Friday Roundup: Paid family leave, workers’ comp reform, minimum wage, aging demographics, positive views of corporations & labor unions

There are always a few items we’ve read during the week that deserve more attention but don’t make it into our regular posts. So we bundle them for the Friday roundup.

Here’s this week’s bundle:

American Enterprise Institute: Paid family leave: An issue whose time has come?

Polls show that the public is overwhelmingly in favor of paid family and medical leave.  Support for the concept is bipartisan, with 83% of Democrats and 71% of Republicans in favor of this policy. Yet, the United States is the only advanced nation that does not have a paid leave policy at the national level.  While the federal government has been slow to act on this issue, many private employers and states have recently come forward with their own benefit policies for their employees. Tech companies like Google, Apple and Netflix offer many months of paid leave to accommodate the needs of working parents in their organizations. Paid family leave is provided in California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. The state of New York has recently passed a paid family leave policy that will phase in by 2021. The District of Columbia recently passed a bill as well, and Washington state is considering one…

That said, there are numerous controversies surrounding the topic. From the business perspective, paid leave creates a variety of worries.  One is that the proliferation of state laws and regulations will make it increasingly difficult for them to operate efficiently across state lines and will raise their costs of doing business. They may well prefer one federal law to 50 state laws.  In addition, there is also an obvious cost associated with the lower productivity imposed by an absent employee or the wages that must be paid to a replacement.  At the same time, paid leave may reduce turnover costs by encouraging parents to return to work after a leave.  And if the costs are covered by a payroll tax on employees, the costs to firms are minimal.

The Lens: Coming: A Workers’ Comp Overhaul Try

What would be meaty reforms to the state’s troubled workers’ compensation systemare contained in new draft Senate legislation heard in the Commerce, Labor and Sports Committee this week. S-0424.2 includes provisions from previously failed measures – SB 5508SB 5509SB 5513 and SB 6602 – to revamp the program. It would:

  •  clarify through a four-part test that occupational injuries have really arisen from a worker’s employment, not something else;
  • lower the statute of limitations for most claims from two years to one;
  • lower from 50 to 18 the minimum age required to enter into structured settlements, a simpler way to resolve claims through fixed payments;
  • subject to existing law, expand reimbursements when on-the-job workers are injured by an outside party;
  • by 2019, put self-insurers directly in charge of administering claims instead of going through the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I).

Spokesman-Review: Plans to lower Washington’s minimum wage could be difficult sell

 Efforts to change Washington’s higher minimum wage approved by voters last November face a tough road in the Legislature. But that didn’t keep Sen. Mike Baumgartner from proposing lower wages for teens, for nonprofit workers, and for anyone outside of King County.

…Senate Bill 5541, would allow employers to pay workers younger than 18 a lower wage. It was supported by lobbyists for the hospitality and retail industries, along with the Association of Washington Business. Employers are more likely to hire older workers if they have to pay everyone the same beginning wage, and teens won’t learn basic job skills, they said.

National Association of Manufacturers: Manufacturing Productivity Rebounded Somewhat in the Fourth Quarter but Remained Soft in 2016

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that manufacturing labor productivity rebounded somewhat in the fourth quarter after being flat in the third quarter. Output per worker in the sector increased 0.7 percent in the fourth quarter, continuing a trend of soft productivity growth since the Great Recession. Indeed, manufacturing labor productivity averaged just 0.3 percent from 2013 to 2016. In comparison, output per worker in the sector averaged a more robust 5.2 percent annually from 2002 to 2008. 

New Geography: Death Spiral Demographics: The Countries Shrinking the Fastest 

In 1995 only one country, Italy, had more people over 65 than under 15; today there are 30 and by 2020 that number will hit 35. Demographers estimate that global population growth will end this century.

Rapid aging is already reshaping the politics and economies of many of the most important high-income countries. The demands of older voters are shifting the political paradigm in many places, including the United States, at least temporarily to the right. More importantly, aging populations, with fewer young workers and families, threaten weaker economic growth, as both labor and consumption begin to decline…

To a remarkable extent, the United States has avoided these pressing demographic issues. The U.N. has the U.S. tied with Canada for the fastest projected population growth rate of any developed country: a 21% expansion by 2050. Yet this forecast could prove inaccurate.

One threat stems from millennials who, even with an improved economy, have not started families and had children at anything close to historical rates. Today the U.S. fertility rate has dropped to 1.9 from 2.0 before the Great Recession; population growth is now lower than at any time since the Depression. This places us below replacement level for the next generation. Projections for the next decade show a stagnant, and then falling number of high school graduates, something that should concern both employers and colleges. 

Pew Research: Most Americans see labor unions, corporations favorably

About six-in-ten adults today have a favorable view of labor unions (60%) and business corporations (56%), according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Views of both have grown more positive since March 2015, when roughly half of adults (48%) expressed a favorable view of each.

The public’s opinions of corporations and unions were largely positive throughout the early 2000s, but turned more negative during the Great Recession. Today, favorable opinions of each are at their highest levels in nearly a decade.