Tapped: The Prospect Group Blog

The Overlooked Electoral Power of Voters with Disabilities

A new national poll of voters with disabilities released this week spotlights a dramatic shift in their political leanings toward Democrats. Numbering in the tens of millions, voters in the disability community boast a huge political and electoral power that could prove decisive in this year’s midterms. Yet for a group with such potentially significant electoral strength, remarkably little attention has been devoted toward learning more about their political behavior.

The poll, conducted by Greenberg Research for the nonprofit RespectAbility, reveals that more than half of registered voters identify as being a part of the disability community, whether they have a disability themselves, or they have family or close friends with disabilities. And signs point to this sizable population’s support shifting to the Democrats.

People with disabilities have on average a more negative opinion of President Donald Trump, and by a 16-point margin favor the Democratic candidate in a generic 2018 congressional ballot. “The biggest negative feelings toward the Republican Congress is among people with disabilities,” said pollster Stan Greenberg during a teleconference briefing on Tuesday. This hasn’t always been the case—in 2014, they broke for the Republicans by 11 points, and were split in 2016. “Something is happening that’s affecting the kind of even split, the swing-voter status of people with disabilities,” Greenberg added.

While their swing toward the Democrats reflects a similar nationwide anti-Trump shift, recent events—such as disability rights groups’ highly publicized protests in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office over threats to the Affordable Care Act last summer—could be pushing these voters to the left. And in the weeks since the poll was conducted in January, lawmakers have done even more to alienate disabled voters. On February 12, the White House released its 2019 budget, which cuts funding for federal disability programs. That same week, the House voted to pass the ADA Education and Reform Act, which would gut key protections in the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The 16-point Democratic advantage is especially notable when considering that voters with disabilities are, according to the poll, heavily working class and five times as likely to be unemployed and looking for work—and more likely to be “extremely interested” in the 2018 midterm elections. “There’s all kinds of reasons why these views and needs should be important to all political leaders and opinion informers, but some of that is self-interest,” said Greenberg.

The poll also measured the views of voters with disabilities on the GOP tax cut (half strongly oppose) and the ACA (they view it more favorably than people outside the disability community). But because of sample-size limitations, the poll was not broken up by race or gender, nor were certain historical comparisons available (for instance, how those voters with disabilities felt about the ACA in 2014).

Lauren Appelbaum, the communications director at RespectAbility, which works to get disability included in major national polls the same way race and gender is, says that the stigmatization of disability is a major reason that community is largely ignored by policymakers and strategists. Considering the political opinions of people with disabilities “is definitely something that pollsters should be doing,” Appelbaum told the Prospect. “This poll really shows that people should be paying attention.”

Campaign to Impeach Trump to Hold Thousands of Parties Across the U.S.

Need to Impeach, a group committed to paving the way to impeach Donald Trump, founded by billionaire activist and ex-hedge fund manager Tom Steyer, has organized thousands of people to sign up to host impeachment-themed parties over President’s Day weekend. The parties, which are planned for Saturday, February 17, will take place in every state, according to Need to Impeach.

Since the organization launched last October, 4.7 million people have pledged their support to the cause, with more than 6,500 pledging to host impeachment parties. Some members of Congress plan to host parties, while other parties are taking place in citizens’ backyards and living rooms. But the message, raising awareness about the impeachable offenses the group believes Trump has committed while in office, remains the same.

Need to Impeach lists abusing pardon power; violating the emoluments clause; conspiring to commit crimes against the United States; undermining the freedom of the press; and obstruction of justice as reasons to impeach the president.

Steyer also recently hosted a panel of mental health experts in Washington who suggested that the 25th Amendment—which says the vice president will assume the presidency if the sitting president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”—is a possible avenue for removal from office, citing concerns over the president’s mental health impairing his judgment on nuclear weapons.

“Every day, there’s so much bad news, where the Constitution is being diminished, and certainly the White House is being diminished,” says Camron Assadi, who plans to host a party in Denver. “Face-to-face interaction can create a bond and create some solidarity. Congress as it is now obviously is not standing up to Trump or taking any action,” Assadi adds. “The White House and the executive [need to] be reined in.”

Public support for impeachment is growing. According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll from December, 41 percent of all Americans support impeachment hearings. Democrats are more enthusiastic about the measure, with 70 percent in favor.

“A big part of the campaign is about is educating our base, our digital army, and letting them know the information they need to contact their lawmakers and make sure [they] know what their constituents want,” says Erik Olvera, a Need to Impeach spokesperson.

But congressional leaders are unlikely to take action on the measure: The most recent House vote to impeach Trump garnered only 66 congressional Democrats. Other Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, argue that pushing an impeachment process now could have a negative impact on current investigations.

Need to Impeach organizers are also using this weekend’s parties as an opportunity to plan for the midterm elections. Democrats need to gain 24 seats to flip control of the House, and two to win a majority in the Senate.

The White House’s Internal Trade War Heats Up

There’s a trade war brewing in the White House—and President Trump will soon have to choose a side.

In January, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross recommended protectionist tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, the specifics of which were released on Friday: Ross wants Trump to place steep tariffs and quotas on the world’s biggest dumpers of aluminum and steel—most notably, Brazil, China, Turkey, Russia, Venezuela, and Vietnam.

Axios quotes one anonymous “trade expert” as saying, “This would be beyond a trade war. You’re talking about blowing up the WTO [World Trade Organization].”

Robert Scott, a trade economist at the Economic Policy Institute who supports stronger trade restrictions, says such a comment is laughable. “Total U.S. steel and aluminum imports in 2017… made up less than 2 percent of total U.S. goods imports,” Scott said in an email. “If other members of the WTO want to throw out the whole deal over what amounts to a tiny share of total U.S. and world trade, then that is their problem.”

He added that a more useful response than knee-jerk alarmism about trade wars “would be to encourage other fair trading countries to join the U.S. in eliminating exports from unfairly trading nations that are the targets of these (possible) trade restrictions.”

Ross’s proposal includes a 23.5 percent tariff on aluminum from China, Russia, Venezuela, and Vietnam (7.7 percent on other countries) and a minimum 53 percent tariff on steel from Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Egypt, India, Malaysia, Korea, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam (24 percent on other countries). There would also be quotas on aluminum and steel imports, limiting countries to 2017 export levels or lower, depending on the country.

The issue of trade protectionism is fueling an internal war among Trump’s top advisers. The so-called globalist wing, including Gary Cohn, Steven Mnuchin, Rex Tillerson, and James Mattis, are all vehemently opposed to imposing tariffs that they worry would spark a trade war that would upset global markets and aggravate diplomatic relations. The protectionist wing—including Ross and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer—occupies a lonely island within the administration.

Under U.S. trade law, the president has 90 days after Ross’s January recommendations to take some type of action. During the presidential campaign, Trump promised to crack down on Chinese trade manipulation—namely steel and aluminum dumping—and to restore U.S. industries, but as I reported in January, his administration has delayed and deferred action through his first year in office.

Trump, of course, notoriously flip-flops his positions based on the last person he spoke with, and it’s unclear which way he is leaning. He has already shown a willingness to implement tariffs on washing machines and solar panels. The question is whether he would defy his top military, diplomatic, and economic advisers on such a critical issue.

This was the populist fight that Steve Bannon hoped for when he was still in the White House. Trump has until April to make a final decision. Until then, the White House’s internal trade war is sure to intensify.

 

Teachers Struggle to Teach Students About Slavery

Educators struggle to teach their students about the nuances of slavery, its crucial role in shaping U.S. history, and its lasting impact on African Americans, according to a new study conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The organization surveyed 1,000 high school seniors across the U.S. Only 8 percent of students could identify slavery as the root cause of the Civil War; 68 percent did not know that slavery ended after Congress passed and the states ratified the 13th Amendment.

Despite a willingness to bring these topics into their classrooms, 40 percent of teachers believe that they receive insufficient instructional support from their state education departments to teach students about slavery.

Virginia first mentions slavery in its state curriculum in second grade, when students learn Abraham Lincoln was the “president of the United States who helped to free American slaves.” That lesson comes two years after students learn about Martin Luther King Jr. According to the study, that oversight means that they have no way to understand the history behind the fight for civil rights.

In Alabama, slavery isn’t mentioned until third or fourth grade, when students learn that it was a cause of the Civil War. Presenting slavery as only one of many causes, the study said, is “a disingenuous representation that obscures slavery’s central role in causing the Civil War.”

