Author Archives: afscme

Democracy Diverted: Polling Place Closures and the Right to Vote

Source: Leadership Conference Education Fund, 2019

From the summary:
The surge in voting changes at the state and local level after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision catalyzed a systemic examination of poll closures and other seemingly innocuous changes that could have negatively impacted voters of color. In 2016, The Leadership Conference Education Fund identified 868 polling place closures in formerly Section 5 jurisdictions in our initial report, The Great Poll Closure. This report, Democracy Diverted: Polling Place Closures and the Right to Vote, is both an update to — and a major expansion of — our original publication.

Our first report drew on a sample of fewer than half of the approximately 860 counties or county-equivalents that were once covered by Section 5. This report covers an expanded data set of 757 counties. What’s more, the 2016 report relied on voluntary reports of aggregate numbers of polling places that state election officials gave to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. This report relies largely on independent counts of polling places from public records requests and publicly available polling place lists.

In this report, we found 1,688 polling place closures between 2012 and 2018, almost double the 868 closures found in our 2016 report. Additionally, Democracy Diverted analyzes the reduction of polling places in the formerly covered Section 5 jurisdictions in the years between the 2014 and 2018 midterm elections. We found 1,173 fewer polling places in 2018 — despite a significant increase in voter turnout. To understand the discriminatory impact of these closures, we analyzed how voters of color were impacted at the precinct level. This analysis — precisely the kind that the U.S. Department of Justice conducted under preclearance — takes time and resources. Our hope is that journalists, advocates, and voters will use this county-level polling place data to scrutinize the impact of poll closures in their communities, to understand their impact on voters of color, and to create a fairer and more just electoral system for all.

Antitrust, the Gig Economy, and Labor Market Power

Source: Marshall Steinbaum, Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 82 no. 3, 2019

Worker bargaining power has diminished over the last forty years. Between 1948 and 1979, median wages closely tracked output per worker. Since then, productivity has continued to increase (until leveling off in the decade of the 2000s), while median pay has stagnated, creating an ever-widening gap between median wages and productivity. The widening gap contrasts with the central prediction of neoclassical economic theory about the labor market: that workers are paid what they are worth. At the same time, inequality within the distribution of labor income is higher, and has risen faster, than can possibly be explained by any notion of a skills gap between workers and the needs of today’s employers. And since the 2000s, these dual trends demarcating the declining bargaining power of workers in the economy have been joined by a third: the reduction in labor’s share of national income, which economists had assumed was stable over the long run. In fact, it has ratcheted downward over the last two business cycles.

The aim of this paper is to augment the interpretation of these trends with an element that has received very little attention from labor-oriented scholars: the decline and erosion of antitrust law and its enforcement. Whereas there was once a sharp line where labor law ended and antitrust began, there is now a gray area, within which a more powerful firm can tell a less-powerful contractor or worker what to do without being liable under antitrust or labor law. The erosion of the statutory employment relationship, and thus the ability of employers to evade the obligations that go along with it, has received wide attention from labor scholars and in public debate. What has been ignored is that the deterioration of antitrust is what legally allows more powerful firms to tell subordinate firms, contractors, and workers what to do even if those subordinates are not, legally, their employees. Antitrust has also prevented those same subordinates from coordinating among themselves to strengthen their own hand in negotiations.

This paper considers two different ways that antitrust has contributed to the increasing imbalance of power between employers and workers. First, antitrust has legalized vertical restraints, allowing the economy’s most powerful actors to closely direct and supervise the behavior of less-powerful actors. Second, antitrust has been used by those same powerful actors to prevent less-powerful actors from organizing and coordinating on their own behalf against such concentrations of power. Parts II and III of this article deal with each of these, and the Part IV proposes a policy agenda for putting the antitrust laws to work in the labor market according to their original purpose: namely, to deconcentrate economic power…..

Three Big Ideas for a Future of Less Work and a Three-Dimensional Alternative

Source: Cynthia Estlund, Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 82 no. 3, 2019

….At the same time, each of those three big ideas holds within it an essential component of a sound three dimensional response to the uncertain but real prospect of job losses. In lieu of UBI [universal basic income], we should expand universal social benefits—starting with health care and higher education—and income support for the working and non-working poor. In lieu of a federal job guarantee, we should ramp up public investments in infrastructure, social and community services, and early education, all of which would address unmet societal needs while creating decent jobs. And in lieu of (or at least before) reducing weekly hours of work across the board, we should expand access to paid leaves, holidays, and vacations, as well as voluntary part-time work and retirement security; we could thereby spread work and meet varied individual needs and preferences through days, weeks, months, and years of time off.

In combination, these three interventions—expanded universal social benefits and income support, public investments in physical and social infrastructure and the job creation those will entail, and wider access to paid leaves and respites from work—would advance core objectives of each of the three big ideas while muting their disadvantages. Together they would both cushion and offset automation-related job losses, while spreading the work that remains and maintaining or boosting incomes. This trio of policies could and should also be funded in a way that helps to redistribute income from the top to the bottom of an egregiously and increasingly lopsided income distribution.

…..In what follows, I will fill in the outlines of this argument. Part II will briefly set out some normative priors about the multiple ends we should be pursuing as we face a future of less work. A long Part III will take up each of the Three Big Ideas, briefly tracing their genealogy and identifying some strengths and weaknesses of each. Part IV will return to the core aspirations of the Three Big Ideas, and sketch a combination of the three – a three-dimensional strategy – that can preserve much of the good while avoiding much that is problematic in the more single-minded Three Big Ideas. ….

Alt-Bargaining

Source: Michael M. Oswalt, Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 82 no. 3, 2019

….The article proceeds as follows. Part II canvasses evolutions in organizing since the 1970s to show how innovations that start at the unionization phase don’t stay there. Corporate, comprehensive, and social movement advances all became mainstay bargaining strategies. While the present breakthrough, alt-labor, defies easy characterization, Part II tries based on its three exceptional relationships to law. Part III addresses the next question: when and how might alt-labor’s legal insights begin to reverberate in later stages of organizing. After identifying the existing echoes, I argue that time is now.

Part IV explores mechanics. Embedded in alt-bargaining’s three new legal orientations is a sophisticated understanding of interest formation that allows the campaigns to press for broad, “common good”-type community benefits with minimal outside conflict, minimal internal dissension, and—most critically— draw big crowds. In doing so, leaders use practices steeped in community-based activism that incorporate months of transformational political and relational education. As Gabe Winant has described, unions’ modern challenge is to get the nurse, custodian, fast-food worker—and, increasingly, Uber driver—to “understand their fates as intertwined.” The realities of “race, economic position, and social status,” can make the task feel intractable. Alt-bargaining’s approach suggests it’s not impossible.

Finally, Part V offers a vision of alt-bargaining’s ambitions, plus a slate of legal and structural reforms—especially the introduction of community “pool voting”—that might support them. Part VI briefly concludes…..

Addicted to Fines

Source: Mike Maciag, Governing, September 2019

Small towns in much of the country are dangerously dependent on punitive fines and fees.

….Throughout the country, smaller cities and towns generate major dollars from different types of fines, sometimes accounting for more than half of their revenues. Some places are known for being speed traps. Others prop up their budgets using traffic cameras, parking citations or code enforcement violations.

To get a picture of just how much cities, towns and counties rely on fines and fees, Governing conducted the largest national analysis to date of fine revenues and the extent to which they fund budgets, compiling data from thousands of annual financial audits and reports filed to state agencies.

What we found is that in hundreds of jurisdictions throughout the country, fines are used to fund a significant portion of the budget. They account for more than 10 percent of general fund revenues in nearly 600 U.S. jurisdictions. In at least 284 of those governments, it’s more than 20 percent. Some other governments allocate the revenues outside the general fund. When fine and forfeiture revenues in all funds are considered, more than 720 localities reported annual revenues exceeding $100 for every adult resident. And those numbers would be even higher if they included communities reporting less than $100,000 in fines; those jurisdictions were excluded from our analysis. In some places, traffic fine revenue actually exceeds limits outlined in state laws…..

….The fact is that fines and fees are a volatile revenue source, and the towns that rely the most on them face an increasingly uncertain fiscal future…..

