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This week, we authored a report grading states on how well they protect a fundamental workplace right: getting paid what you are legally owed. This right is so basic and common-sense that most people are still unaware of how commonly it is violated. Wage theft, or the illegal underpayment of workers, has become so widespread, it affects millions of workers across the country and is nearly ubiquitous in certain industries: retail, restaurants, hospitality, day-labor, warehousing, child care, and construction. That’s a lot of people – already not getting paid enough – whose bosses illegally make their paychecks even lighter.
This 50-state survey of states’ wage theft laws reveals the majority of state laws to be grossly inadequate, contributing to a rising trend in workplace violations that affects millions of people throughout the country. The growth of this and other forms of the “underground economy” also have a serious impact on state revenues, amounting to billions of dollars per year in tax and payroll fraud. Several states are acting to address these problems by strengthening their laws against unscrupulous employers.
Wage theft, or the systemic non-payment of wages by unethical employers, is a growing problem affecting millions of workers across the country and costing states billions of dollars in lost tax revenue. Yet, only a few states are starting to address the problem in earnest through legislation – and the vast majority have laws that are grossly inadequate. Those are the conclusions of an extensive, first-of-its-kind evaluation of state laws, Where Theft is Legal: Mapping Wage Theft Laws in the 50 States, released by Progressive States Network. The report grades individual states across the broad body of state laws needed to comprehensively address this growing national crime wave, and concludes that 44 of the 50 states (plus Washington D.C.) deserve failing grades.
Reports from both Enterprise Community Partners and ProPublica on how states are spending their share of the $2.5 billion they collectively received in direct payments from the foreclosure settlement with big banks, the National Partnership for Women and Families surveying laws that help new parents in all 50 states, the Pew Center on the States on the findings of their first analysis of economic mobility at the state level, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities on how state budgets continue to feel pain from the effects of the recession, the Urban Institute on how almost every state has seen access to health care deteriorate for their adult residents over the past decade, the Center for Economic and Policy Research on both the significant savings states could experience through work-sharing and the size and characteristics of states’ unionized workforces, the Economic Policy Institute on the declining labor force participation rate and whether it is due to cyclical or structural changes in the economy, and the Commonwealth Fund on how most private individual health plans will fall short of what can be sold through the health exchanges as of 2014.
A state that asks everyone, including the luckiest few, to pay their fair share during a time of historic inequality. A state with a minimum wage above the federal floor that helps boost consumer spending and power the economy. A state that has been able to avoid economically devastating budget cuts and public sector job losses by seeking responsible budget solutions.
What one word might describe a state that has adopted policies like the above to rebuild their economy? The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has one in mind: “poor.”
Progressive States Network Board Member and former Maine Speaker of the House Hannah Pingree was a guest on MSNBC's Up with Chris Hayes on Sunday May 13, 2012 (Mother's Day) discussing how state and federal policy affects moms — with her mom, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree (ME).
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.”