Archives for March 2015

The rise of the working poor and the non-working rich

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Many believe that poor people deserve to be poor because they’re lazy. As Speaker John Boehner has said, the poor have a notion that “I really don’t have to work. I don’t really want to do this. I think I’d rather just sit around.”

In reality, a large and growing share of the nation’s poor work full time — sometimes sixty or more hours a week — yet still don’t earn enough to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.

It’s also commonly believed, especially among Republicans, that the rich deserve their wealth because they work harder than others.

In reality, a large and growing portion of the super-rich have never broken a sweat. Their wealth has been handed to them.

The rise of these two groups — the working poor and non-working rich — is relatively new. Both are challenging the core American assumptions that people are paid what they’re worth, and work is justly rewarded.

Why are these two groups growing?

The ranks of the working poor are growing because wages at the bottom havedropped, adjusted for inflation. With increasing numbers of Americans taking low-paying jobs in retail sales, restaurants, hotels, hospitals, childcare, elder care, and other personal services, the pay of the bottom fifth is falling closer to the minimum wage.

At the same time, the real value of the federal minimum wage is lower today than it was a quarter century ago.

In addition, most recipients of public assistance must now work in order to qualify.

Bill Clinton’s welfare reform of 1996 pushed the poor off welfare and into work. Meanwhile, the Earned Income Tax Credit, a wage subsidy, has emerged as the nation’s largest anti-poverty program. Here, too, having a job is a prerequisite.

The new work requirements haven’t reduced the number or percentage of Americans in poverty. They’ve just moved poor people from being unemployed and impoverished to being employed and impoverished.

While poverty declined in the early years of welfare reform when the economy boomed and jobs were plentiful, it began growing in 2000. By 2012 it exceeded its level in 1996, when welfare ended.

At the same time, the ranks of the non-working rich have been swelling. America’s legendary “self-made” men and women are fast being replaced by wealthy heirs.

Six of today’s ten wealthiest Americans are heirs to prominent fortunes. The Walmart heirs alone have more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans combined.

Americans who became enormously wealthy over the last three decades are now busily transferring that wealth to their children and grand children.

The nation is on the cusp of the largest inter-generational transfer of wealth in history. A study from the Boston College Center on Wealth and Philanthropy projects a total of $59 trillion passed down to heirs between 2007 and 2061.

As the French economist Thomas Piketty reminds us, this is the kind of dynastic wealth that’s kept Europe’s aristocracy going for centuries. It’s about to become the major source of income for a new American aristocracy.

The tax code encourages all this by favoring unearned income over earned income.

The top tax rate paid by America’s wealthy on their capital gains — the major source of income for the non-working rich — has dropped from 33 percent in the late 1980s to 20 percent today, putting it substantially below the top tax rate on ordinary income (36.9 percent).

If the owners of capital assets whose worth increases over their lifetime hold them until death, their heirs pay zero capital gains taxes on them. Such “unrealized” gains now account for more than half the value of assets held by estates worth more than$100 million.

At the same time, the estate tax has been slashed. Before George W. Bush was president, it applied to assets in excess of $2 million per couple at a rate of 55 percent. Now it kicks in at $10,680,000 per couple, at a 40 percent rate.

Last year only 1.4 out of every 1,000 estates owed any estate tax, and the effective rate they paid was only 17 percent.

Republicans now in control of Congress want to go even further. Last Friday the Senate voted 54-46 in favor of a non-binding resolution to repeal the estate tax altogether. Earlier in the week, the House Ways and Means Committee also voted for a repeal. The House is expected to vote in coming weeks.

Yet the specter of an entire generation doing nothing for their money other than speed-dialing their wealth management advisers is not particularly attractive.

It puts more and more responsibility for investing a substantial portion of the nation’s assets into the hands of people who have never worked.

It also endangers our democracy, as dynastic wealth inevitably and invariably accumulates political influence and power.

Consider the rise of both the working poor and the non-working rich, and the meritocratic ideal on which America’s growing inequality is often justified doesn’t hold up.

That widening inequality — combined with the increasing numbers of people who work full time but are still impoverished and of others who have never worked and are fabulously wealthy — is undermining the moral foundations of American capitalism.

attn: says April 15th at fast food restaurants is going to be incredible

Low wage workers will participate in a nationwide strike on April 15, and they’ll be asking Americans to support their efforts to push Congress to increase the federal minimum wage to $15.

