What Would Chomsky Probably Say About Mass Shootings And The Absence Of Effective Firearm Legislation?

Image result for chomskyHey there reader.  I hope you’re doing great.  By now, you’ve probably read about the recent mass shootings in Santa Fe, Texas, Parkland, Florida, Sutherland Springs, Texas, and Las Vegas, Nevada.

Recall that these tragedies sparked protests and student-teacher walkouts for firearm policy.  Also, recall that nothing was done at the national level in terms of firearm policy other than a spending bill that improved the national background check system.

Florida Governor Rick Scott did, however, sign legislation that raised the minimum age to buy firearms to twenty-one, and required a three-day waiting period on most firearms purchases and also banned bump stocks, provisions opposed by the National Rifle Association.  But the bill also included a controversial provision which allowed some school employees to carry guns on campus for security.

I’ve read a few of Noam Chomsky’s books and listened to a lot of his podcasts lately.  Chomsky is, of course, a professor of linguistics at the University of Arizona, by way of M.I.T, and Harvard University.  He’s a critic of U.S. foreign and domestic policy.

Given these recent mass shootings and what I’ve read of  Chomsky’s  work, I wonder what he would say about mass shootings and the absence of effective firearm legislation in the U.S.?

He’d probably say that legislators have been captured by the gun lobby and that gun companies become very wealthy from gun sales which soar after mass shootings.  He’d probably continue that legislators refuse to pass effective firearm legislation because it’s easier to control people when they’re scared of each other and that gun lobbies fund many legislator’s campaigns.

He’d probably say that people own firearms for self-defense, which simply means that gun owners are afraid of people whom they think would do harm to them.  To be fair, aren’t we all afraid of this?

He’d probably also say that our fears are legitimate. Just look at the how the U.S. prosecutes the War on Terror and the War on Drugs, does little or nothing to prevent police brutality (which accounts for approximately 11.87 percent of all gun homicides in the U.S.) or mass shootings, incarcerates the largest number of people in the world, how it treats undocumented workers and families at migrant detention centers or prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Pretty scary stuff, eh?

But it seems like fearful people are ok with these policies and behaviors as long as they never become the victims of them.  This fear of reciprocation highlights the double standard of fear-based based policy and behaviors: the fear of being a victim of proportional retaliation.

Chomsky would probably say we’ve become exactly what we’re afraid of, that paranoia, propaganda, conspiracy theories, xenophobia, homophobia, ethnocentrism, nationalism, and racism, all of which are based on fear, have a history in the U.S. and have gotten worse in recent memory.

Firearm policy is popular and it is in demand in the U.S.  In a poll from Pew Research, 52 percent of respondents said gun laws should be more strict than they are today, while 30 percent said that gun laws are about where they should be.  18 percent of respondents said gun laws should be less strict than they are today.

Instead of reversing fear-based public policy by passing firearm legislation, legislators would rather double-down on fearful rhetoric and stoke public fears.  When legislators blame mental illness for mass shootings, they shirk responsibility and implicate their complicity with the gun lobby.  It is no wonder then, public trust in government service is at a historic low: 18 percent as of December 2017.

Furthermore, when trust in government service is low, people will turn to the private sector for answers.  Gun sales, mass shootings, defense spending, police spending, prison spending, police brutality, rioting, mass incarceration, mass surveillance, school closures, poverty, stress, mortality, alienation, anxiety, atomization, and depression are all connected to public fear and distrust.

What would Chomsky probably say needs to be done about this?  He’d probably tell us to stop being afraid of each other, to communicate with each other face to face, and trust one another.

He’d probably tell us to build local solidarity groups, organize community groups, and respect one another.  In terms of a course of action, he’d probably tell us to register to vote, to vote incumbents out, end the War on Terror, end the War Drugs, end police brutality, and end mass incarceration.  He’d probably tell us to protest, rally, strike, to stop participating in systems of oppression, and stop spreading propaganda.

The issue is … whether we want to live in a free society or whether we want to live under what amounts to a form of self-imposed totalitarianism, with the bewildered herd marginalized, directed elsewhere, terrified, screaming patriotic slogans, fearing for their lives and admiring with awe the leader who saved them from destruction, while the educated masses goose-step on command and repeat the slogans they’re supposed to repeat and the society deteriorates at home. We end up serving as a mercenary enforcer state, hoping that others are going to pay us to smash up the world. Those are the choices That’s the choice that you have to face. The answer to those questions is very much in the hands of people like you and me.”

Former Education Secretary, Arne Duncan used Chomsky type-thinking when he encouraged students and parents to “stop participating” in systems of oppression in his response to the mass shooting in Santa Fe, “What if no children went to school until gun laws changed to keep them safe? My family is all in if we can do this at scale. Parents, will you please join us?”

I’ve advocated for permit to purchase gun laws, state background checks, safe storage gun laws, and a ban on assault weapons before, however, these policies don’t treat the sources of gun violence: distrust and fear.

Reader, we already have the tools necessary to change society for the better, and it starts with you communicating and trusting people. If we trusted each other, would we need legislators to pass legislation? I argue that we wouldn’t because trust would eliminate the need for legislation.


The History And Health Consequences Of Toxic Masculinity In The U.S.

Image result for men silhouette

Hey everyone, I hope you’re doing great.  Toxic masculinity is a ubiquitous subject in the U.S. today.  A U.S. Navy pilot drew a giant penis in the sky over Okanogan Highlands, Washington in November 2017.  And the list of infamous men who have been accused or charged with sexual harassment, misconduct, or rape in the U.S. over the years seems to grow each day.

Some of the names include, but aren’t limited to; Roger Ailes, Eric BollingGeorge H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, John ConyersLouis C.K., Bill Cosby, Andy Dick, John Edwards, Blake FarentholdAl Franken, Trent Franks, Morgan Freeman, Newt Gingrich, Eric GreitensMark Halperin, Dennis HastertDustin Hoffman, Jim Jordan, Garrison Keillor, Alex KozinskiMatt Lauer, Danny MastersonRoy Moore, Larry NassarBill O’Reilly, Michael Oreskes, Jeremy PivenCharlie Rose, Eric Schneiderman, Russell SimmonsKevin Spacey, Elliot Spitzer, Morgan Spurlock, Jeffrey TamborJames Toback45, Anthony Weiner, Harvey Weinstein, and Leon Wieseltier.

What Is Toxic Masculinity?

Toxic masculinity is mostly defined by what it is not. In short, toxic masculinity is insecurity about being vulnerable and emasculated. Wikipedia defined the term as “traditional norms of behavior among men in contemporary American and European society that are associated with detrimental social and psychological effects. Such “toxic” masculine norms include dominance, devaluation of women, extreme self-reliance, and the suppression of emotions.”

Conformity with certain traits viewed as traditionally male, such as misogynyhomophobia, and violence, can be considered “toxic” due to harmful effects on others in society, while related traits, including self-reliance and the stifling of emotions, are correlated with harm to men themselves through psychological problems such as depression, increased stress, and substance abuse.”

Aggression, humiliating others, excessive pride, and personal insecurity fall within the broad definition of toxic masculinity.  But for this blog, I’m going to define masculinity to be toxic when a man disrespects someone else, and they believed they wouldn’t suffer the consequences of their behavior or didn’t suffer the consequences because of their status in society as a man.

Toxic Masculinity In U.S. History

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote in the 19th century, “tis not in death that men die most.”  I think what she meant is that masculinity shortens men’s joy of life and their overall life expectancy.  I will analyze this more below.

Toxic masculinity has a history and tradition in the U.S.  I use tradition here because toxic masculinity is a social construction, it is learned, crafted and reproduced through social interaction over time just like bigotry, racism and sexism.  Social constructions don’t exist in nature but that doesn’t mean toxic masculinity isn’t real–it is–or that it doesn’t have real consequences on society–it does–as we will soon find.

U.S. history is full of examples of toxic masculinity. Prideful men have dueled out their disagreements with knives, guns, and engaged in scandalous behavior in this country for hundreds of years. One infamous example of early toxic masculinity in U.S. history involved a horse race bet gone wrong between Charles Dickinson and Andrew Jackson in Logan, Kentucky on May 30, 1806.  Dickinson had insulted Jackson and had challenged him to a duel in the May 1806 issue of the National Review. Dickinson shot Jackson in the chest, Jackson returned fire and killed Dickinson.  And Jackson later became the seventh president of the U.S.

Another example of early American toxic masculinity can be found in Robert Potter, a politician who was so violent, he beat Jesse Bynum with “swords, pistols, knives, and clubs” in 1825 and 1826 after Bynum won a local election.  Potter later defeated Bynum in a race for a seat in the North Carolina House of Commons and the U.S. House of Representatives in 1831, where he subsequently pulled a pistol and knife on another representative over a card game.  But the strangest part of Potter’s reputation is how “potterizing” someone came to be associated with castration: Potter had once castrated two men whom he believed had slept with his wife.

One last example of the history of toxic masculinity in the U.S. came from twenty-ninth president and U.S. Senator from Ohio, Warren G. Harding. Harding had an affair and fathered a child with Nan Britton while married to his wife Florence.  He paid child support to Britton each month until he died of a heart attack in August 1923.  He also had an affair with Carrie Fulton Phillips whom he paid $5,000 per month so she would remain silent about their relationship.  Harding once said to the press, “It’s a good thing I’m not a woman. I would always be pregnant. I can’t say no,” when he was president.  He also said “there isn’t one iota of affection in my home relationship” when describing his marriage with Florence, “It is merely existence, necessary for appearance’s sake.”  Harding was a reported Klansman as well.

For more on the genderization of violence in the U.S., continue reading here.

Health Consequences Of Toxic Masculinity On Men In The U.S.

