Research Roundup: Trends and Challenges for Low-Wage Workers, State Bills on Access to Education, and More

In this week’s Research Roundup:

Recent reports by the Economic Policy Institute on trends and challenges for low-wage workers, AFL-CIO on the risk and cost of fatalities and injuries on the job, the National Employment Law Center on the troubling decline in wage growth during the current recovery, Good Jobs First on the growing number of states who are subsidizing companies with the withholding taxes of their workers, the Brennan Center updating recent changes to state voting laws, the Pew Center on the States surveying the oversight or lack thereof of state tax incentives for economic development, Demos on the critical efforts underway in many states to help voters obtain photo IDs, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities on how destructive cuts in services have been the primary response to state budget gaps, Kentucky Youth Advocates on how thousands of Kentucky families could benefit from an Earned Income Tax Credit, the National Immigration Law Center on state bills under consideration across the country in 2012 that affect access to education for immigrant students, and the Center on Economic and Policy Research on why the minimum wage is simply “too damn low.”

The Future of Work: Trends and Challenges for Low-Wage Workers
 — This briefing paper by the Economic Policy Institute aims to provide an overview of the jobs crisis currently faced American workers, and surveys which states of the 22 occupation groups identified by the Bureau of Labor Statistics have the highest and lowest shares of low-wage workers, and looks towards how overall employment is expected to change over the next decade. Among its key findings are that: female, young, and minority workers are overrepresented in the ranks of low-wage workers, and that, in 2011, “only 31.5 percent of low-wage workers lived in households with a family income greater than $50,000, indicating that low-wage workers are not predominantly teenagers living with their parents or adults with low-paying jobs living with a higher-earning spouse.” The paper concludes that “workers of the future, particularly low-wage workers, will only experience rising living standards if the policy status quo is replaced by more-progressive tax and transfer policies, increases in the real value of the minimum wage, a reversal of falling unionization rates, an expansion (and definitely not a retrenchment) of publicly financed social insurance programs, and, crucially, a real commitment to full employment.”

Death on the Job — The 2012 edition of this annual report by AFL-CIO is (the “21st year the AFL- CIO has produced a report on the state of safety and health protections for America’s workers”) takes a comprehensive, state-by-state look at the risk of job fatalities and injuries, and the massive cost of job injuries and illnesses to the nation — estimated at between $250 billion to $300 billion a year. According to its findings, in 2010, “4,690 workers were killed on the job—an average of 13 workers every day—and an estimated 50,000 died from occupational diseases, "More than 3.8 million work-related injuries and illnesses were reported, but this number understates the problem. The true toll of job injuries is two to three times greater—about 7.6 million to 11.4 million job injuries and illnesses each year.” The report also highlights how OSHA penalties are too low to deter violations, criminal penalties under the OSHA law are weak, and recommends that job safety laws be strengthened.

Slower Wage Growth, Declining Real Wages Undermine Recovery — The National Employment Law Center analyzes and takes a look at potential solutions to the problem of declining wage growth in the three years since the Great Recession technically ended and the recovery began in this new issue brief. Among the key statistics highlighted in the report are the facts that the growth of average hourly wages still lags behind pre-recession growth rates, and that the real value of wages has fallen over the past year. In addition, the report notes how lower wages have been fueled by growth in low-wage occupations, how wages for both entry-level workers and those returning to a job from a period of unemployment are falling, and how these and other trends have “exacerbated an already-growing income divide.” The report concludes that raising and indexing the minimum wage is an “urgently needed policy response” to address the problem of declining wage growth.

Paying Taxes to the Boss: How A Growing Number of States Subsidize Companies with the Withholding Taxes of their Workers — Good Jobs First looks at the troubling trend of states redirecting large portions of revenue collected from personal income tax withholding on paychecks in this “first systematic examination of state economic development programs derived from withholding taxes and PIT [personal income tax] revenue.” The report identifies 22 PIT‐based programs in 16 states that taken together involve the annual redirection of approximately $684 million in state revenue. The major policy recommendation in the report are that states consider abolishing PIT‐based subsidy programs entirely, or, as an intermediate step, enact “Truth in Taxation” policies that would increase transparency by making sure companies receiving subsidies are required to disclose “details of how much money is going where on the pay stubs of affected workers.

