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Labor unions and the defense of American democracy: The fight over ballot drop boxes during the 2022 midterm elections

December 20, 2023

This report analyzes the relationship between local labor union densityand access to ballot drop boxes during the 2022 midterm elections. Areas with greaterlabor union density had considerably more ballot drop boxes per capita than areaswith less density.

Power in partnership: How government agencies and community partners are joining forces to fight wage theft

June 8, 2023

In the face of widespread wage violations and limited resources, some labor enforcement agencies have created community enforcement programs to bolster their reach and improve effectiveness. Such programs have been implemented at the federal, state, and local levels. In these programs, worker and community-based organizations (CBOs) receive public funding to assist labor agencies in a range of functions, including most often providing education and outreach to marginalized worker communities and referring cases to enforcement agencies.This report:Explains the concept of community enforcement programsReviews the policy rationales for such programs, both for government enforcement agencies and for worker organizations/workersExplores existing and potential roles that community organizations can play in relation to labor standards enforcementIdentifies decision points for designing publicly funded community enforcement programsExplores additional methods to ensure worker input into enforcement operations and policymakingIdentifies potential public funding sources for community enforcement programsIdentifies areas for further researchProvides snapshots of a number of existing programs (Appendix A)Provides links to sample Requests for Proposals (RFPs) and other program materials from various jurisdictions (Appendix B)

Congress should vote against overturning an updated rule that protects farmworkers from being underpaid

June 6, 2023

The Congressional Review Act (CRA) is a law that gives members of Congress the ability to pass resolutions to overturn many rules and regulations made by federal agencies. As early as this week, members of Congress are likely to begin voting on a resolution to derail a wage rule for migrant farmworkers in the H-2A visa program that was recently updated by the U.S. Department of Labor, known as the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR).The intent of the AEWR is to protect wages and working conditions for all farmworkers and prevent farm employers from using the H-2A visa program as a loophole to underpay their workers. A vote to rescind the AEWR would be a terrible outcome. Why? It will hurt the farmworkers that help put food on all our tables by cutting their pay—even though most already earn very low wages, and many are living in poverty.

Many older workers have difficult jobs that put them at risk

May 17, 2023

There is a looming retirement crisis in the United States. Millions of people are entering their retirement years with insufficient savings to cover basic expenses and medical bills. In response, some policymakers have proposed that older Americans could delay retirement to increase their savings. This solution, however, overlooks the large group of older Americans who work in difficult conditions—ranging from the physically demanding to the outright dangerous. If older Americans endure difficult conditions that often force earlier exits from the workplace, proposals to delay retirement make little sense.Supporting workers' access to jobs that pay fair wages and provide solid benefits during their prime working years is a more effective way to close the retirement savings gap than forcing workers to delay retirement. To ensure older workers can afford to retire when they need to, policymakers must: provide support for workers with caregiving responsibilities, expand Social Security coverage and benefits, and bolster health and safety protections in the workplace.

The economics of abortion bans: Abortion bans, low wages, and public underinvestment are interconnected economic policy tools to disempower and control workers

January 18, 2023

Abortion has long been framed as a cultural, religious, or personal issue rather than a material "bread and butter" economic concern. Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, more economic policymakers have been emphasizing the issue as a pressing economic concern. In perhaps the first public comment on the issue by a major political figure, Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen noted: "eliminating the right of women to make decisions about when and whether to have children would have very damaging effects on the economy and would set women back decades" (Guida 2022). This direct connection between abortion and reproductive access and economic rights is critical (Banerjee 2022). This report argues that abortion access is fundamentally intertwined with economic progress and mobility. Specifically, in states where abortion has been banned or restricted, abortion restrictions constitute an additional piece in a sustained project of economic subjugation and disempowerment.The states banning abortion rights have, over decades, intentionally constructed an economic policy architecture defined by weak labor standards, underfunded and purposefully dysfunctional public services, and high levels of incarceration. Through a cross-sectional quantitative analysis of state level abortion access status and five indicators of economic security—the minimum wage, unionization, unemployment insurance, Medicaid expansion, and incarceration—we find that, generally, the states enacting abortion bans are the same ones that are economically disempowering workers through other channels.The results of the analysis underscore that abortion restrictions and bans do have economic effects, given the strong correlation between abortion status and various economic wellbeing metrics. Further, the consistent pattern of state abortion bans and negative economic outcomes shows how abortion fits into an economics and politics of control. Abortion restrictions are planks in a policy regime of disempowerment and control over workers' autonomy and livelihoods, just like deliberately low wage standards, underfunded social services, or restricted collective bargaining power. Economic policymakers must prioritize this issue as widespread abortion bans will contribute to a loss in economic security and independence for millions in the current and future generations.

