Commentary

The Obama administration just helped out 425,000 working North Carolinians

A statement from the Justice Center summarizes:

In a huge win for workers, new federal overtime rule raises wages for 156,000 salaried North Carolinians
New USDOL rules raises overtime threshold from $23,660 to $47,476, covers 425,000 workers

The U.S. Department of Labor released long-awaited rules today that will allow 425,000 salaried workers in North Carolina to qualify for overtime pay. The new rule will raise wages for 156,000 workers and play an important role in helping build an economy that works for all.

In 2014, President Obama directed the Secretary of Labor to update the overtime regulations to reflect the original intent of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and to simplify and modernize the rules so they’re easier for workers and businesses to understand and apply. The department has issued a final rule that will put more money in the pockets of middle class workers – or give them more free time.

Specifically, the final rule will:

  • Raise the salary threshold for overtime eligibility from $23,660 to $47,476 per year. This will extend overtime protections to 156,000 new salaried workers, bringing the total number of covered workers to 425,000 salaried workers in North Carolina, or about 26 percent of the state’s total salaried workforce.
  • Automatically update the salary threshold every three years, based on wage growth over time, increasing predictability and giving businesses time to adjust their payrolls.
  • Provide greater clarity for workers and employers.
  • The final rule will become effective on December 1, 2016, giving employers more than six months to prepare. The final rule does not make any changes to the duties test for executive, administrative and professional employees.

The change will also provide a boost to the state economy. This is also from the Justice Center summary:

Allowing more salaried workers to receive overtime will boost the state’s economy and provide a critical antidote to ongoing middle class wage stagnation. Here are some of the economic benefits for the new rule:

  • Creates more economy boosting jobs. More than half of the jobs created since the recession don’t pay enough to make ends meet, so access to overtime pay allows more workers—especially those at the bottom of the salary scale—to afford the basics, like buying groceries, paying rent, putting gas in the car, and children in day care. Because lower-wage workers are more likely to spend their new earnings than save them, this will give an immediate boost to business sales, profits, and ultimately job creation.
  • Rewards workers for improving productivity. Business productivity has almost doubled in North Carolina since 1978, while wages have grown by just 22 percent. The Brookings Institute reports that the overwhelming majority of these productivity gains have gone to executive compensation, investor income, and stock buy-backs designed to artificially boost a company’s stock price, rather than to workers’ wages. The new rule allows salaried workers to benefit from the hours they work beyond a normal 40-hour week.

The Economic Policy Institute has more details on the new rules that you can check out by clicking here.

 

Commentary

The “genius” of the market: For-profit colleges are ripping off NC students, targeting African-Americans

For-profit collegesIn case you missed it, the good folks at the Center for Responsible Lending released a powerful new report recently highlighting the destructive impact that scammers in the for-profit college industry are inflicting on thousands of students they’re supposed to be helping. This is from a summary prepared by co-author Whitney Barkley:

High costs, low graduation rates, and complaints trigger CRL analysis

As higher education costs continue to rise, new research by the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) analyzes the debts and outcomes resulting from a wide-ranging choice of institutions – both public and private nonprofits and for-profit colleges located in North Carolina. NC Student Loan Calculus found that choices in higher education can either be a boost or a burden to students and their families.

“When borrowers who attend public and private colleges leave school,” states the report, “they can afford to repay their loans. By contrast, North Carolina’s for-profit post-secondary institutions are more expensive and borrowers are less likely to be able to repay their loans when they leave. … [T]he question is not merely one of dealing with outstanding debt, but rather whether the underlying degree is a product that is one of value.”

Data for the most recent year available shows that North Carolina’s 79 for-profit, 2-year and 4-year institutions enrolled 21,579 students. Students at the 2-year, for-profit institutions graduated with 170 percent – $16,533 – of the debt load of comparable 2-year public colleges at $9,728.

Less than half of the state’s for-profit student borrowers – 42 percent – are able to make their college loan repayment, the percentage of borrowers who are able to pay even one dollar towards the principal of their loan after three years. By comparison, 70 percent of student borrowers from the state’s private colleges and 62 percent of public college borrowers are able to make their loan repayments.