Distributional Impacts of State and Local Tax Policy in a Heterogeneous-agent Model

Source: Jorge A. Barro, Public Finance Review, Online First, Published September 8, 2019
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This article presents a dynamic heterogeneous-agent life-cycle model with housing demand to evaluate the economic implications of reforming US state and local personal tax structures. Because of the extensive reliance of state and local governments on income, sales, and property tax revenue, those three taxes are explicitly modeled to generate a baseline and varied to evaluate alternative policy proposals. The results of the model show that the sales tax burden falls evenly across the distribution of income earners, while the property tax burden falls more heavily on the highest income earners. By design, the model’s income tax is progressive, so the tax burden shares rise with income. Results also show that the property tax generally improves utilitarian social welfare relative to income and sales taxation, but the magnitude of these gains depends on the availability of a state and local tax deduction on federal income taxes.

U.S. Nursing Assistants Employed in Nursing Homes: Key Facts (2019)

Source: PHI, September 3, 2019

From the abstract:
This research brief provides the latest annual snapshot of U.S. nursing assistants employed in nursing homes, including key demographics and a variety of wage and employment trends. This year’s research found that 581,000 nursing assistants support older people and people with disabilities in nursing homes. Nursing assistants are injured more than three times more frequently than the typical American worker, and earn a median hourly wage of $13.38 and a median annual income of $22,200.

Key Takeaways:
– The number of nursing assistants employed in nursing homes in the U.S. declined from just over 599,000 in 2008 to 581,000 in 2018.
– Nursing assistants earn a median hourly wage of $13.38 and a median annual income of $22,200.
– Nursing homes will need to fill nearly 680,000 nursing assistant job openings between 2016 and 2026.

U.S. Home Care Workers: Key Facts (2019)

Source: PHI, September 3, 2019

From the abstract:
This research brief provides the latest annual snapshot of the U.S. home care workforce, including key demographics and a variety of wage and employment trends. This year’s research found that nearly 2.3 million home care workers earn a median hourly wage of $11.52 and about $16,200 annually. One in six home care workers lives below the federal poverty line and more than half rely on some form of public assistance.

Key Takeaways:
– Nearly 2.3 million home care workers provide personal assistance and health care support to older adults and people with disabilities.

– From 2016 to 2026, the home care sector will need to fill 4.2 million home care worker job openings.

– With a median hourly wage of $11.52 and inconsistent work hours, home care workers typically earn $16,200 annually.

The Effects of Performance Audits on School District Financial Behavior

Source: Paul N. Thompson, Mark St. John, Public Finance Review, Online First, Published September 8, 2019
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Performance audits are a form of weak financial oversight intended to curb inefficient spending and help alleviate financial problems. This study examines the effect of these performance audits on school district finances in Ohio, where performance audits are used on their own and within the context of the state’s fiscal stress labeling system—a strong financial oversight system. Using a difference-in-differences analysis, we find school districts do reduce expenditures as a result of these performance audits. These changes in financial behavior are found even for performance audits in nonfiscal stress districts, suggesting that weak oversight programs may be an effective means toward changing fiscal behavior. Despite the financial changes in nonfiscal stress districts that receive audits, there appears to be little impact on school district proficiency rates. These results suggest that audits may provide a useful mechanism for changing financial behavior of school districts without much associated efficiency losses.

How Local Economic Conditions Affect School Finances, Teacher Quality, and Student Achievement: Evidence from the Texas Shale Boom

Source: Joseph Marchand, Jeremy G. Weber, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Early View, August 29, 2019
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Whether improved local economic conditions lead to better student outcomes is theoretically ambiguous and will depend on how schools use additional revenues and how students and teachers respond to rising private sector wages. The Texas boom in shale oil and gas drilling, with its large and localized effects on wages and the tax base, provides a unique opportunity to address this question that spans the areas of education, labor markets, and public finance. An empirical approach using variation in shale geology across school districts shows that the boom reduced test scores and student attendance, despite tripling the local tax base and creating a revenue windfall. Schools spent additional revenue on capital projects and debt service, but not on teachers. As the gap between teacher wages and private sector wages grew, so did teacher turnover and the percentage of inexperienced teachers, which helps explain the decline in student achievement. Changes in student composition did not account for the achievement decline but instead helped to moderate it. The findings illustrate the potential value of using revenue growth to retain teachers in times of rising private sector wages.