NJFAN and a 21st Century Economic Bill of Rights
By Philip Harvey
From its founding in 1994, the goal of the National Jobs for All Network* has been a federal government commitment to ensure the availability of useful, living-wage work for every job seeker in the country—regardless of local or national economic conditions. Chief among the sources of inspiration for our goal is President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s groundbreaking 1944 proposal for a Second or Economic Bill of Rights. Among these rights are—
- The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation
- The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation
- The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living
- The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad
- The right of every family to a decent home
- The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health
- The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment
- The right to a good education
A year later—in his final State of the Union Message— the President reaffirmed his call for the realization of these rights and placed special emphasis on the importance of securing the right to decent work. Why that right? Not because he thought it was more important in and of itself, but because of its instrumental importance in making it possible to secure the other rights on his list. It was, he argued “the most fundamental” of these rights and the “one on which the fulfillment of the others in large degree depends.”
There are several reasons the right to decent work occupies this position, but the most obvious is the effect full employment at decent wages would have on the practical ability of the federal government to fund measures securing the other rights on FDR’s list. With access to decent employment guaranteed, the number and extent of needs government would have to satisfy with supplemental measures would be greatly reduced while the resources available to meet those needs would be substantially increased.
Poverty directly or indirectly attributable to involuntary unemployment and low-wage work would be eliminated. Only those people who are unable or not expected to be self-supporting would be at risk of needing full government support, while income-earning workers would need supplemental assistance only to the extent required to support exceptionally large families or families with special needs.
At the same time, full employment would provide all levels of government with additional resources. Their tax revenues would increase without increasing tax rates, and the additional spending used to achieve full employment could be used to meet social needs regardless of how the spending was funded. The latter resource pool would be especially significant if, as we advocate, the federal government adopted the New Deal direct-job-creation strategy to achieve full employment.
Policy formulations and achievements in other countries have also influenced our thinking. In his influential book, Full Employment in a Free Society (1944), British economist and statesman Sir William Beveridge defined full employment as—having always more vacant jobs than unemployed men [sic], not fewer jobs. It means that the jobs are at fair wages, of such a kind, and so located that the unemployed men [sic] can reasonably be expected to take them; it means, by consequence, that the normal lag between losing one job and finding another will be very short.
The Beveridge definition of full employment influenced NJFAN’s position that the unemployment rates mainstream economists associate with the achievement of full employment fall far short of that goal--a judgment unequivocally supported by job vacancy data published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (see the Real Count and Job Gap figure in this Newsletter). Historical evidence at both the national and local level in the United States and many other countries shows that when jobs are truly plentiful, unemployment rates fall to the 1% to 2% range. That is the goal required to fulfill the “right” of all job seekers “to a useful and remunerative job.”
FDR’s proposed Economic Bill of Rights was groundbreaking. It foreshadowed the inclusion of economic and social entitlements in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948 as the foundation of an “International Bill of Rights” (with Eleanor Roosevelt playing a leading role in this achievement as the chair of the U.N. Committee that drafted the Universal Declaration).
Since then, a growing body of international human rights conventions and treaties has filled in gaps in both FDR’s list of economic rights and the Universal Declaration’s list. See the archive of Human Rights Instruments maintained by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the complementary Update on Human Rights and the Environment prepared by the Geneva Environment Network (a cooperative partnership of more than 100 environmental and sustainable development organizations established in 1999).
Authoritatively recognized but poorly enforced human rights like the economic entitlements on FDR’s list and the growing body of economic and social entitlements embodied in the Universal Declaration and its progeny are best understood as a form of Aspirational Law. They articulate our aspirations as human beings concerning the kind of species we are committed to becoming and the kind of societies we are committed to creating. Even if we are not yet willing and able as a species to live up to our own aspirations, we have gone on record to affirm them and challenge ourselves to join the struggle to realize them in practice.
The Economic Bill of Rights and a Movement for Economic Justice
FDR’s 1945 State of the Union Message not only reaffirmed his support for the enactment of legislation implementing his Economic Bill of Rights. It explained why the right to a decent job was listed first—because of its importance in facilitating the realization of other economic and social human rights. As NJFAN Chair, Trudy Goldberg states, “The Economic Bill of Rights, in asserting interdependence in the fulfillment of economic rights, implies that concerted action on the part of economic justice advocates would be mutually beneficial.”
