Millions of Children Overlooked in Social Security Spending Debate

July 21, 2016

I’ve remarked before on how proponents of “entitlement reform,” a.k.a. cuts in Social Security and Medicare, pit us older folks against the young.

If I had a nickel for every time the Washington Post editorial board had warned that we were taking money away from younger, needier people, I wouldn’t need my Social Security retirement benefits.

It’s not just self-anointed fiscal hawks who accuse us of eating the younger generation’s lunch. Post columnist Catherine Rampell, for example, says that “spending on other stuff — especially the elderly … is crowding out” spending for children’s needs.

The recent Social Security Trustees’ report will probably set off another round of calls for cutting retirement benefits, lest the system “go broke” in the mid-2030s. That’s not the only trigger for the old versus young framing, however.

The draft Democratic party platform endorses a more expansive Social Security program. And Clinton herself has promised to expand it, though not as broadly as Bernie Sanders earlier proposed.

So we should expect her and her surrogates to press the issue during the campaign — and Trump to insist he’ll leave Social Security alone, though he’s hinted at possible changes affecting future generations.

“Our goal,” he says, “is to keep the promises made to Americans through our Social Security program.” So for him, as for the notably more progressive and forthcoming Democrats, the focus remains on what the program does and should do for seniors.

A new report offers a genuinely new perspective on Social Security benefits — one that should, at the very least, disrupt the conventional framing. That’s just what the Center for Global Policy Solutions, which produced it, intends.

Turns out that the benefits provide crucial support to far more children than the Social Security Administration’s data show — more than twice as many, in fact, in 2014, the latest year the analysts had figures for.

This means, among other things, that the benefits lift far more children out of poverty than the Census Bureau’s reports identify. The latest puts the total at 2.2% of the age group. But the Center reports a 17.3% reduction in the child poverty rate.

These large differences stem from what benefits analyses include. The Census Bureau considers only benefits that go to children directly — not from the Supplemental Security Income program, which it reports separately, but from the programs for former workers and their dependents.

Children generally receive benefits directly when a wage-earning or formerly wage-earning parent dies or becomes too disabled to work anymore. In special cases, they may receive them when they’re cared for — and financially supported — by grandparents who themselves have retirement benefits.

The millions “overlooked, but not forgotten,” as the report’s subtitle calls them, are children who benefit indirectly because they live in households where somebody else receives Social Security benefits — or perhaps more than one somebody.

For all families with children, Social Security has become a more important source of income, the Center says, because total income — presumably, including wages and/or retirement accounts — has either stagnated or declined.

Social Security benefits that children received both directly and indirectly accounted for 39% of family income — again, in 2014. A much larger share for black children and their families — 46%, an increase of more than 9% since 2001.

This in itself speaks volumes about the anti-poverty effects of Social Security — and volumes about what will happen to children and their families if federal policymakers decide to save the program by measures leading Republicans (and our very Democratic President) have proposed in the past.

One, as I’ve written before, would further increase the retirement age for claiming benefits. That would surely throw more multi-generational families into poverty — and more that consist of only grandparents and their grandkids.

Another, no longer favored by Obama, would make cost-of-living adjustments even smaller, though the COLA measure now used apparently understates what seniors must spend to meet their basic needs.

The Center instead endorses a mix of measures to shore up the Social Security Trust Fund — all recommended by a panel of experts that it and a partner nonprofit convened about five years ago.

We’ve seen versions of the measures elsewhere — scrapping the cap on earned income subject to payroll taxes, for example, and reducing the benefits paid to former high-earners. The Center would fold in a small, gradual increase in the payroll tax rate, split between employers and employees. This too has been floated before.

Everybody from left to right knows we’ve got to do something because Social Security beneficiaries will otherwise receive less than they’re entitled to long about 2035. And the sooner we do something to protect them, the less drastic it will have to be.

