Monday, August 31, 2015

A Time to Honor Workers

"We must not resign to a 'new normal' with an economy that does not provide stable work at a living wage." These words come from the Labor Day Statement 2015 of  the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

You can read the full statement and find links to additional resources: Catholic Social Teachings on Labor, a Primer on Poverty, a statement on Care for Our Common Home, and Selected Quotes from Pope Francis I at the following link--

Labor Day is a unique opportunity for faith communities to recognize, honor, and celebrate the working women and men in the congregation and in our community. It is also a time to learn about vital issues that impact the lives of working women and men and their families.

You can help by inviting working men and women in your congregation to speak to an adult education class. You can make a commitment to learn about one legislative issue of importance to labor. You can pray with and for working families in our community.

It is a good thing that many members of faith communities volunteer at local food kitchens, donate items of clothing, and reach out in other ways to relieve the stresses that low wages and poverty bring. But in the long term we need an economy that provides stable work at a living wage.

Labor Day is a unique opportunity to listen, to learn, and to take action.

Rev. David P. Hansen
Interfaith Worker Justice Kansas

Friday, August 28, 2015

Preparing for the visit of Pope Francis

Interfaith Voices: the Pope’s Message on Economic Justice

Pope Francis will be making his first Papal visit to the United States in September. The Pope will address the Congress in DC on Thursday, September 24 and address the United Nations on Friday, September 25. He’ll also be joining the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. Pope Francis will most likely be speaking on some of the topics from his recently released encyclical, namely: environmental and economic justice.

The Pope’s visit is not only a joyous occasion but it also presents a great opportunity for the IWJ network and those who we work closely with to bring momentum to our work. The Pope’s message on economic justice is really an amplification of the solid drumbeat worker justice advocates have been singing for years. With one of the world’s most prominent and respected faith leaders singing our song, now is a great time to get more voices involved.
Anticpating the Pope’s visit in late September, IWJ will be producing materials and supporting affiliates coordinating events that should build your local work:

-          Labor Day Weekend for Worker Justice: This year’s Labor Day Weekend material will highlight messages from the Pope’s encyclical. The toolkit will include bulletin inserts and other material to help study the Pope’s document.

-          Watch Parties: The Pope will be making his address to Congress on Sept 24. We encourage everyone to gather and listen where they can!

-          Roundtable Events: After the Pope’s visit, it’s important to process his message in our communities and think about how we’ll continue our work in light of what we’ve heard. Roundtable events should include the following:

o   Invited guests: local faith leaders, local bishop (especially those recently appointed), workers, elected officials, members of the press
o   A means of recording. If possible, video record or broadcast your event! Designate a note taker. It’ll be good to have for your own history keeping, as well as the national collection of conversations. IWJ National will be looking for key quotes from events to feature in a follow up piece.
o   An “ask”. Conversations like these are a great opportunity to bring new people and new energy into your local work.

IWJ National will be producing sample Letters to the Editor and a sample agenda for the roundtable event to help make the planning process as easy as possible. If you have questions or suggestions on how to build this even greater, please don’t hesitate to contact Janel at or 773-391-5543

Rev. David Hansen

Saturday, August 1, 2015

American Disabilities Act at 25: Work Until You Die

The American Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July, 26, 1990. Enactment of this law and the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Olmstead v. L.C. (2009) are changing our cultural landscape.

The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals in all areas of public life. The ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in Olmstead v. L.C. (2009) requires that states eliminate unnecessary segregation of persons with disabilities and ensure that persons with disabilities receive services in the most integrative setting appropriate. This decision is widely recognized as the landmark civil rights decision for persons with disabilities.

We should recognize and celebrate the 25th anniversary of the ADA and the progress our nation has made in the last twenty-years in the area of guaranteeing the civil rights of persons with disabilities. Progress from the past should give us hope and courage for the struggles that await.

Joe Enstwisle, a senior policy analyst at Health and Disability Advocates, Chicago, who is himself disabled, writes in the TalkPovertyblog (July 31, 2015) that for many people with disabilities the options under the present system are either to: (1) work until you die, or (2) live in abject poverty.

As I understand the situation, for people with disabilities who require long-term care and support Medicaid is their only option. Access to Medicaid comes through Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI), which pays $733 a month. Beneficiaries of the program must maintain assets below $2,000. This asset level has not changed in 30 years.

