Even with the good news that came last Tuesday, all too much evidence exists that the basic machinery of democracy in America is broken. Election Day is like Groundhog Day and the first stories of problems with voting machines, long lines, or voter intimidation hit the wires in the early A.M. Fortunately, with progressives in control in more states than ever before, we have an opportunity to get the machinery working, so that the engine of democracy starts humming again.
A 2005 Families USA report
estimated that uncompensated care, or bad debt and charity care, cost
the US health care system $43 billion, resulting in an average increase
of $922 in family health insurance policies through the year. A New York Times
report discusses how some hospitals, in an effort to reduce their
uncompensated care costs, are providing free primary care to uninsured
patients with costly chronic conditions, recognizing that preventing
emergencies that arise from untreated chronic conditions saves money
and yields better health outcomes. Some patients involved have seen
their costs reduced by half.
The National Labor Relations Board ruled this week that a range of
professionals, estimated at 8 million workers, are now deemed
"supervisors" and thus lose all protections under labor law. What this
means is that an estimated 8 million workers who say a positive thing
about unions can be fired at will by their bosses seeking to eliminate
unions. The AFL-CIO has more here on the legal details.
Let no one tell you that the problem America faces is that our workers
are treated to well. In addition to having the National Labor Relations
Board basically sign on to a union-busting agenda, the nation's largest
private sector employer offers more bad news for workers.
American families are under economic strain, but there is a rousing
debate among economists over whether workers and families are doing
better than a generation ago-- and what that means for shaping economic
and social policy. The American Prospect is hosting a lively debate online on the fate of the middle class and how progressives need to tailor their message accordingly. Stephen Rose of Third Way makes the case that the middle class is doing better than many progressives think, while Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute disagrees with Rose, highlighting the stagnation
of middle class families incomes in the last generation, even as wealth
at the top of the economic ladder exploded. Read the debate and the responses by other commentators.
It's now ten years since the 1996 welfare law promised to end "welfare
as we know it." That goal may have been accomplished, but the results
have been decidedly mixed, both for poor families and for state
lawmakers coping with changing federal mandates.
Complicated and confusing processes, threats of punishment for voter
registration volunteers, systematic purging of voter databases -- a
wholesale effort to use any means necessary to deny the right to vote
to wide swaths of Americans. This is what People for the American Way recently called The New Face of Jim Crow.
In the last few decades, there has been a massive shift from
traditional defined benefit retirement plans -- where workers are
guaranteed a yearly return in retirement -- to defined contribution
plans like 401(k)s where money may be contributed each year with no
guaranteed return. The numbers are stark:
of workers with pensions (which includes today only 60% of the
population), 83% had defined benefit plans in 1980, while only 39% had
a defined benefit plan by 2004.