Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights on his mission to the United States of America

Source: United Nations, General Assembly, Human Rights Council, Thirty-eighth session, Agenda item 3, June 18 – July 6, 2018

From the Oral Statement by Mr. Philip Alston Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, 38th session of the Human Rights Council:
…. My starting point is that the combination of extreme inequality and extreme poverty generally create ideal conditions for small elites to trample on the human rights of minorities, and sometimes even of majorities. The United States has the highest income inequality in the Western world, and this can only be made worse by the massive new tax cuts overwhelmingly benefiting the wealthy. At the other end of the spectrum, 40 million Americans live in poverty and 18.5 million of those live in extreme poverty. In addition, vast numbers of middle class Americans are perched on the edge, with 40% of the adult population saying they would be unable to cover an unexpected $400 expense.

In response, the Trump administration has pursued a welfare policy that consists primarily of (i) steadily diminishing the number of Americans with health insurance (‘Obamacare’); (ii) stigmatizing those receiving government benefits by arguing that most of them could and should work, despite evidence to the contrary; and (iii) adding ever more restrictive conditions to social safety net protections such as food stamps, Medicaid, housing subsidies, and cash transfers, each of which will push millions off existing benefits. For example, a Farm Bill approved yesterday by Republicans in the House of Representatives would impose stricter work requirements on up to 7 million food stamp recipients. Presumably this would also affect the tens of thousands of serving military personnel whose families need to depend on food stamps, and the 1.5 million low-income veterans who receive them. ….

Young Trumpies Hit D.C. … And D.C. hits them right back.

Source: Daniel Lippman, Ben Schreckinger, Politico Magazine, July/August 2018

…. There’s always tension when administrations change in Washington; a new cast of characters arrives, and an influx of appointees, lobbyists and hangers-on have to stake out their own ground. But the era of Donald Trump is—as in so many respects—different.

Washington is a hipper city now than it’s ever been, a place where staffers, especially young staffers who want to drink and date and live normal millennial lives, would want to live. The problem is, if you work for Trump, it’s also more hostile territory than it’s ever been. The president campaigned against the very idea of “Washington,” slammed cities as “war zones” and ran a racially charged campaign whose coded messages weren’t lost on the diverse, Democratic-leaning residents of D.C.’s buzzing neighborhoods. The bar-filled areas that became synonymous with young Washington in the Obama era—Columbia Heights, Shaw, U Street, H Street—are full of anti-Trump T-shirts and street art. Even old Republican redoubts like Spring Valley in upper Northwest aren’t very Trump-friendly.

So, what’s a young Trumpie to do? Many still do live in D.C., and to understand what their lives here are like, we interviewed more than 30 millennial staffers from the Trump White House and across the administration, both current and former (many have already left), as well as a smattering of their friends and outside observers. ….

Organized Labor’s Check on Rising Economic Inequality in the U.S. States

Source: Laura C. Bucci, State Politics & Policy Quarterly, Volume 18 Issue 2, June 2018
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Recent demonstrations of growing economic inequality in the United States raise normative concerns about the political representation of all but the very wealthiest citizens. Building on existing cross-national work on the roles of unions in welfare states, I provide evidence that organized labor, as a political institution, limits unequal income distributions in the U.S. states. The states are useful to our understanding of labor’s influence on inequality as states differ in their acceptance of labor unions, base levels of inequality, political preferences, industries, and levels of development but are all nested within a single overarching national framework. Over the 39-year period examined, states where unions maintain more members remain more equal within the labor market and after redistribution via government transfer. These effects persist after accounting for state-level policy, demography, and economic conditions. However, states where union membership has the largest influence on inequality have also seen growing attempts to reduce unionization rates. Overall, I find that unions are still able to limit the growth of economic inequality in spite of declining levels of union membership.

9 essential reads on the Supreme Court and gerrymandering

Source: Aviva Rutkin, The Conversation, June 20, 2018

On June 18, the U.S. Supreme Court kicked a closely watched case on gerrymandering back to the lower court.

Gerrymandering – where states are carved up into oddly shaped electoral districts favoring one political party over another – has ignited debates in a number of states, including North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Many observers had hoped that the decision on Gill v. Whitford would provide some clarity on whether this controversial practice is constitutional. To better understand what the fight’s all about, we turned to articles in our archive.

Unintended Consequences: How Scaling Back Public Pensions Puts Government Revenues at Risk

Source: Michael Kahn, National Conference on Public Employee Retirement System (NCPERS), May 2018

The argument that taxpayers cannot afford public pensions has gained traction despite a woeful lack of empirical evidence to support it. Legislators across the nation are contemplating options for the future funding of public-sector worker retirement benefits at a time when competition for finite state and local resources is fierce. The reasons are familiar: the lingering effects of recession and misguided budget priorities have taken a toll. Time and again, defined-benefit pensions for firefighters, police officers, teachers, and other public servants have ended up on the chopping block, even though plan participants have consistently held up their end of the bargain.