A provision in the law allows people with disabilities who are receiving long-term care and support to earn enough to income to stop receiving SSI benefits and remain eligible for Medicaid. Joe Enstwisle reports in the above article that at the end of 2013 there were 312,000 SSI beneficiaries who were working. But no matter how much they earn, people with disabilities who need long-term support and care remain subject to the SSI asset test of no more than $2,000.

No matter what their income is people with disabilities who receive Medicaid and who need long-term care and support cannot save for the future. They can either work until they die, or live in abject poverty in order to maintain access to the long-term care they need. Joe Enstwisle says that the ADA at 25 is “a half-empty cup.” We can do better.

Rev. David Hansen

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Recognizing Black Women’s Equal Pay Day

July 28 is recognized by a growing number of organizations as Black Women’s Equal Pay Day. The movement reminds us that while it can be helpful to talk about average wages and we need to raise the minimum wage, aggregate figures can hide as much as they reveal. We need to ask more questions and dig deeper into the data. My thanks to Sarah Marks for her post on bitchmedia for letting us know the following facts.

Race and gender matter. We have often heard that on average women earn 78 percent of what men earn. We do not hear as often that within specific racial ethnic groups the wage difference between women and men is often less. This means that among people of color within a specific racial/ethnic group women often earn almost as much as men. However, when we compare what women of color earn and what white men earn the gap is much greater.  In 2013 African American women earned 64% of a white man’s wages. Race and gender matter.

Women of color are more likely to work in a minimum wage job than white women. A person who works full-time, 52 weeks a year, for $7.25 an hour has a take home pay of less than $20,000. It is better for people who make $10.00, of course, but even $15 and hour is not enough to lift a family of four out of poverty. 

Women make up 2/3 of all tipped workers. 

Mothers are the sole breadwinner in 34% of black families.

Raising the minimum wage is important. But the rising tide does not lift all the boats. The measure of the economy is the well-being of the people in the community, especially the people who are often placed in the most vulnerable positions economically.

Rev. David Hansen
Interfaith Worker Justice Kansas

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Kansas Experiment is not an Experiment

Are You Better Off Today . . . ?

Has the Kansas Experiment benefited you? Are you better off today than you were before the experiment began in January 2013 when the tax changes went into effect? The answer to this question is, “It depends.”

Friends at the Kansas Center for Economic Growth ( report that data collected by the Bureau of Economic Analysis shows that between January 2010 and December 2012 personal income in Kansas ranked 13th among the 50 states. Since the experiment began in January 2013, Kansans’ personal income fell to 32nd place—a drop of 19 states. But that’s not the whole story.

Kelly Davis, the Midwest Regional Director of the Institute for Tax and Economic Policy (ITEP) writes in her July 14, 2015, TaxJusticeBlog that the experiment was really a “tax shift.” The experiment created winners and losers by design. I suggest that this tax shift was one of the purposes of the so-called Kansas Experiment.

ITEP analysis shows that the poorest Kansans, those with an average annual income of just over $13,000, will pay on average $197 more in taxes in 2015. At the other end of the scale, the richest one-percent of Kansans, people earning over $439,000 annually, will pay about $24,000 less in taxes in 2015.

Taking a closer look at these two ends of the spectrum. People with an annual income of less than $20,000 will pay 11.1% of their income in state and local taxes. The top one-percent, people with an annual income of $439,000 or more, will pay 3.6% of their income in state and local taxes.

Looking at the Kansas Experiment in another way. ITEP says that Kansans making less than $20,000 pay 3 times more state and local income taxes as a percentage of their income as the wealthiest one-percent.

The Kansas Experiment is not an experiment at all. It is a tax shift that shifts money away from the working poor and gives it to the most affluent members of our state. But that’s not the whole story.

The 2015 federal poverty guideline for a family of 2 is $15,930. For a family of three the figure is $20,090. For a family of four the federal poverty guideline is $24,250. But that is not the whole story.

