Tapped: The Prospect Group Blog

African American and Hispanic Unemployment Rates Continue High

There have been nationwide improvements in job prospects for African American and Hispanic workers, but unemployment rates remain high compared to white workers in states across the country. 

The Economic Policy Institute’s research shows that 12 states and the District of Columbia have a black unemployment rate at least twice the white unemployment rate: The highest African American unemployment rate in the country was in the District at 12.4 percent. (For whites in the city, it was 2 percent.) The District of Columbia also had the highest black unemployment rate during the previous eight quarters.

The highest African American unemployment rate was in Illinois at 9.3 percent, followed by Louisiana, 8.5 percent; Alabama, 7.1 percent; and New York, 7 percent. (African American unemployment rate estimates are available for 22 states and the District of Columbia.)

Where are the lowest unemployment rates for African Americans? Massachusetts and Virginia, both at 3.8 percent.

Nebraska had the highest Hispanic state unemployment rate at 5.9 percent. Connecticut came up next with a 5.7 percent rate. Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Washington state all had rates of 5.6 percent. The Hispanic unemployment rate was lower than the rates for whites in two states: In Colorado, Hispanic workers unemployment rate was 2.3 percent, and the rate for white workers, 2.9 percent; while in Georgia, Hispanic workers’ unemployment rate was slightly lower than whites, at 2.8 percent compared to 3 percent for white workers. (Hispanic unemployment rate estimates are available for 24 states and the District of Columbia.)

West Virginia has the highest unemployment rate for whites at 5 percent; the lowest is Hawaii’s 1.2 percent.  

In September, the national unemployment rate was 3.7 percent, down from 4 percent at the end of the second quarter of 2018. Nationally in the third quarter of 2018, African American workers had the highest unemployment rate, at 6.3 percent, followed by Hispanics, 4.5 percent; whites, 3.2 percent; and Asians, 3 percent.


Climate Change Heats Up Midterms for Gubernatorial Candidates

Climate change has forced candidates for governor in several states to confront growing voter anxiety about the issue in their final debates.

In the wake of Hurricane Michael and toxic algae blooms, Florida’s gubernatorial candidates Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum continue to spar over climate in one of the country’s most high-profile contests. In their last matchup, Gillum faced scrutiny for his promise to hold those who are the biggest polluters accountable, even though he is good friends with Sean Pittman, who lobbies on behalf of Florida Crystals, one of the largest sugar companies in the state and a major polluter.

Gillum responded by pointing out that he has been endorsed by almost every major environmental organization. The mayor of Tallahassee also noted that the same day Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement, the city broke ground on a 120-acre solar farm that tripled the amount of energy produced by the municipal utility. DeSantis chimed in that he didn’t want to be labeled as an “alarmist” when it came to climate change, and that he’s there for those affected by Hurricane Michael. (DeSantis has often expressed skepticism about climate change on the campaign trail.)

Fracking is a major concern in Colorado where Democrat Jared Polis and Republican Walker Stapleton discussed the different possibilities for drilling locations. Proximity to buildings has become a major issue: One ballot initiative, Proposition 112 , would require drilling to take place a minimum of 2,500 feet away from occupied structures, water sources, and other vulnerable places. Asked what he thought was a reasonable distance for drilling near homes, Stapleton danced around the question. Pressed to answer, he replied “exactly where it is now,” which is 500 feet from an occupied building or 1,000 feet from high-occupancy buildings. 

Polis said that he does not support 112, because it would be too divisive, and “all but ban fracking in Colorado.” However, in 2014, he supported legislation that would include a 2,000-foot setback inclusive with property rights for the owner to negotiate different setbacks with drilling companies.

In Michigan, Republican Bill Schuette and Democrat Gretchen Whitmer faced tough questions in their final debate about how they would respond to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that sounded warnings about increasing temperatures and whether they believed that the 14 governors across the country who’ve decided to independently work toward the goals of the Paris Agreement that Trump abandoned were right to do so.

