With food and gas prices rising rapidly, low-wage workers can at least
welcome an increase in the federal minium wage to $6.55 per hour
scheduled to go into effect on July 24th. Even better, a number of
states will also be increasing their minimum wage rates even higher than the federal rate:
One year after implementation, Massachusetts new health care law has
dramatically reduced its rate of the uninsured by half, increasing
coverage in both the public and private sectors for 355,000 previously
uninsured residents, a new Urban Institute study published in Health Affairs shows. The state has improved access to coverage but rising costs are a key challenge as the state moves forward.
In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked the US health care system 37th in the world despite spending more than any other country. In 2007, according to the US Census Bureau, the US ranked 42nd in life expectancy.
If you are a person of color, a low-wage worker, non-English speaking,
or live in a low-income community, the picture is much worse. For
instance, the life expectancy for African-Americans
is 73.3 years, five years shorter than it is for whites. For
African-American men, it is 69.8 years, just above averages in Iran and
Syria, but below Nicaragua and Morocco.
The Iowa Senate on Tuesday approved SF 2416,
a bill to sharply increase fines on employers violating Iowa state wage
laws, crack down on the practice of misclassifying employees as
"independent contractors" to evade those laws, and protect workers
reporting violations from retaliation.
$287 billion -- that is how much the U.S. spent
on pharmaceuticals in 2007, representing a significant driver of health
care costs. While spending on hospital and physician care surpass
spending on prescriptions, drugs still account for 14% of all health care expenditures. Combine this with polls that show 70% of Americans believe the drug industry puts profits ahead of people, and it's no wonder that in 2008, at least 540 bills
and resolutions are being considered by states across the country to
reduce prescription drug prices, ensure the quality of medications
covered by public and private health plans, and reduce the undue
influence of pharmaceutical industry marketing - which itself tops out
at $30 billion each year.
After more than a year
of negotiation, compromise, and ample national attention, major health
care reform in California was dealt a seemingly lethal blow on
Monday. The compromise health care measure, ABX1 1, was rejected by the Senate Health Committee by a none-too-subtle 7 to 1 vote.
The reform, which resembled the 2006 Massachusetts law, was largely
crafted by Speaker Nunez and the Governor after an earlier version was
vetoed by Schwarzenegger in September. Senate President Pro Tem
Perata, while a participant in negotiations throughout, never came to
fully back the latest measure.
The statistics are shocking. The current mortgage crisis is expected to result in the foreclosure of 3 million homes. In Stockton, CA, one in every 27 homes has been hit by the foreclosure crisis. And, Countryside, the largest U.S. mortgage lender, just released
figures showing that foreclosures and late payments rose in December to
the highest on record. Calls to helplines by homeowners facing
foreclosure have skyrocketed. As a corollary, local animal shelters are seeing a sharp increase in intake due to owners having to surrender family pets when they lose their homes.
On December 24th, the California Supreme Court gave a major Christmas
present for labor rights, affirming that under California law, union
members in a mall could distribute handbills calling for a consumer
boycott of one of the mall's tenants. The decision, Fashion Valley Mall v. NLRB, built
on an earlier state high court decision in 1980 that deemed malls to be
a "public forum" where the public had free speech rights. The recent
decision extended that principle to active labor boycotts -- a critical
tool for labor to get its message out to consumers.
Not surprisingly, the Bush Administration's proposal for fixing the subprime lending crisis is an industry-led deal that involves completely voluntary actions to fix the current crisis and will ultimately help only a few of the millions of people who have either lost or are in danger of losing their homes. With absolute failure at the federal level, it is again up to states to step in. In two recent editorialpieces, the executive directors of the Progressive States Network and the Drum Major Institute called on New York Governor Spitzer to impose a six-month moratorium on foreclosures to stop the rapidly increasing rate of home loss, a policy all governors should enact. A moratorium would give lenders incentive to restructure loans on fair terms and fight back against the Wall-street backed predatory lenders.