According to the organizing group, the Fight for 15, the strike will include fast food employees, retail employees, child care workers, home care providers, and airport workers. Notably, the strike is expected to include Wal-Mart workers in addition to McDonald’s workers, who helped drive a similar strike of fast food employees last December. There will be rallies in multiple U.S. cities, including New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, and the organizers expect as many as 60,000 people to participate in 200 locations. They are also pushing the movement beyond U.S. borders and confirmed that there will be action from workers in Italy.

Momentum is growing to increase wages.

Retail stores such as Wal-Mart and Target have announced increases in their companies’ minimum wage, although the new $10 minimums are well short of $15 per hour. Other retailers, such as the Container Store and Costco, have stood out by paying workers well above minimum wage and even providing benefits in some cases.

At McDonald’s, the average worker makes just $9 per hour, and more than half of McDonald’s workers receive some kind of government assistance.

“It’s very hard to live on this salary,” said McDonald’s worker Jemere Calhoun, 30, in an interview with ATTN: in December. “You pretty much know that you start in the red. As soon as I get my check, I already know that it’s not enough. So I have to take care of what’s the most pressing matter at that time and then think of ways to fill that financial void.”

So far, though, McDonald’s has not indicated any willingness to increase pay.

“These events have not been ‘strikes,’ but organized rallies designed to garner media attention for which demonstrators are transported to various locations,” Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem, a McDonald’s spokeswoman, told the New York Times. “Historically, very few McDonald’s employees have participated in these organized events.”

Here’s what McDonald’s workers told ATTN: at their recent strike:

Politically, the fight to increase the minimum wage has picked up steam. Last November, four states — Arkansas, Alaska, Nebraska, and South Dakota — passed minimum wage increases. Seattle, San Francisco, and Chicago have all passed municipal minimum wage increases as well.

Would an increase in the minimum wage kill a lot of jobs?

Most studies say that typical increases in the minimum wage — usually for a few dollars — will not hurt the economy or lead to massive job loss. This is according to the Chicago Fed, the Los Angeles Economic Roundtable, and the Center for American Progress. Some studies, like one from the Congressional Budget Office, project small job loss. Others, like the Center for Economic and Policy Research Study said that states that have increased the minimum wage have seen stronger employment growth than those that have not. Overall, according to the Department of Labor, a review of the dozens of studies on the minimum wage have not found a “discernable effect on employment.”

The biggest problem with the current federal minimum wage seems to be its declining purchasing power. Adjusted for inflation, the purchasing power is lessthan it was in the 1960s. Between 2009 and 2012, according to Pew, the federal minimum lost about 5.8 percent of its purchasing power as a result of inflation.

The push for a $15 minimum wage goes to college

Labor activists pushing for a $15 minimum wage are hoping that college campuses will teach a lesson to low-wage employers like McDonald’s (MCD).

The Fight for $15 labor movement is planning an ambitious expansion on April 15, coordinating a series of global labor strikes with protests on college campuses. The tax-day strike will include rallies and marches on 170 university campuses, including Columbia University and University of Southern California, the organizers said.

Expanding the labor movement to college campuses hearkens back to successful social movements that included pressure from university students, such as the 1980s divestment campaign against U.S. corporations that invested in apartheid-era South Africa. While college students have long served as a vocal social force in American history, though, there’s a growing group on campuses seeking higher wages: adjunct professors.

“The universities I work for the pay me next to nothing and treat me like I’m expendable,” said Tiffany Kraft, an adjunct professor in Portland, Oregon, in a statement. “I joined the Fight for $15 to demand higher wages and more respect for our role as educators.”

Adjunct professors typically earn about $20,000 to $25,000 per year and don’t receive health benefits or job security, even though they hold doctorates or other advanced degrees.

The Fight for $15 is aiming to snowball into a national movement that includes all low-wage workers, whether they’re adjunct professors with PhDs who sometimes make less than fast-food workers or low-skilled workers standing behind a fast-food counter.

April 15 will include what the organizers call “the largest-ever mobilization of underpaid workers,” with strikes scheduled in countries ranging from Brazil to Japan. It’s also connecting the strike to the #BlackLivesMatter movement that came out of the killings of unarmed black youths, bringing in questions of racial pay equity and earning a living wage.

While it may strike many as far-fetched that low skilled workers should earn a baseline wage of $15, the labor movement has seen some success since it started in November 2012. The federal baseline wage remains stuck at $7.25 an hour, yet an increasing number of states and cities are legislating higher minimum wages as a way to provide living wages to all workers.

Twenty-one states raised their minimum wages in January, benefiting more than 3.1 million workers. Seattle will enact its $15 per hour minimum wage, the highest in the country, starting on April 1.

