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Recent News

Events of note in the world of strategic framing and communications – from the Topos perspective

Topos Around the World

Topos is going global. Co-founder Joe Grady, an internationally recognized expert on metaphor, just returned from a lecture tour in Japan, including a presentation on metaphor and the public interest at Keio University, a lecture on scientific explanation at a food systems workshop at the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, and an address on crosslinguistic (“primary”) metaphor patterns at Kobe University.

And on another continent, Senior Fellow Margy Waller was in Cape Town speaking at the international conference convened by the  Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) about reframing poverty policy and research.

Basic Spending In the News

Spending on the Basics for a Strong Economy

We like reading well-framed articles about the economy and jobs that pay enough for a strong economy.

Storified by · Thu, Nov 01 2012 15:11:31


Earlier this week, we read two articles about the economy that focus on the importance of making sure jobs pay enough for people to maintain “Basic Spending” levels.  Both use familiar, common sense framing — that works to build broad support for policies like higher wages and better benefits.

The narrative of these articles illustrates this important idea:

Many companies like to pay as little as they can get away with, but if people can’t maintain basic spending levels – on things like food, getting things repaired, etc. – then the entire economy suffers. And that’s exactly what is happening. Policies that restore the wage and benefits floor and restore basic spending will help the economy. For example, we can increase the minimum wage, or increase job security by requiring that every worker gets some paid sick days.

The first article, in the New York Times, vividly describes employers choosing to hire more part-time employees, rather than giving more hours (and income) to existing employees.

Some employers even ask workers to come in at the last minute, and the workers risk losing their jobs or being assigned fewer hours in the future if they are unavailable.

The widening use of part-timers has been a bane to many workers, pushing many into poverty and forcing some onto food stamps and Medicaid. And with work schedules that change week to week, workers can find it hard to arrange child care, attend college or hold a second job, according to interviews with more than 40 part-time workers.

A Part-Time Life, as Hours Shrink and Shift for … – The New York Times2 days ago … But in one crucial respect, Fresh & Easy is just like the vast majority of large American retailers: most employees …

The second article, in the online journal Next American City, describes actions of WalMart and restaurant employees who are working together so they speak with a more powerful voice when they seek a higher floor for wages and benefits.

Across the country, one out of every four jobs now pays less than $10 an hour and are largely concentrated in these traditionally low-paying sectors, according to a recent study by the National Employment Law Project. These sectors are growing faster than overall employment in the U.S., and the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the next decade will bring more of the same.


Organizers with ROC [Restaurant Opportunities Center], OUR Walmart and other non-traditional labor organizations hope that successes across a significant segment of this workforce could prompt wages and standards in all low-wage industries to rise. “The restaurant industry shares a very similar low-income strategy with Wal-Mart,” says Sheila Maddali, Research and Policy Coordinator for Philadelphia ROC. “Our goal is to raise standards across the restaurant industry—which comprises 47% of the low wage workforce—which would then raise standards in other low wage industries.”

If ROC and its allies succeed in raising employment standards in the service sector, the benefits will extend beyond those directly affected workers to the cities they call home. Higher incomes will mean more tax revenue and higher rates of home ownership. Better working conditions will mean fewer parents who can’t attend teacher conferences and more who can take the time to take part in the neighborhood groups that keep city blocks thriving.

“Raising wages in these sectors is one of the most important things we can do to increase quality of life in these cities.” 

The Urban Implications of the Walmart Strikers – Next American CityOct 22, 2012 … Retailers and restaurants employ huge numbers of urban Americans. If the Walmart strikers signify the start of a movem…

Talking About Talking About Poverty

Writing in The Nation, reporter Greg Kaufmann updates readers on the national campaign to include discussion of poverty policy in the Presidential debates. He interviewed Topos Senior Fellow Margy Waller about reframing the public dialogue.

Waller said research suggests that the way we usually talk about poverty—even using the words “poverty” and “welfare” themselves—“makes most people think about people who don’t work, and bad personal choices, and irresponsibility. People’s beliefs are now so hardened in that stereotype, it’s very hard to overcome even with evidence that says otherwise.”

She believes Obama is on the right track by offering “a new narrative that wakes people up and enables them to listen.”

“He’s talking about how we create an economy that is good for everyone,” said Waller. “It opens the door to focusing on the role of government policy in addressing issues like wage stagnation, and maintaining a wage and benefit floor for good jobs. It points to how we are all better off when everyone is contributing to our economy and civic life, and we have jobs in our local communities that are family-supporting.”

Read the whole column here.