Another 58 percent of teachers find their textbooks to be a problem when covering slavery. Textbooks used in Alabama say that a fight for “states’ rights” was the primary cause of the Civil War. When the textbook’s authors mention Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, they highlight his military exploits and ignore that he was the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

But even when teachers recognize these issues, they struggle with the right approach to the topic. Teachers interviewed for the study mentioned that re-enactments of the Middle Passage and slave auctions are some of the ways to teach their students. Some teachers even report giving their students “slave names” and tying their hands behind their backs. “A discussion follows,” one teacher said, “between the two groups of students [slaves and slaveowners] as to how they felt and why things were done this way.”

Yet that kind of role-playing may not be the best method to use as a white teacher in the Bronx discovered earlier this month when she instructed students lie on the floor during a lesson on slavery. These lessons “cannot begin to convey the horror of slavery and risk trivializing the subject in the minds of students,” according to the study. Such activities can be especially traumatizing for black students.

Textbooks and lesson plans also fail to address white supremacy’s role in the institution of slavery, even though the study says “the American ideology of white supremacy … developed precisely to justify the perpetuation of slavery.” Because students aren’t taught about racism and its legacy, they fail to understand issues like police violence or mass incarceration today.

“Our interest in education about slavery isn’t just about good history education,” Kate Shuster, an independent education researcher who authored the report, said in the introduction to the study. “We are convinced that students cannot fully understand the current state of race relations in the United States if they do not understand the history and extent of American slavery.”

To combat the lack of resources and help teachers better incorporate the history of slavery into their curriculum, the SPLC and Teaching Tolerance created a guide that includes a framework for instruction and a library of primary sources. The study also recommends using historical documents in classroom instruction and strengthening state curriculum frameworks. The SPLC also suggested that to help students better understand the topic, textbooks need to convey more of the realities of slavery and present the lasting impact of African cultures and ideas.

Congress Looks to Weaken the Americans with Disabilities Act

No area is safe from plunder in the Trump era, even decades-old laws as seemingly untouchable as the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Congress is expected to vote on the ADA Education and Reform Act this week (H.R. 620), which has already passed the House Judiciary Committee. Don’t be fooled by the “reform” in the bill’s title—H.R. 620 would gut key ADA protections for people with disabilities, all in the name of defending business.

For decades, businesses have used vague language in the ADA to seek favorable court rulings, claiming at various times that providing “reasonable accommodations” would constitute an “undue burden” on their finances—forcing people with disabilities to financially justify their rights in a way no other marginalized group has to.

But for Republican sponsors of H.R. 620, this doesn’t protect businesses enough. The bill requires complainants to notify a business of an accessibility violation in writing, then gives that company a full 60 days to respond, and another 120 days to make changes.

And instead of requiring actual compliance with ADA standards, H.R. 620 simply mandates that those changes show “substantial progress” in that direction. As Rebecca Cokley, the senior fellow for disability policy at the Center for American Progress, says, “Businesses could be claiming ‘substantial progress’ for decades.”

“Businesses have had 27 years to learn about and conform to the ADA’s requirements,” wrote Samuel Bagenstos last September after H.R. 620 passed through committee. “Rather than protecting legitimate business interests, the bill … would give a reprieve to enterprises that have had 27 years to comply with the law but have not yet done so.”

Supporters of H.R. 620 claim that the bill protects businesses from unprincipled lawyers and “drive-by lawsuits.” But Cokley points out that state courts and bar associations are equipped to deal with frivolous lawsuits. “H.R. 620,” she says, “is further evidence of the war on marginalized communities’ access to public accommodations. If this was any other community, we wouldn’t be talking about taking their rights back.”

Welcome to the One-Time Bonus Economy, Where Your Pay Doesn’t Go Up

The new trend of companies rewarding employees more often with one-time bonuses and less often with permanent pay increases has drawn greater attention in the aftermath of the Trump tax cuts, as corporations have made flashy announcements about how they are delivering one-off rewards to employees (though not all employees).

The New York Times had a front-page story on Sunday entitled “What Happened to Your Raise? It Could Have Become a Bonus.”

As economics reporter Patricia Cohen writes, “Ordinarily, the jobless rate and wage growth are like two ends of a seesaw: When one drops, the other is supposed to rise. But that link seems broken, and like film-noir detectives, analysts have scrutinized hard-edge statistics and fuzzier psychological indicators for clues about why.”

Part of the reason is that companies are opting to spend less of their profits on higher regular employee paychecks and more on one-time bonuses that, as we’ve seen recently, make for savvy public relations. According to a Times analysis of a survey by Aon Hewitt, a human resources consulting firm, spending on bonuses amounted to an average of 3.1 percent of total compensation budgets in 1991, but by 2017, that share rose to 12.7 percent. Meanwhile, the share dedicated to permanent raises fell from 5 percent to just 2.9 percent.