“People thought we were crazy to call for $15 an hour, but all across the country, cities, states and employers are raising wages significantly because of the stand we are taking,” Alvin Major, a KFC worker, said in the statement. “And so many different workers are joining our fight that we will win better pay so our families can succeed and our communities can prosper.”

While the college students aren’t asking that their universities divest shares of low-wage employers, their concern is that they’re graduating into a job market where many can only find low-paid work in child care or the restaurant industry. Given the rising cost of college and student loan debt, that makes low-wage jobs even more onerous.

Aside from states and cities legislating higher minimum wages, there are other signs that the movement is having an impact. Walmart (WMT), the nation’s largest private employer, said last month that it will boost the wages for 500,000 workers, ensuring that store employees earn at least $9 per hour.

Walmart’s decision could have a ripple effect on other employers, which might need to boost their wages to compete with the giant retailer to hire and retain workers.

Movement to increase McDonald’s minimum wage broadens its tactics

Organizers behind fast-food workers’ calls for a $15 hourly wage have been pushing a bigger national strategy. They hope to galvanize low-wage workers under the banner of civil rights.

ATLANTA — On a recent Friday, Kwanza Brooks, a $7.25-an-hour McDonald’s worker, climbed into a 14-person van to take a four-hour ride from Charlotte, N.C., to Atlanta.

As she and other workers headed south, Ms. Brooks, a short, fiery woman, swapped stories with her companions about unsafe conditions and unfair managers. Upon arriving, they joined more than 400 other people — including home care aides, Walmart workers, child care workers and adjunct professors — at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been a pastor.

The gathering on March 21 was in part a strategy session to plan for the fast-food movement’s next big wave of protests, which is now scheduled for April 15. But the meeting was also seeking to be something far more ambitious. Through some strategic alchemy, the organizers hoped the gathering would turn the fast-food workers’ fight for a $15 hourly wage into a broad national movement of all low-wage workers that combined the spirit of Depression-era labor organizing with the uplifting power of Dr. King’s civil rights campaign.


McDonald’s, the movement’s main target, has shown no signs of bowing to the demands to raise pay or invite in a union. CreditJoshua Lott for The New York Times

On the campaign’s first day of strikes two and a half years ago, 200 fast-food workers walked out in just one city, New York. But in the wave of actions on April 15, organizers say more than 60,000 people will join strikes and protests in 200 cities nationwide. They also predict there will be strikes and support actions in 35 other countries.

Organizers say they expect 10,000 people at the Fight for 15 protests in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, with many college and high school students joining the actions. They chose April 15 because the date, 4/15, sounds like “for 15.”

“When we started it was very hard to get people to sign up — they were scared, ‘I might lose my job,’ ” said Ms. Brooks, who became a fast-food worker after funding for her job as a youth counselor was eliminated. “But this movement is really growing. People who didn’t know who we were, they now know who we are.”

Whether from Burger King or Walmart workers, much of the talk was about not being able to make ends meet. Some members of the Black Lives Matter campaign joined the session, and so did three octogenarians who spoke about participating in the famous 1968 sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis, during which Dr. King was assassinated. To drum up support for the April 15 protests, several fast-food workers have gone on “freedom ride” bus trips to Tulane, Vanderbilt and other colleges, while pastors at dozens of churches in New York, Chicago and Detroit plan to tell congregants about the protests.

McDonald’s, the movement’s main target, has shown no signs of bowing to the demands to raise pay or invite in a union. With its sales languishingand having recently replaced its C.E.O., the company has much else to worry about. McDonald’s says the series of one-day strikes has barely affected its restaurants, adding that hardly any workers walked out.

“These events have not been ‘strikes,’ but organized rallies designed to garner media attention for which demonstrators are transported to various locations,” said Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem, a McDonald’s spokeswoman. “Historically, very few McDonald’s employees have participated in these organized events.”

While the movement may not be close to persuading McDonald’s to adopt a $15 minimum wage, even the campaign’s critics acknowledge it has achieved some of its goals by prompting a national debate about low-wage work and nudging various cities and states to raise their minimum wage.

“They have contributed to the wins in the ballot initiative in different states and localities,” said Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative research center. “We saw the ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage passed even in Arkansas, and we see cities such as Seattle having a $15 minimum wage. So they’re succeeding in that way.”

Ms. Furchtgott-Roth argued that the so-called Fight for 15 would ultimately hurt many of the low-skill, entry-level workers that it is trying to help, saying that pushing up wages beyond what the market can bear would lead to less hiring.