Now that we have established a history of toxic masculinity in the U.S., let us analyze the consequences that toxic masculinity has on men’s health.  Remember, men benefit and suffer from toxic masculinity, they are also active agents who choose or refuse to reproduce and enforce this system.  However, masculinity doesn’t mean the same thing to every man and men can unlearn toxic behaviors.

The CDC compiled a list of the Leading Causes of Death for Males in the U.S. in 2014.

 No.  All Males, All Ages Summary Percentage
1 Heart disease 24.5
2 Cancer 23.4
3 Unintentional injuries 6.4
4 Chronic lower respiratory diseases 5.2
5 Stroke 4.2
6 Diabetes 3.1
7 Suicide 2.5
8 Alzheimer’s disease 2.1
9 Influenza and pneumonia 2
10 Chronic liver disease 1.9

Some of the CDC’s leading causes of death for men are behavioral such as unintentional injuries, suicide and chronic liver disease and fall within the scope of toxic masculinity.    For the purposes of this blog, I focused on alcoholism, illegal drug use, workaholism, violence in gun homicides and gun suicides and not seeking mental health treatment as contributing factors to men’s causes of death.  Yes, my list is more subjective than the CDC’s but it is more specific to the definition of toxic masculinity that I am aiming for.

Life Expectancy: Men have comparatively shorter life expectancy than women which is consistent in nearly every country in the world, but the degree of that life expectancy varies depends mostly on the country.  Male and female life expectancy in the U.S. is 73.4 years and 80.1 years respectively, a difference of 6.7 years.  In contrast, men in the U.K. live 5.3 fewer years than women while men in France live 7.8 fewer years than women.  Men live 12 fewer years than women in Russia but in India and Bangladesh, there is less than a one year difference between the sexes.  The difference in men’s and women’s life expectancy in the U.S. increases into old age too: after age 85, women outnumber men 2.2 to 1 and by age 90, women outnumber men 3 to 1.

Alcoholism: Men are more likely to drink alcohol excessively than women.  Approximately 23 percent of adult men report binge drinking with 8 drinks per night at least 5 times per month.  Men are also almost twice as likely to binge drink than women.

Excessive drinking is connected to short-term health and safety risks which increase with alcohol consumption.  Safety risks like drinking and driving, driving too fast and driving without a safety belt contribute to lower male life expectancy. Men also have consistently higher rates of alcohol-related deaths and hospitalizations than women.

Male drivers are almost twice as likely than female drivers to have been found intoxicated with a blood alcohol concentration level greater than 0.08 percent in fatal motor-vehicle traffic crashes. Excessive alcohol consumption also magnifies the drinker’s mood and increase the likelihood that the drinker becomes aggressive and physically or sexually assault someone.

Excessive alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon in men. Alcohol consumption can also interfere with testicular function and male hormone production resulting in impotence and infertility.  Excessive drinking increases the chances of engaging in risky sexual behavior including unprotected sex, sex with multiple partners or sex with a partner at risk for sexually transmitted diseases.

“An estimated 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States.”

Illegal Drug Use: Men are more likely abuse illegal drugs than women.  Nearly 12 percent of American males age 12 and older have used illegal drugs in the last month compared to just 7.3 percent of females in the same age group.  Multi-drug use is also more common among men than in women and men are also more likely to begin using illegal drugs at an earlier age, abuse drugs more often and in larger amounts than women.  47,055 men died from drug overdoses in 2014: opioids, primarily prescription pain relievers and heroin were the main sources of overdose deaths.

Workaholism: Men work on average 52 minutes more per day than employed women, accounting for differences in full time and part-time work.  This would not be a big deal but researchers at Harvard University found that workaholics were “12 percent “more likely to become heavy drinkers” and experience greater sleeplessness, depression, diabetes, heart disease, increased absenteeism, turnover and higher health insurance premiums than those who didn’t.”

Gun Homicide Victims: Men are six times more likely to be gun homicide victims than women.  There were 15,872 gun homicides in 2016 when men’s gun homicide rate was 19.3 per 100,000 and women’s rate was 3.2 per 100,000.  At these rates, 13,615 men died from gun homicides in 2014.

Gun Suicide Victims: Men are less likely to commit suicide than women in the U.S. but men are four times more likely to die from suicides than women.  This is because men use guns to commit suicides, approximately half of all suicides in the U.S. are committed with a gun.  Men are also three times more likely than women to own a gun according to a survey from the Pew Research Center in 2017.  There were 21,386 gun suicides in 2014 which means that approximately 17,100 men died from suicide, and 8,554 of them used a gun.

Mental Health Treatment: Men of all ages and ethnicities are 33 percent less likely than women to seek mental health treatment for depression, substance abuse, and stressful life events even though they experience these problems at the same rate or greater rate than women.  Men’s reluctance to get help can harm their mental and physical health and the lack of treatment can make life more difficult for someone’s family, friends, and workplace.

According to the CDC, there were 2,626,418 deaths in the U.S. in 2014.  If we combined men’s total alcohol-related deaths per year (62,000), illegal drug use deaths per year (47,055), gun homicides per year (13,615) and gun suicides per year (8,554), we find that 131,224 men died from toxic masculine behaviors in 2014.  If we used the Kaiser Family Foundation’s death rates by gender in the U.S. for 2014, we see that men’s death rate per 100,000 was 855.1, and women’s death rate per 100,000 was 616.7.  Using the KFF’s death rates per year, men constitute 58 percent of total U.S. deaths per year, or some 1,525,921 and while women make up 1,100,497 of the total deaths per year.  If we divided the number of men who died from toxic behavior per year by the total number of men who died per year, we’d find that 8.6 percent of all men’s deaths were related to toxic male behaviors which would make it the third leading cause of death for men in the U.S.

Health Consequences Of Toxic Masculinity On Women In The U.S.

Now that we have analyzed the consequences that toxic masculinity has on men’s health, let us now focus on the consequences that toxic masculinity has on women and society in general.  A survey in Cosmopolitan magazine of 2,234 female employees between 18 and 34 found that almost one in three said they had been sexually harassed at work.  71 percent of respondents didn’t report the harassment. Of the 29 percent of women who did report it, only 15 percent felt the report was handled fairly.

In 2015, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center found;

  • 1 out of 5 women will be raped at some point in their lives.
  • 1 out of 5 women is sexually assaulted while they attend college or university.
  • 91 percent of rape victims and sexual assault in the U.S. are female.
  • 8 percent of rapes occur while the victim is at work.
  • Rape is the most under-reported crime in the U.S.: 63 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to police.
  • More than 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses are not reported.
  • False reporting of sexual assault is rare, between 2 and 10 percent.

Gun Homicides: 90 percent of all gun homicides were committed by men when the gender of the perpetrator was known, according to the FBI.

Mass Shootings: 96.8 percent of mass shootings in the U.S. in which four or more victims died were committed by men between 1982 to 2017.

To understand the importance that guns play in toxic masculinity, look to Bushmaster Firearms International, LLC whose printed advertisement campaign of 2010 featured a photo of an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle along with the phrase, “CONSIDER YOUR MAN CARD REISSUED.”  Just two years later, Adam Lanza used an AR-15 rifle to kill twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

The results that toxic masculinity has on society, in general, is that men constitute 93 percent of all inmates in the U.S. prison system.  And with only 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. has more than 20 percent of the world’s imprisoned population making it world’s largest incarcerator.

Finally, different dimensions of masculinity predicate authoritarian attitudes and anti-gay anger, according to study from Bradley Goodnight at Georgia State University.  Social status, toughness, and anti-feminine perspectives were three factors of masculinity correlated to right-wing authoritarianism, sexual prejudice, and homophobic aggression.

How To Curb Toxic Masculinity With Public Policy

Reader, there is a history and tradition of toxic masculinity in the U.S. Toxic male behaviors negatively impact everyone’s quality of life. All of these abuses lack respect and consent, therefore promoting respectful and consenting behaviors must be at the center of reducing toxic masculinity. How can we promote healthy, respectful consenting behaviors? Let us look at the power structure of toxic masculinity in the U.S. so we can better understand it.

Justice John Marshall wrote in 1819, “The power to tax is the power to destroy.” All of the men listed at the beginning of this blog had great wealth and incomes and powerful statuses in society.  Their wealth and income are the sources of their power, and it is possible these men believed their great wealth and power permitted them to abuse and disrespect women. The question we need to ask is would wealthy men treat women with less disrespect if they had less wealth, incomes and power? And if so, how could we execute this plan?

From a public policy perspective, Congress could increase taxes on high incomes and millionaire and billionaires’ wealth in order to reduce the power these men have in society. And there is an abundant amount of male-millionaires in the U.S.: 90 percent of the 10.8 million millionaires in the U.S. are men.

Congress could also close tax exemptions and use the extra revenue garnered to expand funding for Medicaid and ultimately a single-payer healthcare plan. They could also subsidize affordable housing, higher education, and a public daycare plan. And in taxing great incomes and wealth, Congress would reduce the economic inequalities between the social classes and genders in the U.S. And with greater gender equality in the U.S., it is possible more women would run for political office.

The theory is taxing wealthy, powerful men more should decrease the disrespect of women in general. And I think this is true because less wealthy, powerful men emulate the behaviors of the most wealthy, powerful men in society.

Sexual abuse reporting might actually increase after this plan is implemented, and it might continue for several years. But once wealthy, powerful men begin to respect women, upper middle class, middle class, working class and poor men should respect women too. Toxic male behaviors should decrease overall and sex abuse reporting should decrease too. This would likely reduce the sexual abuse women who work in high sex abuse industries like the restaurant and hospitality sectors.

