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Archive: February 2008

African Americans, Manufacturing, and Unions

Ben Zipperer and I have just finished our third annual review of trends in overall unionization, and employment in manufacturing and auto-manufacturing, among African Americans.

In 1983 (the earliest year for which consistent data are available), 31.7 percent of black workers were in unions. By 2007, only 15.7 percent of black workers were unionized. The 2007 rate for blacks is still above the level for whites (13.5 percent) and Latinos (10.8 percent), but in 1983, African-American workers were about 50 percent more likely than the average worker to be in a union and today they are only about 25 percent more likely.

In 1979, almost one in four African-American workers was in manufacturing. In 2007, the figure was fewer than one in ten. Amazingly, in 1979, more than 1 in 50 of all black workers in the country worked in the auto industry. Today, it is 1 in 100.

Bridging the Gaps

Shawn Fremstad, Rebecca Ray, Liz Chimienti and I have a new paper out with suggestions on how to reform the country's social contract in order to provide a bridge to the middle class for the working poor and those currently caught somewhere between poverty and the middle class.

Among other things, the paper serves as a nice summary of the work that my former CEPR colleague, Heather Boushey (now at the Joint Economic Committee), our colleagues at Inclusion, especially, co-author Shawn, and I have been developing at CEPR in various combinations over the last several years.

The part of the paper that has so far generated the most feedback is a text box where we call for a reform of "America's Regressive Welfare State":

Conventional wisdom has it that compared to other wealthy democracies, particularly those in Europe, the United States has a relatively minimum welfare state. According to this wisdom, other than universal programs for the elderly (Social Security and Medicare) and temporarily unemployed (Unemployment Insurance), the U.S. welfare state is modest in size and helps only very needy families.

This understanding is mistaken. The United States actually has a substantial welfare state, one differentiated not by size, but by the extent to which it provides regressive benefits through tax preferences and employer-sponsored, government-subsidized benefits. The cost of these tax preferences and subsidies is quite substantial. In 2006, the cost to the federal government of subsidizing employer-based health insurance totaled $124 billion. By comparison, in the same year, the federal government spent less than half as much (just under $60 billion) on Medicaid and SCHIP for non-disabled children and adults in working-age families. Similarly, the cost to the federal government of subsiding home ownership through the mortgage interest deduction totaled almost $69 billion in 2006. By comparison, the federal government spent less than $3 billion on mortgage subsidies and home-repair assistance for low-income homeowners, and about $25 billion on rental housing assistance and public housing.

Obama Corrido

It is hard to keep up with the amount of music being generated by --well, more accurately, for-- the Obama campaign. This corrido is maybe my favorite so far.

Some of my Obamaniac friends with ties to Latin America, though, prefer this reggaeton:


If you've seen the Barack Obama "Yes We Can" YouTube video with will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas, you've got to see this new YouTube video "for" John McCain.

Really, is there anything better than the internet?

Worst of Times, Best of Times

Well, it sure looks like we're in a recession. The data are discouraging, and the latest poll shows that the American people are already convinced.

While recessions mean forced leisure for many, they create plenty of work for labor economists. Early in January, Eileen Appelbaum, Dean Baker and I wrote a proposal for a stimulus package. By the middle of the month, the economy had deteriorated so much --more accurately, the conventional vision of the economy had deteriorated so much-- that President Bush and the Congress ended up negotiating and approving an even bigger stimulus than we had dared consider just a couple of weeks earlier.

By the end of the month, Dean and I had written another paper on the recession, this one arguing that the economic and social impact of the recession will be large and long-lasting. (The New York Times quoted the report and Dean yesterday.)