A View from the Field

“We’re stronger if we work together.”  The resolve in her voice was palpable.  What began as a conversation about the hazards of over-exposure to pesticides in farmwork turned into something much more.  In revealing common experience among farmworkers and examining root causes of their struggles this small group began to speak about the necessity of immigrant communities working together to make real change.  It became education for movement building.

The mini-workshop was part of a weekend-long “Training of Trainers”, the first I attended as Education Coordinator with United for a Fair Economy. The Equal Voice for Florida’s Families Coalition invited UFE to facilitate the event.  The topic: using the principles and practices of popular education in organizing for social justice.  Attending were farmworkers, undocumented students, and African-American organizers working in solidarity with Latino immigrant communities.  The room was filled with wisdom and experience.

As part of the training fellow UFE educator Jeannette Huezo led the group in a series of exercises that demonstrated the growing economic divide in the U.S.  In one activity ten of us sat on ten chairs lined horizontally in front of the room.  Before we knew it nine people were squished together, stuck sharing three chairs.  I had seven all to myself.  This, she explained, represents the reality of economic inequality in the U.S.  While 70% of the population shares 10% of the wealth, the richest 10% has 90% of the wealth.  “What do you see happening?” Jeannette asked those who were piled up on top of one another.  “It isn’t fair!” one person shouted.  “He has more than he can even use!” another person said.

After a few more activities we split into small groups so that participants could have a turn developing their own workshops.  This is when three organizers with the Association of Florida Farmworkers decided to rehearse their workshop on pesticide exposure.  Though each organizer knew a great deal on the hazards of farm work they worked with UFE facilitators to craft a series of questions for the group so that participants could draw their own conclusions.  In the course of our discussion it became clear to all of us: the risk of chemical exposure is linked to the vulnerabilities and struggles of being an immigrant in the United States. 

While important content was relayed the information wasn’t what gave this space meaning.  These organizers could have rattled off methods of prevention, just as Jeannette could have lectured on rising inequality.  But instead they drew from the experience in the room: the experience of having declining wages, no health care, no retirement, of facing the risk of being separated from one’s family because of deportation.  The conversation opened a bigger question: why do the growers sit on more wealth than they can use while those who work hard and risk their health live in poverty? 

We all left the weekend energized for the work ahead, with the analysis and relationships necessary to forge a movement to uproot inequality.  It made me proud to be a part of the team at United for a Fair Economy and proud to support and learn from activists and advocates who are leading us towards a more just future.

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Transitions and Opportunities at UFE

Dear Friends and Supporters of UFE:

As the chair of the board of directors at United for a Fair Economy, I am writing today to share some important news about leadership transitions happening at UFE this spring.  These transitions include the departure of our Executive Director, Brian Miller, and the formation of a new interim leadership team consisting of two senior members of UFE’s staff, Jeannette Huezo and Mike Lapham.

Together, Jeannette and Mike bring over 30 years of collective experience at UFE, and I am excited about the insight they will bring to the table in helping the organization navigate the change in leadership.  Indeed, their experience and passion for the work, combined with the commitment and talents of the rest of the UFE team, makes me extremely optimistic about the organization’s future as it enters its third decade this fall!  

But before we start looking ahead, I want to take a moment to offer the board’s gratitude to Brian, who since 2009 has led the organization through 5 years of unprecedented growth and success, including:

  • A victory on the federal tax front, helping secure the first increase in the estate tax rate in 28 years;
  • Publication of The Self-Made Myth, a new UFE book challenging right-wing orthodoxy, co-authored by Brian Miller and our Responsible Wealth project director Mike Lapham;
  • Exposing the racial wealth divide and the policies that created it with our annual State of the Dream reports, including our most recent installment, State of the Dream 2014: Healthcare for Whom?; and,
  • The trailblazing, renowned work that we do here at UFE and all across the country every single day: supporting on-the-ground organizing from coast-to-coast through our signature trainings of trainers institutes, popular economics education curriculum development, and state-level tax fairness organizing!

In 2013, Brian together with the rest of the staff and board shepherded UFE through a year-long strategic planning process that culminated in the adoption of our powerful new, five-year strategic plan.  With this sweeping roadmap in hand, UFE is poised to take on economic justice in bold new ways, supporting the constituencies and communities most affected by rising inequality today in America!