How To Curb Toxic Masculinity Without Public Policy

As long as women are burdened with the responsibility of policing toxic masculinity in society, nothing will change and men will reproduce toxic behavior in perpetuity.  Therefore, men need to take responsibility for promoting respectful behavior toward women by discouraging disrespectful behaviors made by other men. Men can begin by promoting respectful behaviors with the friends they already have and even foster new ones.

Parents can teach their boys that they are not entitled to have power and control over women. They can also teach their sons that it’s ok to cry, to be sad, to feel emotions, to care, to be kind, and loving and that these things make them more mature people.  Men can also learn to share a greater amount of household work and childcare responsibilities.

Finally, men can learn to be more flexible in their gender roles, after all, men who have flexible gender roles have higher quality marriages and lower divorce rates.  “Research in America indicates that marriages, where men and women are flexible in their gender roles tend to have the highest marital quality. Over the course of a marriage, husbands who become less invested in their masculine identity also report becoming happier.”


Toxic masculinity has a history and tradition in the U.S., it also has harmful health effects on men and women.  But men are not a monolith, they can unlearn their toxic behaviors to increase everyone’s quality of life.

Public policy could be used to reduce toxic behavior of the wealthiest, highest income earning men to change the U.S. gender power structure.  But men could also reduce toxic masculinity by being more respectful to women and other men.

Let us begin by respecting everyone unconditionally.  Let us know that it is ok to be vulnerable and realize that masculinity is a social construction and therefore does not exist beyond our minds.  In summation, every man must become a feminist and elevate the gender equality of women to end gendered violence in the U.S.

A Day In The Life Of A Shutdown Worker: Why The Federal Government Was Closed Only To Be Later Reopened


Hey there reader, I hope you’re doing great.  I took a break from blogging for a few months but now I’m back to write about the recent shut down of the federal government.

How Did This All Happen?

Russell Berman laid out a pretty good five part summary about why the federal government shut down happened in The Atlantic recently.  Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA was a major part of the government shutdown, the program protects the Dreamers from deportation.

On September 5, 2017 the President declared he would end the program in six months if Congress didn’t extend it.  Democrats in both chambers of Congress had been trying to protect the Dreamers but anti-immigrant Republicans demanded greater funds for the wall on the southern border and to cease family-sponsored migration and base it on merit instead.

Also, problems have arisen over the federal budget.  Rather than passing an annual budget, Congress has used three consecutive continuing resolutions to fund the government. Continuing resolutions presented a spending conflict for federal departments, especially for the Department of Defense: the DoD cannot plan ahead years in advance when it’s hindered by short term budgets.

Furthermore, funds for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, also known as C.H.I.P. lapsed in the fall.  Nine million children would go without healthcare funding if funds weren’t appropriated in the next continuing resolution or budget.  Republicans recently proposed a continuing resolution bill to the Democrats with a six year C.H.I.P. reauthorization excluding any immigration language.  The Democrats however baulked and said that the Republicans were forcing them to choose between health care for children and the Dreamers.  Republicans countered and claimed that the Democrats were trying to shut down the government over immigration.

Meanwhile the President originally supported the immigration deal Senator Dick Durbin had made with five Senators which including Lindsey Graham, however the President later changed his mind after he consulted with Republicans-and probably Stephen Miller.  According to Senator Charles Schumer, the President did this again right before the shutdown began on January 19, after Schumer had agreed to fund construction for the wall on the southern border.

In short, the five factors which contributed to the shut down of the federal government were the debate over DACA and the Dreamers, the continuing resolution, funding for C.H.I.P and the Department of Defense and the President changing course after already agreeing on a plan.  The President’s inconsistency was the most important factor here, he must stop flip flopping on immigration, negotiate a deal with the Democrats, and convince the Republicans to support it or yield to Congress.                                                               

Day 3, Monday

Morning:  I woke up, did my morning stretches, took care of my dog and got ready for the day.  I greeted my coworkers and supervisor at work, turned on my out of office notification in Microsoft Outlook, and changed my voicemail.

Our higher level supervisors directed us to include language about calling 911 in the voicemail in case of an emergency.  This seemed odd and unnecessary to me given that no one has ever called us in an emergency in my five years of experience.  I went home after working for just an hour, ran a few errands, did some chores around the house, read and did homework.

Afternoon:  I followed the developments in the news through out the day.  Republicans told Democrats they would consider a bill to protect the Dreamers at a later date if the Democrats would vote for the continuing resolution as it is.  The Democrats capitulated and the Senate passed the bill, 81 to 18.  And I took my dog to the dog park.

The bill didn’t include language about DACA, it funded C.H.I.P. for six years and kept the government open until February 8.  The DACA issue would be picked up at a later date,  Senator Mitch McConnell even said, “So long as the government remains open, it would be my intention to take up legislation here in the Senate that would address DACA, border security and related issues.”

Evening: The bill passed 266 to 150 in the House and it went to the White House for the President’s signature.  The President signed the bill and the government would reopen for business as usual on Tuesday, January, 23.

I drank a beer, ate dinner, and did some homework.  I thought about the events of the day.  It seemed like all the Republicans and Democrats had to do to end the shut down was to stop banging their heads against their political wall.  And I wondered why I felt so awkward about what had been done to the Dreamers and federal employees during the shut down?

The Big Picture

The shutdown didn’t have much of an effect on the public over the last three days.  Some trash gathered at the National Parks because no one disposed of it, military reservists’ had to cancel their weekend drill plans, hundreds of thousands of federal employees powered down their work laptops, cell phones and changed their out of office automatic replies.

Who had been taken advantage of during the shut down?  The Dreamers were definitely used as leverage here and so were federal employees.  Both groups are left feeling uncertain about what role they play in the economy and society in their own respective ways.

The President said he wanted to end DACA in September.  Senator McConnell said he would return to the issue as the bill passed in the Senate.  The continuing resolution funds the government until February 8, at which point we will have to face this issue again: what should be done about the 800,000 undocumented children of immigrants?

March 5 will be the six month mark in which the President called on Congress to do something about the DACA program.  Deporting undocumented immigrants was one of the President’s campaign promises.  We are rapidly approaching the immigration debate deadline and need an immediate solution.  But I don’t think a solution will happen before the continuing resolution expires, especially with this recalcitrant Congress.

Intuition tells me Republicans aren’t going to protect the Dreamers from deportation.  Nor are they going to give the Dreamers amnesty, naturalization or a pathway to citizenship.  The whole point of the shut down was to keep the Dreamers undocumented so Republicans could extract concessions from Democrats in the future.  In keeping Dreamers undocumented, Republicans are permitting employers, the President and his supporters to threaten them with deportation and hostility.  And notice reader, keeping the Dreamers undocumented prevents them from voting for Democrats in the first place which is why Republicans want things to remain as they are.

Furthermore, keeping the Dreamers undocumented gives the President’s base something to be angry about and the President can criticize the Republicans for failing to act on immigration.  Then Republicans and the President can both can blame the Democrats for obstruction!

If February 8 comes without an immigration bill, we’ll be right back where we are now: needing to have a debate about immigration policy with a continuing resolution about to expire.  The President will be threatening to deport 800,000 Dreamers and blaming the Congress, the Republicans won’t be interested in doing anything about the Dreamers’ immigration status and the Democrats will be unable to do anything because they’re outnumbered.  The government will shut down again and federal employees will stay home.                                                                   

What Should Be Done? 

Congress needs to develop a naturalization plan for the Dreamers, they can’t allow DACA to expire nor can they allow the President to threaten them or deport them.  Furthermore, an annual budget needs to be passed instead of continuing resolutions so federal agencies can better plan for the future and government employees can continue to work, unimpeded.

Dreamers and federal employees both were taken advantage of in this situation, both groups suffered and would be smart to combine their interests, organize together and demand a better immigration system and budget plan from their elected officials.  And if the Dreamers and federal employees don’t get what they want from this Congress, they should vote out the incumbents and elect new representatives and senators who actually give a damn about them.


Slavery And Freedom: An Interpretation Of The Old South By James Oakes


Hey everyone, I hope you’re doing great.  This blog is the first installment of a five part study on the history of slavery in the U.S.

James Oakes is a distinguished American history professor at the Graduate Center, City University of New York.  He’s written extensively about slavery, abolition, radical Republicans and the Civil War.  Slavery And Freedom is a summary of the consequences that slavery and slave laws had on the antebellum South.

Legal Outsiders

Oakes begins by describing and defining terms.  Slavery began with an act of violence, an act of human theft in which someone was captured involuntarily and sold or traded to someone else.  Slavery is the complete denial of freedom, slave state legislators used strict legal terms that were antithetical to human rights and freedoms to define the peculiar institution.

Oakes wrote about how honor, respect and reputation come from one’s peers and colleagues.  And how slavery was a suspended death sentence, it carried a sense of dishonor through out the South: it rendered slaves powerlessness and humiliated.  This is because in honor-societies, high standards of honor go hand in hand with great dishonor.

And slaves were greatly dishonored given they were legally excluded from southern society.  As perpetual outsiders, they were denied the basic assumptions liberal capitalism promised to workers, promises like owning property, the right to the fruits of one’s labor and to not work if they didn’t want to.  Dishonor pervaded into all parts of a slave’s life: enslavers frequently auctioned, sold, whipped, tortured, raped and castrated slaves.

Slavery was so pervasive, it destroyed entire families and communities.  Everything the slaves produced, every task they performed and even their physical bodies were controlled by their owner.  For example, slaves couldn’t make contracts, own property or form legal partnerships.  And because enslavers controlled every aspect of the slave’s life, right down to marriages, work locations, sleep and work schedules, diets and clothing, enslavers defined what it meant to be unfree.  But for the slave system to function at all, enslavers had to learn to not interfere too deeply in to the personal lives of slaves.  If they didn’t, slaves would resist the enslaver’s demands more and more according to historian Eugene Genovese.  It’s ironic then, that slaves were so excluded from laws in the South given they were so essential to the southern economy.