The website “” helps us break down the income and unemployment figures in Wichita by zip code. Accordingly, the median income in the top four zip codes (67230, 67235, 67205, 67228) ranges from $118,000 to $93,000. The median income in the three poorest zip codes (67202, 67214, 67352) ranges from $26,726 to $20,994). The highest unemployment in Wichita is in zip codes 67214, 67203, and 67202. Localtrends reports that in these three zip codes the unemployment is 8.64 percent. More research needs to done and reported.

Based on the above sketch, we can see that the Kansas Experiment is being conducted at the expense of the most financially vulnerable, and at the expense of our neighbors living in what I will call “targeted zip codes.” The people living in these zip codes are paying the greatest price for the Kansas Economic Experiment (note: my report does not include rural communities).

Are you better off? I guess it depends on your zip code, which has become our “polite” and less personal way of talking about race, poverty and unemployment.

Rev. David Hansen

Friday, July 24, 2015

ALEC and the Kansas 14

The following article was posted by Working Kansas Alliance. My thanks to them and to Bryan Lowry for his recent article in The Wichita Eagle for this story. These friends help us understand what's going on in our Kansas legislature, the origin of many bills, and how our representatives spend our tax dollars.  
David Hansen
Interfaith Worker Justice Kansas

** The Corporate Bill Mill

This week many Kansas Legislators are attending the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) annual meeting in San Diego, California. Those in attendance are state legislators from all over the nation and big money corporate lobbyists. ALEC is a big money special interest group whose sole purpose is to pass legislation that will benefit its members. Their members consist of many large corporations and businesses that have an interest in passing legislation ALEC promotes. ALEC will claim they pass legislation that promotes “free market” ideals, but in reality it is a “pay to play” organization and only promotes legislation that will directly benefit their members, often times at the expense of businesses and corporations who are not members of ALEC (AKA not “free market”). It is also important to note that over 100 businesses and corporations have left ALEC because of their unethical practices.

ALEC does not just promote these policies that directly benefit their members; they literally draft legislation for many of the lobbyists and legislators that attend these conferences. These legislators and lobbyists then bring back these policies to their states. ALEC has accurately been described as a “corporate bill mill”. The policies introduced and promoted at these conferences often come at the expense of hard working families and individuals. In other words these policies only benefit a select few at the expense of everyone else. Legislation that has been promoted by ALEC includes “right to work”, the promotion of weakening both public sector and private sector unions, reducing corporate regulation, reducing environmental regulations, reducing workplace safety regulation, fighting healthcare reform, denying man made climate change and many more regressive policies.

ALEC conferences are all essentially closed conferences. Members of the public cannot attend the conference, and the press corps is tightly regulated and often times not allowed in a lot of the meetings and “workshops”, thus making the conferences as non-transparent as possible.

During the 2015 legislative session there were several ALEC modeled pieces of legislation introduced and several of those pieces of legislation actually passed. Those bills passed included: the unclassification of state employees, limiting the amount of unemployment insurance workers can collect while giving employers a tax break, limiting collective bargaining for our educators. There were several pieces of legislation that were introduced but did not pass, those bills included: eliminating payroll deductions for public sector employees who belong to a union, establishing a state run OSHA system, and attacks on the KS pension system.  To put it simply, ALEC writes legislation for our legislators to introduce that will benefit the richest of the rich at the expense of everyday hardworking citizens.

This year many Kansas Legislators are currently attending the conference in San Diego.  Senate President Susan Wagle and House Speaker Ray Merrick are both on the ALEC board of directors and are both in attendance at the San Diego Conference. In total at least 14 Legislators are attending the conference and are having their registration fee paid for by Kansas tax dollars. Yup, Kansans are footing the bill for 14 Legislators registration so they can attend this conference. In a recent article written by Bryan Lowry from the Wichita Eagle he states, “Fourteen Republican lawmakers are attending the annual ALEC conference in San Diego this week in part on the taxpayer’s dime… at a total cost of $7,300, according to Legislative Administrative Services.. The lawmakers who had their fee paid for by the state: Reps. Steve Brunk, Dan Hawkins, Dennis Hedke and Gene Suellentrop, all Republicans from Wichita; Rep. Marvin Kleeb, R-Overland Park, the House Tax chairman; Rep. Ron Highland,
R-Wamego, the House Education chairman; Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, the House Judiciary chairman; Reps. James Todd and Jerry Lunn, both Republicans from Overland Park; Rep. Will Carpenter, R-El Dorado; Rep. Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville; Rep. Charles Macheers, R-Shawnee; Rep. Joe Seiwert, R-Pretty Prairie; and Sen. Larry Powell, R-Garden City.”(SOURCE ( ).

