Ships in Port


It’s been over a week since Congress allowed the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation scheme to lapse, and negotiations over an extension have reached a gridlock. But even prior to its end, access to the enhanced benefit was far from equal across the country—a host of administrative and practical hurdles in states like Florida and Alabama prevented scores of applicants from receiving aid.

The absence of a functional and unified federal unemployment scheme is a characteristic feature of America’s patchy safety net. In a 1987 paper, Edwin Amenta, Elisabeth S. Clemens, Jefren Olsen, Sunita Parikh, and Theda Skocpol trace the history of this decentralized structure through a comparative analysis of 1930s UI legislation in Wisconsin, New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Illinois.

“The states, not the federal government, were the units that debated health and unemployment insurance bills and passed workers’ compensation and mothers’ pension laws during the Progressive Era and after. The debates surrounding unemployment insurance provide considerable insight into the political dynamics of industrial society. More than any other component of welfare policy, the states’ response to unemployment politicized antagonisms between capital and labor. Moreover, the emergence of unemployment as a legitimate target for state action entailed both the development of a politically viable interpretation of the cause of unemployment, and decisions concerning the appropriate extent of the government’s intervention in the economy.

Neither organized labor nor political parties have been identified as important shapers of Social Security. But, as we have seen, a programmatic political alliance between organized labor and the Democratic party did shape generous unemployment insurance in New York, and the influence of labor, mediated by Democratic parties, also mattered in Massachusetts, Ohio, and even Illinois. Moreover, in Wisconsin, the 1932 unemployment benefits law grew out of patterns of administrative-led political bar- gaining established in the Progressive Era. This bargaining included organized labor and its political allies, the Milwaukee Socialists; it also occurred in a partisan context marked by the strong influence of Progressive Republicans. In short, if we examine politics at the state level, we discover that organized labor and political parties (as actors and as organizational structures) played a much more important role in the shaping of American unemployment insurance than nationally focused research reveals.”

Link to the piece.

  • A report from the New York State Department of Labor provides a legislative history of UI following the passage of the Social Security Act in 1935, with an appended chronology of significant legislative changes on the federal and state level. Link. And two Congressional Research Service reports summarize the structure of the current federal system, including that of the Unemployment Trust Fund which supports states in the case of insolvency. Link and link.
  • In a 1990 paper, Steve Valocchi examines the internal dynamics of the unemployed workers movement in the 1930s US: “The movement’s inability to change its organizational form in the face of early New Deal reforms led to the precipitous decline in protest activity in 1934.” Link.
  • “Governments shape the meaning of unemployment through policies and public declarations. Some kinds of joblessness come to ‘count’ as unemployment while others do not.” In a 2004 book, Philip Baxandall situates categories of unemployment in Hungary within the country’s changing political context. Link.


Labor Conditions in 1970s Coal Mines

TRISH KAHLE is recently appointed Assistant Professor at Georgetown University Qatar. Her PhD dissertation examines the 1970s American energy crisis through the lens of the Appalachian coalfields. Kahle argues that contrary to expectations at the time, the crisis did little to alter the consumption of coal-fired energy. It did, however, dramatically alter the working conditions of coal miners.

From the abstract:

“In the post-1945 period, rapidly expanding electricity consumption—both among industry and by ordinary people—offered coal miners a new place in American society. But this new role could be measured in black lung, workplace death, and environmental destruction. Miners leveraged this growing disparity to force the crises into national view, and through collective action, they helped secure the passage of new safety laws and environmental regulations. Yet at the very moment when miners’ power, influence, and collective action should have continued to expand, it instead contracted, and by the end of the 1970s the United Mine Workers entered a stage of decline from which it has never recovered. The energy crisis which defined much of the 1970s was not fundamentally about scarcity. Instead, it represented a political crisis of the relationships that bound energy workers to energy consumers, and which were mediated through government, market, and industrial institutions.”

Link to the piece.

Each week we highlight great work from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Have you read any excellent research recently that you’d like to see shared here? Send it our way:

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  • Join us this coming Thursday, August 13 at 10am ET for a discussion led by Adam Tooze on “Geoeconomics and the Balance of Payments,” with Daniela Gabor, Nathan Tankus, Michael Pettis, Mona Ali, John Sindreu, Matthew Klein, Izabella Kaminska, Brad Setser, JW Mason, and Colby Smith. Under discussion: taxing capital flows, Trade Wars Are Class Wars, the “global savings glut”, the financing of the US deficit, China-US, the Eurozone, overbanking, the dollar system, and much else. Register here, and email us with any questions about the event.
  • “The Keynesian revolution was successful because it coincided with the rise of a new politics: the New Deal in the United States and social democracy in Europe. Keynes didn’t create those political movements, and those movements didn’t create Keynes.” On the blog, an interview with Stephen Marglin on his career and his forthcoming book Raising Keynes. Link.
  • We are hiring for a fellowship in ethics of governance of AI, to work on a project with a United Nations organization. Link to our opportunities page for more information.
  • Santiago José Gahn compares time series data on US capacity utilization from the Federal Reserve Board and the Census Bureau, demonstrating its decline since 1989. Link.
  • “Political decision makers make choices in a complex and uncertain world, where even the most qualified experts may not know what policies will succeed. Worse, they may be averse to admitting what they don’t know.” Matthew Backus and Andrew T. Little “model the strategic communication of uncertainty.” Link.
  • The breadth of the late Emmanuel Farhi’s work, in a few examples: on the demand for safe assets; on fiscal unions; and on classical theories of taxation and rationality. Link, link, link. h/t reader Omeed M
  • A new, open access book by Line Rennwald analyzes “the evolution of working-class support for social democratic parties in Western Europe,” tracing changes in class structure as well as the position of parties on critical issues. Link.
  • “As a political project, neoliberalism in Lebanon was contradictory. It used free-market rhetoric in order to justify illiberal and monopolistic practices.” Kamal Dib with a sweeping account of changes in Lebanon’s banking and finance systems since the early 2000s. Link.
  • Sam Collings-Wells on the series of Ford Foundation funded pilots aimed at fostering “urban community development” across India and the US between 1958 and 1966. Link.
  • “How much life in the United States is lost to encounters with the police?” Drawing on a demographic life table model, Elizabeth Wrigley-Field calculates: “The loss of years per 100,000 people over their collective lifetimes is largest for Black men, with 5,696 years of life lost to all encounters with police, of which 3,772 years are lost to police use of force. This implies a loss of roughly 16,000 years of life for recent cohorts of Black men.” Link.
  • From 2017, M. Anne Pitcher examines housing markets in Luanda and Nairobi. And a new article by Katie Jane Fernelius analyzes the rise of “private cities” across Sub-Saharan Africa. Link and link.
  • “This article argues that coupling assistance with coercive authority—a hallmark of contemporary poverty governance—generates an expansive surveillance of U.S. families.” Kelley Fong studies the impact of Child Protective Services on low income families. Link.
  • “Does fiscal consolidation lead to social unrest? Using cross-country evidence for the period 1919 to 2008, we examine the extent to which societies become unstable after budget cuts. We find a positive correlation between fiscal retrenchment and instability. Expenditure cuts are particularly potent in fueling protests; tax rises have only small effects.” By Jacopo Ponticelli and Hans-Joachim Voth. Link.

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations:

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