Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Make Social Safety Nets Strong

http://www.citylab.com; August 20, 2017


Hello Everyone:

Yours Truly is back from welcoming the Jewish New Year and ready for a full week on the blog.  Before we get going, a few agenda items.  First and foremost, the October 5, 2017 DACA renewal deadline is less than ten days away.  If you or someone you know has not renewed their application, do it immediately. For more information and to renew, please go to uscis.gov.  Next, the Island of Puerto Rico is beginning the long and slow rebuilding process in the wake of Hurricane Maria.  Florida and Texas are just beginning the process and still need your help.  Please go to the American Red Cross website: http://www.redcross.org for ways to help.  Finally, Blogger would like to know who has not Mr. Donald Trump picked a fight with? At a campaign rally in Alabama this past Friday, the president took aim at football players who take a knee during the National Anthem to protest the continued oppression of communities of color.  He went so far as to implore National Football League owners and general managers to fire or suspend athletes who take a knee (#takeaknee). Picking a fight with football players was not enough, the president disinvited the National Basketball League champion Golden State Warriors after Stephen Curry announced that he was hesitating over going to the White House for the traditional meet-and-greet.  Taking a knee is a peaceful form of protest for positive social change.  It is not disrespectful to the flag, the National Anthem, or military personal.  The flag, the National Anthem all represent the hard fought for rights, including the right to peaceful protest.  The president may love his country and flag but not what the flag stands for.  Alright, now on to rebuilding the social safety net.

One the of the key things to creating a more equitable society is strengthening the social safety nets.  Consider the "good" jobs of days gone by.  Think the work in the coal mines or in factories.  What made those jobs so good?  It was not the repetitive daily tasks, it was the economic security that came with those "good" jobs.  It was not the pay or the benefits, it was the stability that it brought to individual households and communities.  Brooks Rainwater writes in his CityLab article "How Cities Can Rebuild the Social Safety Net," "In short, the good of yesterday strengthened the safety net."

Today, in place of the secure factory jobs, the service sector has taken over the role of economically stable employment.  Restaurant work is not just for struggling actors anymore.  A Bureau of Labor Statistics report, issued this year, reported that "Restaurant jobs are on fire in 2017, growing faster than health care, construction, or manufacturing...the jobs are mostly at sit-down restaurants,which make up 50 percent of the category.  Fast-food joints are the next largest employer in the category, with 37 percent..." (http://www.citylab.com; Aug. 9, 2017; date accessed Sept. 25, 2017). Since January, restaurants added "nearly 200,000 to the economy."  The Atlantic's Derek Thompson recently wrote, "...these positions are responsible for big chunks of urban job growth-more than a third of Cleveland's new hires since 2015 were in restaurants,..."  (Ibid). As optimistic as this may sound, there is a downside about working in a restaurant.  They offer few, if any benefits; a less predictable and burdensome schedule, and a typical hourly pay of $12.50-not exactly enough to support a family in most of the country.

These low-wage "stop-gap" position are tenuous, at best.  Mr. Rainwater reports, "Upwards of 47 percent of U.S. jobs over the next two decades (oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk: date accessed Sept. 25, 2017) due to advances in technology, and workers earring below $20 per hour face a greater than 80 percent  chance of displacement (whitehouse.gov; date Sept. 25, 2017)."

During this age of employment insecurity civic leaders will need to facilitate the construction of a new urban safety net to support their citizens.  This is also a great opportunity right the entrenched inequalities in the system.  Brooks Rainwater offers four ideas on how cities can strengthen the social safety net.

"Make benefits portable:" On-demand and contract employment is increasingly common in the contemporary economy.  Mr. Rainwater reports, "Freelancers now make up 35 percent of the workforce (Forbes.com; Sept. 2016; date accessed Sept. 25, 2017), and since these gig-economy jobs don't have benefits tied to employment, portable benefits are an options whose time has come."  Portability means that benefits such as health, workers's compensation, retirement fund matching, and paid family leave would be tied to the individual, not the employer.  Thoughts on this type of system does vary.  "Some suggest hat benefits should be universal and administered by the government or a public private institution created created for such a purpose."  Others have proffered "...they should be administered by non-governmental community-based groups."  One way or the other, portable benefits hold the possibility of supporting those who work outside the traditional economic structure.  

Brooks Rainwater observes, "Most potential programs involve adding a surcharge to be paid by either the company or customer that would remit to a pool of funds for contract workers within a certain jurisdiction."  One model is the New York Black Car Fund (nybcf.org) where fees collected by the state from on-demand rides helps pay for workers's compensations and other group benefits.  Mr. Rainwater notes, "While it is still early to see a wide swath of initiatives carried out, in late 2016 the New York City Council proposed a law that would provide portable benefits to taxi and ride-hailing drivers." (politico.com; Sept. 6, 2016; date accessed Sept. 25, 2017) Further, there are legislative initiatives in New York and Washington states (pew trusts.org; Feb. 22, 2017; date accessed Sept. 25, 2017). At the federal level, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia is spearheading a portable benefit initiative (techcrunch.com; May 25, 2017; date accessed Sept. 25, 2017).  Mr. Rainwater sounds an optimistic note, "...so expect to see portable benefits explored more all across the country."

"Require employers to provide paid leave:" this is really a no-brainer.  Women make up an ever growing part of the workforce "...approximately 47 percent of the U.S. And the majority (51 percent) of workers in professional and technical occupations."  Studies published the Pew Research Center (pewsocialtreds.org; date accessed Sept. 25, 2017) found that we (as a nation) have made made progress in the distribution of of family and household responsibilities between men and women, however current policies put people with children at a distinct disadvantage.  The United States is the only industrialized nation that offers only unpaid leave through the Family Medical Leave Act (pew research.org; date accessed Sept. 25, 2017)

There is little reason, if any, to expect progress on this issue from the current administration, however, once again the cities are taking the lead. "In San Francisco, the Board of Supervisors mandates six weeks of paid parental leave for workers, and California followed suit with a statewide policy."  Yay.  Mr. Rainwater continues, "This long-overdue policy gives parents the opportunity to maintain their careers while starting a family, help organization retain employees who might otherwise opt out for financial reason, and brings stability to the workforce and economy."