The Service Employees International Union, one of the nation’s largest and most activist unions, has quietly pumped more than $15 million into the movement, helping to hire dozens of organizers to rally fast-food workers nationwide.

The S.E.I.U. has been increasing pressure on McDonald’s. It helped arrange for a coalition of European and American unions to accuse McDonald’s European operations last month of avoiding more than 1 billion euros in taxes by having royalty payments go through a small Luxembourg-based subsidiary. In response, the European Union’s directorate of competition has begun a preliminary inquiry on McDonald’s tax practices.

Brazil’s two biggest labor federations sued McDonald’s largest franchisee in Latin America as well, accusing it of time-clock fraud, unsanitary working conditions and failure to pay unemployment insurance. Those charges could lead to fines of up to 30 percent of annual sales.

The franchisee, Arcos Dorados, said it was “absolutely confident” that its labor practices complied with all laws.

The S.E.I.U. helped persuade the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel to accuse McDonald’s of being a joint employer with its franchisees, a move that could make it jointly responsible when franchise operators illegally fire workers or cheat them on wages. McDonald’s, with the support of many similar restaurant chains, is fighting this action.

Two weeks ago McDonald’s workers in 19 cities filed complaints with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, saying they had been burned on the job — while filtering grease, for instance — because of a lack of training and protective equipment. McDonald’s said that it would review the allegations and that its franchises “are committed to providing safe working conditions.”

Hinting that they have other weapons in their arsenal, the movement’s strategists voice confidence that McDonald’s will at some point move toward them on wages. Mary Kay Henry, the service employees’ president, said, “I have no idea how this breakthrough will occur — it’s possible it will happen as we prepare for their shareholders meeting in May.”

That may be wishful thinking, but with Walmart and several other companies starting to raise their base pay in response to public pressure and tighter labor markets, McDonald’s may eventually feel compelled to join in.

Before last May’s shareholders meeting, more than 1,000 protesters demonstrated outside McDonald’s headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill., and more than 100 were arrested at a sit-in. Organizers say this year’s protests might be bigger.

Some of the S.E.I.U.’s two million members have grumbled that this campaign might do little for the janitors and hospital workers who belong to the union. But Ms. Henry said the movement had already succeeded in raising wages for workers beyond fast food.

“There is no longer an internal debate,” she said. “This movement is changing our political debate. The movement is changing what employers think they can get away with. The movement is making cities and states raise minimum wages.”

The campaign’s ripple effects, she said, helped persuade San Francisco to approve a $15 minimum hourly wage and Chicago to adopt a $13 minimum. She said it helped persuade the Los Angeles school district to agree to pay all its employees at least $15 an hour.

Joining in, the Chicago Teachers Union recently demanded that janitors and all other workers in that city’s public schools be paid at least $15 an hour. Ms. Henry noted that the Multnomah County Board in Oregon had established a $15 minimum wage for the county’s employees, many of whom now earn $11.99 an hour.

Angelo I. Amador, the National Restaurant Association’s vice president for labor policy, criticized the demand for $15. “It goes way beyond anything being considered at the federal level,” he said, pointing to President Obama’s call for a $10.10 minimum wage. “It’s not going to have a good effect.”

He said a $15 wage would reduce restaurant employment and push up menu prices.

Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said it was striking that the Fight for 15 movement seemed to be making substantial gains on one front even as labor unions suffered serious setbacks in other areas, including the passage of so-called right-to-work laws in Wisconsin and Michigan’s barring of any requirement that workers pay union fees.

“This movement is way beyond fast food,” Ms. Henry said. “We aren’t going to stop until the service sector in the U.S. becomes the foundation for the next American middle class.”

Fast food workers going on strike


In surprise show of support, filibuster-proof Senate majority backs paid sick leave

If passed, the Healthy Families Act would be the first meaningful expansion of federal time-off requirements since 1993.

By Lydia DePillis March 26, 2015 The Washington Post

More time off?! (iStock)

Just a few weeks ago, the Healthy Families Act — which would allow employees to earn up to seven days of paid sick leave — seemed like just another White House proposal doomed to die in the newly Republican Senate. But this afternoon, it gained a surprise vote of confidence: 61 senators voted for an amendment to the budget that would do essentially the same thing.