The Center’s report should create a greater sense of urgency, if needed among advocates, analysts and op-ed writers who sometimes frame Social Security spending as a threat to children in need.

First Focus President Bruce Lesley tweets a line from the inimitable Stephen Colbert: “If we don’t cut expensive things like Head Start, child nutrition programs, and teachers, what sort of future are we leaving for our children?”

We know now we could ask the same ironic question about Social Security benefits.

Restaurant Associations Don’t Speak for the Industry on Tip Credit Wages

July 18, 2016

Some of you, I’m sure, feel I’ve gone on plenty long enough about the tip credit wage. But there’s a piece of the story I’ve merely hinted at — and one that merits a tad more.

It has to do with the commonly used term “restaurant industry” as the leading force against any increase in the tip credit wage. The “industry” generally means the National Restaurant Association and/or its state affiliates, including one in the Washington metro area.

Yet neither this NRA nor its affiliates represent all restaurants when they advocate against changes in the tip credit wage.

Nor did the then-head of the NRA when he persuaded Congress to freeze the wage, rather than let it rise, as it always had, when the federal minimum increased — this in exchange for no lobbying against the then-pending increase.

Basically, far from all restaurant owners benefit from the sub-minimum wage. Some that could, i.e., those that provide table service and perhaps have bars, choose to pay their tipped workers more than they have to.

Restaurant Opportunities Council United highlighted a handful in Taking the High Road — its best-practices guide.

Small Business Trends more recently reported no-tipping policies in at least 18 New York City restaurants. Some of shifted to service charges. Others to prices that factor in their higher labor costs.

Beefs Against Eliminating the Tip Credit Wage Need Heavy Dose of Salt

July 14, 2016

The restaurant industry, less its large fast food component has led the charge against any increase in the tip credit wage — and so, of course, against proposals to eliminate it.

We saw this again — and its relative success — when the DC Council, with the Mayor’s consent decided to raise the tip credit wage to just $5.00 an hour by 2020, rather than run the high risk that voters would approve $15 an hour for all District workers local labor laws can cover.

Seems that the Council hearkened, as it has in the past to the metro area restaurant association, the members it rallied and some tipped workers they’d panicked, if not coerced into testifying.

We’ve been round this barn before. And we’ll go round it again — perhaps as soon as next year in the District and almost surely elsewhere. Perhaps even in Congress, given the draft Democratic party platform, though a wipe-out of the tip credit wage nationwide seems a distant prospect.

Here then, as promised, are the tip credit supporters’ major arguments — and why we should take them with a heavy dose of salt.

Supporters of the extremely low tip credit wage claim that restaurant workers are already doing just fine. The National Restaurant Association, for example, says that median wait server earnings range from $16 to $22 an hour.

No doubt some servers make a pretty good living. Here in the District, we’ve got a restaurant where a meal costs as much as $275 per person, drinks not included.

Even a teetotaling party of four would conventionally add $220 to the bill. Assuming the person who waited on them got the whole tip, as we shouldn’t, s/he’d earn many times the minimum wage.

Servers at pricey restaurants are obviously not typical. The median hourly wage for tipped wait servers in the District was $9.58 an hour, according tothe latest Bureau of Labor Statistics estimate.

This, say the National Employment Law Project and Restaurant Opportunities Council United, includes tips. If so, nearly half the tipped wait servers earned less than needed to lift a three-person family over the federal poverty line, assuming (again, as we shouldn’t) a full-time, year round job.

Restaurant spokespersons also claim that employees will earn less if not paid the tip credit wage because customers won’t leave tips anymore — the old “harm those intended to help” argument we usually hear when the issue is a minimum wage increase.

Yet wait servers and bartenders in states that have no tip credit wage still generally receive tips, NELP and ROC United report. They, in fact, earn 20% more than those in states with the lowest federally-permissible tip credit wage — and 12.5% more in states that, like the District, have a higher tip credit wage.

Those who reported the highest median tips worked in San Francisco, which hasn’t had a tip credit wage in at least 25 years. So customers clearly don’t give up tipping — or even, it would seem, scrimp on tips — when they know that all the extra they pay goes to the people who serve them.

Business interests don’t dwell overmuch on how eliminating — or even raising — the tip credit wage would erode workers’ bottom lines, however. It’s their own bottom lines they focus on.

Policymakers get an earful about very low profit margins — how restaurant owners barely make out as it is, how small businesses (which many sit-down restaurants aren’t) will fold if their labor costs rise.

Here again, we can look to states with no tip credit — assuming, as I think we can, that employment indicates industry growth.

Restaurants and other businesses in what the Bureau of Labor Statistics terms the leisure and hospitality sector have expanded more in non-tip credit states than others, the Economic Policy Institute reports.

The National Restaurant Association sees no reversal of the trend ahead. On the contrary, it projects a 10.1% increase in California’s restaurant employment over the next 10 years. The Nevada industry can look forward to needing 12.9% more workers, lack of a tip credit wage notwithstanding.

Here in the District, elected officials got another warning. Businesses that can’t pay sub-minimum wages anymore will move to Virginia, where they still can — and pay only $7.25 an hour to non-tipped workers too.

How likely does that seem for restaurants, bars, hair salons and the like? They believe their customers will travel long distances, rather than patronize conveniently-located competitors? They believe they won’t have to compete with suburban business that have developed loyal customers?

But I suppose it’s fair to imagine that some businesses couldn’t turn a profit if they had to pay all workers at least the minimum wage. Perhaps they need to change their business model — charge somewhat higher prices, for example, or tack on a service charge, as some restaurants already do.

Or they could automate functions now performed by human beings. Industry spokespersons say that’s exactly what restaurants will do — another harm to those intended to help. But they’ll invest in labor-reducing technologies anyway if they can afford to.

Chili’s, often cited as a warning, has put tablets on tables for customers to place their orders in nearly all the restaurants it operates, not only those in the relatively few states with no tip credit wage.

But say some businesses truly can’t survive if they have to pay workers more.That would mean job losses, as industry spokespersons say. But it could also mean new job openings.

Customers, after all, won’t start cooking all their meals that home because the restaurant they’ve frequented closed — or start cutting their own hair. And former tip credit workers in businesses that cope will have more to spend. That could mean job openings in other retail businesses.

In any event, we’ve got a matter of principle here — the same that applies to all labor standards, e.g., workplace safety rules, prohibitions against wage theft.

Speaking of minimum wage increases generally, Professor David Howell refers to “[t]he moral, social, economic, and political benefits of a much higher standard of living from work.”

We should, he argues, weigh these against prospective job losses — even if we know for sure that a higher wage floor would cause them, as in this case we don’t.

And if some businesses fold because they can’t turn a profit if they have to pay workers $15 an hour, we ought, I think, to ask ourselves how much that matters when the alternative is a policy that enables exploitation.


DC Mayor and Council Preempt One Fair Wage for All

July 11, 2016

We in the District of Columbia like to pride ourselves on how progressive our community is. But it’s behind the curve now on an issue that directly affects nearly 29,000 local workers — those whom employers can pay far less than the minimum wage.

The draft Democratic Party platform supports an end to the sub-minimum, i.e., tip credit, wage. That would extend nationwide a policy already in force in seven states. The DC Council instead chose to merely increase the wage to $5.00 by 2020 — even less than the Mayor had proposed.

All our elected officials knowingly preempted our chance as constituents to decide whether all workers our labor laws can cover* should get paid at least $15 an hour — one fair wage, as it’s commonly called.

Let’s just say they know not only which side their bread is buttered on, but who butters it — restaurant owners represented by the local affiliate of the National Restaurant Association and other business owners for whom the Chamber of Commerce purports to speak.

I’ve written about the tip credit wage before, but for those new to the issue, here’s what it is and a summary of what’s wrong with it.

