vomiting overboard or lying in the hold of The Master Rebel, Lloyd’s boat. We were seven kilometres out to sea on a rare gorgeous June day, the eastern shore of Nova Scotia a long eyebrow in the distance, and Lloyd Robicheau had been saying what he often says: ‘In the lobster racket, sooner or later you’re going to get bit.’”

"In 2013, Atlantic Canada was responsible for 68,000 tonnes, or just over half, of the 131,500 tonnes of lobster landed on the east coast of North America last year. And for the 160 fishermen in Lobster Fishing Area 32 off the coast near Dartmouth, N.S., this year’s annual nine-week lobster season (April 19 to June 20) has been breathtaking. So much lobster had been landed in Nova Scotia by the second week of June that the shore price dropped to $3.50 a pound, which was why everyone was so cranky. I’d been calling it a glut until a couple of local exporters begged me to refer to a “bountiful harvest” instead. They didn’t want their customers to think lobster was cheap."

"To a lobster enthusiast, of course, cheap lobster sounds like a good, i.e. delicious, thing. But it never materializes. There is a voodoo to lobster economics. What used to be poor man’s fare, the fallback meal of people too impoverished to afford anything else, is now a billion dollar business and a universal mark of luxury – with the result that a lobster that sells for $3.50 on the wharf can cost $60 and more on a restaurant plate in New York or Toronto or Shanghai, regardless of how many lobsters are pulled from the sea. How this happens is the life story of Larry the Lobster."

Read more.

The Globe and Mail, July 11, 2014: “Cheap at sea, pricey on the plate: The voodoo of lobster economics,” by Ian Brown

Canadian Jobs Recovery Has Stalled

"The Canadian Labour Congress says that, despite the rosy picture painted by Conservative politicians in a new social media campaign, millions of Canadians are struggling to find full time jobs that pay decently. So far this year the working age population (15-64) has been growing 6 times faster than employment among working age Canadians."

“‘The truth is that the jobs recovery has stalled,’ said Yussuff. ‘Our governments talk about investing in jobs, but they haven’t taken constructive action. It’s time for governments to provide deliberate labour market strategies that will allow people to find full-time, meaningful work.’”

"Yussuff was commenting on the release by Statistics Canada of its Labour Force Survey for June 2014. There were 1,369,500 unemployed Canadians in June, and the overall unemployment rate inched higher to 7.1%. In the 15-to-24 age group, unemployment stood at 13.4%, and 48.3% of young workers are employed part-time."

"The rate of underemployment rate was much higher at 14.3% overall and 28.8% for young workers.  ‘There are more workers underemployed than there are unemployed in our country,’ Yussuff says. ‘That is an indictment of how the economy is failing Canadians. Too many remain at the margins of our labour force and our society.’"

Canadian Labour Congress, July 11, 2014: “CLC says jobs recovery has stalled: Hassan Yussuff comments on job numbers for June”

Statistics Canada’s The Daily, July 11, 2014: “Labour Force Survey, June 2014

Closing the Race Gap

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On June 25, 2014 “Young Invincibles released a new report, titled Closing the Race Gap, that takes an unprecedented look at the driving forces behind racial disparities in the job market.”

"The report finds that young African Americans need two more levels of education than their young white counterparts to have the same chance at employment. For example, young African American adults need to earn an associate’s degree to have the same job prospects as young white adults with just a high school degree. The report also details a series of policy recommendations that Congress should consider as it prepares to reauthorize the Higher Education Act."

"Rory O’Sullivan, deputy director of Young Invincibles, said, ‘We were startled to see just how much more education young African Americans must get in order to have the same chance at landing a job as their white peers. On the other hand, young African Americans receive greater gains in job prospects for each level of education they complete, making it clear that we can reduce racial disparities by increasing access to education for everyone.’"

Young Invincibles, June 25, 2014: “Young Invincibles Releases New Report on Racial Inequality in Education, and Its Impact on Job Prospects and Wages”

Young Invincibles, June 2014: “Closing the Race Gap: Alleviating Young African American Unemployment Through Education,” by Rory O’Sullivan, Konrad Mugglestone, and Tom Allison (25 pages, PDF)

Changing Work and Work-Family Conflict

"A 2014 study published in the American Sociological Review, “Changing Work and Work-Family Conflict: Evidence from the Work, Family and Health Network,” looks at the effects of a program that shifts control over the work schedule from managers to employees. The study sought to test an intervention that would increase employees’ control over their work schedules."

"The intervention… provided training to managers aimed at building supportiveness for workers’ personal lives. In addition to the trainings, employees and managers met several times to discuss changes in work practices that would allow for more schedule flexibility."

"The study’s findings include:

  • Compared to the control group, employees in the intervention group reported less conflict between their work and family lives as well as higher levels of supervisor support for their personal lives.
  • Employees in the intervention group experienced a substantial increase in the average amount of time worked at home, which rose from 10.2 hours per week before the intervention to 19.6 hours per week at the six-month follow-up period. Hours worked at home also rose for the control group, although the increase was not as large (10.8 hours per week vs. 12.3 hours per week).
  • There was no evidence suggesting that the schedule control intervention increased either the psychological demands of the job or the number of weekly hours employees had to work.
  • Employees who were part of “sandwich generation” families reported the largest reduction in work-family conflict as a result of the intervention.”

"As for the study’s findings more generally, the authors conclude: ‘We provide the first experimental evidence that workplace interventions can reduce work-family conflict among employees and change work resources, specifically increasing employees’ control over the time and timing of their work and the support they receive from supervisors for their family and personal lives. We find clear evidence of benefits for employees, with regard to improvements in schedule control, supervisor support for family and personal life, work-family conflict, and family time adequacy over six months, although the magnitude of change is modest.’"

Journalist’s Resource, June 9, 2014: “Changing work and work-family conflict: A randomized control trial,” by Justin Feldman

American Sociological Review, May 4, 2014: “Changing Work and Work-Family Conflict: Evidence from the Work, Family, and Health Network,” by Erin L. Kelly et. al.

Click here to download the full-text version (33 pages, PDF)