The average worker’s pay has remained stagnant for the past few decades. The shift to a bonus-based economy is part of a larger effort by business leaders to cut labor costs down to the bone. Bonuses, of course, are welcome news for many workers—but not if they’re coming at the expense of a sustained pay bump. 

Permanent salary increases mean higher fixed costs—and slimmer profit margins. One-time bonuses, with no guarantees, are cheaper. As is the outsourcing, union-busting, contracting, on-demanding, and part-timing of the American workforce. That is what is keeping wages low even in a very tight labor market.

The problem is not that corporations don’t have the money to invest in their workforce. It’s that they’re just choosing to plow it all back to the shareholders and CEOs. A recent analysis found that S&P 500 companies have promised $3.7 billion in one-time bonuses and announced more than $157 billion in stock buybacks.

The problem is that even with what many economists say is close to full employment, a tight labor market is apparently not a strong enough countervailing force for sustained pay increases over skimpy one-time bonuses. At one point, unions were that force.

 

Why Are Uber Drivers Working 12-Hour Shifts?

In a bid to combat drowsy driving, Uber recently announced a new policy limiting drivers to 12-hour shifts without breaks. After 12 hours, the app will go offline, and drivers must take at least a six-hour break.

While the effort to encourage safer driving is laudable, one must ask: Uber drivers sometimes work nonstop for 12 straight hours? That doesn’t sound like a “side hustle,” which is how Uber markets the job.

But so many Uber drivers work until they’re exhausted that the company decided to force them off the road, instead of paying them more to work fewer hours.

Indeed, it shouldn’t be surprising that some Uber drivers find themselves nodding off after a long shift. While many drivers work for Uber to supplement their regular pay, others drive for Uber full-time. Uber drivers do not have workplace protections like a minimum wage—and that encourages workers to push themselves to drive for long hours to pay their bills. After all, “setting your own schedule” is a major incentive to drive for Uber.

Uber drivers also get the privilege of setting their own benefits, since the company doesn’t provide them with any. In this sector of the “gig economy,” drivers don’t get benefits like health insurance or retirement accounts, so if drivers want these things, they have to pay for them.

Yes, we should keep sleepy Uber drivers off the road. One way to do that could be to pay them more. 

Study: International Students Avoiding U.S. Graduate Schools

International students vote with their feet. For the first time in more than a decade, university admissions officials reported a decrease in the number of applications to graduate school programs from international students, according to a recent Council of Graduate Schools study. Researchers found that international graduate applications declined by 3 percent and first-time enrollments declined by 1 percent from the fall of 2016 to the fall of 2017.

The study singled out new immigration policies, such as Trump’s eight-country travel ban, as a major factor discouraging international students from studying in the United States. “The graduate education community remains concerned that the ban—in its substance and rhetoric—might have hampered the global competitiveness of the United States and its ability to attract the best and brightest prospective international graduate students,” researchers found.

The sharpest decreases occurred among Middle Eastern and North African students: In the fall of 2017, applications from those countries declined 17 percent. University officials also saw an 18 percent decrease in applications from Iranian students (first-time enrollment decreased by 16 percent). Applications from Saudi Arabian students also decreased by 21 percent, but Saudi students accepted offers to study in the United States at a significantly higher rate than Iranian students (40 percent compared with 17 percent), suggesting that Trump’s travel ban and his harsh rhetoric toward Iran may have alienated Iranian students. Applications from Canadian, Chinese, Indian, and Mexican students applying to American graduate programs also declined.

The only increase in applications came from European students (up by 18 percent) and students from sub-Saharan African countries (up by 12 percent).

Although overall applications declined in fall 2017, international acceptances rose slightly compared with the previous academic year, from 16 percent to 17 percent. The study credits efforts made by individual institutions “to ensure that [students] feel welcome” despite the uncertainty surrounding U.S. immigration policy.

There are currently more than one million international students (about 25 percent of all graduate students) enrolled in American colleges; ten years ago, there were fewer than 650,000.

Scott Walker Doubles Down on Foxconn-omics

(Gage Skidmore)
 

It was just a few months ago that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker unveiled a massive deal that would give the Taiwanese manufacturing giant Foxconn $3 billion in tax subsidies to open a $10 billion LCD TV factory, promising to bring 13,000 jobs to southeastern Wisconsin.

