via Seeds of Change

Los Angeles is considering a raise of the citywide minimum wage.

Economic Roundtable recently coauthored at report Los Angeles Rising: A City That Works for Everyone with the UCLA Labor Center and Institute for Research on Labor and Employment which looked at the consequences, both intended and unintended, of such a lift. We found that a phased-in increase to $15.25 by 2019 will put $5.9 billion more into the pockets of 723,000 working people, which will generate $6.4 billion in increased sales. That means that every dollar increase in the minimum wage generates $1.12 in economic stimulus. Businesses will hire more in response to the greater demand, creating 46,400 new jobs.

Why is a $15.25 raise such an economic boost for the local economy?

The answer, we found, lies in the household spending patterns of families who earn minimum wages. Families who earn less than $40,000 a year typically spend their earnings as soon as they are paid on basic needs. On average, a U.S. household that earns $34,000 spends about $36,000 on living expenses (see figure below). The wages earned by low- and moderate-income workers, therefore, go quickly back into circulation after pay day. The direct beneficiaries are place-based businesses, that cater to households within the immediate geographic vicinity. This includes real estate, health care, restaurants, and retail stores. These local businesses will reap increased sales, which allows them to grow and expand the economy.

In contrast, high-income households who bring home $70,000 or more a year, which includes most shareholders of corporations that employ minimum wage workers, set aside almost a quarter of their earnings, an average of $25,630 a year, in savings. Most of this money is placed into investments that are far removed from Los Angeles.

Therefore, a raise to $15.25 by 2019 is an investment in Los Angeles. Minimum wage workers will spend increased earnings of $5.9 billion in the local economy that will help the city grow.

via Labor Notes

There’s a hidden underside to Santa Monica, California’s idyllic exterior.

Santa Monica is a beautiful beachfront city: breezes from the Pacific Ocean, a year-round Mediterranean climate, 3.5 miles of beaches. Seven million visitors a year flock here—generating $1.63 billion.

But the workers who maintain the city are hired on an as-needed basis, earning poverty-level wages, lacking benefits and the ability to form a union.

I am one of them. I’ve been employed as a temporary employee in beach bathroom maintenance for four years. I struggle to earn a living and hold an extra job so I can earn enough money to survive.

The recession hurt many families in Los Angeles, including mine. My mother moved in with me when my family’s house was lost to a foreclosure. She had nowhere else to go, so I found a home big enough for all of us.

As the eldest child in my family, I support my mother and two younger siblings, but I can barely afford to pay the bills from the $2,000 monthly income I earn. Rent and utilities are $2,200 a month, groceries another $600-700.

A COLOR LINE

Though we do the same work, my coworkers and I earn half of what workers with permanent status earn. There are 10 of us temporary workers, called “labor trainees” although we’ve never received formal training from the city.

Some of us have been in this state of limbo for almost 30 years and were never offered a permanent job. We’ve also taken the civil service exam and passed, but this still didn’t result in a permanent job offer either.

A color line divides the temporary from the permanent workers in Santa Monica. All of us temps are people of color—five of us are Latino and five Black. Our counterparts who are classified as permanent employees of the city, enjoying health insurance and pension benefits, are mostly white.

The problem isn’t only concentrated in the Santa Monica beach, of course. There’s a whole new “permatemp” section of the economy, including workers like us who have been made into “as-needed” casual workers while still being directly hired, and workers who are outsourced to staffing agencies.

According to a recent report from the National Employment Law Project and the National Staffing Workers Alliance, the number of workers in that second category of outsourced workers “has reached an all-time high”: “2.8 million Americans are currently employed in temporary help services, which constitute the majority of staffing industry jobs.”

For employers these are strategies to dodge unions, benefits, and labor laws. The National Labor Relations Board has gone back and forth over the years on whether temporary employees or contracted workers can form a bargaining unit. (Most of this is fought out in court cases. To read more, check out the Seattle-based Center for a Changing Workforce.)

And it’s not just private-sector employers anymore.

PERMATEMP ECONOMY

The public sector used to be a conduit to middle-class, union jobs for many Black and brown people. But state and local governments are increasing employment of permatemps like me.

The use of temporary workers has increased since the recession, as city budgets have been slashed. “Public-sector agencies are increasingly trying to minimize their obligations to workers by staffing through temp agencies—even for long-term jobs—and outsourcing to private contractors,” said Chris Tilly, Director of the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.

