Research project helps uncover challenges middle class faces
By JENNIFER MUIR BEUTHIN, Contributing Columnist
The reason there is so much disruption to the establishment during this presidential election is because no matter how hard they work and how carefully they plan, too many working Americans just can’t get ahead.
Many of us are just one illness or paycheck away from being buried by debt, or worse, losing the security of our homes.
Economic inequality is the issue of this generation.
How we respond to these challenges is a matter of great concern and debate. But there is no question that understanding the issue, its implications and its consequences, is key to finding solutions.
In Orange County, UC Irvine has taken a leading role in this effort. Recently, labor leaders, the UC Irvine’s law school Dean Erwin Chemerinsky and community advocates, such as former state Sen. Joe Dunn, came together and began working to establish the UCI Community and Labor Project.
In the time that has followed, the Project has pioneered studies on the conditions of workers in our communities, providing valuable data that allow community groups and government agencies alike to target areas for triage and ultimate change.
The Project’s inaugural report examined trends in poverty, political disenfranchisement and inequality in Orange County communities. Next, 761 workers in 22 low-wage occupations were interviewed to create a snapshot of local working conditions and illustrate issues of occupational health and safety, wage theft and opportunities for workers countywide.
Orange County residents may be surprised to know how frequently workers – especially those in low-wage jobs – are cheated out of their wages, whether it’s because they are not paid required overtime or they’re not paid at all.
This research is used to inform community groups and students about conditions in Orange County, giving them the tools they need to plan for change. And in collaboration with the law school, the annual community scholars class pairs graduate and law students with community leaders to develop public law projects that can actually address some of these challenges.
So it was disturbing to learn that Assemblyman Matt Harper, R-Huntington Beach, is sponsoring legislation, Assembly Bill 2302, to block any state support for this important educational program.
There is no question that the health and safety of our communities is a top priority for families across Orange County.
And so we invest significant resources in arming law enforcement with the tools and support they need to ensure we feel safe in our homes from violent crime.
Yet what threat is greater today than the threat to our economic security? Don’t we want our communities to be armed with the information and tools to respond to these challenges? Don’t we want our young people to be exposed through the educational system to various ideas about how to address these issues?
Unfortunately, Mr. Harper’s bill is another example of the misguided ideology that distracts his colleagues in Sacramento from the real issues of our time and sends the wrong message about our values here. Orange County already gets back from Sacramento the lowest property tax revenue of any county in the state, and now Mr. Harper wants to block the possibility of even more funding coming to our universities.
Perhaps his efforts would be better spent finding ways to bring more resources to support Orange County families, rather than less.
Jennifer Muir Beuthin is general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.
Publication Date: March 26, 2016