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The Hunger Games Are Real

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Jackie Tortora“The Hunger Games” are real. If you’re familiar with the books and movies, or have at least heard of the “Hunger Games” phenomenon, you’re probably aware that the series tackles some pretty serious issues of poverty and economic inequality that hit way too close to home. If you’re not, here’s some background.

“The Hunger Games” takes place in the fictional world of Panem, which is a dystopian North America sometime in the far off future. All the wealth in the country is concentrated in the Capitol and people in the 12 districts are constantly in fear of starvation. Everything the people in the districts produce, whether it is coal, grain, machinery or clothing, is controlled by the Capitol. People are forbidden to hunt or grow their own food, thus relying on the Capitol’s meager grain and oil rations. To punish the people of Panem for District 13’s rebellion (the Capitol wiped out the region in a nuclear war), each year two teenage tributes from each of the 12 districts must sacrifice their lives in an arena where they fight to the death, with only one victor remaining.

While the story is fictional, it reminds us of a lot of the issues surrounding economic inequality we see today. Some sobering facts:

  • Nearly all—95%—of the income gains from 2009–2012 have been captured by the wealthiest 1%.
  • In recent years, the wealthiest 1% have gotten richer and richer, while the median household income is down 8% since 2000.
  • Wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of national income since 1966, while corporate profits are now the largest share of national income since 1950.
  • The federal minimum wage, $7.25, hasn’t risen since 2009. The tipped minimum wage, $2.13, hasn’t risen in two decades.
  • One in 6 people in America are hungry and 1 in 5 children are.

Check out 8 Ways Economic Inequality in America Is Like the “Hunger Games.”

“The Hunger Games” bestseller books and blockbuster films represent a rare opportunity where these issues of social and economic justice are being widely discussed in pop culture and in homes across the United States.

Check out this video from the Harry Potter Alliance:

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BmVJaBuoEY

Disclaimer: Having a union doesn’t guarantee no workplace injuries on the job, but union mines have 68% fewer fatal injuries than nonunion mines.

Working families, union members and leaders are joining the online movement to lift up these issues of economic inequality and poverty using the “Hunger Games” as a jumping off point. Check outoddsinourfavor.org, where you can join the “resistance” and post a photo doing the “salute,” the symbol of solidarity of the working people.

Below is a graphic you can share on social media showing various union members, leaders and working people representing each of the 13 districts of Panem.

#WeAreTheDistricts

Click here to share the graphic above.

Pictured from left to right:

District 7: Carmen Berkley, director of Civil, Human and Women’s Rights, AFL-CIO

District 2: Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO

District 1: Tefere Gebre, executive vice president, AFL-CIO

District 3: Stan Sorscher, labor representative, Society for Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA)

District 4: Michael Sacco, president, Seafarers (SIU)

District 6: Veda Shook, international president, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA)

District 9: David B. Durkee, president, Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM)

District 5: Elizabeth Shuler, secretary-treasurer, AFL-CIO

District 8: Gregory Cendada, executive director, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance

District: 11: Ana Avendaño, assistant to the president and director of Immigration and Community Action at the AFL-CIO

District 10: Jennifer Angarita, national worker center coordinator, AFL-CIO

District 12: Richard Trumka, president, AFL-CIO

District 13: Ai-jen Poo, executive director, National Domestic Workers Alliance

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on November 22, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.


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Fewer Workers in Unions = Growing Income Inequality

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Credit: Joe Kekeris

The U.S. public is painfully aware of the growing income inequality in this nation.

Now, a new report shows a big reason why the gap is growing: fewer workers in unions.

Declining unionization was responsible for roughly one-third of the growth of wage inequality among men from 1973 to 2007, a new Economic Policy Institute (EPI) report finds. Declining unionization can explain roughly one-fifth of the growth of wage inequality among women over the same period (click to enlarge chart).

As the study points out, income inequality has increased not only because union members earn higher wages and have better retirement and health coverage, but with fewer union members, nonunion employers feel less pressure to raise wages and provide family-supporting benefits.

