Commentary

The Institute for Emerging Issues at N.C. State University is holding the second day of its two-day 2016 Forum on the future of work today. It’s a provocative topic with lots of ramifications for current and future public policy debates. Last fall, economist Patrick McHugh of the N.C. Budget and Tax Center wrote an outstanding “Progressive Voices” essay for N.C. Policy Watch in which he spelled out some of the central issues in this discussion along with some of the steps we need to take. Enjoy this rerun!

RobotsThe future of work in our rapidly changing economy: Don’t fear the robots, so long as we raise wages

By Patrick McHugh

The first time I saw a GPS-equipped bulldozer a decade ago, it was a revelation. The machine could take a set of plans and peel away soil down to exactly the chosen depth, based on satellites tracking the precise location of the bulldozer’s blade in real time.

Today, you probably have GPS in your pocket. GPS made a lot of industries more efficient, but it also has meant that a lot of jobs are no longer necessary. No need to follow earthmoving equipment around with two-person surveying crews, and the GPS-equipped machines allow even seasoned dozer hands to work faster. There’s still an operator in most bulldozers right now, but that may not be the case for much longer.

This is the sort of thing that has many people fretting over whether the next few decades of innovation will make people better or worse off. Some foresee robots dominating a blasted economic landscape, leaving masses of unemployed people struggling for survival. Others tell of a coming technological utopia with humans freed to follow higher pursuits, spending more time with friends and family. The reality will almost certainly fall somewhere in the middle, with the policy choices we make playing a big role in shaping whether the future looks more like purgatory or Eden.

Technology keeps getting smarter. It solves complicated problems that only people could tackle before. Computer programs analyze data, diagnose problems, and write cogent prose (will a rose smell as sweet when named by a computer?). At the same time, nimble robotics are learning to do tricky work in the physical world, like stocking shelves, cooking food, and driving. All of this means that we soon won’t need people to do a lot of the jobs that exist now.

If we make sure this improved productivity translates into rising income for everyone, we will create a bunch of new jobs in new occupations that we still can’t imagine. If enough people have money to buy new goods and services, those new jobs will make up for the work that machines are doing. But if we continue on the path of the past few decades, declining wages will further undermine consumer demand, and there won’t be enough new types of work to replace what is taken over by computers and robots. Read More

News

3838663.8ee69d5c.560_0Here’s a fascinating piece in Sunday’s Washington Post that details the ongoing struggle for U.S. public schools to handle the surge in immigrant students. 

Of course, public schools may not refuse any student, regardless of citizenship, but the surge has resulted in middling investments in public schools, despite the increasing workload, many public education advocates would argue.

From Sunday’s Post:

Many of the new arrivals don’t speak much English and are behind academically. They often come with scars, having fled desperate poverty or violence or both. Many endured difficult journeys, sometimes leaving their families behind or rejoining parents in the United States after years of separation. And U.S. schools, already strapped for resources, are trying to provide special services, including ­English-language instruction and mental-health care.

There were more than 630,000 immigrant students nationwide in the 2013-2014 school year, according to the latest federal education data available, which defines immigrants as children born outside the country and enrolled in U.S. schools for less than three years. That figure has grown since immigration across the southern border surged two years ago: Between Oct. 1, 2013 and Dec. 31, 2015, federal officials released more than 95,000 unaccompanied minors into U.S. communities, virtually all of them entitled to enroll in public school.

Read More

News

State officials have asked the three-judge panel that late last week tossed Congressional Districts 1 and 12  as racial gerrymanders to stay their order requiring a new congressional redistricting plan by February 19, arguing that disrupting the primary elections already underway will lead to “significant voter confusion and irreparable harm to the citizens of North Carolina.”

They have asked the judges for a ruling today so that they can seek emergency relief from the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary and have also filed a notice of appeal of last week’s decision to the high court.

In an affidavit filed in support of the request, Board of Elections Executive Director Kim Strach noted that 46 congressional candidates are competing in the 2016 elections, including two in District 1 and five in District 12.

County election officials began issuing mail-in absentee ballots on January 25. According to state data those officials mailed 8,621 ballots to voters, 903 of whom are located outside the United States, and hundreds of those ballots have been voted and returned.

According to Strach, should the General Assembly redraw districts by the Feb. 19 deadline, election officials would need to late May to make necessary adjustments for the primary elections — well beyond the March 15 scheduled date.

Bifurcating the primary elections with congressional races held sometime in late May would add to early voting costs as well, Strach added.

In its final judgment on Friday, the judges also forbade state officials from conducting any elections for the U.S. Representative until a new plan is in place.

