I’m so easily distracted that this could easily become a regular feature. News and information gets so swiftly consumed, digested and forgotten these days that if I wait a few days to comment on an article, it feels like old news. But that’s absurd and a good way to ensure that quality journalism gets overlooked.
So even though it came out last week, I highly recommend reading this provocative Christopher Hayes column on what eight years of benign (and sometimes not-so-benign) neglect have wrought at the Labor Department.
The Government Accountability Office recently completed an investigation of the [Wage and Hour] Division’s efficacy in processing and investigating complaints, in which the GAO called in fictional complaints of labor law violations and observed the responses. The results were shocking. In one case, a caller in Miami left seven messages complaining that his employer had failed to give him his last paycheck, and was never called back. In several other cases WHD investigators lied about having followed up on complaints, entering them in the database as resolved, without ever having pursued them.
In 1941, when the WHD was overseeing compliance for 15.5 million eligible workers, it employed nearly 1,800 full-time investigators and undertook almost 50,000 investigations. By 2007, WHD oversaw 130 million workers but had only 750 investigators, less than half the number it had had sixty years earlier. The number of workers per investigator has grown twentyfold, and there are only half as many investigations.
Even if you assume the Wage and Hour Division was bloated in 1941, it’s hard to avoid asking whether its diminished capacity today leaves the government even capable of enforcing laws intended to protect employees from being overworked and un(der)paid.