Media Contact: Mike Leyba, Communications Director, United for a Fair Economy [email protected] 562-266-4357
On Monday, January 16th, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, United for a Fair Economy is releasing the fourteenth annual State of the Dream report, titled “State of the Dream 2017: Mourning in America.” This report features reflections from leaders and advocates that are fighting inequalities everyday, and contains a short, accessible snapshot of where we are as nation on the topics of wages, wealth, health, housing, immigration, and LGBT inclusion.Read more
There is a growing clamor about our immigration “problem.” But what are the facts about immigration? What is pushing and pulling workers and families to leave their homeland and emigrate to the U.S.? Who benefits from rules that allow in some workers and criminalize others? What do foreign-born and domestic workers have in common? How can we evaluate proposed immigration “reforms”? This latest addition to UFE’s lineup of popular economics education workshops provides information, analysis, and strategies for action to close the political and social divides that pit workers and communities against each other.
This Martin Luther King, Jr. day, UFE is excited to release it's annual State of the Dream Report, titled "Underbanked and Overcharged." This report finds that access to banks in communities of color cost each unbanked household $3,029 per year, taking $103 billion out of the communities that need it most.
For the past few weeks, the nation’s attention has focused on an unlikely epicenter of race relations, a Quik-Trip convenience store about fifteen miles north of St. Louis. It was there that 18-year-old Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was gunned down by a white police officer, and it is there that a groundswell of sympathy and frustration has prompted the community, and nation, to act. The town of Ferguson was rocked by this tragic event, and has responded in an incredible way – by organizing. In addition to memorials, people are setting up voter registration tables, and this moment is on its way to becoming a movement with racial inequity at the heart of the conversation.
We believe that, in the words of Frederick Douglas, “power concedes nothing without a demand.” We at United for a Fair Economy have a very simple demand: let’s build an economy that works for Ferguson, and for the south side of Chicago, and for everywhere in between. Let’s build a system that provides the same level of economic stability for communities of color as exists in middle class suburbs or affluent communities. Just as racial profiling is at the heart of this tragic event, the racial wealth divide should be a part of this conversation, and that is something that we’ve been working to bring into public consciousness for over a decade.
We understand that systemic racism will always exist as long as our economy doesn’t match our ideals. That’s why we were founded twenty years ago with a simple goal: to work towards a fair economy. We live up to this ambitious mission, and our name says it all.
We are united to build an economy that provides equal opportunity and equal justice for people who have been marginalized in our society based on race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, or social class.
We are united to build an economy that creates jobs with dignity, that provide living wages, and where workers have the democratic right to organize and share the wealth produced by their labor.
We are united to create a robust public sector that works for the common good, funded through progressive taxes, and accountable to the people, and together, we will build this economy in a way that is sustainable and equitable for future citizens of our planet.
We remain vigilant, and our hearts are with those building a movement in Ferguson, in Queens, NY, and every other community that has been rocked by violence.
“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.
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:
- Median age of fast food workers is 29 years old: Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics
- 68% of fast food workers are the main wage earners for their families: Center for Labor Research and Education
- Almost two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women: National Women’s Law Center
- 42% of minimum wage workers are people of color: Restaurant Opportunities Center
- According to the Center for Labor Research and Education, the families of more than half of fast food workers are enrolled in public assistance programs.
- When low-income people have more money in their pockets, they spend it: Chicago Fed Letter
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.
To read past State of the Dream reports–A Long Way from Home, The Emerging Majority, Austerity for Whom?, Drained and others–click here.
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.
It's worth exploring the ways capitalism affects our lives so we can make more informed decisions for improving our economy. That's the goal of a traveling interactive art installation that UFE is supporting in New York City.
Join us on October 6-9 in Times Square! If you want to join the street team, email Maz Ali at [email protected].
|UFE's Steve Schnapp (L) facilitates street dialogue on the economy while participants wait to vote at Steve Lambert's "Capitalism: Works for Me! (True/False)."
Steve Lambert — artist, culture jammer, educator, and co-founder of the Center for Artistic Activism — presents passers-by with the statement, "Capitalism: Works for Me!" and asks participants to vote true or false. But, rather than have people cast hair-trigger votes based on ingrained notions, Steve urges some critical thinking and dialogue to get at the ways capitalism helps or hinders our individual circumstances. That's where UFE and our allies come in.
Capitalism, like it or not, is the main system on which the U.S. economy operates...for now, anyway. It is a market-based system that, in ideal circumstances, provides a competitive arena for private businesses to sling goods and services.
The upsides are visible – they're in the hypnosis of your computers, tablets, and smartphones; in the comfort and convenience of your car; in the connections you make and cheap crap you buy online; and it's even in fond memories of family trips to capitalism-inspired sites like Times Square.