But slaves resisted the enslavers from the beginning and enslavers created and enforced rules to counter the slave resistance.  Louisiana’s slave code of 1824 read “the slave is incapable of making any kind of contract…All that a slave possesses belongs to his master; he possesses nothing of his own…The slave is incapable of exercising any public office or private trust; he cannot be tutor, curator, executor, nor attorney; he cannot be a witness in either civil or criminal matters.  He cannot be a party in any civil action, either as plaintiff or defendant, except when he has to claim or prove his freedom…Slaves cannot marry without the consent of their masters, and their marriages do not produce any of the civil effects which result from such contract.”

Alabama’s slave code of 1852 read “No master, overseer, or other person having the charge of a slave, must permit such slave to hire himself to another person, or to hire his own time, or to go at large…No slave must go beyond the limits of the plantation on which he resides, without a pass…No slave can keep or carry a gun…No slave can own property…Not more than five male slaves shall assemble together at any place off the plantation.”

There was no greater humiliation than to be denied a relationship to one’s family.  Slave marriages weren’t legally recognized in slave states; marriage after all changed how one’s estate was bequeathed, it also effected how children were raised and how someone related to society in general.  But slave marriages were different: enslavers frequently sold slaves and dissolved slave marriages and families, slaves had no legal siblings, parents, spouses or ancestors.  As many as one-third of all slave families, or some 600,000 were broken up by their owners between 1820 and 1860.  The most likely time a slave could expect their family to be broken up was after an enslaver died and their estate was divided.

But what made slave families unique was how strong their family relationships were in spite of southern dishonor and legal kinlessness.  Fewer slaves ran away when familial and community relationships were strong, most runaway slaves were unmarried young men without children.  Families were the center of the slave community’s resistance to slavery.

A Brief World History Of Slavery

Oakes noted that there were five genuine slave societies in world history in which slaves made up between one fourth and one half of the total population; Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Brazil, the Caribbean and the American South.  But the American South was by far the worst culprit of slavery in the history of the world.  Slaves made up 49.1 percent of the total southern population with 3,950,511 slaves out of 8,036,700 in the census of 1860.  Ancient Rome’s slave population was about half the size of the South’s, Brazil’s slave population was less than half the size of Rome’s.

And through out world history, slaves emancipated themselves, were sometimes emancipated by military force or manumitted after so many years of indentured service.  Military emancipation happened in the Peloponnesian WarRoman Civil War and American Civil War.  Military emancipation also happened when British troops freed thousands of slaves in the American Revolution and the War of 1812.

Aristotle, Justinian, Thomas Jefferson and John Locke wrote extensively about slavery.  Plato questioned the morality of slavery when Greeks to enslaved other Greeks.  Karl Marx castigated drivers for over-working slaves.  Jean Jaques Rousseau wrote about how slave owners interests only serve themselves.

Oakes noted that Christians sometimes enslaved other Christians and Muslims sometimes enslaved other Muslims.  And slaves were sometimes called non-believers after they were captured to ensure greater obedience to authority among the non-enslaved community.

Intersection Of Capitalism And Slavery

Slavery wasn’t a permanent life-long status in Greece, Rome, Brazil or the Caribbean but it was for the most part permanent in the American South.  Why was slavery so permanent in the U.S.?  Oakes’s answer to this question was there were enormous profits to be made in the American cotton industry.  After antiquity, slavery made a comeback and expanded significantly during in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries when European consumer demand for commodities like cocoa, coffee, rice, sugar and tobacco grew exponentially.  Essentially, slavery returned because capitalism spread through out the world from 1650 to 1888.

To get an idea of how dependent Southerners, Northerners and Europeans were on slavery just try to imagine what the South would have been like without slavery in the first place.  Oakes wrote slavery was the engine of southern society, without it the entire social structure would have collapsed.  Slavery was how nearly all wealth was created, it was the distinction between the South and North, it’s what made the South southern.

It is doubtful a slave economy could have sustained an industrial revolution mostly because slavery lacked incentives for people to innovate.  Instead slavery encouraged resentment and backwardness.  In the end, universal human rights and the dynamic force of free labor ultimately overwhelmed and destroyed slavery.

Enslavers, Yeoman And Slaves

Before abolition, the Old South consisted of enslavers and drivers, non-slave owning yeomen farmers and slaves.  In slave economies, wealth typically concentrates among enslavers more than it does among non-slave owners and the former group regularly displaces the latter group from their farms.

Oakes asked, who owned slaves?  His answer was the wealthiest 10 percent of owners, or some 2 or 3 percent of southern men, owned 50 percent of all the slaves in the South.  The majority of owners owned less than 5 slaves and only a quarter of owners owned more than 10.

Slave ownership effected the enslaver’s family dynamics: it replaced child labor and enhanced the education of the enslaver’s children: the literacy rate among the slave owning class was one of the highest in the western world.  Slavery also reduced fertility rates, the more slaves an owner owned the fewer children they had.  But slavery also encouraged soil exhaustion and required planters to seek expand slavery into more arable lands in the west.

Who were the yeomen?  Well, yeomen were farmers and craftsmen, they valued community, independence, individualism and tradition.  They detested aristocrats, corruption and government officials.  They lived in the highlands, mountainous regions, had poorer quality soils and received less rainfall than the delta plantations and were incapable of producing high yield crops like cotton.  Furthermore, yeoman farms generally lacked the access to public infrastructure, waterways, canals and markets that plantations did.

Yeoman farm families had higher fertility rates than enslaver-families.  Labor was more evenly divided among yeoman sons and daughters, parents exercised greater control in how estates were distributed but yeoman families were also more dependent upon the labor of their children than enslavers were.  As yeoman children matured, they demanded their own land to farm.  This created a land crisis given land was already scarce and enslavers owned more and more of it with time.

Plantations on the other hand were large and expanded from lowland river deltas up into the countryside and highlands.  Plantations were located mostly near the best soils, between one half to two-thirds of all plantations had slaves working on them, sometimes up to 90 percent of the local population was enslaved.  Oakes wrote about how enslavers could be separated from their land and still create a profit: they frequently hired out slaves to work for other planters or they moved them.  And moving was so common among the enslavers, only 20 percent of them lived on the same plantation 20 years later.

Slavery gentrified real estate and caused local property values and taxes to increase beyond the means of the yeoman.  This process threatened the yeomen’s existence which festered into political resentment in the antebellum South.  Yeomen farmers began to realign their political interests with northerners more than with enslavers, many yeomen fought for the Union during the Civil War.  Throughout history, when non-slave owning farmers were displaced by slave owners, they joined an army: this happened in Ancient Rome before the Roman Civil War just as it happened in the South before the American Civil War.

Yeomen owned fewer slaves than delta-planters but just because slave ownership in the highlands was rare doesn’t mean they weren’t racist.  In fact, many southern and northern Americans were racist in the 19th century.  Many favored a Herrenvolk type of democracy instead of a planter-aristocracy and slaves were considered the mud-sills of society as Senator James Hammond of South Carolina put it.  Oakes wrote how racism came after slavery to reinforce beliefs about slavery-capitalism and perpetuate the system.

Case Study: Slave State Laws

Slaves were usually emancipated and were made naturalized citizens in other slave-societies.  But racism was such a big part of slavery and capitalism in the American South, racism pervaded into the legal system, the worst examples were of course the U.S. Supreme Court cases Prigg v. Pennsylvania of 1842 and Scott v. Sanford of 1857.

The slave resistance began to manifest itself in state slave law cases.  With each new trial, a slave’s right to life might be marginally extended and the balance of power between the state, enslavers and slaves might be redefined.  And each new case challenged the legitimacy of slavery itself.

One of the worst state slave law decisions came about in North Carolina in the late 1820s.  John Mann, an enslaver had rented Lydia, a slave in Chowan County, North Carolina for one year.  It’s unknown why Mann whipped Lydia but when she tried to escape, he shot and wounded her.

North Carolina authorities believed Mann’s shot was disproportionate to Lydia’s escape attempt and he was charged with assault and battery.  The jury ruled against Mann in the criminal trial however he appealed, claiming that an enslaver couldn’t be charged with assault on a slave because slaves were the property of the enslaver.

Judge Thomas Ruffin of the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled slaves had no rights in State v. Mann in 1829.  Ruffin wrote enslavers had “full dominion of the owner over the slave…the power of the master must be absolute, to render the submission of the slave perfect.”  But in State v. Negro Will, the North Carolina Supreme Court decided that if a slave killed their overseer or owner in self-defense, the homicide would be considered manslaughter, not murder.

Will was a slave who fought Allen, his foreman over the possession of a hoe in Edgecombe County, North Carolina in January, 1834.  Will broke the hoe and ran to work at a nearby cotton mill.  Richard Baxter, the overseer heard of the fight, grabbed his gun, mounted his horse and told Allen to bring his whip.  Will attempted to run away and Baxter shot Will in the back.  Will continued to run but Baxter caught him and the two wrestled to the ground where Will stabbed Baxter with a knife in the arm, killing him.  Will was tried and found guilty of first degree murder by the Edgecombe County Superior Court and was sentenced to die.

Will’s owner, James Battle investigated the matter and believed Will acted in self-defense.  Battle appealed the case to the state supreme court which reversed Will’s conviction.  Judge William Gaston concluded that if the homicide had been committed by a free man upon another free man, it would have been no more severe than a manslaughter charge and that the homicide lacked the premeditation required of a first degree murder.

