Commentary

Labor expert: Some obvious things the General Assembly can do if it cares about workers (Video)

The North Carolina AFL-CIO is releasing a three-part video series prior to the opening of the 2016 legislative session next Monday featuring veteran North Carolina labor lawyer Mike Okun. In the brief videos, Okun explore three topics of great importance to North Carolina workers and offers some simple, common sense recommendations for lawmakers as they return to Raleigh next week.

In the first video, Mike Okun gives his take on North Carolina’s serious problem of employers misclassifying their workers as independent contractors and how the current General Assembly could still pass legislation to fix what the News & Observer called a “contract to cheat” because the practice robs workers of employment protections only given to “employees”, puts honest employers at a competitive disadvantage to cheaters who can run more cheaply, and deprives the state and federal government of $467 million a year in uncollected tax revenue.

“It’s not a small problem,” says Mike. “The U.S. Department of Labor says as many as 30% of our workers are affected by this practice.”

Watch the video, Mike’s Take on Worker Misclassification:

NC Budget and Tax Center

Investing in early childhood would have substantive, long-lasting benefits for children and North Carolina

Yesterday, early education workers and thought leaders joined together at the North Carolina Child Care Coalition’s annual Early Education Forum to discuss ways to use research, policy, and advocacy to address the high cost of early education as well as to transform the early care and education workforce.

Those concerns are substantiated in a new Economic Policy Institute report that details the high cost of child care in every state. In the new report, It’s time for an ambitious national investment in America’s children, the authors outline the benefits of public investment in early childhood care and education (ECCE), to children, families, society, and the economy. They also propose that lawmakers enact critical public investments, including:

  • The public provision of early childhood education, including high-quality pre-kindergarten education;
  • Subsidies to allow parents to afford high-quality child care; and
  • Expanded public funding for home visits by trained nurses to help parents both before and after childbirth.

These recommendations would help address some of issues that attendees raised at the forum yesterday. Child care is one of the biggest expenses that North Carolina families face. It’s so sizeable that infant care in North Carolina now costs $2,677 more than in-state tuition for 4-year public college. High costs mean that many families cannot send their children to high-quality education centers—even for low-income families because long waiting lists persist for subsidies. That hurts children, families, and our economy. Read more

NC Budget and Tax Center

Focus on wages to ensure the future of work works for all North Carolinians

The Institute for Emerging Issues wrapped up its forum on the future of work yesterday. The forum brings together leaders from across the state each year to discuss issues of importance to the well-being of the state. This year the topic was the future of work– the ways in which automation and technology are changing how we work and the relationship between workers, employers, consumers and communities.

Despite the projections and well-intentioned guesses about what the future will bring, no one knows for sure what the outcome will be.  What we do know is what we do today can support better economic outcomes for more families, businesses and communities in the state.  Research is clear that wage growth and public policy will be key to ensuring that the future of work has the number and quality of jobs that can boost the economy for everyone.

If this sounds familiar, it should. North Carolina’s wage problem is front and center in the daily lives of workers and the communities where they live today.  Without wages that ensure workers can provide for the basics and spend locally, employers struggle to see the demand for goods and services that allow them to expand and communities are challenged to support the opportunities that build the long-term potential for children’s economic success as adults.  North Carolina’s uneven recovery and elevated hardship today are indicators of what happens when policy doesn’t focus on wages or the ways in which all communities can connect to economic opportunity.

On the first day, a panel of policymakers, Senator Chad Barefoot and Speaker Tim Moore, were joined by Rick Glazier with the North Carolina Justice Center and John Hood with the John Locke Foundation to discuss just where policy can ensure that the future of work delivers greater opportunity and shared prosperity.

John Hood highlighted the critical goal of ensuring that workers have the “capital” to meet their needs and make investments that support advancement of themselves, their families and build assets in their community.  This is indeed the goal and a broadly shared one that is the concern of the vast majority of North Carolinians. A workers’ ability to make ends meet and spend is what the economy needs to function well and expand.  That is why a focus on boosting wages and what communities need to do so, not on reducing the size of government, is needed.

The solutions are readily available to North Carolina policymakers today. They are proven ones that will strengthen the economy for the future. To grow wages, North Carolina must: Read more

Commentary

The future of work: What we must do to cope with impending changes

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

Commentary

Another tool for local governments to combat wage theft

Our neighbors in the Midwest Money Exchangehad a big victory earlier this year when Cincinnati passed an innovative ordinance aimed at reducing wage theft. Recognizing the devastating impact of this common problem on workers and the local economy, Cincinnati is setting expectations for companies that do business with the city or that receive incentives. These companies must disclose prior labor law violations as part of the bidding process and report to the city any wage or payroll fraud complaints received from employees (including employees of subcontractors) during the performance of the contract. In turn, the city will refer complaints to appropriate agencies and, if an adverse determination is issued, will take steps such as termination of the contract, reduction of the incentives payment, and/or debarment from future contracts.

In 2013, the NC General Assembly clamped down on local governments’ ability to take some of these steps in our state. In its expansion of the public policy known as “preemption,” the state now prohibits cities and counties from placing certain requirements on their contractors. Local governments in North Carolina do have the ability to take some measures to improve worker wellbeing in their communities, as explained in our brief The power of wage policies: how raising public sector wages can promote living incomes and boost the economy  – but legislative action is required to enable North Carolina communities to follow Cincinnati’s lead and put other proactive measures into place to protect workers’ wages.