Whitmer said she would bring Michigan into the bipartisan U.S. Climate Alliance of governors until a president is elected who will rejoin the Paris climate accords. Schuette said he believes climate change is real and that the earth is getting warmer, but other countries need to be involved too, not just the United States. (A jaw-dropping statement: There are big holdouts like Russia, but most countries have agreed to the pact.)

According to polling done by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, about 70 percent of adults believe global warming is happening, and 57 percent believe global warming is caused by humans. But an October 15 Pew Research Center poll found that Democratic voters are much more worried than Republicans: 72 percent of Democrats believe that climate change is a “very big” problem compared with just 11 percent of Republicans.

Tree of Life Vigils Assert Unity in the Face of Hate

(Miho Watabe)

On Tuesday, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, a nationwide movement of progressive Jews, led a vigil in front of the White House in the wake of the October 27 massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue that left 11 dead. The action, along with similar vigils coordinated across the country, mourned the shooting’s victims while also protesting President Donald Trump’s silence on the rising wave of white supremacy.

In an open letter, Bend the Arc leaders in Pittsburgh declared that Trump was not welcome in the city until he publicly condemned white nationalism and ceased attacks on vulnerable communities. Trump ignored their statement, visiting Tuesday amid mass protest.

“Solidarity is important,” Cari Shane, a D.C. resident, told me as we stood in front of the White House. “We have more power and more strength as people who do not believe in hate.” Ahead of us, families attempted to capture the president’s residence in selfies, seemingly unaware of the intimate gathering taking shape only a few feet away.

Totaling about 50 people, what the service lacked in numbers it made up for in diversity. Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block, the Washington director of Bend the Arc, was the first to address the crowd, speaking on the importance of togetherness before reading out the names of the victims of the Tree of Life shooting.

Among the organizations that came out to show support were United We Dream, Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), the Arab American Institute, and Jews United for Justice. In a show of multicultural and interfaith unity, spokespersons from each organization spoke of uniting communities and building solidarity to fight the rise of hate.

Omar Baddar, who attended the vigil with the Arab American Institute, told The American Prospect that coalition-building across communities was important now, more than ever. “This is a common fight for everybody who cares about the diversity of this country,” said Baddar. “It’s crucial to the soul of the country.”

Kelsey Herbert decided to come out after an organization she belongs to, Faith in Public Life, promoted the vigil. “It’s critical as a Christian that I stand with Jewish people and immigrant students,” Herbert told the Prospect.

“I don’t think it’s so political or radical to say, ‘Don’t promote white nationalism,’” Rabbi Kimelman-Block told The American Prospect, after pointing out how Republicans continued to air ads that played up anti-Semitism over the weekend.

This vigil was only the latest, as similar multicultural and interfaith actions take place across the country. Shane told the Prospect that she attended a vigil in the D.C. neighborhood of Cleveland Park that was so packed they had to hold a second vigil outside. “It was all about hate,” said Shane, “and how hate needs to stop.”

(Miho Watabe)

China Keeps Displacing U.S. Jobs. Where's Trump?

Here is today’s must read: the definitive piece on just how much Chinese abuses of the trading system are costing U.S. workers. 

Economists Robert E. Scott and Zane Mokhiber, in the most exhaustive study yet of the costs of the lopsided U.S.-China trade, report in an Economic Policy Institute study that since China was admitted to the World Trade Organization in 2001, U.S. trade with China has been responsible for a $100 billion increase in the annual trade deficit—and the loss of 3.4 million U.S. jobs. 

Three-quarters of the lost jobs were in manufacturing, a sector that pays well above the average wage. All this translates to a direct loss of 1.5 percent of GDP. Manufacturing job losses due to the China trade deficit account for roughly four out of five U.S. manufacturing jobs lost in this entire period.

Jobs displaced by imports from China paid 17 percent more than jobs exporting to China—$1,021.66 per week versus $872.89 per week. This flatly contradicts Bill Clinton’s projection that letting China into the WTO would be a “win-win” for both nations.

Even advanced tech jobs, supposedly a big winner for the U.S., are actually dominated by China, EPI reports. The growing trade deficits reduced U.S. incomes by $37 billion between 2001 and 2011 alone, and more since.

