Morning Must Reads: Wages Under Pressure and Doing Nothing Is Not an Option

It's hard out here for a cellist!

On the cusp of the opening of the orchestra's 2011-12 season, members of the ensemble approved a contract calling for a 15 percent pay cut, reducing the size of the ensemble, and replacing the defined-benefit pension with a defined-contribution plan. The deal, also ratified by the association's board of directors, was mediated under the supervision of Stephen Raslavich, chief judge of U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and is subject to bankruptcy court approval. The American Federation of Musicians and Employers' Pension Fund, the $1.7 billion national plan that would be jilted by the new deal, has pledged to fight for up to $35 million it says it will be owed if the orchestra association withdraws from the fund.

A More Transparent Labor Market

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At a conference a few weeks ago, I learned about an intriguing effort to bring more transparency to the global labor market. The project, known as WageIndicator.org, was started about 10 years ago by researchers, journalists and trade unionists in The Netherlands. Today the project can be found in 55 countries, including the U.S. where it is called Paywizard.org.

What is it exactly? It's a web site with oodles of information and tools that allow you to share and compare wages, access basic information on the minimum wage and labor rights, and look up the salaries of politicians, CEOs and Hollywood stars. You can also take an anonymous online salary survey, which is how the project has built its vast database of jobs and salaries.

Morning Must Reads: Congress Passes Trade Deals while Families Suffer

Unemployment in most places is higher than it has been in decades, and worse still unemployment rates have started rising again as private-sector job growth has stalled and the public sector continues to shed jobs. The economy needs a boost, but Congress is making no progress towards passing a jobs bill. You might be tempted to think Congress can agree on nothing. Well, it depends on what you mean by nothing.

The economic benefits are projected to be small [blogger's note: even according to people whose models capture gains from trade but not the downside]. A federal agency estimated in 2007 that the impact on employment would be 'negligible' and that the deals would increase gross domestic product by about $14.4 billion, or roughly 0.1 percent.

This 112th Congress is building a solid record of having a negligible effect on employment. Meanwhile, back in the real world, a story that just breaks your heart.

Morning Must Reads: The Senate Chooses to Do Nothing About the Economy and You Should Root for GE

The economic news this morning makes you feel like you are watching Major Kong (from the movie Dr. Strangelove — the picture on the left) ride the bomb like a mechanical bull to our mutual total economic destruction. But our economic situation is more similar to that of Otto (played by Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda — on the right).  At first we are amused with the idea of being run down by a steamroller moving 2 miles per hour. But then we realize that we have stepped in wet cement and are thus destined to be run down by the U.S. Senate a one-eyed man with ketchup stains round his nostrils.

In short, our problem is a lack of aggregate demand and the solution is well within our grasp, but our politics are paralyzed and millions are destined to be run down by years of needless misery.

Morning Must Reads: Hard Times In Pennsylvania and Debates About Higher Education

The Mercyhurst College Center for Applied Politics has released to The Philadelphia Inquirer the results of a poll asking Pennsylvanians about the impact of the economy on their lives.

The poll found that one in four Pennsylvania residents has had someone living in his or her household lose a job or be laid off in the last 12 months — and two out of three had close friends or family members who were put out of work in that time. More than three out of every four Pennsylvanians said they knew individuals or families who struggle every month to afford basic needs such as rent, utilities, health care, clothes, or food. 'The poverty question was startling,' said Joseph Morris, a professor and director of the college's Center for Applied Politics, which conducted the poll, 'as was the fact that a strong majority of Pennsylvanians have had to make lifestyle changes because of the economy.'

The Mercyhurst College Center findings mirror those of the State of Working Pennsylvania 2011:

Over one in four Pennsylvania workers — and nearly one in three U.S. workers — have had less paid work than they want during the last 12 months. ... National poll results reveal that, between 2009 and 2011, 43% of likely voters had been unemployed or someone in their family has been unemployed. Since likely voters are a significantly more educated, higher-income group than typical voters, the share of all workers that have been unemployed or had a family member unemployed almost certainly exceeds 50%.

Video: Our New Hero

If you have been following the Occupy Wall Street Movement, you may have already seen this clip last week. In case you missed it, here's the rundown.

Jesse LaGreca, a vocal member of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, was interviewed by a producer for Greta van Susteren‘s Fox News show. The articulate LaGreca quickly puts the producer in his place, prompting him toward the end of the clip to admit: "Fair enough. You have voiced an important reason to criticize myself and my company."

The New York Observer shared the video that Fox chose not to run. As the Observer writes, "... the decision was made to leave [this segment] on the cutting room floor. The reason should be obvious pretty quickly."