Judge Gaston’s decision was consequential when he correctly overturned Judge Ruffin’s State v. Mann decision.  Gaston recognized the slave’s right to personal security and limited an enslaver’s power in State v. Will.  Abolitionists, newspapers, law journals applauded Gaston’s decision.

These cases illustrate the slaves’ resistance to the enslavers demands but they also demonstrate how arbitrary was the power of enslavers in the first place.  Slaves after all were just as important, if not more important as the crops they produced and the soil they tilled.  Without the slaves, cotton wouldn’t get picked, corn wouldn’t get shucked.  It was in the enslaver’s interest to treat the slaves as humanely as possible.

Because slave laws presented so many legal questions, authorities found it necessary to empower slaves with rights before they could restrict the power of enslavers.  Slave state legislatures began to re-write their slave codes, Alabama’s slave code read “The master must treat his slave with humanity and must not inflict upon him any cruel punishment; he must provide him with a sufficiency of healthy food and necessary clothing; cause him to be properly attended during sickness, and provide for his necessary wants in old age.”  Southern legislators and judges limited the punishments permitted to an enslaver; whipping, castration and ear cropping were gradually eliminated from slave codes, capital offenses were reduced and public executions and were prohibited.

But this presented an enforcement problem for slave states, specifically how could a slave state force an enslaver to treat slaves–who were legal outsiders–humanely when enslavers wielded such great power?  Where did state power end and enslaver power begin?  Authorities had to assume enslavers used self discipline and complied with these laws, making these laws moot and unenforceable.  Furthermore, it became difficult if not impossible to prosecute these cases given slaves were denied legal personalities and rights such as self defense, trial by jury, bearing witness, testifying against an enslaver and legal due process.

And what happened to Judge Ruffin? Well, he continued to issue more slave case law decisions and even agreed with Judge Gaston.  In 1839, he wrote an enslaver’s “authority is not altogether unlimited. He must not kill. There is, at the least, this restriction upon his power: he must stop short of taking life” in the North Carolina Supreme Court case State v. Hoover.  After so much legal reform, slavery was still a brutal system of oppression and theft: slaves hardly had any of the same rights enslavers had by 1860.

Case Study: Intersection Of Federal Laws And State Slave Laws

The South dominated the White House for the first 75 years of the republic by utilizing the Three-Fifths Compromise and Fugitive Slave Clause.  However, problems with slavery began to arise at the federal level when the Census of 1840 revealed immigration made the northern population grow much faster than in the South.  This count yielded more seats in the House of Representatives to northern states, making the Three-Fifths Compromise less consequential for the South than it had been before 1840.  This bolstered the slave resistance in the South and abolition movement in the North.

Of course non-slave states in the North had relied on personal liberty laws which were founded on the Somerset principle.  Lord Mansfield wrote in the Somerset case in 1772 that “no master ever was allowed here (in England) to take a slave by force to be sold abroad because he deserted from his service…therefore the man must be discharged.”

Debate about which government, state or federal, had supreme authority began with the Nullification Crisis in 1832, it was exacerbated by northern states’ rights and the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793.  The specific question was how could northern states’ rights and personal liberty laws be respected if slave catchers were allowed to capture and return runaways to the South?  Its as if personal liberty laws in the North were moot and all states were slave states, especially after the Prigg v. Pennsylvania decision of 1842.  Debate escalated with the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 which required common citizens to assist in the recovery of fugitive slaves, denied a fugitive’s right to a trial and designated enforcement to federal commissioners and officials.

At the heart of the debate was southern fear over the slave resistance.  Southerners worried the resistance could easily become a revolt if the slaves were provoked.  And the South would of course suffer the most from a slave revolt given almost 90 percent of the African-American population lived in the South on the eve of the Civil War.

The Meaning Of The Civil War

Secession led to Civil War in April, 1861.  Thousands of slaves emancipated themselves and ran to Union lines.  Congress, led by radical republicans determined to win the war for reunion and incrementally destroy slavery ordered the Union Army to not return runaway slaves in March, 1862 which weakened the Fugitive Slave Act.  Congress also passed the first and second Confiscation Acts in August, 1861 and July, 1862 respectively.  The former law authorized Union Armies to seize Confederate property and free the slaves but in hindsight this was unenforceable given it was limited to the Confederacy.  The latter law freed slaves of civilian and Confederate military officials in areas occupied by the Union Army in the South which increased the flow of self emancipators.

Even after the Emancipation Proclamation, slavery was so persistent that during the Civil War that only about 14 percent of the entire enslaved population, or some 550,000 emancipated themselves.  And of that number, roughly 179,000 fought for the Union Army and Navy.  Freedmen made up approximately 9 percent of the entire military during the Civil War.

Revisionist historians sometimes debate about what the Civil War was really about.  Was it about slavery, freedom, state’s rights, tariffs?  Oakes made it clear, the slaves knew the Civil War was about them: the slaves had always resisted the enslavers, half a million slaves emancipated themselves during the Civil War.  Emancipation led to revolt which changed the meaning of the Civil War from a war fought for reunion to a war fought for freedom.

Slavery and Freedom is one of the best books I’ve ever read on slavery in the U.S.  Oakes told an amazing story here, I’d encourage anyone with an interest in the subject to pick it up.  Thanks for reading.

Battles For Freedom: The Use And Abuse Of American History

Hey everyone, I hope you’re doing great.  Eric Foner was a professor of U.S. history at the  Columbia University, he wrote several books about 19th century U.S. political history, about Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, the Republican Party and Reconstruction.

His latest book, Battles For Freedom: The Use And Abuse Of American History is a collection of twenty-seven essays published in The Nation between 1977 and 2017.  Foner covers several U.S. history topics in these essays, topics like;

  • How race, class and immigration status intersect in the U.S.
  • The xenophobic sentiment behind the Sacco-Vanzetti trial.
  • The international cry for equal justice in the Scottsboro Boys trial.
  • The similarities and differences of Presidents Lincoln and Obama.
  • How the modern Republican Party is no longer the party of Lincoln.
  • How some southerners walked out of the Democratic Party Convention in 1948 and became southern Republicans 20 years later.
  • The differences between docudramas, historical fiction and revisionist history.
  • Praise for late historians Howard Zinn and Eric Hobsbawm who espoused a critical perspective of institutions.
  • His experience teaching critical U.S. history courses.

After reading these essays, I noted how often Foner elaborated on revolutions and how they’re never complete: they take time to fully develop and require popular support.  Furthermore, a politician can’t bring about great social change by themselves, great social change has to come from a popular movement of the people, the charismatic politician motivates the popular movement to achieve their desires.  Finally, Foner wrote about how being the smartest guy in the room might make a president good but welcoming criticism makes a president great.

This was an easy and sweet read at 220 pages.  Foner is my favorite historian, I’d encourage anyone interested in the struggle for equality to read it.

The Limits Of “Hard” Work

Hey everyone, I hope you’re doing great.  You might have heard someone say, “I got to where I am in life with a little hard work.”  Or “if someone wants to live a high-quality life, all they have to do is work hard for it.”

It sounds like the word “hard” should be objective here, it should mean the same thing to everyone.  Also “hard” sounds like a qualifier intended to separate “hard” workers from those who don’t work as “hard” and the unemployed.

But critical thinkers should be able to recognize this faulty type thinking.  Separating people from each other is the classic divide and conquer management strategy.  And “hard” work is mythical type thinking that seems Pollyanna to me at least; “hard” is subjective to individual interpretation, it doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone.

A job might be easier to learn for some workers and more difficult to learn for others.  And not all jobs are easy and not all workers are the same which partly explains why compensation might vary so much.

In fact, it seems like the “harder” a job is, the more likely it is to be replaced by automation since given “hard” implies it is difficult, the labor costs are expensive and there are probably few qualified employees willing and able to do it.  So let’s look at the status of jobs, income, hours worked and economic inequality in the U.S. to find out if “hard” work is really all that it’s cracked up to be.  Ready, go!

U.S. Job Status

The status of jobs in the U.S. isn’t great: overall jobs are limited and scarce.  The workforce participation was just 62.8 percent in June 2017, the same rate as it was in March 1978.  Workforce participation peaked at 67.3 percent in April 2000 during the dot-com boom.

To be fair, the population grew by 103 million people or 46 percent from 1978 to 2017.  But a growing population shouldn’t affect the decrease in workforce participation, the rate should remain the same if all factors remained same.  We don’t live in a vacuum however and the most likely culprit for the workforce participation decline is technology which regularly replaces labor expenses with automation.

Let’s note here that technology is a virtuous and good thing.  Technology makes us more productive and helps us live higher quality lives in the long term but it also displaces workers in the short term.  Technology presents a challenge for lawmakers and employers: workers who were displaced by innovation have to be retrained to re-enter the workforce.  Otherwise, workers displaced by technology could become discouraged or economic nationalists.

Furthermore, jobs are changing in the U.S.  Last year, economists at the National Bureau of Economic Research found a significant increase in alternative work arrangements from 2005 to 2015.

“The percentage of workers engaged in alternative work arrangements – defined as temporary help agency workers, on-call workers, contract workers, and independent contractors or freelancers – rose from 10.1 percent in February 2005 to 15.8 percent in late 2015. The percentage of workers hired out through contract companies showed the sharpest rise increasing from 0.6 percent in 2005 to 3.1 percent in 2015. Workers who provide services through online intermediaries, such as Uber or Task Rabbit, accounted for 0.5 percent of all workers in 2015. About twice as many workers selling goods or services directly to customers reported finding customers through offline intermediaries than through online intermediaries.”

This means job growth has been a wash over the previous decade.  The economists found 94 percent of net job growth was in the alternative work category from 2005 to 2015 and more than 60 percent of the growth was due to the increase of “independent contractors, freelancers, and contract company workers.”

