Support Google and Amazon workers who say, No Tech for Apartheid!
Thursday, September 8th, 12:30pm
Embarcadero Plaza—Market St. and Steuart St.
San Francisco, CA 94105
Please register here to let us know you can join us:
Stand in solidarity with workers that don’t want their labor to be used to violate human rights!
Google and Amazon are providing the technology for the Israeli government and military to build tools to watch, track, and identify Palestinians: from facial detection surveillance to sentiment analysis that claims to assess the emotional content of pictures, speech, and writing; along with the infrastructure to store the troves of data that make this surveillance possible. Just as such technology is used in the US to surveil and criminalize Black, brown, Muslim, Palestinian and other marginalized communities, Amazon and Google’s technology will further enable the Israeli apartheid regime to collect mass data and surveil Palestinians—all to uphold and expand its violent occupation and apartheid system.
Amazon and Google workers and progressive organizations have been organizing to end their companies’ contract with the Israeli government. On September 8th, Amazon and Google tech workers will lead direct actions in front of their offices in San Francisco, Seattle, and New York City to escalate the pressure on their companies.
JVP Bay Area is working with our partners in the Palestine Action Network to support the San Francisco action and show the workers that our Bay Area community supports the No Tech for Apartheid campaign.
Come out to support them!
Jewish Voice for Peace is a national membership organization inspired by Jewish tradition to work for the freedom, equality, and dignity of all the people of Israel and Palestine. Become a JVP member today.
Jewish Voice for Peace Bay Area
P.O. Box 589, Berkeley, CA 94701
URGENT ACTION NEEDED!
We demand that ALL "illegal abortion" charges against Madison County, Nebraska women be dropped
In Madison County, Nebraska, two women- one the mother of a pregnant teenager who was a minor at the time of her pregnancy and is being charged as an adult- are facing prosecution for self managing an abortion. In an outrageous violation of civil liberties, Facebook assisted the police and county attorney in this case by turning over communication between the daughter and her mother regarding obtaining abortion pills which is not illegal in Nebraska. The prosecutor has used this information to charge the daughter, her mother, and a male friend who assisted them after the fact with illegal abortion along with additional trumped up charges of "concealing a body."
We demand that ALL charges be dropped against all three of them and we ask that you call the office of Madison County Attorney Joseph Smith at 402-454-3311 Ext. 206 with the following:
"I am calling to demand that all charges against Jessica Burgess, her daughter, and their friend be dropped. In your own words- no charges like this have ever been brought before. That is because criminalizing abortion is unjust and unconstitutional. We will not stand for any charges being brought against any pregnant person for the outcome of their pregnancy OR anyone who assists that pregnant person. Drop all charges NOW."
You can also email County Attorney Smith here.
If you pledged to #AidAndAbetAbortion- NOW is the time to stand up for these women in Nebraska as this could be any of us in the future.
National Women's Liberation (NWL) is a multiracial feminist group for women who want to fight male supremacy and gain more freedom for women. Our priorities are abortion and birth control, overthrowing the double day, and feminist consciousness-raising.
NWL meetings are for women and tranpeople who do not benefit from male supremacy because we believe we should lead the fight for our liberation. In addition, women of color meet separately from white women in Women of Color Caucus (WOCC) meetings to examine their experiences with white supremacy and how it intersects with male supremacy to oppress women of color.
Learn more at womensliberation.org.
Questions? Email email@example.com for more info.
No to red-baiting in the reproductive justice movement
National Radical Women statement
By Nga Bui, NYC
At a time when a united mass movement to defend reproductive justice is needed more than ever, NYC for Abortion Rights and nearly two dozen organizations have chosen to launch an anti-communist attack against one of the most visible activist groups, Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights. Radical Women, a veteran socialist feminist organization with decades of experience in the movement for reproductive justice, denounces this dangerous game of divide and conquer.
The “Statement Against RiseUp4AbortionRights” – signed by NYC for Abortion Rights, United Against Racism & Fascism NYC, Brooklyn People’s March, Shout Your Abortion, The Jane Fund, Chicago Abortion Fund, Chicago DSA Socialist Feminist Working Group and others – deplores Rise Up’s connections to the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). It labels this well-known fixture on the Left as a personality cult. It accuses both Rise Up and RCP of using pyramid schemes to raise money and exploitative methods to recruit. These unsubstantiated claims are bolstered by other “crimes”: wearing white pants stained with fake blood, holding die-ins, using coat-hanger imagery, and describing forced pregnancy as “female enslavement.” The Statement calls on “repro groups to now unite in discrediting Rise Up publicly” and demand that “the group step back from pro-abortion spaces.” This divisive attack is like a dog-whistle to corporate media, which is crawling all over the issue in coverage from Daily Beast and The Intercept.
Imperfect as Rise Up may be, the reality is the group has been out front nationally in defense of abortion – though not the only group as they have claimed. It has consistently organized protests and used audacious tactics such as unfurling huge banners at sports events to draw media attention to the issue. It has broadened its messaging after being criticized that its single-issue focus on women having abortions was transphobic and limiting. Its green wave imagery is omnipresent and its anti-capitalist message is spot-on. Its boldness has resonated with youth.
Truth be told, it has been largely the Left, including Radical Women, that organized rallies, speak outs, marches, and protests throughout last year to draw attention to the impending Supreme Court debacle. Meanwhile, moderate feminist organizations pushed online fundraising and waited for the Democratic Party to ride to the rescue.
One has to think that some of the venom expressed in the Statement is from groups that did much less than Rise Up and may begrudge its appeal to young people. Others may be driven to undermine the influence of the Left in the movement overall. How condescending it is for them to demand that Rise Up disappear rather than trust young supporters to reach their own conclusions about whether Rise Up’s strategies work in the long run.
Radical Women initiated the National Mobilization for Reproductive Justice a year ago in order to build the kind of coalition effort we think is urgently needed to preserve abortion and achieve full reproductive justice. The Mobilization has attracted feminist groups, grassroots organizations, unions, radicals, and individuals coming together in common cause. Though Rise Up in many instances put itself in competition with actions announced by the Mobilization, we managed to work cooperatively with it in various cities, including in NYC. Rather than demanding political conformity, we believe in respectfully debating differences. With the right wing intensifying its attacks on the most vulnerable, a united front of working-class organizations is essential to pushing them back.
Red-baiting, smearing people or groups for their radical associations, is not acceptable in the movement. It needs to be stopped before it further hurts the very women, people of color, non-binary, trans and poor folks looking to find a channel for their rage as their rights are stripped away. There’s no denying that those of us fighting for abortion rights and reproductive justice will have differences of opinions. It is essential we learn to work together with mutual respect instead of excluding, silencing and witch-hunting one another. Organizations and independent activists can unite around issues while maintaining our differences. The future of reproductive justice and all social movements depends on it.
—Radical Women, August 2, 2022
CUBA URGENTLY NEEDS OUR HELP TODAY!
MATANZAS IS NOT ALONE!
The unprecedented massive fire at the Supertanker Base in Matanzas province has not abated. Dozens of people have suffered burns, 16 firefighters are still missing, and thousands are evacuated. Heroic efforts by firefighters and civil defense are 24/7.
Supplies are urgently needed to save the lives of the burn and other victims affected by the fire. The Hatuey Project is working to provide some of the most critical supplies for burn and other patients.
Please make a monetary donation so we can buy medical items in bulk and ship immediately to Matanzas.
Cuba has been through so much during the time of pandemic. Despite a heroic and successful campaign to vaccinate virtually all of Cuba from COVID, this summer has been particularly taxing for all of Cuba. Now the fire has added to the hardship.
Please click here to make a donation to The Hatuey Project for Matanzas Relief. Every donation to Hatuey is tax-deductible through our fiscal sponsor, The Alliance for Global Justice.
On behalf of The Hatuey Project, we thank you.
Nadia Marsh, MD, Assoc. Prof. of Clinical Medicine
Simon Ma, MD, MPH, Family Medicine
Rachel Viqueira, MHS, Epidemiologist
Brian Becker, Executive Director, ANSWER Coalition
Gloria La Riva, coordinator, Hatuey Project
ABOUT THE HATUEY PROJECT
We are health providers and social justice activists concerned about the harmful effects of the U.S. economic blockade of Cuba. We have inaugurated this medical aid project to extend solidarity to the Cuban people, with the procurement of vital medicines and medical equipment.
Cuba has already shown that its remarkable health care and scientific/biotech systems are fully capable of serving the 11+ million people on the island, providing excellent quality, universal and free care to everyone. But more than 240 measures by the Trump administration that turned the screws even further on Cuba’s people — in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic — have created a truly difficult situation for the people. We have already taken part in direct delivery of vital medicines over the last year, and we aim to do much more.
We invite you to join in our project in any way you can: With your monetary contribution, as well as helping procure major donations from pharmaceuticals and other medical providers. We are fully volunteer; all of the donations we receive will go strictly to acquire medical aid. Shipping costs will be held to the utmost minimum. The Hatuey Project is fiscally sponsored by the Alliance For Global Justice, so all donations are tax-deductible. Join our effort today!
Doctors for Assange Statement
Doctors to UK: Assange Extradition
‘Medically & Ethically’ Wrong
Ahead of the U.K. Home Secretary’s decision on whether to extradite Julian Assange to the United States, a group of more than 300 doctors representing 35 countries have told Priti Patel that approving his extradition would be “medically and ethically unacceptable”.
In an open letter sent to the Home Secretary on Friday June 10, and copied to British Prime Minster Boris Johnson, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Robert Buckland, the Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and the Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, the doctors draw attention to the fact that Assange suffered a “mini stroke” in October 2021. They note:
“Predictably, Mr Assange’s health has since continued to deteriorate in your custody. In October 2021 Mr. Assange suffered a ‘mini-stroke’… This dramatic deterioration of Mr Assange’s health has not yet been considered in his extradition proceedings. The US assurances accepted by the High Court, therefore, which would form the basis of any extradition approval, are founded upon outdated medical information, rendering them obsolete.”
The doctors charge that any extradition under these circumstances would constitute negligence. They write:
“Under conditions in which the UK legal system has failed to take Mr Assange’s current health status into account, no valid decision regarding his extradition may be made, by yourself or anyone else. Should he come to harm in the US under these circumstances it is you, Home Secretary, who will be left holding the responsibility for that negligent outcome.”
In their letter the group reminds the Home Secretary that they first wrote to her on Friday 22 November 2019, expressing their serious concerns about Julian Assange’s deteriorating health.
Those concerns were subsequently borne out by the testimony of expert witnesses in court during Assange’s extradition proceedings, which led to the denial of his extradition by the original judge on health grounds. That decision was later overturned by a higher court, which referred the decision to Priti Patel in light of US assurances that Julian Assange would not be treated inhumanely.
The doctors write:
“The subsequent ‘assurances’ of the United States government, that Mr Assange would not be treated inhumanly, are worthless given their record of pursuit, persecution and plotted murder of Mr Assange in retaliation for his public interest journalism.”
