Transit Equity Day: A New Way to Remember Rosa Parks


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Nearly two-thirds of a century ago, an African American seamstress and activist named Rosa Parks broke the law by refusing to give up her seat to a white rider on an bus in the segregated South. She was arrested and locked up in the Montgomery, Alabama jail.

In response, the black community of Montgomery boycotted the city’s buses until they could ride with dignity. The boycott lasted 381 days, until the United States Supreme Court ruled that such discrimination was unconstitutional.

The annual Rosa Parks Day commemorates that victory.

One of the organizers of the Montgomery bus boycott, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., became America’s best-known spokesperson for civil rights. He helped Americans understand that civil rights included not only the rights to vote and sit up front on the bus, but the right to a decent home, the right to a good job, the right to join a union, and other rights necessary for equal access to a good life.

King recognized that equal access to transportation was one of those essential rights.

Fifteen years after the integration of Montgomery’s buses, he pointed out in A Testament of Hope that many Americans faced discrimination not because they couldn’t get a good seat on a bus, but because they couldn’t get a bus at all.

“The layout of rapid-transit systems,” he pointed out, “determines the accessibility of jobs.” Poorer people needed access to those jobs so they could begin to “move into the mainstream of American life” — which meant they needed transit.

Unfortunately, transit systems did not provide that accessibility. So, King concluded, “urban transit systems” have become “a genuine civil rights issue.”

Since then our urban transit systems have grown far worse. Privatization has led to running companies not for public service, but for corporate profit.

If companies can’t make a profit running buses for less affluent workers and neighborhoods, they often fail to buy new buses, let their equipment run down, make schedules that are impossible for drivers to meet — and then shut down the lines on the grounds that they don’t pay for themselves!

Our cities are full of transit deserts, where residents and workers have to spend hours walking and taking circuitous routes simply to get to their jobs, see their families, buy groceries, or get to a medical appointment. According to U.S. Census data, nearly half of American households don’t have access to any public transportation.

In honor of Rosa Parks Day, a group of organizations — including the Amalgamated Transit Union, the Labor Network for Sustainability, Jobs with Justice, and the Institute for Policy Studies — are declaring a Transit Equity Day on February 5 to take action for civil rights and a climate safe future.

King expanded the focus of transit rights from the right to ride anywhere in a bus to the right to ride to anywhere you need to go on a bus. We are similarly expanding what’s included in transit justice:

We think every person in every neighborhood regardless of age, race, class, gender, or disability should have the right to safe, convenient transportation at an affordable cost.

We think the workers who build, operate, and maintain those systems have the right to safe, decent working conditions, family-supporting incomes, and the right to choose to be represented by a union.

Moreover, cars, trucks, and other vehicles emit a large proportion of our dangerous pollution, causing asthma and many other life-threatening conditions. We argue that replacing cars and trucks with public transit is far healthier for individuals and communities.

Finally, there’s the climate.

The lives and futures of Americans — and all people — are threatened by devastating climate change. As a U.S. federal court recently declared, all people have a right to a stable climate.

That will require a rapid cut in the burning of the fossil fuels that emit the greenhouse gases (GHGs) that cause climate change. And one of the easiest, fastest, and cheapest ways to do that is public transit run on clean, renewable energy.

Transit justice, in short, is essential for building a just and climate-safe future.

The post Transit Equity Day: A New Way to Remember Rosa Parks appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.


If The Trump-GOP Tax Plan Passes, Kiss Your Home’s Equity Goodbye!


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Make no mistake: The Trump-GOP tax plan is a declaration of war on homeowners, homebuilders, realtors, and the mortgage industry. With seven different provisions that will put pressure on home values, it’s hard to imagine that the plan will not cause a crash in the housing market.

Wait, seven separate provisions unfavorable to homeowners? But Trump’s blueprint for tax reform recognized the societal value of home ownership, right?

Well, that blueprint was less than candid. Surprised?

Here are those seven provisions:

One: The plan raises the threshold for deducting home mortgage interest. By nearly doubling the standard deduction, the plan reduces the amount by which mortgage interest and property taxes, when combined with other itemized deductions, will translate into a reduction in taxable income.

Two: The plan eliminates other itemized deductions, most notably state and local income taxes. That reduces the amount by which mortgage interest, property taxes, and the other few remaining itemized deductions exceed the standard deduction. The net effect is a further reduction in the tax benefit associated with home mortgage interest and property taxes.

Three: The plan cuts in half the maximum mortgage loan on which interest is deductible at all. The impact of this at the higher end of the housing market will be immediate and potentially devastating, as it could increase the annual after-tax cost of home ownership by 50%. The middle and lower end of the market will feel the effect as well, as the market softening at the top cascades down to the lower levels.