We are grateful to Brian for his many contributions and for his leadership in helping us reach this exciting moment in UFE’s nearly 20-year history.  But now, in this time of new beginnings, Brian is turning over the reins, inviting new opportunity and fresh perspectives in the form of new leadership that will take the organization into its next chapter…

With that in mind, I am very proud to announce that two of UFE’s most senior and longest-tenured staff will be assuming the role of interim co-executive directors: Jeannette Huezo, a treasured and long-time member of our Popular Economics Education team, and Mike Lapham, co-founder and director of UFE’s Responsible Wealth project.  Together, they have over 30 years of experience at UFE, and many more years of experience working in the field of economic justice before their time here.  They each have a deep passion for economic and racial justice and are committed to UFE’s mission as a movement support organization.

I have tremendous confidence in Jeannette and Mike to effectively guide the organization through the coming months.  Their long-standing commitment to UFE, and to the movement as a whole, makes them the ideal choice for this role.  They have already taken the helm at UFE, and their leadership today is critically important to ensuring the smooth implementation of the first stages of our new strategic plan and in assisting the board in its search for a new executive director.

With UFE’s operations now in the capable hands of Jeannette and Mike, the board is beginning its work of searching for an exceptional and talented leader to fill Brian’s shoes.  This process is only just beginning—you will be learning more about the search in the coming weeks and months, so please stay tuned.  (For now, please know that we will be reaching out to you, our supporters and partners, to help us find the right leader for UFE’s next phase.)

In the meantime, there’s much work to be done!  The board has been working closely with UFE’s staff over the past several weeks to implement a transition plan that ensures we don’t miss a beat in our important work to support the movement for economic justice.  And we will be turning to our loyal and outstanding supporters and partners to stick with us and continue to invest in UFE’s future—for the success of our near-term and long-term goals, and for the realization of our shared vision of a fairer economy and a better way of life for all of us.

It is this shared vision that unites us, you and me and so many more who are committed to challenging concentrated wealth and power in our country.  With our new strategic plan, we at United for a Fair Economy have positioned our selves to be a leading force in the movement for economic justice.  And so we will carry on, together, and with your continued support, blazing the trail into the organization’s third decade!

With gratitude and in solidarity,

Edwin Argueta
Board Chair
United for a Fair Economy

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UFE hosts Tax Week conversations coast-to-coast!

What did April 15th mean to you? Well, it was Tax Day, for one thing—and though it may, for many, represent the very ordinary American ritual of (reluctantly) handing your hard-earned income over to the government, for us at United for a Fair Economy, it’s an opportunity. Very simply, it’s an opportunity to talk about why taxes (and the critical public sector for which they provide a foundation and ongoing sustenance) are important.

This year, as in many other years of UFE’s nearly 20-year history, we seized this opportunity! Across the country in 15 different locations (as recently as last Wednesday), hundreds of UFE friends and supporters gathered at private homes, community centers, churches, bookstores, and libraries to screen Robert Reich’s acclaimed film about rising inequality, Inequality For All, and have a conversation about fair taxation, rising inequality, and what we, together, can do about it.

The provocative (at times funny, at times sad) film explains the current state of economic inequality in the US and tells the story of how we got where we are today—and what will happen tomorrow if rising inequality is left unchecked. It’s a powerful 90 minutes of history and storytelling about the collapse of the American middle class and the rise of the super-rich.

After the screening, those in attendance shared what they found most striking about the film, and what they did—or didn’t—have in common with the people whose stories are featured in the film. And so dozens of people shared their unique experiences with the issue of rising inequality in America, and here’s what we discovered: we’re all effected by inequality—indeed, inequality hurts of all us, regardless of how much we make or how much we have in the bank.

This is the message at the core of United for a Fair Economy’s work. It’s the glue that makes the partnership of UFE and its supporters real and so critically important.

With the public sector under assault from well-funded, right-wing ideologues, unleashed by recent Supreme Court decisions (Citizens United and, most recently, McCutcheon), it’s the right time to be talking about why taxes are important. Even in the wake of January’s (quite uncommon) congressional compromise on the budget, House Republicans remain bent on gutting the public sector. They demonize Democrats for making future generations pay for “reckless” government spending today, but what kind of nation are we leaving our children when we decide, today, that we’re no longer going to invest in public education, scientific research and technological innovation, infrastructure and transportation for tomorrow?

With Tax Day 2014 behind us—and these coast-to-coast gatherings, too—we’d like to thank our gracious hosts for opening up their home and other spaces to host these important conversations in an important moment in our history. THANK YOU!

And if you yourself would like to host a screening and gathering at your home, community center, church, or place of business, let us know! We’d be happy to help you get some fellow UFE supporters together in your neighborhood, too!

