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Annette Bernhardt, Flickr

By Nicki Lisa Cole and Jenny Chan, for Truthout

Apple made headlines in late January 2015 when it reported the largest quarterly profit ever in corporate history: $18 billion. A record-breaking $74.6 billion quarterly revenue generated this profit, thanks in large part to the sale of 74.5 million iPhones during the same period.

For Apple, this is a great start to 2015, just as 2014 was a fantastic year for the company. Last year, they sold more than 169 million iPhones, (1) which earned them nearly $102 billion in sales. With $183 billion in total 2014 revenue, and $39.5 billion in profit, (2) Apple is the most valuable company in the world.

But for many hundreds of thousands of young Chinese toiling on Apple assembly lines, 2014 was not such a good year. Reports from China Labor Watch (CLW) and Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), and evidence gathered by researchers Jenny Chan, Mark Selden and Pun Ngai detail a litany of labor law violations at numerous factories across China. Troublingly, this evidence shows that many of the same problems reported to Apple in 2013 continued unabated through 2014. Conditions have in fact worsened at several sites.

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American_Hustle_Logoby Allyson Stokes

The Sony hacking scandal of 2014 has Americans talking about gender inequality. One of the notorious leaked emails revealed that the two female stars of the film American Hustle, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, earned less back-end compensation for the film than their male co-stars, Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper (7% versus 9%). This despite the fact that all four actors are comparable in terms of star power, critical acclaim, and award nominations for their performances.

Information also came to light about a pay gap between top executives. Among the 17 Sony employees whose salaries topped 1 million dollars, there is only one woman – Hannah Minghella, Co-president of Production at Columbia Pictures. Even more striking is the fact that Minghella earns much less than her co-president, Michael Deluca, a man with the exact same job title. While Deluca’s salary is 2.4 million, Minghella earns 1.5 million annually.

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News of improvement in the January jobs report shows that that there is cause for some optimism. The job market appears to be stable, and jobs are being added. Even the rise in unemployment indicates that those who had previously given up looking for work have returned to the labor market. However, there is still cause for concern.

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AAgradorangeRising productivity, profitability and stock prices have long been heralded as signs of economic recovery from the Great Recession.  Many segments of the population, however, have yet to experience any relief.  Initially concentrated among the upper classes, gains in employment, income and wealth have gradually spread to middle America, but many groups, including race/ethnic minorities and young people have been left behind.

Young people suffered a disproportionate share of job losses in the recession, and current trends suggest that they will be among the last to share in the benefits of economic recovery.  Although a college degree offers some protections in a competitive labor market, it is not uncommon for recent college graduates (males somewhat more than females) to struggle with unemployment for many months following graduation.  Many who do find jobs are underemployed – working fewer hours than they would like or in jobs for which they are overqualified

With an unemployment rate roughly double that of their white counterparts, young African American college graduates have even greater difficulty securing employment.  The Center for Economic and Policy Research reports that in 2013, 12.4 percent of African American college graduates age 22-27 were unemployed, compared to 5.6 of all college graduates in this age group, and more than half of those who had jobs were underemployed.  Those with degrees in the highly sought-after STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fared little better, with unemployment and underemployment rates of 10 percent and 32 percent respectively.

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A recent New York Times article by

The article discusses sociologist Michelle Budig‘s research showing that bias affecting fathers and mothers varies by income level: Men with high incomes see the largest pay increase for having children; mothers with low incomes experience the lowest relative earnings. The article also discusses sociologist Shelly J. Correll‘s finding that “employers rate fathers as the most desirable employees, followed by childless women, childless men and finally mothers.” In Correll’s words, “A lot of these effects really are very much due to a cultural bias against mothers.”

A recent New York Times article by Motoko Rich discusses the extensive and increasing feminization of the teaching profession in the United States, where “more than three-quarters of all teachers in kindergarten through high school are women.”

The article quotes WIP regular contributor Christine Williams, who notes that men get promoted more quickly into senior positions than women in teaching. It also quotes WIP favorite Phillip Cohen, of the Family Inequality blog, who notes that part of the reason why the teaching profession is devalued in American society is because it is seen as a women’s job.

Obama Hard HatIn his January 2014 State of the Union Address and thereafter, President Barack Obama has repeatedly mentioned apprenticeships and vocational education when discussing the jobs crisis.  One might be critical as to why the nation’s first black president would advocate for a policy that has been historically exclusive and harmful to African Americans.  In his autobiography, Malcolm X notes, when telling his middle school English teacher of his aspirations to be a lawyer, the teacher advised him to instead become a carpenter.  To Malcolm, this was in stark contrast to the overwhelmingly affirming advice he gave to less-promising white students.  Malcolm X’s case was not an aberration, but reflected a general trend of structural and systemic discrimination that operated through vocational education programs (where African Americans were tracked into lower-paying jobs) and apprenticeships.  This history involved reifying and reinforcing class divisions along racial lines.  Apprenticeships can be problematic in that often they are awarded to relatives or friends who share the same racial background as the master technician.  As many have noted, white social networks often function to exclude African Americans from potential jobs.

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WEB+GM+logo+and+ignition+switchIn recent months, General Motors has received scathing critique for its handling of a design flaw affecting multiple Chevrolet, Pontiac and Saturn models produced over several years.  At issue is a faulty ignition switch that, if jostled, cuts power to the engine, deactivating airbags and other features of affected vehicles.  The problem was brought to light by Florida engineer Mark Hood, who discovered that newer ignitions with the same part number differed from the original design and required significantly more force to turn.

Subsequent investigation has determined that G.M. approved a new ignition switch design in 2006 and quietly implemented it without recalling vehicles subject to ignition failure.  Inquiries by a federal agency, Congress and the media have revealed that G.M. has been aware of problems with the switch design for more than a decade but hid them from outsiders.  The company now admits it has known about the problem since 2001, has acknowledged at least thirteen deaths related to the flaw, and has recalled millions of vehicles.

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Kain Coulter (R), Northwestern University’s football quarterback, and Ramogi Huma (L), head of the College Athletes Players Association ; Source: CBS Sports

The regional arm of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled last week that Northwestern University’s scholarship football players have the right to unionize. This is only the first step for the players, who will likely face an appeal from the University to the NLRB’s full board in Washington, D.C. If the initial ruling passes muster with the NLRB, it can also be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, so there is a long road ahead for this case that has exposed quite publicly the tensions within big-ticket college athletics. The crux of the case is this – do scholarship athletes qualify as employees of the University?

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