How the Tip Credit Wage Works

Employers in most states and the District may pay workers who regularly receive tips a much lower cash wage than the regular minimum. They must fill in any gap between the tip credit wage, plus tips a worker receives and the regular minimum.

So, for example, owners of sit-down restaurants in the District, along with hotel owners and other businesses like hair and nail salons must now pay their tipped employees $2.77 an hour, no matter what.

If their workers receive at least $8.73 an hour in tips, they’re home free. If not, they must add to paychecks enough to equal $11.50 an hour.

At best then, customers subsidize employers’ labor costs, though most believe they’re just rewarding workers who’ve served them.

Why the Tip Credit Wage Doesn’t Work

A common complaint — amply documented — is that most workers subject to the tip credit wage earn very little. That, in theory, is  a problem with the minimum wage itself. In practice, however, workers may not get as much as they’ve earned — or even know they’ve been shorted. Several reasons for this.

First off, workers may not know how much they’ve received in tips. Consider, for example, a wait server who’s rushing from one table to another. How’s she supposed to keep track of tips, when so many now are added to credit card bills?

Second, employers may legally do several things to deny workers the full amount they receive in tips. They may deduct processing charges for tips added to credit card bills. They may put all tips into a pool and divvy them up among tipped staff, based on some formula they’ve established.

Third, the tip credit system virtually invites abuse. For example, we know of cases where employers have siphoned off tips from the pool to ramp up pay for non-tipped workers. In other cases, employers have required tipped employees to do a lot of work they don’t receive tips for while still basing their whole pay on the sub-minimum.

In still others, employers simply don’t fill in the gap between the sub-minimum wage, plus tips and the regular minimum. More than one in ten workers in tipped occupations reported total hourly wages below the federal minimum, according to White House economists and the U.S. Department of Labor.

The Labor Department has said it knows of at least 1,500 recent cases of wage theft associated with the tip credit wage. But there are surely more.

The provision that requires employers to ensure that tipped workers earn at least the full minimum wage is difficult to enforce, the White House report says. And the Labor Department has nothing like the resources to investigate as broadly as seems warranted.

This seems also the case in the District, where a coalition of local and national organizations recently called for, among other things, “proactive, increased enforcement” of worker protection laws. But the office responsible for enforcing them won’t have enough staff.

As things stand now, both the federal and local wage and hour enforcement agencies depend largely or solely on complaints filed by workers and organizations representing them.

But workers hesitate to complain because managers can readily retaliate — if not by firing them, then by reducing their hours or putting them on shifts that yield paltry tips.

Wage theft isn’t the only thing tip credit workers could, but often don’t complain about. A survey of restaurant workers found very high rates of sexual harassment — and twice as many in tip credit states as others.

More than half felt they had to put up with it because they’d lose tips — and perhaps their jobs — if they didn’t.

In short, what’s to like if you’re not a business owner who profits, legally or otherwise, by paying your workers the tip credit wage?

The owners and associations that represent them say tipped workers should and do like it and that eliminating it would harm not only them, but the local economy.

I’ll take up their arguments in a followup post — in part because we may not have heard the last of them, whatever happens nationally in November.

* Only Congress and federal agencies can set wages for federal employees and workers employed by federal contractors. The draft Democratic Party platform addresses both — the former with a $15 an hour minimum wage and the latter with an executive order “or some other vehicle.”


New Hope for Poor Families Stuck in High-Poverty Neighborhoods

July 7, 2016

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has tried for some time to get more poor families out of poor neighborhoods and into those with better opportunities for work, a decent education and the like.

Now it’s proposed a rule that would go further — and at the same time, probably make more housing more affordable in neighborhoods that will remain high-poverty, at least for now.

The proposal builds on a pilot that addresses a fundamental problem with the way HUD effectively caps rents for households with Housing Choice vouchers.