None of this was the result of China’s natural advantages. The trade imbalance and the lost U.S. jobs are the result of China’s suppression of free unions and wages, its industrial subsidies, and its currency manipulations, the EPI study finds.

Where is our self-proclaimed “nationalist” president in all this? China is a much bigger deal than NAFTA and a far more serious threat. 

The U.S. has immense leverage, as the lopsided deficit shows, because we are China’s biggest customer. Yet Trump’s China policy has been mainly bluster plus scattershot tariffs that add up to no strategic approach. 

A lot of blue-collar workers voted for this guy. They and we deserve a lot better. 

Climate Change Report Calls for Immediate Action

In early October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) got the world’s attention with a new report, outlining what may happen if the Earth heats up just a few degrees. Every passing year of inaction jeopardizes life on the planet. For the IPCC that means that keeping temperature increases in check is key to slowing down the ravages of climate change.

The main goal of the Paris Agreement, the treaty designed to foster an international consensus on combating climate change, is to keep global temperatures from rising any more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Human-induced global warming is no longer an “if.” The more ambitious goal is to keep future increases under 1.5 degrees Celsius since that small increase means the impacts of global warming on land, water, and humans will be much worse as temperatures continue to increase. In 2017, the Earth had already experienced a 1-degree Celsius increase above pre-industrial levels.

The process, which slowly accelerated during the Industrial Revolution, leading to increases in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, has contributed to warmer ocean water temperatures. Marine aquaculture and fisheries are already suffering as a result of the carbon dioxide that the ocean has absorbed, resulting in ocean acidification.

At this pace, the Earth will become 1.5 degrees warmer between the years 2030 and 2052. In order to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, carbon dioxide levels need to decline by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 to reach “net zero,” when carbon dioxide emissions are non-existent or balanced out by other natural factors, such as forest carbon sinks (places in the natural environment where more carbon is stored than released).

Warmer water temperatures and acidification inhibit shell development in shrimp, oysters, corals, and some species of zooplankton—the base of the marine food chain. Some ocean species such as bass, salmon, and shad will relocate to cooler waters earlier in the year to beat the heat.

But some species like kelp and coral, which can’t migrate, will die out. Additionally, as ocean temperatures increase and the seas rise in places like the Arctic, there is a chance that those waters will be free of ice one out of every 100 summers. (If temperature increases reach 2 degrees Celsius, the chances increase to one out of every ten summers.)

Risks to health, food security, water supplies, and economic growth are projected to increase. If adaptation and mitigation efforts do not come into play in the meantime, human mortality rates from climate events like heat waves will rise. Indigenous people, the poor, and people who depend on agriculture and coastal livelihoods like fishing or tourism also will be affected.

In order to keep temperatures in check, the IPCC proposes governments work together immediately and quickly. Some regions have already implemented plans to lower greenhouse gases, but those are still not enough.

There is no definitive way to keep warming increases below 1.5 degrees Celsius, but shifting to renewable energy sources; making diet changes, such as moving away from land-intensive animal meat production; utilizing green infrastructure, such as green roofs; and implementing smart urban planning strategies could help. It’s going to take a lot of international effort to control global warming—and it’s going to need to happen quickly.

Trump and the Political Hysteria of Rural Life

Just for a moment, let’s ponder President Trump’s claim that the caravan of 5,000 Hondurans embarked on an epochal walk to the United States contains “unknown Middle Easterners” and other presumably would-be terrorists.

There is, of course, no factual basis for Trump’s claim. Even as a hypothetical, though, it doesn’t make sense. Terrorist wannabes should want to slip across our borders undetected. Coming in a caravan of 5,000, subjected to the relentless eye of the media, doesn’t seem the way to do that. Should the caravan actually make it to the border, it will definitely be detected and then some—its members all locked up and investigated, if not sent back to Honduras immediately.

But then, Trump isn’t particularly concerned with the accuracy of his characterizations, or even the plausibility of his hypotheticals. He has Fox News and his fellow Republicans to bolster his charges by sheer dint of repetitions and variations on his theme. Newt Gingrich, for one, has termed the march an “invasion.”