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The Ceiling Can’t Hold Us — Low Wage Workers Organize

Across the nation, workers are rallying to hoist wages for the lowest-paid jobs into the reality of today’s economy. Since 2009, the federal minimum wage has remained $7.25/hour — compensation so inadequate that it holds back hardworking adults from advancing their educations, providing for their families, and participating fully in the economic life of their communities.

At United for a Fair Economy, we believe that low-wage worker organizing is at the forefront of the fight for economic justice. As spelled out in our guiding principles, "Jobs with dignity and living wages, where workers have the democratic right to organize and share the wealth produced by their labor" is at the core of a fair economy.

That’s why we together—UFE’s staff, partners, and our committed supporters like many of you reading this today—are devoting all available resources to support the work of low-wage worker organizing. In fact, it’s one of two major priorities enshrined in our new five-year strategic plan (unveiled in December).

So now and into the future, UFE will be providing groups on the ground with our renowned popular education curricula, acting as an ally in state and regional struggles, keeping our supporters informed and engaged, and encouraging high-wealth allies to speak out in cross-class solidarity. This is how we will leave our mark!

Why is a minimum wage increase important?

It’s high time we replace the outdated image of the minimum wage worker as a teenager living at home, working for pocket money after school. The median age of fast food workers, for instance, is now 29 years old, and 68% are the primary wage-earners for their families. This is a racial and gender justice issue, too: Minimum wage workers are disproportionately people of color, and almost 66% are women.

For the sake of our nation’s economy, too, a hike in the lowest wages is long overdue. If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation since 1968, it would now be about $11/hour. Had it kept up with productivity gains, it would be much higher ($16.54, according to the Center for Economic Policy Research), and if it had risen at the rate of CEO pay, well, we at UFE might very well be looking for work—that is, our work wouldn’t be necessary

Meanwhile, the vise of a patently inadequate minimum wage keeps workers from contributing to the economic recovery. According to a recent data analysis by the Center for American Progress,

Raising the minimum wage would be good for our economy. A higher minimum wage not only increases workers’ incomes—which is sorely needed to boost demand and get the economy going—but it also reduces turnover, cuts the costs that low-road employers impose on taxpayers, and pushes businesses toward a high-road, high-human-capital model.

Increasing the wealth of the super-rich doesn’t boost the economy, as they already have most of the goods they want — whereas when low-income people have more money in their pockets, they spend it. 

So what’s happening, and how is UFE involved?

A number of groups, including SEIU, are leading the "Fight for 15" campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour in many cities. Some voters are out ahead: In Seattle, candidates for both the city council and the mayor’s office won in November on $15/hour minimum wage platforms and began working on the issue immediately, while in nearby SeaTac, WA, voters approved a $15 minimum wage, effective this year. (Unfortunately a recent court ruling, if upheld, will exclude airport employees from the new law.)

United for a Fair Economy is proud to do our part! UFE is working with SEIU to develop educational curricula for the "Fight for 15" campaigns, just as we did with the group’s earlier "Fight for a Fair Economy" campaign to organize fast food workers. It was the recent series of strikes by fast food workers that brought this issue fully into the public’s view and ignited the current wave of minimum wage organizing.

United for a Fair Economy is working with Interfaith Worker Justice to organize a faith-based workshop on inequality at their national conference in Chicago this June, a gathering of faith leaders, organizers, and leaders from worker centers around the nation. Looking to widen our involvement further, we have begun dialogues with other grassroots labor organizing groups about ways to work in partnership and strengthen the broader movement for wage justice.

Here at home, UFE is a member of RaiseUp Massachusetts, a coalition to raise the state minimum wage to $10.50 by 2016, and more importantly to tie it to inflation for the future. We’ve sent alerts to our supporters and spoke at a recent lobby day (where there was also a screening of Reich's Inequality for All). The wage hike has been passed by the MA House of Representatives, and the push is on to make sure the full package of changes is enacted this year.

There are minimum wage initiatives on the ballot or advancing in state houses in dozens of states this year. If you are organizing for low-wage worker justice in your community, let us know! We want to help.

Sources and Additional Reading:

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Putting Reel Economy to Work

Original post by Andy Myers, Community Engagement Coordinator for Working Films.



We’ve recently returned from a week in Boston with our Reel Economy partner, United for a Fair Economy (UFE) for Raise the Roots, the annual conference of the Tax Fairness Organizing Collaborative. We kicked off the conference with an sneak peek screening of the dynamic documentary Inequality for All. Starring Robert Reich, it’s being lauded as the Inconvenient Truth of the Economy. We packed the house at The Brattle Theater in Cambridge and the screening was followed by an engaging panel discussion on organizing for progressive state tax policy.

The next day, we led a workshop entitled "From Seats to Streets: Using Film to Move the Masses." We presented case studies that showed how the Reel Economy collective can and is being used to help advance a fair and just economy. Workshop attendees included directors of organizations from all over the country who are a part of UFE’s Tax Fairness Organizing Collaborative, a network of 28 member organizations in 24 states that use grassroots power to promote progressive tax reform.

A main focus of the session was on developing specific strategies to put the films to use for state level shifts – we’ve recognized, as has Reich, that this is where change is happening and our work with Reel Economy in the next year with UFE will field test a state level organizing strategy. The workshop participants came up with specific examples of how they can put these films to work at home and envisioned the impact Reel Economy can have.

We’ve already begun some of this work in North Carolina with UFE and Democracy North Carolina, where we are hosting two screenings of Citizen Koch, one in Durham (June 30th) and one in Greenville (June 25th), to spotlight the similarities between the issues in the film (which follows the gubernatorial election and recall in Wisconsin) and the current political climate in NC. Our goal is to support and assist with further building and mobilizing the Moral Monday movement and to advance the work of NC organizations working for economic and social justice.

READ: Andy's follow-up post on the Reel Economy screenings of Citizen Koch in North Carolina.

WATCH: Reel Economy collective film trailers

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New Report explores Racial Disparities In Healthcare

UFE's eleventh annual MLK Day report–Healthcare for Whom?–explores the racial economic implications of one of the most important human rights issues and public policy debates of the day: healthcare. The report looks at both disparate health outcomes–driven largely by racial segregation and concentrated poverty–and the current state-by-state fights over implementing the Affordable Care Act.

The report also includes the latest data on racial disparities in education, employment, income, poverty and wealth that indicate the dream of racial equity, as so clearly articulated by Dr. King, remains unfinished.

For the first time, this MLK Day report contains an "organizers toolbox" with a series of interactive workshops organizers can use at local worker centers, union halls, church groups, and community groups to examine the causes and consequences of the racial wealth divide and move people to action.

Download the report (PDF)  |  Executive Summary  |  Key Findings  |  Related Infographic

To read past State of the Dream reports–A Long Way from Home, The Emerging Majority, Austerity for Whom?, Drained and others–click here.

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New Yorkers push for pre-k funding!

Mayor DeBlasio and a growing number of upper-income New Yorkers recognize that universal pre-K is one of the best investments we can make in our future.  Each $1 invested in pre-K results in $17 of future savings in public spending on special education, social programs and incarceration.  By imposing a modest half percent tax on NYC income above $500,000, the City can guarantee a steady stream of pre-K funding and close the achievement gap between upper- and lower-income kids.  All that potentially stands in the way is approval of the Mayor's plan by the New York State governor and legislature in Albany.

Do you have New York City income of over $500,000?  If so, we hope you will sign this letter to Gov. Cuomo and the legislature in support of Mayor DeBlasio's universal pre-K proposal.  If you don't have that level of income, you can still sign below in support of the letter.

The letter:

Dear Governor Cuomo and Legislative Leaders:

We are upper-income New York City residents who support Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to raise a small tax on the wealthiest among us to fund an expansion of early childhood education and after-school programs. We believe this plan is a sound investment in the long-term economic success of our city.

This tax is not only fair, but is necessary to create the level of dedicated funding required to make a real commitment to expanding high-quality Pre-K programs and reach more children. New York State first committed to the goal of universal pre-k in the late 1990s, but without adequate funding, there has not been enough progress on making programs truly universal, and pre-k funds have been subject to cutbacks in bad economic times.

The return on investment in high-quality pre-kindergarten and after-school programs is unparalleled; a 2010 report from the United States Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for a Competitive Workforce found a savings of up to $17 for every $1 invested in pre-k. Ensuring that children are prepared to start school and succeed once they get there not only improves their chances of attending college and earning higher wages, but reduces the need for future spending on special education, incarceration, and public benefits. This benefits us all.

Investing in pre-k and after-school programs is a benefit to all residents of New York City, and more than makes up for the costs. With a modest half-percent tax on those making more than $500,000 per year, we can make huge strides toward leveling the playing field for children by closing the achievement gap between low-income students and their higher-income peers.

We firmly believe Mayor de Blasio’s plan is the best way to ensure economic prosperity for our city, both now and in the future. We are willing to do our part, and hope you will do yours. We respectfully urge you to support this fiscally sound plan, to ensure that the investment we make in our children has a solid and long-term foundation.

