Archive for the 'Economics' Category

‘Dollar a Day’ Forced Labor Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against CoreCivic

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Project South, Apr. 17, 2018 – “A private prison company under contract with Stewart County to house individual’s detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is forcing detained immigrants at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia to work for as little as $1 a day to clean, cook, and maintain the detention center in a scheme to maximize profits, according to a class-action lawsuit filed today against CoreCivic, Inc.

Detained immigrants who refuse to work are threatened with solitary confinement and the loss of access to basic necessities, like food, clothing, personal hygiene products and phone calls to loved ones in violation of federal anti-trafficking laws, according to the lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Law Office of R. Andrew Free, Project South, and Burns Charest LLP. Similar lawsuits have been filed in California, Washington, Colorado and Texas challenging private prison companies’ work practices.

Azadeh Shahshahani, Legal and Advocacy Director for Project South, said, “The prison corporation Core Civic is exploiting the labor of detained immigrants to enrich itself– last year its revenues were nearly $1.8 billion. It must be stopped.”

“CoreCivic is placing profits above people by forcing detained immigrants to perform manual labor for next to nothing, saving millions of dollars that would otherwise provide jobs and stimulate the local economy,” said Meredith Stewart, senior attorney at the SPLC. “CoreCivic is padding its pockets by violating anti-trafficking laws.”

The “Dollar-a-Day” program creates a lucrative profit scenario for CoreCivic: Detained immigrants are forced to purchase basic necessities from CoreCivic’s commissary, and the primary way to fund their purchases is to participate in the work program that is necessary for the operation of the facility. These jobs include providing basic functions at the facility like cooking and cleaning, work for which CoreCivic would otherwise have to hire and pay outside employees.

Plaintiff Wilhen Hill Barrientos is an asylum seeker from Guatemala who has been detained for 33 months while his case is pending. When he arrived at Stewart Detention Center, he was faced with an impossible decision – either work for nearly nothing or lose access to basic necessities, safety, and privacy.

Refusing to work means that Barrientos would not have enough money to pay for costly phone calls to his family and that he would likely be moved from a two-person prison cell to an open dorm that has few bathrooms, round-the-clock lighting, frequent fights; or be placed into solitary confinement.

“When I arrived at Stewart I was faced with the impossible choice—either work for a few cents an hour or live without basic things like soap, shampoo, deodorant, and food,” said Barrientos. He chose to work to live with some privacy and maintain access to the commissary. “If I didn’t work, I would never be able to call my family,” said Barrientos, who works in the kitchen, cooking meals for up to 2,000 people each day.

For his work, Barrientos receives at most $4 to $5 per day for six to eight hours of work; approximately 50 cents per hour. Since Stewart has no paid kitchen staff, officers usually require Barrientos to work seven days a week, even when he is sick. Barrientos was sent to medical segregation for two months after he filed a grievance for being forced to work while he was sick.

“CoreCivic illegally enriches itself on the backs of a captive workforce to bolster their profits,” said Korey Nelson, a partner at Burns Charest, a law firm with offices in Dallas and New Orleans that specializes in complex class action suits.

“CoreCivic’s labor practices at Stewart are an affront to the human dignity of all confined there, and sad reminder of a not-so-distant past when the power to jail meant the opportunity to profit,” said Andrew Free, a Nashville-based immigration and civil rights attorney. “Neither our conscience as a nation nor our human trafficking laws permit this corporation’s conduct.”

In 2014, current and formerly detained immigrants who were forced to work at private detention centers began to file class-action lawsuits alleging violations of federal and state labor laws.”

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The “American Dream” is a Fallacy

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Americans continue to kid themselves that if you work hard you can climb the ladder. But the perception and reality are moving farther apart.

Economists at Harvard University recently published research on actual and perceived economic mobility in the United States and four European countries. They found an American public in denial. The data show that Americans believe the chance that a person who is born into the bottom 20% of households in income in the US can reach the top 20% in adulthood is more than 50% higher than in reality.

Not all other countries suffer from such misconceptions. The four European countries the researchers studied—Italy, the United Kingdom, France and Sweden—actually underestimated the likelihood of a person moving from the bottom to the top.

Based on surveys of at least 1,000 people in each country, the following chart shows how likely people think children born into the poorest 20% of families will grow up to be among the richest 20%, along with the most recent high-quality data on the actual probability.

While the average American thinks that about 12% of those in the poorest fifth households make it to the top, the true number is less than 8%. In contrast, people in the other four European countries surveyed are all overly pessimistic about the economic chances of those born poorest. The French, who underestimate mobility from the bottom to the top by two percentage points, is the most erroneously dour.

People on the political right tend to perceive greater economic mobility than those on the left in each country studied. For example, in the US, the average person that the researchers identified as left-wing guessed that 11% of people from the bottom 20% move to the top, and the average right-wing person guessed that it was 12.5%. Due to this bias, European perceptions about intergenerational mobility are more accurate on the right, while in the US, those on the left tend to guess numbers closer to the truth.

Beyond just looking at perceptions of mobility, the researchers also gathered data on people’s beliefs about economic fairness. They found that even though climbing the economic ladder is least likely in the US among the countries they surveyed, Americans have unusually strong beliefs in the fairness of the economic system, and the relationship of hard work to succeed.

The researchers also discovered that, within the US, an overly optimistic outlook about economic mobility is concentrated in the parts of the country where actual mobility is lowest. The Southeast is the area of the US with the lowest economic mobility and highest inequality. Yet the average Southeasterner believes that the chances of someone from the bottom 20% reaching the top are almost double what they actually are.

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The idea that anybody can make it in the US if they work hard enough has been a bedrock of American life since the country’s birth. At one time, this might have been truer than today. Because historical data is difficult to obtain, researchers are unsure of whether economic mobility has decreased in the US, but it likely has. Inequality and economic mobility are highly correlated, and inequality has been on the rise in the US for the last half-century. If it’s true that mobility has decreased, awareness has not caught up to reality.

These misperceptions matter. Beliefs about economic mobility are strongly related to support for higher taxes on the rich (pdf) and government spending on education and public health. Even for those who don’t believe the government is effective at solving social problems, accurate perceptions of how likely it is for the poor to reach the top may change attitudes to philanthropy and volunteerism.

The US is no beacon of economic opportunity. It’s time Americans realized it.

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