That’s a public cost of $230,000 per job. Initial estimates found that the state wouldn’t break even on its investment until 2043. On top of the massive tax subsidies, Foxconn will benefit from a host of other goodies—lower electricity rates, state funding for road construction and worker training, exemptions from certain environmental regulations, and unprecedented special treatment in the state court systems.

In short, Walker handed a foreign corporation the keys to the government.

Now, with another major manufacturer threatening to cut hundreds of jobs in Wisconsin, Walker is doubling down on his corporate welfare program. Following the passage of the GOP tax cut, Kimberly-Clark (the company that makes Kleenex, Huggies diapers, and Cottonelle toilet paper) announced in January that it would deliver a dividend increase for its shareholders and a $2.3 billion share buyback. The company said it would then use the remainder of its tax cut savings to restructure its operations.

That apparently means cutting 5,000 jobs in the United States, including 600 positions from its operations in northeastern Wisconsin. The company turned a $3.3 billion profit in 2017.

In a last-ditch effort to save those jobs, Walker is falling back on his Foxconn playbook. On Monday, he proposed legislation that would give Kimberly-Clark the same deal as Foxconn: 17 percent tax credits on qualifying wages at the company’s two plants.

 

 

As the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel points out, Wisconsin taxpayers would be on the hook for $8,500 in Kimberly-Clark tax credits for one $50,000 salaried job.

Walker is running for re-election in 2018 and he’s faced scrutiny over his failure to make good on a 2010 campaign promise to create 250,000 jobs in the state. He’s not only failed to meet that mark by nearly 65,000 jobs, but Wisconsin’s manufacturing industry has continued to wither away.

The conservative governor has failed to entice businesses to set up shop with his policies of union busting and deep budget cuts to everything from the public university system to infrastructure. 

As Walker has attacked public welfare programs (he’s pushed for drug-testing requirements for state welfare recipients and work requirements for Medicaid beneficiaries), he’s unabashedly set up a generous corporate welfare program that flies in the face of the GOP’s purported vision of free-market capitalism. 

After privatizing the state economic development agency in 2011, Walker has lavished companies with lucrative tax subsidies. In return, companies like Ashley Furniture have announced layoffs, offshored operations, or simply failed to meet job-creation promises.

The Foxconn deal may be the biggest, but, as Walker has shown, it will be far from the last. The governor has now invited any Wisconsin company to threaten to uproot unless it gets a sweet new tax subsidy.

Call it Foxconn-omics.

Tipping Has Long Reinforced Inequality—and Trump’s DOL Wants to Make It Worse

A proposed Department of Labor rule would allow employers to pocket their employees’ tips. The proposed rule in no way requires that these pocketed tips are distributed among employees—employers could simply take them (a fact the DOL tried hard to cover up). The Economic Policy Institute estimates that the rule would cause workers to lose $5.8 billion in tips per year. While being rightfully outraged by this prospect, we should revisit why tipping exists in the United States in the first place.

In the late 1800s, wealthy Americans brought home from aristocratic Europe the bourgeois practice of tipping, meaning to impress by providing inferior laborers with spare change. And many employers were delighted at being able to hire formerly enslaved African Americans and pay them nothing, making them rely solely on tips.

Yet Americans were angered by tipping, claiming that it was anti-democratic and would only contribute to classism. A union-led movement against tipping in the early 1900s saw six states ban tipping altogether.

But as we know, that movement fell apart in the United States (though not in Europe), and tipping is now an ingrained standard in American society. And just as its racist and classist history would predict: Black workers receive less in tips than their white counterparts, sexism plays a role in who receives the highest tips, and nearly one-fifth of tipped workers in states that ascribe to the federal minimum tipped wage live in poverty.

Calls for a higher minimum wage don’t often include the tipped wage, which has stubbornly remained at $2.13 since the 1990s. Sure, restaurants are required to ensure that tipped employees receive at least the federal minimum wage, but that doesn’t always happen. And sure, many employees prefer receiving tips because there’s the chance they could make many times more than the minimum wage—but that is by no means typical for the average tipped employee: The median hourly wage for servers was $9.61 in 2016.

Once a practice becomes the norm, it’s easy to forget the discriminatory history and oppressive institutions that set it in motion in the first place. The DOL’s proposed tip-stealing rule could add yet another chapter to tipping’s long, unjust history.

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