That doesn’t mean it will become law. Budget resolutions are not binding, so it’s a largely symbolic move. But it’s important: If family-friendly policies gain enough bipartisan support, they could end up substantially improving conditions for millions of workers who’ve long gone without any paid time off at all. The Healthy Families Act would be the first significant federal expansion of leave policies since the Family and Medical Leave Act passed in 1993, allowing workers to take up to 12 weeks unpaid time off for medical reasons without losing their jobs.

The measure’s backers weren’t expecting to land 61 votes, until Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) switched their votes to yes. Although Wisconsin is among several states to have banned local jurisdictions from enacting their own paid sick leave laws, there’s been more support in Pennsylvania, with Philadelphia recently mandating that employers allow workers to accrue one hour paid leave for every 40 worked.

(A spokeswoman for Toomey said that he initially mis-read the amendment, and voted yes when he realized that it was consistent with the Working Families Flexibility Act, a business-backed measure that would allow employees to exchange overtime for up to four weeks of paid time off.)

Nationwide, paid sick leave is tremendously popular, with large majorities of voters in both parties in favor. The percentage of private sector workers who have access to paid leave has increased since the early 1990s, with the passage of several state laws that require it. But U.S. employers’ paid leave policies — both sick days and parental time off — still lag far behind those in other developed countries. Microsoft’s announcement this morning that it would require its suppliers to offer 15 days of paid leave made it the exception to the rule. And other recent measures that would help expand it, like Sen. Kristin Gillibrand’s Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, have gone nowhere.

Besides Toomey and Johnson, 12 other Republicans voted for the Healthy Families Act budget amendment: Lamar Alexander (R-Tex.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and John Thune (R-S.D.).

An aide for Sen. Patty Murray, who introduced the paid sick leave language as a budget amendment, says she’ll push to get the Healthy Families Act a full floor vote as soon as possible.
Lydia DePillis is a reporter focusing on labor, business, and housing. She previously worked at The New Republic and the Washington City Paper. She’s from Seattle.

NFPC This Week, #606 – 3/22-3/28/2015

Of Note This Week –

Galt_HseThe Galt House Hotel has graciously extended NFPC’s hotel room reservation date to April 13th. Please be mindful that we cannot guarantee the $125.00 single/double room rate or even guarantee a room at the hotel after April 13.

Voc_BoomListen to NFPC president, Fr. Tony Cutcher talk about vocations to the priesthood on Click here.

San Francisco priests’ council has lively February meeting

The San Francisco priests’ council had a lively and instructive meeting in February, according to a report in the National Catholic Reporter (March 26, 2015). The minutes of the meeting, anonymously obtained by the journal, focused on a parish that recently changed its Mass server policy to boys only.

Rather than zero-in on the specific issue at hand, what is key to this story is manner of discussion and debate, how differences of opinion are handled among council members, and the input and counsel of the council’s president. What is also important to note is how a decision made at one parish can affect other parishes in the deanery or wider level.

Also, within the main conversation, the matter of rectory life vis-a-vis the possibility of establishing a priestly fraternity, was broached.

For the entire NCR report, click here.

52nd Annual Rev. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, SJ Institute on Sacred Scripture

The 52nd Annual Rev. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, SJ Institute on Sacred Scripture will take place from June 9-11 at Georgetown University. Professor Joel Baden, Yale University; Professor Luke Timothy Johnson, Emory University; and Jesuit Father John R. Donohue, Loyola University Maryland, will lead lectures and discussions.

For more information and to register, go to – – or call,

Professor Alan C. Mitchell

Director, The Reverend Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J. Institute on Sacred Scripture at Georgetown University

120 New North Building

Georgetown University

Department of Theology

Washington, DC 20057-1135

Phone: (202) 687-5756

Fax: (202) 687-8000

Email: [email protected]

Liberation & Reconciliation

Lib_RecoLiberation & Reconciliation, by Meehyn Chung is World Council of Churches publication. The volume is subtitled Feminist Theology’s Relevance for Korea. It is from WCC’s Visions and Voices: Personal Perspectives on Justice and Peace series. The topic of Christianity in Korea is one that is not addressed often in the West and, feminism in Korea even less so. Chung writes from the Korean Reformed perspective. She gives an overview of Korea’s religious and political history – a peninsula vastly influenced by World War II, the Cold War and exploitation by the powerful countries surrounding it. She ties this in with the missionary impulse and articulates a vision of a Christian stance that can overcome the decades-long division in South Korea. Available for $7.00 from International Specialized Book Services, Inc. 920 NE 58th Ave. Suite 300, Portland, OR 97213-3786. Tel: (503) 287-3093. Fax: (503) 280-8832. E-mail: [email protected]. Web site: