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Although Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act petered out last year without producing a bill, one of the key provisions of the law—the individual mandate—was effectively gutted in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed by both houses of Congress in December. The tax reform package zeroed out the tax penalty imposed on Americans who fail to maintain continuous health insurance coverage throughout the year, rendering the requirement moot.
The effective repeal of the individual mandate undermines the ACA’s core principle of holding down health insurance costs by expanding the risk pool, raising fears of an upward spiral in premiums as healthy individuals exit the individual insurance market. In the wake of the mandate’s rollback, however, several states are considering imposing their own requirements that residents obtain health insurance, Lisa Nagele-Piazza reports at SHRM:
Massachusetts has already had an individual mandate in effect since 2007. “Massachusetts largely served as the model for the ACA,” explained Jeffrey Herman, an attorney with Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale in St. Louis.
More states may follow suit. Maryland lawmakers recently introduced a bill that would impose penalties on the uninsured in the state. And an individual mandate is also being informally advocated for or considered by state legislators or representatives of insurance exchanges in a number of other states, including California, Connecticut, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Vermont, Herman said.
Adam Solander, an attorney with Epstein Becker & Green in Washington, DC, tells Nagele-Piazza that he expects many states, particularly “blue states” with Democratic legislatures, to explore individual coverage mandates in the coming year.
Facing a shortage of talent and a surplus of unfilled jobs, the state of Wisconsin is pulling out all the stops to attract millennials from other parts of the midwestern US to the state to work, Shayndi Rice reports at the Wall Street Journal. In January, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation launched a $1 million ad campaign in Chicago, while the state legislature is soon expected to pass a proposal from Governor Scott Walker to spend another $6.8 million to advertise the state throughout the midwest.
Too many jobs and not enough workers may sound like a luxury problem compared to what some parts of the US have reckoned with in the past decade, but Wisconsin policy makers fear that the slow growth of the labor force (just 1.4 percent from 2010 to 2016) could hinder economic development in the state. That low growth—a product of demographic aging, low birth rates, and negative net migration—has left Wisconsin with an unemployment rate of 3 percent and a projected 45,000 unfilled jobs by 2024, Rice reports.
Along with the abundance of job opportunities, the ad campaigns tout the low cost of living in Wisconsin cities (compared to Chicago), easier commutes and higher quality of life. Cities like Milwaukee and Madison are also running social media campaigns to advertise themselves as fun, vibrant places for young professionals to live. Critics of the campaigns, however, contend that these funds would be better spent on public services.
Illinois was poised to become the latest US state to bar employers from inquiring about candidates’ salary histories after a bill passed both houses of the state congress by wide margins, but Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed the bill last Friday, which the Chicago Tribune reports is setting up a battle by the bill’s supporters to garner enough votes to override the veto:
Iliana Mora, CEO of the advocacy group Women Employed, said she was “shocked” and “disappointed” that Rauner blocked the bill, and plans to work with Republicans who supported the legislation on an override during the November veto session. The numbers could work in her favor. The bill passed the House 91-24 and the Senate 35-18, with one Senate member voting present. A veto override requires 71 votes in the House and 36 in the Senate.
Rep. Steve Andersson, R-Geneva, who voted for the bill, expressed optimism that the effort would succeed. “This bill has had strong bi-partisan support from day one,” Andersson said in a comment posted Friday evening to the Facebook page of Rep. Anna Moeller, D-Elgin, chief sponsor of the legislation. “It’s a bill that will right an important wrong. I have faith this will be law shortly. I will vote to override and I don’t think I will be alone…”
The bill would amend the Illinois Equal Pay Act to prohibit employers from asking candidates or their former employers to reveal how much they earned in previous jobs, using salary history criteria to screen candidates, or requiring employees to sign contracts that prevent them from disclosing their pay to others. It also would change the wording of a provision in the Equal Pay Act defining the grounds for discrimination claims: Currently, plaintiffs must show that they were paid unequally for “jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility”—the amendment would replace “equal” with “substantially similar.”
Writing at Lexology, Cozen O’Connor attorneys Joseph E. Tilson and Anna Wermuth describe Rauner’s veto as good news for Illinois employers, as the bill would make discrimination claims easier to press and harder to defend against:
By at least one measure, Massachusetts has the most educated workforce of any state in the US, according to a new report from the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center. Citing an analysis of Current Population Survey data by the Economic Policy Institute, the report reveals that 50.2 percent of Massachusetts workers hold at least a bachelor’s degree. New Jersey is the second most educated state, with 45.2 percent of workers holding BAs, followed by New York, Maryland, and Connecticut. Nationwide, 35.5 percent of the workforce has a bachelor’s degree.
The report, titled “Education and State Economic Strength: A Snapshot of Current Data,” also notes that these high levels of education correlate with high median hourly wages: $21.35 in New Jersey and $21.22 in Massachusetts compared to a national average of $17.80.
“While it might seem obvious in 2017 that higher levels of college education would be associated with higher earnings at the state level,” the report adds, “this relationship is actually a fairly recent feature of the US economy. In 1979, the correlation between the educational attainment of a state’s workforce and its median hourly wage was weak.”
