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Monday, January 21, 2019

Martin Luther King Jr.’s policy agenda is as relevant today as it was when he created it [feedly]

Martin Luther King Jr.'s policy agenda is as relevant today as it was when he created it

"We can't solve our problems unless there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power." — The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., 1967

As we celebrate the birth of the great civil rights leader, I'd like to remember two specific aspects of his legacy. Both have to do with his economic message, which was, of course, intimately connected to the pursuit of racial justice that was at the core of his life's work. The first is his diagnosis, and the second is his prescription.

Take a close look at the above quote. A simpler diagnosis of the solution to "our problems" might invoke the redistribution not of power, but of income or wealth. In fact, most social policy debates involve precisely that argument. One side argues for expanding, say, wage subsidies for low-wage workers, to be paid for by higher taxes on the rich (to be clear, I've made such arguments); the other argues that such redistribution is unfair and unproductive. Both sides quickly grab their studies and their experts and we're off (typically, on separate cable channels).


King's diagnosis ran much deeper. Of course, he supported progressive taxation to pay for programs to help poor African Americans. But he viewed that as palliative, not curative. It was power that must be more fairly distributed. And no nibbling around the edges of power would do; the redistribution must be "radical," by which he meant well beyond what the politics of his, and our, time typically entertained.

How different would America look today if power were much more broadly held? One way to answer this important question is to look at King's prescriptive policy agenda. Today King is remembered mostly for his impassioned and inspired rhetoric, which, given the power of his words, is as it should be. But he was also a pragmatic policy thinker for whom it was essential to connect the poetry of the goals to the prose of the agenda.

These are some of policy ideas championed by King, particularly later in his too-short life, when he introduced and led the Poor People's Campaign. It is a testament to both King's foresight and the work still to be done that these issues remain at the heart of today's policy debates.

Full employment: The full name of the historic 1963 march organized by King and others was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. A sign often seen that day read, "Civil Rights Plus Full Employment Equals Freedom." Clearly, King recognized that in very tight labor markets, it was costlier for employers to discriminate against African Americans. At full employment, indulging their prejudices meant leaving profits on the table. In fact, time and again throughout our economic history, including the present, we see this dynamic in play (a recent Wall Street Journal piece was titled "Tight Job Market Opens Doors for Ex-Convicts"). And the reason full employment works is because it increases power — bargaining power.

Full employment doesn't solve everything, not by a long shot, but its benefits to workers facing discrimination have been well-documented; see, for example, this muscular analysis by Federal Reserve economists.

The Fed is an essential player in this context, as keeping interest rates low sustains labor market tightness. In that regard, here's an important technical point. For years, our central bank has worked to "anchor inflationary expectations," meaning to assure everyone that it will wield its policy tools to keep inflation low and stable. This has had the effect of significantly lowering the negative correlation between unemployment and inflation, meaning that the Fed can keep the jobless rate much lower, for much longer, without invoking overheating. It's a critical connection between King's goal of full employment, worker power and the evolution of contemporary monetary policy.

Unions: Recall that when he was tragically taken from us, King was in Memphis in support of striking sanitation workers. The disproportionately black workforce there was striking for safer conditions (not long before the strike, two African American sanitation workers were killed on a city truck) and better pay. The mayor of Memphis declared the strike illegal, but with King's support, the public-sector union was recognized (less than two weeks after King's assassination).

The connection between unions and power is long-standing, and the decline in union power is one reason today's politics are so unrepresentative of working people.

It is thus of great concern that the share of American workers with collective bargaining rights is at an all-time low. Of particular concern, unionization rates for public-sector workers, though still far above those in the private sector, are starting to slip. Reversing this trend must be a top priority for policymakers in pursuit of rebalancing power.

Guaranteed jobs and income: King championed both of these ideas, and both are in the midst of a contemporary renaissance. Even at full employment, there are many people who face steep barriers to work. Sometimes those barriers are steepened by the weakness of labor demand in the left-behind places they live. Sometimes, they are a function of health problems, addiction, criminal records and deep skill deficits. And, of course, racial discrimination is always in play.

With increased recognition of these realities, policymakers and others are proposing a broad range of solutions, from robust guaranteed jobs programs to more narrowly targeted subsidies to help disadvantaged workers. A similar movement has long been brewing around guaranteed incomes, a policy King explicitly supported.

