The Financial Vulnerability of Families

Source: Christian Weller and Kate Sabatini, Challenge: The Magazine of Economic Affairs, Volume 50, Number 3, May-June 2007
(subscription required)

Few doubt that the housing boom is over. But the extent of the housing decline and its consequences for the economy are subject to much speculation. The authors present a detailed and comprehensive picture of Americans’ dependence on housing and are concerned about the extent of their vulnerability to future economic shocks.

Wages and the Social Contract – Needed: More Worker Bargaining Power

Source: Thomas A. Kochan, American Prospect, Vol. 18 no. 5, May 2007

From the end of World War II through the mid 1970s, the real wages of American workers nearly doubled, moving up in tandem with the growth in productivity. The United States benefited from an implicit social contract: By working hard and contributing to productivity, profits, and economic growth, workers and their families could expect improved living standards, greater job security, and a secure and dignified retirement. This social contract broke down after 1980, as employees lost their bargaining power. Since then, productivity has grown more than 70 percent while real compensation of nonmanagerial workers has remained flat.

Wages for the lowest-paid workers have collapsed even more than for average workers. While conventional explanations for stagnant wages and increased inequality— such as those that emphasize technological changes and increased premium for skills—may be part of the story, they fail to take into account the historical policy and institutional forces that created and sustained the postwar social contract, or to understand what needs to be done to restore it in a way consistent with the needs of today’s workforce and economy.

Making Poverty History

Source: Mark Greenberg, American Prospect, Vol. 18 no. 5, May 2007

We might not expect TV’s American Idol to be out in front of most presidential candidates on issues of national importance, but that’s what happened this spring. AI’s producers announced that they would dedicate two evenings to raising funds and awareness for children and young people in poverty, in both America and Africa. The show’s commitment stands in contrast to most of the 2008 candidates. What does American Idol know that they don’t?

American Idol isn’t alone. In the last two years, there has been a surge of interest in ending poverty in America. In the faith community, Sojourners and Call to Renewal announced a Covenant for a New America and urged others to help them cut child poverty by half in 10 years. Catholic Charities USA created a Campaign to Reduce Poverty in America. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg created an Economic Opportunity Commission and charged it with proposing ways to promote opportunity and reduce poverty in the city, and he has begun implementing the commission’s recommendations. A Task Force on Poverty, Work and Opportunity of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, led by Los Angeles Mayor

Antonio Villaraigosa, made a set of ambitious recommendations. Governors, mayors, and legislatures in Connecticut, Minnesota, California, and Wisconsin—among others—have launched or proposed initiatives. These efforts are occurring against the backdrop of the larger international efforts to make poverty history.

Pandemic Planning Blog

Source: Secretary Leavitt (host), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

On June 13, Michael O. Leavitt, Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, convened a leadership forum on pandemic preparedness, which brought together highly influential leaders from the business, faith, civic and health care sectors to discuss how best to help Americans become more prepared for a possible influenza pandemic. The Department is hosting this five-week blog to expand the conversation as part of an ongoing effort by the Department to help Americans become more prepared. HHS does not edit blog postings and cannot ensure that all included links are functioning. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Web Sites Start Reporting Hospital Mortality Data

Source: Paula Rasich, Hospitals & Health Networks, Vol. 81 no. 6, June 2007

The next evolution in quality reporting is here as outcomes data goes public.

As the number of public Web sites on hospital performance have flourished during the past couple of years, mortality data has been noticeably absent. That’s all changing. The question is: Are hospitals ready?

This month, the federal government’s Hospital Compare Web site, which posts data on how well hospitals meet performance measures, will for the first time publish 30-day mortality rates for heart attack and heart failure. Pneumonia will be added soon. Using Medicare claims data, the site will show whether a hospital’s death rate is better or worse than what is expected for a hospital’s patient population.