With the Kavanaugh passions fading, the Republicans have decided to crank up this xenophobic echo chamber as the best way to turn out their base come Election Day. If that’s what it takes to get their targeted voters—insulated from facts, drenched in Goebbelsesque fake news, disproportionately white, elderly, and rural—to go to the polls in sufficient numbers, so be it.

And this strategy is hardly peculiar to American Republicans. The electoral divide in nations too numerous to quickly count now runs along the same lines. On Sunday, Poles went to the polls to elect their local governments, and while urban Poles soundly defeated candidates from the nation’s virulently xenophobic and increasingly authoritarian ruling party, rural Poles conferred victory after victory on such candidates in one small town after another.

Marx famously bemoaned “the idiocy of rural life,” while counting on the urban proletariat to wage socialist revolutions. In the period in which he wrote, however, most proletarians had only recently relocated from farms to factory towns and cities, a transformation with which he was fully acquainted. He didn’t write or mean, therefore, that people in rural areas were themselves idiots; he meant that the conditions of rural life—in which workers were dispersed and didn’t come together as workers in factories were compelled to do—weren’t conducive to building class consciousness.

Today, the distinctive political consciousness of white rural and small town life in many nations appears to have less to do with Marxian class consciousness or the absence thereof, and more to do with a sense of cultural, racial, religious, and (only then) economic distance from, apprehension about, and anger toward increasingly diverse and cosmopolitan cities. It’s about those residents’ perception that they’ve been dropped from their once honored place in their respective national narratives, replaced—worse yet—by other races with other religions and other values.

Such sensibilities may or may not emerge spontaneously, but to rise to the level of electoral majorities, they need to be whipped up. Right-wing parties and media do all they can to increase their potential voters’ sense of victimization, of being cast aside, of being imperiled by alien hordes, helping foster a collective consciousness more successfully than Marxian proletarianization ever did. West Virginia, the state that gave Trump his biggest margin in 2016, has virtually no foreign-born residents; in such a state, it takes a media echo-system and ecosystem to create a sufficiently intense and widespread fear of immigrants and cosmopolitanism. There is no idiocy of rural life; increasingly, there is, if properly stoked, a distinctive hysteria.

Diversity Triumphs as Women Candidates Gain Ground in 2018

Not only are record numbers of women running for office across the country, the 2018 list of candidates is markedly more diverse than in previous elections.

According a new report released by the Reflective Democracy Campaign, an offshoot project of the nonprofit Women Donors Network, it’s the closest that the party has gotten to genuinely reflecting the country’s demographics. For first time since 2012, less than half of Democratic candidates are white men.

Since 2012, the number of women of color have shown a remarkable 75 percent increase in both state and federal races. The group analyzed the demographics for state and federal elections from 2012 through 2018.

Reflective Democracy Campaign

This development is nothing to brush off: The Democratic Party made serious strides in getting women and minorities on the ticket. The numbers of women candidates increased across party lines, but Democratic women candidates had the largest increase, 46 percent.

White women candidates saw the second largest gains, with a 36 percent increase in their numbers for federal contests and 14 percent in state legislative races. Minority men candidates also increased their ranks by 13 percent in state legislative races and 8 percent in races for Congress. White male candidates, on the other hand, declined by 12 percent in state legislative and 13 percent in congressional races.

Reflective Democracy Campaign

While these trends are exciting, they also underline the enduring legacy of white male domination of American political institutions. A 75 percent increase in women candidates of color sounds like a game-changer, but the lack of women of color to begin with makes this shift much less impressive than it would otherwise be. Compared to other groups in the study, women of color are still underrepresented, making up only 7 percent of candidates in both federal and state races. 

Meanwhile, white men are still overrepresented. Despite being the only group to experience a decrease, white men make up well over half of all candidates in the midterm elections. 

This data point is underscored in gubernatorial races. White male Republican candidates predominate those contests and there has been little change in candidate diversity. 

It’s also important to remember that getting on the ballot isn’t the same thing as winning a seat. From 2012 to 2016, white men won about two-thirds of all elected offices year after year, despite comprising only one-third of the population. 