The Older Workers and Retirement Chartbook

November 16, 2022

The Older Workers and Retirement Chartbook shows the risks to retirement security and disparities in retirement preparedness, and explores the links between labor market challenges facing older workers and retirement insecurity.Updated February 9, 2023The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the plight of many older U.S. workers who cannot afford to retire yet are stuck in bad jobs or forced to leave the labor force before they're ready.The Older Workers and Retirement Chartbook from the Economic Policy Institute and the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis documents the risks and disparities in retirement preparedness among demographic groups. It offers a comprehensive look at the connections between labor market challenges facing older workers and retirement insecurity, using 33 charts to bring light to the problem.Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 4 in 10 Americans 55 and older were in the labor force, their highest participation rate in a half-century, the chartbook finds. The upward trend in labor force participation in recent decades reflects in part greater opportunities for older workers who want to keep working—but it also reflects retirement insecurity among some workers. The authors document how many older workers who cannot afford to retire face diminishing job quality and earnings due to a loss of bargaining power."Workers may work longer to close the retirement income gap, but this is neither a fair nor a realistic solution to a broken retirement system," says Monique Morrissey, EPI economist and co-author of the report. "Policy choices have weakened unions, eroded the real value of the minimum wage, and allowed employers to shift more responsibility for retirement onto workers. These all contribute to older workers' declining bargaining power."Black, Hispanic, women, disabled, and LGBTQ workers are at greater risk of hardship at older ages because of systemic problems. Black and Hispanic workers are more likely to lack access to retirement plans or have access to less generous plans. Lower lifetime earnings make it harder for workers of color, women, and people with disabilities to save for retirement. Women's greater caregiving responsibilities and longer life spans also put them at higher risk of old-age poverty despite closing the retirement plan coverage gap with men. LGBTQ seniors face adverse effects of past and present discrimination, including less access to spousal benefits."Everyone faces significant risks as they age, even well-off Americans," explains report co-author Siavash Radpour. "It is unrealistic to expect all older workers to save enough to guard against the possibility of losing their jobs, retiring during a market downturn, being widowed or divorced, or incurring expensive medical or long-term care needs."The authors outline several targeted policies that can improve the lives of older workers, including:Enforcing age discrimination laws;Expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit to help more adults without dependent children;Lowering employer health care costs for older workers;Changing performance metrics used to evaluate training programs that lead them to favor enrolling younger workers;Creating a dedicated Older Workers Bureau in the Department of Labor to help identify and address challenges facing older workers.But targeted policies are only one part of the solution. "Retirement insecurity comes from systemic problems, and these require systemic solutions," Barbara Schuster, co-author of the chartbook, explains. "Improving working conditions for all workers is vitally important, as is strengthening social insurance programs that offer critical protections."Broader policies include:Pursuing full-employment macroeconomic policies;Protecting workers' right to collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions;Raising the minimum wage;Enacting paid leave and scheduling policies to ensure workers can take time to care for themselves and their families;Increasing caregiver supports;Fixing the patchwork unemployment system;Better protecting workers from injury and illness;Expanding and removing barriers to accessing Social Security and SSI benefits;Ensuring access to affordable health care and long-term care.

As the H-2B visa program grows, the need for reforms that protect workers is greater than ever

August 18, 2022

What this report finds: The H-2B program—which allows U.S. employers to hire migrant workers for temporary and seasonal jobs—is growing and will reach its largest size ever in 2022. At the same time, mass violations of wage and hour laws are being committed in the industries that employ H-2B workers. Department of Labor data show that nearly $1.8 billion was stolen from workers employed in the main H-2B industries (which includes both U.S. and migrant workers) between 2000 and 2021.Why it matters: The Biden administration has been increasing the size of the H-2B program while H-2B workers are in a vulnerable situation. Their precarious immigration status makes it difficult for them to complain when their employers break the law. This report is timely because the Biden administration is currently considering new changes to the H-2B program.What can be done about it: The Biden administration can issue new regulations that protect H-2B workers and that screen out and prohibit employers from hiring through H-2B if they have a track record of violating wage and hour and labor laws. The administration can also issue new rules to protect workers from employer retaliation and can issue better wage rules.

Racial and ethnic disparities in the United States: An interactive chartbook

June 17, 2022

This interactive chartbook provides a statistical snapshot of race and ethnicity in the United States, depicting racial/ethnic disparities observed through: (1) population demographics; (2) civic engagement; (3) labor market outcomes; (4) income, poverty, and wealth; and (5) health. The chartbook also highlights some notable intersections of gender with race and ethnicity, including educational attainment, labor force participation, life expectancy, and maternal mortality. The findings are bracing, as they show how much more work we need to do to address longstanding and persistent racial inequities. Most charts include data for five racial/ethnic groups in each of the charts—white, Black, Hispanic, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI), and American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN). In the charts and text, "Americans" refers to all U.S. residents, regardless of citizenship status.As these efforts illustrate, collecting and maintaining data sources that are representative of the entire U.S. population is an essential first step toward overcoming the invisibility, neglect, and lack of understanding experienced by many communities of color. Future work on this project will involve identifying comparable data from alternative sources that fill in as much of the missing information in the chartbook as possible.Click "Download" to view this online, interactive resource.

