A Renewed Focus on Working Families By Deborah M. Figart

A Renewed Focus on Working Families By Deborah M. Figart

President Obama addressing the White House Summit 6-23-2014v2A panoply of policies—from raising the minimum wage to paid family leave—to help Americans better balance work and family “shouldn’t be bonuses, they should be part of our bottom lines.” And “twenty-first century families deserve twenty-first century workplaces.” These were two key phrases from President Barak Obama’s address delivered to the White House Summit on Working Families. I had the honor of being invited to attend this event alongside roughly 750 policy makers, business leaders, academic experts, and activists on June 23, 2014, in Washington, DC.

The President made two policy announcements at the event.

First, he would return to the White House and sign a presidential memorandum to require all federal agencies to expand access to flexible work schedules. The federal government is the nation’s largest employer with 2 million workers on the payroll. Only 15 percent of them (300,000) work in the nation’s capital. (Walmart is the nation’s largest private sector employer with 1.4 million workers in the U.S.) The Obama Administration seeks to demonstrate that the federal government can serve as a model employer, just as the President has done with two other recent initiatives: raising the minimum wage for federal contractors and making pay transparent by prohibiting retaliation against workers for discussing their salaries with one another.

Second, President Obama pointed to the difficulty faced by some adults covering child care costs while considering federally-funded job training or retraining programs. Working parents, he argued, should not have to choose between taking care of their children and trying to train for a new career. To make it easier, the President announced that he asked Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez to make available technical training grants to low-income individuals training for in-demand industries.

I was very interested to hear from panelists from a wide variety of businesses in the U.S., including CEOs from accounting firms, a craft brewery, a bookstore, restaurants, technology firms, and entertainment companies. These leaders detailed aspects of their workplace policies and programs to help employees balance work and family. Each one discussed how their policies have helped recruit new talent, lower turnover, increase productivity, reduce absenteeism, and increase profit. One executive said that in her company, when she offered unlimited sick time, the usage of sick time actually declined!

What realized these efforts, according to the business leaders, was not merely the commitment of the top of the organization, like the CEO and the Board, but the middle of the organization. When middle manager performance was tied to how well they were helping employees achieve balance, businesses did better at achieving this goal. A phrase repeated several times was that “employees bring their whole selves to work.” They just don’t shut off their home lives at 9:00 am and pick them up again after work.

As an economist, I wanted more than anecdotes. So I was keen to hear what Betsey Stevenson, member of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, had to say. She reviewed the empirical evidence on the impact of family-friendly policies on the economy and the business bottom line. The evidence is summarized in a series of new fact sheets and reports published by the Council of Economic Advisors, with titles such as “Work-Life Balance and the Economics of Workplace Flexibility,” “The Economics of Paid and Unpaid Leave,” and “Nine Facts About American Families and Work.”

President Obama is obviously frustrated with the gridlock in Washington. And the President recognizes that turning a bill into a law takes time. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, signed by Bill Clinton, was first introduced in 1985. He is utilizing tactics to try to move policy along as much as his executive powers allow without the legislative branch. It also seems to me that he employing skills from his early career as a community organizer, acting as “Organizer in Chief.” That’s because his initiatives can only be sustained in the long run if policies discussed at the White House Summit become dinner table conversations around America that lead eventually to legislative action at the state or federal level and/or voluntary changes in how businesses operate.

Dr. Deborah M. Figart is a professor of Education and Economics in the School of Education and a Contributing Policy Analyst for the Hughes Center.

“Washington Redskins”: Time for a Name Change

“Washington Redskins”: Time for a Name Change

By Deborah M. Figart

The sport of football has a lot of things on its plate. Retired players with dementia. College players that want to unionize. And then there is the Washington Redskins, a team whose owner Daniel Snyder refuses to change its name.

In its Blackhorse v. Pro Football, Inc. decision on June 18, 2014, pending any appeal, the United States Patent and Trademark Office cancelled the team’s trademarks on the basis that it is “disparaging to Native Americans.” Royalties from the Redskins name and their maroon-and-gold brand will plummet. Sales of copycat shirts and merchandise will not be prosecuted, and sales revenue will not go to the NFL and therefore be shared across all teams, including the Redskins.

Words matter. They have meaning. They conjure up images. Culture evolves. What was once acceptable in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual identity may no longer be legal and/or tolerated. “Washington Redskins” is a name that is passé—oh-so-twentieth-century, and even eighteenth century. The original pro team was not even named that. They were the Boston Braves in 1932. One year later, the new owner changed the name to the Redskins, and the team moved to Washington in 1937.