“Home Secretary, in making your decision as to extradition, do not make yourself, your government, and your country complicit in the slow-motion execution of this award-winning journalist, arguably the foremost publisher of our time. Do not extradite Julian Assange; free him.”
Julian Assange remains in High Security Belmarsh Prison awaiting Priti Patel’s decision, which is due any day.
Sign the petition:
If extradited to the United States, Julian Assange, father of two young British children, would face a sentence of 175 years in prison merely for receiving and publishing truthful information that revealed US war crimes.
UK District Judge Vanessa Baraitser has ruled that "it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America".
Amnesty International states, “Were Julian Assange to be extradited or subjected to any other transfer to the USA, Britain would be in breach of its obligations under international law.”
Human Rights Watch says, “The only thing standing between an Assange prosecution and a major threat to global media freedom is Britain. It is urgent that it defend the principles at risk.”
The NUJ has stated that the “US charges against Assange pose a huge threat, one that could criminalise the critical work of investigative journalists & their ability to protect their sources”.
Julian will not survive extradition to the United States.
The UK is required under its international obligations to stop the extradition. Article 4 of the US-UK extradition treaty says: "Extradition shall not be granted if the offense for which extradition is requested is a political offense."
The decision to either Free Assange or send him to his death is now squarely in the political domain. The UK must not send Julian to the country that conspired to murder him in London.
The United Kingdom can stop the extradition at any time. It must comply with Article 4 of the US-UK Extradition Treaty and Free Julian Assange.
Recently I’ve started working with the Coalition to Free Ruchell Magee. On March 17, Ruchell turned 83. He’s been imprisoned for 59 years, and now walks with a walker. He is no threat to society if released. Ruchell was in the Marin County Courthouse on August 7, 1970, the morning Jonathan Jackson took it over in an effort to free his older brother, the internationally known revolutionary prison writer, George Jackson. Ruchell joined Jonathan and was the only survivor of the shooting that ensued. He has been locked up ever since and denied parole 13 times. On March 19, the Coalition to Free Ruchell Magee held a webinar for Ruchell for his 83rd birthday, which was a terrific event full of information and plans for building the campaign to Free Ruchell. (For information about his case, please visit: www.freeruchellmagee.org.)
Below are two ways to stream this historic webinar, plus
• a petition you can sign
• a portal to send a letter to Governor Newsom
• a Donate button to support his campaign
• a link to our campaign website.
Please take a moment and help.
Note: We will soon have t-shirts to sell to raise money for legal expenses.
Here is the YouTube link to view the March 19 Webinar:
Here is the Facebook link:
Sign the petition to Free Ruchell:
Write to Governor Newsom’s office:
No one ever hurt their eyes by looking on the bright side
Tell Congress to Help #FreeDanielHale
U.S. Air Force veteran, Daniel Everette Hale has recently completed his first year of a 45-month prison sentence for exposing the realities of U.S drone warfare. Daniel Hale is not a spy, a threat to society, or a bad faith actor. His revelations were not a threat to national security. If they were, the prosecution would be able to identify the harm caused directly from the information Hale made public. Our members of Congress can urge President Biden to commute Daniel's sentence! Either way, Daniel deserves to be free.
Laws are created to be followed
by the poor.
Laws are made by the rich
to bring some order to exploitation.
The poor are the only law abiders in history.
When the poor make laws
the rich will be no more.
—Roque Dalton Presente!
(May 14, 1935 – Assassinated May 10, 1975)
 Roque Dalton was a Salvadoran poet, essayist, journalist, political activist, and intellectual. He is considered one of Latin America's most compelling poets.
“In His Defense” The People vs. Kevin Cooper
A film by Kenneth A. Carlson
Teaser is now streaming at:
Posted by: Death Penalty Focus Blog, January 10, 2022
“In his Defense,” a documentary on the Kevin Cooper case, is in the works right now, and California filmmaker Kenneth Carlson has released a teaser for it on CarlsonFilms.com
Just over seven months ago, California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered an independent investigation of Cooper’s death penalty case. At the time, he explained that, “In cases where the government seeks to impose the ultimate punishment of death, I need to be satisfied that all relevant evidence is carefully and fairly examined.”
That investigation is ongoing, with no word from any of the parties involved on its progress.
Cooper has been on death row since 1985 for the murder of four people in San Bernardino County in June 1983. Prosecutors said Cooper, who had escaped from a minimum-security prison and had been hiding out near the scene of the murder, killed Douglas and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter, Jessica, and 10-year-old Chris Hughes, a friend who was spending the night at the Ryen’s. The lone survivor of the attack, eight-year-old Josh Ryen, was severely injured but survived.
For over 36 years, Cooper has insisted he is innocent, and there are serious questions about evidence that was missing, tampered with, destroyed, possibly planted, or hidden from the defense. There were multiple murder weapons, raising questions about how one man could use all of them, killing four people and seriously wounding one, in the amount of time the coroner estimated the murders took place.
The teaser alone gives a good overview of the case, and helps explain why so many believe Cooper was wrongfully convicted.
New Legal Filing in Mumia’s Case
The following statement was issued January 4, 2022, regarding new legal filings by attorneys for Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Campaign to Bring Mumia Home
In her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston wrote, “There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.”
With continued pressure from below, 2022 will be the year that forces the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office and the Philly Police Department to answer questions about why they framed imprisoned radio journalist and veteran Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal. Abu-Jamal’s attorneys have filed a Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) petition focused entirely on the six boxes of case files that were found in a storage room of the DA’s office in late December 2018, after the case being heard before Judge Leon Tucker in the Court of Common Pleas concluded. (tinyurl.com/zkyva464)
The new evidence contained in the boxes is damning, and we need to expose it. It reveals a pattern of misconduct and abuse of authority by the prosecution, including bribery of the state’s two key witnesses, as well as racist exclusion in jury selection—a violation of the landmark Supreme Court decision Batson v. Kentucky. The remedy for each or any of the claims in the petition is a new trial. The court may order a hearing on factual issues raised in the claims. If so, we won’t know for at least a month.
The new evidence includes a handwritten letter penned by Robert Chobert, the prosecution’s star witness. In it, Chobert demands to be paid money promised him by then-Prosecutor Joseph McGill. Other evidence includes notes written by McGill, prominently tracking the race of potential jurors for the purposes of excluding Black people from the jury, and letters and memoranda which reveal that the DA’s office sought to monitor, direct, and intervene in the outstanding prostitution charges against its other key witness Cynthia White.
Mumia Abu-Jamal was framed and convicted 40 years ago in 1982, during one of the most corrupt and racist periods in Philadelphia’s history—the era of cop-turned-mayor Frank Rizzo. It was a moment when the city’s police department, which worked intimately with the DA’s office, routinely engaged in homicidal violence against Black and Latinx detainees, corruption, bribery and tampering with evidence to obtain convictions.
In 1979, under pressure from civil rights activists, the Department of Justice filed an unprecedented lawsuit against the Philadelphia police department and detailed a culture of racist violence, widespread corruption and intimidation that targeted outspoken people like Mumia. Despite concurrent investigations by the FBI and Pennsylvania’s Attorney General and dozens of police convictions, the power and influence of the country’s largest police association, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) prevailed.
Now, more than 40 years later, we’re still living with the failure to uproot these abuses. Philadelphia continues to fear the powerful FOP, even though it endorses cruelty, racism, and multiple injustices. A culture of fear permeates the “city of brotherly love.”
The contents of these boxes shine light on decades of white supremacy and rampant lawlessness in U.S. courts and prisons. They also hold enormous promise for Mumia’s freedom and challenge us to choose Love, Not PHEAR. (lovenotphear.com/) Stay tuned.
—Workers World, January 4, 2022
Pa. Supreme Court denies widow’s appeal to remove Philly DA from Abu-Jamal case
Abu Jamal was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder of Faulkner in 1982. Over the past four decades, five of his appeals have been quashed.
In 1989, the state’s highest court affirmed Abu-Jamal’s death penalty conviction, and in 2012, he was re-sentenced to life in prison.
Abu-Jamal, 66, remains in prison. He can appeal to the state Supreme Court, or he can file a new appeal.
KYW Newsradio reached out to Abu-Jamal’s attorneys for comment. They shared this statement in full:
“Today, the Superior Court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to consider issues raised by Mr. Abu-Jamal in prior appeals. Two years ago, the Court of Common Pleas ordered reconsideration of these appeals finding evidence of an appearance of judicial bias when the appeals were first decided. We are disappointed in the Superior Court’s decision and are considering our next steps.
“While this case was pending in the Superior Court, the Commonwealth revealed, for the first time, previously undisclosed evidence related to Mr. Abu-Jamal’s case. That evidence includes a letter indicating that the Commonwealth promised its principal witness against Mr. Abu-Jamal money in connection with his testimony. In today’s decision, the Superior Court made clear that it was not adjudicating the issues raised by this new evidence. This new evidence is critical to any fair determination of the issues raised in this case, and we look forward to presenting it in court.”
Questions and comments may be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sign our petition urging President Biden to grant clemency to Leonard Peltier.
Address: 116 W. Osborne Ave. Tampa, Florida 33603
How long will he still be with us? How long will the genocide continue?
By Michael Moore—VIA Email: email@example.com
American Indian Movement leader, Leonard Peltier, at 77 years of age, came down with Covid-19 this weekend. Upon hearing this, I broke down and cried. An innocent man, locked up behind bars for 44 years, Peltier is now America’s longest-held political prisoner. He suffers in prison tonight even though James Reynolds, one of the key federal prosecutors who sent Peltier off to life in prison in 1977, has written to President Biden and confessed to his role in the lies, deceit, racism and fake evidence that together resulted in locking up our country’s most well-known Native American civil rights leader. Just as South Africa imprisoned for more than 27 years its leading voice for freedom, Nelson Mandela, so too have we done the same to a leading voice and freedom fighter for the indigenous people of America. That’s not just me saying this. That’s Amnesty International saying it. They placed him on their political prisoner list years ago and continue to demand his release.
And it’s not just Amnesty leading the way. It’s the Pope who has demanded Leonard Peltier’s release. It’s the Dalai Lama, Jesse Jackson, and the President Pro-Tempore of the US Senate, Sen. Patrick Leahy. Before their deaths, Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa and Bishop Desmond Tutu pleaded with the United States to free Leonard Peltier. A worldwide movement of millions have seen their demands fall on deaf ears.
And now the calls for Peltier to be granted clemency in DC have grown on Capitol Hill. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), the head of the Senate committee who oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs, has also demanded Peltier be given his freedom. Numerous House Democrats have also written to Biden.
The time has come for our President to act; the same President who appointed the first-ever Native American cabinet member last year and who halted the building of the Keystone pipeline across Native lands. Surely Mr. Biden is capable of an urgent act of compassion for Leonard Peltier — especially considering that the prosecutor who put him away in 1977 now says Peltier is innocent, and that his US Attorney’s office corrupted the evidence to make sure Peltier didn’t get a fair trial. Why is this victim of our judicial system still in prison? And now he is sick with Covid.
