The Blog of the Frances Perkins Center

Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky on the first day of the National Fiscal Commission

In Uncategorized on April 28, 2010 at 11:29 am

Click on the photo to watch the C-Span video.

Whose tsunami?

In Economics, Political world on April 28, 2010 at 10:54 am

Who stands to benefit if the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, Cato Institute, and other anti-social insurance think tanks continue to control the discussion about Social Security and Medicare? At a recent conference of the retirement insurance industry, all sorts of “concern” was evinced by speakers who could possibly have ulterior motives.

For example, here’s Robert Kerzner, president and CEO of LIMRA, LOMA and LL Global (LL Global is the nonprofit parent company of LIMRA and LOMA, two Conn.-based trade associations consisting of more than 1,200 insurance and financial services companies):

Clearly, the current entitlement programs are unsustainable. Americans are going to have to take more responsibility for their financial security — especially in retirement.

How convenient for Mr. Kerzner and his listeners.

Michael Tanner, senior fellow at the Cato Institute, opened the conference with this message:

The present value of our future obligations is more than $100 trillion and as the full force of entitlement programs kicks in, it will only get worse,” Tanner said to more than 350 retirement professionals. “There is no courage in Washington until someone is willing to stand up and do something.

The real courage in Washington will come from the people who dare to stand up against this onslaught and fight for the social insurance programs that are critical to so many Americans. As in the health care fight as well as the financial regulation fight, the opponents of Social Security and Medicare are extremely well funded and willing to spend huge amounts of money lobbying Congress and shaping public opinion. They are not above using scare tactics and misinformation.

They talk about the “coming entitlement tsunami.” We need to talk about the current tsunami of lobbying and PR dollars that these groups are spending to separate us from the programs we depend upon.

[Cross posted at the Virtual Summit on Fiscal & Economic Responsibility at]

American worker safety is still an issue

In Biography, General on April 26, 2010 at 8:10 am
Frances Perkins inspecting a factory.

Frances Perkins inspecting a factory.

Frances Perkins was galvanized by personally witnessing the horrifying Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire on March 25, 1911, in which 146 young workers died. From that time onward, she worked to create legislation that would provide safeguards for workers, going from New York’s Factory Investigation Commission to FDR’s Cabinet as secretary of labor from 1933 – 1945.

Almost 100 years after the Triangle fire, the issue of worker safety is still in the news, most recently with the tragedies at the Massey mine in West Virginia and the British Petroleum oil rig blast.

Teresa Ghilarducci, director of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at the New School for Social Research and speaker at the Frances Perkins Center’s 2009 conference, “The New New Deal,” has written several articles for the Chronicle of Higher Education’s blog, “Brainstorm,” about these recent disasters. In Who Needs Pesky Unions, Ghilarducci wrote:

All the recent disasters are in non-union mines. Union muscle make companies work better and safer. One reason is that, in union contracts, mine workers are protected from being disciplined if they stop work because of unsafe conditions. If a union miner says, “Hey, the belt is about to catch fire — I’m getting out of here,” he (or she) can’t be fired.

Humans in the 20th century learned to mine coal without carnage. Britain does it, Germany does it, and other countries do too. In Europe and Japan, computer sensors detect methane buildup and mining companies have to hire safety officers who are in their own union and who only monitor safety, not production. In American mines, the supervisors have to monitor safety and be responsible for production. Guess what goal is number one!?

And in More Energy Workers Killed, she wrote:

The causes of these deaths are not freak gassy build ups—as if the earth violently struck back at humans for using fossil fuels…

The cause of worker deaths is a plain old economic deal. The government made a deal that BP and Massey Coal can operate in the United States without adequate precautions for making the workplace tolerably safe.

If Frances Perkins were alive, she’d be voicing her outrage along with Ghilarducci. It’s shocking that the U.S. is far behind other countries in protecting our workers.