What HUD Does to Set Maximum Rents

Setting the maximum rents for units vouchers will subsidize is a two-step process — and more complex than I think one needs to understand in order to grasp either the problem or the solution.

Basically, HUD sets fair market rents based on what renters who recently moved in pay for decent, modestly-priced housing units. One FMR for a no-bedroom unit, another for a one-bedroom unit and so forth.

The FMRs reflect these rents throughout a metropolitan area the federal government has carved out based on how far workers commute to and from their jobs. These are, for the most part, counties, though some housing markets HUD defines are broader.

Local housing authorities then use the FMRs to set maximum rents that vouchers will subsidize. They’ve got some flexibility, but within a fairly narrow band defined by the FMRs for the market they operate in.

How the FMRs Limit Housing Choice

Housing markets may encompass neighborhoods with widely varying rents, as anyone who’s looked for a unit in a city or nearby suburb knows.

The high-rent neighborhoods are, of course, those with so-called amenities that better-off households can and will pay for, e.g., good schools, convenient public transportation, nearby grocery stores, relative safety on the streets.

The low-rent neighborhoods contrariwise. So they’re typically where most poor and near-poor families perforce live, including those with vouchers.

HUD boosts the FMRs when very few neighborhoods are home to unusually high numbers of voucher holders because so few units meet the regular FMR-based payment standards in the rest.

But the FMRs still apply to the entire metro area. The boost merely uses the median rents for the area, rather than the 40th percentile. So families with vouchers are still priced out of many high-opportunity neighborhoods, as HUD (and others) call them.

At the same time, landlords in low-opportunity neighborhoods charge more than they otherwise could because the FMR-based payment standards will cover higher rents than they could get on the open market.

They also have an insurance, of sorts, that they’ll get regularly paid at least a goodly portion of what’s owed. So they recruit voucher holders, an in-depth study of tenant “sorting” in Baltimore suggests.

That, of course, reduces housing choice for the majority of low-income people, since fewer than one in four households have vouchers. They must rent units that don’t meet the safety and other qualify standards public housing authorities require, pay far more than they can afford or both.

The perverse incentives built into Housing Choice help account for the high concentrations of poor and near-poor people in poor neighborhoods — and, not coincidentally, for persistent housing segregation, as the Baltimore researcher explains.

How HUD Plans to Change FMRs

The rule HUD proposes would make rent caps much more sensitive to rental costs in metro areas that meet certain criteria — ballparked by HUD at thirty-one.

It would set small area FMRs — specifically, one for each zip code within the select metro areas. So families would get higher subsidies if they found landlords that would rent to them in better neighborhoods.

And landlords couldn’t charge as much in high-poverty neighborhoods. This would not only reap savings to partly offset the costs of vouchers in high-opportunity neighborhoods. It would also probably make more units more affordable for poor and near-poor families without them.

What Will Probably Happen and What Should

The period for public comments on the proposed rule just ended. We’ll probably see a final rule before year’s end — in part to amplify the HUD Secretary’s legacy of efforts to fulfill the promise of the Fair Housing Act.

Like that promise itself, the promise of more choice for Housing Choice voucher holders will become a reality only if the next administration doesn’t backtrack — and then only if local housing authorities act affirmatively.

It’s one thing to adjust rent caps, quite another to make sure that families understand the new opportunities they have — and to help them find places to rent in neighborhoods unfamiliar to them.

That will require, among other things, persuading landlords to accept them as tenants when they can’t jack up their rents, as landlords in high-poverty neighborhoods have.

Even in the best of cases, the small area FMRs will be only one better tool in the affordable housing toolkit. We’ll still need more funding to help finance the construction of more affordable housing — and preservation of what already exists. We’ll need zoning to support both.

We’ll need more funding for housing vouchers too, of course. Because, as things stand now, we’ve got some 7.2 million households whose choice is whether to stave off eviction by paying more than half their income for rent or to have food on the table till they’re kicked out.