It is the goal of the National Jobs for All Network—particularly through this NJFAN Newsletter—to reach out to individuals and organizations pursuing environmental, housing, educational, health care and other rights by featuring their work and explaining how the policies promoted by the Jobs for All Network would advance their goals. The National Jobs for All Network invites and urges advocates of economic rights to contribute reports of their work to this NJFAN Newsletter. We stand ready to join them in our mutual pursuit of economic justice.
*Previously National Jobs for All Coalition
Philip Harvey is Professor of Law and Economic, Rutgers Law School and Counsel to the Board of NJFAN. He is an internationally recognized authority on the right to decent work promoted by FDR and recognized as a universal entitlement in international human rights law.
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Raising Interest Rates Is the Wrong Medicine for Today’s Inflation
By L. Randall Wray
The mainstream consensus is that slow economic growth is a supply-side problem while inflation is a demand-side problem. In the run-up to the COVID downturn, the media’s favorite economist, Larry Summers, warned of long-term secular stagnation. Pundits attributed this to a variety of supply-side factors, including slow growth of the labor force (due to aging of the population), slow productivity growth (absence of innovation), low saving rates (constraining the supply of loanable funds), and excessive government budget deficits (that divert savings to inefficient uses). Given slow growth on the supply side, austere fiscal and monetary policy should keep demand in check to prevent inflation. For the past half-century, the prevailing wisdom has been that government should enforce economic speed limits to keep inflation in check. When the global financial crisis brought on the worst recession since the Great Depression, President Obama’s miniscule relief package reflected that thinking—and recovery took a decade.
The economic disruptions brought on by COVID caused a much sharper downturn due to lockdowns and breaks in supply chains. This time the Congress and two successive Presidents responded with much larger relief packages. The first round of checks was used to pay overdue bills and to build up precautionary savings; the second round brought spending up close to pre-pandemic levels. Larry Summers soon began to warn of inflation due to excessive demand.
In truth, as Yeva Nersisyan and I have shown in several publications at the Levy Institute, Inflation picked up steam after the relief programs had run their course. Like our high inflation periods of the 1970s, inflation now is driven by rising prices of energy, food, and shelter costs—with some anomalies such as used car prices (temporarily boosted because of a shortage of new cars). In addition, sectors with strong oligopoly pricing power are taking advantage of higher inflation to boost profit margins. While apologists within the economic profession deny this, leaders of the megacorps proudly report to shareholders that markups have never been higher.
Pundits warn of another wage-price spiral that will produce intransigent inflation, but the truth is that US wages did not keep pace with inflation in our previous high inflation periods and are not doing so now. In spite of claims that labor markets are tight, the truth is that real wages (taking account of inflation) are not rising across the board, although there have been some much-needed increases at the bottom.
Higher oil prices feed through quickly to food, shipping, and other transportation costs. There’s some evidence that energy prices are already moderating. The biggest portion of shelter costs is the imputed rent of home-owner-occupied housing. This is a fabricated number that can be impacted by rising actual rents, but it is a poor proxy for actual costs faced by homeowners and as such tends to overstate the burden of inflation. Still, there are significant price pressures across an ever-changing range of consumer items due to supply disruptions, many of these linked either to long and complex supply chains or to difficulties in staffing workplaces. As long as COVID continues to lead to shutdowns in China and to barriers to labor force participation by America’s parents, we will continue to face supply side problems.
President Biden—like all the Presidents since Jimmy Carter—has proclaimed that inflation control is the Fed’s job. While the Fed has other tools at its disposal, its favorite tool is the overnight interest rate target. As the joke goes, if all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Chairman Powell’s hero is Paul Volcker, who hammered the interest rate to above 20%. Volcker helped to bring on the stagflation that tanked Jimmy Carter’s presidency and secured the Neoliberal era that brought us decades of Larry Summers’ secular stagnation. Powell may very well be able to produce a repeat performance!