The percentage of the workforce represented by unions was stable in the 1970s but fell rapidly in the 1980s and continued to fall in the 1990s and the early 2000s, a period that corresponds to the nation’s growing income inequality.

EPI’s upcoming “The State of Working America” report, to be released Sept. 11, includes more on this study. (Read more previews from EPI’s biannual report.)

  • The union wage premium—the percentage-higher wage earned by those covered by a collective bargain­ing contract—is 13.6 percent over­all (17.3 percent for men and 9.1 percent for women).
  • Unionized workers are 28.2 percent more likely to be covered by employer-provided health insurance and 53.9 percent more likely to have employer-provided pensions.
  • From 1973 to 2011, the share of the workforce represented by unions declined from 26.7 percent to 13.1 percent.

Much of the decline in union membership stems from employers’ war on workers and their unions, a refrain echoed loudly this week at the Republican National Convention.

Chris Tilly, director of the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, writes today:

It’s U.S. employers who have perfected the art of the anti-union campaign, in which they ratchet up the tension, one-sided arguments and flat-out intimidation to the point where most workers will vote “no union” just to end the discord. Unfortunately decades-old U.S. labor laws do little to curb such tactics.

Big Business works hand in glove with its political puppets to quash the ability of workers to gain a voice at work because the union movement is one of the few forces that have the ability to politically challenge billionaire bankers through our grassroots mobilization efforts.

But Big Business and the billionaires who fund extremist politicians need to understand this, Tully writes:

It’s anti-American to be anti-union.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on August 31, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Tula Connell got her first union card while she worked her way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee they were represented by a hotel and restaurant local union (the names of the national unions were different then than they are now). With a background in journalism (covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia) she started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), she now blogs under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.


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Most Minimum Wage Earners Are Women

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Credit: Joe Kekeris
Credit: Joe Kekeris

One of the stats that always amazes is this: If the federal minimum wage had kept pace with the rising cost of living over the past 40 years, it would be $10.52 per hour today.

Instead, the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. That translates to $15,080 per year, below the poverty line for a family of three—if the work is full-time.

Stunning as that is, it gets even worse when you realize that the majority of those paid the minimum wage are women: In 2011, more than 62 percent of minimum wage workers were women, compared with only 38 percent of male minimum wage workers, according to a new report by the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

It’s especially bad that women make up the majority of minimum wage earners because women are paid 77 cents for every dollar a typical man earns. Women of color are far more likely to hold low-wage jobs than men, and two-thirds of mothers now are either the breadwinners or co-breadwinners for their families. Their lower wages mean they will receive less from Social Security, their primary source of retirement income.

Slightly more than 2.5 million women earn the minimum wage or less, while about 1.5 million men do.

Pointedly, the report notes:

From 1968 to 2010, incomes for the top 1 percent of earners increased by 110 percent, but the inflation-adjusted value of the minimum wage has fallen by 31 percent. If the federal minimum wage had kept pace with the rising cost of living over the past 40 years, it would be $10.52 per hour today.

But these same 1 percenters are some of those who block efforts at the local and national levels to raise the minimum wage. In fact, research has shown no job loss results from reasonable minimum wage increases, even when the economy is struggling.

On the contrary, a minimum wage increase boosts consumer spending and can improve the nation’s weak economy by growing demand through increased purchasing power.

This blog originally appeared in ALC-CIO on June 21, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Tula Connell got her first union card while she worked her way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee they were represented by a hotel and restaurant local union (the names of the national unions were different then than they are now). With a background in journalism (covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia) she started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), she now blogs under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.


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Is Income Inequality a Partisan Issue?

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Credit: Joe Kekeris
Credit: Joe Kekeris

Few would argue that the nation’s increasing income inequality is a growing and dangerous concern. But for Chris Anderson, “curator” of the annual TED conference where hip people go to hear innovative talks, income inequality is a “partisan” issue that must not be discussed.