Again, if we look at racial justice through a lens of power — political power, in this case — consider the difference if the goal of our political representatives were to ensure adequate jobs and incomes rather than tax cuts for the rich, deregulation of industry, and hostility to immigrants and minorities.

There are numerous other areas of King's agenda at the forefront of progressive policy today, including incarceration policy, health care, education, housing and the shifting of military expenditures to social programs.

If he were to walk among us today, King would be disheartened, though probably not surprised, to see our lack of progress. But I like to think he'd be enthused and inspired by the millions of us, including increasing numbers of policy advocates and, especially since the midterm elections, political representatives, working in pursuit of his dream.

Let those of us in that group reflect on the truth he left us with that our work is "the radical redistribution of economic and political power." If that's not what you're up to, today's a good day to figure out how to make it so.

 -- via my feedly newsfeed

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Anne Kreuger: Trump’s anti-immigrant policies and the brain drain [feedly]

Trump's anti-immigrant policies and the brain drain

 JANUARY 20, 2019 3:41 PM (UTC+8)

America's high-quality universities are among the key sources of its greatness. Every year, top students from all over the world vie for access to graduate and undergraduate programs in the US, and American universities occupy most of the top spots in global rankings. Moreover, the basic research conducted at US universities has been a primary driver of innovation and economic growth, as well as the source of a disproportionate share of Nobel prizes.

America's universities cater to a wide variety of students, researchers, and other economic actors. The top research universities attract not just the best and the brightest students, but also clusters of high-tech companies, such as those in Silicon Valley and Boston.

At the same time, public and private universities across the country offer excellent programs for four-year degrees. And community colleges provide vocational training as well as a pathway to a four-year degree for countless other high-school graduates.

With competition between public and private institutions ensuring a high level of excellence across the board, higher education in the US has long been a major export industry. According to Catherine Rampell of The Washington Post, US "educational exports are about as big as [US] total exports of soybeans, coal and natural gas combined."

With three times as many foreign students studying in the US as Americans studying abroad, the higher-education sector contributed a net surplus of around $34 billion to the US current account in 2017.

Foreign students' attendance at US universities confers many advantages. For starters, these students usually pay full tuition rates (especially at the undergraduate level), which allows universities to allocate more financial aid for Americans who need it. At the graduate level, more than half of those enrolled in computer-science and engineering programs are foreign-born and could remain in the US to work. Without them, America's high-tech companies would face an even greater talent shortage than they already do.

The presence of foreign students enriches the university experience for Americans themselves. And, as an added soft-power bonus, many foreign students return home as staunch supporters of America, and can influence their country's foreign-policy positions accordingly

Finally, the presence of foreign students enriches the university experience for Americans themselves. And, as an added soft-power bonus, many foreign students return home as staunch supporters of America, and can influence their country's foreign-policy positions accordingly.

Until 2016, the number of foreign students studying in the US had been rising, but it then fell by around 3% in 2016, and by 6.6% in 2017. And initial reports indicate that it dropped by another 7% in 2018.

Part of this decline is probably due to the fact that other countries have recognized the importance of hosting top-quality universities, and are working harder to attract foreign students and retain their own.

But another important factor is US President Donald Trump's administration. Since Trump's inauguration, it has become harder to obtain a student visa, and foreign students already enrolled in US universities have had to worry about whether they will be able to travel to and from their home country. The unwelcoming atmosphere – epitomized by Trump's notorious travel ban – is deterring a growing number of first-rate students from pursuing higher education in the US.

To be sure, there are also problems within the US higher-education sector itself. Complaints about rising tuition and fees, for example, have been building for years.

What is often forgotten, though, is that the knowledge one gains from leading universities has also become more valuable, particularly in fields such as biochemistry, computer science, and environmental studies. And even in other fields, innovations such as big data have vastly enhanced our understanding and broadened the scope of practical applications in areas such as business, medicine, and public policy.

Put another way, one rarely hears complaints about the price of a Tesla compared with that of a Ford, or about the price of a Ford today compared with that of a Model T in the 1920s. Insofar as tuition costs have risen, a large part of it is almost certainly due to advances in knowledge, and thus the quality of a four-year degree. Just as a car today is more valuable than one from 100 years ago, so too is a four-year degree.