For months Peltier has begged to get a Covid booster shot. Prison officials refused. The fact that he now has COVID-19 is a form of torture. A shame hangs over all of us. Should he now die, are we all not complicit in taking his life?
President Biden, let Leonard Peltier go. This is a gross injustice. You can end it. Reach deep into your Catholic faith, read what the Pope has begged you to do, and then do the right thing.
For those of you reading this, will you join me right now in appealing to President Biden to free Leonard Peltier? His health is in deep decline, he is the voice of his people — a people we owe so much to for massacring and imprisoning them for hundreds of years.
The way we do mass incarceration in the US is abominable. And Leonard Peltier is not the only political prisoner we have locked up. We have millions of Black and brown and poor people tonight in prison or on parole and probation — in large part because they are Black and brown and poor. THAT is a political act on our part. Corporate criminals and Trump run free. The damage they have done to so many Americans and people around the world must be dealt with.
This larger issue is one we MUST take on. For today, please join me in contacting the following to show them how many millions of us demand that Leonard Peltier has suffered enough and should be free:
President Joe Biden
E-mail: At this link
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland
Attorney General Merrick Garland
E-mail: At this link
I’ll end with the final verse from the epic poem “American Names” by Stephen Vincent Benet:
I shall not rest quiet in Montparnasse.
I shall not lie easy at Winchelsea.
You may bury my body in Sussex grass,
You may bury my tongue at Champmedy.
I shall not be there. I shall rise and pass.
Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.
PS. Also — watch the brilliant 1992 documentary by Michael Apted and Robert Redford about the framing of Leonard Peltier— “Incident at Oglala”
By Margaret Atwood*
The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,
is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can't breathe.
No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.
*Witten by the woman who wrote a novel about Christian fascists taking over the U.S. and enslaving women. Prescient!
Bureau of Labor Statistics
U.S. Department of Labor
For release 10:00 a.m. (ET) Thursday, January 20, 2022
(202) 691-6378 • firstname.lastname@example.org • www.bls.gov/cps
(202) 691-5902 • PressOffice@bls.gov
In 2021, the number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions continued to decline (-241,000) to 14.0 million, and the percent who were members of unions—the union membership rate—was 10.3 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The rate is down from 10.8 percent in 2020—when the rate increased due to a disproportionately large decline in the total number of nonunion workers compared with the decline in the number of union members. The 2021 unionization rate is the same as the 2019 rate of 10.3 percent. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent and there were 17.7 million union workers.
These data on union membership are collected as part of the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly sample survey of about 60,000 eligible households that obtains information on employment and unemployment among the nation’s civilian noninstitutional population age 16 and over. For further information, see the Technical Note in this news release.
Highlights from the 2021 data:
• The union membership rate of public-sector workers (33.9 percent) continued to be more than five times higher than the rate of private-sector workers (6.1 percent). (See table 3.)
• The highest unionization rates were among workers in education, training, and library occupations (34.6 percent) and protective service occupations (33.3 percent). (See table 3.)
• Men continued to have a higher union membership rate (10.6 percent) than women (9.9 percent). The gap between union membership rates for men and women has narrowed considerably since 1983 (the earliest year for which comparable data are available), when rates for men and women were 24.7 percent and 14.6 percent, respectively. (See table 1.)
• Black workers remained more likely to be union members than White, Asian, or Hispanic workers. (See table 1.)
• Nonunion workers had median weekly earnings that were 83 percent of earnings for workers who were union members ($975 versus $1,169). (The comparisons of earnings in this news release are on a broad level and do not control for many factors that can be important in explaining earnings differences.) (See table 2.)
• Among states, Hawaii and New York continued to have the highest union membership rates (22.4 percent and 22.2 percent, respectively), while South Carolina and North Carolina continued to have the lowest (1.7 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively). (See table 5.)
Industry and Occupation of Union Members
In 2021, 7.0 million employees in the public sector belonged to unions, the same as in the private sector. (See table 3.)
Union membership decreased by 191,000 over the year in the public sector. The public-sector union membership rate declined by 0.9 percentage point in 2021 to 33.9 percent, following an increase of 1.2 percentage points in 2020. In 2021, the union membership rate continued to be highest in local government (40.2 percent), which employs many workers in heavily unionized occupations, such as police officers, firefighters, and teachers.
The number of union workers employed in the private sector changed little over the year. However, the number of private-sector nonunion workers increased in 2021. The private-sector unionization rate declined by 0.2 percentage point in 2021 to 6.1 percent, slightly lower than its 2019 rate of 6.2 percent. Industries with high unionization rates included utilities (19.7 percent), motion pictures and sound recording industries (17.3 percent), and transportation and warehousing (14.7 percent). Low unionization rates occurred in finance (1.2 percent), professional and technical services (1.2 percent), food services and drinking places (1.2 percent), and insurance (1.5 percent).
Among occupational groups, the highest unionization rates in 2021 were in education, training, and library occupations (34.6 percent) and protective service occupations (33.3 percent). Unionization rates were lowest in food preparation and serving related occupations (3.1 percent); sales and related occupations (3.3 percent); computer and mathematical occupations (3.7 percent); personal care and service occupations (3.9 percent); and farming, fishing, and forestry occupations (4.0 percent).
Selected Characteristics of Union Members
In 2021, the number of men who were union members, at 7.5 million, changed little, while the number of women who were union members declined by 182,000 to 6.5 million. The unionization rate for men decreased by 0.4 percentage point over the year to 10.6 percent. In 2021, women’s union membership rate declined by 0.6 percentage point to 9.9 percent. The 2021 decreases in union membership rates for men and women reflect increases in the total number of nonunion workers. The rate for men is below the 2019 rate (10.8 percent), while the rate for women is above the 2019 rate (9.7 percent). (See table 1.)
Among major race and ethnicity groups, Black workers continued to have a higher union membership rate in 2021 (11.5 percent) than White workers (10.3 percent), Asian workers (7.7 percent), and Hispanic workers (9.0 percent). The union membership rate declined by 0.4 percentage point for White workers, by 0.8 percentage point for Black workers, by 1.2 percentage points for Asian workers, and by 0.8 percentage point for Hispanic workers. The 2021 rates for Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics are little or no different from 2019, while the rate for Asians is lower.
By age, workers ages 45 to 54 had the highest union membership rate in 2021, at 13.1 percent. Younger workers—those ages 16 to 24—had the lowest union membership rate, at 4.2 percent.
In 2021, the union membership rate for full-time workers (11.1 percent) continued to be considerably higher than that for part-time workers (6.1 percent).
In 2021, 15.8 million wage and salary workers were represented by a union, 137,000 less than in 2020. The percentage of workers represented by a union was 11.6 percent, down by 0.5 percentage point from 2020 but the same as in 2019. Workers represented by a union include both union members (14.0 million) and workers who report no union affiliation but whose jobs are covered by a union contract (1.8 million). (See table 1.)
Among full-time wage and salary workers, union members had median usual weekly earnings of $1,169 in 2021, while those who were not union members had median weekly earnings of $975. In addition to coverage by a collective bargaining agreement, these earnings differences reflect a variety of influences, including variations in the distributions of union members and nonunion employees by occupation, industry, age, firm size, or geographic region. (See tables 2 and 4.)
Union Membership by State
In 2021, 30 states and the District of Columbia had union membership rates below that of the U.S. average, 10.3 percent, while 20 states had rates above it. All states in both the East South Central and West South Central divisions had union membership rates below the national average, while all states in both the Middle Atlantic and Pacific divisions had rates above it. (See table 5 and chart 1.)
Ten states had union membership rates below 5.0 percent in 2021. South Carolina had the lowest rate (1.7 percent), followed by North Carolina (2.6 percent) and Utah (3.5 percent). Two states had union membership rates over 20.0 percent in 2021: Hawaii (22.4 percent) and New York (22.2 percent).
In 2021, about 30 percent of the 14.0 million union members lived in just two states (California at 2.5 million and New York at 1.7 million). However, these states accounted for about 17 percent of wage and salary employment nationally.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic Impact on 2021 Union Members Data
Union membership data for 2021 continue to reflect the impact on the labor market of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Comparisons with union membership measures for 2020, including metrics such as the union membership rate and median usual weekly earnings, should be interpreted with caution. The onset of the pandemic in 2020 led to an increase in the unionization rate due to a disproportionately large decline in the number of nonunion workers compared with the decline in the number of union members. The decrease in the rate in 2021 reflects a large gain in the number of nonunion workers and a decrease in the number of union workers. More information on labor market developments in recent months is available at:
Resources for Resisting Federal Repression
Since June of 2020, activists have been subjected to an increasingly aggressive crackdown on protests by federal law enforcement. The federal response to the movement for Black Lives has included federal criminal charges for activists, door knocks by federal law enforcement agents, and increased use of federal troops to violently police protests.
The NLG National Office is releasing this resource page for activists who are resisting federal repression. It includes a link to our emergency hotline numbers, as well as our library of Know-Your-Rights materials, our recent federal repression webinar, and a list of some of our recommended resources for activists. We will continue to update this page.
Please visit the NLG Mass Defense Program page for general protest-related legal support hotlines run by NLG chapters.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or email@example.com
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
Center for Constitutional Rights
Civil Liberties Defense Center
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Grand Jury Resistance Project
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
Tilted Scales Collective
Secret Data, Tiny Islands and a Quest for Treasure on the Ocean Floor
Mining in parts of the Pacific Ocean was meant to benefit poor countries, but an international agency gave a Canadian company access to prized seabed sites with metals crucial to the green energy revolution.
By Eric Lipton, Aug. 29, 2022
Mr. Barron rang the Nasdaq bell for his company’s first day of public trading last September. Credit...Ashley Gilbertson for The New York Times
KINGSTON, Jamaica — As demand grows globally for metals needed to make batteries for electric vehicles, one of the richest untapped sources of the raw materials lies two and a half miles beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean.
This remote section of the seabed, about 1,500 miles southwest of San Diego, could soon become the world’s first industrial-scale mining site in international waters.
The Metals Company, based in Vancouver, has secured exclusive access to tons of seabed rocks packed with cobalt, copper and nickel — enough, it says, to power 280 million electric vehicles, equivalent to the entire fleet of cars in the United States.
The historic climate legislation that Congress passed this month, extending tax credits for buyers of electric cars, will only accelerate the need for these materials as automakers also push forward with plans to phase out production of gasoline-powered vehicles. The Metals Company hopes to build a plant in Texas to process the seabed rocks and has been lobbying for federal assistance to do so.
“No mining has ever been done on a scale like this on the planet,” said James A.R. McFarlane, former head of environmental monitoring at the International Seabed Authority, an agency affiliated with the United Nations that will regulate mining by the Metals Company and the many other businesses and countries expected to follow.
