U.S. Senate Misses Opportunity to Provide Relief to Workforce

min_wage_3In disappointing move today, the U.S. Senate voted down the “Minimum Wage Fairness Act” (S. 2223), a bill that would have raised the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 by 2016. It would have also substantially increased the minimum wage for tipped workers, who make only $2.13 per hour. The party line vote is out of step with the American public, which supports raising the wage on a broad bi-partisan level. Senators truly missed an opportunity to help Americans in need.

NCLR President and CEO, Janet Murguía expressed her disappointment in a statement today just after the vote.

“As the fastest-growing segment of the American workforce, Latinos understand the value of hard work. Unfortunately, there are far too many hardworking individuals in this country who struggle to provide basic necessities for their families because they aren’t paid decent, livable wages. The Senate had the opportunity to remedy this situation and instead turned its back on the millions of American workers who needed this wage boost to help lift themselves out of poverty. It’s past time that our lawmakers listen to the American people, who overwhelmingly support raising the minimum wage to a level that respects and rewards hard work.”

El Día de los Niños: A Day to Celebrate Benchmarks and Help Our Children Reach Even Higher

Yesterday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that the nation has reached an important milestone in education: in 2012 (the latest year that statistics are available), the national high school graduation rate reached 80 percent. Even more encouraging, researchers believe that if this trend continues, that number will increase to 90 percent by 2020.

The story for Latino students is just as positive, with graduation rates increasing by 15 percent. This impressive jump is great news not only for the Latino community but for the nation overall. Latinos will constitute close to 20 percent of the nation’s labor force in 2020, and educated workers are essential to ensuring that our economy remains robust and competitive.

CCSS_sharegraphic

The notable improvement in graduation rates can be attributed to several factors. Teachers, parents, and students are finding better ways to partner and communicate, giving children a greater chance at academic success. We believe new education standards are also a key component in making our kids ready for college and able to step into the career path of their choice.

In an increasingly competitive marketplace, our country can no longer be satisfied sitting in the middle of the pack when it comes to academic performance among industrialized nations. In the last test given by the Program for International Student Assessment, in 2012, 29 countries ranked higher than the U.S. in math and 22 in science. This means that while it is great news that our graduation rates are improving, it will take much more to prepare our children for the jobs of the future. That’s why we are encouraging innovation, creativity, and the broader thinking skills necessary to compete in a global job market.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are setting higher benchmarks and improving the way our kids learn. Rather than simply memorizing facts, they are being taught to connect what they learn in the classroom to the world around them, sharpening their analytical skills, and reawakening a love of learning. Fewer, higher, and clearer standards are also allowing our teachers to be creative in the classroom and dive deeper into subject areas, imparting a greater breadth of knowledge.

The CCSS lay out clear guidelines that provide parents with a better understanding of how to best support their children’s learning. They are ensuring that, regardless of race, ethnicity, or ZIP code, all youth are given the same opportunity to succeed. These new standards are elevating what and how we teach our children, a vital component to maintaining the graduation rates we celebrate today and seeing them rise in the future.

Our Students Deserve a Better Opportunity

On April 22, in a 6–2 decision (Justice Elena Kagan recused herself), the Supreme Court found that a state can prohibit considering an applicant’s race when determining admission for public colleges and universities. The decision, Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, ruled on a question that was taken up by the court centered on a 2006 Michigan referendum known as Proposal 2, which added language to the state’s constitution that prohibits using race as a factor when determining admission. The decision leaves the court’s 2003 Gratz v. Bollinger case intact, which affirmed a public institution’s ability to make race-conscious decisions.

sonia_v6

The larger implication of this decision is that states with growing or prominent Latino populations can pass amendments similar to Michigan’s, which could prevent a public institution from making race-conscious decisions. This means that the benefits of experiencing diversity that come with interacting with people who are different from you, which were so eloquently outlined in the military and Fortune 500 amicus briefs, and were mentioned in Grutter v. Bollinger, may be lost for allstudents. In addition, according to Lyle Denniston from SCOTUSblog, while this ruling was “focused on the use of race in selecting new students for public colleges, it presumably also would permit voters to end race-conscious policies in [the] hiring of state and local employees and in awarding public contracts.”

NCLR is concerned with the ramifications of this decision and will be monitoring the situation carefully in the coming months. Latino students deserve a better opportunity to succeed in this country and this decision doesn’t bring us any closer to equality.

Justice Sotomayor made the unusual move of reading her dissenting opinion from the bench. In it, she chided the majority for wanting to “wish away” this country’s problems with race rather than tackle them. We agree with Justice Sotomayor and thank her for standing up for the minority communities that will be affected by the court’s misguided opinion.

You can also say “thanks” to Justice Sotomayor. Just fill out the form below and we’ll send her your message of support.

What Does Worker Safety Look Like in the United States?

