The Progressive Ensign

insights and analytics to build an economy that works for all

Category: Wages (Page 2 of 3)

Disney, Walmart Begin Offering Education Aid

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab.)

Source: payactiv.com

Disney announced this week that for 80,000 hourly workers in the U.S. to take online courses beginning this fall.  The media and entertainment giant will invest $50 million to kick off the ‘Disney Aspire’ education program with $25 million each year afterward.  Disney will provide up front funding for degree programs, high school diploma or learn a new skill.  The jump start funding enables  workers with little savings to begin taking courses right away. The program will begin with online courses only though classroom course programs may be added later.

Last May, Walmart introduced a tuition assistance program for 1.4 million hourly part-time, full-time and salaried workers to take courses online in business or supply-chain management. Employees will pay just $1 a day to participate in the assistance program. The retail colossus is looking to increase retention rates, and draw more new workers.  Drew Holler, VP of Innovation at Walmart U.S. was excited, “We know we’re going to see an influx of applications.”

Other major corporations are feeling the pressure to be competitive in benefits for hourly or retail workers. Starbucks offers a full tuition degree program for baristas at Arizona State University.  Chipotle Mexican Grill offers $5,250 in tuition assistance for degree programs.

However, for many hourly workers they have a difficult time committing to education programs due to erratic work schedules.  Our Walmart, an employee advocacy group, completed a survey of worker needs finding that 70 % of workers wanted more time scheduled to work full time, and more predictable timing.  Hourly workers are busy balancing work time with family commitments, like child care, doctor appointments and caregiving.

We have commented in our posts about the necessary investment corporations and government needs to make in education.  Hourly workers in particular have a difficult time getting more education due to random work schedules, little savings and limited study time.  Many of these programs begin to address the issue of upfront funding now they need to enable workers to actually go to school while working by offering predictable work schedules and flex time to handle family commitments.  We are pleased to see Disney, Walmart and other companies  respond to the need for workers to get a better education by investing in their employees’ future and to see the move as good business.

Families Are the Place to Start Building the Common Good

Image: sleepingshouldbeeasy.com

We all have a mother and father, and may have brothers and sisters.  We come into the world born of our mother with a bonding to her, and if all goes well the father is there to raise us too.  We can all agree that families are a priority – when things get tough our families come first.

Bo Lotzoff, philosopher and counselor helping many prisoners and poor people turnaround their lives, observed about American society that we ‘love things and use people’. It should be the other way around, ‘love people and use things’. Think about this insight.  When we look objectively at what has happened to family life in the past 30 years, the slice of time devoted to family versus work has progressed in reality to not much time, or invested engagement by the working parent.

In Silicon Valley, the heart of technology innovation world-wide, it is the standard expectation for most workers at top companies to be at work until 8 or 9pm, just leaving barely enough time for fathers or mothers to read a story and tuck their children into bed.  Management expects knowledge workers to check for text messages at least 19 hours a day and email before coming into the office, responding to work requests on weekends too.  Even, on vacations, if project reviews are planned workers are expected to phone in for the key meetings and ‘stay on top’ of what is happening.  When global conference calls are involved, the calls may start at 6am to Germany and continue to 7 or 8 pm to Japan or China.  What all this connectedness means is that the company owns the mind and emotions of the worker 24 by 7. At one startup  ‘all hands’ meeting just prior to the Christmas holiday the CEO thanked everyone for their hard work over the past year and declared, “have a fun Christmas or holiday rest for a day, then let’s make our numbers!”  He made the statement kind of in just but half serious, the workers got his point, see your families and friends but stay connected 24 by 7.

Corporate life is destroying family life and our connectedness as a community.  Being totally connected to the corporation is more important if we want to maintain our standard of living is the message.  Corporations are using people and loving things (sounds like high tech).

Nourishing, sustaining and building stronger families would do a lot for solving our societal and economic issues.  Crime would go down as young men who are left to live on the streets would be learning skills, playing a team sport or having a family supporting his life, and where after school programs were funded and staffed well. Groups like Thread, in Baltimore actually use the family structure with Parents and Grandparent surrogates to support youth in poor parts of the city where there may be only one parent and that parent is not home much of the time working two or three jobs to support the family.  Today we are missing millions of our youth to crime, opioids and dead end jobs that could be active productive members of our labor force. Our labor force is declining with the aging of baby boomers, we need all the paycheck workers we can to support our aging population and for young workers to save for their futures.