What Would June Think of the Hostilities Toward Immigrants?

July 5, 2016

Many years ago, when I was a graduate student, I inherited June when a fellow graduate student left the Berkeley area. She was a precious gift in more ways than I expected.

June cleaned my house as I never did and no one has since. While she cleaned, I edited the very long novel she’d written — essentially converting words and phrases into colloquial American English.

She needed the edit — and it was the only compensation she wanted — because she’d come to this country from China, with only the English she’d learned at school and had to become more fluent just be listening and figuring out what people meant.

The novel was her effort to tell English speakers about what she’d witnessed during the Second World War and the Communist takeover afterwards. Parts of it were truly brilliant. So reading it was part of the gift.

Talking with June was another part. We’d sit at the kitchen table for brief conversations before tackling our separate tasks. We generally talked about word changes I’d made, but not always. June was a sharp observer and intellectually curious.

I recall her asking me one day what she could read about “brothers fighting brothers.” I understood she meant our Civil War — much on her mind, given her post-war time on the mainland before she fled to Taiwan.

Fled alone, with her young son because the air force pilot she’d married, over her parents’ objections, wanted to have concubines when he returned home.

She’d lose face, she said, if she went back to her parents. Instead, she bravely moved here, where she knew no one — or anything about working for a living. Yet she found enough work that paid enough to support herself and “the boy.”

She managed somehow to find time for the novel, while still paying for rent, food and the like, but only after she’d also paid for at least some of her son’s college costs.

I think of June now because I wonder what she’d think about our country today. We surely do have a version of “brother against brother” — several versions actually.

June, I know, would disapprove of in-your-face actions and shoving at political rallies. She had very strong feelings about decorum. She’d remark on the shouting and shoving among kids passing by on their way home from the nearby public school. Their parents didn’t bring them up properly, she’d say.

I’m more curious about how June would view the blatant hostility to immigrants that Trump has surfaced and fostered.

She’d understand, I think, that the hostility isn’t directed toward people like her. We do see hostility against Asians in some quarters, but it’s mainly focused on high-achievers, in the conventional sense — college students, for example, and graduates with high-tech jobs.

Might June nevertheless feel unwanted — anxious even? All that talk of deportation. I’m quite sure she had the paperwork authorizing her residency. But she’d never become a citizen. She stubbornly insisted — my urgings notwithstanding — that she’d need to know more about our country first.

This had nothing to do with whether she could pass the test. She’d completed night school courses to prepare for that. But she believed she had to know more than most native-born Americans do before becoming an American herself.

And what, I wonder, would June think about the administration’s rounding up and deporting immigrants who, like her, had come to this country for safety and better lives for their children.

She was a devout Christian. I’m inclined to think she’d have based her view on what the Bible says about caring for strangers and loving neighbors as ourselves. But the Bible also speaks of honoring laws. And for whatever reason, June showed no tolerance for law-breakers.

She and I lost touch some time after I left Berkeley. That was back in the days when keeping in touch meant sending letters through the postal system or making long-distance calls.

June had little spare time, what with the still-unfinished novel — and very little money. I was short on both too, but basically just didn’t try to sustain the connection. I couldn’t help her. She wouldn’t let me. And I got none of the rewards of our weekly conversations.

I’m quite sure June is dead now. I couldn’t possibly find her anyway. But I do wish I could hear her thoughts on the immigration debate — if we can call it that. And I think of how she enriched not only my life, but the country she loved perhaps more than she should have.


Holes in the Unemployment Safety Net

June 30, 2016

Picking up where I left off on the instability that plagues so many low-wage workers and their families. The reasons I’ve cited are all rooted in those low wages — and at times, even lower pay because so few of these workers have any paid sick or family leave benefit.

Which brings us to another wage-related source of instability. Households in the bottom fifth of the income scale have, on average, only enough money in the bank to cover nine days’ worth of expenses, the Pew Charitable Trusts report. What then if the breadwinners lose their jobs?

