Vulnerability in Numbers: Racial Composition of the Electorate, Voter Suppression, and the Voting Rights Act

Source: Ian Vandewalker, Keith Gunnar Bentele, Harvard Latino Law Review, Vol. 18, 2015

From the abstract:
In Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court rendered one of the most potent antidiscrimination provisions of American law a dead letter: the preclearance regime of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). Shelby County held that the formula determining which jurisdictions are required to obtain federal approval for voting law changes was outdated and offensive to states’ rights. The Court ignored ample evidence of discrimination in the covered jurisdictions, focusing instead on improvements in voter turnout and registration. We present new empirical evidence that the proposal and passage of restrictive voting laws, such as photo identification requirements and reductions of early voting opportunities, are associated with racial factors such as larger African American populations and increases in minority voter turnout. These results are consistent with the interpretation that restrictive voting laws have been pursued in order to suppress Democratic-leaning minority voters, and they are suggestive that racial discrimination is a contributing factor to this type of legislation. The increases in registration and turnout that Shelby County hailed as evidence that preclearance is no longer needed are actually risk factors for potentially discriminatory voting laws. We suggest opportunities for countering discrimination after Shelby County. The evidence we present is relevant to litigation under remaining provisions of the VRA, especially the prohibition on voting laws with a discriminatory effect under Section 2. Finally, we suggest that our findings should inform the Congressional response to Shelby County: a new coverage formula should include the racial characteristics we identify as risk factors.

DATAWATCH: Collectively Bargained Health Plans: More Comprehensive, Less Cost Sharing Than Employer Plans

Source: Jon R. Gabel, Heidi Whitmore, Jennifer L. Satorius, Jeremy Pickreign, and Sam T. Stromberg, Health Affairs, vol. 34 no. 3, March 2015
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
National statistics on the cost and provisions of collectively bargained health plans show them to have similar single premiums, but lower family premiums, compared to employer-based plans not subject to collective bargaining. Union members contribute 4 percent and 6 percent of the cost of their premiums for single and family coverage, respectively, versus 18 percent and 29 percent for workers in employer-based plans. Cost sharing in collectively bargained plans is considerably less than in employer-based plans; coverage for prescription drugs is similar.

The Potential Effects Of A Right To Work Law In Wisconsin

Source: Abdur Chowdhury, Marquette University, January 2015

There is an ongoing effort to make Wisconsin a ‘right to work’ (RTW) state. Proponents of RTW laws suggest that it will make Wisconsin more attractive to business investment. However, most evidence shows that RTW legislation, by itself, is not much of a factor in where firms locate. In annual surveys of small manufacturers conducted by Area Development magazine, RTW never ranked in the top 10 factors influencing location decisions. Another argument for RTW is the claim that it creates more jobs. But numerous studies have shown that it is not RTW laws that matter, but rather the `pro-business package’ offered by right-to-work states seems to matter. A national assessment of the effect of RTW laws on important labor market outcomes, such as, unionization, wages, employment, inequality and job-related injuries reveal some important findings. First, unionization rates in RTW states are less than half of what they are in Collective Bargaining (CB) states. Second, aggregate employment in RTW states has increased modestly while employment in CB states has declined. Third, wages are lower in RTW states than in CB states. Fourth, RTW increases gender and racial wage inequality and also makes for less safe workplace. The potential net loss in direct income to Wisconsin worker s and their families due to a RTW legislation is between $3.89 and $4.82 billion annually. Using a conservative estimate of an impact multiplier of 1.5, the total direct and induced loss of a RTW legislation is estimated between $5.84 and $ 7.23 billion annually. Based upon the two estimates of lost incomes and an overall effective tax rate of 4 .0%, the economic loss in state income taxes is estimated between $234 and $289 million per year. While considerable efforts are being made by certain legislators to pass the RTW law in Wisconsin, the empirical evidence on the effect of adopting such a law does not support prescribing it as an economic policy tool. Overall, this study shows that RTW legislation would provide no discernible economic advantage to Wisconsin, but would impose significant social and economic costs. Low wages would weaken consumption. Higher rates of labor turnover and adversarial labor-management relations would decrease productivity. It would also burden the state with higher ‘mop-up’ costs. Right to work is a shortsighted and superficial selling point. The citizens and potential investors in Wisconsin are all better served by economic development policies that lead to decent wages and working conditions.

