The Biden administration is trying to prohibit California from receiving billions of dollars in new federal aid because, the administration claims, the state’s 2013 Public Employee Pension Reform Act (PEPRA) denied workers the right to bargain for changes to their retirement benefits. The move could undermine state-worker pension reforms passed over the last decade.
In a letter to the state, the Department of Labor says that the 2013 pension-reform act “significantly interferes” with the collective bargaining rights of public employees, including transit workers. As a result, California risks losing some $12 billion in transportation money, most of it from the recently passed federal infrastructure bill. The administration is strong-arming the state and its municipalities to choose between tens of billions of dollars in savings for a deeply indebted pension system and grants from Washington. And its move raises serious questions about similar reforms enacted by other states that allow collective bargaining by public employees, including New York and New Jersey.
The Labor Department’s ruling, California governor Gavin Newsom said in a letter to Walsh, “deprives financially beleaguered California public transit agencies that serve essential workers and our most vulnerable residents of critical support, including American Rescue Plan Act funds that those agencies need to survive through the pandemic.” Newsom called the decision a “complete reversal” from a 2019 ruling by the Labor Department, which held that the state’s pension reforms did not represent a violation of federal law.
The Labor Department’s consumer price index surged 5% year-over-year in May, the largest increase since August 2008 when oil was $140 a barrel. But don’t worry, Americans. The Federal Reserve says inflation is “transitory” and that it has the tools to control prices if they start to spiral out of control. Let us pray.
Nobody should be surprised that prices are increasing everywhere from the grocery store to the car dealership. Demand is soaring as the pandemic recedes while supply constraints linger, especially in labor and transportation. As always, this is a price shock largely made by government. Congress has shovelled out trillions of dollars in transfer payments over the past year, and the Fed has rates at zero while the economy may be growing at a 10% annual rate.
The personal savings rate in April was 14.9%, double what it was before the pandemic. Record low mortgage interest rates have enabled homeowners to lower their monthly payments to burn more cash on other things. Congress’s $300 unemployment bonus and other welfare payments for not working have contributed to an enormous worker shortage, which is magnifying supply shortages.
All of this is showing up in higher prices. Over the last 12 months, core inflation excluding food and energy is up 3.8% and much more for used cars (29.7%), airline fares (24.1%), jewelry (14.7%), bikes (10.1%) and footwear (7.1%). Commodity prices from oil to copper to lumber have surged. Higher lumber prices are adding $36,000 to the price of a new home.
Soon after the Labor Department released its April jobs report, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce blamed last month’s weak employment growth on the existence of a $300 weekly supplemental jobless benefit and began urging lawmakers to eliminate the federally enhanced unemployment payments that were extended through early September when congressional Democrats passed President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan.
“No. We don’t need to end [the additional] $300 a week in emergency unemployment benefits that workers desperately need,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said in response to the grumbles of the nation’s largest business lobbying group. “We need to end starvation wages in America.”
“If $300 a week is preventing employers from hiring low-wage workers there’s a simple solution,” Sanders added. “Raise your wages. Pay decent benefits.”
About 2.3 million women have exited the U.S. labor force since the pandemic began, compared with about 1.8 million men, according to government data. Many were driven out by layoffs in food service, health care, and hospitality — sectors that employ a majority of women and that have been most affected by the economic slowdown. Others left their jobs voluntarily, forced to stay home and care for children suddenly unable to attend school or daycare.
As a result, female participation in the workforce has dropped to 57%, a level not seen since 1988. The situation is dire enough that U.S. President Joe Biden called it “a national emergency.” With schools reopening and vaccines becoming more widely available, there is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, but questions remain about whether working women will recover from such a deep setback.
Age. Minimum wage workers tend to be young. Although workers under age 25 represented just under one-fifth of hourly paid workers, they made up 48 percent of those paid the federal minimum wage or less. Among employed teenagers (ages 16 to 19) paid by the hour, about 5 percent earned the minimum wage or less, compared with 1 percent of workers age 25 and older. (See tables 1 and 7.)
Immediately before the pandemic hit New York, for weeks ending in late February and early March 2020, statewide UI claims averaged around 167,000. Those claims almost doubled to over 314,000, as the shutdown went into effect, starting a weeks-long upward spike that reached more than 3.1 million in mid-May. The historic peak of nearly 3.4 million claimants came in the last week of May 2020. The totals from May onward include claimants under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program (PUA) which provides benefits to individuals not traditionally eligible for unemployment assistance because of self-employment or certain other reasons. (Due to the PUA and other factors, the numbers of workers claiming unemployment benefits differ from the count of those officially counted as unemployed, which peaked in New York State at 1.5 million or 15.9 percent of the labor force in July 2020.)