Changing a team’s name when it relocates is not unusual. The Tennessee Titans were originally the Houston Oilers. In fact, the original football Titans were the New York Titans, renamed the New York Jets in 1963. Imagine: Joe Namath might have won Super Bowl III, one of the greatest upsets in football history, as quarterback of a team called the Titans!

The Charlotte Hornets NBA team initially took their name with them when they moved to New Orleans. When the New Orleans team became the Pelicans, the Hornets name was available. Charlotte Bobcats team owner Michael Jordan changed his relatively new team’s name back to the Charlotte Hornets.

Professional teams have rebranded themselves for other reasons as well. Names that have evoked guns, violence, and sin were dropped in favor of more positive terms. Baseball’s Houston Astros were once the Colt .45s. And the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and now just the Rays. Basketball’s Washington Wizards were once the Capitol Bullets.

The Redskins have an opportunity to reboot and rebrand. It should be seized and not feared. Doing nothing is not costless, especially with the trademark decision. A name change would instead be profitable for the team and the NFL.

Of course there are legal costs to rebranding any team, such as securing trademarks, ordering new uniforms and equipment, new signage, etc. According to a recent Washington Post article, these costs would amount to less than $5 million for the Redskins. But a reboot could result in millions and millions of dollars of new merchandise sold. The fan base may expand wider than Washington, DC, to fans who would proudly wear a logo whose name was no so offensive. Sports branding experts, like Anthony Fernandez quoted in the Washington Times, agree that new markets and new business would result from a name change.

When the NBA’s first openly gay player, Jason Collins, signed this past season with the Brooklyn Nets, I bought a Jason Collins tee shirt. I was not the only one. Millions were sold on the NBA’s website, making it the #1 or #2 selling jersey for several months during the season.

My Jason Collins shirt is black, the color of the newly branded Brooklyn Nets, who changed uniforms when they moved from New Jersey to New York. Black is cool. Sports teams have been adding black to appeal to their fans. So what new color mix might a newly rebranded Washington team wear in the NFC East, a division with the Giants, the Eagles, and the Cowboys? How about black and orange—which would really be black. After all, “Orange is the New Black.”

Dr. Deborah M. Figart is a professor of Education and Economics in the School of Education and a Contributing Policy Analyst for the Hughes Center.


87% – NJSpotlight


June 13, 2014

While Washington politicians argue whether to provide more access to a college education financially, almost all (90 percent) New Jersey college graduates believe it was worth the cost, according to the Stockton Poll of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy. Yet, 87 percent of those polled believe change by colleges is needed.

The poll showed that most Jersey college graduates believe that going to college changed their life — primarily (33 percent) that it led to a better job or specific skills (9 percent). But they also said it led to a better understanding of the world (22 percent) or to becoming a better citizen (7 percent).

Yet if colleges want to improve the value of their degrees, they should provide more practical experience like internships (33 percent) or better career counseling (19 percent). Other ideas to increase value include better academic counseling (17 percent) and a more focused education (11 percent).

Opinion: Next Up on the Bridgegate Hearings Agenda – Finding an Exit Strategy

Opinion: Next Up on the Bridgegate Hearings Agenda – Finding an Exit Strategy

Carl Golden | June 13, 2014

Wisniewski & Co. have been fair-minded and diligent, now’s the time for closing arguments

carl golden

Carl Golden

For the select committee investigating last September’s access-lane closings at the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, the Legislature’s budget break comes at an opportune moment. It affords the committee and its staff several weeks to review what it has learned in the past six months, assess the value of the information gleaned from subpoenaed documents and under oath in personal testimony and, most importantly, devise an exit strategy.

While Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the committee’s cochair, indicated it would reconvene sometime in mid-July to hear additional testimony from as-yet unnamed individuals, the six-week delay will further sap the investigation’s momentum.

There have already been signs of an increasing weariness with the investigation and its cost, and it will be a difficult task to regenerate interest in it in mid-summer when attention is focused on long planned family vacations rather than following a political drama that has lost much of its drama.

Wisniewski has led the committee admirably, maintaining its focus and demonstrating his skill as an interrogator. In the face of concerted attempts by committee Republicans to force a suspension of the panel’s work and defer to the United States Attorney, Wisniewski’s calm demeanor kept the investigation from deteriorating into a partisan political brawl.