In the wake of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court and the chaos unleashed by President Trump, the report sounds an encouraging note for women and progressives. Getting more diverse candidates on the ballot is the first step toward opening up the decision-making ranks in our democracy. 

Post Office Workers to Trump: ‘U.S. Mail: Not for Sale’

All four postal service worker unions (the National Association of Letter Carriers, the American Postal Workers Union, the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association, and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union) plan to keep up their fight against the Trump administration’s push to privatize the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). 

On Columbus Day, October 8, postal workers across the county will converge on congressional offices in their districts with a critical message: “U.S. Mail: Not for Sale.” These rallies are only the latest in a series of ongoing actions taken by unions and members of Congress to halt the administration's privatization plans. 

One goal of the campaign is to alert the public. “We all get the same rights and the same service,” Mark Dimondstein, president of American Postal Workers Union (APWU), told The American Prospect. “That would all disappear if the U.S. postal office was sold.”

The administration first confirmed plans for USPS privatization in a reorganization report released in June. The report argued that the institution is unable to stay afloat financially and confirmed that a task force was investigating pathways for privatization. But critics argue that the postal service could be profitable if it hadn’t been subjected to a “manufactured” financial crisis via the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, a 2006 congressional measure that requires USPS to pre-fund workers’ retirement benefits 75 years into the future over the span of ten years. 

The unpopular privatization plan is already creating difficulties for the administration. In July, the House of Representatives introduced a resolution condemning privatization. Postal workers held a massive August rally against privatization in Pittsburgh during APWU’s biennial national convention. Then in September, two days before the unions announced their upcoming day of action, the Senate introduced its own resolution rejecting privatization. 

Both the Senate and the House resolutions boast bipartisan support. But Dimondstein doesn’t find it surprising that the resolution appeals to both sides of the aisle. “There's a very real understanding [by] many elected representatives from rural states of how important the post office is to their communities,” Dimondstein said, “and people want to protect it.” 

It’s true that Americans love their post offices—more than any other government agency, in fact—and they rely on services that will likely disappear if USPS is privatized. Monday-to-Saturday mail delivery, affordable postage costs, and the ability to access postal services no matter where you live in the country are just a few examples of services that the USPS ensures. 

Most of these services fall under the USPS’s “United Service Obligation.” The USO requires the postal service to make its services accessible to all residents and is linked to the Constitution’s grant of authority to Congress to establish post offices. Historically, the USO has shaped official USPS policy, which prioritizes access for all and quality services over profits. 

But USO is likely to be scrapped under a for-profit business model. Case in point: Trump’s task force committed itself to redefining the USO, suggesting a drastic change in the level of service Americans should expect from their universal service operator,” which would mean a complete restructuring of one of the oldest institutions in the United States. Privatization could establish surcharges for hard-to-reach addresses or the elimination of unprofitable routes. Dimondstein summed up the everyday consequences for Americans: “Service will be down, costs will go up.” 

The task force’s pathway-to-privatization report was reportedly submitted to Trump in August. But, not surprisingly, it will not be made public until after the midterm elections. While it’s unclear if the congressional backlash has convinced the Trump administration to reconsider USPS privatization, these recent actions by politicians and workers alike reaffirm the post office’s enduring popularity. 

Millennial Lawmakers: Now Is the Time to Run for Office

Remember I’m the one 

that went from being 

pepper-sprayed and tear-gassed, 

to being sworn in, 

I remember needing capital for an office, 

now my office is in the capital—

Best thing about how we did it— 

Grassroots is all natural!

That’s Missouri State Representative Bruce Franks Jr.’s rap about his journey from protester to lawmaker. A new report by Generation Progress found that young people like Franks are severely underrepresented among legislators, even though young people are the largest voting bloc in America: 34 percent of the country’s eligible voters are 35 or younger but only 6 percent of legislators are 35 years old or younger.

He shared his experiences at a late-September Generation Progress/Center for American Progress forum. Explaining that he knows what it feels like to be underrepresented, Franks said he had only voted once before the 2016 election, for Barack Obama, simply because Obama was a candidate that looked like him. He participated in the Ferguson protests after Michael Brown’s death, and noted how that moment led him to become an activist in his community and run for office.

