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There is no federal protection for women workers who are pregnant. Such as Angelica Valencia [ht: sm], who was fired after she requested permission from her employer not to be forced to work overtime.

The United States did pass The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which prohibits discrimination “on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” But the Act does not require employers to do anything to accommodate the needs of pregnant workers (although the Supreme Court is set to hear a case, Young v. United Parcel Service, on “whether, and in what circumstances, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. . .requires an employer that provides work accommodations to non-pregnant employees with work limitations to provide work accommodations to pregnant employees who are ‘similar in their ability or inability to work'”).  And the Pregnant Women’s Fairness Act, H.R. 1975 and S. 942 [pdf], which was referred to Committee on 14 May 14 2013, has no chance of being enacted anytime soon.

So, seventeen separate states and cities, such Illinois and New York City, have had to pass their own legislative protections. Still, many workers don’t know their rights, and often don’t have the means to demand compliance. And their employers often disregard the laws that do exist.

Respecting a woman’s pregnancy at work is also a social and racial equity issue. According to the National Women’s Law Center, low-wage women workers, many of them primary income-earners, often have more physically demanding duties, such as lifting boxes or prolonged standing. Pregnancy-related discrimination complaints have been concentrated in the highly gendered service sectors, like retail sales and hospitality. Many physically strenuous jobs like domestic work and home healthcare services are disproportionately done by immigrant and black women.

A female executive of the Lean In class probably wouldn’t be reprimanded for wanting to lean back a bit with a foot rest at board meetings. But women workers at Walmart had to wage a national campaign for months before the company changed its policies to ensure reasonable pregnancy accommodations (and many say the policy remains only spottily enforced).

Update

There’s good news. And bad news.

The good: Angela Valencia’s bosses [ht: sm] have offered her job back. The bad: the United States still doesn’t have a Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (see original post).

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Thomas Piketty’s proposal for a global wealth tax has been attacked on both the Right and the Left.

It’s been attacked on the Right—for example, by Tim Worstall—because it won’t work.

Our problem is that a wealth tax can either be set at a rate at which it can be paid out of income, in which case it’s not actually going to reduce wealth disparity, or it will be set at a rate at which rich people must liquidate their portfolios to pay it, and if all rich people have to do that then who in heck can they sell to?

And from the Left—for example, by David Harvey—because it is considered “naïve if not utopian.”

But both sides proceed as if the proposal for a tax on wealth is a new phenomenon, something that Piketty invented in his best-selling book.

As it turns out, while working on a new research project (on “Utopia and the Marxian Critique of Political Economy,” for a conference in November), I chanced upon a much earlier discussion of wealth taxes: a speech given by Friedrich Engels on 8 February 1845 in Elberfeld.

Engels explained that communists had no intention of introducing “common ownership overnight and against the will of the nation.” Still, he argued, it was possible to move in the direction of “practical communism” by adopting certain measures—such as “general education of all children without exception at the expense of the state” and “a complete reorganisation of the Poor Relief System.” He then added:

Both these measures require money. In order to raise it and at the same time replace all the present, unjustly distributed taxes, the present reform plan proposes a general, progressive tax on capital, at a rate increasing with the size of the capital. In this way, the burden of public administration would be shared by everyone according to his ability and would no longer fall mainly on the shoulders of those least able to bear it, as has hitherto been the case in all countries. For the principle of taxation is, after all, a purely communist one, since the right to levy taxes is derived in all countries from so-called national property. For either private property is sacrosanct, in which case there is no such thing as national property and the state has no right to levy taxes, or the state has this right, in which case private property is not sacrosanct, national property stands above private property, and the state is the true owner. This latter principle is the one generally accepted — well then, gentlemen; for the present we demand only that this principle be taken seriously, that the state proclaim itself the common owner and, as such, administer public property for the public good, and that as the first step, it introduce a system of taxation based solely on each individual’s ability to pay taxes and on the real public good.

Almost 170 years later and we’re still battling over the principle of taxation.

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A recent paycheck for Delores Leonard shows her hourly wage of $8.25 for working at a McDonald's Restaurant, the minimum wage in Illinois, in Chicago

Delores Leonard lives with her two daughters in Chicago and has worked for seven years at McDonald’s.

Her Illinois minimum wage is $8.25 an hour. Assuming she works the same number of hours each week (and gets two weeks of unpaid vacation), her annual income after taxes is $14,626.

McDonald’s reported $7.2 billion in second quarter sales, which generated a net income of $1.39 billion. That’s a profit margin of 19.31 percent.

McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson took home total compensation of $9.5 million in 2013.

 

MJ-inequality

 

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The other day, I reported that Fed chair Janet Yellen said a great deal about existing levels of economic inequality at the Conference on Economic Opportunity and Inequality in Boston.

Neil Irwin [ht: ra] reminds us there’s a great deal Yellen didn’t say. She didn’t, for example, say anything about the aspects of the inequality puzzle that have a close tie-in to the policies of the Federal Reserve.

there is a growing body of evidence — far from proven, but certainly gaining traction — that income inequality could be a significant force behind disappointing overall economic growth over the last 15 years.

The story goes like this: The wealthy tend to save a large proportion of their income, whereas middle and lower-income people spend almost all of what they earn. Because a rising share of income is going to the wealthy, spending — and hence aggregate demand — is rising more slowly than it would if there were more even distribution of income. Skyrocketing debt levels papered over this disconnect in the mid-2000s, but now we could be feeling its effect.

If true, this would help account for why the economy has notched mediocre growth since the turn of the century, with the exception being a brief period of the housing bubble.

Yellen also didn’t have anything to say about the economic opportunities that have allowed the gains of a tiny minority at the top to be captured in the first place. Top 1 percent incomes and corporate profits have to come from somewhere. They’re created during the course of producing goods and services—in the United States and around the world. But the workers who did all that producing only get to keep part of the value they create, in the form of wages and salaries; the rest—call it the surplus—is appropriated by their employers, who keep some in the form of corporate profits and then distribute the rest to their owners and top managers. Those employers, owners, and managers spend some of that income and plow the rest into the ownership of various forms of wealth. It’s no wonder, then, that—given the economic opportunities they’ve been provided within current economic arrangements—the distribution of both income and wealth has been getting more and more unequal.

That’s what Janet Yellen didn’t say.

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