Low-Wage Jobs and the Economic Recovery

In June 2014, the government announced that all of the jobs that were lost during the Great Recession has been recovered. Since then we have had a net growth of jobs higher than pre-recession levels.  However, the question remains as to whether the jobs that are being created are of the same caliber as those we lost.

According to a report from the National Employment Law Project (NELP)

  • Lower-wage jobs were 21% of recession losses; 58% of recovery growth
  • Mid-wage jobs were 60% of recession losses; 22% of recovery growth
  • Higher-wage jobs were 19% of recession losses; 20% of recovery growth

By these numbers, lower-wage jobs are the bulk of the recovery.  These are jobs that have median hourly wages between $7.69 and $13.83.  With wages that low, it is likely that the person has a spouse that is making better money or the person has a second job and is possibly on welfare.

And though key mid-wage and higher-wage industries are not growing, there are some that are growing at a balanced and unbalanced levels. Some are just not enough to offset that massive losses of mid-wage jobs.  The key to this is manufacturing.  Though it lost more than a million and a half jobs, it has made a strong comeback during the recovery. This also goes for transportation and warehousing, and healthcare has had strong, steady growth as well.

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A report from the Center for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR) indicates that the US job market was already in trouble before the Great Recession as a result of growing income inequality and shrinking numbers of good paying jobs.  The economic recovery has only exacerbated this with the creation of even more lower-wage jobs than were lost and fewer mid-wage jobs.

Our capitalist economy is basically built on what middle-class people are buying whether it’s a new car, clothing, a vacation, etc.  Though mid-wage jobs are still recessed, the cost of things such as food, clothing, and utilities have continued to increase.  This leaves people with less money to buy other necessities or the occasional splurge item and continues to keep certain parts of the economy from recovering at a faster rate.

Though our politicians may be happy to see jobs having surpassed those that we lost during the recession, they should withhold acting as though job creation is no longer the biggest issue facing our economy.  With wages still suppressed (far below the standard we lost) and basic necessities still continuing to increase in cost, it will only be a matter of time until the economy gets another jolt.  It’s imperative to create mid-wage and higher-wage jobs to help sustain, balance, and grow the economy.

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Null and Void: Unconstitutional Laws

In my last article, I wrote of the Executive Branch’s responsibility to enforce all laws passed by the legislature.  Failure to do so means that the Executive (whether Governor or President) is not doing his or her job.  However, I was at dinner the other night with a friend that studies constitutional law when she posed this question in response.  If a law is passed by the legislature that is in clear violation of the US Constitution (or even a state constitution), does the Executive have a responsibility to still enforce the law?

PREVIOUS ARTICLE: Executive Responsibility to Enforce Laws

My response to her question was to quote conservative columnist George Will who once stated on This Week with George Stephanopoulos that no law is unconstitutional until it is ruled so by the courts.  And though my response seemed to move the conversation in an entirely different direction, it still had my mind thinking about it.

According to the legal encyclopedia American Jurisprudence,

“The general rule is that an unconstitutional statute, though having the form and the name of law, is in reality no law, but is wholly void and ineffective for any purpose since unconstitutionality dates from the time of its enactment and not merely from the date of the decision so branding it; an unconstitutional law, in legal contemplation, is as inoperative as if it had never been passed … An unconstitutional law is void.” (16 Am. Jur. 2d, Sec. 178)

Though in my previous article, I was basically discussing the topic of same-sex marriage, in this instance I will use a couple of other topics.  Let’s say a state legislature decides to take away a woman’s right to vote or brings back segregation laws.  The nation has already decided these two issues.  A woman is guaranteed the right to vote via the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution.  And segregation laws were ruled unconstitutional based on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

So are these laws automatically unconstitutional  or do they need to be ruled so by the courts yet again since they pertain to different laws?  This is also somewhat being played in the Religious Freedom bills that are coming up in states like Arizona that would allow people/businesses with severe religious convictions to deny services to LGBT people.

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These laws would seem to be quite similar to the old segregation laws and would be in clear violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment in the same way.  So if they are enacted, does the Governor or state Attorney General have the responsibility to defend these laws in court?  The definition found in the American Jurisprudence would indicate ‘no’ since the law is already null and void.

When it comes to the federal Executive (the President), remember the oath of office he/she must take: “[…] preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”  And though the oaths of office for the various state governors might be different, they are still similar in their overall message… to uphold their state constitution and must still uphold the US Constitution as no law may violate that document.

Some laws are a bit murkier, and the courts need to make a decision regarding its constitutionality.  But when it comes to laws that are in clear violation, it would seem the government doesn’t really have the responsibility to defend the law in court (or even enforce the law) as the law is already null and void from the start.

Executive Responsibility to Enforce Laws

In the past week, the Oregon Attorney General has stated that her office will no longer defend the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage.  (Bloomberg)  This has come at a time when the voters of that state look to be voting on the issue to revoke the ban.  In recent months and even in the past year, we have seen several governors and attorneys general refuse to defend certain discriminatory laws.  Even President Obama (along with Attorney General Eric Holder) refused to defend the Defense of Marriage Act before the Supreme Court last year.

Coming from the side where such decisions are of great benefit, it is usually something to cheer.  However, I must also look at things in terms of the role of government.  Here we have executives (both state and federal) determining unilaterally which laws they will enforce and which they will not.

“All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.”
Article I, Section 1 – US Constitution

Each branch of government (whether state or federal) has predetermined responsibilities.  The Legislative Branch passes laws while the Executive Branch enforces those laws.  (see also By Order of the Executive)  No where in the responsibilities of the Executive Branch does it state that the chief executive (e.g. Governor, President) has the right to determine which laws to enforce and which ones not to.  The role of the executive is to enforce all of the laws that are passed.