We have a chance to stop the growing problem of the permatemp economy here in Santa Monica. If we don’t, I’m afraid that the city will take the next step and start outsourcing more jobs to third-party contractors.

To bring fairness to its beaches, Santa Monica needs to make all of us permanent workers. If we had permanent status, I might be able to support my family on one job—rather than juggling two and working 80 hours a week.

My co-workers would be able to get proper medical care instead of having to come in to work sick or with dangerous infections. We might feel more like dignified workers instead of expendable labor.

CITY HEARING ON TUESDAY

Last year my co-workers and I joined the Industrial Workers of the World and began organizing for change.

Now we are close to making that first step. This Tuesday, the Santa Monica City Council will discuss the status of its permatemp workers. We invite everyone to come join us and support our demands for dignity and justice at work.

Please take a moment to share your feelings about ending the permatemp economy with the Santa Monica City Council by signing our petition. We can build a movement to stop the permatemp economy before it swallows us all.

Shyolanda Montana is employed as an as-needed labor trainee for the city of Santa Monica since May 2011. She wrote this article with the support of Yvonne Yen Liu and Morgan Presta (a pseudonym), both members of Los Angeles Industrial Workers of the World.

via In These Times

The New York Times ran a story this Sunday about the growing ranks of white, middle-class professional women who are choosing flexible work arrangements over a fast-track up the career ladder. “I never miss a baseball game,” one mother told the Times reporter—a record that’s achievable because she works from home some days. Work-life balance has been an area of growing concern as daughters of the New Left have grown up, gotten jobs and had families. Books such as Lean In, by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, advise women that they can have it all—family and success at work—if they take more risks in their careers.

Unfortunately, mothers working in low-wage jobs, many of them women of color, don’t have the option to step up into risky ventures with high opportunities for growth. As government support for children and families have shrunk since the 1980s, many women have been pushed into low-paying service jobs and can barely keep step with the economic demands placed on them. Restaurants employ 10 million workers in this country; half are women, and two million are mothers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the service sector will grow to 80 percent of our economy in the next decade.

The Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United) has released a new report, “The Third Shift,” documenting the challenges that mothers working in restaurants face in balancing their precarious work, for which some earn subminimum wages, with little to no child care support. (Full disclosure: I am ROC-United’s research director and worked on the report.) The title references the famous study by sociologist Arlie Hochschild describing the “second shift” of housework that women must do after clocking out and returning home. The mothers interviewed in our report must also work an unpredictable “third shift,” thanks to the erratic schedules endemic to our new service economy. Pho

These mothers also face a Catch-22: In order to receive child care assistance through federal child welfare programs, they are forced to accept any job they can get. And most jobs out there are crappy jobs. It’s no wonder that on average, mothers who earn an income spend more than a third of it on child care.

Daniella*, a 40-year-old black woman with two children who was interviewed in the report, works as a server in Detroit. Like many restaurant workers who rely on a tipped income, she earns $2.65 an hour. The tipped minimum wage has been frozen federally for the past 22 years at $2.13, an income barely enough for mothers to pay for child care, let alone other living costs. Servers comprise the largest occupational category in the restaurant industry. They are disproportionately women, and 1 in 5 is a mother.

“If you’re in the restaurant industry in a waitress role, then you depend on tips,” Daniella explained.  “If [you] don’t get any tips, you can’t pay the bills, because you only get paid $2.65 an hour, so your paycheck is worthless to you.” Daniella earns $90 on average a week, but isn’t able to pay for child care in a daycare center with those earnings.

Over three-quarters of the working mothers we surveyed told us that a child care subsidy was important to them. However, public assistance for child care has been plummeting since the right-wing attacks on the safety net began in the ’80s. Monies allocated for children were cut by $2 billion between 2010 and 2011 alone. All of this has led to a strain on public sector programs that provide help to struggling mothers and their families. As it is, only 1 in 6 potentially eligible children benefit from child care subsidies. In 2012, 23 states had waiting lists or stopped accepting new applications for child care assistance.

One of the mothers we interviewed in Baton Rouge, La. needs support to care for her four children to find restaurant work. But, because she’s unemployed, she doesn’t qualify for child care assistance. Mothers are further penalized by the child welfare system. Approximately 2 percent of all mothers we surveyed reported that they had arrived late to pick up their child because of work, and a child care provider had threatened to call Child Protective Services. Some Detroit mothers who couldn’t afford to pay their utilities bills not only had their services shut off, but also had their children taken away and placed into foster care until they could pay the balance.