Today is Workers Memorial Day. It’s a day in which we take time to honor the thousands of men and women who die on the job every year. Here’s a “by the numbers” look at what worker safety looks like in America. Learn more and get involved at workersmemorialweek.org. (h/t to The Center for Effective Government for the infographic.)

workers-memorial-day-infographic

Weekly Washington Outlook – April 28, 2014

What to Watch This Week:

Congress:

The House:

The House returns from a two-week recess on Monday afternoon to consider the following nine bills under suspension of the rules:

1) S. 994 – The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (Sponsored by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)/ Oversight and Government Reform Committee)

2) H.R. 4192 – To amend the Act entitled “An Act to regulate the height of buildings in the District of Columbia” to clarify the rules of the District of Columbia regarding human occupancy of penthouses above the top story of the building upon which the penthouse is placed, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) / Oversight and Government Reform Committee)

3) H.R. 4194 – The Government Reports Elimination Act, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)/ Oversight and Government Reform Committee)

4) H.R. 298 – To direct the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a special resource study to evaluate the significance of the Mill Springs Battlefield located in Pulaski and Wayne Counties, Kentucky, and the feasibility of its inclusion in the National Park System (Sponsored by Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.)/ Natural Resources Committee)

5) H.R. 4032 – North Texas Invasive Species Barrier Act of 201, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas)/ Natural Resources Committee)

6) H.R. 3110 – Huna Tlingit Traditional Gull Egg Use Act (Sponsored by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska)/ Natural Resources Committee)

7) H.R. 930 – To authorize the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a special resource study of the archeological site and surrounding land of the New Philadelphia town site in the State of Illinois (Sponsored by Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.)/ Natural Resources Committee)

8) H.R. 4120 – To amend the National Law Enforcement Museum Act to extend the termination date (Sponsored by Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) / Natural Resources Committee)

9) H.R. 1501 – Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument Preservation Act (Sponsored by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.)/ Natural Resources Committee)

On Tuesday, the House will consider H.R. 4414 – Expatriate Health Coverage Clarification Act of 2014 (Subject to a Rule) (Sponsored by Rep. John Carney (D-Del.) / Ways & Means Committee) as well as three more bills under suspension of the rules:

1) H.R. 627 – National Park Service 100th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act, as amended  (Sponsored by Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.) / Financial Services Committee)

2) H.R. 4167 – Restoring Proven Financing for American Employers Act (Sponsored by Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.) / Financial Services Committee)

3) H.R. ___ – Gold Medal Technical Corrections Act of 2013 (Sponsored by Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.)/ Financial Services Committee)

On Wednesday and Thursday, the House will take up two appropriations bills, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and the Legislative Branch.  No votes are expected Friday.

The Senate:

The Senate also returns Monday afternoon from a two-week recess to confirm three nominations, including David Weil to be the Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor.  Later in the week, the Senate will take a procedural vote to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 and will then proceed to legislation sponsored by Senator Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Senator Portman (R-Ohio) on energy efficiency.

White House:

On Monday, the President is in the Philippines as part of his Asian trip and will return to Washington tomorrow.  The White House has not yet released a schedule for the balance of the week.

Also this week and beyond:

Immigration Reform – Immigration reform was once again conspicuously absent from Majority Leader Cantor’s Friday memo to House members outlining the May legislative agenda.

Healthcare – The House this week will vote again on a modified version of the Expatriate Healthcare Coverage Clarification Act. The bill failed under suspension of the rules before the recess after labor and immigrant advocacy groups raised concerns that the definition of expatriate under the bill was unnecessarily broad and could erode coverage for legal permanent residents and certain visa-holders. Since its defeat on the floor, the definition of qualified foreign expatriate has subsequently been amended to include a condition that a person be either authorized to work in the US or lawfully admitted into the US for purposes of lawful permanent residence. This expansion raises additional concerns about immigrant healthcare access under the Affordable Care Act.

Housing Finance Reform – The Senate Banking Committee has scheduled a mark-up of the Johnson-Crapo housing finance overhaul bill for April 29.

Minimum Wage – The Senate will finally take a procedural vote to raise the minimum wage on Wednesday of this week.  The vote is expected to fall short of the sixty required to advance the measure.

Education – Education Secretary Arne Duncan will testify on Tuesday before the House Education and Workforce Committee.  Later in the month, Majority Leader Cantor has indicated he plans to bring the Kline-Miller bill reauthorizing federal charter programs to the floor.

Poverty – The House Budget Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday on a report by the panel’s chairman Paul Ryan on President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty.  The report concludes that federal anti-poverty programs are ineffective and inefficient.

Tax Reform – The House Ways and Means Committee will mark-up six bills this week to make certain business tax extenders permanent law.  In contrast the Senate is expected to vote in the coming weeks on a two-year extension of nearly all expired tax credits.