2012 Summary of Voting Law Changes — This summary by the Brennan Center is an update to their Voting Law Changes in 2012 report and paints a worrying picture of the breadth of potentially restrictive voting measures introduced and enacted in state legislatures this year. Currently, the numbers show that 176 restrictive bills have been introduced since the beginning of 2011 in 41 states, with 74 restrictive bills currently pending in 24 states, and 22 laws and 2 executive actions passed since the beginning of 2011 in 17 states. Of these, 14 states have either passed or are expected to shortly pass restrictive voting laws that have the potential to impact the 2012 election: Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and West Virginia. The specific attacks on voting noted in the update include photo ID laws, proof of citizenship laws, attempts to make voter registration more difficult, reducing early voting and restricting absentee voting, and making it harder to restore citizens’ voting rights.

Evidence Counts Evaluating State Tax Incentives for Jobs and Growth — This recent report by the Pew Center on the States takes a detailed look at state tax subsidies for economic development and the degree of transparency and accountability they are subject to in each state. It concludes that 13 states are “leading the way in generating much-needed answers about tax incentives’ effectiveness,’ that 12 have “mixed results” when it comes to evaluating incentives, and that a full half of the states have not even “taken the basic steps needed to know whether their incentives are effective.” The study also takes a closer look at some positive approaches some states are taking to do a better job at evaluating the effectiveness of subsidies One — a recent Oregon law — requires that tax credits expire after six years unless lawmakers act to extend them.

Got ID? Helping Americans Get Voter Identification — As more states adopt controversial voter suppression measures, including requiring a photo ID in order to vote, this recent report by Demos takes a look at the critical efforts underway in the states to educate voters about these new restrictions and help Americans who are without photo ID obtain an ID in order to exercise their right to vote. As the fight to protect voting rights continues in state legislatures and the courts, best practices in efforts to ensure voters have access to ID across the states highlighted in the report include: creating a diverse and engaged coalition, preparing to identify impacted voters, seeking out potential sources to offset new costs, and being sure to follow up with voters to ensure they make it to the polls.

Out of Balance Cuts in Services Have Been States’ Primary Response to Budget GapsHarming the Nation’s Economy — A recent analysis of state budget data and trends over the last five years by Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows clearly the reality of the drag on the national economic recovery that has been caused by “out-of-balance” cuts in services to close state budget gaps: since 2008, states have enacted almost $3 in spending cuts for every $1 in new revenues. The report shows that “state budget gaps of the last five years led to $290 billion in cuts to public services and $100 billion in tax and fee increases,” and notes that those actions “lengthened the recession and delayed the recovery.” The analysis reveals that end result of these cuts has been that “hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost; undermining education, health care and other state priorities, which likely will cause future economic harm to states.”

A State Earned Income Tax Credit Would Help Kentucky Families and Local Economies — This issue brief by Kentucky Youth Advocates demonstrates how thousands of Kentucky families could benefit both in the short and long term, and at “very little cost” to the Commonwealth, from the enactment of a state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) — a tax credit which currently exists in twenty-five states. The brief takes a look at the history of the federal EITC noting that it shows a “30-year history of lifting children and families out of poverty,” and predicts that a state EITC calculated at 15 percent of the federal EITC would only cost Kentucky approximately $114 million while providing an average credit of $300 to qualified families.

State Bills on Access to Education for Immigrants — This document from the National Immigration Law Center lists state bills under consideration across the country in 2012 sessions that affect access to education for immigrant students. Among the legislation included are bills to increase access by providing in-state tuition rates to all high school students regardless of immigration status, and providing financial aid or scholarships. The survey also lists misguided bills that seek to restrict access to both post-secondary and K-12 education.

The Minimum Wage Is Too Damn Low — This issue brief from the Center on Economic and Policy Research takes a look at commonly used benchmarks used to evaluate the value of the minimum wage including inflation, average wages, and productivity, and concludes that "the minimum wage is now far below its historical level," and has decreased steadily since its peak in 1968. Among its conclusions are that, 'if the minimum wage had continued to move with average productivity after 1968, it would have reached $21.72 per hour in 2012," and that "if minimum-wage workers received only half of the productivity gains over the period, the federal minimum would be $15.34."