Unions are not only good for workers, they’re good for communities and for democracy

December 15, 2021

We know that unions promote economic equality and build worker power, helping workers to win increases in pay, better benefits, and safer working conditions.But that's not all unions do. Unions also have powerful effects on workers' lives outside of work.In this report, we document the correlation between higher levels of unionization in states and a range of economic, personal, and democratic well-being measures. In the same way unions give workers a voice at work, with a direct impact on wages and working conditions, the data suggest that unions also give workers a voice in shaping their communities. Where workers have this power, states have more equitable economic structures, social structures, and democracies.

New evidence of widespread wage theft in the H-1B visa program

December 9, 2021

Thousands of skilled migrants with H-1B visas working as subcontractors at well-known corporations like Disney, FedEx, Google, and others appear to have been underpaid by at least $95 million. Victims include not only the H-1B workers but also the U.S. workers who are either displaced or whose wages and working conditions degrade when employers are allowed to underpay skilled migrant workers with impunity. The workers in question were employed by HCL Technologies, an India-based IT staffing firm that earned $11 billion in revenue last year. HCL profits by placing workers on temporary H-1B work visas at many top companies. The H-1B statute requires that employers pay their H-1B workers no less than the actual wage paid to their similarly employed U.S. workers. But EPI analysis of an internal HCL document, released as part of a whistleblower lawsuit against the firm, shows that large-scale illegal underpayment of H-1B workers is a core part of the firm's competitive strategy.The Department of Labor should launch a sweeping investigation into whether companies are systematically underpaying H-1B workers in violation of the law. If violations are found, penalties should be imposed that are significant enough to deter all H-1B employers from such behavior. DOL should also close the outsourcing loophole that supports the outsourcing business model by requiring both direct employers like HCL and the secondary employers that use H-1B staffing firms to attest that they will comply with H-1B wage rules. DOL and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should take additional measures to ensure the H-1B program achieves its purpose of filling genuine labor market gaps. Such measures include raising minimum wages to realistic market levels, allocating H-1B visas to workers with the highest skills and wages, and adopting a compliance system that ensures program accountability and integrity. Finally, the Department of Justice's (DOJ) Civil Division, in conjunction with DOL and DHS, should vigorously prosecute visa fraud under the False Claims Act, consistent with a recent federal court decision applying the False Claims Act to H-1B visa fraud.

Nonstandard Work Arrangements and Older Americans, 2005–2017

February 28, 2019

Nonstandard or alternative employment relations refer to employment by a temporary help agency or contract company or as an on-call worker or day laborer. We refer to these nonstandard employment relations (which involve an employer and employee) and independent contracting collectively as nonstandard or alternative work arrangements in this report. Contingent workers are workers who do not expect their job to last or who report that their jobs are temporary. Contingent workers and workers in alternative work arrangements are measured separately. Both have become increasingly prominent in theoretical and policy thinking about how employment has changed in recent years in the United States and other post-industrial countries.Until recently, only relatively poor information on the extent of contingent work and nonstandard work arrangements and how this has changed during the past several decades has been available. The May 2017 Contingent Worker Supplement (CWS) — conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 12 years after the last CWS and 22 years after the first — provides an opportunity to examine how contingent work and nonstandard work arrangements have changed over the last two-plus decades. This report examines these changes between 2005 and 2017, with special attention to how older workers — ages 55 to 65 and 65+ — have fared.

Does Tax Deductibility Affect CEO Pay? The Case of the Health Insurance Industry

March 22, 2018

This paper tests whether pay fell for CEOs at health insurers in the years after the ACA deductibility cap went into effect. We control for revenue growth, profit growth, increase in market value, and other variables likely to affect CEO pay. Our key findings are:There is no evidence that limiting the deductibility of CEO pay for health insurers lowered this pay relative to other industries, after controlling for other determinants of pay.The failure of reduced deductibility to slow growth in CEO pay in the health insurance sector relative to other sectors means that the TCJA provisions are unlikely to significantly affect CEO pay more widely.The assertion that rapid growth in CEO pay in recent decades has simply reflected shareholders rationally rewarding excellent performance by executives is flawed. It can hardly be rational for shareholders to ignore tax changes that make CEOs significantly more expensive to them. Instead, shareholders' failure to respond to the increasing expense of CEO pay strongly supports the view that weaknesses in corporate governance have failed to discipline the growth of CEO pay.To restrain growth in CEO pay we need reforms to improve corporate governance and give shareholders more power over corporate executives.