Engineers Await Tragedy’s Inevitable Impacts

Source: Aileen Cho, Tom Ichniowski and William Angelo with reporting from Tom Armistead, Craig Barner, Lucy Bodilly, Eileen Schwartz, Tudor Van Hampton and Deb Wood, Engineering News Record, Vol. 259 no. 6, August 13, 2007

Just as West Virginia’s Silver Bridge collapse in 1967 marked a new era for bridge inspections and awareness of U.S. infrastructure issues, so will Minnesota’s Interstate 35W bridge collapse be another ante-upping chapter. The chapter is still being written. U.S. Dept. of Transportation Secretary Mary Peters has vowed a “top-to-bottom review” of federal bridge inspection guidelines. The specific structural issues that may be reshaped depend largely on what the National Transportation Safety Board will determine from its investigation. Fatigue cracks, lack of redundancy, bearings corrosion, welding codes–a variety of possible factors have been thrust on the national stage. But engineers caution against premature theories regarding why the 40-year-old steel truss bridge collapsed Aug. 1. What does seem clear is that this will lead to updates in inspection guidelines, increased use of monitoring technologies and renewed attention to the complex issue of funding.

Union Certification: A Critical Analysis and Proposed Alternative

Source: Mark Harcourt and Helen Larri, WorkingUSA, Vol. 10 no. 3, September 2007
(subscription required)

The North American union certification system has not met the representation needs of most workers. In this essay, certification’s effectiveness is critically examined. The exclusive representation and winner-take-all approach satisfies only two out of seven categories of union and nonunion workers with different representational preferences. The “winners” are those who successfully exercise their choice to be either unrepresented or represented by their most preferred union. All others are “losers.” A compulsory proportional representation alternative is proposed which allows for both union and nonunion forms of representation, representative election based on proportional votes, and mandatory workplace representation. The merits of this alternative in balancing the needs of both voting majorities and minorities and protecting worker rights from management encroachment are discussed. Some preliminary suggestions on its implementation are offered.

Race, God, and Guns: Union Voting in the 2004 Presidential Election

Source: Donald W. Beachler, WorkingUSA, Vol. 10 no. 3, September 2007
(subscription required)

The conservative political preferences of many working class Americans have been the subject of much academic and popular analysis in recent years. This article investigates the voting behavior of union household residents in the 2004 presidential election. The source for this information is national and state exit polls from the 2004 election. There has been much debate about whether white working class support of Republicans is rooted in conservative cultural values. Despite ardent opposition by the Bush administration to the goals of organized labor, 46 percent of white voters who resided in union households voted Republican in the 2004 presidential election. The impact of race, religion, and gun ownership on the voting choice of labor households is investigated in an effort to provide an understanding of conservative voting by so many households affiliated with an interest group that is at odds with the Republicans.

Campaign to Organize Federal Transportation Security Officers: A Model of Open Source Unionism

Source: Sharon Pinnock, WorkingUSA, Vol. 10 no. 3, September 2007
(subscription required)

All discussions with people on the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (AFGE) campaign to organize federalized airport screeners–reclassified in 2006 as “Transportation Security Officers” (TSA), ultimately end with the adage that the mobilization effort is righteous. The author, who has organized over fifty organizing campaigns in nearly thirty years as a labor organizer, has never before worked on a unionization drive that feels as righteous as that to organize TSA workers.

CBO Analysis Shows Economic Benefits Of Fiscal Sustainability Are Large And Nearly The Same Whether Taxes Are Raised Or Spending Is Cut

Source: Chad Stone, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, September 10, 2007

Key Findings

•Most assessments of the long-run fiscal outlook conclude that higher revenues will need to be a part of any serious effort to prevent budget deficits from growing to unsustainable levels.
•A recent CBO analysis shows that the economic benefits of achieving fiscal sustainability are substantial, and that the difference between the economic effects of reducing the deficit through tax increases and doing so through spending cuts would likely be very small by comparison.
•CBO also finds that any negative economic effects of tax increases can be mitigated by relying more on policies that broaden the tax base than on increases in marginal tax rates. CBO suggests that the economic effects of raising revenue by broadening the tax base can be similar to the effects of cuts in government benefit programs.
•CBO’s analysis also indicates that no policy to restore long-term fiscal sustainability is likely to be successful if the rate of growth in health care expenditures is not reduced.

Investing in Children

Source: C. Eugene Steuerle, Gillian Reynolds, Adam Carasso, The Urban Institute, September 7, 2007

From the abstract:
We chart U.S. federal spending on investment in total and for children from 1965 to 2017. Five major categories can be considered–some more so than others–to be investment or to have investment components: education and research, work supports, social supports, physical capital, and defense investment. Relative to GDP or domestic spending, we found that total investment and investment in children–under almost any definition–fell over the 1965-2006 period, though with some recent rebounds. More important, projections of current policies show that overall government investment and especially investment in children are threatened to decline in relative and sometimes absolute importance, squeezed out mainly by faster, automatically growing programs that tend to favor consumption. These data raise the question of what relative priority the government should place on investment, and particularly investment in children.

The Other Benefits Mess

Source: Anna Kates Smith, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine, September 2007

A new regulation forces government retirement plans to reveal the cost of their health-benefit promises for the first time.

…State and local governments aren’t required to set aside money to meet future promises other than for retiree pensions. Most pay what they owe each year out of their current budget. But starting this year, government retirement plans must at least account for their long-term health care and other benefits liabilities (known as OPEB, or other post-employment benefits) and publish the calculations.

Economic Anxiety Rises for Middle Class

Source: NPR Morning Edition, September 7, 2007
(audio)

New research on the middle class shows economic anxiety is rising. The economy as a whole may be doing well but personal finances are suffering. Seven out of 10 Americans report living paycheck to paycheck, meaning there never seems to be enough left over for savings. Shira Boss, author of Green With Envy: A Whole New Way to Look at Financial (Un)Happiness, speaks with Renee Montagne.

U.S. Job Rate Falls in August, Ending Gains

Source: Frank Langfitt, NPR Morning Edition, September 7, 2007

There were 4,000 fewer jobs in August, marking the first monthly decline in four years, the Labor Department said, confounding analysts who had forecast a moderate gain for the period.

Many financial analysts had said they believed August would show about 110,000 new jobs. Instead, the number dipped for the first time since August 2003.

Related articles:

4-Year Growth in Jobs Ends; Stocks Plunge

Source: Jeremy W. Peters, New York Times, September 7, 2007

Foreclosure Exposure: a study of racial and income disparities in home mortgage lending in 172 American cities

Source: ACORN, September 5, 2007

Over the last two years, Americans have increasingly recognized the harm done to homeowners (both families who refinance their homes and new buyers) and neighborhoods by the sharp increase of the issuance of subprime loans. Perhaps most damaging among subprime loan products are Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs), exploding ARMs, no-document loans and other products that do not require lenders to take into account the loan’s long-term affordability for the borrower. ACORN’s report on the 2005 Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) data, “The Impending Rate Shock,” demonstrated that unaffordable loans disproportionately impact minority and low- and moderate- income families and neighborhoods. Now these high-cost loans – many of which are exploding ARMs – have led to the foreclosure crisis that we hear about daily.

See also:
National Tables 2007 HMDA Report
2007 Subprime Study National Map
Metro area data by state (scroll down)

Related articles:

Home Insecurity: A set of reports on neighborhoods in trouble due to foreclosures


Of the wretched and the reckless

Source: The Economist, Vol. 384 no. 8545, September 6, 2007