This is not how our government is supposed to function. Our elected officials are not supposed to answer to shady, dark money special interest groups. They are supposed to represent us the people, not big business and corporations. They are supposed to be talking to we the people in Kansas, not going to secret closed-door meetings. Elected officials are supposed to draft legislation that will benefit the majority of Kansans, not just a select few. Elected officials are supposed to draft legislation in cooperation with other officials at the consent of the people, they should not literally be handed legislation from a corporate lobbyist in a closed-door meeting.

Its time for Kansans to expose ALEC. ALEC is hijacking our state. Hold you officials accountable. Tell your officials they are supposed to represent their constituents, not corporate lobbyists whose only interest is to fill their pocketbooks. When ALEC legislators are exposed as members and are exposed for introducing ALEC legislation, they will often cower and deny their connections with ALEC. The time has come to hold their feet to the fire. Its time to let them know they represent us!

Enough is enough! Its time to take our democracy back!
Its time to end the ALEC sponsored attacks on working Kansans!

For more information on ALEC visit:

Friday, June 5, 2015

The High Cost of Doing Business in Kansas

June 5, 2015

Annie McKay, Kansas Center for Economic Growth
Cost of doing business in Kansas could increase 
$130 million under tax proposals 
Latest data shows businesses need sales and property tax relief more than income tax cuts     
TOPEKA - After another failed attempt to usher a tax package through the Kansas Legislature, the Kansas Center for Economic Growth today shared data illustrating that plans to raise the state sales tax is not in the best interest of Kansas businesses or families. In fact, proposals that would raise the state sales tax to 6.65 percent would increase the cost of doing business in the state by over $130 million. 

"In 2012, Gov. Brownback told Kansans that income taxes hampered our state's economic potential," said Annie McKay, Executive Director at the Kansas Center for Economic Growth. "In reality, sales and property taxes consistently burden the private sector far more than income tax. When the original Brownback plan was enacted, Kansas businesses actually paid nine times more in sales tax than individual income tax." 

This isn't the only indication that the misguided focus on income tax is failing to provide the economic boom promised: 
"After countless proposals spanning three years, no real 'fix' for the Brownback tax experiment has surfaced because it simply can't be fixed - it needs to end," said Duane Goossen, former Kansas budget director and senior fellow at Kansas Center for Economic Growth. "You cannot eliminate half the state's revenue, cut critical economic investments like schools, roads, and public safety, increase the cost of doing business by hundreds of millions of dollars, then expect Kansas businesses and families to prosper." 

"Kansas is now hours away from a potentially devastating state government shutdown, yet lawmakers are no closer to a solution," said McKay. "This is an economic emergency. Rather than attempting to band-aid a failed policy with another damaging stopgap, lawmakers should repeal the 2012 law and start fresh next year with what Kansas businesses and families really need: property and sales tax relief." 


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See all of KCEG's latest research & analysis, including briefs, infographics and other blogs, on our website.

What to Do about Wage Theft

Wage Theft

The goal: End wage theft (the illegal underpayment or non-payment of workers' wages).

Interfaith worker advocates, ethical businesses and community leaders are getting tough laws passed, sending a message to unethical employers: Thou shalt not steal. But more needs to be done.
More than 16,000 workers come to IWJ worker centers for help each year. 80% are victims of wage theft. Wage theft happens in every industry to millions of workers. Billions of dollars are stolen when employers pay less than minimum wage; refuse overtime pay; force workers to work off the clock; hold back final paychecks; misclassify employees as independent contractors; steal tips; and fail to pay workers at all.
Wage theft cheats workers, steals from the public when companies fail to pay employment taxes, and puts ethical businesses at an unfair disadvantage.
But, together, we are making a difference.
In line with efforts to end wage theft, IWJ and other worker advocates around the country are pushing the Department of Labor to issue a Paystubs for All regulation that would require employers to provide workers with documentation of how their pay is calculated and what deductions are taken out.
Click here to learn more about the Paystubs for All campaign.