Gender Pay Gap a Global Problem

While some nations have done better closing the gender pay gap than others, no country in the world pays women on average more than men, according Movehub.com, a website that specializes in helping people move to other countries.

South Korea was the “most significant offender” with a 37.5 percent pay difference, Russia followed with a 32.1 percent disparity.

Within the EU, new member Estonia had the biggest pay difference – 30 percent – while Germany had the second widest gap of 20.8 percent.

Other official measurements of gender gaps found the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden and Finland, along with Poland, as having the most equitable workplaces. Slovenia, however, might top them all; the Eurostat data gathering mechanism for the EU found only a 2.5 percent gap in Slovenia during 2012.

Eurostat’s February “Gender pay gap statistics” report shows women’s gross hourly earnings were 16.4 percent lower than men’s, and it was 16.7 percent lower in the 17 “euro area” nations that share the euro currency.

The Guardian newspaper raised similar concerns about women’s pay and employment in the UK within data assembled by the Organization or Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The UK’s gender gap in pay has fallen from 26 percent in 2000 to 18 percent in 2012, Gwyn Topham reported. But the UK’s overall rankings on women in the labor market placed it 18th among 27 OECD member nations.

That broader measurement ranks gender pay gaps, women’s participation rates in labor markets, unemployment rates and the proportion of full-time to part-time jobs held by women. Norway, Sweden and Denmark were the bright lights in these survey findings.

Many European counterparts are doing slightly better than the US as a whole, but they too have large gender equity issues that need fixing. How is a question we must work collectively to address. 

Posted in Economic Development | Related Topics: Job Growth  Gender Inequalities 

Video: A $9.50 Minimum Wage is now a Law

Smiling faces filled the rotunda as Governor Dayton singed the minimum wage bill into law. Many advocates, community leaders and low-wage workers got to see there hard work pay off as Minnesota’s new minimum wage has officially been increased to $9.50 by 2016. 

Posted in Economic Development | Related Topics: Job Growth  Minimum Wage 

Redlining is Hurting the Twin Cities

When asked to explain structural racism, there are few historical examples that more effectively illustrate the concept than redlining.

Redlining, for those unfamiliar, was a set of housing policies beginning in the 1930s in which federal agencies and private banks labeled neighborhoods based on perceived credit risk. Not coincidentally, the neighborhoods identified as “declining” or otherwise risky were predonimantly nonwhite neighborhoods.

Under that system, new suburban developments with restrictive covenants limiting homeownership to white residents were identified as good investments, and mortgage applications in those neighborhoods were treated more favorably, while loans were consistently denied in neighborhoods labeled “declining” (and typically outlined in red on maps, hence the term “redlining”). In the day-to-day, mundane world of banks, these maps meant bankers didn’t have to deny loans based on race to discriminate. They could deny loans based on neighborhood geography, with very much the same effect. For that reason, the Civil Rights Act of 1968 banned the practice of redlining.

Unfortunately, according to a study released last week by the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity, redlining is alive and well in the Twin Cities. Despite a clear legal prohibition against it, private banks in the Twin Cities have been consistently lending more readily and on fairer terms to white borrowers, and to borrowers for loans on properties in predominantly white neighborhoods.

“In fact,” the study notes, “very high income blacks were 3.8 times more likely to receive subprime loans for home purchases than very low income whites…” Following the crash of the subprime lending bubble, banks that had been targeting racially diverse neighborhoods for subprime loans became reluctant to lend in those neighborhoods at all. “Even middle and high income households,” the study tells us, “were much more likely to be denied loans in predominantly nonwhite areas.”

In other words, the banks that hold the responsibility for deciding who gets access to capital are continuing to produce similar outcomes to what Congress attempted to fix in 1968. The importance of these racially biased outcomes cannot be overstated.

For multiple generations in our country, white families with the same household income have been given the opportunity to own property, earn equity, pass it on to their families, and build wealth over generations. Black families, on the other hand, have either been denied access to home loans or given subprime loans that are set up for failure. Even for black families that manage to get stable loans and build equity in their own home, the pattern of geographic discrimination against predominantly nonwhite neighborhoods leaves vacant homes and neglected properties that lower the property value for the whole neighborhood.

Somebody should pay for these inequities. The study notes that Wells Fargo bears the largest share of responsibility in the Twin Cities market, representing over a quarter of the lending shortfall in predominantly nonwhite neighborhoods from 2009-2012. Community groups ISAIAH and Neighborhoods Organizing for Change have raised the possibility that the city of Minneapolis could sue (as Baltimore and Memphis already have) to recover the damages redlining by Wells Fargo and other banks has inflicted on our city. That might be a good place to start.

Posted in Economic Development | Related Topics: Financial Industry  Housing Market  Racial Inequalities 

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Paycheck Inequality is Bad Economics

The Paycheck Fairness Act bottled up in the U.S. Senate – at least until out-of-touch senators start hearing from their wives and daughters – is a human and civil rights issue. The parliamentary ploy requiring at least 60 votes is a long-used tool to fight fairness.

Requiring a “super majority” to pass equal pay legislation is the legacy of fights and delay tactics used against all civil rights legislation that emerged in the 1950s and came to pass in the 1960s and 1970s. Back then, only the most segregationist members of Congress would honestly acknowledge their motivation. More tried to cover their tracks, implying that holding up civil rights legislation was somehow humane and good for Black Americans until they were “ready” for full citizenship and economic rights.

American women are ready for equal pay. Senators’ arguments that equal wages would lead to women’s job losses are convoluted, patronizing reasoning. Women do the work of men. But they get paid about 80 cents to a man's dollar.

The Minnesota Legislature, to its credit, is considering legislation to overcome this inequity regardless of what the dysfunctional Congress might do. Karen McVeigh offered a thorough look at the U.S. bill and the rationale behind it April 8 in the UK’s Guardian newspaper.

She cites a National Partnership for Women and Families study that found the disparity ranges from 64 cents to 90 cents for American women in different jobs and geography. A separate report from the MSN Money staff found that the pay discrimination extends to even fields where women dominate the workforce. This includes elementary school teachers and social workers, although that shouldn’t be the case in Minnesota given the state’s existing government pay equity law.

Senators balking at pay equity legislation will whitewash their reasoning, defending it as just trying to protect women’s jobs.

Last year's Minnesota 2020 Made in Minnesota report showed just how counterproductive pay inequality is, citing that women drive the retail and services economy. She-conomy.com found women make the purchasing decisions for 93 percent of food and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, 92 percent of vacations, control 89 percent of household bank accounts, 80 percent of health care spending, buy 66 percent of personal computers and 65 percent of new cars.

Given that economic data, gender inequality in paychecks isn’t just unfair. It’s stupid. Or more politely, as President Obama said on Tuesday, “When women succeed, America succeeds.”

Posted in Economic Development | Related Topics: Job Growth  Gender Inequalities 

What About Welfare Fraud?

Many of us cheered the recent arrest of a wealthy Minnesota couple accused of fraudulently receiving over $167,000 in medical and SNAP benefits while living the high life. A question many people are probably asking is, “How did they do it?” It's tough to say for sure, but based on news accounts, their alleged scheme sounds very elaborate.

Applying for any kind of government benefit requires pretty extensive documentation. Depending on the program, applicants may be asked to provide things such as:

Can some of these documents be falsified? Certainly. People really determined to lie will find ways to lie, whether on their taxes, resumes, or benefits applications. Government benefits workers have finite time and ability to verify the authenticity of every single document (and doing so might be quite invasive, such as calling a boss or landlord) and obviously don’t have a fail-safe way to investigate income or assets that isn’t ever reported in the first place.

That doesn’t mean that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater by making it more difficult for people to apply for economic supports. Given that fraud rates are incredibly low (for instance, 98 percent of SNAP benefits are paid to eligible households), making the application process more invasive would deter far more people in real need than people determined to cheat the system. We might shut out a few fraudsters, but we could also shut out many, many more people who really are in poverty but have limited time or ability to jump through a dozen more hoops.

I already work with many clients who would benefit greatly from some extra income support or health insurance but just aren’t willing or able to deal with the application process and ongoing reporting requirements.

Technological improvements might provide a middle ground between verifying more information and maintaining accessibility for people in need. For instance, MNsure has (or is in the process of developing) the ability to compare applicants’ reported citizenship status, Social Security number, income, etc. against federal records. Those with discrepancies are asked to provide more proof. Bringing all benefits applications under this MNsure framework would increase accuracy while reducing the amount of paperwork that most clients have to send in.

While the media loves a good sensational “welfare fraud” story, the truth is that most of our government’s economic supports really are going to people who are rightfully eligible for them. I’m as horrified as anyone else about fraud, and I hope offenders are brought to justice. But I also hope that we continue to improve not only the accuracy, but also the accessibility, of our support programs for those in need.

Posted in Economic Development | Related Topics: Social Services  Poverty  Nutrition 

No Matter How You Measure It, 2014 Homestead Tax Relief is Significant

Analysis presented in a recent Minnesota 2020 article showed 2014 property tax reductions of ten percent or more for the typical homeowner in ten of the twelve regions of the state. At the same time, a House Research simulation showed an aggregate statewide homestead property tax reduction of just under five percent. Which of these two simulations are correct? Both are, for reasons described below.

