Source: Samantha Michaels, Mother Jones, February 19, 2018
….For more than a decade, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has run on what it describes as “mission critical” staffing—the minimum number of correctional employees necessary to safely run the 98 facilities it operates. Yet over the past year, federal prisons have dipped far below those numbers, employees say, because the agency has largely stopped filling vacant positions after staffers retire or leave.
It’s about to get worse. In January, the Bureau of Prisons told its facility administrators to expect a 14 percent reduction in their staffing levels, pending congressional approval of President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget. If the spending plan passes, prisons will have to cut the number of positions they are allowed to fill, so many of those vacancies will never be filled.
The practice of making prison teachers, nurses, and other non-correctional staffers work as guards, called “augmentation,” started more than a decade ago. Prison employees say it used to happen sporadically, during emergencies or when correctional officers were away at trainings. Now, employees say the practice has become a near-daily occurrence at some facilities. As a result, they say, the wait lists for inmate medical care are growing and classes are being canceled…..
Source: Issie Lapowsky, Wired, February 20, 2018
…..Districts like Pennsylvania’s seventh don’t get drawn that way by accident. They’re designed by dint of the centuries-old practice of gerrymandering, in which the party in power carves up the electoral map to their favor. The playbook is simple: Concentrate as many of your opponents’ votes into a handful of districts as you can, a tactic known as “packing.” Then spread the remainder of those votes thinly across a whole lot of districts, known as “cracking.” If it works as intended, the opposition will win a few districts by a landslide, but never have enough votes in the rest to win the majority of seats. The age of computer-generated data splicing has made this strategy easier than ever.
Until recently, courts have only moved to stop gerrymandering based on race. But now, the law is taking a closer look at partisan gerrymandering, too. On Monday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a brand new congressional map to replace the one Kennedy testified about. The new map follows a landmark decision last month, in which the three Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices overruled a lower-court decision and found that Pennsylvania’s 2011 map did in fact violate the state constitution’s guarantee of “free and equal elections.” ….
…. According to Jacobson, given the Supreme Court of the United States already declined to stay the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision, it’s unlikely they’ll take up the case. It’s already agreed to hear four other gerrymandering cases this term, which may well re-write the rules on this twisted system nationwide. ….
Source: Marianne Levine, Politico, February 18, 2018
As Democrats make raising the minimum wage a centerpiece of their 2018 campaigns, and Republicans call for states to handle the issue, both are missing an important problem: Wage laws are poorly enforced, with workers often unable to recover back pay even after the government rules in their favor.
That’s the conclusion of a nine-month investigation by POLITICO, which found that workers are so lightly protected that six states have no investigators to handle minimum-wage violations, while 26 additional states have fewer than 10 investigators. Given the widespread nature of wage theft and the dearth of resources to combat it, most cases go unreported. Thus, an estimated $15 billion in desperately needed income for workers with lowest wages goes instead into the pockets of shady bosses…..
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Press release, CB18-TPS.10, February 15, 2018
The U.S. Census Bureau today released the State and Local Government Snapshot, a new data visualization that allows users to explore the revenues, expenditures and employment of state and local governments. It combines several years of data from multiple government surveys in one place. Despite the robust amount of data, the format makes it clear and easy to understand. The visualization is customizable to allow users to access exactly the topics they are most interested in.
Source: Grant Suneson, 24/7 Wall St., February 12, 2018
Though the presidency of the United States is a prestigious job, it does not pay as well as one might think. The annual presidential salary is $400,000, While this is still within the top 1% of American earners, it is very little when compared to the typical compensation given to America’s CEOs and executives.
However, many men who have occupied the highest office in the land did not need any salary at all. The presidency has long been a position held by men who had already inherited fortunes or earned them during their lifetimes….
Source: Dan Witters, Gallup, February 13, 2018
– For the first time, zero states saw statistically significant improvement from prior year
– South Dakota and Vermont top nation for the first time, followed by Hawaii
– West Virginia has lowest well-being, followed by Louisiana
Source: Scott Fullwiler, Stephanie Kelton, Catherine Ruetschlin, and Marshall Steinbaum, Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, February 2018
From the summary:
Among the more ambitious policies that have been proposed to address the problem of escalating student loan debt are various forms of debt cancellation. In this report, Scott Fullwiler, Research Associate Stephanie Kelton, Catherine Ruetschlin, and Marshall Steinbaum examine the likely macroeconomic impacts of a one-time, federally funded cancellation of all outstanding student debt.
The report analyzes households’ mounting reliance on debt to finance higher education, including the distributive implications of student debt and debt cancellation; describes the financial mechanics required to carry out the cancellation of debt held by the Department of Education (which makes up the vast majority of student loans outstanding) as well as privately owned student debt; and uses two macroeconometric models to provide a plausible range for the likely impacts of student debt cancellation on key economic variables over a 10-year horizon.
The authors find that cancellation would have a meaningful stimulus effect, characterized by greater economic activity as measured by GDP and employment, with only moderate effects on the federal budget deficit, interest rates, and inflation (while state budgets improve). These results suggest that policies like student debt cancellation can be a viable part of a needed reorientation of US higher education policy.
Source: Max B. Sawicky, Jacobin, February 13, 2018
Warnings of looming pension bankruptcy aren’t just overblown. They’re politically dangerous.
Source: Paul M. Secunda, Notre Dame Journal of International and Comparative Law, Vol. 8, Issue 1, 2018
From the abstract:
U.S. workers are increasingly finding it difficult to escape from work. Through their smartphones, email, and social media, work tethers them to their workstations well after the work day has ended. Whether at home or in transit, employers are asking or requiring employees to complete assignments, tasks, and projects outside of working hours. This practice has a profound detrimental impact on employee privacy and autonomy, safety and health, productivity and compensation, and rest and leisure. France and Germany have responded to this emerging workplace issue by taking different legal approaches to providing their employees a right to disconnect from the workplace. Although both the French legislative and German corporate self-regulation models have their advantages, this paper puts forth a hybrid approach using existing U.S. safety and health law under OSHA to respond to this employee disconnection problem. Initially under the general duty of clause of OSHA, and then under OSHA permanent standards and variances, this article provides a uniquely American approach to establishing an employee right to disconnect from work.
Source: Doug Henwood, Jacobin, February 12, 2018
Strikes are labor’s most powerful weapon. But last year they fell to nearly an all-time low.