Of course, even as knowledge has increased, so have other costs. According to a study of 13 US colleges and universities by the Boston Consulting Group, "regulatory compliance represents 3-11% of higher-education institutions' non-hospital operating expenses." And with the emergence of new cutting-edge fields and high-paid opportunities in the private sector, the costs of attracting and retaining faculty have also risen.

As a partial solution, colleges and universities have increased their financial aid to offset the "sticker price" (full tuition charges) for more students. In fact, some universities now spend as much as half of their budgets on financial aid. But again, the more foreign students there are to pay full tuition, the smaller this burden will be.

For all of his complaints about the US trade deficit, Trump is shooting himself in the foot by ordering his administration to tighten visa requirements and thereby undercutting exports of US higher-education services, as well as harming higher education itself.

With other countries attempting to beef up their own universities, the US should be increasing its efforts to attract foreign students. Doing so would cost the US nothing, attract the talent its economy needs, and make higher education more affordable for more Americans.

 -- via my feedly newsfeed

Friday, January 18, 2019

Jared Bernstein: Building on Ocasio-Cortez: More progressive ways to raise much-needed tax revenues [feedly]

Building on Ocasio-Cortez: More progressive ways to raise much-needed tax revenues
To their credit, many congressional Democrats, both the new class and the veterans, recognize the need for more tax revenue. Though they almost surely won't be able to legislate revenue-raising measures amid a divided (and partially shut) government, now is an excellent time to start thinking through the best ways to raise revenue most fairly and efficiently.

The motivation is clear. First, thanks to the Trump tax cuts, the U.S. Treasury pulled in 16.4 percent of GDP in revenue in fiscal year 2018, a percentage point below the long-term average. More relevant, that's two points below the average at times like these, when we're closing in on full employment, or over $400 billion in missing revenue. Simply put, the Trump tax cut broke the link between strong economies and revenue flows such that we're now collecting recessionary-level revenue near full employment (it also worsened inequality). Repairing this damage will have to be step one.

We clearly need the money. Based on our aging population and the pressures that puts on our retiree health and income security programs, the state of much of our infrastructure, geopolitical threats, climate change, inequality, and the fact that the next recession is out there somewhere, we need more, not less revenue.


Second, while the new Democrats are appropriately not obsessed with deficits, they do recognize that they should try to progressively pay for their ideas. That's one reason Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), for example, floated a much higher top tax rate of 70 percent for the tiny slice of households with incomes above $10 million to fund her climate initiative.

If such efforts are thwarted by those who view tax policy as a one-way ratchet (rates can only go down, never up), then deficit-financing should definitely be considered. But I've talked to many members of Congress, new and old, and there's growing agreement on the need for an amply funded, and far more functional, federal government. So, here are some ideas to begin working on.

Raise the top rate: As many economists have emphasized, Ocasio-Cortez's idea to raise the top tax rate is sound, though it could be strengthened by grouping it with other policies. Research shows that a much higher rate on personal income has the potential to raise a lot more revenue without distortions, especially when partnered with measures to close escape-hatch loopholes.

An important rule of tax policy is that when one type of income is favored over another, every rich person with a tax lawyer suddenly discovers that the favored income is the very type they have piles of. A good place to start here is to close the pass-through loophole opened by President Trump's tax cuts, where high-end filers can get a fat deduction by classifying their earnings as pass-through income.

Tax wealth: One way in which our tax code lacks basic fairness is the extent to which it fails to adequately tax wealth (and wealth-generated income). The Trump cuts exacerbated the problem by slashing taxes on estates passed from one generation to the next. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, those "few estates large enough to remain taxable — those worth more than $22 million per couple — will receive a tax cut of $4.4 million apiece."

But resetting the estate tax parameters and closing loopholes in the estate tax to capture far more untaxed wealth is only the first step. We also must end "step-up basis," a practice that allows heirs to avoid taxes on the appreciation of assets they inherit. In the spirit of the rule noted above against favoring certain types of income, raising the rate on realized capital gains and closing the carried interest loophole also fit in this category.

Lower the rate at which the wealthy can claim deductions: This idea dates back to old Obama administration budgets, but I've always thought it smart for the following reason: The tax code is littered with wasteful deductions that subsidize spending that would have occurred even without the tax break, but picking them off one by one invokes endless battles with powerful industry lobbies. Instead, if we impose a rule that says households above an income threshold can still take their same deductions, but at a lower rate, we avoid picking winners and losers. Obviously, favored industries won't say "thanks!" But no group can say they're being singled out. Because it significantly reduced the incentive to take itemized deductions, the 2017 tax cut trims the revenue flow from this option, at least through 2025. But it's still worth looking into.