So, let’s look at the policies of our federal government using the family yardstick which most people right or left, Republican or Democrat agree:

  1. Family Separation – recently we saw that there was consensus that children should be kept with their parents – even immigrant children
  2. Health Insurance – a Pew Research survey showed that 58 % of all Americans believed that every person should have affordable health insurance for which the government is responsible
  3. Childhood Health Insurance Program (CHIP) – most Senator and Congressmen agreed and renewed the CHIP bill to protect children caught between Medicaid and being too poor to afford an individual health insurance plan in this past December’s spending bill.
  4. Flexible Job Definition – more social and family counselors see a need for men and women to have flexible time jobs meaning that when a family emergency comes up like an illness or doctor appointment the worker can take time off and make the appointment without repercussions in job performance, salary or benefits.
  5. Parental Leave – Federal law of 1997 requires private employers to provide maternity leave up to 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected parental leave to bond with a new child within one year of birth, adoption, or foster care placement (parental leave).  The US is the only country in the developed world that does not have paid leave for parents.
  6. Wages – real wages (after inflation) for the 80 % of workers in the U.S. have basically been stagnant for the last 30 years. Instead, corporate executives use excess profits to juice their stock prices with stock buybacks instead of raising wages. They are wasting nearly $810 billion that Goldman Sachs estimates is being spent in 2018 on stock buy backs. That $810 billion could go a long way to providing decent wages for workers. Analysts estimate the S & P 500 index is at least 20 % higher from what the prices of company stocks would be without stock buybacks. The reality is that workers and their families suffer having to work two or three jobs because of the greed of executive management. 

We could add to the list, our point is made, when we have a consensus that families need to be placed as the first priority, not the second or third or thirty-fifth, then our legislative priorities are clear.  Other countries seem to make a thriving economy and support of families work. Germany has paid parental leave, a net export economy, good wages, employee councils and at least 4 weeks of paid vacation for most employees.  Most German families feel secure.  This author asked a co-worker from Germany if he considered working in the U.S., he noted,  “I would get sharper, get closer to engineering and innovation, yet, there is no real recognition of families, In Germany, I have paid leave for a new child, four weeks of vacation every year, a good guaranteed retirement program, health insurance and I participate in our employee council…I don’t want to live under constant stress in America.”

Families are the basic economic building block of our country.  When corporations take control of our government and run our families into oblivion we all are hurt as a country.  In the end corporate executives need to wake up and support family sustaining policies in their company, their management culture, wages and in Washington to build strong families. Otherwise, someday corporations will discover as is beginning to happen today, that young women having the fewest babies ever since WW II, the lowest level of family formations ever and lowest number of millennials buying homes will lead to shrinking markets, falling margins and reduced sales. We need to monitor what is happening to the health of our families to know if our societal values, economic values, government policies and corporate behavior are strengthening or weakening families.

Corporations Have A Responsibility for The Common Good

 

Image: Your Little Planet

Corporations provide the economic foundation for the common good in supporting a community.  Air, water,  and land need to be kept in good stewardship by companies using these natural resources and returning them as they found them.  Yet, there is an economic responsibility too – good jobs for fair pay while keeping the social contract with the worker.

The New York Times returned to the Carrier site in Indianapolis that 20 months ago President Trump ‘saved’ from being moved to Mexico. Today, the furnace plant is plagued by absenteeism and concerns that the plant will be shut down when the political light is gone.  Management has not helped when the CEO of the Pratt and Whitney that owns Carrier said that there would be lost jobs and automation would help to reduce costs. Unfortunately, the Carrier situation is true for many blue collar workers in America, always looking over their back, with a cloud hanging over their job future.  There isn’t a cloud hanging over executives careers.

How can workers make commitments, to their families, pay mortgages, make car payments are send children to college when there is economic uncertainty hanging over them.