Unintended consequences often flow from policy actions that are made with short-term pressures in mind. There is a real risk that reducing or even dismantling public pension benefits will ultimately backfire. Tn this installment of ongoing research on the impact of public pensions on the U.S. economy, NCPERS set out to quantify that risk.

The question we asked is this: How does the payment of defined pension benefits and the investment of pension assets impact state and local economies and revenue generation? ….

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A Better Way to Measure Poverty

Source: Misty Heggeness, U.S. Census Bureau, America Counts: Stories Behind the Numbers, June 19, 2018

Poverty assistance programs were established to provide a safety net for some of the nation’s most vulnerable populations. Yet program participation for some people is still not being counted in surveys.

Who are these people and why does this happen?

People of all ages, genders, races and ethnicities in various living situations can be on public assistance. Filling out a Census Bureau survey can be too time-consuming and daunting for some. Answering the questions correctly can be challenging.

That’s why the Census Bureau is looking at ways to better identify people who receive poverty assistance through the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) evaluation project.

Does ‘right to work’ imperil the right to health? The effect of labour unions on workplace fatalities

Source: Michael Zoorob, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Online First, June 13, 2018
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Objective:
Economic policies can have unintended consequences on population health. In recent years, many states in the USA have passed ‘right to work’ (RTW) laws which weaken labour unions. The effect of these laws on occupational health remains unexplored. This study fills this gap by analysing the effect of RTW on occupational fatalities through its effect on unionisation.

Methods:
Two-way fixed effects regression models are used to estimate the effect of unionisation on occupational mortality per 100 000 workers, controlling for state policy liberalism and workforce composition over the period 1992–2016. In the final specification, RTW laws are used as an instrument for unionisation to recover causal effects.

Results:
The Local Average Treatment Effect of a 1% decline in unionisation attributable to RTW is about a 5% increase in the rate of occupational fatalities. In total, RTW laws have led to a 14.2% increase in occupational mortality through decreased unionisation.

Conclusion:
These findings illustrate and quantify the protective effect of unions on workers’ safety. Policymakers should consider the potentially deleterious effects of anti-union legislation on occupational health.

An Overview of U.S. Immigration Laws Regulating the Admission and Exclusion of Aliens at the Border

Source: Hillel R. Smith, Congressional Research Service, CRS Legal Sidebar, LSB10150, June 15, 2018

Reports of a “migrant caravan” traveling from Central America to the United States have sparked considerable attention on the treatment of non-U.S. nationals (aliens) without legal immigration status who are arrested at or near the U.S.-Mexico border. The “caravan” comprises aliens primarily from Honduras, many of whom purportedly came to the United States to escape crime and political instability in their native countries. In recent months, there has been a marked increase in the number of apprehensions of aliens at the border seeking to unlawfully enter the country, with roughly three times as many border apprehensions in May 2018 compared to the same time last year.

In response to this influx of unauthorized border crossings, President Trump and other administration officials have called for stricter immigration laws and enhanced border security. In addition, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced a “zero tolerance” policy to criminally prosecute aliens who unlawfully enter the United States at the southern border; a policy which has reportedly led to the separation of children from parents awaiting prosecution for unlawful entry. The Administration and its supporters argue that these policies serve as a “tough deterrent” that is necessary to curb illegal border crossings. Opponents of these policies claim that U.S. immigration laws offer inadequate protections for those seeking a “safe haven” in the United States, and some have also legally challenged the separation of families on constitutional grounds.

The situation at the border and U.S. immigration authorities’ response to it has prompted significant attention and, in some cases, confusion regarding the governing laws and policies. This Legal Sidebar briefly examines the laws governing the admission and exclusion of aliens at the border, including the procedures for aliens seeking asylum and the circumstances in which arriving aliens may be detained. The Sidebar also addresses special rules concerning the treatment of unaccompanied alien children (UACs), as well as legislative proposals that would alter the scope of protections for arriving aliens at the border. A concluding Table provides an overview of the existing laws governing the detention and removal process for aliens.

Do We Need a Universal Basic Income? A Debate.

Source: Matt Bruenig, rebuttal by Rohan Grey and Raúl Carrillo, In These Times, June 2018

Getting free money from the government is popular. But would it prop up capitalism?

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Do We Need a Federal Jobs Guarantee? A Debate.
Source: Rohan Grey and Raúl Carrillo, rebuttal by Matt Bruenig, In These Times, June 2018

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker and Bernie Sanders have all proposed a job guarantee. But would it be drudgery?