Justin Miller

 Justin Miller is a senior writing fellow for The American Prospect.

Recent Articles

Both Red and Blue States Rely on Prison Labor

As a Louisiana sheriff’s off-the-cuff remarks and the California wildfires remind us, all states depend on and profit from putting prisoners to work—and that’s a problem. 

(Photo: AP/Jae C. Hong) Inmate firefighters cut down trees along the Highway 29 as wildfires continue to burn Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, near Calistoga, California. E arlier this month, Steve Prator, who heads the sheriff’s office in Caddo Parrish, one of the largest in Louisiana, held a press conference in which he bemoaned the state’s newly passed prison reforms, which could reduce the inmate population by as much as 10 percent by gradually releasing nonviolent offenders who would be eligible for a new early-release program. Why? Apparently, he didn’t want the parish to lose its captive labor pool. “That’s the ones you can work,” Prator said of the people who could be soon be let go under the plan. “That’s the ones that can pick up trash, the work release programs. But guess what? Those are the ones [the state is] releasing.” He added, “In addition to the bad [prisoners], they’re releasing some good ones that we use every day to wash cars, to change oil in our cars, to cook in the...

The Right's Legal Attacks Go After Remaining Fragments of Worker Power

Conservatives' crusade to limit worker rights through the courts is coming to a head. 

(Photo: AP/Susan Walsh) People stand in line to go into the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, for the first day of the new term. L ike heat-seeking missiles, conservatives are looking to the Supreme Court to snuff out the few remaining sources for worker power. If their efforts succeed (and many high court observers believe that they will ), there will be a further atomization of labor law: Workers who want to exercise their legal rights will be far more isolated and up against far more powerful employers. On Monday, Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments for a consolidated group of cases, including National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil , that will determine whether employers can prohibit their employees from joining collective class actions to settle workplace issues—like wage theft or discrimination—by including mandatory arbitration clauses in employment contracts. As unions have precipitously declined over the past few decades, one of the most powerful...

Trump Gives Tax Cuts to Rich and Fairy Tales to Everyone Else

Republicans are selling Trump's tax plan by saying it will help the middle class. But, as we knew all along, it’s written for the rich. 

(Photo: AP/Evan Vucci) President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he walks to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017, in Washington. trickle-downers_35.jpg A fter toiling away for months, the so-called “Big Six” gang of Republican architects have finally unveiled their initial tax proposal, with the feel-good slogan “More Jobs, Fairer Taxes, Bigger Paychecks.” Despite all the political spin in recent weeks from Trump and his lieutenants about how the plan won’t be a big giveaway for the rich (and might even raise their taxes!) and will be a boon for the middle class, the proof is in the paper. As expected, the details of the plan show a proposal that was explicitly written for the rich , with provisions aimed at easing the tax burden of the wealthiest Americans. And for the middle class? Nothing but outright lies and murky promises to iron out the details in Congress. The plan cuts the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, a move...

Target Takes the $15 High Road. Where’s Walmart?

Target, one of the largest retail employers in the country, announced Monday that it will raise its minimum wage for employees to $11 an hour starting in October, and gradually increase it to $15 an hour by the end of 2020. The new standard applies to Target’s 323,000 regular employees as well as to the 100,000 seasonal workers it plans to hire for the holiday season.

Clearly, Target realizes that the way to attract workers (and reduce turnover) in a tight labor market is not to gripe and moan about a supposed labor shortage but to bump up pay. As the Federal Reserve of Minneapolis President Neel Kashkari put it, “If you’re not raising wages, then it just sounds like whining.”

Walmart’s decision to raise its pay to $10 an hour last year prompted Target to follow suit. Company officials initially required new employees to complete a six-month “training” period before receiving that wage rate. After intense public criticism, they shortened that period to 90 days. Other employers took to the high road years ago. Costco has for several years now paid a starting wage of $11.50 an hour with average wages reaching $21 an hour. The retailer also offers health care to most employees.

But Walmart has more power than any American company to lift up wage standards across the economy. With nearly 1.5 million employees in the United States, Walmart is the largest employer in the country. Yet, Walmart has thus far resisted calls to go higher than $10 an hour. It is nearly impossible to make a living on that kind of wage, especially if you’re working part-time—as many Walmart employees do.

The retail behemoth’s low wages, which force its employees to rely on public assistance programs, cost taxpayers an estimated $6.2 billion in 2013. Employers who insist on taking the low-wage road act as parasites and end up costing taxpayers $152.8 billion every year, according to a 2015 study by the University of California, Berkeley Labor Center.

Target is taking a step in the right direction by getting on a path to $15 an hour. Walmart should follow suit. It can certainly afford to pay its workers more money. In recent years, the company has bought back about $50 billion of its shares, funneling those profits into the Walton family fortune rather than into workers’ pockets. 

By paying at least $15 an hour, the company would not only be treating its own employees fairly; it would be lifting up wage standards throughout the economy. To focus the minds of company officials at Walmart and elsewhere, a group of House Democrats have kickstarted an idea: levy a fee on companies equivalent to the amount of public assistance its employees are eligible to receive, since their employers can’t be bothered to pay them fairly in the first place. 

Tax Cuts for the rich. Deregulation for the powerful. Wage suppression for everyone else. These are the tenets of trickle-down economics, the conservatives’ age-old strategy for advantaging the interests of the rich and powerful over those of the middle class and poor. The articles in Trickle-Downers are devoted, first, to exposing and refuting these lies, but equally, to reminding Americans that these claims aren’t made because they are true. Rather, they are made because they are the most effective way elites have found to bully, confuse and intimidate middle- and working-class voters. Trickle-down claims are not real economics. They are negotiating strategies. Here at the Prospect, we hope to help you win that negotiation.

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