The longstanding, regular State program of UI benefits funded by employer contributions was the only source of benefits for the first six weeks shown in the graph and continued to fund the largest numbers of claims into early August. (These payments were supplemented by additional federally funded benefits of $600 or $300 weekly for much, though not all, of the period shown.)
Author(s): Thomas DiNapoli
Publication Date: 4 March 2021
Publication Site: Office of the New York Comproller
Money managers are lobbying to scrap a Trump-era rule that makes it difficult for 401(k) plans to invest in socially focused funds.
The Labor Department rule, announced in October, imposed restrictions on what can and can’t be offered as company 401(k) funds. One result is that plans can’t use funds with nonfinancial goals as default investments for employees.
That means 401(k) overseers and managers need to show that environmental, social and governance strategies can boost financial returns—a challenge for the nascent industry. ESG-focused funds are a growing profit center for asset managers.
Lobbyists representing managers, pensions and retirees began making calls to the Biden transition team in the weeks after the rule was announced. Some lobbyists urged the incoming administration to agree not to enforce the rule and place it under review, said people familiar with the matter.
Still, a higher minimum wage puts pressure on smaller businesses that can’t raise wages as easily as large companies, which can adapt by deploying labor-saving technology or modestly adjusting hours for large workforces, said Jonathan Meer, an economist at Texas A&M University.
“It’s a lot harder for Joe’s Hardware,” he said. “We should take note that Amazon — the place with no cashiers — is the one calling for a higher minimum wage.”
Fewer than 250,000 people in the nation’s workforce of 140 million last year were paid exactly the federal minimum wage, which hasn’t changed since 2009, the Labor Department said last week.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has vowed to work with both parties as Labor Department secretary to address the hundreds of underfunded multiemployer pension plans in the U.S. that are now in danger of collapsing.
The big problem standing in his way? Congress has that power, not the U.S. Labor Department, according to labor attorneys and industry insiders. Which means that if Walsh is confirmed by the full Senate for the Cabinet spot, the two-term mayor will have to rely on his organized-labor background and a unique propensity to bridge divides and broker deals outside DOL’s scope to help rescue the tapped-out plans.
“The thing that is going to be pretty neat about going in to see Secretary Walsh is you’re not going to spend the first 20 minutes trying to explain what the heck a multiemployer pension plan is,” said Timothy Lynch, a senior director at Morgan Lewis in Washington who testified in 2018 before the now-defunct Joint Select Committee on the Solvency of Multiemployer Pension Plans.
This Report addresses the widespread underfunding of the retirement systems in the nation’s state and local governments. It begins by summarizing some past, current, and probable future trends of unfunded pension liability at the state and local levels. It describes the scope of unfunded pension debt in various state and local jurisdictions and calculates both their aggregate debt and per capita debt, based on states’ self-assessments; it then incorporates a variety of other measurements of unfunded liability. Results from many of those other measures suggest that the magnitude of unfunded pension liability may be considerably larger than previously indicated.
This Report then describes and analyzes the inherent dynamics of government retirement systems that have produced this underfunding, finding that there are a variety of pressures and processes within these retirement systems that can operate to the disadvantage of employees, beneficiaries, and the public generally. It then summarizes attempts to reform pension systems in several states. Some of those states now have relatively sound retirement systems; others less so. It then contrasts the requirements that govern most private-sector pensions to the relatively relaxed regulatory regimes of state and local government pensions, concluding that adoption of rules similar to those governing private sector requirements would likely have positive consequences if implemented for state and local government pension plans and their beneficiaries.
The nation’s experience with unfunded pension liability at the state and local government levels may provide some lessons for policymakers; this Report concludes with several recommendations in this area.
Author(s): Daniel Greenberg: Senior Policy Advisor in the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service; Jay Sirot: Special Assistant in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy
The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that $63 billion – possibly more – has been paid out by state unemployment offices. California’s unemployment system alone says it paid out more than $11 billion to scammers in 2020. But who are these scammers? And how have they been able to collect upwards of $63 billion – including at least $330 million from Ohio? Here are some answers.
At least 70 percent of the bogus unemployment claims originated overseas in countries such as Nigeria, according to Haywood Talcove, CEO of the security firm LexisNexis Risk Solutions, citing data from a dozen states (Ohio isn’t one of them) that have hired his firm to help secure their unemployment systems.
A large portion of these scams are conducted by organized crime rings with names like “Scattered Canary” and “Yahoo Boys,” Hall said. “They literally just live in compounds and all they do, 24/7 is try to figure out how to trick people into stealing their identity and, you know, stripping their bank account of funds,” he said.