An examination by The New York Times of how the Metals Company is prepared to exploit this new frontier in the green energy revolution — the firm calculates it will clear $31 billion in earnings over the 25-year life of the project — tells the story of a single-minded, 15-year-long courtship of the small Jamaica-based seabed agency that holds the keys to the world’s underwater treasures.
Interviews and hundreds of pages of emails, letters and other internal documents show that the firm’s executives received key information from the Seabed Authority beginning in 2007, giving a major edge to their mining ambitions. The agency provided data identifying some of the most valuable seabed tracts, and then set aside the prized sites for the company’s future use, according to the materials.
The sharing of that information has angered employees at the agency, who said some of the data was meant for developing countries trying to compete with richer countries, something the agency is mandated under international law to assist. “You are violating the legal concept behind the Seabed Authority,” Sandor Mulsow, who held top positions at the agency before leaving in 2019, said in an interview. “It’s scandalous.”
The Metals Company is one of nearly two dozen contractors that have exploration deals with the agency; most of the them are held by nations. But the firm has been especially aggressive in pushing the Seabed Authority to allow it to start mining, and is now racing to begin in late 2024.
The undertaking has raised concerns among environmentalists about the perpetually underfunded agency’s commitment to protecting life on the ocean floor, and has renewed broader questions about who gets to profit from the riches of the sea.
The Seabed Authority was established under the auspices of the United Nations well before climate change set off a surge in demand for the metals. Though it has never gotten off the ground, a unit of the agency was charged with leveling the playing field for developing countries, in part by reserving metal-rich tracts of the ocean floor and helping to mine them.
With jurisdiction over half the planet, the agency’s 50 employees work out of offices here in Jamaica’s capital on a small annual appropriation of $10 million.
The agency has at times been at war with itself, interviews and documents show. Employees have complained about the secretary general’s spending — on travel and a chauffeured luxury car — and sounded alarms about ethical shortcomings, including a revolving door of consultants and staff lawyers who have worked for companies with matters before the agency.
At a meeting of the agency’s governing body last year, a Metals Company contractor was among a group of businesspeople who roamed freely among the international delegates as they debated agenda items, including the firm’s request for the authority to sign off on a plan to test mining equipment. One of the top rule-making bodies at the Seabed Authority, its legal and technical commission, is secretive, meeting behind closed doors, and some of its own members also work for mining contractors, The Times found.
The agency’s relationship with the Metals Company has turned the system on its head in other ways. Developing nations working with the Seabed Authority are supposed to get access to data in certain mining areas before companies do. But the reverse happened: A top executive at the firm got the vital data first, then secured two tiny island nations as sponsors.
Even with those partners — the Pacific islands of Nauru and Tonga, which have a combined population of 120,000 and are nowhere near the mining zone — the firm has maintained nearly complete financial control over the project, including rights to all but a fraction of the anticipated profits.
“This company set out to game the system and use a poor, developing Pacific nation as the conduit to exploit these resources,” said Lord Fusitu’a, a former member of the Tonga parliament. He said he was given less than an hour in 2014 to review regulations the country adopted to join the effort.
The governments of Nauru and Tonga, which declined requests for comment, have lobbied the agency on behalf of the Metals Company. In a letter, Nauru’s president, Lionel Aingimea, told the agency that the mining would help secure a carbon-neutral future and financially benefit his country.
“Nauru is no one’s puppet, I can assure you,” Gerard Barron, the Metals Company’s chief executive, said in an interview.
A law firm retained by the Seabed Authority, often referred to as the I.S.A., rejected the notion that anyone at the agency had acted inappropriately in sharing data or engaging with contractors, and said that all travel and other expenses by the secretary general were fully authorized. The legal and technical commission, the firm said, “meets entirely properly” with its members and exercises independence in its decisions.
“The I.S.A. has not, at any time, improperly or unlawfully shared confidential data,” the firm, Withers Bergman, said in a statement to The Times.
Michael Lodge, the British lawyer who has served as secretary general for nearly six years, and was its legal counsel when the data was shared beginning in 2007, also defended the agency’s actions. Around that time, he said in an interview at the headquarters in December, it publicly released summaries of some data in an effort to draw attention to the seabed’s riches and generate interest in mining, and it welcomed inquiries by potential partners.
Mr. Barron said he was unaware that Nautilus Minerals had gotten access to some mining data before forming partnerships with Nauru and Tonga. (He was an investor in Nautilus, the forerunner company that received the information, and later became chief executive of what is now the Metals Company in 2017, which purchased certain Nautilus assets.) Nonetheless, he acknowledged, the company had rights to what is “generally regarded as some of the best areas out there.” In a filing last year with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company confirmed it had relied on data twice provided by the agency.
In March, Mr. Barron told Wall Street investors that seabed mining had been made all the more urgent for the United States and its allies because of China’s growing dominance of the cobalt trade and Russia’s role as a major nickel supplier.
As it seeks approval to begin operations, the firm has teamed up with Allseas, an offshore oil industry contractor, Glencore, a mining giant, and Maersk, one of the world’s largest shipping companies. The metals are found in potato-size rocks known as polymetallic nodules, and the firm would suck them up from the ocean floor with a giant underwater vacuum cleaner and transport them to shore.
The biggest hurdle is the enormous task underway at the Seabed Authority to enact the world’s first environmental regulations of deep-sea mining in international waters — and a royalty system to collect revenues from contractors extracting the metals. The effort has been in the works for years but recently accelerated after Nauru, one of the Metals Company’s sponsors, invoked a provision effectively mandating that it wrap up by next year.
The plans to begin mining by the Metals Company and other contractors have generated fierce opposition from some environmental groups, which along with government leaders like President Emmanuel Macron of France have called for a moratorium on mining until scientists can study the remote seabed and better understand the consequences of an industrial-scale operation.
“We have no clue what is going to happen,” said Stefan Bräger, a former Seabed Authority marine biologist who now serves as an adviser to the German government. “It’s like driving on the wrong side of the road at night and turning off your headlights.”
Both Mr. Barron and Mr. Lodge said in interviews that the criticism was unfounded. They said the mining would be for the “benefit of mankind,” as required under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, which established the Seabed Authority, and they predicted that it would cause less ecological damage than open-pit mining.
Mr. Lodge mocked his opponents, referring to environmentalist groups as propagandists.
“To say, ‘Don’t harm the ocean’ — it is the easiest message in the world, right? You just have to show a photo of a turtle with a straw in its nose,” he said. “Everybody in Brooklyn can then say, ‘I don’t want to harm the ocean.’ But they sure want their Teslas.”
‘Exclusive Benefit of Mankind’
A miniature replica of the British Royal Navy’s H.M.S. Challenger sits near Mr. Lodge’s office at the Seabed Authority headquarters. The famed ship set sail 150 years ago on an expedition that mapped the ocean floor.
A dredge on that voyage scraped “several peculiar black oval bodies” out of the Pacific, the crew reported in 1873. The polymetallic nodules, small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, had formed over millions of years and contained high concentrations of valuable metals.
A century later, China, Japan, the Soviet Union, the United States and some European nations began exploring a stretch of the ocean between Hawaii and Mexico, known as the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, that has an especially large volume of the nodules.
With no mining rules in place, the U.N. intervened and adopted the Convention on the Law of the Sea, a treaty that went into effect in 1994 and now has been ratified by 167 countries and the European Union. The agreement established the Seabed Authority, granting it exclusive jurisdiction over mining in international waters — those not under the territorial rule of individual countries — and charging it with the creation of a regulatory system.
A delegate from Malta had laid out the mission years earlier during a 1967 speech at the U.N. The seabed should be used “for the exclusive benefit of mankind as a whole,” said the delegate, Arvid Pardo, adding that poorer nations should get “preferential consideration in the event of financial benefits” and that mining should not cause “serious impairment of the marine environment.”
The United States, under President Ronald Reagan, refused to ratify the treaty, insisting, among other things, that it gave too much authority to developing nations and put American businesses at a disadvantage. But the country agreed to act generally in accordance with its provisions, which extend to other activities like shipping, fishing and navigation.
As the rules stand, any nation can seek permission to conduct surveys to identify mining sites, and China, France, India and South Korea, among other richer nations, have done just that. When they find worthy locations, they must hand over half of them to the Seabed Authority, which sets them aside as “reserved areas” where less developed countries can initiate their own projects.
The authority has allocated roughly 200,000 square miles of seabed — larger then the size of California — to developing nations to do exploratory work in the reserved areas, with nearly half of that space now under the control of the Metals Company.
Starting two decades ago, the Seabed Authority began keeping track of the reserved areas with the highest concentration of nodules, based on countries’ proprietary surveys. Some of the data was used for a modeling project that charted the geology of the ocean floor, and its potential for mining, though the public version of that project aggregated the data and did not disclose anything proprietary.
As the agency clarified in a public statement in 2000, detailed sample station data was not to be shared outside the organization. “Data and information ‘of commercial value’ given to the authority by a seabed contractor shall be considered confidential,” it said.
‘Mother Nature’s Gift’
Around the same time, executives at Nautilus Minerals were keenly interested in the reserved areas and turned to the Seabed Authority for help in deciding where to focus their attention, the documents show.
Agency officials held a series of meetings in New York and Jamaica with David Heydon, a geologist who later became Nautilus’s chief executive, and his son Robert, who also worked there, to discuss seabed mining.
Neither Mr. Heydon nor his son, who is now an executive at the Metals Company, responded to requests for comment. A company spokesman also did not respond to questions about them.
In one meeting in 2007, emails and other documents show, the agency’s secretary general at the time, Satya N. Nandan, shared agency records about the reserved areas with the company.
“Thank you for hosting Scott Trebilcock and Robert Heydon in Kingston last month, and providing Nautilus Minerals Inc. (‘Nautilus’) with the opportunity to review data pertaining to the I.S.A.’s Reserved Areas,” David Heydon wrote in a 2007 letter to Mr. Nandan. Mr. Nandan died in 2020.
Mr. Heydon went on to ask that three of the four most promising locations in the reserved areas be set aside for Nautilus while it sought a nation to sponsor its mining ambitions. “Nautilus looks forward to submitting its full application to the I.S.A. early next year once State Sponsorship has been obtained,” he wrote.
Nauru, one of the world’s smallest nations, quickly emerged as a leading candidate for the Heydons, who are from Australia, which previously turned to the island to house its refugees and to mine a mineral used in fertilizer. The country, with just 11,000 people, had only a tiny environmental agency. It also did not demand much in exchange for sponsorship, having no ability of its own to pursue such an undertaking.
Mr. Barron, the Metals Company chief executive, would not say how much money Nauru was on tap to receive. A community leader in Tonga, another island partner, said in an interview that the company had agreed to pay it $2 per ton as a “mining production fee.” That payment would amount to less than half of one percent of the firm’s total estimated value of the mined material. The Metals Company would not confirm this fee.
