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Christine Owens Gives Talk on Building a Good Economy

December 2, 2010

On Tuesday, Christine Owens, president of the National Employment Law Project, spoke to a group of over fifty students, staff, faculty and community members about the labor market challenges our nation’s workers face.  She highlighted the loss of 8.5 million jobs between December 2007 and December 2009, noting that we have only recovered a fraction of that number. She also spoke about the paradox of our economy: while corporate America is thriving, this bonanza is not shared by most rank and file workers.

Ms. Owens noted several changes that have taken place in the US economy during the past thirty-odd years, including a shift away from manufacturing and the growth of the service sector; increased outsourcing of work to contractors; declines in unionization; and the proliferation of globalization. And while economic realities are changing, federal policy regimes are not. For example, increases in the minimum wage have been few and small, hardly able to keep pace with the rising cost of living.

One of the first solutions to addresses these problems is to strengthen enforcement of existing worker protections, including safety and wage laws. Ms. Owens also suggested attaching strings to government contracts, such as provisions for paying employees living wages. Additionally, she pointed out that it is essential to pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for the undocumented. As long as a large share of the workforce is living in the shadows, all workers are vulnerable to employer abuses. Finally, Ms. Owens spoke of the need to revitalize the labor movement, which acts as a progressive counterweight to corporate America.

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