It used to be that corporate management was concerned with the future of their workers in a deep and personal way, which was reflected in their policies.  All too pervasive in executives suites throughout America is the focus on profits, stock price and how to make more money – with worker security and careers taking a second place or not at all in the financial plan.  Certainly corporations have extreme competitive pressures worldwide, government regulations and personnel laws to adhere to.  Yet, when companies announce automation plans, they seem to forget the people losing jobs to robots are unlikely to get another job that pays as well.

Automation is a social concern, damaging the common good that workers can’t be just flung out of work while all the executives left make more money.  There is something intrinsically unfair with this model.

People are the most important resource in our economy, we need to be thinking of how we treat people when economic storms come.  When companies automate workers out of job they need to take the social responsibility for ensuring the worker thrown out of work and still progress positively in their economic life. While, a capitalist democracy supports corporations as private property and run entity, with the onslaught of automation corporations can’t just run the other way after giving the laid off worker a small severance check and say ‘good luck’  That approach is just not enough, the corporation profits the worker losesWe need to end the spiral down for workers, they need to be guaranteed a productive economic life just the same way an executive who is left with the benefits of an automated factory.

Washington AG Increases Job Mobility for Fast Food Workers

 

Photo: blogs.reuters.com

Washington Attorney General, Bob Ferguson negotiated with seven major fast food franchises including; McDonalds, Arby’s, Carl’s Jr., and Jimmy Johns to delete franchise agreements with parent companies which include a no poach clause.   The no poach clause provided a way for individual franchisee’s to keep managers from other same brand franchisees from hiring their workers.  Two Princeton professors, Krueger and Ashenfelter published a study last year that estimated that no poach clauses affected about 70,000 individual restaurants in the U.S. or about 25 % of all fast food outlets.  The professors noted that the clauses were primarily to keep turnover down, limit competition and job mobility with other same brand franchises.  As a result workers had limited options to negotiate higher wages, work schedules or conditions.

Turnover in the fast food industry ranges from 60 – 70% in up-scale dining restaurants to over 120 % in fast food franchises. Franchisees are faced with constant pressure to raise wages in a low wage industry but face tight profit margins of 3 %:

Source: The Heritage Foundation – 9/4/14

With only 3 % margin to work with it is difficult for a franchise owner to raise wages.  Workers also mention in surveys the need to have more scheduled hours with more notice on the hours they work. With the no poach clauses gone from contracts workers can move to a same brand restaurant and negotiate for better hours and schedules.

We are pleased to see Attorney General Ferguson successfully negotiate with major fast food chains to delete the no poach clause to give workers more negotiating power and flexibility in their job situations.  It seems to us that major chains should have figured out that at least keeping the worker in the same chain was a plus, and the deleting the clause may force owners to treat workers better in order to reduce turnover.  Better managed franchises would rise to the top and have lower turnover rates.  Now on to raising low wages, increasing wages to a livable level is a complex issue that will require all involved; the owners, corporate franchise executives and workers to come up with a plan that will give workers the wages they deserve.

Seniors Feeling Financial Crunch – Increased Bankruptcies and Pension Overpayment Collections

Image: debt.org

Researchers tracking the financial blight of seniors report that seniors over age 65 are 3 times more likely to file for bankruptcy. Seniors are caught by reduced pensions, co pays on their children’s student loans, spiraling medical costs and lost wealth from the Great Recession.

Sources: Consumer Bankruptcy Project, The New York Times – 8/3/18

The post – Baby Boomer generation is feeling squeezed too as their bankruptcy filings are up over 66 % for the 55 to 64 year old group. Many Baby Boomers just beginning their retirement or in the their last years of savings were hit hard by the Great Recession, wiping out 401k investments in stocks and losing home equity wealth too. In all households lost $14 trillion in wealth, most of the income and asset recovery of the past 10 years has gone to the top 10 % in income.

The Consumer Bankruptcy Project is an ongoing effort led by Professor Thorne, University of Idaho; Professor Lawless; Pamela Foohey, a law professor at Indiana University; and Katherine Porter, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine. Their universities fund the project as they review court documents and send out questionnaires to retirees.

