Today’s News and Commentary — January 6, 2017

In The American Prospect Professor Alan Draper writes about the correlation between the decline of union membership and the rise of right-wing populism. Draper notes that Michigan and Wisconsin, traditionally Democratic states which flipped in the Presidential election, are two of the three states that have experienced the sharpest decline in union density in the last ten years. In related news,  Kentucky’s Republican-dominated state legislature is poised to pass a law that will make them the  27th “right-to-work” state.

The Republican majority in the House of Representatives is also prioritizing legislation that affects working people.  In one of their first moves since being sworn in, House Republicans brought back a century-old rule called the Holman Rule, which allows legislators to single out individual federal employees for salary reductions. Under the revived law, a majority vote from both houses can set a federal worker’s salary as low as $1 per year.

In The Wall Street Journal this week designers and early champions of the 401(k) expressed regret about the program, stating that they oversold its ability to prepare workers for retirement, especially without complementary workplace pension programs in place. According to some interviews, the 401(k) program was never intended to replace workplace pensions, and it was a “great lie” to suggest that it could adequately do so. Today almost half of American households have no retirement savings at all.

The New York Times reports that when it comes to NAFTA, the beneficiaries might be in the eyes of the beholder. While Donald Trump campaigned on a message that “where the American worker lost, the Mexican economy gained,” respondents to a Mexican poll expressed a very different view. A Mexican pollster found that more than 65% of those polled believed NAFTA had benefited American consumers and business, while only 20% believed it had similarly benefited them in Mexico. According to the the Times the proportion of Mexicans living under the poverty line, over half the population, has not changed since the implementation of NAFTA and wages in Mexico have been stagnant for nearly twenty years.