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Corporate university—pandemic edition

from David Ruccio

Will colleges and universities reopen in the fall? That’s the question on the minds of many these day—administrators, faculty, staff, students, and their families, not to mention the communities in which they live.

All institutions of higher education (in the United States and in much of the rest of the world) had a difficult spring, having to close their campuses for in-person instruction (as well as many other activities, from athletics to study-abroad programs) in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic and resort to online classes. There wasn’t much advance notice or planning and, notwithstanding the heroic efforts of faculty and staff and the unequal means of students who found themselves back at home, the results were at best uneven and less than satisfactory.

Now, the question is, what will they do in the fall, while the pandemic continues to accumulate millions of cases and hundreds of thousands of deaths around the world? Read more…

Who’s been laid off?

May 21, 2020 1 comment

David Ruccio

wages

If we needed any more confirmation of who’s been laid off during the current crisis, all we need to do is examine the change in average hourly wages in the United States.

In the past month (so, April 2020), the year-over-year increase in hourly wages jumped to 7.9 percent. That’s more than three times the average increase since 2008 (2.5 percent) and more than two and half times the increase since Donald Trump took office (3 percent). Read more…

Reserve army—pandemic edition

from David Ruccio

labor share

You know things are bad—and going to get worse—when a mainstream newspaper like the Washington Post invokes the Mohr:

What Karl Marx once called “the reserve army of the unemployed” will probably keep wage growth in check as the recovery inches forward.

Read more…

From almshouses to nursing homes—pandemic edition

May 13, 2020 1 comment

from David Ruccio

I’ve often read that people who wash their hands in innocence do so in blood-stained basins. And their hands bear the traces.
— Bertolt Brecht, Mother Courage

3070The first time care for elderly and chronically ill Americans was radically transformed was during the first Great Depression, as almshouses were overwhelmed and public support grew to replace old-style charitable “indoor relief” with new-style government-funded “outdoor relief,” based on cash payments to people to support themselves in the community. According to Sidney D. Watson (pdf), “The Social Security Act of 1935 embodied this new approach to American social welfare, creating cash benefit programs to provide the elderly and needy with the money to support themselves at home rather than in institutions.”*

Later, the Social Security Amendments of 1950, 1956, 1960, and 1965 (which created Medicaid), a combination of federal and state payments fueled the growth of nursing homes by expanding eligibility and authorizing states to make vendor payments directly to for-profit care institutions. The existing nursing home industry fought to get Medicaid funding and, through its lobbying efforts, to keep and expand based on Medicaid funding.** It then used those funds to warehouse the elderly and infirm, in the care of workers who earn low wages, most of whom are women of color, a large portion of whom are immigrant workers.

Now, those same nursing homes, like the almshouses of the 1930s, have been overwhelmed by a “tidal wave of human need”—but for a very different reason: they have become one of the key sites of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Read more…

Generation screwed—and screwed again

May 11, 2020 1 comment

from David Ruccio

You know your generation’s screwed when even Monopoly is mocking you.

Back in 2016, I argued that Millennials were in fact generation screwed.

For example, in 2010 (when some of them were 20 to 24 years of age), their unemployment rate was 17.2 percent, much higher than the already high national average of 9.9 percent.*

Partly because of the difficulty they had finding jobs, but also because they have been saddled with high student and healthcare debt, the typical Millennial family lost ground between 2010 and 2016, falling further behind the typical wealth lifecycle than any other birth cohort. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (pdf), a typical 32-year-old family respondent in 2016 (born in 1984) was 34 percent ($12,000) below the 32-year-old benchmark established by earlier generations. Read more…

Are we all in this together?

from David Ruccio

It must be confessed that though the plague was chiefly among the poor, yet were the poor the most venturous and fearless of it, and went about their employment with a sort of brutal courage; I must call it so, for it was founded neither on religion nor prudence; scarce did they use any caution, but ran into any business which they could get employment in, though it was the most hazardous. Such was that of tending the sick, watching houses shut up, carrying infected persons to the pest-house, and, which was still worse, carrying the dead away to their graves.

— Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year

I’m almost sick of hearing the refrain, “We’re all in this together.”

I say almost, because I do think there’s a utopian moment in that phrase in the midst of the current pandemic. It speaks of solidarity, of being in common, of paying attention to and honoring healthcare workers and others who are currently laboring in “essential” activities while the rest of us are instructed to stay at home. In that sense, it betokens—or at least aspires to—a thinking about and caring for others. Read more…

Gleaners and us—pandemic edition

from David Ruccio

We already had high food insecurity in this country and now we are putting another layer of need on top of it. — Kevin M. Fitzpatrick

One of the many irrational characteristics of capitalism is that billions of tons of food go to waste while hundreds of millions of people struggle with hunger on a daily basis. And like all the other senseless attributes of the way the economy is currently organized, the mismatch between the enormous quantity of food that is available for human consumption but is not consumed and the vast number of people who are food insecure has been highlighted and heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic—especially in the United States.

Even before the pandemic, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reported that approximately 30 percent of food produced for human consumption around the world is either lost (from post-harvest to distribution) or wasted (at retail and consumption levels) each year—while an estimated 821 million people (just below 11 percent of the world’s population) were undernourished (pdf).* And in the United States? According to the National Resources Defense Council (pdf), the degree of food waste was even higher—between 39 and 43 percent of the total U.S. food supply. At the same time, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (pdf), more than 37 million Americans (13.9 percent of households) suffered food insecurity—and less than one-third of the food that was thrown out would be enough to feed this population completely. Read more…

Your job or your life

from David Ruccio

WFH1 WFH2

source

When social solidarity is essential, it’s common to hear pious sermons against class warfare. Unfortunately, there is a class war. And its victims, so many of them front-line workers, didn’t start it. — E. J. Dionne Jr.

New research confirms what we’ve all been seeing for the past couple of months: the lowest paid, most precarious workers are the ones who are being forced to face the choice between their jobs and their lives.

And, looking forward, as those in charge push to reopen the economy, the most vulnerable workers are the ones who will most find themselves caught up in the ultimate dilemma of capitalist employment during the COVID-19 pandemic: stay at home without the ability to earn a paycheck or go back to work and increase the chance of getting the dreaded disease. Read more…

“Nothing will fundamentally change”

April 28, 2020 13 comments

from David Ruccio

Three and a half weeks ago, Bernie Sanders became the last challenger to drop out of the race, thus clearing the way for Joe Biden to become the Democratic nominee on the November presidential ballot.

Since then, the novel coronavirus has engulfed the country (and, of course, the world), the U.S. economy has mostly come to a standstill, and tens of million American workers have joined the ranks of the unemployed, while “essential” workers are forced to commute to and labor in perilous conditions and jobless families have found it necessary to walk or take to their cars to wait in line by the thousands outside food banks.

Biden therefore has to find a way of presenting a progressive alternative to Trump by articulating some clear ideas, and perhaps eventually a detailed plan, to confront the most dramatic economic and social crises to face the United States since the first Great Depression. Read more…

Billionaire wealth in the USA

April 25, 2020 7 comments

from David Ruccio

billionaires copy 3

A new report from the Institute for Policy Studies, “Billionaire Bonanza 2020: Wealth Windfalls, Tumbling Taxes, and Pandemic Profiteers,” reveals that the wealth of U.S. billionaires is indeed staying at home.

Read more…

US student debt jubilee—pandemic edition

April 22, 2020 5 comments

from David Ruccio

student debt

The coronavirus outbreak is serving as a mind-expansion exercise, making hitherto unthinkable solutions thinkable. Debts that can’t be paid won’t be. A debt jubilee may be the best way out.

— Michael Hudson

The United States is currently experiencing a dystopian orgy of death and destruction.

Read more…

Modern monetary theory—pandemic edition

April 18, 2020 13 comments

from David Ruccio

Modern Monetary Theorists are having a moment, as governments (many of them run by conservative regimes, such as Donald Trump and the Republicans in the United States) are running gigantic fiscal deficits in order to combat the economic crisis occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic.*

This time, with the $2 trillion CARES Act, the U.S. federal government has taken an additional step down the road of Modern Monetary Theory, by having the Federal Reserve buy an unlimited amount of Treasury bonds and government-backed mortgage bonds — whatever was necessary “to support smooth market functioning”—in other words, by simply creating the necessary money.

But, as Michael Hudson et al. explain, the idea that is being celebrated right now—that running government budget deficits is stabilizing instead of destabilizing—”is in many ways something quite different than the leading MMT advocates have long supported.” Read more…

Back to normal?!

April 15, 2020 13 comments

from David Ruccio

We can’t stay this way forever—with physical distancing (now that all 50 states have finally issued some kind of Stay at Home order), schools closed (and operating with a semblance of education through online teaching), businesses shuttered (even while the stock market soars).

The question that seems to be on everyone’s lips is, when are things going to go back to normal?

But who wants to return to normalcy? The novel coronavirus pandemic has revealed, if nothing else, just how dysfunctional the situation was in the United States even before COVID-19 started to cut its deadly path across the country. Tens of millions of workers have been furloughed and laid off and there’s still relief for them in sight. Instead, they’re being forced to have the freedom to drive to food banks to obtain groceries and other household supplies. All the while, their fellow employees, who labor in activities that have been deemed essential, are told to endure dangerous commutes on public transportation and to continue to work under perilous conditions, with little regard for their personal safety. Workers didn’t have any say before in the decisions concerning their jobs, let alone in the other policies adopted by their corporate employers—and they certainly don’t now.*

The pandemic has also demonstrated just how unequal life is in the United States, both geographically and socially. Read more…

Tale of two cities

April 13, 2020 1 comment

from David Ruccio

FrontLineWorkers_Map  NYC-cases

sources [frontline workerscoronavirus cases]

As the Guardian explained earlier today, the coronavirus has discriminated in inflicting its terrible toll on the two very different cities that make up New York City.

Read more…

16 million American workers have filed initial unemployment claims during the past three weeks.

April 10, 2020 2 comments

from David Ruccio

claims

Read more…

“The economy”—pandemic edition

April 8, 2020 4 comments

from David Ruccio

We’re back at it again: “the economy” has broken down and we’re all being enlisted into the effort to get it back up and working again. As soon as possible.

The Congressional Budget Office has announced that it expects the U.S. economy will contract sharply during the second quarter of 2020:

    • Gross domestic product is expected to decline by more than 7 percent during the second quarter. If that happened, the decline in the annualized growth rate reported by the Bureau of Economic Analysis would be about four times larger and would exceed 28 percent. Those declines could be much larger, however.
    • The unemployment rate is expected to exceed 10 percent during the second quarter, in part reflecting the 3.3 million new unemployment insurance claims reported on March 26 and the 6.6 million new claims reported this morning. (The number of new claims was about 10 times larger this morning than it had been in any single week during the recession from 2007 to 2009.)

Just as in the aftermath of the spectacular crash of 2007-08, the supposedly shared goal is to do whatever is necessary to engineer a recovery so that the economy can start operating normally again.

That presumes, of course, that we were satisfied with the normal workings of the economy before, and that such a state of normality is what we all desire moving forward. Read more…

Job contagion

April 4, 2020 3 comments

from David Ruccio

contagion

source

Read more…

“It’s a lose-lose” for workers

April 2, 2020 3 comments

from David Ruccio

It’s now an almost daily occurrence: Donald Trump starring in the White House pandemic briefings, flanked by business executives—from Walgreens, CVS, Target and a host of laboratory, research, and medical-device corporations—to form a mutual admiration society.* The various scientists, public-health experts, and emergency personnel, the ones people want to hear from, are accorded third rank.

And American workers are nowhere to be seen—or heard—even when, as on 24 March, Trump decided to speak for them as wanting nothing more than “to get back to work.”

The fact is, while millions and millions of workers have been furloughed or laid off in recent weeks, waiting desperately to receive financial assistance, many more continue to be forced to have the freedom to labor for their employers on a daily basis. They leave their families and venture out—too many with no alternative but to expose themselves to the risks of the pandemic during their commute on public transportation—and then submit to even more risks on their jobs, with little in the way of protection, as some of their fellow workers contract COVID-19. Read more…

Common sense economics

April 1, 2020 5 comments

from David Ruccio

In the United States and around the world, governments are responding to the twin pandemics—of novel coronavirus and escalating unemployment—with massive bailouts. Not unlike what happened more than a decade ago, after the global crash of 2007-08.

But there seems to be something different this time around—not only because of the speed of both the viral contamination and the economic meltdown, but also as a reaction to the terms of the bailout that was enacted in the midst of the Second Great Depression.

Here, for example, is 

During the last crisis, the global financial catastrophe of 2008, the authorities protected corporate interests above those of ordinary people, many economists assert. Britain and the European Union bailed out financial institutions, then recovered the costs by hacking away at public services, effectively punishing laborers and taxpayers for the sins of wealthy bankers.

Just like that, with no apparent controversy, he drops in the idea that, after the last major crash, those in charge sought to safeguard corporations and neglect the interests of “ordinary people.” That was certainly the stance, in the United States, of groups like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street but Goodman now asserts it as a commonly held view, with a gesture to authority (“many economists assert”). Read more…

Claims in USA for jobless benefits last week rose to 3.28 million from 282,000 a week earlier.

from David Ruccio

initial claims

The Labor Department on Thursday reported the number of American workers filing new claims for jobless benefits last week rose to 3.28 million from 282,000 a week earlier. Nothing in the 53-year history of the series comes close. In the worst week of 2009, when the job market was reeling, initial claims hit 665,000.

Read more…