Archive for September 11, 2012
American workers face hard times. While the Great Recession reduced incomes and increased unemployment across all socioeconomic groups, the poor got hit harder than anyone else.
Over the past forty years, moreover, many workers have experienced stagnant wages and miserly salaries, vanishing pensions, diminishing benefits, and increasing workloads. The traditional expectation that as worker productivity increased wages would also rise has not happened. Worker productivity grew 80 percent from 1973 to 2011, but the average worker wage, adjusted for inflation, fell 7 percent
Only 56 percent of those laid off from January 2009 through December 2011 found jobs by the start of this year. Over half of them took jobs with lower pay. Poverty rates continue to climb, reaching levels unseen in almost fifty years.
Although the recession supposedly ended in 2009, we remain in a job crisis even as corporate profits have returned to high levels and the rich control even more of our wealth. A weak economy and fraying safety net create deep distress among average working people.
Making matters worse is wage theft, rapidly becoming a widespread and often unacknowledged crime. People put in more than 40 hours a week without overtime pay by being forced to work off the clock or having their jobs misclassified as exempt from overtime requirements. Others complain employers confiscate tips, pay less than minimum wage, and make unauthorized or illegal deductions.
Workers seeking to organize against employer domination and abuse face great obstacles. Workers seeking union protection are routinely subjected to intimidation, threats, captive meetings, interminable administratively delays, coercive one-on-one hectoring by supervisors, demotions, forced transfers, and other forms of retaliation including dismissal. The miniscule fines for these infractions of labor rights have little deterrent effect. In their new book, Why Labor Organizing Should Be a Civil Right, Richard D. Kahlenberg and Moshe Z. Marvit propose an amendment to the Civil Rights Act to bar discrimination on the basis of exercising the right to unionize, just as employers are currently prohibited from discriminating against employees on the basis of race, gender, religion, marital status, physical ability, and—in some jurisdictions—sexual orientation.
The problem with the U.S. economy right now is that not enough people have money to spend. The ongoing downward pressure on wages from the cumulative effects of long-term unemployment and union busting left many Americans with too little money even if they do have jobs. This weak consumer spending accounts for most of our slow recovery rather than taxes or labor costs.
Assisting low wage earners by increasing the minimum wage would be a big, immediate, and popular stimulus. One part of Iowa Democratic Senator Tom Harkin’s Rebuild America Act would raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.80 per hour and index it to inflation. This would give 28 million workers a raise and generate about 100,000 jobs over three years. Upping the compensation of low wage workers increases the immediate demand for basic needs and services, reduces turnover, and generates more tax revenue. And it does not reduce employment.
Now is the time for public investment when savings on materials are plentiful and interest rates are low. We can create new jobs by rebuilding and upgrading our infrastructure such as roads and bridges, modernizing our schools, and installing energy efficient systems. Direct federal spending on safety net programs such as food stamps and unemployment insurance also spurs a cycle of increased economic activity.
Our big challenge today remains generating robust job growth and making sure unemployment drops steadily and rapidly. The best deficit reduction measure is putting people to work. We need jobs, not austerity.
Ralph Scharnau teaches U. S. history at Northeast Iowa Community College, Peosta. He holds a Ph.D. from Northern Illinois University. His publications include articles on labor history in Iowa and Dubuque. Scharnau, a peace and justice activist, writes monthly op-ed columns for the Dubuque Telegraph Herald.
Blog for Iowa and about seventy-five people attended a candidate forum Monday with Dick Schwab and Bobby Kaufmann (HD73) and Sally Stutsman and Steve Sherman (HD77) at the Coralville Public Library.
Civility was on hand but at the end of the day a picture emerged of each candidate as they shared (more or less) where they stand on issues of importance to Iowans.
Betty Kelly, senior advocate and Jeff Charis-Carlson, Iowa City Press-Citizen, were co moderators. Questions were submitted on paper from the audience.
Schwab (D) emphasized his substantial experience in education as a member of the Solon school board for 12 years as well as his work with Dollars for Scholars and Scholarship America.
Stutsman (D) described herself as a proponent of private-public partnerships. The state has a role and a responsibility to educate students with the greatest need – accessible education for all is very, very important she said. Her campaign motto is “Let’s get to work!”
Kaufmann (R) said that education is also important to him and added “if it wasn’t I wouldn’t be invited to Christmas.”
Steve Sherman (R) said education is also a top priority for him.
2012 Legislative Session: The question was posed as to why Gov. Branstad said that seemingly not much was accomplished.
Schwab: I want to be a collaborator, reach across the aisle. Feels the legislature should deal with the big issues first and the smaller issues last which he observed is typically opposite of how it is done.