Raising rates is precisely the wrong medicine. The theory is that raising rates will reduce the incentive to borrow so that spending will gradually drop and reduce pressure on prices. The truth is that consumer spending is not very sensitive to interest rates It should be fairly obvious that consumers are not borrowing to fill their gas tanks or their grocery bags. Higher rates have cooled mortgage markets and will suck some income from households with floating rate mortgages. However, the US is facing a severe housing shortage—especially of multi-family units—that will be made worse by higher costs of financing construction. We also need investments in infrastructure—including, most importantly, investments in greening our economy—that will probably be postponed. And if it is true that we’ve entered a “new normal” period of lower labor market participation, we will need investments in labor-saving technologies. The answer to supply side constraints is to make these investments in the supply side—not to cripple aggregate demand.
Even if Larry Summers was correct in his argument that relief spending was too big, the fiscal stance has already tightened significantly. Not only did the spending end, but tax revenues have been booming Together, the drop of transfer spending, plus the increase of taxes, have pulled a couple of trillion dollars out of the economy. A recession was already the likely outcome–even before Powell started raising rates. Indeed, if one looks back at our recessions and Fed tightening, it becomes apparent that the Fed’s timing is always impeccable: it always raises rates after fiscal policy has turned the corner toward austerity. That is, the Fed always raises rates as we move into recession. The talk about engineering a soft landing is nonsense. The combination of fiscal and monetary policy tightening in the face of continuing significant supply-side problems means a hard landing is likely.
For many months, the Fed had adopted the correct policy: patience. The global health pandemic turned out to be much worse and longer lasting than most of us expected. Further, it revealed the vulnerability of global supply chains that Neoliberalism created and relied upon. What we really need is a fundamental reform of our economy. That is, of course, a longer-term project. For the near-term we need to halt the interest rate hikes and renew relief spending better targeted to those who need it most.
We then need to support more investment in low-income housing (to moderate rent hikes), more investment in alternative energy (to reduce dependence on volatile and planet-destroying oil), and tackle price-gouging by the megacorps that dominates most sectors of the economy. There is probably no magic bullet that will bring inflation back below 2%, but it will eventually moderate. Some inflation is acceptable if we can keep employment up, reduce poverty, and put the economy on an environmentally sustainable path.
L. Randall Wray is Professor of Economics, Bard College, Senior Scholar at the Levy Economics Institute, and Member of the Board of NJFAN. His most recent book is A Great Leap Forward: Heterodox Economic Policy for the 21st Century (Academic Press, 2020).
 https://www.levyinstitute.org/publications/is-it-time-for-rate-hikes-the-fed-cannot-engineer-a-soft-landing-but-risks-stagflation-by-trying; and https://www.levyinstitute.org/publications/whats-causing-accelerating-inflation-pandemic-or-policy-response
Reports of Its Demise Exaggerated?
By Trudy Goldberg
Review of: William E. Scheuerman, A New American Labor Movement: The Decline of Collective Bargaining and the Rise of Direct Action, Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2021.
In A New American Labor Movement, William Scheuerman explains why the American labor movement declined precipitously in the last 65 years and analyzes the strategies and achievements of workers outside the labor movement who have organized and taken direct action to improve their working conditions. Based on this study, Scheuerman proposes an alternative to labor’s collective bargaining model. Scheuerman writes with authority: as Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the State University of New York, Oswego and as a former president of both the National Labor College and the faculty and staff union at SUNY.
Labor’s “Long Slide”
At its height in the mid-1950s, labor’s density rate or percent of all employed workers was 35%. In 2021 it was 11.6%--a rate comparable to pre-New Deal levels. This is labor’s “long slide,” and Scheuerman draws on these inter-related factors to explain it: offshoring in response to foreign competition with a resultant loss of 15 million U.S. jobs between 1969 and 1976; continued corporate flight under NAFTA; financial institutions becoming major stockholders in industrial companies resulting in corporate allegiance to stockholders instead of employees; the corporate sector’s all-out war on labor; and automation. Also contributing to union decline is the hostile legal environment in which labor operates—Taft-Hartley in 1947 “that undercut many of the rights guaranteed labor in the Wagner Act,” the 2018 Janus ruling of the Supreme Court, and much in between.