Social Security has not been able to fill the gap.  Nor was Social Security designed to be the sole source of income for seniors – it was setup to supplement pensions and savings.  Over the past 30 years corporations have shifted from defined benefit (pension direct payment) plans to defined contribution plans like 401k where the worker makes the majority for the contributions and the employer is off the hook to make direct fixed payments. Yet, today for 33 % of retirees receiving Social Security it provides 90 % of their income.  Medicare and drug costs cut into their Social Security checks:

Sources: The Kaiser Family Foundation, The New York Times – 8/3/18

Health care spending for the average retiree is increasing every year beyond Social Security income and drugs become more expensive, some with standard prices of $70 per dose gauged up in price to $1700 per dose.

Adding insult to injury firms like  AT & T are contracting with collection agencies to claw back overpayments to pensioners.  The firms make up the calculation tables and send out the checks now they blame the pensioner, who has already spent the money.  It is important if the retiree receives a statement of planned disbursements to send back incorrect checks, however in most cases the checks were sent over some years until the error was found and the retiree had no idea that there was an overpayment.

Next Steps:

The perfect financial storm for retirees comes down to the basic fact that corporations shifted their responsibility for pensions onto workers helping the financial services industry sell more financial products to an naïve and financial challenged workers.  Professional financial managers were replaced by amateur workers doing their best to invest their 401k plans and save for the future.  For the bottom 80 % income the last 30 years their wages have been stagnant with increasing educational costs for their children and increasing medical costs for themselves. The federal government has been of little help, not indexing Social Security payments to the actual costs seniors incur for increasing medical and health services costs.

  1. Pension Claw backs – this makes no moral sense, many retirees have spent 20 or 30 years of their lives for the business, the business made the mistake they need to take care of it. In AT & T’s case they spend billions on stock buy backs to make their executives and shareholders rich, they could take a fraction those funds and take care of their seniors and fund their pension liabilities appropriately.
  2. Retirement Income – in previous posts we have recommended that instead of an incredible mess of 401k accounts, financial houses and amateur investment management by workers, a guaranteed retirement program be implemented starting at the time a person begins work and receives his Social Security card. Worker savings toward retirement would be transferred into this one account for a lifetime, with Social Security contributions by the federal government, and savings by the worker.  A portion would be guaranteed by the federal government and professionally managed as a defined benefit plan. Workers could opt for professional management of all their funds as well.
  3. Medical Costs – as we have recommended health insurance should be run by one entity the present Medicare operation for all Americans from the time of birth. Medicare already has a formulary for drugs, and should be authorized to negotiate drug costs for all patients. Standard compensation for procedures and quality of care implemented for Obamacare should be extended. Drug companies will no longer be able to buy back their stock, but instead will be required to spend those funds to bring drug costs down, or reduce costs in other ways.  Direct prescription drug advertising should be outlawed to save the over $1 billion spent a year in wasted advertising and spend the funds on price reductions.

Apprenticeship Program A Good Step Forward

 

Photo: siemens.com

The Administration has announced a new job training and apprenticeship program focused on many hard to fill positions in manufacturing. The President signed an order to create a Council for the American Worker instructing the secretaries of commerce and labor to coordinate existing federal programs and focus on new apprenticeship programs for job seekers without college degrees and older workers.  Labor Secretary, R. Alexander Acosta noted prior to the announcement that in June 2017 the administration had allocated $150 million in funding to strengthen apprenticeship programs.

Officials from various job development interested groups including unions, corporations,  and trade association officials signed a ‘Pledge to America’s Workers’ committing to the creation of more career opportunities.  Many of the leaders had made previous commitments, though Fed Express announced a new pledge of 512,000 workforce development slots with tuition assistance provided.

While, ‘dual careers’ have been a staple part of German and European education programs in the U.S. the ‘college for all’ mantra has taken its effect discouraging apprentice program candidates. However, many European firms like Zurich Insurance have applied their experience with apprenticeship programs to their U.S. subsidiaries to fill positions and have shared their experience with U.S. based firms like Accenture and Walgreens. Apprenticeships are 4.0% of the workforce in Germany while in the U.S. the total is about 500,000 in skilled trades like plumbing, electrical or metal work, just a small fraction of the U.S. workforce.