Given that 4 out of 10 households today, according to a Pew Center report, are headed by breadwinner moms, this is a national emergency. With mothers earning 4 percent less per child than fathers or women without children, the cost of raising the next generation is borne solely on their backs. Children are public goods, as feminist economist Nancy Folbre has argued, and the country benefits from the earnings of future working-age adults through Social Security and public debt.

There’s an extremely straightforward solution to the problem of affordable child care. We need comprehensive, universal pre-K at the nontraditional hours that our service economy runs on today.

*Name changed to protect confidentiality

via Cultural Anthropology

When the Great Recession sank its fangs into the veins of this country on December 2007, for the first time, millions of white people woke to a different world. Unemployment and poverty are not unfamiliar bedfellows to people of color: Black unemployment has been at least double that of the rate for whites from 1973 to 2009; while Latinos were 1.5 times more likely to be unemployed than whites for 28 out of the 37 years.[1] The white middle class wasn’t able to get a job or pay their mortgage or healthcare bills. They were in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure or were forced to apply for food stamps for the first time.[2] In short, the white middle class joined the ranks of people of color who have faced unemployment, low wages or poverty, and lack of wealth and assets throughout the history of this country.[3]

It should not be surprising that two years later, after the recession technically ended (June 2009 according to the National Bureau of Economic Research)[4],  yet unemployment stayed steady at 9.1%,[5] thousands of white middle class, many young and college-educated, but with no hopes of breaking into a job market, answered the call to Occupy Wall Street.[6]  Many flocked to Zuccotti Park, eerily close to the negative space of Ground Zero, to roll out sleeping bags onto hard concrete, claiming to be the 99%, exploited by the 1%. Surveys, such as those conducted by Occupy Research, confirmed what many of us already knew: over 80% of Occupy participants identified as white.[7]

Focus group conversations with youth organizers involved in Occupy in three cities, Oakland, New York, and Atlanta [8],  yielded insights about how race is conceived in this movement.[9]  In both Oakland and Atlanta, cities with strong traditions of racial justice movements, focus group participants identify their actions as distinct from entrenched nonprofit institutions (often referred to in conversation as the “nonprofit industrial complex”). “Nonprofits led by people of color are pissed that they weren’t asked to join Occupy Oakland,” explained Oliver, a white man in his early 20s, who favored long hair topped by theatrical flourishes, such as a top hat.[10]

In Atlanta, Anna, a single mother in her late 20s originally from Eastern Europe, named Camus and Sartre as authors that influenced her politics. She and her son lived with a Black family in a rapidly gentrifying working class neighborhood, helping the family to defend their home from foreclosure. Anna explained the city’s politics, “The ossified Black civil rights leadership has been bought off; they don’t allow grassroots movements to flourish. Nonprofits kill movements. They replace [movements] with themselves.”

Emily is a 19-year-old white woman who moved to Atlanta from the surrounding suburbs a year ago. She wore a t-shirt advertising a punk band, with an anarchy A in the logo, and sat for most of the conversation with her knees hugged to her chest. Emily remarked, “Troy Davis was a huge thing here. The Black leaders urged us all to vote and pray, yet [Davis] was still murdered. It was a turning point, where we started to reject the vote and pray stuff.”

Aisha is an 18-year old Black woman who smiled to reveal a mouthful of braces. She lived in another home being defended from foreclosure, located in a neighboring suburb, owned by a former Black Panther. Aisha added, “Blacks are always affected by things like police brutality or the recession, but our leaders just tell us to be good, ‘pray and vote.’”

Almost everyone I talked to concurred that racial disparities were important for Occupy to address. Nathan, a 22-year old white male in New York, thought, “You can’t talk about the financial crisis without talking about race. The movement fails if it doesn’t address race as a pillar, along with sexism and patriarchy. You need an intersectional analysis.” However, white participants were more likely to be “colorblind” in their view of economic inequalities and movement processes. “Capital doesn’t discriminate,” stated Oliver, “Asians make more than whites.” Tom, a 30-year old white male in Oakland, who arrived with a giant rucksack stuffed with a sleeping bag and his clothing covered in travel dust, complained, “I am lumped unfairly as a white middle class male; bigotry cuts both ways.”

