In this week’s Research Roundup: Reports from Demos and Common Cause on protecting the freedom to vote against intimidation and suppression attempts both at the ballot box and before election day, the Iowa Policy Project on the invisible epidemic of wage theft, the Herndon Alliance on questions to be prepared to answer on state health exchanges, Demos on fourteen bold policy proposals to build a strong and diverse middle class, the National Women’s Law Center on how public sector job losses have hit women hard, the Department of Health and Human Services on how the health care law has saved an estimated $2.1 billion for consumers, a video from CLASP showing businesspeople in Washington, D.C. talking about the effects of earned sick days, and the Economic Policy Institute’s 12th edition of their authoritative State of Working America report:
Bullies at the Ballot Box: Protecting the Freedom to Vote Against Wrongful Challenges and Intimidation  — Demos and Common Cause joined to publish this extensive report shining a spotlight on the threat posed by voter suppression efforts in advance of Election Day in November. The report examines the preparedness of ten states in particular to handle wrongful challenges: Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia, concluding that laws in five out of the ten states are unsatisfactory, while the other five all need improvement. The analysis covers state laws focused on the following categories: the process for challenging a registered voter’s right to vote before Election Day and the use of voter caging lists; the process for challenging a registered voter’s right to vote on Election Day; the behavior of poll watchers or observers at the polls; and protections for voters against intimidation both outside and inside the polls. The authors of the report make specific policy recommendations for addressing each tactic, and also call on both state election administrators and the U.S. Department of Justice to “take steps in advance of and during the elections to protect voters from bullying at the ballot box,” stressing that “there must be zero tolerance for bullying behavior that stands between an eligible voter and her ballot.”
Wage Theft in Iowa  — The Iowa Policy Project released this analysis of the extent what they call the “invisible epidemic” of wage theft in Iowa. According to its findings, wage theft costs low-wage Iowa workers an estimated $600 million in wages each year, may cost the state $45 million each year in unpaid tax revenue (plus another $14 million in lost revenue to the state’s unemployment fund), and “disproportionately affecting workers in certain sectors of Iowa’s economy, including restaurants, construction, small businesses and the meatpacking and food processing industry.” Citing Progressive States Network’s recent 50-state report “Where Theft Is Legal: Mapping Wage Theft Laws in the 50 States,”  the report also notes that “Iowa’s commitment to enforcing wage and hour laws lags far behind national and regional peers,” with the state employing only a single investigator responsible for policing wage theft among 1.2 million private-sector workers.
State of Working America, 12th Edition  — The Economic Policy Institute released the 12th edition of their authoritative State of Working America report, the first new edition published in four years, including a full website featuring open data and interactive graphics. The topline finding: that “policy-driven inequality has undercut low- and middle-income workers for past three decades.” In addition, the analysis finds that the middle class has suffered a lost decade since the 2001 recession, that income and wage inequality have skyrocketed over the past three decades, that this rising inequality is in fact “the major cause of wage stagnation for workers,” and, critically, names a number of specific government policies which are to blame for this increased inequality.
Questions on State Insurance Exchanges  — This brief messaging document developed by the Herndon Alliance lists six broad questions that policymakers and legislators should be prepared to ask and answer about the health insurance marketplaces, or exchanges, being proposed or enacted in their states. As Hendon notes, answers to media questions about the types of plans accepted in the exchange, who will be on the governing board, and how a state is integrating the exchange with Medicaid will “greatly help to inform the public.”
Millions to the Middle: 14 Ideas to Build a Strong and Diverse Middle Class  — This recent report from Demos lays out the critical challenges facing the middle class and outlines fourteen bold long-term policy prescriptions to counter the trend of rising inequality and shrinking opportunity. As the authors note, “just as a host of public policy choices created this state of affairs — including tax cuts that disproportionately benefited the wealthy, financial deregulation, state divestment in public higher education, and decisions to let the minimum wage stagnate... things are likely to get worse without major policy corrections.” The corrections proposed here fall in three broad categories: investments in human capital and education, support for job growth and career development, and helping American families build assets. Specific proposals highlighted include: an “American Family Trust” to enable working people to care for a child or a family member without losing their jobs through a family leave insurance system, a “Contract for College” to double the percentage of students from low- and moderate-income families who get college degrees, “American Retirement Accounts” or voluntary annuitized pensions with a guaranteed minimum rate of return, as well as directly creating public jobs and using monetary policy to promote full employment.
Public Sector Job Losses Wiped Out 45 Percent of Women’s Private Sector Job Gains During the Recovery  — The National Women’s Law Center published this analysis of August jobs data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing that while the unemployment rate for adult women declined to 7.3 percent (the lowest level since April 2009), the actual job gains women have seen since the recession have not robust. According to their analysis, women “gained 43,000 net jobs in August, adding 59,000 private sector jobs but losing 16,000 public sector jobs.” The analysis shows the drag that losses in public sector jobs have had on women since 2009, wiping out 45 percent of women’s private sector gains — women have gained 999,000 private sector jobs while losing 450,000 public sector jobs.
Business Voices: Employers Discuss Implementation of D.C. Earned Sick Days Law  — This new YouTube video from CLASP shows businesspeople in Washington, D.C. talking about the effect of their city’s earned sick days law on their businesses and their employees. The interviews provide an example of messaging on paid sick days laws from a persuasive perspective: that of business owners who are often seen by the public as the face of opposition to the law. Other individual interviews  are posted as well. The effort is co-sponsored by American Sustainable Business Council, ROC-DC, Social Venture Network, and the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce. CLASP notes that the videos are intended as a “tool for reaching out to small and large business owners across the country who may support good workplace policies but are unsure about the operational impacts of a law,” and encourages advocates to “use the video to educate their staff members who are doing business outreach, show it at meetings or conferences, or direct business owners to it as a resource.”
Health care law saved an estimated $2.1 billion for consumers  — This new report from the Department of Health and Human Services examines the effect of new rate review rules in the Affordable Care Act meant to prevent insurance companies in all 50 states from raising rates without review or transparency, as well as the effect of the law’s Medical Loss Ratio rule requiring that at least 80% of premium dollars be spent on actual medical care, rather than administrative costs. The results show that, “to date, rate review has helped save an estimated $1 billion for Americans, while the law’s Medical Loss Ratio (or 80/20) rule “is helping deliver rebates worth $1.1 billion to nearly 13 million consumers.”