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Research Roundup 4/7/11: Exposing the Financiers of the Far Right, the Middle Class Without Unions, and More

The Koch Brothers: What You Need to Know About the Financiers of the Radical RightThis report by the Center for American Progress Action Fund explores in detail the central role of multi-billionaire brothers and oil industry magnates Charles and David Koch in funding the right wing movement. In one of its many findings, the report identifies “at least $85 million the Koch brothers have given to at least 85 right-wing think tanks and advocacy groups over the past decade and a half.” Many of the organizations supported by the Kochs focus on state policy and legislation, including the American Legislative Exchange Council ($668,858), Massachusetts’ Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research ($300,000), Michigan’s Mackinac Center ($84,151), and the Texas Public Policy Foundation ($174,500).

The sad but true story of wages in AmericaDespite conservatives’ claims to the contrary, analyses show that public employees are under-compensated with respect to their private sector counterparts, particularly when relative levels of education and experience are taken into account. This paper published by the Economic Policy Institute recasts that entire debate by taking into account the thirty-year trend of stagnating wages versus rising productivity in the private sector. “While productivity grew 80% between 1979 and 2009, the hourly wage of the median worker grew by only 10.1%, with all of this wage growth occurring from 1996 to 2002, reflecting the strong economic recovery of the late 1990s.”

The State of America’s Wealth, 2011: Through Volatility and Turmoil, the Gap WidensAlready at historic highs before the Great Recession began in 2007, the gap between the rich and the rest grew as a result of the economic crisis. Declining home values, retirement funds, and savings hit the bottom 80% significantly harder than the top 20%, with the latter increasing its share of total wealth between December 2007 and June 2009. And in 2009, the wealthiest 1% of households had net worth 225 times greater than the median household’s, the highest ratio in U.S. history. African-American families have been hit the hardest, with a median net worth of $2,200 compared to $97,900 for white households.

Unions Make the Middle Class: Without Unions, The Middle Class WithersThe historical role that unions have played in creating the American middle class, and continue to play in sustaining it, is explored in this timely report by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. By raising workers’ wages, improving their benefits, helping to ensure that their concerns are considered in corporate boardrooms, and promoting political participation, unions are shown to be critical to the existence of the middle class, and to providing a check on increasingly unbridled corporate political power.

Paid Sick Days: Measuring The Small Cost for Connecticut BusinessesThe Economic Policy Institute published this analysis on the potential costs facing Connecticut businesses if paid sick days legislation was enacted. Findings include that “the potential cost of providing paid sick days is in fact extremely small relative to the total sales” of a company, and that employers who currently provide paid sick days would save costs as a result of reduced employee turnover.

Access to Paid Sick Days in the States, 2010This new fact sheet from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research provides state-by-state figures on the numbers of workers with access and without access to paid sick days. States where the most workers lack paid sick leave are Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada and West Virginia (all more than 46% of the workforce). States where workers stand the greatest access to paid sick days are Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire (all at 63% or greater).

65 Million “Need Not Apply”: The Case for Reforming Criminal Background Checks for EmploymentThis report by the National Employment Law Project estimates 65 million people in the U.S. face obstacles that prevent even the very qualified from getting a job. NELP notes that the rise in firms providing low-cost criminal background checks and the tight job market has resulted in a dramatic increase in employers using the checks to screen out job applicants. With more than one in four adults possessing some kind of criminal record, and more than 90% of employers in one survey using background checks in the hiring process. NELP lays out four simple reforms to curb the serious civil rights, social justice, and public safety impacts of this troubling trend.

Abandoning What Works (And Most Other Things, Too): Expansionary Fiscal Policy is Still the Best Tool for Boosting JobsIn this policy brief, the Economic Policy Institute find that the most impactful course of action the federal government can take to strengthen economic prospects is expansionary fiscal policy to boost consumer demand and spending despite the current deficit hysteria in Washington. The paper outlines the most effective portions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 and its major boost to the economy, and further provides other fiscal options the government should consider. The authors write, “The key to stabilizing an economy that has been hit by a negative demand shock is for policymakers to provide a countervailing positive spur to demand with the policy levers available to them. While there are aspects of the Great Recession that have made this sort of demand stabilization harder than usual, the most obvious policy failure is that the most effective tool for stabilization – fiscal support provided through increased government spending, investments, and transfer payments – is in clear danger of being prematurely abandoned by policymakers”