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We're Ready for 2014 with a New Strategic Roadmap

It's an exciting time here at United for a Fair Economy, excitement we are now proud to share with our many supporters across the nation: on December 13, United for a Fair Economy adopted a new, five-year strategic plan!

This plan is the product of 12 months and countless hours of thoughtful deliberations, listening to our allies and supporters, three retreats and one epic blizzard.

Here’s the story of the journey that took us there:

At the outset, one of the things we learned as we interviewed key stakeholders was that UFE has accomplished its original mission: raising awareness about the dangers of concentrated wealth and power. Yes, inequality is now part of the mainstream dialogue. Needless to say, many others in the fight for economic justice helped, but you and United for a Fair Economy had a direct role in getting the word out there that economic inequality is rising—dramatically—and hurting all of us. Indeed, the President of the United States refers to economic inequality as "the defining challenge of our time."

So what, then, is our role now? It's a bit of a rhetorical question because UFE has long done much more than raise awareness. For over a decade, thanks to the generous support and partnership of thousands of supporters—like you!—UFE has engaged directly in major policy debates, provided trainings for organizers across the nation, published illuminating reports highlighting the true consequences of economic inequality, and much more. But it is a good question to ask as we chart the most effective pathway forward.

A careful choice of words in our newly-minted mission statement sheds some light here. We are now in this fight to do much more than raise awareness about extreme inequality—we are in this fight to challenge it. Here’s our new mission in full:

United for a Fair Economy challenges the concentration of wealth and power that corrupts democracy, deepens the racial divide and tears communities apart. We use popular economics education, trainings, and creative communications to support social movements working for a resilient, sustainable and equitable economy.

Awareness is still an important part of the work, but the emphasis is now on actively supporting social movements for greater equality.

We’ve asked some hard questions over the past year. Where can UFE have the greatest impact in the fight against extreme inequality? Who is it that we should be working with? How can we support them and be strong partners in their struggles?

Asking these questions and reflecting upon them helped us decide who we’ll be working with next. Our choice, simply put, is individuals, groups, and populations on the front lines of the fight for greater equality: low-wage worker networks and state-based tax fairness organizing.

Why low-wage workers? Because whether organizing for a higher minimum wage and paid sick leave, striking in front of fast food restaurants, or flash-mobbing in a WalMart, low-wage workers are the cutting edge in the fight for economic change. And—perhaps most importantly—because low-wage workers and those living in states under assault from the Right deserve a better deal in this country.

Why state-based tax fairness? Because the terms of the national debates are being shaped in the states first. We'll provide trainings, resources, networking opportunities and more to our 22 partner organizations working on the ground to push back against the bad stuff, but also to push forward bold policies that can inspire others around the nation.

And there's a clear role for members of UFE's Responsible Wealth network: supporting the fights of our low-wage worker and tax fairness networks, speaking out in support of living wage fights, against senseless tax cuts for the wealthy, and more.

There’s a lot more inside our new strategic plan. For example, specifics about how we will engage and support these constituencies. And in 2014, we’ll be sharing the entirety of the plan, so consider this a sneak peek. 

For now, I’d like to offer an invitation for you to join with us at United for a Fair Economy as we see where this road map takes us in 2014 and beyondchallenging the concentrated wealth and power that corrupt our democracy, deepen the racial divide, and tear communities apart. Not only can we make a better world. We must.

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We're Hiring!

Thank you for your interest in working for UFE.  Please note that the deadlines for these three positions have now passed. 

We are excited to announce that we are hiring for three positions at United for a Fair Economy!  See below for a short description of each position and follow the links to read more. 

Communications Director (deadline passed)

We are looking for a Communications Director to provide strategic leadership, overall coordination and management, and implementation of an organization-wide communication strategy to produce and distribute educational resources and organizer tools, engage and grow our online supporter base, and elevate our message, analysis, and frame with a broader audience. see more here

Program Coordinator (deadline passed)

We are seeking a dynamic and detail-oriented Program Coordinator to work on the Tax Fairness Organizing Collaborative, a national network of state-level tax fairness groups that use community organizing as the primary vehicle for driving progressive policy change. As an ‘organizer of organizers,’ this is a unique opportunity for an individual with strong interpersonal skills, a hands-on leadership style, and a deep appreciation for policy and community organizing. see more here

Education Coordinator (deadline passed)

The Education Coordinator designs, organizes, and leads UFE’s Popular Economics Education workshops and presentations; designs and leads training of trainer events; and designs and disseminates materials for community-based educators, organizers, and leaders in support of our organizational partners: especially low-income worker networks and state-based tax fairness groups. Developing, strengthening and maintaining relationships with UFE partner organizations is a key part of the job, as well as working collaboratively with other UFE teams and projects. see more here

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Why History Matters: Obama Talks about Inequality

Ezra Klein of the Washington Post calls it "perhaps the single best economic speech of his presidency." The folks on Fox News were whining about "redistribution." Picking up a cab in Baltimore the next morning, the first thing the driver asked me was whether I saw the President's speech… He loved it. However one ranks it, Pres. Obama's speech on Wednesday nailed it, calling economic inequality the "defining challenge of our time."

He clearly articulated the history, much as we do at United for a Fair Economy, of how we built the middle class in America. Spoiler: It was not a product of unfettered markets and heroic bootstrapping. It was built through deliberate public investments, a broad tax system based on ability-to-pay, and rules-changes that created ladders of opportunity and which helped ensure that workers shared in the prosperity their labor made possible.

"Now, the premise that we’re all created equal is the opening line in the American story.  And while we don’t promise equal outcomes, we have strived to deliver equal opportunity -- the idea that success doesn’t depend on being born into wealth or privilege, it depends on effort and merit.  And with every chapter we’ve added to that story, we’ve worked hard to put those words into practice."

After citing a litany of public investments from Abraham Lincoln's administration to that of LBJ–land grant colleges, the eight hour day, busting up of monopolies, Social Security, the minimum wage, Medicare and Medicaid–he added:

"Together, we forged a New Deal, declared a War on Poverty in a great society.  We built a ladder of opportunity to climb, and stretched out a safety net beneath so that if we fell, it wouldn’t be too far, and we could bounce back.  And as a result, America built the largest middle class the world has ever known.  And for the three decades after World War II, it was the engine of our prosperity."

The President acknowledged that not all Americans benefitted. Racism and Jim Crow kept many down.

"The economy didn’t always work for everyone.  Racial discrimination locked millions out of poverty -- or out of opportunity.  Women were too often confined to a handful of often poorly paid professions.  And it was only through painstaking struggle that more women, and minorities, and Americans with disabilities began to win the right to more fairly and fully participate in the economy."

Then something changed.

The President did not talk about this in his speech, but as we have argued in our "State of the Dream" reports and The Color of Wealth, there is a connection between the civil rights victories, the War on Poverty, and the subsequent racialization of the very public investments that previously built the middle class. That is, once Blacks and others began to benefit from these public investments, conservatives were able to play upon White fears and demonize government. Public supports that once built the White middle class became "hand outs," and Reagan, during his 1976 presidential bid, introduced the world to the term "welfare queen."

Nonetheless, Pres. Obama acknowledged the tectonic shifts that took place in the US economy beginning in the 1970s, as government's active role in fostering a strong middle class started to shrink. In the president’s words, “starting in the late ‘70s, this social compact began to unravel.”

"As values of community broke down, and competitive pressure increased, businesses lobbied Washington to weaken unions and the value of the minimum wage.  As a trickle-down ideology became more prominent, taxes were slashed for the wealthiest, while investments in things that make us all richer, like schools and infrastructure, were allowed to wither.  And for a certain period of time, we could ignore this weakening economic foundation, in part because more families were relying on two earners as women entered the workforce.  We took on more debt financed by a juiced-up housing market.  But when the music stopped, and the crisis hit, millions of families were stripped of whatever cushion they had left.

...So the basic bargain at the heart of our economy has frayed.  In fact, this trend towards growing inequality is not unique to America’s market economy.  Across the developed world, inequality has increased.  Some of you may have seen just last week, the Pope himself spoke about this at eloquent length.  “How can it be,” he wrote, “that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

Then the President shifted from inequality to the erosion of social mobility, bringing us to where we are today as increasing inequality collides with decreasing social mobility.

"The idea that so many children are born into poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth is heartbreaking enough.  But the idea that a child may never be able to escape that poverty because she lacks a decent education or health care, or a community that views her future as their own, that should offend all of us and it should compel us to action.  We are a better country than this.

So let me repeat:  The combined trends of increased inequality and decreasing mobility pose a fundamental threat to the American Dream, our way of life, and what we stand for around the globe."

In UFE's 2012 book, The Self-Made Myth, we quote former Genzyme CFO Jim Sherblom who, after speaking of the many ways public investments and an active government helped he and his wife succeed financially, acknowledged the dramatic shifts occurring since that will now shape the lives of his own children, "We are going to be a very different society with very different expectations about what is possible for a young, ambitious person who wants to do well in life..."

The President, in his speech goes on to talk about not just the moral injustice of it all, but the damaging consequences this inequality has on our economy, trust in each other and in our institutions, and our democracy, adding that, "The decades-long shifts in the economy have hurt all groups: poor and middle class; inner city and rural folks; men and women; and Americans of all races."

Armed with this deeper understanding, the next question is: What do we do about it? That's where the rubber meets the road. The President made a case for an important governmental role in rebuilding our frayed “ladders of opportunity.”

He threw his support behind the fast-food workers striking across the country for an increased minimum wage. He spoke about closing tax loopholes, education, Social Security, food stamps, and more. Speaking about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, he also spoke of the necessity of closing the health coverage gap, quoting Dr. King, "Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” This is a theme we'll be talking about in our upcoming State of the Dream report.

The full speech is worth a read, but one of the core take-aways is that history matters… as much or more than data points. One can quote unemployment statistics, but outside the context of history and that deeper understanding, people will just fill in the blanks with their own preconceived notions of why one group is more likely to be unemployed than another, or why wealth is piling up in the hands of the few.

Narrative and a deep understanding of how we got here is critical to understanding how we move forward. Or, as others would say, you can't know where you're going unless you know where you've been.

Now, onward to the next fight.


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The Robin Hood Tax Makes Wall Street Pay

There is little question that Republicans took a political hit for the senseless government shutdown. If there is a lesson to be learned for the GOP (and everyone else), it’s that government shutdowns and debt-ceiling standoffs are counterproductive and irresponsible bargaining chips in political debate (not to mention a cruel tactic for millions of Americans, not just federal employees and beneficiaries of public assistance programs, but everyone really). But whatever is learned, the larger fight over taxes and public investments is far from over.

As the new December budget and January debt ceiling deadlines approach, United for a Fair Economy and our allies will continue to push back with a clear anti-austerity message to Washington: “Damaging cuts are not necessary! America is not broke! Congress simply needs the political will to raise taxes on the wealthy.”

In addition to UFE's fights to strengthen the federal estate tax and tax wealth like work, UFE is one of 150 organizations supporting the "Robin Hood Tax," an exciting proposition that could raise hundreds of billions of dollars to invest in our communities (and raised from the reckless Wall Street speculators who wrecked the economy in the first place).

The Inclusive Prosperity Act (H.R. 1579) by Rep. Keith Ellison would create such a "Robin Hood Tax," or financial transactions tax (FTT), on the sale of stocks, bonds, derivatives, and other financial instruments. The FTT rate on stocks would be 0.5%, with lower rates applied to bonds and derivatives.

United for a Fair Economy wholly endorses the “Robin Hood Tax.” Why? Because this tax accomplishes two very important goals at the same time, not to mention it’s totally feasible:

1) It Reins in Casino Capitalism

Because the financial transactions tax is levied each time a stock is sold, its otherwise nominal rate is magnified many times over for those speculators who buy and sell stocks repeatedly in a single week or day.

If someone buys $100 in stock shares and holds it for 5 years, the tax expense, 50 cents, will be spread over 5 years (so you will owe effectively 10 cents a year in taxes on this transaction). But if you trade that same stock each week to gain some small advantage, you'll pay $26 a year instead. And if you trade hourly using automated computer software, well then the multiplier effect really kicks in. That's the whole point!

By taxing at the point of transaction, the Robin Hood Tax effectively separates the type of long-term investments that are good for the economy, from the type of high-frequency trading – or "casino capitalism" – that contributes nothing but volatility and instability to the economy.

If people want to gamble, they should go to Vegas. We cannot afford to let the reckless behavior of Wall Street gamblers take down the global economy again.

2) It Raises $350 Billion for Important Programs

Levied at the rates of the Inclusive Prosperity Act, the financial transactions tax would raise upwards of $350 billion. That is a tremendous amount of money that will be moved out of disruptive speculation and into the public sector, where it is truly needed.

Just for a sense of scale, $350 billion is more than the combined total of President Obama's proposed 2014 discretionary budgets for the Departments of Education, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, and Transportation!

Applying this level of funding to the real needs of the nation – health care and health research, rebuilding and greening our transportation infrastructure, education, job creation, and more – would have a profound and positive impact on our nation's long-term well-being.

It's Totally Doable!

Already 40 nations across the world have some form of financial transactions tax, including the United Kingdom, Japan, China, and many others. At this point, the majority of the major financial centers around the globe are operating in nations with a financial transactions tax.