The hard reality, however, is that after months of hearings and scrutinizing tens of thousands of pages of memos, emails, and phone logs provided by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the governor’s office, there has not been a shred of credible evidence directly implicating Gov. Chris Christie or his top staff in the madcap plot to close the access lanes.

Each of the administration witnesses has related the same story: They knew nothing in advance about the scheme prior to its implementation, were not involved in any way in its planning or execution, and were shocked by the disclosures. Despite differences in specific dates or timelines, the core of their testimony emerged unshaken.

In point of fact, their testimony cemented the administration’s case that the closures were the brainchild of former Port Authority staffer David Wildstein, that former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly was aware of it, and that former Christie confidant and campaign manager Bill Stepien had some level of involvement.

The administration has stuck steadfastly to its account and, for the most part, it has held up — considerable cynicism, skepticism, and outright disbelief notwithstanding.

They all accepted the initial representation by Wildstein and former Port Authority deputy executive director Bill Baroni that closing the lanes — or “realigning” them as the two preferred to characterize it — was part of a traffic study that had gone awry due to a failure to inform local officials and law enforcement.

Their story unraveled quickly when Authority engineers claimed the study was altogether bogus and was slapped together by Wildstein without any of the normal planning and preparation that precedes such studies.

Despite warnings and early evidence that the lane closures were a cover story to disguise an attempt at political retribution and that governor’s office personnel had knowledge of it, the top staff failed to pursue the issue beyond a perfunctory “we’re looking into it,” and asking other staff members whether they knew about it.

It was largely dismissed as a Port Authority issue, rather than an administration matter, and could be ignored.

Wisniewski and his Democratic colleagues on the committee voiced their incredulity that, in spite of the intense media attention and speculation, no one in the administration undertook to determine what had occurred.

The committee, as one member expressed it, was “curious about the lack of curiosity.”

While that conclusion is understandable, the more likely explanation is that the administration’s strategy was to keep the issue at arm’s length, confine it to the Port Authority and out of the governor’s office, and play for time in the belief that it would be overtaken and swept aside quickly in the crush of other more pressing matters.

That strategy collapsed, producing a major political uproar and career-threatening scandal with the revelation of the “time for traffic troubles in Fort Lee” email from Kelly to Wildstein.

    In developing an exit strategy, Wisnewski is in an excellent position to recite what the committee’s activities have revealed:
  • An administration that chose to disregard growing evidence of possible misconduct and abuse of government power in its ranks.
  • An administration obsessed with securing political advantage to an extreme point at which a part of the governor’s office became a partner in his reelection campaign, pushing relentlessly against and arguably exceeding the boundaries separating official duties from political involvement.
  • An administration in which an ugly mindset had taken root, one which not only encouraged beatdowns of political opponents, but celebrated them.
  • An administration in which the number of “I don’t recall” or similar responses suggested that amnesia had become a communicable disease.

Wisniewski deserves much credit for standing firm in the face of mounting political pressures. Had it not been for his perseverance, none of the foregoing would have been become widely known, nor — and perhaps most importantly — would the United States Attorney have begun an investigation.

Leading a legislative committee investigation into actions of the executive branch controlled by the opposition party is a task that requires sober judgment, a clear-eyed sense of balance and proportion, a recognition that an end has been reached and a conclusion necessary.

Wisniewski has demonstrated those qualities. Now is the time to take advantage of the Legislature’s preoccupation with the state budget and secure his committee’s place as having carried out its duties in a responsible and fair-minded fashion.

U. S. attorney Paul Fishman is waiting in the wings.

Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

Who Should Pay for Seasonal Worker Wage Increases?

Who Should Pay for Seasonal Worker Wage Increases?

Deborah M. Figart, Ph.D.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie recently announced that the state has a $807 million budget shortfall in Fiscal Year 2014. So proposals to “give away” tax revenue need to be considered very carefully. My estimate of one such bill in the New Jersey Assembly that provides seasonal employers tax credits on their income tax forms for hiring minimum wage workers is equal to $14.8 million in 2014 and up to $30.9 million by 2019.

On New Years Day in 2014, New Jersey became the 21st state to have a higher minimum wage than the federal minimum wage: $8.25 per hour, up from $7.25 per hour. Voters in New Jersey and other states have pushed for a minimum wage that would keep pace with the cost of living; the New Jersey and federal minimum wage had been $7.25 since 2009. Increases would raise the incomes of the working poor and help struggling families put more food on the table. Raising the minimum wage puts the burden for adequate living standards on employers, alleviating pressure on the social safety net.