A year ago

In Events on April 22, 2010 at 7:20 am

On April 21, 2009, the Frances Perkins Center held a national launch event in the Great Hall of the Department of Labor in Washington, DC (in the Frances Perkins Building). Here’s a photo of some of our board members who attended the event standing on the plaza of the Frances Perkins Building:

Board members Christopher Rice, Gretel Porter, Kirstin Downey, Betty Wilson, and Tomlin Coggeshall. Not included in the photo were board members Leah Sprague, Susan Feiner, Sarah Peskin and Chris Breiseth (photo by Marsha Sprague)

For more on the Washington event, go to and

The president’s deficit commission can’t speak for me

In Political world, Uncategorized on April 20, 2010 at 2:15 pm

The 18 commission members have been named to the National Fiscal Commission. Fait accompli. But that doesn’t mean that those of us who feel inadequately represented can’t point out the problems with the current cast. As a woman, I feel particularly invisible to this commission.

President Obama had the prerogative to name six commission members. Two of his appointees are women, Alice Rivlin and Ann Fudge. Republican Congressional leadership named six members, all male. Democratic Congressional leadership named six members, only one of whom is a woman–Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky–appointed by House Speaker Pelosi.

Does it matter?  You bet it does. In purely political terms, since it takes 14 out of the 18 members to make a recommendation, there aren’t even enough women members to stop the rest of the group from making recommendations that hurt the economic interests of women.

It matters also when it comes to perspective. Women make up more than half of the population and they rely disproportionately on Social Security and Medicare. Fifty-seven percent of all Social Security beneficiaries age 62 and older are women, and 69 percent of beneficiaries age 85 and older are women. Because we tend to have lower incomes with fewer resources and more chronic conditions than men, Medicare is a crucial source of our retirement security. More than half of all Medicare beneficiaries are women; among those 85 and older, 70 percent are women.

Yet, out of 18 commission members charged with looking at ways to cut the federal deficit with a focus on programs like Social Security and Medicare, only three are women. That’s a measly 17 percent speaking for more than 50 percent of the American population.

It took a strong woman, Frances Perkins, President Roosevelt’s secretary of labor, to win the fight for social insurance programs like Social Security back in the 1930s. She took on the job of secretary of labor because, she said, “The door might not be opened to a woman again for a long, long time, and I had a kind of duty to other women to walk in and sit down on the chair that was offered, and so establish the right of others long hence and far distant in geography to sit in the high seats.”

I know there are some good men among the commission members who will watch out for the economic interests of women. But I thought that by 2010 we would be beyond the days of looking for good men to take care of us. Paternalism is passé. It’s time to let us speak for ourselves, to let more of us sit in the high seats.

Frances Perkins and the Holocaust

In Biography on April 16, 2010 at 11:15 am

National Days of Remembrance

April 11 – 18, 2010, has been named the National Days of Remembrance. Frances Perkins Center board member Leah Sprague tells the little known story of Perkins’s attempts to save European Jews, intellectuals, artists, and labor leaders from the Nazis.

From 1933-1938, Frances Perkins was the lone official in the Roosevelt Administration to acknowledge the growing threat that Hitler posed to Jews in Europe. Her efforts to relax immigration restrictions were rebuffed by the State Department and an isolationist Congress. Still, she found ways to admit tens of thousands of immigrants, including European Jews, during this period. It was not until Germany invaded Austria in 1938 that FDR finally announced to his cabinet that Frances had been correct in her assessment of the danger.

For more details, read the 2001 article by Bat-Ami Zucker from the journal American Jewish History, “Frances Perkins and the German-Jewish Refugees, 1933-1940.”

“They’re white. They’re older. And they’re angry.” But they still love their Social Security.

In Political world on April 15, 2010 at 7:41 am

There’s a sturdy bridge of common interest between mainstream America and conservative Tea Party supporters.

A new CBS/New York Times poll surveyed almost 1600 voters across the country, more than half of them self-described Tea Party supporters, to get a handle on the Tea Partiers’ views.

In short, they don’t like Obama, they detest Congress, they’re angry about health care reform, they’re afraid of socialism, but

62 percent say programs like Social Security and Medicare are worth the costs to taxpayers. (The figure is even higher among Americans overall, at 76 percent.)

That’s good news; there is a place where reasonable dialogue can begin.

