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Living standards and labor

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Scattered showers for Labor Day 2001
After 10 years of growth, the U.S. economy has faltered. Between March and June 2001 the economy shed 217,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate has already risen to 4.5% from 3.9% in the last eight months. These changes in the economic climate are having disparate impacts in states and regions across the country, and thus some are experiencing more economic problems than the national numbers may indicate. For a state-by-state comparison of employment growth, unemployment, and wages, see EPI’s Briefing Paper, Scattered Showers for Labor Day 2001 — Job losses, falling wages hit many states, and its accompanying press release.

“Right-to-work” laws and economic development in Oklahoma
In September 2001, Oklahoma will hold a referendum on whether to adopt so-called “right-to-work” legislation that would outlaw certain provisions in collective bargaining agreements. It has not been since the 1950s that most states have had to face a right-to-work referendum such as the one slated in Oklahoma, consequently rekindling a seemingly dead debate over the effectiveness of such laws. One of the key issues in this debate is whether being a right-to-work state is important to Oklahoma’s economic development. Read what various economics experts have to say about the effectiveness of right-to-work laws as an development strategy in EPI’s new Briefing Paper, “Right-to-work” laws and economic development in Oklahoma.

The wage penalty of “right-to-work” laws
The 1947 Taft-Hartley amendments to the National Labor Relations Act sanctioned a state’s right to pass laws that prohibit unions from requiring a worker to pay dues, even when the worker is covered by a union-negotiated collective bargaining agreement. Within a couple of years of the amendments passage, 12 states passed these so-called “right-to-work” (RTW) laws, as did many other states in the intervening years. Unfortunately, workers living in right-to-work states earn, on average, 6.5% less than similar workers in non-RTW states. For more details, read EPI’s The Wage Penalty of “Right-to-Work” Laws online.

Labor market continues shedding jobs
Although the unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.5%, the nation’s payrolls continued their downward slide in July and have now fallen three out of the last four months. For an analysis of the GDP report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, check out EPI’s Jobs Picture.

Hardships faced by working families
Even during this period of national prosperity, 29% of working families in the United States with as many as three children under age 12 do not earn enough income to afford basic necessities. EPI’s latest book, Hardships in America: The Real Story of Working Families,Adobe Acrobat [PDF] examines the cost of living in every community nationwide and determines separate “basic family budgets” — the amount a family would need to earn to afford food, housing, child care, health insurance, transportation, and utilities — for each community. An online supplement, the Family Budgets Calculator, generates an itemized budget for over 400 metropolitan areas by various family types. Read the press release online, and check back soon for an audio recording of the press conference.

Measuring family hardships
Many families that have left welfare rolls to join the workforce experience hardships even when they are successful in finding work. This means that millions of working families that once relied on welfare still often find themselves without enough food, sufficient access to health or child care, or affordable, decent housing. For an in-depth analysis, read EPI’s latest Briefing Paper, When Work Just Isn’t Enough, which examines these issues in detail.

Living wages for federal contract workers
Recent legislation introduced in Congress would require businesses to pay workers employed on federal contracts a living wage, that is, the amount a full-time worker would need to earn to support a family of four at the poverty line. Read EPI’s latest Briefing Paper, The Forgotten Workforce, for an analysis of which workers would be affected.

Social Security Issue Guide
Check out EPI’s latest Issue Guide on Social Security, a downloadable online resource that includes data, charts, fact sheets, and links to other
sources of information on this issue.

Unemployment holds as job growth slows
For an analysis of the latest employment reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, check out the new Jobs Picture.

Living Wage Issue Guide
Check out EPI’s latest Issue Guide on living wage ordinances, a downloadable online resource that includes data, charts, fact sheets, and links to other
sources of information on this issue.

Quarterly Wage and Employment Series
The EPI Quarterly Wage and Employment Series shows that low overall unemployment rates persisted through the third quarter of 2000, and the tight labor market has meant continuing gains for less-advantaged workers. Nevertheless, there are some signs that recent Federal Reserve interest rate hikes have slowed the economy.Get detailed examinations of these and other labor market indicators onli
ne from QWES.

New reports on minimum wage, GOP tax cuts
The U.S. House of Representatives recently approved a $1 hike in the minimum wage — to $6.15 an hour — over the next two years, coupled with a GOP bill to cut taxes an estimated $122 billion over 10 years. For a comparison of the benefits of the wage hike and the House GOP tax cuts, read the Issue Brief, Unbalanced Acts, which was jointly produced with the Citizens for Tax Justice. Also check out the EPI Issue Brief, The Next Step, for an analysis of the characteristics of the typical minimum wage worker, as well as how many workers will be affected in each state.

State-by-state income analysis
Despite economic growth and tight labor markets, income inequality continued to grow in most states throughout the 1990s. For a closer examination of the issue, check out the report, Pulling Apart: A State-by-State Analysis of Income Trends, co-produced by EPI and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Up the down escalator
The latest issue of EPI’s Paycheck Economics focuses on wage and income trends. The most important indicator of how working people are doing economically is whether, and by how much, “real wages” — the inflation-adjusted purchasing power of our paychecks — are rising. Wages have finally started to climb in the past couple of years, but only after a long, 23-year decline that can be traced to underlying problems still at work in the economy today. Read the Executive Summary for the current issue online.