Indeed, the EPI’s latest research has found that the college wage premium is at an all-time high since economists began measuring it over 40 years ago. Other studies have shown that the class of 2017 stood to earn higher starting salaries than their peers who graduated in other recent years, while holders of two-year associate degrees are also finding more decent-paying jobs than they were a generation ago.
Wages in Massachusetts have also been growing faster for more educated than less educated workers, and a key challenge for the state today is ensuring that young people can afford the advanced educations they need to remain competitive in a highly educated job market, the Boston Globe’s Katie Johnson points out:
On Thursday, the Wisconsin State Assembly was poised to approve a $3 billion tax break to incentivize the Taiwanese multinational Foxconn Technology Group to build a display panel factory in the state. The deal, which still must pass the state Senate, would see the electronics giant invest as much as $10 billion in Wisconsin and hire as many as 13,000 people, but it has proven controversial, with opponents saying it isn’t worth the cost.
Another objection opponents raise is that with an unemployment rate of just 3.1 percent, Wisconsin doesn’t have enough workers to fill thousands of jobs. “Which is why,” Bloomberg View columnist Conor Sen infers, “the Foxconn strategy is really a bet that Wisconsin can recruit workers from other states”:
Illinois’s unemployment rate is 4.7 percent. Ohio’s is 5 percent. So the bet Wisconsin wants to make is that it can recruit a high-profile factory, which will draw in factory workers from other states, and that movement will have a multiplier effect creating even more jobs, leading to even more recruitment of workers from other states.
US states have long used tax and regulatory policies to differentiate themselves and attract business investment and talent—or to attract talent in order to attract businesses. With the US labor market the tightest it has been in a decade, states now face the same challenge as employers, of courting scarce talent by offering the right set of incentives. Sen points to Maine, where local employers and Governor Paul LePage are looking at ways to bring back natives of the state who have moved away:
Since President Donald Trump, a fierce critic of existing US immigration policy, took office six months ago, not much has changed in how the government allocates visas for temporary skilled workers from other countries, although Trump has called for changes in the H-1B program, the primary vehicle for hiring foreign talent in the US. Even before this issue became part of the White House’s agenda, Congress already had its eye on reforming the H-1B and other visa programs. The latest proposal for visa reform comes from Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who submitted a bill in May that would enable states to set up their own guest worker visa programs in coordination with the federal government. According to the Madison, Wisconsin Capital Times, the bill would create a non-immigrant visa for non-citizens to work in a given state, without tying them to a specific employer:
Visas could be granted for a period of up to three years, and could be renewed at the end of the term. … To set a up a program, a state would need approval from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and from its Legislature. States could also enter into agreements to jointly administer a guest worker program.
Workers could move from one job to another, but would be required to remain in the state of sponsorship unless that state had a reciprocity agreement with other states. States would be required to notify the Department of Homeland Security of a worker’s address and employment. In the first year of the program, a state could issue 5,000 guest worker visas. Additional visas would be available from a pool of 250,000, allocated based on the state’s population as a percentage of the U.S. population. Participants in the program would be able to apply for permanent residency without jeopardizing their status as state-based non-immigrants.
Johnson’s bill—accompanied by a corresponding bill in the House of Representatives submitted by Colorado Republican Ken Buck—has garnered support from a wide range of organizations, Roy Maurer notes at SHRM, including pro-immigration groups such as FWD.us and ImmigrationWorks USA, as well as business associations including the the Associated General Contractors of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Voters in four US states passed referenda last November to raise their minimum wages and a total of 19 states increased theirs at the start of this year, while some cities have also moved to do the same in their local jurisdictions. These efforts to raise pay for low-wage workers have not gone unchallenged, however, as lawmakers in some of these states have advanced bills that would slow the increases or create exemptions to them, such as allowing employers to pay workers under the age of 18 a lower wage.
On Tuesday, Maine’s Republican Governor Paul LePage asked the state legislature to scale back the ballot initiative hike voters there approved on election day, under which the state’s wage floor rose from $7.50 to $9 an hour on January 1 and is set to rise by another $1 each year until reaching $12 an hour in 2020, the Portland Press Herald reports:
LePage’s bill would increase the minimum wage in annual 50-cent increments until it reaches $11 an hour in 2021. Additionally, the governor wants to eliminate the annual cost-of-living adjustments – known as “indexing” – beginning in 2020 and restore the so-called “tip credit” in which tipped workers are paid less than the minimum wage as long as tips cover the difference. It also seeks to change the definition of salaried employees for overtime purposes.
Lastly, LePage’s bill, L.D. 1609, is one of several pending in the Legislature that would allow employers to pay lower “training wages” to workers under 20 for the first 90 days of employment, and lower “youth wages” to workers under 18. Those wages would be either 80 percent of the state’s minimum or the federal minimum, whichever is higher.
Representatives from the state Department of Labor and Chamber of Commerce testified before the legislature that rapidly raising the minimum wage across the board would hurt small businesses and that the increase approved by referendum was insufficiently flexible to account for varying economic conditions in different parts of the state.