Unemployment insurance is supposed to serve as a safety net for them, as well as other workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own — and would work at another, if they could find it.

But only about one in four of all jobless workers received any UI benefits last year — a record low, the National Employment Law Project reports. Various reasons for this, including the following.

Not Enough for Long Enough

All states have UI programs, as you probably know. All provide some workers some portion of their lost wages if, as I said, they lose their jobs through no fault of their own, according to how states choose to define that, and if they actively search for work, also a variable definition.

Most states provide eligible workers with 26 weeks of benefits. Nine, however, cut back the weeks they cover — a response to drains on their under-funded UI trust funds during the Great Recession.

So workers in Florida and North Carolina, for example, may receive benefits for as few as 12 weeks. Those in three other states will definitely receive them for no more than 20.

Most of the nine, as well as some other states replace, on average, very small portions of lost wages — only about a third in North Carolina and less in five of the other cutback states.

So we’ve got two sources of financial instability here — as we do for many workers and their families even in states that haven’t whittled down their UI programs. But at least these workers receive something for awhile.

Not Enough Earned

Virtually all states require that workers have earned a certain amount during a so-called base period — generally the last four three-month periods before the one when they lost their job.

Some set a flat minimum for the base period. Others set a minimum for the quarter the worker got paid the most and then apply a formula to come up with a minimum for all four. Some use other formulas, e.g., one based on the average wage in the state.

Even more complexity and variety than I’ve indicated here. The bottom line is that the bottom lines states draw will disqualify some variable number of workers because they didn’t earn enough — most likely those who worked only some of the time and for low wages when they did.

Involuntary “Voluntary” Job Losses

Workers generally can’t get UI benefits if they quit. A few iffy exceptions, plus some that aren’t. But the latter don’t apply to workers in all states, even though the Recovery Act offered all incentives to adopt as many as three for “compelling family reasons” — domestic violence, for example, or to follow a spouse who’s leaving the area.

Yet workers may feel they’ve no choice but to quit when constantly shifting schedules prove too difficult to manage — because of childcare needs, for example.

They may have no UI benefits to fall back on, however, especially if they knew they couldn’t count on regular hours when they took the job, as CLASP and NELP report.

They may also wind up with no benefits if they didn’t try to continue working after a job or scheduling change — or if they did for more than a very short time. A Catch 22 if ever there was one.

Workers who get their jobs through temporary agencies may face a different barrier — basically, the agency’s claim that they quit because they didn’t immediately call in when the assignment they had ended. This apparently even if they didn’t know they had to.

Other Workers on Their Own

All states generally limit UI benefits to jobless workers who are available for work. Twenty-one deny them to all workers who can’t immediately accept a full-time job, even if they’d worked only part-time.

People who work for themselves can’t get UI benefits. This may seem altogether reasonable. But those classified as self-employed include independent contractors.

Clearly more of them than there used to be, though we don’t have a good read on how many, as the latest contingent worker report from the Government Accountability Office shows.

What we do know is that some workers classified as independent contractors are independent only of employer-sponsored benefits and major legal protections. An old problem that’s gotten renewed attention with the rise of the so-called gig economy.

The Department of Labor, IRS and some state agencies have ramped up efforts to end misclassification. But truly independent contractors and other contingent workers, e.g., day laborers, will have no income to tide them over when they’re out of work.

The Center for American Progress and two other progressive research and advocacy organizations recommend a short-term jobseekers allowance for these and other workers who’d remain ineligible for UI benefits, despite other recommended reforms.

They’d get about $170 a week for up to 16 weeks. Hardly a safety net, though better than nothing.

The allowance is just one small (in both senses of the word) piece of the CAP et al. agenda, which takes on a variety of flaws in the system — some I’ve flagged and many that I haven’t. Most, if not all the proposed reforms would require federal legislation.

Don’t suppose I need to restate the obvious.


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