The Update – October 28, 2023

Dear Friend,
Keystone Research Center has been busy recently. Since our last e-newsletter, we’ve issued releases and events related to three key priorities for our organization. On the economy, we released our annual The State of Working Pennsylvania, with an updated policy agenda that would promote shared prosperity. On education from birth to adulthood, we co-sponsored with Ed Voters (which KRC fiscally sponsors) a dynamite webinar on research showing that taxpayer-funded vouchers erode student performance as well as drain resources from public schools, and aid and abet discrimination. On climate, we’ve continued to engage with the implementation of climate infrastructure legislation. Our goals remain ensuring that Pennsylvania and coal-country Appalachia access their due share of federal resources to create good union jobs and promote regional revitalization.
One key State of Working Pennsylvania theme: thanks to smart federal policies that resulted in a quick recovery from the pandemic recession, we have a strong economy from the perspective of workers, with historically low unemployment and more job openings than unemployed workers. Our tight labor market enabled wages to keep pace even when inflation was high. Now that inflation has come most of the way down, working people should start to see real increases in their pay packet—and to have more positive views on the economy and the direction of the country.
Below is more detail on all of our recent activities, with links. Thanks for your support.
Stephen Herzenberg
Executive Director

KRC Releases State of Working PA 2023

The Keystone Research Center recently released its annual “State of Working Pennsylvania” report, a status update on the Pennsylvania economy.

This year’s “State of Working Pennsylvania” indicates that the jobs market in the Commonwealth is strong — the labor market remains tight, with fewer unemployed Pennsylvanians than job openings. The report notes that:

  • Pandemic-era investments, along with Clean Energy Plan investments (Investment Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act) are paying dividends and will continue to do so for years to come.
  • The COVID-19 Recession recovery was swift. Federal relief measures helped make this the shortest recession in US history, lasting only two months. Two years out from the end of the Great Recession, ending in 2009, unemployment was a striking 9.1% nationally and 7.8% in Pennsylvania. Conversely, two years out from the COVID-19 recession, unemployment was 3.6% nationally, and 4.3% in Pennsylvania. July 2023 unemployment hit a record low.
  • Workers at the bottom of the payscale in Pennsylvania continue to struggle because the minimum wage remains only $7.25 an hour, well below that of neighboring states.


The Way We Build: Restoring Dignity to Construction Work

The Keystone Research Center (KRC) and ReImagine Appalachia co-sponsored a webinar on a powerful new book, The Way We Build: Restoring Dignity to Construction Work. Written by Mark Erlich, a former Executive Secretary Treasurer of the New England Region of Carpenters, the book was sparked in May 2021 during the KRC convening on the “Future of Work” in the construction industry that Mark helped plan and facilitated. Mark’s presentation on the book was followed by brief comments from Rob Bair, President of the PA Building and Construction Trades and Akbar Hossain, Secretary of Policy for the Shapiro Administration.

KRC on the Introduction of President Biden’s American Climate Corps Program

In September, President Biden launched the American Climate Corps, an initiative that aims to provide job training and service opportunities to young Americans in the clean energy and climate resilience sectors. This program builds upon the original Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) from the 1930s, which employed millions and contributed to public lands and infrastructure.

A 2021 ReImagine Appalachia whitepaper coauthored by KRC’s executive director Stephen Herzenberg noted the ways that a modern version of the New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps could enable tens of thousands of people disconnected from the labor force to find family-sustaining jobs and dignity because they are helping to save the planet.

Stephen Herzenberg Discusses Minimum Wage on PCN’s Capitol Preview

Stephen Herzenberg joined Steve Bloom, Vice President of the Commonwealth Foundation, on PCN this week to discuss the merits and drawbacks of raising the minimum wage. The entire episode is available here.

