Weekend News & Commentary — May 18-19, 2019
A nonprofit called Mined Minds promised to turn former coal miners in West Virginia into skilled coders, with the goal to “diversify the economy of an entire region.” However, the New York Times profiled graduates of the program, who said that the skills training was inadequate and the tech jobs they were promised never materialized. Mined Minds was one of the primary beneficiaries of a $1.5 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, but former students are now suing, claiming that the program was a fraud.
The Wall Street Journal reported on the growing national backlash against noncompete agreements increasingly used by employers in contracts for even workers earning the lowest wages. Lawmakers in Washington, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Vermont have proposed or passed bills making noncompetes unenforceable for low-wage workers and others. Even if noncompetes are not always enforced, just the threat of an expensive lawsuit can discourage workers from seeking better-paying opportunities. Thus, eliminating noncompetes would remove a barrier to changing jobs that could help stimulate the wage growth workers haven’t seen since before the last recession, even though the U.S. jobless rate just fell to its lowest in almost 50 years.
As U.S. restaurants grapple with low unemployment and a labor shortage, some fast food workers are receiving expedited pay as a “perk,” reported the Los Angeles Times. Some Church’s Chicken, Pizza Hut, and Checkers locations are testing out same-day and next-day paychecks as a way to attract and retain cooks and cashiers in a tight labor market. An app called Branch Messenger that provides early-pay service for a fee to Taco Bell workers said that its users typically spend the fast cash they receive on necessities like transportation, groceries, and unexpected bills—so rather than being an extra convenience, faster paychecks help low-wage workers stay afloat. The majority of working adults are living paycheck to paycheck, according to a recent survey from NORC at the University of Chicago, which found that 51% of Americans wouldn’t be able to cover necessities without dipping into savings if they missed more than one paycheck. “Even short disruptions in pay can cause significant hardship,” explained Angela Fontes of NORC.
In other restaurant-related news, restaurants employ over 9% of California’s workforce, or nearly 1.6 million workers. But according to data compiled by Race Forward and the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and reported on by Mother Jones, even though people of color comprise more than 70% of California’s restaurant workers, fewer than 18% make $31 an hour—what ROC considers a living wage in California—compared to 35% of white restaurant workers. In addition, on average fine dining restaurants in the Bay Area pay white workers $6 more per hour than workers of color.
Sex workers are speaking out against a new Florida bill that would build a publicly available database listing anyone convicted of soliciting sex—both sex workers and their clients—with the goal of fighting sex trafficking. In Vice, workers said that they fear both ending up in the database themselves, which would publicly display their name and mugshot, and the danger created by making it harder to screen clients, who would have a stronger incentive to hide their identities.