Separately, the Metals Company would pay an undetermined royalty fee to the Seabed Authority once commercial mining began.
The company, a merger of DeepGreen and the Sustainable Opportunities Acquisition Corporation, was founded in 2021 and markets itself as a publicly traded start-up that views “the climate crisis as the biggest challenge of our time.” Its singular focus is harvesting polymetallic nodules, which it describes as the cleanest source of battery-grade metals on the planet — in shorthand, batteries in a rock.
“It’s just Mother Nature’s gift to us,” Mr. Barron, who was paid $14.2 million in salary and stock options last year, said as he relaxed on a ship that had just returned to San Diego from an exploratory expedition.
‘Sit Down, Shut Up’
The information given to Nautilus, according to an email written by Robert Heydon, included an “Excel spreadsheet supplied by the authority that shows the grade and abundance recorded at specific sample stations.”
Follow-up correspondence from Mr. Heydon and others made clear that they knew they should not be given certain data until they had a contract to partner with a developing nation. But Nautilus requested more information to speed things along.
“As you would be aware it takes quite a few months to put together a large scale exploration campaign,” Mr. Heydon wrote in 2011 to Mr. Lodge, then the agency’s legal counsel.
In his draft reply, Mr. Lodge noted that the Seabed Authority was subject to “certain restrictions on the disclosure of such data to anyone external to the authority.” But in a separate email to colleagues, he suggested there was a path that would allow them to accommodate Mr. Heydon: the public release of summaries of survey data.
Since it had made the summaries public, he reasoned, the agency could share at least some of the data Mr. Heydon had requested.
In another email, an agency employee acknowledged that some of the data provided to Nautilus was supposed to have been “classified,” at least before the company secured a contract to do exploratory work in the reserved areas.
“Here is the entire reserved area data,” Vijay Kodagali, a senior scientific officer, now deceased, wrote in 2012 after a Nautilus consultant asked for another copy of the data provided earlier. “This is supposed to be classified data and not to be disclosed to others.”
Three former senior staff members at the agency and a current member of the Seabed Authority Council, the agency’s governing body, said in interviews that they believed the data sharing in some cases violated agency rules. There was no suggestion that the Metals Company acted improperly in requesting the information.
“There were times that you were just told to sit down, shut up and do what you’re told,” said Mr. McFarlane, who resigned from his post as the authority’s top environmental official in August 2011, several months after questions about the data sharing emerged.
In its statement, Withers Bergman said that the Seabed Authority staff routinely interacted with contractors pursuing mining sites, but reiterated that the agency had always honored data confidentiality rules.
“It is not unusual and is entirely proper and normal practice for the I.S.A. secretariat to engage with contractors to discuss proposals which those contractors have regarding potential applications,” the statement said, “including — as in the case of Nautilus — the contractor providing a confidential indication of the areas under consideration.”
‘Smell the Desperation’
Even with the prized information in hand, the Metals Company has faced concerns among some agency officials that it is dominating a resource not intended for wealthy countries or international mining companies with nominal partners.
The Metals Company has rights to three of the seven exploratory contracts issued by the Seabed Authority in areas reserved for developing nations.
The rules require that the sponsoring nations, in this case Nauru and Tonga, exercise “effective control” over the mining projects so they are not partners in name only. The Metals Company has met this requirement, in part, by setting up nonprofit foundations to oversee operations, but they are controlled by the company, which has just one permanent employee on each island, according to securities filings. Operations are instead run from Australia, Canada and the United States.
The Metals Company secured access to a third reserved area in 2015, sponsored by the central Pacific island of Kiribati.
“These venture-capital-backed companies can smell the desperation in these small island economies,” said Maureen Penjueli, coordinator of the Fiji-based Pacific Network on Globalization, a nonprofit that promotes the rights of Pacific island nations.
Nii Allotey Odunton, a mining engineer from Ghana who served as the Seabed Authority’s secretary general from 2009 to 2016, said that developing nations were left with no choice but to work closely with private contractors, particularly because the unit within the agency meant to facilitate mining was never created.
“The only realistic option for most developing states therefore was to form partnerships with commercial interests that have access to the financial capital and technology necessary to conduct deep-sea exploration,” Mr. Odunton said in a speech at the U.N. in 2011. (He died this year.)
Mr. Barron said the arrangements were good for the islands. “If you look at a nation like Nauru, and if you ask them, ‘Well, what are your other economic development opportunities?’ there’s not a long list,” he said.
Squire Jeremiah, a member of Nauru’s parliament in 2015 when legislation was approved related to the Metals Company, said the firm’s presence in the country was nominal. “They have so far funded a few scholarships and small projects, trying to buy their way in to get us on board,” he said. “But it has not amounted to much.”
A spokesman for the company said it donated a total of $140,600 last year to support community and social programs in Nauru and Tonga. The spokesman added that the contracts left the islands in “effective control” because their environmental agencies have regulatory oversight.
Klaas Willaert, an international maritime lawyer who has served as a Belgian delegate to the Seabed Authority, denounced the arrangements.
“They are relying on a legal loophole here,” Mr. Willaert said. “They have chosen tiny islands to gain access to the reserved areas. It is exactly the opposite of what the law of the sea intended.”
‘Inconsistent Application of Policies’
Chris G. Brown spent several years helping draft mining regulations as an employee and consultant at the agency. He now works as a consultant to Nauru, the Metals Company partner.
Charles Morgan, an environmental scientist, was retained by the authority to study data collected by early explorers of the proposed mining areas. Later, he was hired by a firm whose assets are now controlled by the Metals Company to secure a piece of that data for business purposes.
Nathan Eastwood, a mining industry lawyer at London-based Clifford Chance, took a sabbatical from his law firm last year to help the Seabed Authority draft mining regulations even as he continued to solicit future seabed-mining clients for his firm, the I.S.A. documents and other records show. He did not respond to requests for comment.
In interviews, some staff members said that close industry ties permeated the agency and contributed to a poisonous work environment. Internal emails and surveys also document the discontent.
“The current culture/organizational dynamics have resulted in frustration, resentment, and made the workplace an unpleasant (and often toxic) place to be,” said an email in 2018 that was based on a survey of 31 staff members.
“Breakdowns in communication, lack of transparency, fear of retaliation, not feeling valued, nepotism, clashing personalities, inconsistent application of policies, and often uncertainty around direction and vision (among other things) have contributed to the current state,” it said.
A survey in 2019 reached the “disheartening” conclusion that “many, if not all, of the issues and frustrations you faced a year ago are still present today.”
Employees said they had no way to seek redress. “There is no internal hotline,” Andrew Webster, then a senior executive helping oversee the agency’s budget, wrote in an email in 2019. “No whistleblower hotline.”
In the statement to The Times, the law firm for the authority said that “continuous efforts are being made to ensure the consistent application of policies across the organization.” Since Mr. Lodge took over the agency in 2017, the statement said, he has revamped personnel rules, “successfully and radically improving the working lives and the morale of the I.S.A.’s valued and dedicated employees.”
Mr. Lodge has been a flash point for some. Employees cited the acquisition last year of an Audi SUV to drive him around Kingston even though he had warned months earlier that budget cuts were likely to “seriously impact the Authority’s ability to carry out its operations.”
He also expensed airfare and related bills totaling as much as $50,000 per trip for him and his family to travel on vacations over the last decade as part of authorized home leaves to locations in Asia, according to an agency document.
In the statement, the law firm said that Mr. Lodge’s agency-funded travel and the purchase of the new agency car had all been properly approved and were “fully in line with U.N. standards.”
“The independent auditors examine all expenditures and are required to report any cases of fraud, wasteful or improper expenditure, or expenditure in breach of the rules,” the statement said, “and no such expenditure has ever been reported.”
Some current and former employees said the workplace dysfunction signaled an inability to fulfill the agency’s core mission of benefiting “the common heritage of mankind.”
“The organization simply does not have the capacity necessary to perform such functions,” Van Khanh Nguyen, a finance officer between 2018 and 2020, said in an interview, during which she detailed a series of financial misdeeds she said she observed while at the agency. She was among several former employees who recently filed a personnel complaints with the U.N. “What they care about is their own benefit, and corruption is everywhere.”
‘Dollar Signs in Their Eyes’
Scientists say that more is known about the surface of the moon than about the floor of the ocean, with much of it still unmapped, and estimate that perhaps 90 percent of the species at the bottom of the Pacific remain unclassified.
Worries about that knowledge gap emerged publicly last year when the Metals Company submitted plans to test a new mining machine.
The company had teamed up with Allseas, the offshore oil contractor, to equip a former drill ship with a device resembling a bulldozer that vacuums up nodules. The machine has been tested in the North Sea, but the Metals Company wants a separate trial in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone so it can demonstrate what, it predicts, will be limited consequences for aquatic life as it collects about 3,600 tons of nodules. Ultimately, once commercial mining starts, it intends to extract 1.3 million tons of these rocks a year at its first site.
The Metals Company has pushed ahead with its plans even as the company has shown signs of financial challenges, with its stock price falling from a high of $15.39 last year to a low of 81 cents on Friday.
The company’s request is still under review, having elicited sharp criticism around the world, including from the governments of Britain and Germany, and from some scientists who once held top posts at the Seabed Authority.
These questions echo larger concerns about the harm some scientists fear large-scale seabed mining may cause. The most prominent opponent may be Craig Smith, an oceanographer and former mining industry contractor now at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He spent nearly five years at sea and in Antarctica studying marine life, and his research has singled out the Clarion-Clipperton Zone as something worth preserving.
“It’s just not possible to do this without essentially destroying one of the largest wilderness areas left,” said Dr. Smith, citing the potential impact of 17 different mining projects in the area, including the three contracts held by the Metals Company. Dr. Smith was hired to evaluate the environmental effects of seabed mining by the South Korean government and Lockheed Martin, the American contractor, which are considering projects of their own.
“These are some of the most pristine, biodiverse habitats on a planet where we already have a biodiversity crisis because of destruction on land,” he said.
Mr. McFarlane, the former head of environmental monitoring at the Seabed Authority, suggested that the Metals Company was intentionally playing down the threat.
“I’ve listened to his greenwashing,” Mr. McFarlane said of Mr. Barron, the chief executive. “This guy is slick, but he is like a lot of people who see dollar signs in their eyes.”
Mr. Barron said that such criticism was off base and that his project was extremely important to the future health of the planet: “This could be one of those projects that could really make a difference — that could really move the needle.”
His company’s most immediate request is for approval to test its new nodule collector. After pushback from governments and environmental groups about its proposal, the company supplemented its filing with the Seabed Authority with additional environmental data.
“Picking up the nodules from the seabed has to be accomplished with the maximum efficiency and minimum disturbance,” Jon Machin, a former offshore-drilling executive who now serves as the company’s head of engineering, said at a briefing in June.
The effort, according to the company, would include a continuous environmental monitoring system that would allow the crew to redirect the mining if sediment plumes or other harm occurs.