In so many words, almost all of the 10 million jobs created between 2005 and 2015 were in the alternative, contract, temporary or gig economy.  Take the 327,000 Uber drivers who are classified as independent contractors as examples of the new workforce.

U.S. Wage Status

The status of wages in the U.S. isn’t impressive: overall wages are low.  Sure, non-supervisory, non-agricultural wages nearly doubled from $12.27 to $21.23 per hour from 1947 to 1973, an average growth rate of 2.1 percent per year based on 2013 dollars.  But the average hourly wage was just $20.13 per hour in 2013, a 5 percent decrease from what it was in 1973.  Overall wage growth was slow or flat for this 40 year period which means workers can’t pay their bills and debts.

Who Are Low-Income Workers?

Researchers at the National Employment Law Project found 42 percent of U.S. workers were paid less than $15 per hour or $31,000 per year in 2015.  They also found women and minorities were overrepresented in jobs which pay less than a $15 per hour;

  • Female workers made up 54.7 percent of employees paid less than $15 per hour, they were 48.3 percent of the U.S. workforce.
  • African Americans made up 15 percent of employees paid less than $15 per hour, they were 12 percent of the workforce.
  • Latino Americans made up 23 percent of employees paid less than $15 per hour, they were 16.5 percent of the workforce.

This means more than half of African American workers and close to 60 percent of Latino workers were paid less than $15 per hour in 2015.  The researchers also noted how low wages weren’t just for young workers: 46.4 percent of U.S. workers who were paid less than $15 per hour were older than age 35.

Low-income jobs were overrepresented in retail and sales: nearly 3 million cashiers and sales associates were paid less than $15 per hour.  Foodservice and preparation jobs had the greatest concentration of employees paid less than a $15 per hour.

More than 50 percent of all workers were paid less than $15 per hour in the following sectors; farming, fishing, forestry, personal care services, building, custodial and maintenance, home health care, sales and transportation and moving.  60 percent of service workers in restaurants and bars, private households, agriculture, personal-laundry, hospitality, retail, and administration were paid less than $15 per hour.

Notice, workers in retail, food service and preparation, laborers and movers, custodians, nursing assistants and personal health aides had median wages less than $15.  Curiously, jobs in these sectors will be some of the fastest growing in the near future.

But to be fair, incomes have slightly grown in the U.S. since 2015.  “Real median household income was $56,500 in 2015…up from $53,700 in 2014.  That 5.2 percent increase was the largest, in percentage terms, recorded by the bureau since it began tracking median income statistics in the 1960s.”  Growing incomes reduced the U.S. poverty rate by 1.2 percentage points in 2015 which was the steepest decline since 1968.

U.S. Work Hour Status

The status of work hours in the U.S. is exhausting.  To put it more bluntly, employees are working a lot of hours.  In 2014, researchers at Gallup found 50 percent of all employees reported working more than 40 hours per week.  39 percent said they worked more than 50 hours per week and 18 percent said they worked more than 60 hours per week.

A recent poll by Marketplace found that the top concern for half of all hourly workers isn’t that they work too much but that they work too little and need the income to pay their bills.  Researchers at the Economic Policy Institute found the average worker worked 1,687 hours in 1979 and 1,868 hours in 2007, almost an 11 percent increase or an additional 4.5 work weeks per year.  Work hours grew 20.3 percent for female workers while work hours grew by 4.4 percent for male workers over the same period.

Hours worked grew fastest among workers in the bottom fifth of income earners, 22 percent from 1979 to 2007.  Middle-income employee hours worked increased by 10.9 percent over the same period.

To be fair, the top 5 percent of income earners are working more hours too.  This groups’ hours worked grew by 7.6 percent and their wages grew by 30.2 percent from 1979 to 2007.  Real hourly grew by 14.8 percent if the dot-com boom years of 1995 to 2000 were excluded.

The top 5 percent of income earners took home $110,000 in 2014 but these employees don’t work for the same reason working class and middle-class employees do. The top 5 percent of income earners don’t work out of necessity, to pay their bills or support families, they work for pleasure, powerconspicuous consumption or production or as one writer bluntly put it “because they can.”

What Do Managers Think Of Employees Who Work So Many Hours?  

Professor Erin Reid of Boston University’s Questrom School of Business found managers couldn’t tell the difference between employees who worked 80 hours per week and those who just pretended to work “hard.”  Reid found managers reprimanded employees who were transparent about working fewer hours but she didn’t find any evidence that these employees were any less productive or any sign that the employees who worked more hours were any more productive.

Take the legal system as an example of “hard” work, workaholism.  Let’s assume going to court is very expensive and also acknowledge the fact lawyers at large law firms frequently complain about the number of hours they work each week.  Given these details, one could believe reaching a resolution via arbitration or deposition is the function of the legal system.  But in reality, we find this system is a “socially unnecessary arms race, wherein lawyers subject each other to torturous amounts of labor just because they can.”  Technology and professionalism used to limit arms races in the past but these factors have actually increased competition and productivity which means both sides work more hours today.

U.S. Economic Inequality Status

The status of income inequality in the U.S. is infamous: economic gains aren’t being shared equally and most U.S. workers are too poor to work fewer hours.  For some historical context, the U.S. experienced great economic inequality from the beginning of the 20th century until 1929 when the Great Depression happened.

The New Deal was implemented which reduced economic inequality and the middle class grew until about 1978 when the top 0.1 percent’s share of income began to increase from 7 percent in 1979 to 22 percent in 2012, a level nearly as high as the economic inequality experienced in 1929.  The bottom 90 percent of income earners’ wealth, however, began to fall in the 1980s.

The top one percent of income earners brought home $393,941 per year in 2014.  Keep in mind, not only did this group earn hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, they also earned millions and billions of dollars per year.  For some context, 15,656,000 millionaires or 46 percent of the world’s millionaires lived in the U.S. in 2015.  Notice how this group believes they work “harder” than low-income earners.

Furthermore, the U.S. had the third worst GINI coefficient in the world among OECD countries in 2014 behind Mexico but ahead of Turkey and the U.S. was second only to Israel in terms of worst relative poverty rates among OECD countries.  1.5 million families and 3 million children had incomes of less than $2 per person per day in the U.S. in 2015.  A third world population lives in the U.S.

Moreover, economic mobility in the U.S. is declining.  Researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research found absolute income mobility rates, the fraction of children born in the U.S. who will earn more than their parents fell from nearly 90 percent for children born in 1940 to just 50 percent for children born in the 1980s.

What is behind the economic inequality?  Economists found 19 percent of income inequality was correlated to a person’s race, gender, and parents’ income.  Also, the neighborhood a child grows up in could affect their incomes into adult life.  “The outcomes of children whose families move to a better neighborhood – as measured by the outcomes of children already living there – improve linearly in proportion to the amount of time they spend growing up in that area, at a rate of approximately 4 percent per year of exposure.”

What Effect Does “Hard” Work Have On The Middle Class?

It appears high-income earners benefit from “hard” work the most in the U.S.: less than half of the share of wealth went to the middle classes in the U.S. in 2015, the lowest share when compared to the rest of the developed world.

Furthermore, the U.S. is experiencing economic polarization as the middle class is being hollowed out.  Experts at Pew Research found the share of adults in the U.S. living in middle-income households fell from 61 percent in 1971 to 50 percent in 2015.  The share living in the upper-income tier grew from 14 percent to 21 percent over the same period.  And the share living in the lower-income tier grew from 25 percent to 29 percent.  Notice how the 7 percent increase in the share at the top was almost double that of the lowest share.

Finally, the middle class has been stuck recently: the middle class was 25 percent more likely to stay in the middle class from 1996 to 2006 than they were from 1976 to 1986.  The Pew Research Center reported in August that 71 percent of middle-class adults say it’s harder to get ahead now than 10 years ago, an increase 9 percent since the Great Recession from 2007 to 2009.  Economists found Americans in the highest and lowest income quintiles were far more likely to remain in these quintiles than people in the three middle quintiles.

Do People Think A Poor Person Can Become Wealthy With “Hard” Work?

The number of people who believe it’s possible to be born poor and become rich with “hard” work has steadily declined over the last decade.  80 percent of survey respondents said it was possible in March 2005, 75 percent said it was possible in October 2011.  71 percent said it was possible in July 2012 and just 64 percent of survey respondents said it was possible in 2014, the lowest proportion since January 1983 when the New York Times began asking this question.

The Pew Charitable Trusts ran a similar survey and found more than 40 percent of Americans believed “hard” work, ambition and drive were the most important factors to improve someone’s economic condition.  However, a little more than 10 percent believed that coming from a wealthy family was a more likely determinant of success.

Big Picture

Given the information above, it seems like job growth has been slow, jobs are scarce, wages are low and employees are working a lot of hours.  The qualifying condition here is someone has to be hired by someone else in the first place.  Fewer jobs in proportion to the population, low wages and long work hours have exacerbated economic inequality.  And it seems like race and gender is having an effect on workers: female minority workers are getting shorted the most in this economy.

Furthermore, while wages have stagnated overall and people are working more hours each week, the costs of living have increased.  Essential life expenses like health care, housing, and higher education used to be 25 percent of gross domestic spending in 1980.  However, the costs of these three factors grew to 36 percent of spending in 2015.