Read more about the poll at and

Alert from Generations United — ask for transparency

In Uncategorized on April 14, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Note: Generations United (GU) is the national membership organization focused solely on improving the lives of children, youth, and older people through intergenerational strategies, programs, and public policies.

Urge Your Members of Congress to Support Transparency in Fiscal Commission

Representative Conyers (MI) is circulating a letter asking his fellow members of Congress to co-sign a letter to members of the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility to ensure that the commission’s work is open and transparent. You can read both the Dear Colleague Letter and the proposed letter to commission on GU’s website. Please call your member of Congress and ask him or her to sign on to Rep. Conyers letter. You can call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 to connect with your representative.

The fiscal commission is examining ways to reduce the short-term deficit and long-term federal debt. The commission could propose cuts in important programs like Social Security and Medicaid that serve some of the most vulnerable young people in this country. Social Security, specifically targeted by Senators Conrad and Gregg, keeps 1.3 million children from falling into poverty. Additionally, six and half million children in the United States receive assistance from Social Security’s survivors benefits program. These are vulnerable children who have lost a parent and who might otherwise be at risk of slipping into poverty. For here for more information on Social Security and its benefits for children, youth, and families, visit

Beware the stacked deck of the Peterson “Fiscal Conference”

In Legislation Today, Political world on April 5, 2010 at 1:59 pm

You’ll undoubtedly be hearing all about it; the Peter G. Peterson Foundation has a tremendous press operation with a huge budget to support it. Here’s how the April 28th event is being touted:

What do they mean by "our"?

On behalf of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, I cordially invite you to attend the 2010 Fiscal Summit:  America’s Challenge and a Way Forward.   This event will take place in Washington, DC on April 28, 2010, featuring a moderated discussion of the issues with President Bill Clinton.   We will send a more detailed agenda shortly, but we hope that you will save the date and plan to join us for this important forum.

The date of the event is significant–one day after the opening of the president’s Fiscal Commission. And the keynote speaker is a former Democratic president. It seems as though this conference will at least give voice to the liberal and progressive side of the debate.

But read further and you’ll find that the deck is firmly stacked on the Peter G. Peterson side (well, this is his party; he’s paying for it, after all). Here are the other people listed: Alan Greenspan, Judd Gregg, Bob Rubin, Alice Rivlin, John Castellani, Paul Volcker, and John Podesta. There’s only one liberal in that group. (Also only one woman, but that’s another story.)

Robert Kuttner, in today’s Huffington Post, has some acerbic comments about the conference:

If the orgy of financial deregulation that led to the crash had two prime sponsors, the Democratic one was Rubin and the Republican one was Greenspan. Inviting these characters to a fiscal summit to devise a way out of the crisis is like inviting arsonists to design a seminar on fire prevention.

Peterson himself, who underwrites the work of the foundation with a billion dollar gift, made his money as one of America’s private-equity moguls. Private equity companies have been among main offenders in the world of shadow banking that helped cause the collapse, and are now lobbing against tough financial reform and regulation.

This is billed as a “national dialogue on solving America’s fiscal challenges,” but spare me. This is a propaganda event. For the most part, the featured speakers follow the Peterson line. John Podesta, the closest thing to a liberal playing a headliner role, accepts that there is a serious deficit problem, but would entertain a value-added tax as part of the remedy. But the speakers’ list is clearly stacked and there is no one to Podesta’s left.

The Peterson Foundation and its president, David Walker, already know exactly what they want — strict budget caps on social outlay, enforced by a rigid formula, with cuts in Medicare and Social Security leading the way.

Will the mainstream media continue to swallow the Peterson story? Kuttner suggests two sources for the other side:

Take a look yourself, and help correct the almost ubiquitous but incorrect impression in the press and the public that Social Security and Medicare are to blame for the deficit and must be cut.

Federal deficit found to be an accounting error

In Political world on April 1, 2010 at 8:21 am

The president had some positive news for the nation this morning in his breakfast address from the Rose Garden. “There is no deficit,” he said. “A CBO staff member had placed a negative sign in front of a large sum when transferring figures from another column.”

When asked the effect of this news on his plans, the president conceded that there was no need for the Fiscal Commission that he has recently assembled.

For more, read here.