A financial transactions tax (FTT): An FTT is a small — just a few hundredths of a percent — tax on securities trades. I particularly like this idea because it both raises serious revenue and dampens noise/high-frequency trading that has very little to do with productive capital allocation. Recent Congressional Budget Office analysis finds that a 0.1 percent FTT could raise over $700 billion in revenue over a decade. Opponents make the point that the tax will dampen the velocity of trades. But given the tiny magnitude of the tax, the large decline in transaction costs over recent decades and the outsize role that speculative finance has played in recent economic bubbles and busts, perhaps a little dampening is warranted.

Raise the gas tax: Much of the above, excepting the FTT, involves tweaks to the existing system. But some new members, appropriately alarmed by the extent to which climate policy is going backward, want to add a new carbon tax into the mix. Given the gap between the actual and social cost of fossil fuels, this makes a gigaton of sense. But it is an especially heavy lift in an agenda comprised of nothing but heavy lifts (ballot initiatives to tax carbon have failed twice in Washington state).

However, there's a possible tweak here, too: an increase in the federal gas tax, which has been stuck at 18.3 cents per gallon since 1993. This tax, which feeds directly into highway and urban mass transit infrastructure funds, has not been raised in 26 years. Especially given the improved mileage of vehicles since the early 1990s, this freeze is indefensible. Granted, unlike the other ideas, this one hits all income classes. And it is not incidental that French populists recently rioted over an increase in their fuel tax, though they were motivated by the fact that the gas tax hike coincided with cuts in wealth taxes. Perhaps amid these other progressive ideas, a gas tax hike would go down a bit easier.

But such pragmatic concerns get ahead of my case, which is simply this: We need more revenue. And while we're not going to get them anytime soon, the time is ripe for the new, progressive majority to start thinking about and debating the best ideas to implement if and when the political space to do so opens up.
 -- via my feedly newsfeed

Dean Baker: The Green New Deal Is Happening in China [feedly]

The Green New Deal Is Happening in China

The Green New Deal Is Happening in China

Dean Baker
Truthout, January 14, 2019

See article on original site

One of the Trump administration's talking points about global warming is that we're reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while the countries that remain in the Paris accord are not. Well, the first part of this story is clearly not true, as data for 2018 show a large risein emissions for the United States. The second part is also not very accurate, as most other countries are taking large steps to reduce emissions.

At the top of the list is China. The country has undertaken a massive push to convert to electric powered vehicles and clean energy sources.

China's progress in this effort is truly extraordinary. In the case of electric cars, it has used a carrot-and-stick approach where it offers consumers large subsidies for buying electric cars while also requiring manufacturers to meet quotas for electric car production as a percent of their total fleet of cars. It has also invested in the necessary infrastructure, ensuring that there are a large number of charging stations widely dispersed across the country so that drivers don't have to worry about being unable to recharge their cars.

The result has been a massive increase in the sale of electric cars. Electric car sales are projected to be 1.1 million this year, almost equal to sales in the rest of the world combined. The country expects sales to continue to rise rapidly, with annual sales hitting 11.5 million in 2030. By comparison, electric car sales are expected to be just 480,000 in the United States this year, less than half the number in China.

There is a similar story with solar and wind energy. China added more solar capacity last year than the rest of the world combined. In 2018 it already surpassed the goal it had set for 2020. It is now looking to double its capacity over the next two years.

China also has almost as much wind power capacity as the rest of the world combined. Its capacity is more than three times as great as in the United States. However, even with the extraordinary growth in clean energy, wind and solar together still account for less than 20 percent of China's generation capacity and less than half the amount of electricity produced by burning coal.

Nonetheless, China's enormous progress in promoting electric cars and clean energy should tell us a great deal about the potential in these areas in the United States. While China's economy has grown rapidly over the last four decades, on a per person basis its income is still less than one-third that of the United States.

This means that a relatively poor country was able to make massive gains in reducing greenhouse gas emissions compared with its baseline growth path. The focus on electric cars and clean energy also did not impair the country's growth in any obvious way.

Over the last decade, China's GDP growth has averaged 7.9 percent annually. Perhaps there is a story where China's economy would have grown even more rapidly without the subsidies and other measures to promote green growth, but obviously, these measures could not have been very serious impediments if the country could still sustain one of the fastest growth stretches the world has ever seen.