“[H]e shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.”
Article II, Section 3, Clause 5 – US Constitution

According to Humphrey’s Executor v. United States (1935), the Supreme Court ruled that the President (as the Executive) must obey the law and cannot dispense with the law’s execution even if he/she disagrees with it.  Even during the Whiskey Rebellion (1791-1794), President Washington stated, “[I]t is my duty to see the Laws executed: to permit them to be trampled upon with impunity would be repugnant to that duty.”

So though we may cheer about progress when an Executive, whether it’s a Governor, Attorney General, or even a President, decides not to enforce a discriminatory law against same-sex marriage, we must also be wary.  We are giving our approval for one person to decide if a law is enforced or not.  This can set a dangerous precedent.

If a law is detrimental to the citizens then it should be either ruled unconstitutional in the courts (if it violates part of the Constitution) or repealed/amended through the legislative process.  Our government has been set up so that one person does have full authority.  And any Executive that fails to enforce the laws that have been passed by the legislature  has failed to uphold their responsibilities of the office.

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Just because we might tend to think that the Executive is doing the right thing now in not enforcing or defending such discriminatory laws, what will we say when another Executive decides to not enforce or defend another law that could be detrimental to the public?  We don’t get to pick and choose which laws to obey once they have been passed.

If a law has been passed that is harmful to the people then we have legal ways of reversing it.  We have the freedom of speech and assembly that is guaranteed by the Fist Amendment to the Constitution.  We can elect new legislators and an Executive so that they can repeal the law.  We can send a lawsuit through the court system to have them rule as to whether that particular law violates the Constitution.  Regardless, allowing an Executive to have the sole authoritarian role of determining whether a law is enforced/defended is not a legal option and is dangerous to overall society.

Progress Toward Equality

The Favorable Winds of Pride

I’ve spent most of the morning watching the House of Lords in Great Britain debate same-sex marriage.  The legislation has already passed the House of Commons and is now awaiting approval from the upper chamber.  Today was only the second reading and debate on a proposed amendment.  And just last week, I watched as the Illinois House of Representatives decided not to vote on same-sex marriage, though the deadline for the bill was extended through the summer so it could be taken up if they were called back to deal with other pressing issues.

Both of these debates are on the heels of progress that has been made here in the US and in countries around the world.  Just this year, in the United States, Rhode Island, Delaware, and Minnesota have approved same-sex marriage.  Minnesota had just voted down a constitutional amendment in the November elections banning same-sex marriage.  In all 12 states and DC allow same-sex marriages.  As for internationally, Brazil, Uruguay, New Zealand, and France have approved same-sex marriage within the year.  In all, thirteen countries have allow same-sex marriage with New Zealand and Urugauy to begin in August.

Pride PostageDespite opposition, the proverbial wind seems to be at the back of progressives and those in favor of equality.  According to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted between May 1 – 5, 55% of Americans support same-sex marriage.  This goes with an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll done in April that showed that 63% of Americans are in favor of the federal government recognizing same-sex marriages performed in states where it is legal.  A Gallup poll posted on May 13, showed that same-sex marriage had an approval rating of 53%.  Conservative columnist George Will once stated on This Week with George Stephanopoulos that opposition to gay marriage is literally dying off, and he is essentially correct with that statement.  Polls continually show that the greatest opposition for same-sex marriage comes from those that are older than 65.  Only 44% support same-sex marriage among that demographic.  Those that are 18-29 years old, support same-sex marriage 81%.  And as the older generation continues to die off and with the influx of the younger generation, we are already seeing a dramatic shift in this discussion.

Even the political divide is changing.  It was the Labour Party that brought about civil unions for same-sex couples in Great Britain, but yet it’s the Conservative Party, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, that is supporting same-sex marriage.  In the US, the needle is gradually starting to move.  First it was only the most liberal of politicians that supported civil unions and then same-sex marriage, but time would tick by and even the moderate liberals (Democrats) would come to show their support.  Independents jumped on board.  It was the conservative side (Republicans) that are the hold-out as they have been baiting the voters that are against equal rights.  But even that needle position has started to shift in our favor.  First it was just the moderate conservatives that either hold elected office in predominantly liberal states or those that are no longer in office.  Then, just this year, two sitting Republican Senators (both moderates) came forward to support same-sex marriage.  They are Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL).  Regardless of how they came to our side, we should be grateful to have a voice in our support that was once against us.  It gives us that small breach in the wall of opposition that we have needed.  With their help, we can now focus on other moderates to get them to come over our to our side… especially if they are from states that have approved same-sex marriage already or at least lean more liberal.

We have begun what is essentially referred to as Pride Month here in the US.  And this year, we have even more to be grateful for and to have pride in.  Through living our lives, telling our stories, and continuing the drumbeat for equality, we are making progress toward equality.  Even with set-backs, we are continuing to push the conversation forward.  We will continue to face opposition, bullying, false attacks, and more.  But we will rise above such people and such offenses .  We will continue to educate by just being ourselves and eradicating the stereotypes that still prevail.  So as we celebrate pride, let us be thankful for all that we have and the progress that has been made, all the work countless people have done, and take a momentary pause in our quest to regroup so we are ready to get back out there and continue on.

The wind has filled our sails and we are being guided by the sun rising higher and higher in the sky.  Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. wrote, “The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.”  So today, we will celebrate, and tomorrow, we will continue to move forward.

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