Roosevelt’s SOTU, Putting Workers First, and Getting Serious about a Green New Deal

February 8, 2019

The Roosevelt Rundown is an email series featuring the Roosevelt Institute’s top 5 stories of the week.

1. Roosevelt’s State of the Union

We need an economic agenda that is built on big ideas that are for every American and can rebalance power in our society. During the 2019 State of the Union address, Roosevelt fellows, including Andrea Flynn, Darrick Hamilton, and Katy Milani, were joined by bold leaders and partners for a Twitter chat to discuss our nation’s potential. “We need a new economic vision and viable, actionable policies to free Americans from the torment of financial anxiety, address the precarity of work, build up wealth, and promote social freedoms,” said Anne Price, Roosevelt Fellow and President of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development. See the full discussion here.

2. Putting Workers First

This week in the NYT, Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) announced a proposal to prohibit corporations from buying back their own stock unless they invest in workers and communities first. Citing our research, they write: “The time is long overdue for us to create an economy that works for all Americans, not just the people on top.” Roosevelt President and CEO Felicia Wong thanked the senators for their leadership, and Roosevelt Senior Economist and Policy Counsel Lenore Palladino reminded us that banning buybacks isn’t enough to fix today’s high-profit, low-wage economy. “We need so many, many changes: What I’m obsessed with is stakeholder governance and employee ownership of large corporations,” she said.

3. Getting Serious about a Green New Deal

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) released an outline for a Green New Deal (GND) this week. An ambitious response to the climate crisis, CNN anchor Bill Weir connected the GND to historical precedent: “[FDR’s New Deal] gave us labor unions, unemployment insurance, and Social Security—things that changed the way people think about government. [A Green New Deal] is a modern version of that.” In an upcoming report, Roosevelt Fellows Susan R. Holmberg and Mark Paul will explore the broad policy goals that a visionary GND can achieve, including unleashing the power of the federal government to transform our economy to be net carbon neutral.

4. Masking Employer Power as a Perk

An insurance company is offering employees the option to trade vacation time for student loan relief. While some see this as an “innovative twist,” VICE’s Matt Taylor spoke with Roosevelt Fellow Julie Margetta Morgan about why this is really an employer power problem and a sign of our skewed labor market and economy. “We’re asking people, particularly younger people, to make tradeoffs and framing it as a choice,” said Morgan. “If we approach [the student debt crisis] by allowing employers to dictate how much or how little help people get, we’ll never really solve the problem [but rather] end up with really unequal solutions.”

5. Workplace Technological Change

In an explainer released this week, research institute Data & Society examines how new technology increasingly allows employers to monitor their employees. From time tracking to biased and discriminatory prediction tools, “monitoring and surveillance can shift power dynamics between workers and employers, as an imbalance in access to worker data can reduce negotiating power.” Roosevelt Fellow Brishen Rogers shared a draft article on SSRN, outlining why technological change on its own isn’t a 21st century problemthe problem is how employers use technology to disempower workers.

What We’re Reading

For Foreign Affairs magazine, Stacey Abrams argues that identity politics strengthen democracy. “[Rapid demographic and technological] changes have encouraged activists and political challengers to make demands with a high level of specificity—to take the identities that dominant groups have used to oppress them and convert them into tools of democratic justice.” This essay, “E Pluribus Unum?,” is an absolute must-read.