UE Members Demonstrate the Power of Collective Action at Wabtec

Stephen Herzenberg authored a blog post for ReImagine Appalachia about the successful recent strike of the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE) against the locomotive manufacturer, Wabtec corporation, affirms a fundamental and ageless lesson for Pennsylvanians and Americans: the power of collective action. As the Keystone Research Center discussed in this year’s State of Working Pennsylvania 2023, it is the power of collective action–and the bravery of workers in the face of employer intimidation–that will bring union density in our state and country back to 35% or more, fixing our nation’s grotesque inequities and helping to achieve elected officials and legislative bodies responsive to working people and the public good.
Keystone Research Center (KRC) first learned about the UE bargaining with Wabtec early this year when UE President Carl Rosen reached out for help finding researchers who could estimate the jobs potential of expanding green locomotive production at the Wabtec plant in Erie. KRC connected UE to the most respected modelers in the country who estimate the jobs potential of investments to reduce carbon emissions, economists with the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. On April 25, 2023, PERI released a report highlighting the potential to create up to 10,000 good jobs in Erie County and up to 15,000 jobs nationally by expanding green locomotive production. KRC partnered with ReImagine Appalachia to organize a digital press conference and webinar and raise the visibility of the PERI report. Here are links to the PERI press release, the report on the KRC website, and the digital press conference.
Read the blog post on the ReImagine Appalachia website here.


GUEST BLOG POST – Getting Unions Connected to Orphaned Well Clean Up: A Second Bite at the Apple

Ted Boettner, Senior Researcher at the Ohio River Valley Institute (ORVI) authored a guest blog post on the Keystone Research Center site about how investments in orphaned well clean up offer an opportunity to lift up union workers and emphasize local hiring and training programs. Together, these projects have the potential to provide these states with over $1.1 billion in federal funding, specifically dedicated to the crucial task of cleaning up and remediating orphaned wells. This funding is a significant boost to the efforts of these states, as they have already received approximately $100 million from initial grants for this purpose. With this additional funding, they will be able to accelerate their plans to decommission and plug a substantial number of orphaned wells. The post emphasizes the importance of implementing high-road economic development strategies, such as project labor agreements and local hiring provisions, to ensure positive economic and environmental impacts in these states.

Read the full blog post here.

How School Vouchers Hurt Kids

Education Voters of PA, an organization fiscally sponsored by the Keystone Research Center, held a webinar with renowned Professor and researcher, Dr. Josh Cowen, who has studied vouchers for two decades and published extensively in peer-reviewed journals and in national media outlets, including this article in Time magazine from April of this year.

During the webinar, Susan Spicka, Executive Director of Education Voters of PA shared an overview of Pennsylvania’s current (unaccountable and grifty) $340 million/year Educational Improvement Tax Credit and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit school voucher programs.

Dr. Cowen shared “Vouchers in Pictures,” a riveting presentation that showcases research on voucher programs in other states (spoiler alert: they cause catastrophic academic harm).

FACT CHECK: The Commonwealth Court’s Decision Did Say Pennsylvania Needs to Provide Additional Resources to Low-wealth School Districts

Keystone Research Center Senior Policy Analyst Diana Polson wrote a fact-check blog post pushing back on a growing narrative that the Commonwealth Court decision in the historic school funding lawsuit did NOT point to the need for the state to provide additional funding to low-wealth schools to remedy the unconstitutional nature of public school funding. In fact, the court decision precisely says school funding in Pennsylvania is both inadequate and that low-wealth school districts need additional funding to create a constitutional school funding system.

You can read the blog post here.

You can read the Talking Points Memo from the PA Schools Work campaign based on Diana’s blog post here.

In the Media

Opinion: It’s time to restore dignity to construction work | Pennsylvania Capital-Star | October 3, 2023
Real Vs. Artificial Intelligence | Random Lengths News | July 6, 2023 (FYI: this long story highlights the continued relevance of a KRC report on the “Future of Work” released more than four years ago! Some of KRC’s good work has a long half-life!)
PA misses budget deadline | River Reporter | July 5, 2023