Scheuerman lays some blame for the slide on labor itself-- business unionism, ineffective organizing techniques, lack of militancy, overly bureaucratic leaders unresponsive to their members, and emphasis on electoral politics rather than organizing. But Scheuerman says the major cause is structural. The AFL-CIO is a federation of autonomous international unions in which the president is “little more than a titular head whose main weapon is the use of the bully pulpit to get autonomous workers to follow his lead.” Scheuerman points to several structural change initiatives—all of which failed and are examples of labor’s “shooting itself in the foot.”
Is the injury largely self-inflicted? Scheuerman recognizes that even when Democrats inhabit the White House and control both Houses of Congress, they don’t pass legislation that would make it easier for labor to grow. An example: the failure to enact the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) that was supposed to be labor’s reward for vital help during the 2008 presidential campaign. This loss reflects “the current reality of a politically weakened union movement.” But what does it say about Democrats’ failure to reciprocate labor’s support?
Historian Nelson Lichtenstein has a different take on the relationship. With a liberal majority in both Houses of Congress and Lyndon Johnson at the helm, labor sought repeal of Section 14B of the Taft-Hartley Act, which gave states the authority to proscribe the union shop. Organized labor had played a key role in pushing through the landmark civil rights and social welfare legislation. “But when it came to the repeal of 14B, President Johnson put the labour reform at the end of the legislative line….” Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton got much labor support during their respective campaigns and briefly had large Democratic majorities in Congress. But these presidents, write Lichtenstein, “saw labour law reform as a grudging tribute owed to their labour allies rather than a core part of their legislative agenda.”
Non-Union Organizations or Worker Centers
Scheuerman presents five examples of non-union worker organizations or worker centers that are aided in organizing and improving members’ conditions by religious groups, foundations, and unions. Worker Centers don’t collect dues from their members and depend on this support. Two of the Centers represent very oppressed farm workers who are prevented from forming unions by the National Labor Relations Act. Worker Centers of the Uber and Lyft drivers in California are virtual--in keeping with workers who do not interact or meet in the course of their work. These gig workers are disadvantaged by their classification as independent contractors rather than employees and consequently lack workplace benefits like unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation. One of the five Worker Centers, the Freelancers Union, is an outlier within what Scheuerman calls the “developing new labor movement” -- because it does not confront employers and substitutes service provision for political struggle.
The largest and probably best-known Worker Center discussed by Scheuerman--the one that has most to teach the labor movement--is the Fight for $15. Beginning with 200 underpaid fast-food workers from about 30 fast-food stores in New York City who walked off their jobs in November 2012, the Fight for $15 became “a tsunami spreading across the country to more than 300 cities and then onto six continents.” Not only Forbes labeled the $15 minimum as “nearly insane”; the Nation called it “unwinnable.” Today, millions enjoy a $15 minimum wage--although Congress has yet to enact it. These workers “don’t sit at a bargaining table to discuss their terms and conditions of employment with their employers.” Instead, they pressure state and local governments to provide the benefits and protections of a typical labor contract.
New York Communities for Change (NYCC), the successor to ACORN (Association of Community Organizers for Reform) joined forces with two New York City unions to organize the first protest. NYCC reached out to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) which initially saw an opportunity for traditional union organizing but instead took on the movement-oriented task of exposing corporate greed and horrible working conditions in its 17-city Fight for a Fair Economy Campaign--for which it committed $60 million. Moreover, its strategy was to organize entire industries- rather than shop by shop.
Gains from direct action by these nonunion workers are impressive. Nonetheless, Scheuerman agrees with political scientist Frances Fox Piven who applauds SEIU’s role in Fight for $15 but points out that the Fight for $15 is not a unionizing campaign that would give workers power in relation to their immediate oppressors--their bosses.
In searching for strategies, Scheuerman looked outside the labor movement and collective bargaining. However, he might also have examined some examples of dynamic unions that don’t fit the moribund mold. The National Nurses United joined Occupy Wall Street in demanding a “Robin Hood Tax” to heal America. A New Yorker profile of Sara Nelson, President of the Association of Flight Attendants, recounts Nelson’s militance in calling for a general strike in response to the 2018 government shutdown and her leadership role when COVID struck--working with airline executives and the key Congressional player, Rep. Peter DeFazio, to gain a fifty-billion-dollar bailout from Congress that saved the airline industry and the jobs of several hundred thousand aviation workers. Not to mention SEIU’s leadership in Fight for $15. These dynamic unions are led by women!
