Homeland Security Expands Requirements Over Workers, Travelers

Source: Electronic Privacy Information Center, June 2008

President Bush has signed Executive Order 12989 which gives the Department of Homeland Security authority to review employment eligibility for all federal employees and federal contractors. The decision to expand E-Verify comes after Congress rejected the President’s verification proposal and a federal court struck down the agency’s attempt to establish similar authority by regulation. EPIC testified in Congress in 2007 against the “Employment Eligibility Verification System.” Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration, a division of Homeland Security, will now require travelers to present identity documents or to be “cooperative.”
See also:
EPIC Spotlight on Surveillance: “National Employment Database Could Prevent Millions of Citizens From Obtaining Jobs” and EPIC Amicus in Gilmore v. Ashcroft.

GAO Report: Expert Opinion on the Economics of Policy Options to Address Climate Change

Source: Government Accountability Office, GAO-08-605, May 09, 2008

Elevated levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the resulting effects on the earth’s climate could have significant environmental and economic impacts in the United States and internationally. Potential impacts include rising sea levels and a shift in the intensity and frequency of floods and storms. Proposed responses to climate change include adapting to the possible impacts by planning and improving protective infrastructure, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions directly through regulation or the promotion of low-emissions technologies. Because most U.S. emissions stem from the combustion of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas, much of this report centers on the effect emissions regulation could have on the economy.

Surging wage growth for topmost sliver

Source: Lawrence Mishel, Economic Policy Institute, Snapshot, June 18, 2008

Inequality in the United States continues to worsen. Huge gains at the top of the income scale have been fueled by, among other things, a surging inequality in wages (illustrated in the chart below). The ratio of the wage income of the top 1% of earners to that of the bottom 90% more than doubled between 1979 and 2006, increasing from a ratio of 9.4-to-1 to 19.9-to-1. In contrast there was relatively little change in the earnings disparity from 1947 to 1979, when wages at all levels of the economy grew apace.

Tax Policy Center Establishes “Opportunity Fund” to Support Tax System Research and Analysis

Source: Urban Institute, June 18, 2008

From the press release:
The Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, a joint project of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution, has launched a new intellectual venture capital fund to help policymakers, the public, and the media better understand the U.S. tax system and the policy challenges facing the nation over the next decade. The Opportunity Fund has been awarded a $2.5 million challenge grant from the Gates Foundation, which will match one dollar for every three dollars the fund receives before April 1, 2011…
…The Tax Policy Center envisions using the Opportunity Fund to develop prototype tax reform options and clear assessments of their pros, cons, tradeoffs, and burdens; strengthen its capacity to analyze state, local, corporate, and international taxes; model the macroeconomic effects of current budget policies and escalating government debt; and allow users of www.taxpolicycenter.org to customize tables based on the center’s data and analysis, letting the public see how proposed and enacted legislation affect them and others.

Privacy: Alternatives Exist for Enhancing Protection of Personally Identifiable Information

Source: Government Accountability Office, GAO-08-536, May 2008

The centerpiece of the federal government’s legal framework for privacy protection, the Privacy Act of 1974, provides safeguards for information maintained by federal agencies. In addition, the E-Government Act of 2002 requires federal agencies to conduct privacy impact assessments for systems or collections containing personal information.

Increasingly sophisticated ways of obtaining and using personally identifiable information have raised concerns about the adequacy of the legal framework for privacy protection. Although the Privacy Act, the E-Government Act, and related guidance from the Office of Management and Budget set minimum privacy requirements for agencies, they may not consistently protect personally identifiable information in all circumstances of its collection and use throughout the federal government and may not fully adhere to key privacy principles. Based on discussions with privacy experts, agency officials, and analysis of laws and related guidance, GAO identified issues in three major areas:

Applying privacy protections consistently to all federal collection and use of personal information.
Ensuring that collection and use of personally identifiable information is limited to a stated purpose.
Establishing effective mechanisms for informing the public about privacy protections.

Privacy: Congress Should Consider Alternatives for Strengthening Protection of Personally Indentifiable Information, GAO-08-795, June 18, 2008

Privacy: Agencies Should Ensure That Designated Senior Officials Have Oversight of Key Functions, GAO-08-603, May 30, 2008

Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) Urges Congress to Move This Year to Update Federal Privacy Legislation
Testimony before Senate Government Affairs Committee

America’s Rental Housing: the Key to a Balanced National Policy

Source: Harvard University Joint Center for Housing, April 30, 2008

From the press release:
The report entitled “America’s Rental Housing: The Key to a Balanced National Policy” examines recent mortgage market events in the context of long-standing affordability problems that plague millions of renters. Fueled by record foreclosures and sluggish home sales, the share of households owning a home is declining, while the number of renter households jumped by nearly one million last year, or more than four times the pace of renter growth over the 2003 to 2006 period. Despite the growing signs of economic weakness, monthly rents last year reached a record high of $775.