Morning Must Reads: Unemployment Up, Incomes Down

The New York Times this morning leads with a story based on a report by a private consulting firm called Sentier Research LLC. In the chart that follows, the quote below the plummeting red line is a measurement of income for the typical household and the skyrocketing black line is the unemployment rate. If you come across anyone arguing that we should do nothing to spur job growth, it is probably because profits measured as a share of national income reached their highest share since World War II, even while incomes have been decimated by high unemployment.

Between June 2009, when the recession officially ended, and June 2011, inflation-adjusted median household income fell 6.7 percent, to $49,909, according to a study by two former Census Bureau officials. During the recession — from December 2007 to June 2009 — household income fell 3.2 percent.

Third and State This Week: The Guv's Drilling Fee, Bruce Bartlett on Regulations, and Occupy Wall Street in PA

This week, we blogged about Marcellus Shale tax and fee proposals and the latest state revenue numbers. Meanwhile, Mark Price kept us up-to-date with the Morning Must Reads, debunking false claims about skills mismatch, staging a three-act play on zombie banksters and much more.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

  • On the Marcellus Shale, Sharon Ward shared her media statement on Governor Corbett's proposed drilling impact fee, which "fails to capture for Pennsylvanians the true worth of this vast natural resource and fails to fully offset the short and long-term damage that will be done by the industry."
  • Sharon also blogged about remarks she made at a recent press conference on Representatives Tom Murt and Gene DiGirolamo's drilling tax plan, which would bring Pennsylvania into the mainstream of other energy-producing states.
  • On state budget and taxes, Michael Wood analyzed Pennsylvania's first quarter revenue collections, which showed respectable growth over the first quarter of 2010. 
  • And Mark Price kept waking up early this week to troll the morning headlines for your must read news of the day. Don't miss this week's posts on Occupy Wall Street coming to Pennsylvania; Reagan adviser Bruce Bartlett on the real problem with the economy (hint: it ain't regulations); false claims in the media about skills mismatch and the unemployed; the failure of politicians to aid struggling homeowners; and of course those zombie banksters.

More blog posts next week. Keep us bookmarked and join the conversation!

A Mainstream Plan for Taxing Natural Gas Drilling

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On Tuesday, I joined state Representatives Tom Murt and Gene DiGirolamo at a press conference announcing their bill to enact a natural gas drilling tax that would support shared statewide priorities like education and human services, as well as local impacts and environmental protection.

Almost 98% of natural gas produced in the United States is subject to a drilling tax or conservation fee. This legislation would finally put Pennsylvania into the mainstream of energy-producing states. It would address the impacts of drilling but go beyond that to support economic growth and more opportunities for Pennsylvanians.

You can listen to a two-minute podcast of my remarks from the press conference below and click here to read more about the Murt-DiGirolamo plan (including a link to the lawmakers' co-sponsorship memo).

Download the MP3

Morning Must Reads: Three Act Plays About Zombie Banksters, Smokestack Chasing and the Convoy

Paul Krugman describes our economic woes as a three-act play; now you Occupy Wall Street kids turn it into zombie banker street theater!

So, in case you’ve forgotten, it was a play in three acts. In the first act, bankers took advantage of deregulation to run wild (and pay themselves princely sums), inflating huge bubbles through reckless lending. In the second act, the bubbles burst — but bankers were bailed out by taxpayers, with remarkably few strings attached, even as ordinary workers continued to suffer the consequences of the bankers’ sins. And, in the third act, bankers showed their gratitude by turning on the people who had saved them, throwing their support — and the wealth they still possessed thanks to the bailouts — behind politicians who promised to keep their taxes low and dismantle the mild regulations erected in the aftermath of the crisis. Given this history, how can you not applaud the protesters for finally taking a stand?

A story in The Philadelphia Inquirer suggests Occupy Wall Street - Philadelphia is off to good start and includes more than just unshowered hippie kids. My twitter feed this morning even included a rumor that the Mayor was going to approve a brief moment of electricity so the protestors can watch the Phillies in Game 5 of the National League division series against the St. Louis Cardinals. As the saying goes, we want bread AND roses Phillies.

In the course of the morning, infrastructure — the kind meant to sustain the protest — started falling into place. After an organizer hopped up on a stone wall and called out that tables were needed for first aid and other stations, a rabbi from a nearby temple offered four tables, as did a community group called Fight for Philly. District 1199C of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees donated office space for Occupy Philadelphia's legal team. Philadelphia Jobs with Justice, a coalition of labor unions and student, community, and religious groups, agreed to allow financial donations for the protest to be funneled through it, to ensure compliance with tax laws. The stagehands union said it would have a professional sound system in place for Friday, eliminating the need for the 'people's mike' — a system of echoing by the crowd, so all could hear.

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