Based on analysis of labor’s decline and successful direct action like the Fight for $15, Scheuerman concludes that political action is replacing the bargaining table and that the road ahead is toward sectoral or industry-wide bargaining--the model of European social democracies. A New American Labor Movement was published in 2021, and although very current then, it came out before workers at the Amazon warehouse in Staten Island voted (in March 2022) to be represented by a union. By May of this year, 100 Starbucks stores had voted to unionize. The successful organizing drives we are watching—and cheering–are examples of shop-by-shop collective bargaining. It is the leaders of drives like these who are grassroots and nontraditional--not the bargaining unit.
This spring, veteran journalist Gregory N. Heires wrote that “widely-publicized organizing drives and a growing militancy are fueling hope for a labor revival following decades of attacks on unions that has led to the long-term downward spiral in membership….” “The pandemic,” observes labors studies professor John Logan of San Francisco State University, “has fundamentally changed the labor landscape by giving workers more leverage with their employers, and it’s just a question of whether unions can take advantage of the opportunity this transformation has opened up.”
Requisites for Revival
It’s too early to know whether an American labor movement organized traditionally, shop-by-shop, will make a comeback. The requisites for union growth, however, are the same, regardless of the collective bargaining unit. Scheuerman emphasizes the need for a strong safety net not tied to employment. That is important to both models. In addition to providing comprehensive coverage of risks, it frees unions from having to bargain for these benefits.
Reform of labor laws would boost union resurgence. The Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO) that is stalled in the Senate would clear one obstacle to union representation--by allowing workers to join a union--whether classified as employees or independent contractors. Sectoral bargaining itself is illegal under current labor law.
Tight labor markets like the present one make workers more willing to join a union or engage in direct action—an advantage threatened by the Federal Reserve strategy for curing inflation. Full employment, a policy that both the labor movement and the Democratic Party have ceased to endorse, would guarantee labor an employment environment conducive to organizing. Scheuerman does not mention what was once a hallmark of the progressive agenda.
In explaining the “long slide,” Scheuerman tended to underplay the Democratic Party’s failure to reciprocate labor’s support, placing more emphasis on the movement’s weaknesses. In the final chapter, however, he writes that “at this moment in history the Democratic Party is the only vehicle capable of bringing significant progressive change.” A strong political party closely allied with workers and their struggles is important for labor’s growth, regardless of the bargaining unit. The existence in Western Europe of both a comprehensive welfare state and sectoral bargaining is dependent on the strong working-class parties that are closely allied with labor. Even something short of such an alliance would help labor. “The lesson of the New Deal,” observes McIntyre, “is that a radical movement can make real social change when government is even only mildly supportive.
In stressing the critical role of a strong, progressive Democratic Party, Scheuerman hails the leadership of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He points to demographic trends, such as age and ethnicity, that bode well for progressive politics and explain why Republicans are intent on suppressing the vote. Scheuerman concludes that “The fight of American workers for a revitalized labor movement through political action…is ultimately a struggle for democracy.”
Trudy Goldberg is Professor Emerita of Social Work and Social Policy at Adelp[hi University and Chair of NJFAN. She is the author of numerous popular and scholarly works on comparative welfare states focusing on the poverty of women, the New Deal, and the struggle for economic justice.
 Nelson Lichtenstein, “Labour, Liberalism, and the Democratic Party: A Vexed Alliance,” Relations Industrielles/Industrial Relationos, 66, 4, 2011.
 Richard McIntyre, “Labor Militance and the New Deal: Some Lessons for Today,” in Sheila D. Collins and Gertrude Schaffner Goldberg, eds., When Government Helped: Learning from the Successes and Failures of the New Deal. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 139.
 Jennifer Gonnerman, “Highflier,” The New Yorker, May 30, 2022, pp. 44-53.
 Gregory N. Heires, “Are We Witnessing a Rebirth of Unions?” NJFAN Newsletter, April 2022.
 McIntyre, p. 147.