Additionally, the 0.5% rate on stocks being proposed in the Inclusive Prosperity Act is the same rate the United Kingdom already levies, and that has in no way endangered London’s status as powerhouse in global finance.

The US actually had a financial transactions tax from 1914 to 1966, levied initially at 0.2% and later raised to 0.4%. After the stock market crash in 1987, there was a serious effort, led in part by one of President George H.W. Bush's chief economists, to restore the financial transactions tax in order to bring stability to the markets.

With 11 nations across Europe now looking seriously at enacting a financial transactions tax, this has become a growing global movement to rein in the kind of casino capitalism that wreaked havoc on the global economy, while funding vital programs that foster true national wellbeing.

What can you do?

Visit the Robin Hood Tax web page to for news, research, talking points, and other helpful resources! Contact your member of Congress and ask them to support H.R.1579, the Inclusive Prosperity Act.

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Shutdown: The Continuing Assault on Obamacare

The government shutdown is part of much broader assault on the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Despite some of the rhetoric, low-income and struggling Americans are not just "caught in the crossfire." On the contrary, they are the intentional targets of a senseless political attack. 

This shutdown has nothing to do with government spending, and the budget. As Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) makes very clear, "Democrats have already agreed to the level of spending proposed by the Republicans, at least in the short-term."

The continuing resolution that the Senate passed in September, if continued through the rest of the year, would allocate $986 billion in discretionary spending, far below the $1,203 billion that President Obama called for in his first budget proposal. It's essentially on par with the draconian Ryan Plan that called for only $967 billion in discretionary spending.

The shutdown is not about the fiscal year 2014 budget, cutting spending, or reducing the national debt. It is about undermining the Affordable Care Act and denying health coverage to millions. It is part of a multi-prong attack on the President's signature health care plan, and it reflects a total disregard for the well being of families everywhere.

Even before the shutdown, Republicans succeeded in eroding the Affordable Care Act by waging war at the state level. A New York Times article this week reports that "two-thirds of the poor blacks and single mothers and more than half of low-wage workers" that would have otherwise been covered under Obamacare will now go uninsured:

"Because they live in states largely controlled by Republicans that have declined to participate in a vast expansion of Medicaid, the medical insurance program for the poor, they are among the eight million Americans who are impoverished, uninsured and ineligible for help."

A little background might be useful here. The Affordable Care Act uses two strategies to make health insurance (truly) available to people who were left out in the cold previously. As the New York Times article explains:

"The law was written to require all Americans to have health coverage. For lower and middle-income earners, there are subsidies on the new health exchanges to help them afford insurance. An expanded Medicaid program was intended to cover the poorest. In all, about 30 million uninsured Americans were to have become eligible for financial help."

By refusing to participate in the Medicaid expansion, the mostly Republican-controlled states are effectively punching a hole right in the middle of the Affordable Care Act – a hole through which eight million struggling Americans will now fall.

"The 26 states that have rejected the Medicaid expansion are home to about half of the country’s population, but about 68 percent of poor, uninsured blacks and single mothers. About 60 percent of the country’s uninsured working poor are in those states. Among those excluded are about 435,000 cashiers, 341,000 cooks and 253,000 nurses’ aides."

Black Americans are much more likely to be uninsured than whites going forward because so many of the states that have refused to participate in the Medicaid expansion are Southern states in the heart of the Black Belt – states where a history of racism has prevented many blacks from achieving middle-class security.

But, denying health care coverage to eight million people living in these 26 states isn't enough. Now Tea Party Republicans are demanding a delay in implementation of the Affordable Care Act in all 50 states in exchange for ending the government shutdown. Again, those who go without health care as a result of this assault on the Affordable Care Act are not simply "caught in the crossfire" — they are it's intended targets.

Meanwhile, there are those who actually are "caught in the crossfire" of this shutdown, including: 800,000 federal workers (who are also disproportionately black) and many more government contractors; low-income families who rely on Women, Infants and Children's (WIC) nutrition programs or Head Start (as of Wednesday, an estimated 50 Head Start sites have closed, affecting 3,200 preschool-aged children from low-income families); vacationing families stranded outside of national parks that are now closed; and many others.

Enough already! It's time for action…

If your US Representative is one of the Republican hold-outs, tell them to send a "clean continuing resolution," with no delays in the Affordable Care Act, to the House floor for a vote.

If your US Representative is one of the Democrats, tell them to stay strong and refuse to cave into the Tea Party extremists who want to undermine the Affordable Care Act.

Email your U.S. Representative >>


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