Liberal commentators, such as Chris Hedges, have attempted to divide the movement into good, nonviolent activists versus bad, violent troublemakers.[11] This debate has plagued other movements before, such as the alter-globalization movement, with violent tactics conflated with those who adhere to an anarchist orientation. Although several voices within Occupy have criticized this conflation [12],  youths in the focus groups uphold the correlations, perhaps unconsciously. Emily, for instance, described Occupy as a “white organizing culture,” where “the consensus model pushed people of color away.” She thought that when “Representative John Lewis wasn’t allowed to speak out of process, people defended the process… But, defending that process was defending white organizing culture.”

Oliver in Oakland cited a Black Panther party leader who praised anarchists for being willing to take direct action.[13] But, he referred to anarchists as “white kids”, thereby assigning a racial identity to a philosophical tradition, ignoring any heterogeneous identification within the community. “Brother Freeman says people of color run nonprofits, but white kids get stuff done.” Again, there is the equation of the politics of representation with an entrenched leadership, protecting the status quo.

While these binaries of nonprofits/insurgence, people of color/white anarchists, nonviolence/violence from past movements persist in Occupy, I take hope in the Occupy generation, those newly politicized who are encountering the vagaries of race, class, gender, and sexuality in daily life. They are crafting a new politics that synthesizes an intersectional analysis with their thirst for a better world. Nick, a white male in his late 20s in New York, said that his vision of a better world was a temporary autonomous zone, without state or capital. He remembered being in the Occupy Wall Street kitchen one day, where a young woman of color asked a white man to clean the dishes he left in the sink. “The young white man said to her, ‘You do it, I’m doing important work.’ But, who’s going to do the important work of washing dishes?”

Langley, a 20-year old white male who wore an oversized green army jacket that engulfed his thin frame, contemplated Nick’s question for a minute. He and a friend were the only white residents of a home in East New York, which was liberated by the movement in early December.[14] “Doing the dishes is revolutionary.”

Notes
[1] Applied Research Center. May 2009. Race and Recession: How Inequity Rigged the Economy and How to Change the Rules. http://arc.org/recession (accessed 5/13/12).

[2] Appelbaum, Binyamin and Robert Gebeloff. 2/11/12. Even Critics of Safety Net Increasingly Depend on It. NY Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/12/us/even-critics-of-safety-net-increasingly-depend-on-it.html (accessed 2/13/12).

[3] Sullivan, Tim et al. 1/12/12. State of the Dream 2012: The Emerging Majority. United for a Fair Economy. http://www.faireconomy.org/dream (accessed 4/15/12).

[4] US Business Cycle Expansions and Contractions. 9/20/10. National Bureau of Economic Research. http://www.nber.org/cycles/cyclesmain.html (accessed 4/15/12).

[5] Employment Situation News Release. 10/7/11. Bureau of Labor Statistics. http://bls.gov/news.release/archives/empsit_10072011.htm (accessed 4/15/12).

[6] Unemployment rates for young adults between 20 and 24 in age are higher than that of the general population. But, youth of color face higher rates consistently over time. From 1977-2009, the highest rate of unemployment for white youth, 13.9% in 2009, does not reach even the lowest rate for Black youth, 14.3% in 2001. (ARC, 2009, Race and Recession).

[7] Preliminary Findings: Occupy Research Demographic and Political Participation Survey. 3/23/12. Occupy Research. http://www.occupyresearch.net/2012/03/23/preliminary-findings-occupy-research-demographic-and-political-participation-survey/ (accessed 4/15/12).

[8] Youth defined as anyone between the ages of 18 and 30.

[9] Focus groups sponsored by the Applied Research Center (publisher of Colorlines.com). Each group had 10-12 participants; the gatherings were publicized through Occupy social networks.

[10] Names have been changed to maintain anonymity.

[11] Hedges, Chris. 2/6/12. The Cancer in Occupy. TruthDig. http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_cancer_of_occupy_20120206/ (accessed 4/15/12).

[12] Graeber, David. 2/9/12. Concerning the Violent Peace-Police. N+1. http://nplusonemag.com/concerning-the-violent-peace-police (accessed 4/15/12).

[13]Soynoise. 7/14/08. What does Black Panther Party think about Anarchist? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHCrueoYYuA (accessed 4/15/12).

[14] Harkinson, Josh. 12/6/11. Occupy Movement Targets Foreclosed Properties. Mother Jones. http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/12/occupy-our-homes-wall-street-squatters-foreclosures (accessed 4/15/12)

Yvonne Yen Liu is a senior researcher at the Applied Research Center, publisher of Colorlines.com, and a PhD student at the CUNY Graduate Center. She is a member of Smart Meme’s board, the advisory committee for the Food Chain Workers Alliance, and the Occupy Oakland Research working group.