Source: The Labor Department, The Wall Street Journal – 2016

American employers are struggling with filling many positions in manufacturing that require special skills but not at the level of a college degree. We expect that as more co-automation jobs are created apprenticeship programs will become the norm to accelerate the number of qualified workers and retrain those workers who lost jobs from automation.

We are pleased to see the GOP Administration move ahead with executing on its pledge to increase the number of apprenticeship training programs and enlist all interested stakeholders in the process. However, this Administration has also announced budget cuts of 40 % to a Department of Labor Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, so making the program work and develop momentum seems challenging given the mixed signals.  We see apprenticeship programs as crucial to expending jobs opportunities for the working class when they are combined with good salaries, benefits and continued training. Education is a bedrock institution to build a thriving society  for all not just the wealthy.

The Elite Makes U.S. A Land of Renters

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab.)

Photo: marketplace.org

Household formations have been trending down over the past 30 years from its peak reached after a continual increase since 1955.  More than a quarter of possible home buyers are unemployed, underemployed, saddled with student debt or living at home with their parents making home buying a challenge. The other possible household formation group is making such low income they are forced into renting as the only budgetary alternative.

Source: Real Investment Advice – 7/13/18

The housing market has shifted drastically toward high end homes for the wealthy, not first time buyers, and multi-unit rental units for investment.  As investors look outside the stock market for high returns rental units have been an excellent income stream with income streams totaling $800 billion per year.

So, while wages for the 80% in income, non – supervisory workers have been stagnant; profits, stock buybacks, executive salaries and other financial gimmicks have provided the top 10 % with 90 % of national income since 2008.  In effect, we have become a nation of renters due to two factors: wages being held down, and inflated assets benefiting the rich.

Source: Real Investment Advice – 7/13/18

Corporate executives do not make their stock price and profit targets by raising wages resulting in reduced profits.  Wages as a cost cut immediately into profits, which a CEO wants to stay clear of having to explain to the Board or shareholders.  Does it really make sense that workers are not getting wage increases in a job market with the lowest unemployment rate in 10 years? Until workers get enough countervailing power in wage negotiations worker wages are likely to stay stagnant. No, executives are allocating profits, offshore and tax cut funds to benefit themselves and shareholders while workers are left out of the economic feast.

Next steps:

We have outlined multiple reasons for lack of wage increases in earlier posts, the bottom line is executives don’t want to give raises beyond inflation.  Proposals like Senator Cory Booker’s Worker’s Dividend Act to share stock buyback dollars with workers is a good start, yet the sustainable solution lies in corporate governance, where activities shareholders required management to give workers their fair share of profits; for example if executives receive a 5 % cut of the profits workers should receive the same 5 % as well.

To give first time home buyers a boost, we need to reduce student loan debt by re financing their rates to the rates that the Federal Reserve offers bank.  After all we are ‘banking in the future’ of our young people.  Where possible student debt could be forgiven for domestic service corps work or working with corporations who hire graduates to reduce their loans as part of the offer package.  Government mortgage  agencies need to support first time buyers with reduced down payment requirements and other incentives.  To incentivize home builders set asides of homes for first time buyers need to be established to create inventory from which a first time buyer can select their home.

Increasing household formations should be a top priority for policy makers and the wealthy alike.  When household formations are moving ahead, furniture, appliances, home improvement hardware, and thousands of product and services are purchased. Plus, when people own a home they have a piece in the future of their neighborhood, schools and community which will increase property values for all.

Make America A Democracy Again

 

Image: civicsacademy.co.za

Memo

To: Oli Garchy, CEO, The Elite

Subject: Meeting – Make America a Democracy Again

Time: Lunch

Place: The Lawn in Front of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC (It helps to have Honest Abe watching over the mixed group)

Date: Soon…before it’s too late.