In an interview, Mr. Lodge lashed out at the scientists voicing concerns, suggesting there was a “very incestuous” financial relationship between them and the environmental activist groups.
“If you spend your whole life studying the worms that live on nodules, then you get very attached to that,” Mr. Lodge said. “And I’m not sure that they really see the woods for the trees. The broader issue is: Where are you going to get these minerals from?”
The Seabed Authority, nonetheless, has taken significant steps to limit harm, including setting aside about 40 percent of the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, 760,000 square miles, as areas where mining will not be allowed.
At the meeting of the authority’s governing council in December, proponents and opponents of the Metals Company’s plans reached a compromise to speed up the review of the comprehensive seabed mining rules, sticking with the firm’s proposed timeline to start commercial operations as early as 2024.
“Consensus means that everybody is slightly unhappy,” Mr. Lodge told the council.
My New York Times Comment:
This is infuriating. Let's not kid ourselves, this venture has nothing to do whatsoever with "benefiting mankind" and everything to do with making huge profits for a handful of CEOs. Meanwhile, everything that is built and sold for profit is designed to break down—be "unfixable"—so we must buy the product again and again. It's unconscionable! These electric cars are not built to last either. Production for private profit inevitably leads to the exploitation and destruction of our environment and poverty for most of humanity. If the system of capitalism continues much longer, we are doomed! Production for human needs and the health of our planet, not profit, is our only hope.
—Bonnie Weinstein, August 29, 2022
The decline during the pandemic is the sharpest in nearly 100 years, hitting American Indian and Native Alaskan communities particularly hard.
By Roni Caryn Rabin, Aug. 31, 2022
A candle vigil held last year in Gilbert, Ariz., for people who died of overdoses. Credit...Alberto Mariani/Cronkite News, via Associated Press
The average life expectancy of Americans fell precipitously in 2020 and 2021, the sharpest two-year decline in nearly 100 years and a stark reminder of the toll exacted on the nation by the continuing coronavirus pandemic.
In 2021, the average American could expect to live until the age of 76, federal health researchers reported on Wednesday. The figure represents a loss of almost three years since 2019, when Americans could expect to live, on average, nearly 79 years.
The reduction has been particularly steep among Native Americans and Alaska Natives, the National Center for Health Statistics reported. Average life expectancy in those groups was shortened by four years in 2020 alone.
The cumulative decline since the pandemic started, more than six and a half years on average, has brought life expectancy to 65 among Native Americans and Alaska Natives — on par with the figure for all Americans in 1944.
In 2021, the shortening of life span was more pronounced among white Americans than among Black Americans, who saw greater reductions in the first year of the pandemic.
While the pandemic has driven most of the decline in life expectancy, a rise in accidental deaths and drug overdoses also contributed, as did deaths from heart disease, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, the new report found.
Until now, experts have been accustomed to measuring life expectancy changes in increments of months, not years.
“Even small declines in life expectancy of a tenth or two-tenths of a year mean that on a population level, a lot more people are dying prematurely than they really should be,” said Robert Anderson, chief of mortality statistics at the N.C.H.S.
“This signals a huge impact on the population in terms of increased mortality,” he added.
Dr. Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, characterized the diminution of life expectancy in the United States as “historic.”
While other high-income countries were also hard hit in 2020, the first year of the pandemic, most had begun to recover by last year, he said.
“None of them experienced a continuing fall in life expectancy like the U.S. did, and a good number of them saw life expectancy start inching back to normal,” Dr. Woolf said.
Those countries had more successful vaccination campaigns and populations that were more willing to take behavioral measures to prevent infections, such as wearing masks, he said, adding: “The U.S. is clearly an outlier.”
But the coronavirus was not solely to blame. Longstanding health problems — rooted in poverty, discrimination and poor access to health care — left Native Americans and Alaska Natives particularly vulnerable to the virus, said Dr. Ann Bullock, former director of diabetes treatment and prevention at the federal Indian Health Service agency and a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.
One in seven Native Americans and Alaska Natives has diabetes, the highest rate among racial or ethnic groups in the United States, and many struggle with obesity or excess weight. Both conditions make people more susceptible to severe Covid-19, and crowded multigenerational housing adds to the risk.
“There is no doubt Covid was a contributor to the increase in mortality during the last couple of years, but it didn’t start these problems — it made everything that much worse,” Dr. Bullock said.
Average life expectancy in these populations is now “lower than that of every country in the Americas except Haiti, which is astounding,” said Noreen Goldman, professor of demography and public affairs at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.
The continued plunge was all the more upsetting because it occurred after a successful vaccination campaign, she said, adding: “The Native American population did quite well in the vaccination efforts, and that made us feel that 2021 would not be as devastating as 2020.”
“That was wrong, and it’s pretty hard to swallow,” she added.
White Americans saw the second-largest decline in average life expectancy in 2021, a drop of one year, to 76.4 in 2021 from 77.4 in 2020. The decline was steeper than that among Black Americans, at seven-tenths of a year. That was followed by Hispanic Americans, whose life expectancy dropped only two-tenths of a year in 2021.
But both Black and Hispanic Americans were hit hard in 2020, the first year of the pandemic. Average life expectancy for Hispanic Americans fell by four years, to 77.9 from 81.9 in 2019. The figure for Black Americans declined almost as much, by more than three years to 71.5 years in 2020.
White Americans experienced the smallest decline during the first year of the pandemic, a drop of 1.4 years to 77.4 from 78.8. For white and Black Americans, life expectancy is now the lowest it has been since 1995, federal researchers said.
Asian Americans held the highest life expectancy among racial and ethnic groups included in the new analysis: 83.5 years, on average. The figure fell only slightly last year, from 83.6 in 2020.
It was the largest reduction in life expectancy in the United States over the course of a two-year period since the early 1920s, when life expectancy fell to 57.2 in 1923. That drop-off may have been related to high unemployment and suicide rates during an earlier recession, as well as a steep increase in mortality among nonwhite men and women.
Although the U.S. health care system is among the best in the world, Americans suffer from what experts have called “the U.S. health disadvantage,” an amalgam of influences that erode well-being, Dr. Woolf said.
These include a fragmented, profit-driven health care system; poor diet and a lack of physical activity; and pervasive risk factors such as smoking, widespread access to guns, poverty and pollution. The problems are compounded for marginalized groups by racism and segregation, he added.
The result is a high disease burden among Americans, and shorter life expectancy compared with that in comparable high-income nations over the last two decades, Dr. Woolf said.
Over a million Americans have died of Covid-19, and more died in 2021 than in 2020 despite the availability of vaccines. To date, only two-thirds of Americans are fully vaccinated, and only one-third have had a booster shot.
“The white population did worse in 2021 than communities of color, besides Native American and Alaska Natives,” Dr. Woolf said. “I think that’s very telling: It reflects the greater efforts by Black and Hispanics to get vaccinated, to wear masks and take other measures to protect themselves, and the greater tendency in white populations to push back on those behaviors.”
The longevity gap between men and women also grew by a couple of months in 2021. American women can now expect to live 79.1 years, almost six years longer than men, whose average life expectancy was 73.2 last year, according to the new data.
The longevity gap between the sexes has been increasing for more than a decade, after narrowing between 2000 and 2010 to about five years.
By Dave A. Chokshi, Aug. 31, 2022Dr. Chokshi is a Bellevue Hospital physician and visiting fellow at the New York Health Foundation. He previously served as the health commissioner of New York City.
Life expectancy in the United States continued to decline in 2021, according to data released by the federal government. Is there a more fundamental barometer of the health of our nation? The stagnation in life expectancy reflects deep societal challenges — not just in our health system but also in our economic and political systems.
For people born in 2019, like my daughter was, life expectancy at birth was 78.8 years. It has been markedly lower in subsequent years: 77.0 years for those born in 2020 and around 76.1 years for those born in 2021, primarily because of Covid-19.
Although life expectancy is not a literal estimate of how long a newborn is expected to live — instead, it reflects mortality trends for adults in a given year — it does represent the world our children are inheriting. The connection becomes visceral when we think of the children we have lost to gun violence, from Uvalde, Texas, to Highland Park, Ill. Or the projected increase in pregnancy-related deaths and child poverty because Roe v. Wade was overturned.
The decrease in life expectancy, as I see it, is a composite of multiple phenomena.
Life expectancy in the United States has lagged that of peer countries since 1980, driven in part by higher mortality rates among Black and American Indian adults and people of lower socioeconomic status. A recent analysis estimated there were about 16 million American birthdays lost — that is, years of life lost prematurely — in 2019 based on a comparison of U.S. death rates to those in other wealthy countries.
Even as Covid-19 was the major reason for the decline from 2019-21, that broad characterization masks the contributions of misinformation and political polarization to preventable mortality since 2021, when Covid-19 vaccines became widely available.
The pandemic’s reverberating effects also extended to increases in overdose deaths, deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth and deaths from chronic diseases such as diabetes, through pathways that are still being understood. In my own clinical practice, I’ve seen the grief, stress and trauma of the past few years show up as spikes in blood pressure and blood sugar or as foregone care.
Although some of the backdrop mortality trends are called deaths of despair, collectively, this is not a time for nihilism or despondency. The decline in life expectancy is not inevitable. We need only look to peer countries like Spain and Canada, where modeling based on preliminary data suggests a life expectancy rebound in 2021 despite Covid-19, in part because of widespread vaccination.
America is at a fork in the road with respect to the health of the nation. One path would parallel what happened after the 1918 flu, known as both the “great influenza” and the “forgotten pandemic.” Although life expectancy increased as the number of flu deaths subsided, its trajectory remained similar to that before the pandemic. The stories of the millions of lives lost perhaps took a back seat to narratives of nationalism and victorious valor in World War I. We are at risk of a similar collective amnesia after Covid-19.
Another path, however, would parallel the response to the unyielding outbreaks of typhus, smallpox, dysentery and cholera in the 19th century. A great sanitary awakening didn’t just save lives, it changed the way society thought about protecting health as a public responsibility.
Disease control at the time included cleaning up and improving the common environment, with a particular focus on impoverished areas and children's health. In New York City, cholera deaths among the poor helped lead to the Metropolitan Health Law, which regulated sanitary conditions and laid the groundwork for modern health departments.
What would a modern Metropolitan Health Law look like at a national scale? Even as it would address different conditions and proximate causes of illness, a focus on low-income people and marginalized communities would remain consistent.
Looking at average changes in life expectancy obscures the fact that before the pandemic, increasing mortality was concentrated among lower-income groups. More recent data from California during the pandemic suggests that the gap in survival by income may have widened further, particularly among Hispanic and Black people.
Given that health is tightly linked to economic security, economic policy must be viewed as health policy. Policy solutions that affect educational opportunities, housing prospects and social mobility have particularly important implications for health. Direct financial and in-kind assistance for low-income families, such as through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) and further expansion of the earned-income tax credit, are evidence-based and effective.