Four: The plan eliminates entirely the deduction for mortgage interest on a second residence. The markets in vacation and snowbird communities could see immediate softness because of this.

Five:  The plan moves the goalpost for avoiding tax on the gain from selling a personal residence. Under current law, homeowners who sell after two-years of occupancy avoid tax on up to $ 500,000 of gain for a married couple. Under the Trump-GOP plan, anyone who sells before living in a house for five years will not qualify for the gain exclusion. According to the National Association of Home Builders, 26% of homebuyers, and 28% of first-time homebuyers, move out before the end of five years.

Six: The plan will phase out the benefit of the exclusion from income for gain on the sale of a personal residence for those with higher incomes.

Seven: President Trump’s plan includes a special low maximum tax rate of 25% for certain types of income, including income from housing rentals. Because it’s the after-tax return that matters to an investor, owners of rental housing will be able to offer lower rates to renters, which will mean the cost of renting will decrease relative to the cost of owning. While this change also could mean investors will be willing to pay more for housing units, it’s not likely to help homeowners, because there is limited overlap between the markets for rental housing (think apartments) and owner-occupied housing.

So, if the Trump-GOP tax plan passes, how soon will we see it reflected in home prices? Hard to say for sure, but it brings to mind what the monkey said when he got his tail caught in the lawn mower:

“It won’t be long now.”

The post If The Trump-GOP Tax Plan Passes, Kiss Your Home’s Equity Goodbye! appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.


Solar Energy Is An Equity Issue


Given the current assault on responsible climate policy at the federal level, innovative state and local actions will be critical if we are to transition to a sustainable economy with much less racial and economic inequality and greater public control.

A new Institute for Policy Studies report, “How States Can Boost Renewables With Benefits for All,” focuses in on one strategy for a just transition: Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). RPS require utilities to provide a growing share of electricity from solar and wind energy, and are a particularly promising policy option — especially if they increase the benefits of a clean energy transition for low-income families.

Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia already have RPS requirements, and eight other states have voluntary renewable energy goals. Building on this progress — by enacting RPS in additional states, tightening current standards, and making voluntary programs binding — would have significant environmental, economic, and social benefits.

Much of the growth in residential solar energy in recent decades has largely benefited white, middle class families. Increasing solar access for low-income households is an equity issue because it removes barriers to participation for populations who have not benefited much from renewable energy but have often borne the brunt of fossil fuel extraction and pollution. Low-income households spend an average of 8.8% of their income on electricity, while the average for all Americans is only 2.9%.

A 2015 study estimates that a typical set of residential solar panels would meet more than half of an average low-income household’s electricity needs. Low-income households are disproportionately African-American and Latino, and hence advancing income- and race-conscious policies for renewables will also advance racial justice.

Effective renewables programs also have the potential for significant creation of good jobs. Solar energy accounted for 43% of U.S. employment in electric power generation in 2015, even though it represented only 2.2% of generation capacity. Similarly, wind energy represented 11.8% of power generation jobs but only 6.8% of generating capacity.

These figures suggest that solar and wind energy growth through expanded RPS and increased low-income solar access would create many more jobs than a business-as-usual energy model. Renewable energy jobs are also comparable in wages to fossil fuel jobs. A typical wind turbine technician, for example, earns $ 25.50 per hour, significantly more than several categories of fossil fuel occupations.

Another benefit of these programs is that they would reduce our economy’s dependence on centralized power generation and distribution by large corporate utilities. The total U.S. electricity market was worth $ 391 billion in 2015. By giving families and small businesses a stake in an expanded renewable energy market, these policies would keep more of this money in communities.

The report concludes by identifying key “best practice” elements of RPS and low-income solar access policies, drawing from successful state models.


For Working Women, Equity Unlocks Happiness


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My first job as a teenager was running the cash register at a strip mall pizza franchise in suburban Florida. My $ 5 an hour was essential income for our poor family, even though it required me to learn new survival skills — like fending off aggressive co-workers and handsy patrons.

Turns out I wasn’t alone in that.

Women-led labor organizations report that sexual harassment, wage theft, intimidation and even labor trafficking are distressingly common for low-wage women workers still today. Even when the situation doesn’t rise to the level of outright abuse, the gender pay gap persists across all kinds of professions — from tax preparers to property managers and retail workers.

Two decades after my pizza parlor job, I’m helping to run a nonprofit focused on inequality in America. I’m the second in command at my workplace, so I don’t have to think as often about equal pay or advancement as I used to.

But I wear the scars of how I got here, which began in my childhood watching my mother. She worked long hours as a secretary, plus weekend shifts at a bar just to pay the rent. I’m sure she would have given a kidney for work/life balance, if only she’d had better health insurance.

Read the full article on InsideSources.


The post For Working Women, Equity Unlocks Happiness appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Tiffany Williams is the associate director at the Institute for Policy Studies.


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