Censoring the Working Class

Kathy M. Newman Carnegie Mellon University

Does the first amendment work the same for all Americans? What kind of freedoms do working people have to read, look at, and say what they want? The subject is on my mind this month as I gear up to host a series of Banned Books Week events in Pittsburgh.

Banned Books Week started in 1982 when First Amendment crusader and super librarian Judith Krug was asked by the American Booksellers Association to organize some events highlighting controversial books. The ABA had noticed a sharp increase in the number of challenges made to books in the early years of the Reagan presidency. Krug’s initiative was so successful that Banned Books Week is still going strong at 37 years.

While it is extremely rare in modern American history for a book to be banned or censored by any branch of the US government, organizations like the American Library Association (ALA) track the hundreds of challenges that individual citizens—frequently in their role as parents—make to public libraries, school libraries, and books included in a particular K-12 curriculum. A typical case is the most recent challenge to the Harry Potter series at a Catholic school in Tennessee. The popular books were removed from Nashville’s St. Edward Catholic School library because the school’s priest claimed that they encouraged children to cast evil spells. You can see the most frequently challenged books of 2018 here.

A quick perusal of the ALA Banned Books site shows that books featuring working-class characters and/or politically left/radical messages frequently find their way onto the banned and challenged list. This is because, as banned book scholar Emily Knox has argued, “banned books are diverse books.” Popular books by and/or about women, people of color, LGBTQ and working-class people are more at risk of being challenged and banned.

Possibly the most famous case of book banning in American history involves involved John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath—the pitiful story about a family of “Okies” displaced by the 1930s Dustbowl who migrated to Kern County, CA to work in the orchards. In 1939, despite the fact that Grapes of Wrath was a best seller, the Kern County Board of Supervisors voted 4 to 1 to ban the novel from the county’s libraries and schools. An intrepid librarian, Gretchen Knief, tried to fight the ban. Though she failed, her efforts resulted in the creation of a Library Bill of Rights which has protected many other books from a similar fate.

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Payrolls slow and the trade war is hurting manufacturing. But underlying job market still solid.

Jared Bernstein

Jared Bernstein Senior Fellow, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Payrolls rose by 130,000 last month and the unemployment rate held at 3.7 percent, close to a 50-year low and the same level as the past 3 months. Still, job growth is cooling (25,000 of this month’s gains were temporary decennial Census workers), as the pace of monthly gains, while still strong enough to support low unemployment, has slowed. Wage growth also stayed parked at about where it has been in recent months, and there’s some evidence that the trade war is taking a toll on factory jobs. However, the job market remains strong, real wages are growing, and consumer spending will continue to be supported by these dynamics.

The slowdown in payrolls

To get a clearer take on the underlying trend in job growth, our monthly smoother shows the average monthly gain over 3, 6, and 12-month periods. This month, however, we add an extra bar to our usual smoother, as we believe it is important to begin to incorporate a recent BLS revision, based on more accurate jobs data, into our assessment of the US job market. This preliminary benchmark revision estimates that employers added 500,000 fewer jobs to US payrolls between April of 2018 and March of 2019 (BLS will officially wedge their final estimate into the payroll data by Feb 2020). The second bar includes the result of this revision, showing that over the past year, payroll growth was likely closer to 150K per month than 175K per month.

To be sure, this is still solid payroll growth at this stage of the expansion and as noted below, in tandem with real wage growth, it’s strong enough job growth to support the recovery and keep unemployment around where it is. However, using the preliminary revised data, the pace of payroll gains has slowed from 1.6% last year to 1.3% this year. Clearly, that’s not a big deceleration, and it’s also not unexpected in a job market closing in on full employment. But it is a slower trend which I expect to persist.

The trade war

The trade war that the Trump administration has been waging is clearly taking a toll on the global economy. While its impact is greater in countries more exposed to trade, like Germany, than the US, our manufacturers have been hit by these new taxes (tariffs) on their imported inputs and by retaliatory tariffs on their exports. To what extent is this showing up in factory employment, hours, and wages?