This apparent discrepancy is due to differences in methodology. The House Research Department subtracted the total statewide property tax refund received by all homeowners (renamed the “Homestead Credit Refund” in 2014) from the gross homestead property tax to determine the aggregate net homestead tax after refunds for both 2013 and 2014. Based on this approach, the aggregate statewide net homestead property tax decline from 2013 to 2014 is 4.9 percent. By using aggregate data, House Research was including households with income below $19,500 and above $105,500 which derive no benefit from the refund increases enacted in 2013 for taxes payable in 2014.

This same approach is not possible for a regional analysis because homeowner property tax refund amounts are not available for individual regions. In order to determine the 2013 to 2014 homestead property tax reduction by region, Minnesota 2020 looked at the typical homestead in each region that (1) paid gross property taxes equal to the regional average (determining the gross amount by region is possible because it does not require refund information) and (2) had annual income equal to the regional average. Using the average gross tax and the average income level, it was possible to calculate the refund and net tax (i.e., gross tax minus refund) for a typical homestead in all twelve regions. This was done for 2013 and 2014. The results for both years were then compared to determine the net tax reduction from 2013 to 2014 in each region, which were reported in the article.

The average income in each of the twelve regions—ranging from $55,900 in the taconite relief area to $93,100 in the suburban metropolitan region—fall well within the range of incomes that could potentially benefit from the homestead property tax refund increases enacted in 2013 for taxes payable in 2014. By focusing on homesteads with these average incomes, the Minnesota 2020 analysis included only homesteads that receive additional property tax relief through the expanded refund program, while the House Research simulation was based on aggregate data that included information for very low and very high income households that receive no benefit from the expanded refund. This difference explains why the Minnesota 2020 analysis shows a percentage decline in 2014 net homestead property taxes that—for most regions—exceeds the statewide aggregate decline.

In summary, the House Research simulation accurately describes the aggregate statewide homestead property tax decline from 2013 to 2014, while the Minnesota 2020 analysis accurately describes the tax reduction on the typical homestead in each of Minnesota’s twelve regions. In each region, the typical homeowner will benefit from the expanded property tax refund, a.k.a. the homestead credit refund.

Whether we are talking about an aggregate statewide homestead property tax reduction of five percent or a ten percent plus property reduction for the typical homeowner in ten of the twelve Minnesota regions, it is clear that progressive state policymakers hit the mark in providing homeowner property tax relief in 2014.

Posted in Economic Development | Related Topics: Property Tax 

Reality Sinking in Among Shrinking Middle Class

You know how most Americans identify themselves as middle class no matter how much or little they make? That's changing, as the shrinking middle class becomes aware they are losing ground in an inequitable economy.

New  Pew Research Center polling shows the number of Americans who identify themselves as being in the middle class has fallen from 53 percent – in 2008 during the Great Recession – to only 44 percent now. Similarly, the number of Americans who identify themselves as lower-middle or lower class has grown from 25 percent to 40 percent in that same span of time.

Similar runs at polling self-perceptions are undertaken by the Gallup organization and by a research arm of the University of Chicago. They are national in scope, but there is no reason to suspect Minnesota results would vary much from national poll findings.

Separately, notable national bloggers and commentators such as former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich and Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman keep waxing away at the destructive nature of the growing income inequality in America.

An April 5 blog from Reich connects the March jobs report from the Department of Labor with the previous week’s McCutcheon decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court essentially extended First Amendment free speech rights to billionaires’ dollars.

Reich noted that the 192,000 new jobs created in March still leaves fewer full-time workers now than the U.S. had in December 2007 at the start of the recession. In no way does it offset jobs needed by the 13 million people increase in working-age population in that stretch of time.

“Most companies continue to shed workers, cut wages, and horde their cash because they don’t have enough customers to warrant expansion,” Reich wrote. “Why? The vast middle class and poor don’t have enough purchasing power as 95 percent of the economy’s gains go to the top 1 percent.”

Bringing economic security to workers becomes even harder with moneyed interests increasing their stranglehold on politics.  

In Minnesota, there's a glimmer of hope. It appears we're increasing the minimum wage. The Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA) is getting good traction in the legislature, and we're on the way to passing a near $1 billion infrastructure bonding bill.

None of these actions alone will restore the shrinking middle class, but will help Minnesotans regain confidence in where they are in life, and how it might improve.

