By JoAnne Powers, August 10, 2016
On Tuesday the AFL-CIO began co-hosting the National Economic Association’s “Freedom and Justice” conference in Washington, D.C., focusing on racial, ethnic and gender inequality, including issues of immigration and mass incarceration. Howard University Professor and AFL-CIO Chief Economist Bill Spriggs says these are all topics important to the union:
[Bill Spriggs]: “It get to making sure that the economy works for all workers. I think it’s just important that we add diversity to the voices at the table. Economists aren’t known for their diversity. In fact, among the social sciences, this is the least diverse. That leads to a kind of group-think on these important topics of immigration, gender differences, racial equality. So, this conference is a setting in which more critical eyes can be put to these topics and we can get some important insights that we aren’t getting. After all, these are old problems, but if you look at it through the old lenses, obviously you aren’t going to get answers because we haven’t been getting answers the way we’ve been looking at them before.”
Spriggs stressed that unequal conditions for any workers harms all workers.
[Bill Spriggs]: “I like to say, if you agree the boss can beat somebody that means you agree the boss can beat you. Solidarity is the key point here. If we have immigrant workers who don’t have full access to job mobility or if they feel they can’t report violations to OSHA or to the wage and hour administration about wage theft, that means we have an employer that’s getting away with cheating all workers. If we have workers who’ve been incarcerated and because of parole rules they have to work and they’re cut off from any other support system like access to public housing or the ability to improve their education, then they’re going to take jobs that drive down the wages for all workers. All of these things influence the way that all workers experience the labor market and promoting that solidarity is important.”
A number of the papers at the conference will focus on differential treatment of women in the workforce.
[Bill Spriggs]: “Women are the rising share of the workforce. Among African-Americans the majority of workers are female. Looking at what appears to be sort of a permanent wage differential by race and gender. The role of care-giving workers, because we know that women get lower wages not because they’re less skilled, but because we value the types of things they do in a different way and anything that deals with caregiving we tend to value less.”