Manufacturing employment has slowed since the Trump administration began ramping up tariffs at the beginning of last year. Last month, factory jobs rose just 3K and durable manufacturing employment was unchanged. Thus far this year, the factory sector has added 5.5K jobs per month on average, compared to 22K for all of last year.

The product of manufacturing employment and weekly hours yields the aggregate hour index for the sector, a very good proxy for labor demand. The next figure looks at the year-over-year change in this index for blue collar and for all manufacturing workers. Starting about a year ago, a clear deceleration is evident, and for the non-managers—who comprise about 70 percent of the sector’s employment—total hours worked have outright declined in recent months (relative to a year ago).

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Tax The Rich Before The Rest

Chuck Collins

Chuck Collins Director, Program on Inequality, Institute for Policy Studies

Presidential candidates should take a pledge: The middle class should not pay one dollar more in new taxes until the super-rich pay their fair share.

Already candidates are outlining ambitious programs to improve health care, combat climate change, and address the opioid crisis — and trying to explain how they’ll pay for it.

President Trump, on the other hand, wants to give corporations and the richest 1 percent more tax breaks to keep goosing a lopsided economic boom — even as deficit hawks moan about the exploding national debt and annual deficits topping $1 trillion.

Eventually someone is going to have to pay the bills. If history is a guide, the first to pay will be the broad middle class, thanks to lobbyists pulling the strings for the wealthy and big corporations.

Here’s a different idea: Whatever spending plan is put forward, the first $1 trillion in new tax revenue should come exclusively from multi-millionaires and billionaires.

Four decades of stagnant wages plus runaway housing and health care costs have clobbered the middle class. In an economy with staggering inequalities — the income and wealth gaps are at their widest level in a century — the middle class shouldn’t be hit up a penny more until the rich pay up.

The biggest winners of the last decade, in terms of income and wealth growth, have not been even the richest 1 percent, but the richest one-tenth of 1 percent. This 0.1 percent includes households with incomes over $2.4 million, and wealth starting at $32 million.

They own more wealth than the bottom 80 percent combined. Yet these multi-millionaires and billionaires have seen their taxes decline over the decades, in part because the tax code favors wealth over work.

This richest 0.1 percent receives two-thirds of their income from investments, while most working families have little capital income and depend on wages. But our rigged system taxes most investment income from wealth at a top rate of about 24 percent — considerably lower than the top 37 percent rate for work.

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Wage growth is weak for a tight labor market—and the pace of wage growth is uneven across race and gender

By Elise Gould and Valerie Wilson 

The Federal Reserve’s decision to lower interest rates by one quarter of one percent at the end of July sends an important message about the current state of the labor market. Nominal wage growth is nowhere near the level at which the Fed is seriously concerned about upward pressure on inflation. The lack of consistently strong wage growth is one of the remaining weaknesses of the labor market; nominal wage growth has stalled in 2019, even though the national unemployment rate has been at or below 4% for more than a year. The last time unemployment fell to 4% and below for an extended period of time—in the late 1990s—wage growth was much stronger across the board, as we describe below.

Wage growth overall is much weaker than it was in the late 1990s

Figure A compares rates of median wage growth over the five-year periods from 1996 to 2000 and 2015 to 2019, by race and gender. This chart shows that during the latter years of the 1990s, median wages grew by more than 9% for all groups shown—black and white men, as well as black and white women. Median wage growth overall was 8.9% from 1996 to 2000 and 5.9% from 2015 to 2019. (The overall numbers include data for racial/ethnic groups not represented in Figure A.

While white men have seen the most wage growth between 2015 and 2019 (a cumulative 6.6%), even that pales in comparison with the lowest rate of growth seen by any group during the earlier period, between 1996 and 2000—which was 9.2% among black women. The last five years of the current recovery, when unemployment rates were closest to those during 1996–2000, has produced only a meager 4.7% increase in the median wage of black women, 5.0% among black men, and 6.4% among white women.