NURSES: Satisfaction Not Guaranteed

Source: Lee Ann Runy, Hospitals & Health Networks, Vol. 81 no. 6, June 2007

A recent study predicts that the nursing shortage in the United States will grow to 340,000 by 2020. And, as a story on page 60 of this issue shows, it’s not just baby boomer nurses who are leaving the workforce; first-year nursing school graduates quit at an exceptionally high rate. One way to ease the exodus is to improve work conditions. If nurse statisfaction data from Press Ganey and others is an indicator, there’s plenty of room for improvement. In a survey of more than 33,000 registered nurses in 2005, Press Ganey found that nurses’ satisfaction with work conditions and senior leadership was lower than their satisfaction with co-workers and job security. Not surprisingly, increased staffing level was cited as the top area in need of attention.

Labor Union Recognition Procedures: Use of Secret Ballots and Card Checks

Source: Gerald Mayer, Congressional Research Service, Order Code RL32930, April 02, 2007

The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA) gives private sector workers the right to join or form a labor union and to bargain collectively over wages, hours, and other working conditions. An issue before Congress is whether to change the procedures under which workers choose to join, or not to join, a union.

Under current law, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) conducts a secret ballot election when a petition is filed requesting one. A petition can be filed by any union, worker, or employer. Workers or a union may request an election if at least 30% of workers have signed a petition or authorization cards (i.e., cards authorizing a union to represent them). The NLRA does not require secret ballot elections. An employer may voluntarily recognize a union if a majority of workers have signed authorization cards.

Legislation introduced in the 110th Congress would, if enacted, change current union recognition procedures.

Home Is Where the Work Is: Inside New York’s Domestic Work Industry

Source: Domestic Workers United and DataCenter, July 2006

As immigrant workers nationwide battle for basic respect, a leading domestic workers’ organization released a full, unprecedented report detailing exploitative conditions and demographics of the nation’s most hidden low-wage industry. The report combines statistical analysis of data from over 500 mostly immigrant workers with personal stories of workers and employers, in a joint effort between DataCenter and Domestic Workers United. Dr. Robin D. G. Kelley’s introduction explains how the nation’s troubled history of race, gender and class inequality come shamefully together in its domestic work industry. New York University’s Immigrant Rights Clinic delivers a historical look at why the law continues to ignore household labor, perpetuating ancient views that domestic labor is not “real” work.

Behind Closed Doors: Working Conditions of California Household Workers

Source: Mujeres Unidas y Activas, Day Labor Program Women’s Collective of La Raza Centro Legal, DataCenter, March 2007

In 2002, Mujeres Unidas y Activas and the San Francisco Day Labor Program Women’s Collective of La Raza Centro Legal came together to analyze and to strategize to improve the household work industry. Because there is no official data available about the number of household workers or information about their work conditions in California, these membership-based and membership-led organizations of low-income immigrant Latina women, many of whom are household workers, joined with the DataCenter and the San Francisco Department of Public Health to create a participatory research project to assess the industry. Over thirty immigrant women were trained to administer the survey and together they collected two hundred and forty surveys from their peers in the San Francisco Bay Area. The hour-long surveys were conducted on buses, in parks, at Laundromats and in the homes of household workers. As the Household Worker Rights Coalition Survey (HWRC Survey) results make clear, this is a very vulnerable industry. Rampant abuses of household workers must be addressed.

Hospitals, Language, and Culture: A Snapshot of the Nation – Exploring Cultural and Linguistic Services in the Nation’s Hospitals: A Report of Findings

Source: Amy Wilson-Stronks and Erica Galvez, The Joint Commission, 2007

As our nation becomes more diverse, so do the patient populations served by our nation’s hospitals. Few studies have explored the provision of culturally and linguistically appropriate health care in a systematic fashion across a large number of hospitals. With funding from The California Endowment, the Hospitals, Language, and Culture: A Snapshot of the Nation project is working to strengthen this understanding. Hospitals, Language, and Culture is a qualitative cross-sectional study designed to provide a snapshot of how sixty hospitals across the country are providing health care to culturally and linguistically diverse patient populations. This project sought to answer the following questions:

• What challenges do hospitals face when providing care and services to culturally and linguistically diverse populations?

• How are hospitals addressing these challenges?

• Are there promising practices that may be helpful to and can be replicated in other hospitals?

The project findings will be presented in multiple reports. This report highlights findings regarding the first two research questions.