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.

White House and Congress: The Great Economic Divide

On Friday, Vice President Joe Biden called for Republican and Democratic governors to lead the nation out of the mess that has crippled Washington and insist that Congress approve billions of dollars to repair the country’s aging infrastructure. The Associate Press reports (Vice President Joe Biden calls on governors to lead nation), during a meeting of the National Governors Association, Biden explained: “The way things have gotten today, and I’m not singling out any party or any group of people – the politics, the culture in Washington, it’s become too personal, it’s too corrosive. I think you’ve got to lead us out of this mess we’re in.” The three day conference held this year in Nashville gathers state leaders from both parties to collaborate despite partisan differences on immigration, health care and education. Even with the bipartisan tone, many governors face midterm election in a season where the balance of power in the statehouses could potentially be decided and ending some presidential campaigns before they begin. Biden, a potential presidential contender himself, said the political climate in Washington was less divisive when he began serving in the Senate three decades ago at a time when white segregationists served openly in Congress. In addition, he said Republicans and Democrats have long agreed on the need to reinvest in the nation’s infrastructure and workforce development, however the current climate even with needed spending has been bogged down by politics. The main concern for governors right now is the deadline for Congress to pay for the federal Highway Trust Fund that allows states to maintain their transportation infrastructure. While a short term bill will most likely pass in Congress, governors want a long term plan. Unfortunately, many governors are reluctant to give any suggestion on how to fund their infrastructure in the long term. As for right now, fuel taxes are the main revenue source, but they have not been raised in 21 years and aren’t keeping pace with spending. In addition, the bipartisan Senate proposal to increase the federal gas tax has failed. It is hard to say whether infrastructure issues will play a role in the coming elections, although Washington’s struggles with what was long a bipartisan issues is emblematic of voters’ overall view of Congress, which as the Associate Press puts it is at an all time low.

Meanwhile back in Washington, the Treasury Department on Friday said the June surplus totaled $71 billion, following a $130 billion deficit in May, putting it on course to record the lowest annual deficit since 2008. The Associate Press reports that the government also ran a surplus in June 2013 due in part to dividends from Fannie Mae, the mortgage giant under federal conservatorship for the past six years. For the first nine months of this budget year, the deficit totals $366 billion, down 28 percent from the same period last year 2013, while tax receipts are up 8 percent compared to the prior year and spending increased 1 percent. The Congressional Budget Office is forecasting a deficit of $492 billion for the full budget year ending Sept. 30.

While strides are being made to cut the deficit, Congress still struggles to get their act together. On Friday, as Michael McAuliff reports, House Votes For Tax Breaks To Add $287 Billion More To Deficit, the GOP led House of Representatives voted to make a former stimulus measure permanent along with another related tax cut adding $287 billion to the deficit over the next 10 year. The largest part worth $263 billion is making permanent so called bonus depreciation which allows businesses to write off the cost of capital investments and improvements much quicker. The stimulus was used twice during the Bush Administration and expired last year. The idea is that if lawmakers give businesses a break during tough times then they will speed up major equipment purchases and stimulate the economy. Those who support it believe it would allow business to plan their investments, while opponents mock the idea stating that the Congressional Research Service reports found the break to be a weak stimulus and the stimulus effect will likely fall further if it becomes permanent. According to Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), a member of the Ways and Means Committee: “Even as a stimulus, the analysis shows that for every dollar that is invested we get 20 cents of growth.  A fellow could go bankrupt with that kind of economics, and that’s exactly what they would have the country doing and not meeting its other needs while funding something that doesn’t work.” In addition, Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) added: “Yesterday, the Ways and Means Committee was working on a markup of legislation for another short-term extension of the highway trust fund — you know, the transportation infrastructure investment we desperately need in this country. We were scratching and clawing to try to find an additional $10 billion over the next 10 months to try to keep some of these projects moving forward, and yet here today, we have another permanent change to the tax code at a cost of $287 billion over the next 10 years and not a nickel of it paid for.” Kind noted that his committee passed 14 permanent tax cut bills at a cost of $900 billion. Unfortunately, Friday’s full house vote allowed for two thirds of the committee’s cuts to pass. Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), the sponsor of the cuts, said that bonus depreciation has been going on since 2002 off and on without being paid for, so it might as well be permanent. He added, “Bad policy. Even though we are giving for the first time certainty, predictability to people who actually create jobs in America, who must have a business plan and must make those big purchases. Amazing.” The White House has threatened to veto the bill along with permanent cuts and additionally the Senate will weight the cuts, but only plan for short term extensions.

While Congress and the White House try to find common ground, three of the world’s richest men are calling for Congress to pass legislation to overhaul the immigration system and provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Igor Bobic article, Sheldon Adelson, Warren Buffett, And Bill Gates Chastise House GOP On Immigration, explains the Casino magnate and conservative donor Sheldon Adselson along with Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett and former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates criticized the House Republicans for their failure to address the current policy. In a New York Times op-ed piece published Thursday, they wrote: “Whatever the precise provisions of a law, it’s time for the House to draft and pass a bill that reflects both our country’s humanity and its self-interest.” However, the chance of any immigration reform bill moving through the House is unlikely with the unwillingness of conservative members and Speaker John Boehner to bring to the floor without overwhelming support from his caucus. Despite the obstacles, Bobic reports the three men are unphased urging Republicans to listen to reason. They added: “A Congress that does nothing about these problems is extending an irrational policy by default; that is, if lawmakers don’t act to change it, it stays the way it is, irrational. The current stalemate — in which greater pride is attached to thwarting the opposition than to advancing the nation’s interests — is depressing to most Americans and virtually all of its business managers. The impasse certainly depresses the three of us…Signs of a more productive attitude in Washington — which passage of a well-designed immigration bill would provide — might well lift spirits and thereby stimulate the economy. It’s time for 535 of America’s citizens to remember what they owe to the 318 million who employ them.”