Posted in Economic Development | Related Topics: Job Growth  Unemployment  Working / Middle Class Issues 

Minimum Wage Naysayers Trot Out Tired Arguments

On Monday, House and Senate negotiators reached a compromise on a set of minimum wage reforms that will increase the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2016 and index the wage for growth in the cost of living after that. The agreement—more fully summarized in a recent Minnesota 2020 article—is good news for low wage workers and the Minnesota economy, but bad news for a persistent cohort of minimum wage deniers, who gave full throat to their angst during an April 7 Senate Finance Committee hearing. The following is brief review and rebuttal of their arguments.

Conservatives on the Committee referred to plans to index the minimum wage to keep pace with growth in the cost of living as an “auto-pilot.” In fact, freezing the minimum wage perpetually is also an auto-pilot of another sort—one which leads to the steady erosion of the earning power of low wage workers who are already struggling to stay above the poverty line. As noted is a recent Minnesota 2020 article:

The “frozen wage” auto-pilot is bad for low-wage workers whose purchasing power will decline over time, bad for the economy due to declining demand for goods and services resulting from this loss of purchasing power, bad for politicians who will once again go through the meat grinder of public negotiations over what to do about the shrinking minimum wage, and ultimately bad for businesses that will see episodic spikes in wage costs due to periodic legislative intervention as opposed to the smooth, orderly, and predictable growth in the minimum wage under indexing.

Given the choice between an auto-pilot that increases poverty by eroding the purchasing power of low wage workers and one that increases wage fairness and provides predictability and economic stimulus, I’ll go with the latter every time.

Another argument heard during the Finance Committee meeting was that the minimum wage will lead to increased prices for consumers and lower wages for other workers, since there is only so much money to go around. This is the conservative zero-sum game, eloquently rebutted by John Van Hecke in a recent Minnesota 2020 Journal. An increase in the minimum wage puts dollars into the pockets of working Minnesotans, who quickly spend nearly 100 percent of this new income, providing economic stimulus that will result in job growth. Furthermore, workers just above the new minimum wage level will likely see wage increases due to the “spillover effect”—a point conceded by other conservatives who spoke during the Finance Committee meeting.

A business lobbyist attempted to poo-poo a multi-state analysis that concluded that the minimum wage resulted in no significant job losses as a “meta-analysis.” In fact, the study in question (Dube, Lester, and Reich, 2010) is not a “meta-analysis” at all, but a rigorous empirical study that examined minimum wage differences along state borders across the U.S. and concluded that the minimum wage had “no adverse employment effects.” The Dube study is part of a considerable body of high quality empirical research that is more solid and convincing than anything produced by minimum wage opponents. Inaccurate smears from the business lobby aside, the preponderance of evidence supports a minimum wage increase.

Finally, the concept of indexing the minimum wage so that it keeps pace with growth in the cost of living was criticized because (1) it takes power away from the legislature and (2) the index used is national in scope and not specific to Minnesota. It should be noted that uses of national indexes in state law are common. For example, Minnesota’s income tax brackets are indexed to a national measure of inflation so as to avoid tax increases resulting from “bracket creep.”

When a national inflation index is used to automatically increase income tax brackets so as to hold down taxes, conservatives are silent (if not gleeful). Only when national indexes are used to protect low wage workers from sinking into poverty through minimum wage indexing do we hear complaints about “loss of legislative control” and use of “national indexes.” The highly situational use of these arguments on the part of conservatives show that they are not so much concerned about loss of legislative prerogative or use on non-Minnesota indexes, but rather are simply trying to maintain the low wage status quo.

Fortunately, a growing number of conservatives are recognizing the need to increase the minimum wage. Unfortunately, not many of them sit on the Senate Finance Committee. We shouldn’t wait any longer for right wing legislators to see the light. Progressive state policymakers should act now—this week—to enact the minimum wage compromise announced on Monday.

Posted in Economic Development | Related Topics: Minimum Wage 

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Video: The Wage has been Raised

After all the grassroots organizing, rallies, and engaging policymakers, we finally have a deal that will raise the wage to $9.50 and ensure it keeps pace with inflation. When phased in, 357,000 Minnesotans will see an increase in their wages, and $460 million in additional purchasing power will come to main streets and other businesses.

Posted in Economic Development | Related Topics: Minimum Wage  Working / Middle Class Issues 

Video: Board up Banks, Not Our Homes

Occupy Homes along with members of the community placed large wooden boards over the doors at the Minneapolis Police Department and the City Attorneys office, giving them a taste of what's been happening to folks going though foreclosure.  Over the past two weeks the Minneapolis Police Department has come down hard on people who are reclaiming vacant homes. Those arrested weren't given a chance to depart the premises, as has been the case for others in this situation. Protestors want to know what's behind the more aggressive law enforcement stance recently and how come no bankers have been arrested or prosecuted for leaving communities in shambles.

Posted in Economic Development | Related Topics: Minimum Wage 

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