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Workers like Fran Marion Need More Than a Raise: They Need a Union
Like other fast-food restaurants, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen in Kansas City insists on “instant” customer service. Workers like Fran Marion must take an order, cook it, bag it, and deliver it to the patron in three minutes. Fran occasionally works when the restaurant is on “short shift” or when it is grossly understaffed, in which case, she must do all the jobs herself. Despite twenty-two years of experience in the fast-food industry, Fran scrambles as she takes the order, cooks it, and delivers it to a satisfied customer. It’s only recently that she has been permitted to take a short break. For this Fran got $9.50 an hour. After completing her shift at Popeyes, Fran works another full-time job as a janitor for $11 an hour. “You basically need two jobs to survive working on low wages,” says Fran.
A thirty-seven-year-old single mother, Fran doesn’t get to spend much time with her two teenage children. She goes days at a time without seeing them since the city condemned her rented house and made Fran homeless. Her children now live with a friend while Fran sleeps on another friend’s sofa. Like millions of other fast-food restaurants Popeyes does not provide Fran with health insurance, sick pay or vacation pay, or anything else a good union job offers. In fact, Fran has not seen a doctor once in her entire adult life.
Adapted by Scheuerman from Dominic Rushe with video by Tom Silverstone, “Fran Works Six Days a Week in Fast Food, and Yet She’s Homeless: ‘It’s Economic Slavery,’” The Guardian, August 21, 2017.
Average Popeyes' Restaurants hourly pay ranges from approximately $7.25 per hour for Dishwasher to $13.96 per hour for Manager. The average Popeyes' Restaurants salary ranges from approximately $29,157 per year for Customer Service Representative to $67,270 per year for District Manager.
Salary information comes from 190 data points collected directly from employees, users, and past and present job advertisements on Indeed in the past 36 months.
Noreen Connell: Why She Joined the Fight for Women’s Rights and Economic Justice
By Sheila Collins
Noreen Connell, a long-time NJFAN activist and member of both the Board and Executive Committee, has had a distinguished career as an advocate for women’s rights and employment equity. She holds a Masters in Sociology from the New School. Her activism began when she was a graduate student during the re-emergence of the feminist movement in the late 1960s and early ‘70s. She is the co-editor of Rape: The First Sourcebook for Women (New American Library, 1974) which published the transcripts and papers that were presented at the 1971 New York Radical Feminists conference and speak-out.
Noreen’s concern about economic justice developed early in her life as a result of the economic uncertainty her family faced. She helped pay her way through Beloit college by serving in the cafeteria as well as stuffing envelopes in the alumni office. During her field work assignment, which was in a women’s prison, she saw for the first time how low-income women are treated in the justice system. As she puts it:
This was a dramatic introduction to how the uglier side of laws, education, and the justice system impacted very poor women, White, Black, Latino, and Native American. When I was trying to teach the prisoners Spanish, no one in my class knew what a pronoun was. I found that out of more than 40 women prisoners, only two had graduated from high school. A good number had dyslexia and didn’t know how to read or even compute numbers. Imagine trying to work as a waitress or store clerk with these limitations. So, they passed bad checks, went into prostitution, hung out with gangs. Not too many were in for drugs—that was still to come. When I went back to Beloit and volunteered in the parole office, almost all the parolees had the same difficulty reading and computing.
But the issues went beyond education. When I taught sewing in prison, I found out that my star pupil had gotten a life sentence for murdering her husband after years of brutality towards her and her many children. Unbelievably, some of the women were sent to the prison because they lived in rural communities where some judges viewed having out-of-wedlock babies as “lewd and lascivious” behavior. This was in 1967, when abortion was illegal.
Noreen would go on to graduate school at Northwestern and the New School, helping to work her way through by waitressing. That experience presented yet another insight into women’s economic plight. For six years she worked in what she called, “lousy” restaurants. “To work in better ones,” she recalled, “very often you had to pay a bribe of two or three hundred dollars. Now the bribe amounts are much higher. Worse, New York’s lack of labor law enforcement means that waitstaff sometimes earn less than minimum wage.”
In the early 1970s, Noreen co-founded Women Office Workers (WOW). During her tenure at WOW, she filed age and sex discrimination complaints against five employment agencies. Her own commitment to eliminating gender discrimination in employment was reinforced by her three decades as a volunteer on the Women and the Workplace Committee at the city and state levels of the National Organization for Women (NOW), where she served as New York City Chapter President (1977-1979) and New York State President (1984-1988).