Since then though election officials have been encouraging absentee voters to keep voting and to cast the full ballot, including in House of Representative races — contending that the court’s order with respect to “conducting elections” was unclear.

“There are a lot of contingencies that we don’t want voters to have to filter through – in a district for example  that wouldn’t be affected by a redistricting effort,”  Board of Elections General Counsel Josh Lawson said.

“Our message was ‘vote it if it’s on your ballot,’ but the legal significance of that, whether or not we certify that, is still something that’s controlled by the courts,” he added.

“We’re trying to make sure that not everyone thinks that this jeopardizes participation, because it may not.”

Read the state’s papers here.

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Commentary

Moral MarchThere are actually dozens of good reasons to get off your keister, come to downtown Raleigh this Saturday and add your voice to the thousands who will march for justice in our state at the 10th annual HK on J People’s Assembly. In fact, as we reported last October in “This year’s dirty dozen: Twelve of the most destructive acts taken by the Governor and the 2015 General Assembly,” North Carolina’s conservative elected leaders provided plenty in just the last year alone.

If those aren’t enough to motivate you, however, here are five more biggies:

#1 – To reclaim our state’s hijacked electoral system – As the latest federal court decision this past Friday makes clear, North Carolina’s electoral system has been hijacked by partisan conservative ideologues who will use any tactic at their disposal to win elections and cement their destructive rollback of the 20th Century. Caring and thinking people simply cannot stand idly by in the face of this theft.

#2 – To help save thousands of lives – The plain and simple truth is that thousands more North Carolinians will die prematurely and unnecessarily this year for want of proper medical care — medical care that they could easily receive if North Carolina followed the lead of most other states and closed the Medicaid gap under the Affordable Care Act. Any chance we get to remind our leaders of this simple and powerful fact should not be missed.

#3 – To push back against the effort to privatize and sell off our public schools – Right now, in 2016 North Carolina, thousands of schoolchildren are being taught with fundamentalist Christian “science” books financed by your tax dollars that dinosaurs and humans once walked the earth at the same time. This is one of the very specific and undeniable results of the state’s unaccountable school voucher program. How can any thinking person stand by without speaking out against such a disgraceful situation?

#4 – The fact that conservative ideologues are far from finished – Despite having inflicted five years of political and policy havoc, the far right is just getting started. Unless progressives push back now, the transformation of North Carolina into a larger version of Mississippi and South Carolina will continue apace. Right now, in fact, conservative ideologues are pushing hard on a plan to amend the state constitution to lock in their disastrous tax and spending changes in perpetuity through a dishonestly mislabeled travesty called the “Taxpayer Bill of Rights.” This must be stopped,

#5 – History remains on our side – Despite all the bad news, as was pointed out in the conclusion to the special N.C. Policy watch report, Altered State: How 5 years of conservative rule have redefined North Carolina, numerous important trends favor progressive policies. What’s more, as was also noted. we know what to do.

“Fifty-plus years ago, the forebears of modern North Carolina progressives faced down and overcame the obstructionism of a cast of conservative characters far more hateful and shameless than the wrecking crew running the show today. Through determined advocacy and sacrifice they helped turn the tide and usher in a new era of relative social progress and widely shared prosperity.

Now is the time to do so once again.”

See you there Saturday!

Commentary

gerrymanderingMoving the 2016 primary from its normal date in May to March was always a lousy idea — one that was motivated as much by the desire to protect incumbents and the state’s conservative legislature as it was to make a North Carolina a “player” in national presidential politics. Now, with Friday’s federal court ruling striking down the state’s congressional map as racially gerrymandered, the time has come for state leaders to admit their error and start over. Cancel the March primary. Redraw the maps fairly and reschedule the election for May — or even later. (Heck, the state legislative maps were outrageously gerrymandered as well). We’ve had a state primary in the summer before and things went just fine. Rushing now to barrel ahead with a primary in March (at least in the non-presidential races) would be a travesty.

And speaking of Friday’s ruling, be sure to check out the following statement from good government watchdog Bob Hall at Democracy North Carolina:

Don’t Blame Those Who Exposed Computerized Apartheid
Statement from Bob Hall, Democracy North Carolina, regarding ruling on Congressional district maps

We congratulate the team of attorneys and researchers at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice who have skillfully challenged North Carolina’s racially gerrymandered political districts! The panel of federal judges agreed that NC legislative leaders used race as the “nonnegotiable criterion” for how the boundary lines were drawn for Congressional Districts 1 and 12. Black and white voters were carefully segregated on the assumption that black voters uniformly voted against the Republican mapmakers’ interests and therefore needed to be packed together and isolated to restrict their political influence. Read More