Lessons from the Covid-19 response should also lead to investment in a national public health corps, a cadre of community health workers both serving and drawn from the most marginalized neighborhoods across the country, providing a health work force, economic resources and jobs in one fell swoop. Broader preparedness for the next infectious threat must appropriately resource local and state public health agencies, from laboratory capacity to misinformation response.
The country should also derive inspiration from our 19th-century forebears in focusing on the suffering of children. Firearm-related injuries have become the leading cause of death among children, a shocking reality. Climate change threatens infants and other children through extreme heat, food insecurity, insect-borne diseases and more. Beyond advocacy, public health has a particular role in scaling up services to address these and other adverse childhood experiences, for instance through new family home visiting programs. And economic policies such as making the child tax credit permanent, providing baby bonds to address wealth inequality and investment in early childhood education have potential for major health dividends.
Polarization, partisanship and a lack of trust — both in government and interpersonally — can cost lives. Overcoming this will require an embrace of new narratives. For instance, the scholar Heather McGhee describes the zero-sum thinking associated with structural racism: the trope that for some to advance, others must regress. The zero-sum story has eroded our willingness to resource public goods for all of us, from education to transportation.
Here too a focus on children can help. Is there a more powerful identity than that of a parent, grandparent or caregiver? What if the stories we told were rooted in those identities, and our policies were measured against the health benefits that our children could expect? It would start by re-framing each of the policies described above by leading with their effects on our children.
If I could write a sweeping prescription, it would be for the millions of parents who have not voted in a state or national election in the last five years. Organizing to get them to the polls and giving them a reason to vote on the social and economic policies that shape health may be the key to reversing the decline in life expectancy in the United States. I care about that as a doctor, but even more so as a father.
The new course will undergo a pilot program in 60 schools, as the debate over how to teach history becomes ever more divisive.
By Anemona Hartocollis, Aug. 31, 2022
The new A.P. course in African-American studies will include the civil rights movement. Here, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. leads marchers at the start of a five-day voting-rights march to Montgomery, Ala., in 1965. Credit...Associated Press
The College Board is jumping into the fray over how to teach the history of race in the United States with a new Advanced Placement course and exam on African American studies that will be tried out in about 60 high schools this fall.
The course is multidisciplinary, addressing not just history but civil rights, politics, literature, the arts, even geography. If the pilot program pans out, it will be the first course in African American studies for high school students that is considered rigorous enough to allow students to receive credit and advanced placement at many colleges across the country.
The plan for an Advanced Placement course is a significant step in acknowledging the field of African American studies, more than 50 years after what has been credited as the first Black studies department was started after a student strike at San Francisco State College in 1968, said Henry Louis Gates Jr., a former chair of Harvard’s department of African and African American studies and director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research.
“In the history of any field, in the history of any discipline in the academy, there are always milestones indicating the degree of institutionalization,” said Dr. Gates, who is a consultant to the project along with a colleague, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham. “These are milestones which signify the acceptance of a field as being quote-unquote ‘academic’ and quote-unquote ‘legitimate.’”
He likened it to the publication of the Norton Anthology of African American Literature, in 1997, and of the African American National Biography, first published in 2008.
The College Board declined to release a sample syllabus or other content for the course, or to name the 60 schools or say what states they were located in.
But Marlon Williams-Clark, a social studies teacher in Florida who is part of the pilot program, said that among the subjects were how African American studies became a field of study at the college level in the 1960s, the strength of early African kingdoms and cultures, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the lives of enslaved people and what they did to resist, and moving toward the Harlem Renaissance, Black power and Black pride, the civil rights movement, Black feminism and intersectionality.
Students will take a pilot exam but will not receive scores or college credit, according to the College Board.
The course comes at a precarious time for the teaching of history, and in particular, Black history, and could clash with the political mood and even with laws in some states.
Across the country this year, 36 states have introduced 137 bills seeking to restrict teaching, mainly on race but also on gender and history, up from 22 states and 54 bills last year, according to a report by PEN America, a free speech group. Most of the bills have been driven by Republican legislators.
Many Republican politicians have made a piñata out of “critical race theory,” an academic theory that examines how racism is embedded in institutions but has become a vaguely defined buzzword among parents and political activists who say that students are being dictated to by teachers who do not share their values.
In Washington last year, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and more than three dozen Republican senators protested a proposed Biden administration rule promoting education programs that address how racism is embedded in society, calling it “divisive nonsense.”
“Americans never decided our children should be taught that our country is inherently evil,” the senators wrote in a letter to the education secretary. In Tennessee, education rules prohibit teaching a long list of “concepts,” including the notion that “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously.”
Eric Welch, a Republican board of education member in Williamson County, Tenn., said that depending on the content, which has not been released, he could have qualms about the proposed AP course. “It would bother me as a school board member to have any course material that was agenda-driven,” he said. He added, “We’re trying to educate, not indoctrinate.”
He said that he didn’t like the state law either, not because of the content, but because it was micromanaging how local schools should teach.
The College Board, which also administers the SAT, said in a statement that the course had been in the works for a decade.
With the caveat that the course is still in development, and that he only plays an advisory role in determining its content, Dr. Gates said that he was “sincerely hoping” that the course would not ignore teaching about controversial subjects, like critical race theory or the 1619 Project.
The 1619 Project, developed by The New York Times, sought to reframe the country’s history by putting the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the center of the national narrative. Dr. Gates said that rather than being part of the theoretical framework of the course itself, those topics could be part of a unit “teaching different theories of the African American experience.”
There could, for example, “be a course on Marxist approaches to race,” Dr. Gates said, adding, “and most certainly I would imagine something on critical race theory and maybe something on the 1619 Project.”
He said: “This hypothetical unit would discuss the controversies over different interpretive frameworks used to analyze the history of race in America. I am certainly not advocating employing those theories as interpretive frameworks for the course itself. That’s a big difference.”
If all goes well, the full A.P. course will be available to all high schools that want it in the 2024-25 school year.
Mr. Williams-Clark, the Florida social studies teacher, works in a state that prohibits schools from teaching critical race theory and the 1619 Project.
Mr. Williams-Clark, who teaches at Florida State University Schools, a laboratory charter, said he sticks to state standards for history and literature and was not worried about falling afoul of laws that aim to restrict education about race.
“I think people need to understand that critical race theory is not an element of this course,” Mr. Williams-Clark said. “As far as the 1619 Project, this course is not that either. There might be elements that cross over. But this course is a comprehensive, mainstream course about the African American experience.”
As for recent events like the killing of George Floyd by the police and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, he said that while they might not explicitly be in the curriculum, he anticipated that they would come up as students made connections between the past and the present.
Mr. Williams-Clark said he was “surprised and not surprised” that it had taken such a long time after the rise of African American studies departments to establish this course.
“The way I look at it is that often history is told from the perspective of the winner,” he said. “We’re getting to a point in our country’s history where diverse voices are being valued, and that’s what this course does.”
Susan C. Beachy contributed research.
Americans are increasingly turning to “buy now, pay later” services for food and other everyday essentials. And there are signs that the practice is putting some in deep debt.
By Priya Krishna, Aug. 29, 2022
Josh Roberts started using a pay-later service to buy groceries during the pandemic and fell behind on payments. He ended up owing more than $1,000. Credit...Chona Kasinger for The New York Times
Josh Roberts didn’t think twice about taking out a loan to pay for groceries. It was early in the pandemic, and he was making $16.50 an hour working for a technology company in Cincinnati while supporting his sister and her girlfriend.
“We were just not making enough to live,” he said.
So he started buying groceries online using a virtual credit card from Klarna, a “buy now, pay later” service that allowed him to break payments into smaller installments that could be made over several weeks, with no interest.
Soon Mr. Roberts, 30, was regularly spending beyond his means on food — chicken breasts, bananas, chips, cereal. He fell behind on payments, and ended up owing more than $1,000 to Klarna, an estimated $100 of it in late fees. He already had about $11,000 in student debt, and another $2,000 in unpaid medical bills.
“I don’t want to be in debt for a carrot,” he said. “But you have got to do what you’ve got to do.”
When pay-later services like Klarna, which was founded in Sweden, arrived in the United States about a decade ago, they were largely used for one-time, discretionary purchases like concert tickets and high-end clothing. But as inflation mounts, Americans are increasingly turning to them to finance something much more mundane and essential: what they eat.
And there are signs that the use of these services for repeated, everyday expenses like groceries and restaurant meals is pushing some users, particularly younger people who are already overextended, deeper into debt.
“If you are not financially literate, it is easy to abuse it and say, ‘I will just keep using it, it is free money,’” said Mr. Roberts, who has paid off his debt to Klarna and no longer uses the app.
Pay-later companies say their products are a convenient tool — like layaway plans or credit cards — to help consumers manage their finances in tough times. The services, with breezy names like Zip, Zilch and Affirm, are easy to use, with well-designed apps, websites, virtual credit cards and widgets. Shoppers can apply for them in a checkout line and be approved in minutes.
Unlike credit cards, most of the services don’t charge interest or require applicants to undergo extensive credit checks. There is usually a processing fee for each purchase, typically paid by the merchant.
Pay-later companies are already commonplace in countries like South Korea and Australia. Buoyed by inflation and the rise in e-commerce, they have quickly gained a foothold in the United States, where $45.9 billion in pay-later transactions were made online in 2021, up from $15.3 billion the year before, according to GlobalData, a data analytics company.
Food, which accounted for about 6 percent of those purchases, appears to be an important part of the growth. In the last year, Zip, a company based in Sydney, Australia, says it has seen 95 percent growth in U.S. grocery purchases, and 64 percent in restaurant transactions. Klarna reports that more than half of the top 100 items its app users are currently buying from national retailers are grocery or household items. Zilch, says groceries and dining out account for 38 percent of its transactions.
Philip Belamant, the founder of Zilch, said consumers don’t balk at swiping a credit card to buy lunch or coffee. So why shouldn’t they use a pay-later plan, with no interest, for those purchases?
“Why would you take a line of credit out to buy a sandwich?” by using a credit card, he said. “You are doing it today and paying 20 percent interest on it.”
But critics of services like Zilch say their ease of use can lull shoppers into thinking they can take on more debt with no consequences.
“Buy-now-pay-later companies have really insidiously and ingeniously kind of like marketed themselves and advertised themselves as, ‘I am just your friend, I am just here to help you out,’” said Jathan Sadowski, the author of “Too Smart: How Digital Capitalism Is Extracting Data, Controlling Our Lives and Taking Over the World.”
A pay-later purchase is essentially a loan, he said, with its own pitfalls. Some services charge late fees that can exceed the interest charges on credit cards, according to a March report by Consumer Reports. Companies aren’t always transparent about the terms of using the service, and missed payments can hurt users’ credit scores.
Pay-later users tend to be economically vulnerable. A July report by the financial services company Fitch Ratings found that they carry more debt than the general population, and that more than 41 percent of applicants have a poor credit history.