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Is Manufacturing Slowing Down?

Matthew McMullan

Matthew McMullan Communications Manager, Alliance for American Manufacturing

There was new ISM data released today. And it wasn’t good. Oh no!

The Institute for Supply Management (ISM)’s monthly index is considered a pretty good gauge of activity in the U.S. manufacturing sector. ISM goes around, asks a bunch of folks whether they’re buying supplies or not, and averages them (and their comments) out. A score above 50% is good. Below is bad – it suggests a contraction in manufacturing activity. Anyway, it’s now at 49.1%.

This is no guarantee the manufacturing sector is about to slip. Somebody on the Internet who is paid to do economic analysis pointed out:

Meanwhile, another important gauge of the manufacturing sector’s health – employment data – will be out this Friday when the jobs report comes out.

But look, let's say this is fraying your nerves. The trade fight with China is dragging a little bit, the fight seems to be a drag on manufacutirng, and President Trump seems to be trying to influence it all by tweet.

Is there something Congress could do … that polls well … that Trump himself says (or at least implies) he wants … and is incredibly overdue … that could help improve the fortunes of the American manufacturing sector?

Infra … infrastruct … I can’t think of the word!

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Reposted from AAM

China’s Government-Owned CRRC Just Bought a German Locomotives Factory

Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch

Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch Digital Media Director, Alliance for American Manufacturing

An interesting little story from Europe popped up in our news alerts on Tuesday morning.

It seems that Vossloh, a German rail technology company, is divesting its locomotives business so it can focus on rail infrastructure.

Normally, we here at the Alliance for American Manufacturing wouldn’t pay much attention to the business dealings of a German manufacturer like Vossloh. But what caught our eye was who ended up buying Vossloh’s locomotives unit: China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation Ltd (CRRC).

Nikkei Asian Review reports:

“CRRC, the Chinese state company that is the world’s largest train maker, is set to gain a key foothold in Europe by acquiring its first factory on the continent… Vossloh announced Monday that it would sell a locomotive factory it opened last year to CRRC Zhuzhou Locomotive, a subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed CRRC.”

If you aren't familar with CRRC, it is a massive Chinese government-owned conglomerate with deep ties to the Chinese communist party. CRRC is a key player in the government’s “Made in China 2025” initiative, in which China is aiming to dominate sectors of the global industrial economy, including rail manufacturing.

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Even Big Oil doesn’t like the EPA’s methane rollback

E.A. Crunden

E.A. Crunden Reporter, ThinkProgress

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday announced it will reverse Obama-era limitations on the greenhouse gas methane, which is far more potent than carbon dioxide and often associated with fracking.

In a statement Thursday, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the Trump administration will remove “unnecessary and duplicative regulatory burdens from the oil and gas industry” by slashing methane regulations.

A number of major fossil fuel corporations have objected to the rollback, however, even as the oil and gas lobby more broadly has played a key role in securing the move. Meanwhile, environmental activists and public-health experts have expressed alarm at the potential impacts of loosening methane regulations.

Under existing rules, fossil fuel companies must closely monitor methane leaks while undergoing frequent inspections. The new rules would undo these processes. The Trump administration argued that the federal government overstepped its authority with the Obama-era regulations.

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Raising the federal minimum wage isn’t just the right thing to do for workers—it’s also good for the economy

David Cooper

David Cooper Senior Economic Analyst, EPI

Raising the federal minimum wage, which has now lapsed for the longest ever period without an increase, will benefit millions of low income workers and lift more than one million Americans out of poverty.

There is widespread agreement in the economics profession these days that, in contrast to outdated textbook theories, higher minimum wages have done exactly what they’re supposed to do: raise pay for low-wage workers with little, if any, effect on employment.