The state’s for-profit colleges are also disproportionately African-American. At 51 percent of enrollment, it is a level almost two times greater than those at the state’s public and private institutions. This high minority enrollment is in spite of the fact that North Carolina is home to 10 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The public HBCUs also have average completion rates that are nearly triple the graduation rates of students enrolled in 4-year, for-profit colleges.

“This report seems to be telling us that students of color are being targeted by these for-profit colleges that have a history of low graduations, high debt, and leave students with few if any marketable skills,” said Mrs. Andrea Harris, Founder and Senior Fellow at the North Carolina Institute of Minority Economic Development, also known as the ‘Institute’….

CRL’s report also notes that since 2012, the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office has pursued a series of investigations that have led to favorable consumer victories.

The bottom line: Here, yet again, is compelling evidence debunking the myth that “free markets” and “competition” will somehow lift up education. The solution lies in improving public and nonprofit K-12 and higher education with better funding, tougher standards, better oversight and an commitment to treat learning as a binding, common good force in society rather than a mere commodity that one buys and sells like soap or deodorant.

Commentary

HB2 update: Still more cancellations and more details on the law’s disturbing reach

The toll taken by HB2 continues to grow and radiate destructively through North Carolina’s already fragile economy. One of the world’s greatest musicians added his name to the list of people who could not in good conscience perform in our increasingly isolated and ostracized state yesterday. This is from the statement issued by violinist Itzhak Perlman:

“As my fans know, I have spent a lifetime advocating against discrimination towards those with physical disabilities and have been a vocal advocate for treating all people equally. As such, after great consideration, I have decided to cancel my May 18th concert in North Carolina with the North Carolina Symphony as a stand against House Bill 2. As Attorney General Loretta Lynch recently stated, HB2 ‘is about a great deal more than just bathrooms. [It] is about the dignity and respect we accord our fellow citizens.” I couldn’t agree more and will look forward to returning to North Carolina when this discriminatory law is repealed.'”

Meanwhile, the details of how far reaching the so-called “bathroom law” really is were highlighted yesterday in a great article published by the good folks at the N.C. Advocates for Justice:

North Carolina’s “Bathroom Bill” Is About So Much More Than Bathrooms

Printable-unisex-restroom-signThe age discrimination lawsuits filed by Maryanne White and Rick Compton were both kicked out North Carolina state court recently – but not because they lost their cases. They were kicked out because of North Carolina’s infamous transgender bathroom law.

Say what?

“I had no idea that there were two additional addendum attached to this bill,” Maryanne White said. And we didn’t either. It turns out, the law, aka HB 2, contains some “extra” sections, which have been almost completely ignored in the national conversation about this law. Writes Pro Publica/Mother Jones, among those provisions “tucked inside is language that strips North Carolina workers of the ability to sue under a state anti-discrimination law, a right that has been upheld in court since 1985.” In other words, North Carolina still prohibits race, sex, religion, age, national origin, and disability employment discrimination. But HB 2 removes any way for victims to enforce this law in state court. From now on, discrimination victims in North Carolina must sue only under federal civil rights laws, and only in federal court. This is no small problem.

Advocates explain that the federal system is more difficult to access, rules are more complicated, and businesses often have “significant advantages.” Compared to filing in a North Carolina court, for example, bringing a federal civil rights claim is nearly twice as expensive, victims are subject to an arbitrary cap on damages, filing procedures are more complicated, time frames are more restrictive, and there are only a handful of federal courthouses across the state. Ultimately, experts claim, these factors will discourage most victims from filing any employment discrimination cases at all. As “Erika Wilson, a law professor at the University of North Carolina who co-directs a legal clinic for low-income plaintiffs with job and housing discrimination claims” put it, “The LGBT issues were a Trojan horse.… [P]eople were so caught up in [the LGBT] part of the law that this snuck under the radar.”

Click here to read the rest of this article.

 

Commentary, News

NC’s middle class shrinking faster than all but two states; metro areas tell the tale

State leaders and their apologists/enablers in the right-wing think tanks keep trying to spin the tale of a “Carolina Comeback,” but the data (along with the eyes and ears of anyone who will use them) tell a vastly different story. As the latest edition of Prosperity Watch from the Budget and Tax Center reports:

The middle class is declining nationwide, and in North Carolina that decline is primarily increasing the numbers of low-income adults, not the wealthy. From 2000 to 2014, the number of adults in middle income households in North Carolina declined by 4 percentage points, the third greatest decline after Indiana and Michigan in the nation. The loss of a middle class is being driven by declines in median household income, growing income inequality and the loss of jobs in industries such as manufacturing, for example.