The Growing Number Of Right To Work States And The Future Of Unions
Source: Diane Rehm Show, March 2, 2015

Over the weekend, a few thousand union members gathered outside the statehouse in Wisconsin. They were there to voice their opposition to so called right-to-work legislation. If signed into law, which is expected, Wisconsin would become the 25th state with right-to-work laws on the books. These laws ban workers from having to pay union dues. Organized labor leaders say it’s another blow to their diminishing numbers. Supporters say the laws attract business and are good for economic development. Guest host Tom Gjelten and our guests discuss right-to-work laws and the future of unions.

Melanie Trottman reporter, The Wall Street Journal
Philip Dine journalist and author of “State of the Unions”
Ross Eisenbrey vice president, Economic Policy Institute
Matt Patterson executive director, Center for Worker Freedom

An Explainer: What’s Happening In Wisconsin?
Source: Rachel Homer, OnLabor blog, March 2, 2015

Right-To-Work Laws: Designed To Hurt Unions and Lower Wages
Source: Ross Eisenbrey, Economic Policy Institute, Working Economics blog, March 2, 2015

A Closer Look at Total Compensation

Source: Howard Risher, Compensation Benefits Review, Vol. 46 no. 5-6, October/December 2014
(subscription required)

The BLS data show it is a mistake to generalize or to make assumptions. It is also a mistake to rely loosely on averages.

With the cost of benefits now in excess of 40% of base pay—based on misleading averages—market pay analyses that ignore benefits can lead to invalid conclusions. It would be advantageous to assemble better survey data on the prevalence and value of benefits.

A related issue is the pressure to increase the minimum wage. The workers who will be affected by any increase are in many companies the same individuals who are seeing their benefits reduced. The loss of benefits should be factored into future research on comparative income levels.

Finally, when baby boomers retire today, they often can count on the income from a vested defined benefit. Increasingly tomorrow’s retirees will have to rely on the funds in a defined contribution plan. The data suggest many will not have adequate funds to sustain their lifestyle. There will be a growing number who decide they cannot afford to retire. For those in lower job levels their only source of income could be Social Security and typically part-time employment income.

At the macro level, these trends may not be sufficiently material to affect the conclusions from analyses similar to Piketty’s. However, for the micro analyses central to assessing a company’s total compensation levels, the trends are directly relevant.

Financial Wellness Programs to Reduce Employee Stress

Source: Josh Verne, Compensation Benefits Review, Vol. 46 no. 5-6, October/December 2014
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Employers of all sizes need to make financial wellness a priority in 2015. Over the past couple years, we have seen some really inspiring trends in the areas of physical and mental health. Companies are implementing healthy eating initiatives, allowing fitness breaks, and offering 24-hour mental health hotlines. These programs are gaining popularity as more organizations realize that healthy employees are happier, more productive, and cost less. The remaining and possibly most costly concern is their financial wellness. Both employees and employers realize gains when financial stress is reduced.

De-Risking Pension Plans Revisited – 2015

Source: John G. Kilgour, Compensation Benefits Review, Vol. 46 no. 5-6, October/December 2014
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
The Pension Protection Act of 2006 changed the way in which the value of lump sum distributions is calculated. When the new method was fully implemented in 2012, it triggered a flood of de-risking activity by sponsors of defined benefit pension plans via one-time lump sum distributions, group annuity contracts with insurance companies and liability driven investing. Underlying these developments were a number of economic and demographic factors including a rising equity market, low interest rates, increased Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation insurance premiums and a declining number of active participants. These forces are still there. Indeed, they have strengthened due to recent legislation (MAP-21 in 2012, BBA in 2013 and HATFA in 2014). In addition, a number of legal questions have been resolved by the Verizon Communications decision of 2014 and new mortality tables have just been published by the Society of Actuaries. The combination of these developments indicate that 2015 will be another big year for pension plan sponsors to transfer pension risk to participants through lump sum distributions and to insurance companies through group annuity contracts.

Overview of the Commentaries on “The Changing Landscape of Employee Rewards: Observations and Prescriptions”

Source: Gerald E. Ledford Jr.,Compensation Benefits Review, Vol. 46 no. 5-6, October/December 2014
(subscription required)

from the abstract:
This article first summarizes key themes from a recent article by Gerald Ledford that was published in Organizational Dynamics. That article reviewed changes in employee reward systems during the past 35 years, looked at factors explaining the changes and recommended a set of five changes in the future. Five distinguished corporate HR leaders then comment on the article, exploring a number of important topics in contemporary employee rewards. Finally, Ledford summarizes and responds to the commentaries.