In today’s On the News segment: There are several billion-dollar industries whose sole purpose appears to be exploiting low-income families for profit; the Department of Labor sent the final rules for a new overtime pay protection to the Office of Management and Budget; the American Legislative Exchange Council is pushing hard to privatize our public schools; and more.
Thom Hartmann here — on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News…
You need to know this. If you really want to help the poor, you have to go after the businesses that exploit them. According to a recent article over at AlterNet, there are several billion-dollar industries whose sole purpose appears to be exploiting low-income families for profit. And, without some big changes to our United States Congress, scamming poor people for money will remain a lucrative business model. The author of that recent article, Bill Quigley, listed six examples of these businesses, and explained how each industry preys on vulnerable Americans. For instance, Mr. Quigley explained how pawn shops make billions of dollars worth of small loans, despite knowing that at least 30 percent of people won’t be able to afford to come back and claim their property. Another way poor people are taken advantage of is through predatory payday loans and car title loans, which lure desperate Americans into taking out loans with interest rates that often exceed 100 percent of the amount they borrowed. And, as if those industries were not enough of a threat to most low-income Americans, they still have to face the unethical behavior of debt collectors and banking monopolies. This is why so many Americans get trapped in a cycle of poverty. When you make minimum wage, or near it, it’s not uncommon to need a little help paying your bills. But, if you turn to one of these predatory industries to find that help, you’re more likely to end up worse off than you started. If you don’t lose your car, your bank account or your personal belongings to a pawn shop or pay day loan, you will probably still wind up with more debt, less money and a lower credit score. And, good luck finding your next job or apartment in that scenario. This is what people mean when they say that the system is rigged, and it’s why we need Congress to fight for laws that put people ahead of corporate profits. Let’s break this immoral cycle and un-rig the system by casting a vote in November.
Back in 2014, President Obama said if you work more than 40 hours a week, you should be paid time-and-a-half for those extra hours. Last week, the Department of Labor sent the final rules for that new protection to the Office of Management and Budget. That is one of the final steps in the process of putting this new rule into effect. Right now, the Labor Department estimates that there are 5 million Americans who are impacted by the current rules, which allow employers to require overtime work without additional pay simply by classifying a worker as administrative. These new rules will state that no one who earns less than $50,440 dollars a year can be denied the overtime pay that they deserve, regardless of previous classifications that made them exempt. That amount is nearly double the amount of the current rules, which means millions of workers will finally get the overtime pay that they deserve. Americans who work hard should be paid accordingly, and we should thank President Obama for fighting to make sure that overtime workers get overtime pay.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is pushing hard to privatize our public schools. According to Brendan Fischer over at PR Watch, the corporate lobbying group backed at least 172 different measures to hand our public school system over to for-profit corporations. In order to complete their mission, ALEC takes funding from the Koch brothers and their network of astroturf organizations to draft model legislation that promotes “voucher” programs and weakens our public school system. According to Mr. Fischer, “ALEC’s agenda would transform public education from a public and accountable institution that serves the public, into one that serves private, for-profit interests.” And, if they manage to wipe out teachers unions in the process, perhaps they will simply consider that a bonus. If we don’t stand together and fight back, we could soon find our selves without public schools or the teachers that they employ.
The Justice Department wants states to stop the criminalization of poverty. Last week, the DOJ sent a letter calling on state and local courts to stop using fines and fees as a revenue stream, and to stop locking people up for their inability to pay. As recent lawsuits and investigations exposed the frequency that unconstitutional practice is used in many states, Attorney General Loretta Lynch has taken a stand against these defacto debtors prisons. In a statement about the letter, Attorney General Lynch said, “The consequences of the criminalization of poverty are not only harmful — they are far-reaching.” She added, “They not only affect an individual’s ability to support their family, but also contribute to an erosion of our faith in government.” And, as the DOJ letter explained, there are many alternatives to simply locking someone up for inability to pay a fine. Our criminal legal system is supposed to treat everyone equally under the law, and it’s time to make sure that our guilt or innocence is not decided by our financial status.
And finally… Since our United States Congress refuses to act, cities and states around the country are making sure that workers can take a paid day off when they get sick. As of last week, there are now 30 paid sick leave laws protecting workers throughout our nation. The latest city to join that list is Plainfield, New Jersey, where about 10,000 more workers who previously did not have this protection will now be able to take a paid day off when they’re unwell. Thanks to the new law in Plainfield, businesses with 10 or more workers will have to give people the right to earn up to five days off per year. And, workers who have contact with the public, like child care or food service, will get those days off regardless. Everyone should have the right to stay home when they’re unwell, and we shouldn’t have our kids or our food handled by people who are sick. It’s common sense, and it’s great that one more city is putting us — and workers — ahead of profit and letting people stay home to get well.
And that’s the way it is – for the week of March 21, 2016 — I’m Thom Hartmann — on the Economic and Labor News.