The report showed that delinquency rates for some pay-later services more than doubled from June 2021 to last March — from 1.7 percent to 4.1 percent at Afterpay, for example — while delinquency rates for major credit cards remained unchanged, at roughly 1.4 percent.
Pay-later services are less regulated than other forms of credit, and it is unclear exactly how many Americans are using them. The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau monitors firms that offer the loans, and in December opened an inquiry into the business practices of five companies.
But Consumer Reports says many pay-later arrangements are designed to circumvent the Truth in Lending Act, which means they aren’t subject to the same disclosure protections as credit cards.
Some credit agencies include pay-later data in their reports, and others are working toward that goal.
So a seemingly trivial decision like paying for chips using a pay-later service can end up seriously harming one’s financial health, Mr. Sadowski said. “Because I used one of these loan services to buy groceries, that might in the future impact my ability to buy a car, get a job, rent an apartment — all the things that use our credit score to assess and judge our worth in society.”
Some of the companies pointed out that most payments are made on time. At Afterpay, 98 percent of its payments in the first quarter of 2022 didn’t incur a late fee, said Alex Fisher, the company’s head of North American sales. And the service doesn’t allow new purchases by anyone who has missed a payment.
For consumers who keep up with payments, the services can be a boon as food prices soar.
“My husband and I have good jobs, we are able to pay for the things we want to pay for,” said Ambar Valdez, who works for Medicare in San Antonio. But her grocery bills have almost doubled.
Thanks to services like Klarna and Afterpay, “I don’t have to worry about groceries, and that is great,” said Ms. Valdez, 30. “I can focus on my light bill, my phone bill, my internet.”
Jessie Blum, 39, an instructional designer in Rutherford, N.J., didn’t need convincing to use a pay-later system for her everyday food purchases.
“If I wanted to pick up a coffee on the way home from somewhere and I didn’t have any money in my coffee or eat-out budget, I would push it to next month’s budget,” she said.
Others said it takes some effort to juggle multiple payment plans. Noelle Platt, 27, a stay-at-home mother of one in Kerry, N.C., uses Zip and Sezzle to buy groceries . The number of payments can pile up, she said. “We had a whole bunch going at once for some reason. It was stressful planning them out.” But she has been able to manage for now.
She first used the services at the start of the pandemic, when her husband lost his job at a coffee and tea warehouse. As the price of groceries has risen, she still relies on them.
Hannah Brown, a hair stylist in Phoenix, said her paycheck varies from week to week, so she finds it easier to pay for food in installments. But because she pays less up front, she’ll spend double what she normally would on takeout meals.
“It doesn’t feel like I just spent $80,” said Ms. Brown, 32, adding, “I can’t say it is a healthy habit.”
Many of her co-workers use pay-later services, she said; several have defaulted on payments, and they aren’t the ones who use the loans for clothing. They use them to buy food.
Chris Browning a financial analyst who hosts the podcast “Popcorn Finance,” said the growing use of the loans for something as basic as food, he said, signals a weak social safety net. Some states have recently ended or scaled back food-stamp benefits, even though more than 23 million Americans reported being sometimes or often food insecure in June, according to census data.
Without programs to meet people’s essential needs, “something needs to come in to fill the gap,” Mr. Browning said. “And when it is based on consumerism and capitalism, this is what fills the gap: companies coming in to make these purchases more attainable, even if there are downsides.”
Mike Taiano, a senior banking analyst for Fitch Ratings. said that what especially concerns him about pay-later loans is that consumers are often encouraged to link their credit cards to the service.
“It potentially creates a cycle-of-debt issue, where consumers are paying off one type of debt with another type of debt,” and end up paying high interest rates on their credit cards, he said.
Many of the pay-later food purchases have been groceries. But restaurants are edging into that territory. The San Francisco-based payments company Block, Inc. completed its acquisition of Afterpay in January. Restaurants are one of the largest clienteles for Square, Block’s retail technology company, and Afterpay has been added to those businesses’ point-of-sale systems.
Broad Street Oyster Company, a restaurant in Malibu, Calif., has offered Afterpay for a year, and the owner, Christopher Tompkins said 5 percent of online customers use it.
That may not sound like much, he said, but the average pay-later transaction is 40 percent higher than the average online order, and twice as much as an average in-person order.
Afterpay currently gives Mr. Tompkins a temporary discount on its processing fee. When that discount expires, he said, he might reconsider using the service.
Dennis Cantwell and Monica Wong discovered that their San Francisco restaurant, Palm City Wines, offered a pay-later option when they saw a viral tweet in late June by a customer who joked about paying for a $19 hoagie in installments. The option had come with Palm City’s point-of-sale system; Mr. Cantwell said he missed an email telling him how to opt out.
The restaurant no longer offers Afterpay. If it did, Mr. Cantwell said, he would have to raise the price of small menu items by $2 to pay the processing fees.
A hoagie, he said, is “an old-school working-class item,” he added. Financing one? “It seems so bizarre.”
Or maybe it’s not so far-fetched. Mr. Roberts, the grocery customer who got caught up in late fees, said he would rather shop for food at a dollar store than use a pay-later service.
Would he use one to eat out? “Maybe,” he said. “For a really nice meal.”
By Heather C. McGhee and Victor Ray, Sept. 1, 2022
Ms. McGhee is the author of “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together” and creator of the “Sum of Us” podcast. Dr. Ray is the author of “On Critical Race Theory: Why It Matters & Why You Should Care.”
Illustration by Chloe Scheffe; photographs by Library of Congress; AlexMSchool, Calsidyrose and Mikus, via Wikimedia Commons; and Mika Baumeister and Dima Shishkov, via Unsplash.
Why do we have public schools? To make young people into educated, productive adults, of course. But public schools are also for making Americans. Thus, public education requires lessons about history — the American spirit and its civics — and also contact with and context about other Americans: who we are and what has made us.
That broader purpose is currently under attack. According to PEN America, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting free expression, legislatures in 36 states have proposed 137 bills that would limit teaching about race, gender and American history. Nineteen censorship bills have become law in the past two years. In our increasingly diverse nation, insulating students from lessons about racism will create a generation ill equipped to participate in a multiracial democracy. When partisan politicians ban the teaching of our country’s full history, children are purposely made ignorant of how American society works. And the costs of this ignorance to American democracy will be borne by us all.
Fortunately, our shared American history offers models of the kind of education that can unite students and communities to produce a solidarity dividend — a positive public good that we can create only by working together across racial and socioeconomic lines. Black people in Jim Crow Mississippi lived under racial authoritarianism so strict and violent that it is hard to imagine today. But lies and omissions about history were essential to the program of Jim Crow subjugation. Lost Cause mythology, which downplayed slavery as a cause of the Civil War, replaced factual history. Students, regardless of race, were taught that Black people were inferior. And many white employers thought Black people should learn only enough for proficiency in menial Jim Crow jobs.
That’s why the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee sent volunteers to the Mississippi Delta during the 1964 Freedom Summer, to found schools in poor Black communities that offered a truthful education that was explicit about racial oppression and the denial of political rights.
This multiracial group of volunteers made plain the distance between American reality and its ideals. As a result, these Freedom Schools made citizens. According to William Sturkey, an associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, once the S.N.C.C. volunteers left, Freedom School students changed their state by organizing voter registration drives and civil rights protests and by charting a more equitable future in terms of housing, jobs and health care. They earned advanced degrees and were elected to office.
The broader civil rights movement helped transform the nation — in ways that even benefited the white Southerners who were so deeply opposed. As Gavin Wright recounts in “Sharing the Prize,” civil rights gains helped create more robust economies and local democracies, benefiting all citizens. These gains were possible precisely because people learned how to confront the nation’s failures.
Every student deserves the kind of myth-shattering and empowering education that the Freedom Schools provided. Such education doesn’t shy away from America’s ugly truths and contradictions. Stories of racial progress should be coupled with data on abiding racial inequalities in employment, life expectancy and incarceration. Discussions of figures such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson should include the contradiction between their hypothetical opposition to slavery and the fact that they both enslaved people.
Honest education isn’t all bad news. In fact, the deeper you go into our history, the more you can find new heroes to celebrate. As Freedom School participants learned by looking at the people who taught them, there is a tradition of American heroism, by people of all races, that is as real as the tradition of oppression and injustice. We can’t understand one without the other. Teaching age-appropriate but full history today allows white students to ask themselves: Do I want to be like the hundreds of protesters in the black and white photograph, yelling at Ruby Bridges, a 6-year-old Black girl, as she tried to integrate a public school? Or do I want to be like the hundreds of white students who boarded buses for the South to register Black voters during Freedom Summer?
Contemporary attacks on teaching true history are authoritarian attempts to impose a sanitized curriculum. America’s book banners and anti-critical race theory zealots are following a path well worn by authoritarian regimes in Russia and Hungary, which have issued laws targeting the teaching of L.G.B.T.Q. issues. In the current U.S. debates, both the authoritarians and those people committed to multiracial democracy recognize that education is inherently political, because it enables students to understand, question and change their world. For the latter, this is the point; freedom comes from having the tools to comprehend a range of good and bad experiences and weigh the options for charting their future. Despite wails to the contrary from activist groups like Moms for Liberty, who claim accurate teaching of America’s history will harm white children, research shows that all students benefit from reading accurate but critical accounts. Lessons about racism make students more likely to engage and empathize across race. Such cross-racial solidarity is essential for members of our most diverse generation.
Perhaps that’s why many young people are rightfully suspicious of grown-ups who want to keep the truth from them. A white teenager in Nevada spoke out against censorship at her rural county school board meeting.
“Discussions of lessons based around our country and society’s true history are absolutely not making me, as a white person, feel attacked or guilty,” she said. “In fact, being able to talk about hard topics such as racial inequality and slavery allowed me to feel proud of how far our society has come and hopeful that we can continue to progress.”
This position recalls a letter home from a Freedom Summer volunteer explaining her students’ eagerness for knowledge. She wrote that her students “know that they have been cheated and they want anything and everything that we can give them.” Schools shouldn’t cheat kids by denying them the tools to navigate the world as it exists — and to create a better one for all of us.
The people who resist an honest teaching of history have an economic agenda, too. They attack our children’s freedom to learn in order to create “universal public school distrust,” as Christopher Rufo, one of the leading architects of the effort to censor the teaching of race in the classroom and an advocate of school vouchers, put it. When white parents — and the tax dollars that often move with them — abandon public schools out of fear of integrated curriculums, it drains the pool of public resources from our schools. It is no surprise that some recent campaigns to pack school boards, sue districts and spread book bans are reportedly funded by some of the same secret money groups that espouse low-tax, small-government economics, while financially backing the nomination of conservative judges.
If an educated citizenry makes democracy possible, attacking schools becomes a proxy war to limit democracy. This is a battle that our parents and grandparents fought and won. Now the struggle for an honest education — and the democracy it makes possible — must be ours as well.