The panelists—State Representative Mark Cardenas of Arizona’s 19th Congressional District; Wendi Wallace, Planned Parenthood’s political outreach director; and Mayor Marita Garrett of Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania—want to see young women, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and LGBTQ people step up and run for office. They also stressed the importance of grassroots campaigning: knocking on people’s doors and having face-to-face conversations with voters. 

Carrie Wade, a member of the audience who is young and disabled, pointed out that the survey did not offer any statistics about disabled candidates and office-holders. She wanted to know how she and people like her could run for office. Wade got a warm response from panel members who suggested utilizing social media, holding town halls, and asking volunteers to canvass neighborhoods. 

Millennial office-holders have to fight misconceptions. According to the panelists, millennials are an “in-between generation,” with the baby boomers at one end of the spectrum and Generation Z coming of age at the other, and there’s typically an assumption that they don’t care. But the oldest millennials are nearly 40 years old: They’re buying houses, having kids, battling with student loan debt, and need representation at all levels of government. But it’s not enough to get a young and diverse group elected in 2018; the real challenge is getting them to run and stay in office years to come.  

Wallace noted that while people are riled up about the Trump administration, something else needs to happen: Young people need to vote, to run for their state legislatures, and not be intimidated or listen to anyone who says "wait your turn." 

The Back-Up Way of Defeating Kavanaugh

Assume the worst: Let’s posit that within a week, despite the evidence of his abuses when young, his temperament when middle-aged, and his unyieldingly troglodytic beliefs at all times, Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed as a Supreme Court justice. That, of course, would create the first hard-right majority on the Court since 1937—a majority dead-set against modernity, equal rights for women and minorities, and any rights at all for workers. What to do then?

There would still remain one perfectly legal and valid exit ramp from this lowdown circle of hell. In the increasingly likely event that the Democrats take the House this November, the new Democratic majority on the House Judiciary Committee could revisit Kavanaugh’s testimony last week for evidence of deception. Indeed, the senior Democrat on that committee, New Yorker Jerry Nadler—as smart and progressive a congressman as the Democrats have—has already indicated the committee, which he’d be chairing, would do just that.

There is, of course, a kind of testimonial misleading by Court nominees that is standard, legal and all but expected. When asked if they’ll approach issues with an open mind, if their opinions will be empirically based and free from the ideology they’ve adhered to throughout their careers, all judicial nominees swear that that will indeed be how they guide themselves, though that is obviously hardly ever the case. As witnesses, they’re all umpires calling balls and strikes. Once on the bench, however, they put that strike zone on either the left or right side of the plate. They invariably omit that part—where they put the strike zone—from their testimony. That’s normal; that’s not an offense.

But denying the existence of events that actually happened in one’s testimony is another matter altogether. A Democratic House Judiciary Committee would surely delve into that early next year, and if they concluded that in fact Kavanaugh lied to their Senate counterparts during his testimony, they’d have grounds for voting out an impeachment resolution, which a Democratic House would almost surely pass. It’s almost impossible to envision the Senate convicting Kavanaugh—it requires a two-thirds vote, which is to say, Republican support, and given that party’s commitment to anti-empiricism, all evidence will become beside the point—but a House-enacted resolution to impeach would in itself throw the Court into crisis.

First, additional revelations from a House investigation might compel Kavanaugh to resign. Second, were he to stay on the court, the Senate would have to hold a trial (unless, if the Republicans still control the Senate, they refuse to, which would lead to a constitutional impasse that would doubtless have to be decided by, yep, the Supreme Court). Third, whether Kavanaugh could continue to hear and rule on cases while all this was proceeding would be hotly disputed and, again, a matter that the Court would have to decide since there would be no one else who could decide it. Fourth, if after all this Kavanaugh remains on the Court, the legitimacy of its rulings would be questioned as never before in our history, laying the groundwork for the addition of at least two justices to the current nine should the Democrats control the White House and Congress following the 2020 election.

At all events, worse comes to worst, there’s still a Plan B.