No shortage of ‘nonstandard’ jobs
EPI’s latest Briefing Paper by University of North Carolina sociologist Ken Hudson updates two earlier EPI studies on contingent work. The latest report finds that, despite rising wages and low unemployment, the majority of Americans working in nonstandard jobs were, on average, paid less, were less likely to receive health insurance or a pension, and had less job security than workers in regular full-time jobs in 1997. For more details, read No Shortage of ‘Nonstandard’ Jobs.

Women and the minimum wage
EPI’s latest Issue Brief, The Minimum Wage: A Working Woman’s Issue, argues that an increase in the minimum wage would be most beneficial to low-income working women. In fact, 58% of the beneficiaries of an increase would be women, almost a million of whom are single mothers.

Annual Labor Day report
EPI’s Labor Day Briefing Paper, Tax Cuts No Cure for Middle Class Economic Woes, assesses the state of the current labor market and the fortunes of America’s workers. The report finds that low-wage workers have benefited from a tight labor market and the increase in the minimum wage, and the wealthy continue to enjoy wage growth and huge gains from the stock market. Unfortunately, the middle class has little to celebrate — wages and benefits have not improved throughout the economic recovery, leaving them barely ahead of where they were a decade ago and lagging behind growth in labor productivity. Read the full report, which examines wage trends and benefit levels as well as the underlying causes for the middle class’ stagnant wage growth. Press release also available online.

Doing Well by Doing Good
In the last decade a growing body of literature has been produced in an effort to better understand the relationship between high performance workplace practices and corporate financial outcomes. EPI’s latest book, Doing Well by Doing Good — The Bottom Line on Workplace Practices, reviews the amassed literature on these practices and other policies pertaining to training, union representation on corporate boards, downsizing, and environmental management to determine whether and how they can contribute to firm performance.

Labor market gains smaller than expected
Check out the new Jobs Picture, which contains EPI’s analysis of the latest employment reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A just transition for defense workers?
A new technical paper, A Just Transition? Lessons From Defense Worker Adjustment in the 1990s, released jointly by EPI and Rutgers University’s Project on Regional and Industrial Economics, finds that a majority of workers displaced from defense-related industries between 1987 and 1997 now work at jobs that pay less and fail to use defense-bred skills. Written by Rutgers researchers Ann Markusen and Laura Powers, this report can be read by downloading it in portable document format (PDF) online.

Protecting worker rights around the world
In order to guarantee that international worker rights are protected in existing and future multilateral trade and investment agreements, the U.S. government must take action with respect to bilateral agreements and its participation in international trade and finance agencies. For a better understanding of the obstacles and what can be done to overcome them, check out EPI’s Briefing Paper, Certifying International Worker Rights: A Practical Alternative. ( Press release also available online.)

Another step in the right direction
Congress is again debating whether to raise the minimum wage, this time to $6.15 by the year 2000. EPI’s latest Issue Brief, The Next Step — The New Minimum Wage Proposal and the Old Opposition, examines who would benefit from this increase and what kind of impact it would have on jobs.

Managing care
EPI releases two studies exploring the relationships between nursing staffs, hospitals, and patient care. The first report, Committing to Care, finds tha
t cooperation between hospitals and unions in the form of labor-management committees will provide dramatic economic benefits for hospitals. The second study, Sharing Care, finds that delegating sole responsibility of seemingly routine nursing tasks in hospitals, such as taking vital signs or conducting sterile procedures, decreases the quality of information available for decision making in patient care. The executive summaries and press releases of both studies can be found by clicking on either of the above titles.

Have wages turned the corner?
The latest data for 1998 reveal good news for the American workforce — the positive wage trends of the past couple of years seem to be persisting. Low unemployment, low inflation, and the 1996-97 minimum wage increase have finally begun to reverse two decades of real wage losses for American workers. For a full analysis of these wage trends, check out EPI’s latest Issue Brief, Wages Gain Ground.

Tracking wage trends in the 1990s
Presented at the American Economic Association meeting in January, the authors of The State of Working America discuss wage inequality trends in the 1990s and how they differ from those of the 1980s in several key ways. Check out a printable PDF version of Wage Inequality in the 1990s: Measurement and Trends for a complete analysis.

Poverty and Community: A New Discussion for the New Millennium
Read EPI President Jeff Faux’s address to the National Association of Community Action Agencies on poverty and community in EPI’s Viewpoints.

State of Working AmericaThe State of Working America 1998-99
For more about the publication Lester Thurow describes as “the best place to review the latest developments in the distribution of income and wealth,” go to the executive summary or the table of contents, where you’ll also find information on ordering.

Viewpoints on living standards and labor markets
Read opinion pieces written by EPI staff and associates dealing with living standards and labor markets in Viewpoints.

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