Oli,

Ok, we recognize you and your team since Ronald Reagan have built an Oligarchy that stands out (not outstanding for the 90 %) as a model for the history books, based on government statistics:

1. President is a billionaire (first one) – and holds title to all his properties while in office, making money while in office (first time)
2. Cabinet of largest number of billionaires in history of U.S.
3. Corporate tax rate lowest in 50 years
4. Corporations have the most cash ever sitting in banks and offshore shelters at over $1 trillion
5. Top 1 % taxes are the lowest in 50 years
6. Top 1 % received 90 % of income gained since the Great Recession
7. The 80 % working class real wages have declined in the last 30 years – while CEO pay is 300 times the average worker’s
8. Home ownership is at lowest level in 40 yrs – renting at the highest level in 15 yrs (you’ll own more residential real estate than ever)
9. Student debt highest ever at $1.5 trillion – because:
10. Spending by state and federal government on public education secondary thru higher education is the lowest ever as per cent of GDP
12. Healthcare services costs more per person in US than anywhere in the world with life expectancy lowest of all developed countries – due to all the built in middle profit layers of insurance, drug price gauging and stock buybacks                              13. Stock buy backs were at the highest level ever last quarter $431 billion, not one dime to employees or workers directly in wage increases
14. Last year had the highest average global temperature, yet the administration wants to end car emissions standards by California, drill for more oil on the coasts – fossil fuel executives are getting what they want and more                                           15. Tax receipts from U.S. corporations hit a 75 year low                                      16. The Top 1 % have 40 % of all U.S. wealth, the highest concentration since 1929

You’ve wrapped Congress around your little finger with the Tax Cut bill where 70 % of the tax cut proceeds went to executive salaries, stock buybacks, and dividends, very little into research and development, increasing productivity or job training.  You promised to raise wages and very few companies did.

The American people care more about the environment and its stewardship then you’re team, 60 % in a recent Pew Research poll say that preserving the environment is more important, even if there is an economic cost.  Oli, think about it, your profits won’t last long if your customers are unhealthy or dying due to pollution of the water, air or land.

Professors Gilens and Page at Princeton and Northwestern reviewed opinion polls versus legislation passed over the past 30 years and found of 1779 laws passed 90 % did not support popular opinion, seems you own Congress.

Your 30 year old oligarchy has come at great cost, look at the debt increased by a magnitude from the Tax Cut you wanted and the public did not:

Sources: The Congressional Budget Office, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 7/23/18

You’ve just mortgaged your children and our children’s future for good jobs, owning a home and good health care just to give you and your friends a huge tax cut.  You and your team have the lowest corporate tax cut on record, but at great cost!

Oli, here is the issue for your team; without a thriving Working Class the value of your assets will go down.  Consumer spending will spiral down unless the Working Class get a fair piece of the economic pie.  When consumer spending goes down, your businesses begin losing money, their value drops and if the spiral keeps going like it did after 1929, you could lose everything.

The way to build a Working Class that you need is via a democracy – remember that from your textbooks.  It looks like this: a government ‘by the people, for the people and of the people’ – Lincoln had it right.

Think about it Oli, meet with us before it is too late.   In the future, there maybe hostility with the wealthy elite, but there is still time.

Next steps:

How about lunch?  How about our people meeting with your people? Our folks; Senators – Warren, Sanders, Booker and Harris, Representative Pramila Jayapal, Nick Hanauer, and Robert Reich.

Let me know who on your team you would like to invite, maybe the Koch Brothers, The Devos – as couple, Steve Mnuchin, Wilbur Ross, and five more would be a good size group.

Our luncheon wrap up takes place in the Jefferson Memorial where on the south east portico Jefferson observed we must make progress together:

“I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind.”

Please read our posts on the Common Good in a Democracy as a refresher on what it is and how we all need to build it again. Frankly, Oli, the Common Good seems lost right now, yet it provides the beacon to keep the ship of state on course for all the people. We need to work together to build the Common Good. Let’s – Make America A Democracy Again.

AT & T Wins Time-Warner – Americans Lose Free Press

 

Photo: Free Press

A federal court judge approved the $85 billion bid by AT &T of Time – Warner, creating a huge vertically integrated media giant.  The judge found no need for the kind of conditions placed on the Comcast acquisition of NBC Universal in 2011, or ensuring a free press.  Though both cases are quite similar in that AT & T and Comcast are both major media companies acquiring content providers and news organizations (NBC, and CNN).  In approving the Comcast – NBC bid, the judge laid out detailed conditions to protect consumers, requiring adherence to net neutrality for Internet supported content providers and assistance for low income users. Since the Comcast – NBC merger Comcast has violated several provisions of the agreement as outlined by former FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn and Senator Richard Blumenthal including: not adhering to network neutrality in providing channels to consumers, slow implementation of low income Internet assistance programs, not providing smaller cable channels with fair rates to access regional sports networks and discriminated against Bloomberg Television (a competitor of CNBC).   Clyburn and Blumenthal in their op-ed piece pose three key questions to be answered in every major merger (our answer):