The report also observes that rising foreclosures and the resulting turmoil in credit markets raises the costs of financing rental housing construction and preservation. Last year, completions of multifamily units for rent fell to 169,000 units – just two thirds of the 2002 figure and only one-third of the 1986 record high. The blighting influence of vacant and foreclosed properties also will accelerate the abandonment of low-cost rental properties in distressed neighborhoods, further limiting the supply of affordable housing.
See also:
Fact Sheet
Written Summary
PowerPoint Presentation
William C. Apgar
Senior Scholar, Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies (1.9MB)
Recording of April 30, 2008 Release
audio recording includes:
Opening Remarks
PowerPoint Presentation
Panel Discussion
Question & Answer
Urban Land Institute

Financing America’s Infrastructure

Source: Douglas Rediker, Heidi Crebo-Rediker, New America Foundation
June 9, 2008

From the summary:
America’s basic infrastructure is outdated, worn, and in some cases, failing. Most experts agree that it is inadequate for meeting the demands of the 21st-century global economy. If we are to remain competitive, we must invest in capital assets like roads, ports, bridges, mass transit, water systems, and broadband infrastructure. Many other countries — both rich and poor — see investing in infrastructure as imperative for economic survival and success in an increasingly competitive economic environment. But the United States has lagged in infrastructure investment, in both relative and absolute terms. We are spending less than 2 percent of GDP on infrastructure, while China and India are spending 9 percent and 5 percent of GDP, respectively.

If the nation’s infrastructure needs are apparent, so too are the limits on available funds in federal, state, and local government coffers. In this presidential election year, we can see these limits clearly, as the nation’s spending priorities are magnified by electoral politics. Although significant government funding will likely continue to play a key role in the development of public infrastructure, the scale of our funding needs increasingly compels us to look beyond government to close the financing gap. It is for this reason that public support for private sector infrastructure investment is essential.

The good news is that while the federal government struggles to find funds to address its spending needs there is abundant private capital for infrastructure investment. An estimated $400 billion in global funds are available for equity investment in infrastructure, and the funds available to support the debt component amount to several trillion dollars if we include global central bank reserves, global pension funds, and sovereign wealth funds. Rather than focus on these large pools of global capital as a threat, we should view them as an opportunity. So, while we have enormous infrastructure financing needs, there are also enormous pools of capital available for investment. The trick is to bring the two together in a commercial, sustainable, and politically acceptable way.

Low-Wage Women Workers: A Profile

Source: Stephanie Luce and Eve Weinbaum, New Labor Forum, Vol. 17, Issue 2, Summer 2008

The labor movement’s future success depends on its ability to organize increasing numbers of workers of color and women workers who are concentrated in low-wage jobs. Scholars and activists have focused on questions of how to organize these workers, how to promote women’s activism and develop leadership, and how to diversify union staff and leaders to better represent the workers they are organizing. If organizing low-wage women workers is essential, then we need a better understanding of who these women workers are, and what they are doing. Who makes up this low-wage workforce? Where do they work? How do we define low wages? What has worked to raise wages and improve working conditions for these women–job training, career mobility, organizing? And what are unions doing to address the needs of this group of workers?

Labor on the Home Front: Unionizing Home-Based Care Workers

Source: Eileen Boris and Jennifer Klein, New Labor Forum, Vol. 17, Issue 2, Summer 2008

Once known as “the invisible workforce,” the nation’s 1.4 million home health care aides and 1.8 million home child care providers are changing the face of organized labor. These frontline caregivers meet the personal needs of those requiring assistance, from children, to the elderly, to the disabled. Disproportionately African American, Latina, and immigrant women, these low-waged workers seized national attention in 1999 when 74,000 Los Angeles home health care aides voted to enter the SEIU, pulling off the largest successful union drive since the sit-down strikes of the Great Depression. Six years later, nearly 50,000 Illinois home child care providers followed in their footsteps. In less than a decade, hundreds of thousands of home-based care workers have entered into coalitions with parents, senior citizens, and disability activists. They poured into SEIU, AFSCME, and AFT, but also responded to community organizing efforts of ACORN, local grassroots groups, such as Brooklyn’s Families United for Racial and Economic Equality, and occupational associations, such as Milwaukee’s Providers Taking Action.

The Steelworkers Union Goes Global

Source: Ruth Needleman, New Labor Forum, Vol. 17, Issue 2, Summer 2008

How will global unionism be built? While its importance is undeniable, its formation is a story yet to unfold. The United Steelworkers Union, the largest manufacturing union in North America, has launched a series of initiatives from grassroots exchanges to an upcoming merger that will join over three million workers from unions in the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom. All of these efforts carry strategic implications for labor’s future. Hopefully, each new form of global organizational solidarity can open a window on how unions around the world may come together to confront the power of transnational corporations.