In 2013, the New Jersey legislature delivered a bill to raise the state minimum to $8.50 per hour and index it to inflation. It was vetoed by the governor. After Governor Chris Christie vetoed the increase to $8.50 per hour, the measure was sent to the voters as Public Question 2 on the November 2013 election ballot. The same day that Chris Christie overwhelming won a second term, 61 percent of New Jersey voters pulled the lever in favor of raising the state minimum wage to $8.25. More important, the voters approved language that would automatically index the new state minimum wage to inflation.

Inflation has been running about 2.5 percent per year over the past 10 years, less than the average long run rate of 3.0 percent. Assuming 2.5 percent for each of the next five years, a low estimate, the New Jersey minimum wage would gradually increase to:

2015                $8.46

2016                $8.67

2017                $8.89

2018                $9.11

2019                $9.34

Those dollar amounts are too high for New Jersey State Assembly members Samuel L. Fiocchi and Chris A. Brown, who have sponsored a Bill No. 2983 that provides certain seasonal employers tax credits on their income tax. An “eligible employee” is one employed by a seasonal business for not more than 30 weeks per year. It has been referred to the Assembly Labor Committee for consideration. The sponsors hope for it to pass by the end of June, just in time for the summer tourism season at the Jersey shore.

The proposed legislation would allow seasonal employers to claim a tax credit equal to the federal-state minimum wage gap, the total number of hours worked by eligible minimum wage employees times the dollar amount by which the state minimum wage exceeds the federal minimum wage. The gap is currently $1.00 per hour ($8.25 minus $7.25). Seasonal employees would include groups such as migrant farm workers and teenagers at amusement parks and some Jersey shore restaurants.

Let’s do some basic math to estimate the effect of this bill. The current federal-state minimum wage gap is $1.00. Suppose seasonal employees work 4 months per year, or 18 weeks. Some work more, some less, so I have selected a midpoint. At 40 hours per week, this equals 720 hours per year. So 720 hours multiplied by a tax credit of $1.00 per hour equals $720 per employee. A tax credit, unlike a deduction, comes directly off the bottom line of the amount of taxes owed to the state.

How much total loss in tax revenue is this for the State of New Jersey? In other words, how much would the state subsidizing the hiring of private sector seasonal employees? The answer depends on developing an estimate for the number of seasonal employees in the State of New Jersey.

A data retrieval tool from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics helps us calculate this estimate. We can compare the seasonally adjusted total private employment for New Jersey with the not seasonally adjusted total private employment. By selecting July 2013, a month and year with seasonal employment, the BLS shows the following for New Jersey:

3,365,200 employees, not seasonally adjusted

3,324,100 employees, seasonally adjusted

The difference is 41,100 employees (3,365,200 – 3,324,100). But not all seasonal employees work for seasonal employers. For example, casinos hire extra dealers every summer but are open year-round. Let’s assume that one-half of seasonal employees work for seasonal employers. That would be 20,550 workers or about 0.6 percent of the current New Jersey private sector labor force, which seems reasonable.

Recall our $720 dollar subsidy per worker. With 20,550 workers in a season, the total cost to the state would be $14,796,000 or $14.8 million dollars (20,550 employees x 720 hours x $1.00). According to the New Jersey Department of the Treasury, New Jersey is projected to collect about $2.483 billion in corporate business taxes in Fiscal Year 2014. The tax credit for seasonal employees would therefore amount to a 0.6 percent reduction in tax revenue.

By 2019, the state minimum wage could be $9.34 per hour. Assuming no growth in the number of seasonal employees by 2019, the cost to the state would be $30.9 million dollars in 2019 (20,550 employees x 720 hours x $2.09). The subsidy would be $1,504 per worker per year, reducing corporate tax revenue by about 1.2 percent. Of course, if the minimum wage is subsidized for seasonal but not permanent employees, there could be perverse incentives. For instance, Jersey shore restaurants that try to remain open during the winter, with pared down staff, may opt to close to meet the definition of “seasonal employer.” Another example is the inducement to cut labor costs. For employers who used to pay seasonal employees 50 cents an hour or more above the minimum wage, they would be incentivized to cut that wage down to the minimum to quality for the tax credit.

One may think that this is costing the state a lot or just a little. My point is this: we should have a reliable estimate of the cost of the Assembly bill by the New Jersey Office of Legislative Services. Finally, we should ask ourselves another question. If the federal minimum wage stays constant, New Jersey taxpayers will assume an increasing percentage each year. At what point does an increasing taxpayer subsidy mean that the seasonal employees are partly government employees and not just private sector workers?