Working with attorney Barbara Rochman, Noreen was able to secure federal Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) funds to secure dockworker jobs for low-income women in Brooklyn and New Jersey. Ultimately, this CETA program was transformed into the federal Job Training and Partnership Act (JTPA) to help women secure jobs in the direct-mail industry. She and former New York State Assemblymember Sy Posner created a successful coalition allowing pregnant workers to collect paid maternity leave–among the first programs to do so in the nation.
“These victories are bittersweet,” said Noreen, “because the workforce remains largely sex-segregated for low-income women and because 40 years later there is still no federal paid parental leave. Ronald Reagan’s election ushered in a backlash against affirmative action and enforcement of anti-discrimination laws that is ongoing.”
From 1983-1984, Noreen served as Assistant Commissioner of the New York State Department of Labor from which she resigned after being elected President of NOW-New York State. She served for 18 years as Executive Director of the Educational Priorities Panel, a coalition of organizations dedicated to securing more funding for New York City public schools. She has also served as a board member of the Workers Defense League (WDL) for more than 40 years. WDL helps workers receive Unemployment Insurance in the State of New York.
Noreen joined the National Jobs for All Coalition (NJFAN’s former name) at the urging of co-founders Professors Sumner Rosen and Helen Ginsburg. She had worked with Helen in a 1970s coalition on behalf of federal full employment legislation. This is how Noreen expresses her commitment to NJFAN’s goal:
I admire the collective effort to restructure our economy, “to ensure that everyone has a job at a living wage.” Before President Franklin Roosevelt’s Social Security Act was created, old age or the death of a working parent meant the poorhouse for many millions, generation after generation. In 1944, 78 years ago, Roosevelt proclaimed his Economic Bill of Rights in which the right to employment was the most fundamental. Our greatest challenge today is to educate the public that unemployment and low wages can be eliminated. The economy now works mostly for monopolies and profiteers at great human cost. We can change this.
Sheila Collins is Professor Emerita of Political Science, William Paterson University and Co-founder and member of the Executive Committee, National Jobs for All Network (NJFAN). The author of numerous books and articles on politics, public policy, social movements, and religion, her latest publication is a biography of a leading human rights activist: Ubuntu: George M. Houser and the Struggle for Peace & Freedom on Two Continents (Ohio University Press, 2020).
Monthly Jobs Report Analysis
Recession Yet? The Jobs Report for July, 2022
By FRANK STRICKER
In July, the official Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment rate fell to 3.5%. It has not been that low since the first months of 2020 before the pandemic began. But unemployment rates were still quite high for African Americans (6%), teens (11.5%), and especially for black teens (20.3%).
1. Why Aren’t Even More People Working?
Including hidden unemployment, the National Jobs for all Network found that real unemployment was 9.1%. (See the accompanying chart.) Even in this booming labor market, there are still part-timers who cannot find full-time work and a lot of other job-wanters who are not actively searching because they are not confident of finding a decent job, or they cannot make child-care arrangements, or they still fear COVID infections at work. More broadly, it is a fact that for many decades American job quality, in terms of pay, benefits, worker participation, and leave and child-care policies, has been lousy. The pandemic, federal policies, the Great Resignation, and unionization drives have not yet changed underlying structures very much.
But there are still a lot of job openings. For months employers have reported a large number of job vacancies, and they did so again in June. The number has fallen, but not much. Total job openings reported by employers were 10.7 million. That’s very high. In fact, pandemic levels of vacancies are unprecedented in the twenty-two-year history of the statistic.
Current vacancy numbers could include a lot of catch-up from so-called labor shortages. And employers may be listing more openings than they really need, driven by past difficulties in getting workers. If employers come to feel that there will be a significant recession with reduced business activity, they will cut the number of job offerings. It will be interesting to see if there is evidence of this in the next job vacancy report on August 30.
2. Real Wages Lag
For two years, employers have been eager to hire. So, money wages (what’s on your paycheck) have been rising. But most workers cannot keep up with inflation. For rank-and-file workers, hourly, after-inflation pay was 3.1% less in June of this year than a year ago. Consumer prices last month were up 9% for the year. Workers aren’t getting rich off inflation.