If China could make such enormous progress in a short period of time, surely the United States could make comparable gains with the resources at its disposal. This doesn't mean that the necessary reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will be costless: People willhave to change lifestyles. This means doing without SUVs and eating much less meat. But China's success is an impressive example.

This brings up another issue directly related to Donald Trump's trade war with China. One of the biggest complaints that Trump has is that China is "stealing" our technology. Most media commentators have widely endorsed this complaint.

China already spends almost as much as the United States on research and development. With a much more rapidly growing economy, China is virtually certain to pass the United States in research and development spending in the very near future, if it has not already done so.

Rather than spending so much effort worrying about what China is taking from us, we should be thinking about what we can get from China, especially in the area of green technologies where it has made such enormous progress. Rather than looking to lock up our technologies to maximize the profits US corporations get from their patent and copyright monopolies; a modern trade deal would look to maximize the flow of technology across national borders.

That would be the focus of a trade deal if we were concerned about economic prosperity and the future of the planet. Unfortunately, that is not likely to be the agenda of the people involved in trade negotiations.

 -- via my feedly newsfeed

Gloom Ahead of World Economic Storm [feedly]

Gloom Ahead of World Economic Storm

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury
Cross-posted at Inter Press Service.
In light of the uncertainty caused by the US-China trade war, the IMF expects the US economic growth to slow from a three-year high of 2.9 per cent in 2018 to 2.5 per cent in 2019, while China's expansion has already slowed in recent years, albeit from much higher levels.
Trump stimulus dissipates
US President Trump and the previous GOP-controlled US Congress claimed to be breathing new life into the US economy with generous tax cuts. The US economy is now overheating, with inflation rising above target, causing the Federal Reserve to continue raising the federal funds rate to dampen demand.
As most families hardly gained from the tax changes, US purchases of houses and consumer durables continued to decline through 2018. Instead of investing in expanding productive capacity, US companies spent much of their tax savings on a $1.1 trillion stock buy-back spree in 2018.
Hence, the positive impacts of tax cuts were not only modest, but are also diminishing. Nearly half of 226 US chief financial officers recently surveyed believe that the US will go into recession by the end of 2019, with 82 per cent believing that it will have begun by the end of 2020. Wall Street's biggest banks, JP Morgan and Bank of America, are also preparing for a slowdown in 2019.
As if to confirm their concerns, both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 had their worst ever December performance since 1931, when stocks were battered after the Great Crash.

European recession

Meanwhile, the European Central Bank is expecting sluggish 1.7 per cent regional growth in 2019. Europe is close to recession with the collapse of industrial output in Germany, France, UK and Italy.
Germany's industrial output fell by 1.9 per cent month-on-month in November 2018, and was in negative territory in 5 of the 6 months before December. Its GDP fell by 0.2 per cent in the 3rd quarter of 2018. France's industrial production fell 1.3 per cent in November 2018, reversing a 1.3 per cent growth recovery in October from a 1.7 per cent decline in September. Italy, Europe's third largest economy, recorded negative growth in the 3rd quarter of 2018 as GDP fell by 0.1 per cent in July-September 2018 with weaker domestic demand.
As the UK remains mired in its Brexit mess, GDP growth was dragged down to 0.3 per cent in the three months to November with the biggest industrial output contraction since 2012. 2018 final quarter growth is expected to be 0.1 per cent, i.e., negligible.
Not preparing for the inevitable?
David Lipton, the first deputy managing director of the IMF, warned in early January 2019, "The next recession is somewhere over the horizon, and we are less prepared to deal with that than we should be . . . [and] less prepared than in the last [crisis in 2008]."
Although the IMF had projected 3.7 per cent global economic growth for 2019 in October 2018, Lipton's statement suggests that the IMF is likely to revise its 2019 growth forecast downward.
There have also been growing concerns over the continued efficacy of unconventional monetary policy since the 2008-2009 global financial crisis (GFC). Undoubtedly, countries now have less fiscal space than in 2009, and overall borrowing, including public debt has risen since.