It seems like “hard” work won’t reduce economic inequality or make employees wealthy.  In fact, researchers found “hard” workers, or workaholics tend to be less efficient than their coworkers because it might be difficult for them to play as part of a team.  They might also struggle to delegate work to their co-workers and take on so much extra work that they become unorganized.  Researchers found four distinct workaholics “working styles;”

  • Bulimic workaholics feel the job must be done perfectly or not at all, they fail to even start a project and rush to complete it by the deadline.  They often frantically work to the point of exhaustion with sloppy results.
  • Relentless workaholics often take on more work than can possibly be done.  They balance too many projects, work too fast or are too busy to pay attention to details.
  • Attention-deficit workaholics starts with great intensity but lose interest and fail to complete their projects.
  • Savoring workaholics are slow, methodical and overly scrupulous.  They often have trouble letting go of projects and don’t work well with others.  They’re perfectionists and frequently miss deadlines.

In many ways, “hard” work harms workers and their employers.  One study found “hard” workers who put in 55 hours per week experienced greater stress than employees who worked 40 hours per week.  This stress was correlated to lower scores in “vocabulary tests,” “fluid intelligence” and “cognitive function.”

Moreover, employees who also worked “hard” were about 12 percent “more likely to become heavy drinkers”, experience greater sleeplessness, depression, diabetes, heart disease, increased absenteeism, turnover and higher health insurance premiums than those who didn’t.

The Meaning Of “Hard” Work

“Hard” work is a meaningless, self-congratulating label, a pat on the back for those who believe they worked “hard” given their income.  But I think the role technology plays in the economy proves the point, we work to live, not live to work.  More concisely, the point of work is to not have to work so “hard” to live a high-quality life, to earn wages great enough to not have to struggle.  Otherwise, why work at all?

Furthermore, getting a job in the first place requires a lot of work.  And to claim someone works “hard” is to assert bourgeois privilege over other employees and the unemployed.

Ironically, it seems like we confuse effort with worry.  “We don’t correlate our sense of responsibility with what we are actually producing. We correlate it with how hard we are being on ourselves,” wrote Dan Pallotta for the Harvard Business Review blog post. “I can hunch over my computer screen for half the day churning frenetically through emails without getting much of substance done, all the while telling myself what a loser I am, and leave at 6pm feeling like I put in a full day. And given my level of mental fatigue, I did!”

The Limits Of “Hard” Work

We know there are limits to “hard” work given the consequences that “hard” work has on our leisure time, personal relationships and quality of life.  John Maynard Keynes wrote the “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren” in 1928 in which he imagined what the world would look like in a hundred years.  He predicted the “standard of life” in Europe and the U.S. would improve so much, no one would work more than 15 hours per week.

Economists at the New Economics Foundation put forth a proposal of “21 Hours” worked per week in 2010 to reduce “widening inequalities, a failing global economy, critically depleted natural resources and accelerating climate change pose grave threats to the future of human civilisation.”

Their plan would tax high-income earners more progressively and address critical issues facing the 21st-century workforce, issues like”overwork, unemployment, over-consumption, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, and the lack of time to live sustainably, to care for each other, and simply to enjoy life.”  The plan calls for increasing the minimum wage and reducing hours worked per week so workers can maintain their current incomes.  With this plan, the overall workforce participation rate which is low should increase.

Keynes would probably uphold European countries as a model of planning for the next workforce if he were alive today.  Sweden, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and the United Kingdom are 6 of the top 10 most competitive countries in the world.  And lawmakers in each of these countries prohibited employers from scheduling employees to work more than 48 hours per week.

Employers could also take the initiative to reduce employee work hours and in doing so they might get healthier and more productive employees.  When hospital administrators reduced nurses daily hours worked from 8 to 6, they found “The nurses working six hours took 4.7 percent fewer sick days and fewer work absences than when they worked eight-hour days.”  And “A comparative group of nurses working eight hour days actually increased the number of sick days during the trial by more than 60 percent.”

Essentially, we need to increase labor’s share of the economy: workers’ earnings as a share of the gross domestic product must be more equitable.  Labor’s share of the economy fell from 63 percent to 57 percent of GDP between 2000 and 2012.  And even though it recently grew to 58 percent, this is still inadequate.

Planning For The Next Workforce

We know there are diminishing returns to “hard” work.  I suggest we stop working “harder” and instead work “smarter” using technology and public policy.  Social change happens slowly, so let’s think about who are the people most likely to need reform for the next workforce.

It seems like minority female workers who are paid less than $15 per hour would benefit the most from public policy reform.  Lawmakers would be smart to craft public policy around their general needs like access to high-quality jobs that pay more than $15 per hour, decreasing poverty and encouraging economic upward mobility.  Specifically, lawmakers should focus on a $15 per hour minimum wage, shorter work weeks, affordable or public housing, public higher education, single-payer healthcare planpublic daycare and paid family medical leave.

Let’s say a minority female restaurant server lives in the Washington D.C area, one of the most expensive cities in the U.S.  Let’s also assume she is single, is younger than age 35 and has a 3-year-old child and doesn’t utilize the Head Start program.  She has two jobs both of which pay $13 per hour and she works 60 hours per week combined.  Her gross annual income is $40,560 per year, her net income is $31,371 and she isn’t entitled to overtime compensation because she doesn’t work more than 40 hours per week for either employer.

Her paid hours worked end when she leaves her job but her unpaid hours worked never actually stop at home.  Lawmakers would be smart to recognize how interconnected affordable and public housing and daycare costs are.  The absence of a federally funded public daycare program means this worker might have to spend up to $22,631 in daycare expenses each year which is more than “three times what it costs for a year at a public college” in Washington, D.C.

Furthermore, affordable or public housing is scarce in Washington, D.C. with “more than 70,000 people waiting for one of 8,000 units.”  The scarce amount of affordable, public housing means she might consider moving to the suburbs where rent is cheaper than in the city but requires more time to commute to and from work each day.  The tradeoff is, by moving to the suburbs, she will spend fewer hours with her child and will need a public daycare program.

Lawmakers would also be smart to further subsidize public higher education to the point it is affordable or free.  This could be done by taxing Wall Street transactions one cent each, millions of which happen every day.  With affordable or free public higher education, this worker could get the education and skills necessary to be competitive in the next workforce and work one full-time job.

But a single-payer healthcare plan would benefit this employee the most.  The single-payer healthcare plan also known as “Medicare For All” is a system in where “a single public or quasi-public agency organizes health care financing, but the delivery of care remains largely in private hands. Under a single-payer system, all residents of the U.S. would be covered for all medically necessary services, including doctor, hospital, preventive, long-term care, mental health, reproductive health care, dental, vision, prescription drug and medical supply costs.

At the moment, the U.S. spends “more than twice as much as the rest of the industrialized nations.”  This is the equivalent of $8,160 per person.  Notice, the U.S. healthcare system underperforms in terms of life expectancy, infant mortality and immunization rates when compared to other developed countries which already provide comprehensive coverage to their populations.

In fact, the U.S. spends more on health care and provides less coverage than other developed countries because of its patchwork system of for-profit payers.  Overhead, underwriting, billing, sales and marketing departments, profit-seeking motivation exorbitant executive pay are behind these costs.  Doctors, staff, and administrative costs make up 31 percent of total U.S. healthcare expenses.

A single-payer health care plan could save the U.S. more than $400 billion per year, enough to provide comprehensive coverage to everyone without paying any more than we already do.  The single-payer plan would make premiums disappear and 95 percent of all households would save money on their healthcare expenses each month.

Lawmakers should introduce a single-payer healthcare plan.  It would be funded by the savings derived from replacing our inefficient, profit-oriented, multi-payer insurance system with a single streamlined, nonprofit, public payer plan.  Sure, this will mean increasing taxes on millionaires and billionaires but the U.S. already has millions of them.  H.R. 676 also know as the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act is based on the Physicians For A National Health Program’s Physicians’ Proposal to establish a national single-payer health insurance system.

Critical Analysis Of “Hard” Work

Hard” work dates back to the Protestant Work Ethic, it’s an antiquated term which seems to be most applicable when describing work performed on the farm when concentration, efficiency, and timeliness affected harvests.  Work used to be where one “learned discipline, initiative, honesty, and self-reliance—in a word, character.”  However, this is no longer the case: technology made society exponentially more productive which negated the necessity to work “hard” and to just work.  Technology is behind our increased quality of life.  And let’s be honest, a lot of jobs are bullshit anyway.

But the tradeoff of improved technology is more workers are subject to their supervisors today.  Managers determine whether an employee works “hard” or not and who gets hired or fired.  Supervisors have so much discretion over the workforce, they could keep a reserve workforce waiting if they wanted to, in theory.  However, this is unlikely given firms have to run at maximum productivity and new employees are usually only hired after current employees have achieved maximum productivity.

We should note here that workers don’t just work for the sake of work alone which is what “hard” work seems to also imply.  Workers work for wages, high wages and we have a problem if wages don’t pay the bills commensurate with the cost of living.  This means employers should offer more competitive compensation and benefit plans to employees so they become more productive given firms might lose their best workers to companies that do.

Furthermore, each employee has different strengths, weaknesses, different experiences, education and skills.  Maximizing the productivity of each worker with their experience, education, and skills in mind is, of course, the job of the supervisor.  Therefore, if an employee isn’t working “hard,” it isn’t the fault of the employee, it’s the supervisor’s fault: they could fire an employee who doesn’t work “hard” and hire someone else.

But the more important qualifying condition and argument behind “hard” work is whether someone is employed in the first place.  It seems like “hard” workers have a confirmation bias and use the unemployed as examples of what workers shouldn’t be to distinguish themselves from non “hard” workers and the unemployed.  The rhetoric sounds something like this, “the unemployed didn’t work “hard” and if you want to keep your job, you better be a “hard” worker too, or else you’ll end up just like them.”

But anyone trained in class solidarity, us versus them psychology and critical theory knows separating workers is how management creates class conflict.  Therefore, it’s in every employee’s interest to avoid being separated and reject “hard” work: everyone works “hard” or no one works “hard.”


