Today’s News & Commentary — January 15, 2018

Published January 15th, 2018 -  - 01.15.1818


Congress will need to pass a stopgap spending measure to avoid a government shutdown next Saturday.  Democrats are seeking to use the measure to pass a Congressional version of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which offers some protection to the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.  Some Republicans, including President Trump, have shown some interest in striking a deal on DACA with Democrats.  But they do not want action on DACA through a government funding bill.

Florida inmates are marking today, Martin Luther King Day, as the start of a months-long protest against unpaid prison labor.  Their primary grievance is from last year, when inmates had to work unpaid as clean-up crews in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.  But inmate organizers are also protesting against being forced to cook, clean, and maintain their own prisons for no pay.  The inmates behind the effort, dubbed Operation PUSH, are spread throughout Florida’s prisons.  Florida has the third-largest prison system in the United States, with approximately 97,000 inmates.  Unlike some other states, which pay inmates a nominal wage for their labor, Florida’ Department of Corrections mostly pays inmate workers nothing.

Since 2006, the number of workers employed directly by the utility industry has declined 10% — from 550,000 to 505,000.  This comes as coal and nuclear power plants around the United States are closing.  These coal and nuclear plants, many of which are outfitted with older technology, cannot compete against cheaper sources of energy like natural gas plants, solar, and wind.  But these latter, more efficient energy sources do not require as many workers.  According to BW Research Partnership, a workforce consultancy, it takes about five times as many workers to generate a megawatt hour of electricity from a coal power plant as from a wind farm.  This year, Vistra, an electricity producer, will open up one of the largest solar farms in Western Texas.  The farm will employ two people, possibly part time.

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