Economic Policy Institute Names Economist Heidi Shierholz Its Next President

With Joe Biden within the White Home and Democrats holding the slimmest of majorities in Congress, progressives have managed to place their financial agenda on the heart of the nation’s political debate. And whether or not it’s a $15 per hour minimal wage, expanded unemployment insurance coverage, or continued deficit spending to bolster the economic system, there’s in all probability a pile of analysis from the Financial Coverage Institute making the case for it.

The left-leaning suppose tank is extra related than ever. The middle of the Democratic Get together has shifted on coverage over the past decade, and a number of the institute’s long-shot aims, like an enormous overhaul of U.S. labor legislation, are near actuality. The prospect of a GOP takeover of the Home or Senate subsequent 12 months has made the controversy all of the extra pressing.

Heidi Shierholz, EPI’s new chief, known as it a “exceptional time.” 

“It is a second that EPI has been form of steadfastly laying the groundwork for,” she stated. “EPI shaped 35 years in the past. In all that point, there’s simply by no means been a time like this.”

Shierholz, a former chief economist for the Labor Division, was most lately the group’s coverage director. She takes the reins from Thea Lee, who in Might was named the Labor Division’s deputy undersecretary for worldwide affairs.

Shierholz stated she believed EPI, based in 1986, was meant to be a counterweight to “the neoliberal consensus” that individuals are “paid what they’re quote-unquote price.” If there’s one thought the suppose tank’s economists and researchers stumble on again and again, it’s that low wages and financial inequality are usually not inevitable however the results of particular coverage selections made in Washington and inside statehouses. 

Strain from progressive activists and unions, underpinned by analysis from teams like EPI, has pushed elected Democrats into extra aggressive financial coverage positions in recent times.

The broad acceptance on the left of the necessity for a $15 federal minimal wage is one instance of that transformation. However so are the totally different responses to the 2008 monetary disaster and the newer pandemic-induced recession, Shierholz stated. This time round, there was a lot much less hand-wringing about debt and extra concern with reaching full employment. 

“Within the aftermath of the Nice Recession, we didn’t do sufficient and turned to austerity instantly,” she stated. “It’s clearly very totally different what occurred this time: Interventions on the size of what wanted to truly get the economic system going. It’s been a exceptional shift.”

If there’s one concept that EPI’s economists and researchers stumble on again and again, it’s that low wages and financial inequality are usually not inevitable however the results of particular coverage selections.

Shierholz and different EPI consultants are sometimes those Democrats pull into hearings to make the case for progressive insurance policies. The group has been a distinguished voice for the extra unemployment advantages that Congress handed to assist jobless staff climate the downturn and that at the moment are coming to an finish. It has additionally spent numerous time boosting the Defending the Proper to Set up Act, or PRO Act, Democrats’ proposal to make sweeping modifications to collective bargaining legislation.

The invoice has handed the Home however doesn’t have sufficient help to beat a filibuster within the Senate, the place not even all Democrats are on board but. Some lawmakers need to attempt to push by way of sure points of the legislation by utilizing the funds reconciliation course of, which might enable for a party-line vote.

Shierholz argued that no different laws being thought-about might do extra to reverse wage stagnation than the PRO Act.

“There may be nothing that’s larger, that’s extra necessary to the form of economic system the place general development is extra broadly shared and never simply captured by individuals who have already got essentially the most,” she stated. “There is no such thing as a substitution for that [bill] that would transfer the dial on the size that’s wanted.” 

Regardless of the tight labor market that’s boosting wages in lots of industries this 12 months, Shierholz is uncertain that staff’ leverage will final with out systemic modifications just like the PRO Act.

“I see nothing that makes me suppose that there’s been any form of everlasting change,” she stated. “These pockets of financial leverage created by large flux within the labor market, they are going to dry up.”

Former President Barack Obama tapped Shierholz to be the Labor Division’s chief economist in 2014, a job she held till the tip of that administration. The Labor Division grew to become a focus for bold financial insurance policies in the course of the latter half of the Obama presidency, however a few of it was finished too late to matter. 

The Obama administration’s plan to drastically develop extra time protections to extra staff was bottled up in courtroom after which watered down by the Trump administration. Different insurance policies carried out by way of the rulemaking course of had been equally undone by the GOP as quickly as Trump arrived within the White Home.

There was a lesson there, Shierholz stated, and one she believes the Biden administration understands. “When you look again, the most important remorse [was] stuff getting unraveled as a result of it obtained applied late,” she stated. “There is no such thing as a time to waste. It’s a must to get shifting on these things and get it applied fast.”

Democrats in Congress might find yourself with solely a brief window to get issues finished if Republicans decide up sufficient seats in 2022, or their very own most centrist colleagues handle to dam the occasion’s legislative agenda. No matter occurs, Shierholz stated she expects an ideological backlash now that so many progressive insurance policies are on the desk. 

“There are actually enormous pockets of resistance to the concept rising inequality is something aside from only a pure outgrowth of the fashionable economic system,” she stated. “In any shift in pondering, there’ll probably be a backlash. It is going to be an enormous job of EPI to restrict the harm finished or the steps backwards that at all times occur.”

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