Topics: Labor Unions

Big Ideas: On unions' survival, school vouchers and later retirement

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Education,Labor unions,Jobs,Labor,Joseph Lawler,Think Tanks

Teresa Kroeger for the Center for Economic and Policy Research: UCLA’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment has published its latest annual report on union membership in the city of Los Angeles, the state of California, and the United States as a whole. Some of their findings, covering trends from 2005 through 2013, might surprise you.

As the economy continues to struggle, unionization rates have managed to hold their own or even improve somewhat relative to the situation before the recession. In 2005 and again in 2013, 12.5 percent of U.S. workers were union members….

The relatively steady unionization rates over the last eight years, however, mask some important changes in the demographic makeup of unions. Following trends in the labor force as a whole, unions have become more feminized, better educated, more ethnically diverse, and older than they were in 2005. African-Americans continue to hold the highest rates of unionization in Los Angeles, in California, and nationally. While recent immigrants are still underrepresented by unions, between 2005 and 2013, naturalized immigrants saw a dramatic increase in membership, from 14.9 percent to 18.7 percent.…

The report also emphasizes that it still pays to be in a union. Union members in California and the United States as a whole earn about 20 percent more than their nonunion counterparts.

 

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT TARGETS VOUCHERS

Grover J. "Russ" Whitehurst for the Brookings Institution: The U.S. Department of Justice has entered into a lawsuit opposing Louisiana’s voucher system. The state’s program, passed into law in 2012, offers a voucher to attend a private school to students from families with incomes below 250 percent of the poverty line attending low-performing public schools. Parents apply for the vouchers and to date about 90 percent of the recipients are black.

The DOJ is not intervening as you might naively expect because of concerns about the constitutionality of voucher programs, or because they believe that private schools in Louisiana discriminate, or because they think the state has designed its voucher program in a way that discriminates against minorities. No. Their argument is that the voucher program will have an impact on federal desegregation orders that require certain school districts to achieve a racial distribution in each of their schools that mirrors the racial composition of the district as a whole. So, if 40 percent of the school-aged population in these districts is black then each school has a target of 40 percent black enrollment….

I hope the DOJ petition is really about the state not asking for permission from the courts for what it is doing in districts under federal desegregation orders rather than about preventing six black families from transferring their kids out of Cecilia Primary School. If so, I hope the state genuflects to the court quickly and successfully and the DOJ’s interest in the case thus goes away. But if the DOJ persists in actions that have the effect of denying poor black parents whose children are trapped in underperforming schools the opportunity to choose something different and possibly better, then this is the civil rights division of the DOJ suppressing civil rights – ironic and tragic in the extreme.

 

NO MORE RETIRING IN THE GOLDEN YEARS

David Callahan for Demos’ policy shop: In an earlier, harsher America it was not uncommon for people to work well into old age. In 1945, about half of Americans 65 and over were still in the labor force. And that was at a time when most work was physical in nature.

Then came the great rise in postwar prosperity, with the spread of defined benefit pensions (often won by unions), the expansion of Social Security benefits, the creation of Medicare, and big leaps in housing wealth that provided nest eggs for retirement.

By 1990, just 17.6 percent of men 65 and over were in the labor force. It was a golden age for the golden years.

But labor force participation by seniors has been creeping steadily upward since 1990, with a 15 percent increase in the share of older men who work. Among women, there has been a 50 percent increase. The biggest increases have been among seniors in their late 60s who find it easier to work.

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