Workers would be smart to recognize “hard” work is a hollow label and instead focus on achieving a higher quality of life with better wages, benefits and a better work-life balance.  We should demand our lawmakers pass legislation for $15 per hour minimum wage, shorter work weekspublic housing, public higher education, single-payer healthcare planpublic daycare and paid family medical leave.  And if we don’t get what we want, let’s re-organize and try, try again.

Are Uber Drivers Independent Contractors Or Employees?

Hey everyone, I hope you’re doing great.  I took a few weeks off from blogging to move but I’m back to write about Uber drivers and how they’re classified as independent contractors.  I want to find out whether drivers really are bona fide independent contractors.  So let’s critically analyze the employment relationship of these drivers to see if they’re correctly classified.  But first, here are some quick facts about Uber;

  • Uber is huge.  The company operates in 58 countries and 450 cities.  40 million people used Uber just last month.
  • There were 327,000 Uber drivers as of October, 2015 however only 4 percent of the staff will be with the company one year after they began.
  • The company grossed $6.5 billion, $2.1 billion and $1.1 billion in sales in 2016, 2015 and 2014 respectively.
  • Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was worth approximately $6.3 billion approximately in 2014.  Kalanick joined the Trump administration as an economic advisor in December 2016.  After Mr. Trump issued an executive order which banned international travel from 7 Muslim majority countries, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance staged a strike at John F. Kennedy International Airport.  Uber then tweeted it would increase surge prices at JFK.  Kalanick was criticized for this move and stepped down from the administration in February 2017.  He later resigned as CEO in June 2017 after “a slew of executive departures and sexual harassment allegations” had “raised concerns about the company’s ability to recruit female talent.”

Here are some quick facts about Uber drivers;

  • A full-time driver’s salary in the U.S. could be as high as $90,000 per year according to Uber.  But this doesn’t include expenses like the lease, fuel, maintenance, insurance, tolls or other miscellaneous driver fees.  That $90,000 annual salary doesn’t sound like much given these expenses and the average wage could be as low as $3 per hour in other countries.  Also, drivers aren’t paid in between fairs.
  • Uber drivers earn approximately $25 to $35 per hour on average in large cities like New York and Los Angeles.  But in smaller cities, drivers typically earn between $8 and $15 per hour or $30,000 per year salary.
  • Uber drivers must be at least 21 years of age and have 3 years driving experience.  Drivers must have insurance, registration, licenses, a social security number, have a clean driving record and pass a background check.  Drivers must own or lease a 4 door vehicle which seats 4 or more passengers, excluding the driver.
  • Vehicles may not be older than 10 years, they can’t be marked, taxis or salvaged vehicles.  Vehicles must pass an inspection.
  • Uber drivers may not have any DUI or drug-related offenses, incidents of driving without insurance or license, fatal accidents, history of reckless driving or a criminal history.  If a someone doesn’t own or lease a vehicle which is less then 10 years old, the driver may rent or finance an automobile from Uber, making them both a driver and consumer.

Employment Relationship Test

The U.S. Department of Labor defines the employment relationship between workers and their employers.  To employ someone is to “suffer or permit” them “to work” on the behalf of an employer.  This implies the worker expects to be paid for their hours worked.  Furthermore, workers are economically dependent on their employers while independent contractors aren’t.

There are six parts to the independent contractor test.  Let’s critically analyze the relationship between Uber and their drivers to see if they are in fact classified correctly as independent contractors.

First, the extent to which the work performed is an integral part of the employer’s business.  Uber claims it is a technology company, however, the purpose of a technology company is to innovate, to make technology better, faster and cheaper.  Technology firms usually improve upon existing technology to save on labor and consumer costs.  But it seems like Uber receives the vast majority of its revenue from drivers who provide rides to riders, not from making technology more efficient.  Providing riders with rides is an integral part of Uber’s business: this is how the firm brings in revenue.

Second, whether the worker’s managerial skills affect his or her opportunity for profit and loss.  For someone to be a bona fide independent contractor, they must be able to hire and fire their own employees, set their rates of pay, promote, demote, evaluate employee performance and manage a budget.  If an Uber driver was a bona fide independent contractor, they should be able to hire drivers to drive for them.

Third, the relative investments in facilities and equipment by the worker and the employer.  This point somewhat applies given the driver must finance, lease or own their vehicle.  However, Uber sets the conditions for the quality of the vehicle and inspects the vehicle.  Also, if the driver wrecks their vehicle in an accident, the driver is liable for the repairs.

Fourth, the worker’s skill and initiative.  Drivers must, of course, obtain a driver’s license, but just because someone has a driver’s license doesn’t mean they exercise independent business judgment.  Drivers don’t compete with other drivers: they don’t own their own businesses, can’t negotiate their rates of pay, nor can they hire and fire employees.  Drivers do whatever Uber tells them to do, they have little discretion in how work is assigned to them.

Fifth, the permanency of the worker’s relationship with the employer.  Drivers drive until they quit.  Of course, they could be deactivated if they don’t drive at least once per month.  Once a driver’s account is deactivated because of low ratings or inactive period, Uber will have the driver take a class to be reactivated for $100.  But being deactivated sounds similar to being fired and if someone was fired, they must have been hired in the first place.  My point is, only employees may be hired and fired.  An independent contractors’ contract will have an expiration date in which all work must be completed.  And if the work isn’t completed, their bond is pulled.  So without a contract and expiration date, the employment relationship is permanent until the driver resigns or is terminated.

Finally, the nature and degree of control by the employer.  Uber controls prices for consumers and wages for drivers.  They also get 20 percent of the fare.  Prices increase or surge during rush hours and weekends when consumer demand is high.  Prices fall during the middle of the day, giving consumers an opportunity to take advantage of affordable ride shares.  But driver’s, however, don’t get to set their rate of pay nor do they control the ride information, rates or prices.

It seems like the only factor drivers actually get to control for is their schedule.  However, this is a moot point because the employment relationship essentially says, “I’ll come work and work for you. You give me some money, and for the duration that I’m working for you, I am under your authority. What I do with my time, where I stand, where I go, who I talk to, how many bathroom breaks I take, where I look, how fast I work all this is not at my discretion. It’s at the discretion of you, the employer.”

“That waking time, for most people in the world, is most of their waking day. That working time comprises anywhere between two-thirds to three-fourths of all the time that they’re awake — which means, effectively, that three-fourths of their active life is spent giving up their autonomy to somebody whose interests are lined up against their own interests.”

“This lack of autonomy inside the workplace is often compounded by being under their employer’s control outside the workplace.”

Based on this critical analysis, it’s unlikely Uber drivers are bona fide independent contractors.  They’re employees.  The California Labor Commission agreed with this determination when it decided drivers were employees in June 2015.  The same decision was made in the U.K. in October 2016.

This begs the question, why would an employer classify an employee as an independent contractor in the first place?  There are several reasons an employer might do this;

  1. The income tax burden is placed on the independent contractor.  They must save part of their income throughout the year to be able to pay taxes in April, the following year.
  2. Independent contractors are exempt from the minimum wage and overtime rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act which makes them vulnerable to wage theft.
  3. Furthermore, employees misclassified as independent contractors wouldn’t be covered by laws enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, adding another layer of vulnerability.  “The EEOC protects the workplace civil rights of employees, including prohibitions of employment discrimination based on factors such as age, race, gender, or disability.”
  4. The state is deprived of revenue to be paid in unemployment insurance and Social Security.
  5. Employers weaken collective bargaining power when workers are misclassified as independent contractors because they aren’t covered by the National Labor Relations Act.
  6. Independent contractors usually aren’t allowed to enroll in employer-paid health care and pension plans which saves employers money.

The crux of the matter isn’t so much Uber misclassifying employees as independent contractors but how common it is for firms, in general, to misclassify employees this way.

“In 2000, the Department of Labor commissioned a study that estimated that nearly a third of all employers misclassified some employees as contractors; a 2005 study found that more than 10 percent of workers in the private sector had been wrongly designated as contractors. In 1993, 7 percent of workers were independent contractors or temps; economists estimate this number will grow to 20 percent by 2020.”

Case Study: FedEx

When FedEx Ground and FedEx Home misclassified drivers as independent contractors, unemployment insurance, Social Security, employee health care and pension plans went unpaid and the company saved some 40 percent in labor costs.

But the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled FedEx misclassified 2,300 workers as independent contractors in California and Oregon in August 2014.  The Kansas Supreme Court ruled FedEx drivers were employees, not independent contractors in October 2014.  FedEx was caught for their wrongdoings, they eventually settled the lawsuit in California for $228 million in June 2015.  Uber drivers can find more information here.

Which employees are most likely to be misclassified as independent contractors?

Workers in the custodial, home health care and secretarial services are most likely to be misclassified as independent contractors.  And women and immigrants are overrepresented in these fields: at least 1/3 or some 3 million of the more than 10 million independent contractors employed in these low wage jobs would benefit if they were reclassified as regular employees.

Furthermore, drivers have mixed feelings as to whether they are employees or independent contractors.  NPR conducted an informal survey and contacted drivers via email lists and social media.  491, or a little more than half of the drivers responded they felt like they were their own boss while 436 said they didn’t.

What Should We Do About Misclassification?

Consumers and drivers are active agents in the rideshare economy.  And they have the power to bring about great change in two different ways.  The first option would be to publicly demand that Uber properly classify their drivers as employees by a certain date.  If that date passes and firm failed to meet consumer and driver demands, the next best option would be to stop accepting rides from Uber and for drivers to drive for someone else.


Uber drivers are misclassified as independent contractors.  They should be classified as employees.  And the sooner consumers and drivers demand Uber reclassify these independent contractors as employees, the better off we’ll all be.