Economic inequality

  • November 16, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Christine L. Owens, Executive Director, National Employment Law Project


    With the election behind us, the looming fiscal cliff has now moved front and center in our national debate. The stakes are enormous, though as many note, the “cliff” is really a “slope,” with the effects of going over it more gradual than immediate and remediable by future action.  But for one group of Americans -- the long-term unemployed -- Congress’s failure to meet an end-of-year deadline means a catastrophic plunge. Here’s why.

    The Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program enacted in mid-2008 and since renewed ten times, provides between 14 and 47 weeks of federal unemployment benefits, depending on states’ unemployment rates, for jobless workers who reach the end of their state benefits (typically, 26 weeks) without finding work. Since Congress last reauthorized and shrank the EUC program in February 2012, the total number of weeks of federally-funded benefits for long-term unemployed workers has declined significantly, by an average of 31 percent across the states.  

    The EUC program is now set to expire at the end of the year -- a demise that is premature. Though the unemployment rate is falling, at 7.9 percent it is still 40 percent higher than when EUC was first implemented. More significant, long-term unemployment -- joblessness longer than six months -- has grown substantially in recent years: At five million individuals, long-term unemployment accounts for 40.6 of overall unemployment, a share more than double that in mid-2008 (18 percent) and one that has declined only marginally from the 42.6 percent rate last February, when the program was renewed. With more than three unemployed workers for every job opening, the average duration of unemployment is 40 weeks. These jarringly long spells and sustained high rates of long-term unemployment are record-setting, underscoring the continued need for the EUC program.

  • October 23, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Peter B. Edelman. Edelman is a law professor at Georgetown Law and Chair of the ACS Board. Edelman is also author of the recent book, So Rich, So Poor.


    George McGovern leaves legacies of principle and courage across the board. Robert Kennedy once said McGovern was the most decent man he had ever known. I admired McGovern for many reasons, but the one that counts most for me in particular is that he picked up the mantle on American hunger after RFK was murdered and led the way to the food stamp program we have today – eradicating the near-starvation of children that we discovered in our country in the 1960s and achieving an enormous success in our public policy. 

    McGovern is no doubt known more for his unsuccessful run for the presidency and his steadfast opposition to the war in Vietnam, but he had a lifelong concern for food and nutrition and especially about feeding the hungry across the world. After Robert Kennedy died, McGovern got the Senate to establish a special committee on hunger and nutrition and stayed with it through the better part of the 1970s until food stamps had become a fully mature and successful national program. 

    I will remember George McGovern on many counts, but personally more than anything else I will hold closest to my heart his enormous contribution to bringing an end to severe malnutrition for millions of children in our nation.

  • October 22, 2012

    posted by Jeremy Leaming

    The nation lost a passionate liberal, proud populist and decorated war hero on Sunday when U.S. Senator and presidential nominee George McGovern died at 90.

    As Salon’s Joan Walsh wrote, after McGovern accepted the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972, Richard Nixon and the Republican Party unleashed a notorious smear campaign that not only attempted to besmirch McGovern’s integrity, but led to a landslide victory for Nixon.

    Walsh wrote:

    It worked. Of course Nixon’s aggressiveness was ultimately his downfall; he resigned over the scandal around his henchmen breaking into the Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate building. A year after the ’72 election, polls showed Americans would choose McGovern if they had it to do over again.

    Read more tributes to McGovern’s life:

    Ignore McGovern’s Message at Your Peril, Stanley Kutler, Salon

    George McGovern Dead at 90, David Browne, Rolling Stone

    Remembering George McGovern, Gary Hart, The Huffington Post

    A Prairie Liberal, Trounced but Never Silenced, David E. Rosenbaum, The New York Times

    George McGovern: Touchstone of Liberalism, John Nichols, The Nation

    George McGovern: American Patriot and Truth-Teller, Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation

    George McGovern, the man who never gave up, former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, The Washington Post

  • October 4, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    It’s difficult to fathom how large swaths of the populace still embrace rightwing rhetoric proclaiming that in America almost anyone can significantly better their stations in life. It is the annoying yank yourself up by the bootstraps mentality that fogs the minds of far too many Americans, leaving them unable to appreciate just how detrimental the wealth gap is to sustaining a resilient economy.

    But leading economists and think tanks, and to a lesser extent the Occupy Wall Street movement, caught on long ago and have strived to amplify the hard truth that in American if you are born into poverty your chances of experiencing the “American Dream” of upward mobility are almost nil – one is more likely to be struck by an asteroid. Yes that’s hyperbolic. But as Professor Peter Edelman details in his recent book So Rich, So Poor, our country’s safety net is so tattered that it has made it vastly more difficult to move from poverty to the middle class. The tired argument that less regulations of corporations and more tax breaks for the nation’s superrich will spur job creation and help move large numbers of people out of poverty continues to resonate with far too many people.  

    As noted on this blog recently, Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz dubbed the American dream a “myth.” The Columbia business school professor and author told a German publication that one’s chance of upward mobility in the country is really dependent on the income and education of your parents.”

    The New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof recently offered a powerful piece about a nation that has become “unequal for all.”

  • October 3, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The Roberts Court is a tool of corporate America. At least that’s the gist of a new film from Alliance for Justice, called “Unequal Justice: The Relentless Rise of the 1% Court.”

    This of course is not news to those who pay attention to what the Supreme Court does, nor is it agreed upon. For instance the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Chamber of Commerce likely see the Roberts Court as a protector of American capitalism – the place where almost anyone can lift themselves up by their bootstraps to become superrich.

    “The Roberts Court is basically a pro-business court,” Stanford Law School Professor and ACS Board member Pamela Karlan, says in the AFJ film. “They don’t have a desire to really open the federal courts up to suits by average Americans, either workers or consumers, or people who are injured by various products; it’s a pro-business court.” (Watch the film here or view below.)

    The film reminds us of the Court’s opinions that shut down a class action gender discrimination lawsuit against the retail giant Wal-Mart, overturned a woman’s lower court verdict against a company for years of gender discrimination, and found that corporate America has even more power to spend boatloads of money to sway elections.

    “The Citizens United’s impact has been dramatic,” says former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold and founder of Progressives United. “And since then our system is in the worst free-fall it’s been in since the Gilded Age, probably worse.”

    Even former Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a rightwing policymaker, weighed in on blasting Citizens United as one of the most “misguided, naïve, uniformed, egregious decisions of the United States Supreme Court, I think in the 21st Century.”

    Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation and narrator of the 20-minute film, said individuals have been shut out of the justice system by today’s Supreme Court, which “has decided that when everyday people run up against powerful corporate interests, the big corporations almost always win.”

    Some of the women behind the class action lawsuit against Wal-Mart explain their efforts to advance equality and deal with a stinging defeat.

    “The women of Wal-Mart brought the case to stand up for their right to be treated equally, but they never got that far,” Heuvel said. “The decision turned on whether their claims had enough in common. The conservative majority raised the hurdle for class actions, and made it harder to prove discrimination.”