The downsides are also plain to see, but they're not often attributed to the system of capitalism itself – they're in the blocks of foreclosed homes, lost 401Ks, Mc"Food" deserts, unfathomable healthcare costs, climbing productivity but stagnant wages, out-of-reach higher education, and other unsavory realities.
"It takes money to make money," right? Our political economic system provides significant advantage to those who have capital to begin with. The Reagan era marked the start of a trend toward freer, less regulated markets – a movement for the heightened influence of capitalism in the global economy.
Since then, our country has fallen victim to historic levels of income and wealth inequality and is becoming a land of haves and have-nots. The question of which category you fall into is complex and riddled with contradictions. But, with the majority of Americans agreeing that inequality has gotten out of hand, we have to more openly examine those complexities and bring the debate more into the public eye.
If you're in or around New York City on October 6-9 between the hours of noon and 7:00 p.m., please join us as a participant or volunteer. Here are select interviews from the opening day of the installation.
They're Back! And Rich As They Ever Were
Originally posted on Common Dreams, Sept. 24, 2013
Two weeks ago, Forbes released its 2013 list of the richest 400 Americans. And the not-so-surprising news: The fortunes of those at the top continue to rise while Americans across the country continue to suffer. What is surprising though is that they have now regained "all" of the losses from the economic collapse.
"Five years after the financial crisis sent the fortunes of many in the U.S. and around the world tumbling, the wealthiest as a group have finally gained back all that they lost. The 400 wealthiest Americans are worth just over $2 trillion, roughly equivalent to the GDP of Russia. That is a gain of $300 billion from a year ago, and more than double a decade ago. The average net worth of list members is a staggering $5 billion, $800 million more than a year ago and also a record. The minimum net worth needed to make the 400 list was $1.3 billion. The last time it was that high was in 2007 and 2008, before property and stock market values began sliding. Because the bar is so high, 61 American billionaires didn’t make the cut."
Half of those who dropped off the Forbes list didn't do so because their fortunes' declined. They "fell off the list" because others passed them up. As Forbes notes, "The rest simply couldn't keep up with the rising tide." It's an economic bonanza for the rich.
In glorifying and idolizing the superrich, what Forbes and much of our popular culture fails to acknowledge is the role that inherited wealth, race, gender, and public policy have played in shaping who is and who is not on the list. But last year, United for a Fair Economy (UFE) took a closer, more critical look at the list with the release of our "Born on Third Base" report, which analyzed the 2011 Forbes 400 list. Here’s what we learned:
- At least 40% of those on the 2011 Forbes 400 list inherited a medium-sized business or substantial wealth from a spouse or family member.
- Over 20% – including many Walton family members – inherited enough to place them on the Forbes 400 list with their inheritance alone. It's like they were born on home plate.
- Only a small number can be said to truly come from modest means, and even they had help.
America's long history of race and gender bias also shape who is and is not on the list. Women and people of color make up only a tiny sliver of the overwhelmingly white, male Forbes 400. Even in 2013, the Forbes list includes only one African-America: Oprah Winfrey.
In UFE's 2006 book, The Color of Wealth, we examine the history of these disparities, including the way that women and people of color have been systematically excluded from the wealth-building public programs that helped create the white middle class. These wealth disparities have been passed on to each successive generation through the power of inheritance.
It's not just the birthright, there are public policies that give an unnecessary "leg up" to those at the top. One of the more egregious tax breaks we give to the wealthiest Americans is the reduced tax rate on investment income. We tax investment income from capital gains and appreciated stock at nearly half the top rate at which we tax income from wages earned through actual work.
Who does that special tax break benefit? No great mystery here. 60% of the income made by the Forbes 400 billionaires comes from capital gains, i.e. investment income. Together with the rest of their compatriots in the top 0.1%, they capture half of all capital gains income in the country. At the very least, we need to "tax wealth like work" and end this special tax break that disproportionately benefits those at the top.
By ignoring the role of inherited wealth, race, gender, and public policy advantages, Forbes describes many of the richest Americans as "self-made." This is an assertion that UFE challenged, both in our "Born on Third Base" report and in our 2012 book, The Self-Made Myth.
Attributing the success of those at the top entirely to their own efforts, by implication, also insinuates that those who are poor, are poor by their own efforts. Such an incomplete, black-and-white narrative distorts our views on the merits of a host of public policies—through this lens, progressive taxes become akin to "punishing success," and public policies aimed at correcting past injustices become "hand outs." The list goes on.
Instead of falling over ourselves in gleeful adulation of the superrich, let's honor the labors of all hard-working people across the country, and not overlook all the nuances. At the very least, it will be a more honest dialogue.