  1. How will consumers be affected? Negatively by lack of competition
  2. What will this do to competition in the industry? Reduce competition significantly
  3. What will it mean for small businesses? Small businesses will be squeezed out of the market

For some reason, the court in the AT & T – Time Warner case did not seem interested in answering these questions related to safeguarding consumers, businesses or freedom of the press. Federal regulators found in the Comcast – NBC bid the need for 150 conditions to be placed on the merged corporate organization.

Today, the court saw a need for no conditions?  Why? When we have a deregulation federal government policy wave rolling across the country today it is even more imperative that conditions be in place if these giant mergers are to be approved.

Next steps:

Our position is the merger juggernaut needs to be stopped now, and this merger not approved – later we will have to break it up anyway.  Mergers contribute to lack of jobs as well which hurt wage gains by workers.  Media concentration limits access to information and choices for media coverage. In 1983, 90 % of media, entertainment and distribution markets were controlled by 50 companies, today, there are 6 major players:

By approving the AT &T – Time-Warmer deal the court is giving a green light to deals now under review like the Disney bid (Comcast biding too) for 21st Century media which would create yet another huge conglomerate strangling competition and reducing the number of news sources. Other major Internet players are waiting in the wings like Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook who are flush with cash and looking to control both the Internet, broadcast and film content and distribution.

We have said that deals like this need to be reviewed in supporting the common good ensured by freedom of the press.  This AT &T deal should not be approved on media concentration and press limitation grounds.  Jefferson and Madison observed correctly that a democracy can not long survive without a well-informed citizenry making decisions based on multiple points of view. Major corporations win in deals like the AT &T – Time Warner merger, the American citizen loses.

Millennials Buried in Student Debt Can’t Buy Homes!

 

Student debt has soared to $1.4 trillion in the last month according to the Federal Reserve.  Now millennials are faced with a combination of soaring student debt and high home prices are giving up on owning a home.

Sources: Federal Reserve Bank of New York, US Census Bureau, New York Times – 5/29/18

In 2003, 42 % of people under age 35 owned a home now only 35 % own a home.  The dream of owning a home is slipping away as our society allows the rich continue to enjoy huge tax reductions in the most recent tax bill, with continuous lack of state funding for colleges and universities and then a paucity of forgiveness programs for graduates.  The lack of household formations, now at a low point since the Great Recession means that durable orders will fall and sure enough durables (ie. appliances, furniture, cars) orders have fallen recently.  As millennials and working class are squeezed between stagnant wages and rents, college debt, car loan payments, and credit card payments:

Source: Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 5/29/18

Next Steps:

We saw this problem getting worse in our blog last April and suggested several solutions related to student debt forgiveness and interest reduction programs:

As part of the spending bill that Congress passed last month, $350 million was allocated for a fix it forgiveness program for some types of student loans.  Senator Elizabeth Warren has been surveying the issue and individuals trying to take advantage of the provisions where she found that it was quite complex, answers were in complete from the Department of Education and work still needed to be done to setup the process. She found many firefighters and teachers having a difficult time getting into the program.  Prior to passage of the spending bill Senators Whitehouse and Kaine wrote a bill to setup a student debt forgiveness program and get it funded, their bill set the stage for Democrats to push for provisions of the bill to be included in the omnibus spending bill.

This solution is still not enough compared to the huge issue of $1.49 trillion outstanding placing an anchor of debt on our young people when they need to be investing in starting their families and careers and buying homes. In blog of February 16th in our archives, we review an idea to cancel all student debt.  We like the idea moving forward, yet recommend that forgiveness be done in stages, by reducing interest rates, offering Heartland Service, providing a universal national service option and corporate sponsorship of an internship by the student.”

Our ideas stand today, as they did six weeks ago as Congress, the Elite and Corporate Nation States continue to ignore the fact that we are not doing right by our young people entering the economy and starting their careers.

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