Last week, Anderson announced he would not make public a TED video from billionaire venture capitalist Nick Hanauer discussing the negative impacts of income inequality on the economy. Yet after online outrage and a petition telling Anderson to post it, he relented.

Check out Hanauer’s talk here.

Anderson couldn’t let it rest there. After TED released the video, Anderson’s comments that Hanauer’s talk is “needlessly partisan” and “unconvincing” earned him the title “Petulant Plutocrat of the Week” by the Institute for Policy Studies.

What do you think—is income inequality a partisan issue?

This blog originally appeared in ALC-CIO on May 21, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Tula Connell got her first union card while she worked her way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee they were represented by a hotel and restaurant local union (the names of the national unions were different then than they are now). With a background in journalism (covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia) she started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), she now blogs under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.


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Report: The Billions Corporations Avoided Paying In Taxes Would Have Created Over 100,000 Jobs In Education

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Tanya SomanaderWith income inequality in the U.S. at its highest level since the Great Depression, Americans from every end of the income spectrum are clamoring for corporations and the wealthy to pay their fair share in taxes. But because of the numerous tax loopholes and credits worked into the tax code, corporate taxes are at historical lows.

Bank of America paid nothing in federal taxes in 2009. While earning billions in profit, companies like BoeingExxon-Mobil, and Wells Fargo also paid nothing in recent years. Other corporations, like Google and Pfizer,dramatically lower their tax rates by deferring profits they make overseas. After making more than $14 billion in profits last year, General Electric not only got a pass on paying any corporate income taxes, but actually received a tax benefit of $3.2 billion.

Thanks to this propitious tax code, corporations kept $222.7 billion in federal revenue from 2008 to 2010. But the loss of that revenue comes at a cost, a cost being paid by middle class and low-income Americans who are already reeling from a sluggish economy — most notably, students. According to a new report from the National Education Association, $9.8 billion of the lost revenue from corporation would have gone to public schools and colleges over the same period. Those funds would have added over 100,000 jobs in public education and ensured that an extra 400,000 kids living in poverty could enroll in preschool. NEA breaks down that $9.8 billion by the numbers:

– $1,092: The average amount in extra academic support to help 9 million students in poverty catch up to their peers.

– $1,474: The average savings for school districts for each disabled student as a result of greater federal cost sharing.

– $1,276: The average amount in additional financial aid to ensure 7.7 million students in need continue or complete their post-secondary studies.

– 446,655: The number of additional children in poverty enrolled in preschool.

– 126,568: The number of jobs created in the field of education.

With that $9.8 billion, Ohio would have gained 4,363 jobs, Virginia would get 2,794 jobs, Kentucky would have 2,175 jobs, and Arizona would see more 4,094 jobs. Incidentally, these states are also home to Republican leaders in Congress who are singularly dedicated to maintaining this corporate welfare.

As TP Economy editor Pat Garofalo reported, Republican lawmakers continue to aid and abet corporate tax avoidance by protecting offshore profit deferral, which allows corporations to claim domestic tax credits for profits they earn overseas; by proposing to gut the Internal Revenue Service, whose every dollar used to audit tax cheats brings in more than $10 in revenue; by pushing for tax havens in free trade agreements; by enacting repatriation holidays that allow corporations to bring money earned overseas back into the country at a drastically lower rate, even with its negligible effect on job creation; by endorsing taxpayer giveaways like big oil subsidies; and by publicly defending corporate tax dodgers.

Working on behalf of corporations at the expense of American students and families is quickly becoming part of the Republican orthodoxy. This, however, should not be surprising because after all, for Republicans, “corporations are people too.”

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on November 17, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Tanya Somanader is  a reporter/blogger for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Tanya grew up in Pepper Pike, Ohio and holds a B.A. in international relations and history from Brown University. Prior to joining ThinkProgress, Tanya was a staff member in the Office of Senator Sherrod Brown, working on issues ranging from foreign policy and defense to civil rights and social policy.


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