That’s why it was surprising to see Mitch Albom, a millionaire fiction author and sports columnist, argue so vocally and misguidedly against the prospect of an increase in a recent opinion piece in the Detroit Free Press.

The Raise the Wage Act, which boosts the minimum wage from the current paltry $7.25 per hour to $15 an hour by 2025, has passed the House of Representatives, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to even bring it up for a vote in the Senate.

Disappointingly, Albom repeats a lot of conservative tropes that have little foundation in evidence or data.

Let’s start with his premise: Albom takes Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib to task for proposing that the minimum wage should actually be raised to $20.

“While raising people out of poverty should be a top priority, getting folks excited about a $20-an-hour minimum wage is not only irresponsible, it’s not well thought out,” Albom writes.

“You can force businesses to raise wages, but you can’t force them to keep workers. And study after study, expert after expert, shows that, eventually, the higher the wages demanded, the fewer positions there will be.”

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Military Leaders: Ban Buses & Rail Cars from Chinese State-Owned or Controlled Firms

Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch

Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch Digital Media Director, Alliance for American Manufacturing

We’ve been sounding the alarm about the risks that come with allowing Chinese government-owned or controlled companies to build U.S. transit systems like rail cars and buses (and with U.S. taxpayer dollars, natch). 

But hey, don’t take it from us. How about you take the word of four Admirals? And 10 Generals? Oh, and also a former Secretary of the Navy?

Fifteen military leaders wrote to the House and Senate armed services committees this week to urge Members to back legislation to ban companies owned or controlled by the Chinese government from building taxpayer-funded rail cars or buses.

The leaders are particularly concerned about China’s growing dominance in the electric vehicle (EV) sector, writing that China “seeks to gain strategic advantages… by providing aggressive government subsidies to Chinese corporations to lower prices to win business, undermining principles of fair competition and competitive markets.”

They continue:

“If China captures the EV market, the United States’ opportunity to enhance energy security by divorcing itself from an unstable global market merely swaps our reliance on one volatile oil market for a dependence on Beijing for our EVs. Moreover, the infiltration of Chinese technology into the EV sector raises substantial cybersecurity risks that may be difficult to assess and address.”

There’s growing concern on Capitol Hill about China’s role in building U.S. transit, and legislation included in the Defense authorization bill (NDAA) passed by both the Senate and the House before the August recess aims to tackle it.

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It’s the beginning of the school year and teachers are once again opening up their wallets to buy school supplies

Emma Garcia

Emma Garcia Economist, EPI

It’s the beginning of the school year, a time of eager anticipation and hopeful expectations. Amid the excitement, parents are engaged in practical tasks, including opening their wallets to stock their children’s backpacks with school supplies. Teachers, too, are gearing up to go back to their classrooms by opening their wallets to buy classroom supplies. An overwhelming majority of them—more than nine out of 10—will not be reimbursed for what they spend on supplies over the school year, according to survey data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

The nation’s K–12 public school teachers shell out, on average, $459 on school supplies for which they are not reimbursed (adjusted for inflation to 2018 dollars), according to the NCES 2011–2012 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS). This figure does not include the dollars teachers spend but are reimbursed for by their school districts. The $459-per-teacher average is for all teachers, including the small (4.9%) share who do not spend any of their own money on school supplies.

Unlike the data from the more recent 2015–2016 survey (now called National Teacher and Principal Survey or NTPS), the 2011–2012 SASS microdata provide state-by-state information, allowing us to see how much teachers spend on supplies by state. The map below shows the inflation-adjusted state-by-state spending. We know that the figures in the map are not an atypical high driven by the Great Recession because the 2011–2012 spending levels are lower than spending levels in the 2015–2016 NTPS data. The figure after the map shows that teachers’ unreimbursed school supply spending has actually increased overall since the recovery.

So how much do teachers in each state and the District of Columbia spend—unreimbursed—on supplies? The map shows a wide variation, with teachers on average spending $327 in North Dakota on the low end of the spectrum and $664 in California on the high end.

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