3. Are We in a Recession?
We won’t know for awhile. The total output of the U.S. economy fell a bit in the last two quarters, but such a decline is not the official definition of a recession. A private firm, The National Bureau of Economic Research, weighs a bunch of factors, and it takes time for them to make a decision. But it will be hard for any agency or politician to assert that we have been in a recession when we have had solid increases in job totals this year. In July, 528,000 non-farm jobs were added. Since December of 2021, we added 3.3 million non-farm jobs. That’s no recession.
But some experts and Federal Reserve policy makers don’t want more jobs. They want fewer. They want more people desperate for jobs and willing to work for less than they expect to be paid now. If the Fed succeeds, we will get a real recession.
4. Could Government Authorities Cut Inflation Rates without Sending the Economy into Some Kind of Recession?
There are ways, but most economists don’t seem to be interested in discussing such alternatives. I am not an economist, but I have been an historian of the economy. I was dismayed to find that over many decades, the experts expended little energy to find softer ways than higher unemployment to tame inflation. Today, many economists--including the informative liberal Paul Krugman--are happy that the Federal Reserve is jacking up interest rates to raise unemployment, scare workers, and cut wage increases.
Better methods would include some of the things that the Biden Administration is doing. Government fixes (releasing oil from the nation’s emergency reserve), along with general economic forces, have begun to bring gas prices down. Price controls in selected areas of the economy could help. Just-passed legislation giving Medicare more power to bargain over drug prices will eventually help.
5. Goodbye to the Great Resignation
Higher unemployment--the goal of current monetary policy--will weaken the bargaining leverage that many workers gained during the pandemic. That is the point of Fed policy. Control inflation with pressure on wages, not on prices.
As we move through the next few months, there will be less evidence of the Great Resignation. Fewer workers will stay on the sidelines waiting for better offers. Fewer will be able to quit their jobs with confidence that they can find something else pretty easily. And the best chance for real wage gains since the late 1990s may evaporate before inflation, which is eating away at rising wages, is brought under control. And if policy aims first to cut wage increases, why expect something better?
Frank Stricker is on the Board and Executive Committee of the National Jobs for All Network and is a member of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). He taught history and labor studies for many years at California State University, Dominguez Hills. His book, American Unemployment: Past, Present, and Future (2020), shows that excessive unemployment, not full employment, has been the rule for much of the last century and a half.
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Officially unemployed: 6.0 MILLION (3.6%)
Hidden unemployment: 5.7 million
(Includes 3.9 million people working part-time
because they can't find a full-time job;
and 5.9 million people who want jobs,
but are not actively looking)
Total: 15.5 MILLION (9.1% of the labor force)
There are 1.3 job-wanters for each available job!
For more information and analysis, visit: www.njfac.org
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Since its founding in 1994, the National Jobs for All Network (previously Coalition) has been “telling the whole story” about unemployment.*
Our founders recognized that the official unemployment rate reported monthly by the Labor Department leaves out more jobless and job short workers than it includes. To be counted as unemployed, one must work less than one hour a week in paid employment and be actively seeking employment. As the above figures show, more than half the unemployed or underemployed are left out of the official count. Consider the political consequences of this undercount—of a problem perceived by the public as less than half as widespread as it really is.
*See “Unemployment Statistics: Let’s Tell the Whole Story” by NJFAC founders Helen Lachs Ginsburg, Bill Ayres, and June Zaccone, Employment Statistics: Let's Tell the Whole Story - NJFAC
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The National Jobs for All Network is dedicated to the proposition that meaningful employment is a precondition for a fulfilling life and that every person capable of working should have the right to a job. As part of our mission, the NJFAN promotes discussion, encourages networking, and disseminates information concerning the problem of unemployment, the struggle for workers’ rights, and the goal of guaranteeing decent work for everyone who wants it.
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Trudy Goldberg, Editor. Chuck Bell and Charlotte Wilhelm (production managers); Frank Stricker; Philip Harvey; Stephen Monroe Tomczak (Movement News); Logan Martinez; June Zaccone (Full Count and NJFAN website) and Noreen Connell.
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