Deeper analysis released last week by the Pew Research Center provides even greater insight into the country’s declining middle class by looking at metropolitan areas. Of the 10 metropolitan areas in North Carolina in the analysis, all saw a decline in the middle class along with an increase in the number of adults considered low-income over the same period. Just one metro, Fayetteville, saw growth in the number of upper income households but alongside growth in the number of low-income adults.

Three metro areas in North Carolina — Goldsboro, Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, and Rocky Mount — saw the steepest decline of their middle class among all 229 metro areas analyzed in the country.

A declining middle class generates challenges for the broader economy, particularly when coupled with a growth in low-income households, as consumer demand for goods and services declines, wages remain depressed and fewer jobs get created.  Indeed, recent research into the patterns of economic growth in the United States have found that greater equity in economic outcomes across groups is linked to regional prosperity.  Moreover, economists have found that a strong middle class is correlated with employment and output growth supporting greater regional prosperity.

North Carolina’s metro areas have long been portrayed as the beneficiaries of the state’s growing economy but this latest research suggests that the picture is far more complicated. And that failure to address the decline in the middle class in metro and non-metro areas will hold back regional economies and the state’s economic potential to deliver opportunity to all.

Middle class decline metro areas

Commentary

Editorial: Guv needs to put clean water and public health first for families affected by coal ash chemicals

Coal ash pollutionIn case you missed it, this morning’s lead editorial in the Greensboro News & Record hits a home run with its take on the abysmal ongoing performance of the McCrory administration in protecting citizens from water polluted with coal ash chemicals — a take that echoes the conclusions in this morning’s edition of the Weekly Briefing.

“We hope Senate leader Phil Berger wasn’t right that Gov. Pat McCrory can’t be trusted to regulate Duke Energy.

‘The governor’s primary concern appears to be a desire to control the coal ash commission and avoid an independent barrier between his administration and former employer,’ Berger said in 2014….

…last week, troubling indications surfaced that Duke has been allowed to exert too much influence in the McCrory administration. A deposition by the state’s epidemiologist, Dr. Megan Davies, showed her concerns about the Department of Environmental Quality’s decision to withdraw warnings to hundreds of residents near Duke coal-ash ponds telling them their well water wasn’t safe to drink.

The deposition was part of a lawsuit against Duke.

Davies said she disagreed with the decision to tell residents their water was safe and attributed it to high-level meetings with Duke officials where they expressed concerns about the action. She also said the state health director, Dr. Randall Williams, was worried that the legislature might restrict his division’s authority if the warnings weren’t lifted.”

After going on to note that the issue is, admittedly, a complex one, the editorial concludes by noting that, when in doubt, officials must err on the side of protecting public health:

“But what’s most important is protecting people’s health. Last year, DEQ relied on guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when it decided that concentrations of hexavalent chromium posed an unacceptable cancer risk. That decision was reversed this year on the pretext that the levels didn’t exceed the federal Safe Drinking Water Act standard. But environmentalists say that standard is for total chromium and isn’t relevant to the well water tested.

The people near these ponds, most in Gaston and Rowan counties, were told last year not to drink their water and then were told 11 months later they could. Williams said in March the state acted out of an abundance of caution originally but found there was no danger. Some residents understandably are angry, frustrated and confused.

This isn’t the only instance of abrupt changes in direction under suspicious circumstances. Recently, DEQ ended the controversial ‘SolarBees’ project in Jordan Lake — an experiment in water-mixing meant to break up algae blooms and improve water quality in that Triangle-area reservoir. It didn’t work, but a critical report was posted earlier this year, then removed and revised. Last week, the Environmental Management Commission voted to reject the revised report on the SolarBees as well as proposals for possible ‘relief’ from stream-buffer regulations. DEQ is sending it to the legislature anyway….”

The bottom line according to the N&R:

“Yet, clean water is vital to public health, whether it’s drawn from wells, rivers or reservoirs. The state must protect water safety ahead of all other interests.”