Weekend News & Commentary — May 21-22, 2016

Hidden in the House of Representatives bill creating a process to restructure Puerto Rico’s debt is a provision that permits employers to lower the minimum wage by three dollars from $7.25 to just $4.25 for workers 25 years and younger, according to the Washington Examiner. White House spokesman Josh Earnest called the minimum wage cut “mean-spirited,” but indicated that the President supported the bill despite this provision.”I think it would be pretty hard for anybody to explain how exactly a 19-year-old Puerto Rican who’s making the minimum wage is somehow responsible for the situation, or should be punished as a result of the situation, or that the situation would be improved if 19-year-old Puerto Ricans who are working minimum wage got paid less,” Earnest said.

Politico noted the recent successes of Labor Secretary Tom Perez in doubling the overtime threshold and passing new silica exposure limits for workers in the past two months.  The AFL-CIO Director of Governmental Affairs Bill Samuel attributed the success to Perez’s political influence as well has his timing in joining the administration as it turned its focus to income inequality.  President George W. Bush’s Wage and Hour Administrator Tammy McCutcheon also called Perez “smart and effective” but lamented that the administrations reforms often made “doing business in the US and creating jobs more difficult”

The logic of welfare reform appears to be reaching its limits in some states as the cap on benefits to nonworking Americans becomes smaller and smaller, according to the New York Times.  Arizona, for example, passed a law that limits adult welfare benefits to just twelve months over an individual’s adulthood.  As a result of the legislation, individuals who received welfare for just a few months in the years after 2002 will see their ability to receive future benefits severely restricted.  When President Clinton signed the law, he declared that it would replace “a never-ending cycle of welfare” with “‘the dignity, the power and the ethic of work.” But tying cash assistance to employment has become harder to justify in recent years.  As the Great Recession made “the dignity, the power and the ethic of work” harder to grasp for millions of poor Americans, they developed other survival strategies to scrape together financial resources through selling blood and plasma, collecting trash for recycle centers, and living temporarily with friends and relatives, according to Kathryn J. Edin, a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins.