The Immigration Issue, Americans Drowning in Debt and the McDonald’s Ruling

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While the immigration battle rages on between Congress and the White House, most Americans believe the wave of children crossing the border into the United States from Central America are refugees escaping the dangers at home and the United States should support those children while reviewing their cases and not deport them immediate, according to Cathy Lynn Grossmann, Most Americans Think U.S. Should Shelter Child Migrants Not Deport Them, Survey Says. A new survey released on Tuesday by the Public Religion Research Institute surveyed people from all points of view along the political and religious spectrum. The survey found that Democrats (80 percent), Independents (69 percent) and Republicans (57 percent) favor offering support to unaccompanied children while a process to review their cases gets underway, while most major religious groups say the same, including white evangelical Protestants (56 percent), white mainline Protestants (67 percent), minority Protestants (74 percent), Catholics (75 percent) and the religiously unaffiliated (75 percent). The survey sample, according to Grossmann, of 1,026 adults was not large enough to capture the views of smaller groups such as Jews, Muslims or Mormons. Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI, said: “It makes a difference that we are talking about children facing violence and harm. The value of keeping families together cuts across all party lines.” As a result, most Americans can make a “pretty clear distinction between the problem of the children arriving from Central America and the problem of illegal immigration in general.” While one in four Americans (27 percent) want the children to be deports due to illegal immigrant status, 69 percent feel they should be treated as refugees and along to remain in the United Stats if authorities determine it is not safe to return them to their homes. In addition, Grossmann reports, in the survey “the children are seen as fleeing violence and serious threats to their safety at home (45 percent), seeking better education and economic opportunities (34 percent) or both (14 percent).” Seven in 10 Americans (70 percent) believe the children should be given shelter and support while there’s “a process to determine whether they should be deported or allowed to stay.” Again while most (56 percent) say the families are “doing what they can to keep their children safe in very difficult circumstances,” 38 percent say those families are “taking advantage of American good will and are really seeking a back door to immigrate to our country” and 26 percent or one in four want the children to be deported now. The situation in general is viewed as a crisis by 36 percent and 43 percent call it “a serious problem but not a crisis.”

Grossmann reports that the PRRI, in addition, asked what should be done about the situation, the breakdown is as follows:
* Most surveyed (71 percent) said the U.S. should offer “refuge and protection” for those who come to the U.S. “when they are facing serious danger in their home country.”
* 71 percent also mostly agree that these Central American children waiting for their cases to be heard “should be released to the care of relatives, host families or churches rather than be detained by immigration authorities.” (Twenty-eight percent disagree.)
* However, only 39 percent would allow these children to stay for good while 59 percent don’t want them here long-term because it “will encourage others to ignore our laws and increase illegal immigration.”
In short, according to Grossmann, attitudes are becoming more polarized between those who see immigrants as an asset and those who see them as a burden. However, views on citizenship or permanent legal residency stay pretty much the same with 58 percent saying they would allow a path to citizenship, 17 percent would allow residency and 22 percent say “identify and deport them.” The overall survey happened via phone interviews with 1,026 adults, conducted in English and Spanish between July 23 and July 27. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Another study release on Tuesday by the Urban Institute found that more than 35 percent of Americans have debts and unpaid bills that have been reports to collection agencies, Josh Boak reports Study: 35 percent in US facing debt collectors. Senior fellow at the Washington think tank, Caroline Ratcliffe said that consumers to fall behind on credit cards, hospital bills, mortgages, auto loans, student debt, past-due gym membership fees or cellphone contracts can end up with a collection agency and potentially hurt credit scores and job prospects. Laying it all out, Ratcliffe explains: “Roughly, every third person you pass on the street is going to have debt in collections. It can tip employers’ hiring decisions, or whether or not you get that apartment.” The study found 35.1 percent of people with credit records have been reported to collections for an average debt of $5,178 based on September 2013 records. Boak comments that even while the country has reduced the size of its credit card debt, the share of Americans in collections has remained constant since the official end of the Great Recession in mid-2009. According to the American Bankers Association, credit card debt is at its lowest level in more than a decade as people increasingly pay off balances each month, while 2.44 percent of accounts are overdue 30 days or more versus the 15 year average of 3.82 percent. However the same percentage is still being reported for unpaid bills as reported by the Urban Institute study performed in conjunction with researchers from the Consumer Credit Research Institute. In all, this has reshaped the economy as the collections industry employs 140,000 workers who recover $50 billion each year as reported in a study published this year by the Federal Reserve’s Philadelphia bank branch. Boak notes the delinquent debt seems to be concentrated in Southern and Western states with Texas cities having a large share of their populations being reported to collections agencies: Dallas (44.3 percent); El Paso (44.4 percent), Houston (43.7 percent), McAllen (51.7 percent) and San Antonio (44.5 percent). In addition, the study says, “Almost half of Las Vegas residents- many of whom bore the brunt of the housing bust that sparked the recession- have debt in collections. Other Southern cities have a disproportionate number of their people facing debt collectors, including Orlando and Jacksonville, Florida; Memphis, Tennessee; Columbia, South Carolina; and Jackson, Mississippi.” Only about 20 percent of Americans with credit records have debt at all, but high debt levels aren’t always delinquent with the large portion of the debt coming from mortgages. Unfortunately, stagnate incomes has led to why some parts of the country struggle with repaying debt, according to the Urban Institute’s Ratcliffe. Labor Department figures show that wages have barely kept up with inflation during the five year recovery and Wells Fargo figures show that after tax income fell for the bottom 20 percent of earners during the same period.

While the American continue to struggle to make ends meet, Carol Kopp reports, McDonald’s In The Frying Pan, the ruling by the New York regional office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) could change the lives of million of low wage Americans and open the way for complaints blaming McDonald’s for low pay and poor working conditions in its restaurants. The ruling says the McDonald’s hamburger chain shares responsibility for workers’ wages and working conditions with the operators of its franchise restaurants allowing for 113 unfair labor practices complaints filed by franchise workers across the nation to include the chain, according to Micah Wissinger, an attorney for Levy Ratner which is the law firm representing New York City fast food workers. The “joint employer” designation could give future legal actions taken by workers more clout when seeking higher wages, better working conditions or protesting firing decisions. Mark Barenberg, a law professor at Columbia Law School says, “The determination from the NLRB’s General Counsel has the potential to upend the fast-food industry’s decades-long strategy of ‘out-sourcing’ legal responsibility to franchisees when it comes to securing workers’ rights. Companies like McDonald’s insert an intermediary between themselves and workers, even though they’re manifestly in control of the franchisees’ employment decisions.” In addition, other hamburger chains like Burger King and other fast food brands like KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut can also be affected by this decision since all of these chains are owned by Yum! brand but operated by franchises. Richard Eiker has worked for McDonald’s in Kansas City for 30 years and says the company constantly monitors its franchises by tracking software, on-site inspections and visits from secret shoppers to monitor the operations. A spokeswoman for McDonald’s USA told the Associated Press the company will appeal the decision. David French, senior vice president with the National Retail Federation, told the New York Times the decision is “outrageous” saying, “It is just further evidence that the N.L.R.B. has lost all credibility as a government agency established to protect workers and is now just a government agency that serves as an adjunct for organized labor, which has fought for this decision for a number of years as a means to more easily unionize entire companies and industries.” The issue came to the forefront by labor organizers backed by the United Service Employees International Union, which has staged nationwide protests in favor of higher wages and more stable work hours for fast-food employees, Kopp explains.

United States and Everyone Else: Money, Power and Politics

The Associate Press reported that five emerging market powers including Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa will launch their own version of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Harold Trinkunas, director of the Latin America Initiative at the Brookings Institution, said that the so called BRICS countries want an alternative to the existing world order which the U.S. dominates. At the summit Tuesday through Thursday in Brazil, according to the article Emerging nations plan their own world bank, IMF, the five countries will announce the $100 billion fund to fight financial crises much like the IMF and launch a World Bank alternative that will make loans for infrastructure projects across the developing world. The new bank called the New Development Bank will have all five countries equally invested in the lending, while the headquarter’s location is being heavily debated with some trying to keep China, the world’s second biggest economy, from dominating the new bank like the United States has with the World Bank. The countries involved cover vastly different economies, foreign policy aims and political systems from India’s raucous democracy to China’s one party state. The BRICS countries have shared the desire for a bigger voice in global economic policy and have all experienced economic sanctions imposed by Western powers or made painful budget cuts and met other strict conditions to qualify for emergency IMF loans. In addition, developing countries have been frustrated with U.S. Congress’ refusal to approve legislation to provide extra money to help the IMF make more loans to troubled countries. The money is part of broader reform to give China and other developing countries more voting power at the IMF. The IMF and the World Bank seem to be taking the new challengers in stride, the Associate Press reports. IMF spokeswoman Conny Lotze said: “All initiatives that seek to strengthen the network of multilateral lending institutions and increase the available financing for development and infrastructure are welcome. What is important is that any new institutions complement the existing ones.” Earlier in the month World Bank President Jim Kim said: “We welcome any new organizations … We think that the need for new investments in infrastructure is massive, and we think that we can work very well and cooperatively with any of these new banks once they become a reality.”

While the international community tries a new direction, the United States continues to grapple with the current status quo economics. On Tuesday, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen announced that the economic recovery is not complete and insists for that reason the Fed will keep providing support to boost growth and improve labor market conditions, Martin Crutsinger reports,  Fed’s Yellen says U.S. recovery incomplete, defends loose policy. During the delivery of the Fed’s semi-annual report to Congress, Yellen believe the Fed’s future actions will depend on how well the economy performs. If labor market condition improve quicker than anticipated, the Fed could raise its short term interest rate sooner. However, if the conditions become weaker, then low rates will last longer. Many economists believe the rate will not increase until next summer as it has been at a record low near zero since December 2008. In her testimony before the Senate Banking Committee, Yellen said the economy is improving and the sharp downturn in economic activity during the first three months of the year was a result of temporary factors such as significant slack in the labor markets such as weak wage growth with the lowest unemployment rate since 2008. Because labor market conditions have not fully recovered from the recession of 2007-2009 and inflation remains below target at 1.8 percent for the 12 months through May, Yellen said the Fed will continue with the current policies of low interest rates to boost activity. She told the committee: “The Federal Reserve does need to be quite cautious with respect to monetary policy. We have in the past seen sort of false dawns, periods in which we thought our growth would speed, pick up and the labor market would improve more quickly and later events have proven those hopes to be unfortunately over-optimistic. We need to be careful to make sure that the economy is on a solid trajectory before we consider raising rates.” The unemployment rate has fallen from 6.7 percent in February to 6.1 percent reflecting strong job growth in recent months with an average of 200,000 jobs created a month over the past five months, the strongest since the late 1990s Crutsinger reports. The Fed has two goals to promote max employment and keep inflation down. Many critics argue the Fed is setting the stage for a bubble in asset prices like stocks and real estate that could deflate rapidly making the market unstable once the interest rates are increased. However, Yellen assured the committee that the Fed is aware of such risks and noted that the price of real estate, stocks and corporate bonds have risen appreciably, but remain in line with historic norms. The minutes of the Fed’s June meeting showed that the Fed has discussed just how it planned to reduce its massive holding of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities totaling $4.5 trillion which is four times the amount on the balance sheets when the financial crisis of 2008 hit.

While things are looking up for the overall economic picture according to the Fed, Congress continues to struggle to get their acts together on key issues. On Tuesday a critical highway trust fund bill was set for a vote in the House and the backers of the bill worried about defection from Democrats. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) told Huff Post Tuesday that he will not support the bill backed by House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), according to the article published, Critical Highway Trust Fund Bill Loses Support Of House Dem. His reasoning is two fold as the measure relies on accounting gimmicks to replenish the trust fund and lawmakers are abdicating responsibility by only funding the trust until next May. On Monday, two top conservative groups, Heritage Action for America and Club for Growth, opposed the measure and would score the vote for members with their primary complaint being the use of pension smoothing to allow delay in payments to pension funds from corporations resulting in higher corporate tax bills. While Welch agrees with the argument of pension smoothing, his preference is not to see the paring back of the highway trust fund to meet limited revenue streams, but to increase revenue to expand the fund. In addition Welch sees the idea as creating “a pothole in the pension system to fill a pothole in the highway” and sees his vote as protest to a short term solution rather than a long term one. However, he predicts that few Democrats will oppose the bill and his no vote will do little to stop the Camp bill from passing in the House before merging with the Senate’s version. On Monday, the White House came out in favor of Camp’s proposal. Unfortunately, Camp’s measure will be the last considered in the House before the highway trust fund runs out at the end of August. Even before then, states will make smaller, staggered payments on transportation projects as the federal government struggles to meet funding demands. Should the House fail to act, a substantial loss in transportation projects and jobs may result, according to Huff Post.

As Congress waits to find a long term solution to the crumbling transportation infrastructure, another hot button issue continues to be a thorn in the side of protestors and world leaders alike. The question on many peoples mind to seems to be when did America stop believing the words inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty. If you don’t know, here’s a refresher:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

While many still hold true to these words, since let’s face it most of the people residing in the United States immigrated at one point or anther in history except the Native Americans, dozens if not hundreds of people choose to protest the transport of undocumented workers around the country especially the children. According to the Associate Press article, Arizona protesters hope to stop immigrant transfer, dozens of protestors on both sides of the immigration debate swarmed a small town near Tuscon on Tuesday after the sheriff announced that the federal government plans to transport 40 immigrant children to an academy for troubled youth. One group waved American flags, held signs and blocked a bus arriving with immigrant children. A few miles away, pro-immigrant supporters held welcome signs. Protestor Loren Woods said, “We are not going to tolerate illegals forced upon us,” while Emily Duwel of Oracle felt her town was misrepresented by a minority of people against the children staying here. She explained, “I’m just concerned about these children who have had to escape worlds of incredible violence.” Anger has spread throughout Oracle since the Sheriff warned residents last week of immigrant children from Central America crossing the border illegally would be placed at the Sycamore Canyon Academy. Protestors hoped to mirror the demonstration in Murrieta, California, where immigrant buses were blocked from entering. The sheriff is credited with stirring up the anti-immigrant protestors with social media and a press release Monday in addition to leaking information  about the migrants coming to local activist. Since the massive surge in unaccompanied children crossing the border illegally began more than a month ago, anger has been spreading and the influx of immigrants has become political fodder even though most consider it a humanitarian crisis. On the international radar, Pope Francis confronted the issue of undocumented immigrants by directing his address at the thousands of unaccompanied children that make up part of the influx. As Antonia Blumberg reports, Pope Francis: Immigrant Children Must Be ‘Welcomed And Protected’, on Monday the Pope delivered a message to the Mexico Holy See Colloquium on Migration and Development paying special attention to the migrant children who undertake the dangerous border crossing alone to escape violence in their own countries:

“This humanitarian emergency requires, as a first urgent measure, these children be welcomed and protected. These measures, however, will not be sufficient, unless they are accompanied by policies that inform people about the dangers of such a journey and, above all, that promote development in their countries of origin.”

In addition, Pope Francis noted the urgency of the problem as the numbers increases day by day with U.S. Customs and Border Protection reporting more than 50,000 unaccompanied migrant children crossing the Southwest border in 2014. Meanwhile, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin spoke at Mexico’s Foreign Relation Secretariat urging clergy and foreign ministers to protect young migrants.

“Whether they travel for reasons of poverty, violence or the hope of uniting with families on the other side of the border,” Parolin said, “it is urgent to protect and assist them, because their frailty is greater and they’re defenseless, they’re at the mercy of any abuse or misfortune.”

Outside of the church, the Pope called on international communities to step up to find solutions to this humanitarian crisis. On Sunday Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell met privately with dozens of governors of states that will host these children from Central America, Blumberg reports. The program started by the Obama administration will take effect in October and try to tackle the increase influx of child migrants. Burwell added, “We want to make sure they’re placed in a safe and supportive home or placement….but also, it should be somebody that is legal and somebody that will be responsible to see that they show up for the hearing.”