Sherman: a “do-nothing congress” is somewhat of a “compliment” because “many people want to be left alone by government.”
Stutsman said she feels quite a lot was done in the legislature and that progress was made and gave examples.
Kaufmann said something to the effect of, he can’t be critical because his Dad was in the legislature at the time and some legislators were present in the room.
Voter ID: The question was, with only 8 known cases of voter fraud in Iowa, what is their opinion of current efforts to require photo ID of voters at the polls.
Stutsman: Rightfully pointed out that the right to vote is the foundation of our democracy. She mentioned her 43 years of voting in Johnson County where voting has been made as accessible as possible. Said she feels there should be as few obstacles as possible. She stated she is disappointed in the money being spent on hindering people’s voting access.
Kaufmann said he would have to see the exact law.
Sherman said if you have to show ID for a fishing license, why not have to show ID to vote? (perhaps because fishing is not a constitutionally protected right? sorry couldn’t help myself..)
Schwab: “”The foundation of our democracy is the opportunity to vote, and the responsibility of a citizen who lives in our democracy is to vote: to choose the candidate they feel will best represent their interests. So providing the opportunity to vote with as few restrictions as possible is something I strongly support.”
Stutsman’ experience in government was on display as she schooled the others and the audience - if we don’t take the federal dollars, the medical services have to be paid for anyway, and that will come from the local taxpayers. This is a no-brainer (my word, not hers).
Kaufmann: Not going to make a promise to seniors based on an “unfunded mandate.”
Queston: What are your qualifications to manage a budget the size of the state of Iowa’s?
Schwab: Pointed out that the largest portion of the state budget is education – he cited his 12 years on the Solon school board, his experience starting businesses, having worked in a large corporation and his banking experience.
Kaufmann: Pointed out that “none of us are experts on all issues” and cited his clerkship for his dad in which he was allowed to take a leadership role. He said he would ask the experts.
Stutsman: Johnson County supervisor for last 18 years has been an excellent learning tool. Also cited her experience in farming is important because agriculture is such an important part of Iowa’s economy.
Sherman: cited his experience as a small business owner and added he would use “good old Iowa logic” and seek out others that “know more.”
There was a partisan split on the question of whether Iowa should have a motorcycle helmet law with the Republicans’ hair standing up on the backs of their necks at the idea of government’s “constant” interference into “every aspect” of people’s lives. All of the candidates seemed ok with a helmet law for kids. The fiscally responsible candidates in the room (Democrats Schwab and Stutsman) pointed out the societal costs of having to care for individuals with brain injuries for their entire lives.
Since it is going to come up again this time, they were asked, what about MidAmerican Energy being allowed to force taxpayers to fund research for a nuclear facility?
Kaufmann said he would have voted against it. (I’m pretty sure I heard that right).
Stutsman: Would have voted no and added that she was incredulous that a power company could charge its customers to build a facility and then never do it. Mentioned need to study alternative forms of energy.
Sherman seemed sympathetic to the cause saying among other things, “energy companies are frustrated with government in general.”
Schwab mentioned the need to be mindful of alternative sources of energy and said he would have voted against it. Acknowledged that there currently is not enough renewable energy.
An interesting question, probably from the audience: How would you break with your party if elected?
Schwab: Got his second laugh of the day from the audience by his observation that “that is a loaded question.” Believes his colleagues in the Democratic caucus will respect his opinion if he decides to vote against his party.
Kaufmann said that he is beholden to his constituents, not his party.
Stutsman: Proud to be a Democrat, but “I know I won’t always agree. I know if I have thought through my position they’ll be supportive of where I stand.”
Sherman: I am a proud Republican. Problem solving is what I will be sent there to do. ~
The Democrats in my view clearly showed more leadership in the way they answered the questions. The Republican candidates seemed to hide behind generalizations and used words like “theoretically” and “I’d have to see the bill first” more than the Democratic candidates did. The Democratic candidates added information into their responses and displayed more thoughtfulness in their answers. Overall, the Democrats seemed to have a greater breadth of knowledge, were better informed, and better prepared to speak about the issues.
This candidate forum will be broadcast on Channel 4 the Iowa City channel. If you would like to help these campaigns, we located campaign websites for Sally Stutsman, Steve Sherman and Dick Schwab. We were unable to find a campaign website for Bobby Kaufmann but a Google search produces quite a lot of newspaper and blog coverage since he declared his candidacy. His campaign literature lists this as his e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org