Reaping what you sow

The policy blunders since the GFC have only made things much worse. The ideologically driven case for fiscal consolidation did not boost investor confidence for a robust recovery, as promised.
Despite acknowledging false claims cited to justify fiscal consolidation, including the IMF's admission that its early advice was based on faulty calculations, there was no recommended change in policy course.
Instead, all responsibility for recovery was put on the monetary authorities who resorted to unconventional policies, especially 'quantitative easing' (QE). However, the global economic recovery since then has remained tepid and easily reversible.
Additional liquidity, made available by QE, has largely been used to buy financial assets and for speculation, amplifying the financial vulnerability of emerging market economies, which have experienced increased volatility.
Governments also failed to take advantage of historically low, even negative real interest rates to borrow and invest to boost productive capacity in the longer term.
By mainly benefiting financial asset holders, QE has exacerbated wealth concentration. Meanwhile, cuts in public services and social spending have worsened social polarization, as tax cuts for the rich have failed to generate promised additional investments and jobs growth.
The failure to achieve a robust recovery has not only worsened the debt situation, but also made lives harder for ordinary people. Growing polarization has also worsened resentments, eroding trust, undermining solidarity and progressive alternatives.

Ethno-populist jingoism undermines cooperation

But lack of preparedness can hardly be due to ignorance as there have been many such predictions recently, certainly more than in 2007-2008, before the GFC.
The cooperation that enabled co-ordinated actions to prevent the Great Recession from becoming a depression has not only waned, but major countries are now at loggerheads, preventing collective action.
National political environments are also more hostile. In Europe, the rise of ethno-populist nationalism is making it harder to pursue EU-level policies and to act together to prevent and mitigate the next financial crisis and downturn.
The "new sovereigntists" and false prophets of American exceptionalism are undermining multilateral cooperation when needed most. Thus, a recession in 2019 may well elevate geo-political tensions, exacerbating the negative feedback loop for a 'perfect storm'.
Anis Chowdhury, Adjunct Professor at Western Sydney University and the University of New South Wales (Australia), held senior United Nations positions in New York and Bangkok.
Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

 -- via my feedly newsfeed

The number of unionized U.S. workers edged lower to 16.4 million in 2018 [feedly]

The 1937 and 1947 laws governing unions were written for an industrial system which has disappeared from most work in the US economy.

A new law, and order, are needed: Untill then unionism will be playing like most of the working class, on the margins of survival.


The number of unionized U.S. workers edged lower to 16.4 million in 2018

The number of American workers represented by a labor union ticked down last year, extending a decades-long trend.

New data on union membership from the Bureau of Labor Statistics released on Friday showed 16.38 million unionized workers in 2018, down from 16.44 million in 2017. However, because employment of wage and salary workers grew by 1.6 percent between 2017 and 2018, the share of workers represented by a union declined by a more significant amount, from 11.9 percent to 11.7 percent.

In the private sector, the number of workers represented by a union ticked up slightly (+18,000). But due to the 1.7 percent increase in employment in the private sector, the share of private sector workers represented by a union declined, from 7.3 percent to 7.2 percent.

The losses were greater in the public sector. The number of public sector workers represented by a union declined by 83,000, while the share of public sector workers represented by a union declined by seven-tenths of a percentage point, from 37.9 percent to 37.2 percent. The drop was largest at the state government level, with the share of state government workers represented by a union dropping from 33.4 percent to 31.8 percent.

Do these numbers show us anything about the impact of last summer's Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31The short answer is no. The Janus decision prohibits state and local government unions from requiring that workers who benefit from union representation pay their fair share of that representation (it was already illegal for members of a bargaining unit to be required to either be union members or to pay for any political activities). The intended effect of the decision by those who backed it was to undermine the finances of public sector unions by exposing them to the "free rider" problem. The BLS data do not, however, provide any information on whether workers are paying fair-share fees, simply whether they are members of a union or represented by a union.

When BLS has released their data on union membership in prior years, EPI has typically taken a deeper dive into the data than what is available online from BLS, for example providing union coverage numbers by sector and demographic characteristics like gender and race. However, one of the many negative effects of the government shutdown is that the release of the Current Population Survey (CPS) public microdata files—the data needed to do additional tabulations—has been delayed.

EPI strongly urges the president to end the government shutdown—most importantly so federal employees and contractors can receive their paychecks again, but also so that timely, accurate data produced by our government statistical agencies is again fully available so households, businesses, organizations and policymakers are able to make informed decisions.

For more on the importance of unions to a fair economy and some of the forces behind the erosion of union coverage, see "How today's unions help working people."

 -- via my feedly newsfeed