‘Feel-Good’ Holiday Stories Are Actually Just a Symptom of a Crumbling Society

Over the Black Friday weekend, Mother Jones editor-in-chief Clara Jeffery saw a need on the popular education crowdfunding site DonorsChoose, where teachers request financial assistance for classroom supplies. For 22 hours, Jeffery tweeted out fundraiser after fundraiser, until her followers raised $60,000 by responding to the lone Twitter thread. They sent paper and pencils to San Francisco, books to fire evacuees in Chico, an instructor’s computer to a tribal school in South Dakota, warm weather gear to East Flatbush, and much more.

Throughout the thread, Jeffery expressed frustration that teachers’ needs were so dire. “She [is] asking for pencils and gluesticks ffs,” Jeffery commented on a fundraiser for a low-income San Francisco school. On a request for help buying laundry equipment, she said: “These asks for ways to help kids and their families get and clean clothes are so sad. We need to serious[ly] overhaul our society.”

No teacher should have to beg for help with buying pencils, but here we are. As Jeffery notes, “so many more teachers are paying for essentials out of their own, far-too-small, paychecks.”

While she was quick to put her fundraising in context, her efforts could have easily fallen prey to a media trend of stories that follow a familiar formula: A person sees an individual injustice and takes a step to remedy it, everyone gets inspired, the end.

The boss buys a car for an employee struggling with transportation issues. Coworkers donate sick days to a teacher undergoing cancer treatment so they don’t lose employment benefits. A garbage truck driver helps an elderly customer evacuate a wildfire. A LASIK surgeon donates procedures to veterans. Well-paid celebrities offer generous tips to wait staff having hard days. News station buys up, and forgives, medical debt.

Websites specializing in “good” and “uplifting” news love circulating this kind of content, but they aren’t alone, especially at this time of year, when readers and viewers are hungry for a feel-good story. But these stories should not make anyone feel good. They are stark illustrations of inequality in the United States and the reasons why it’s so pernicious. Circulating narratives like these reinforces the attitude that they are personal problems that can be solved by an act of charity, instead of institutional injustices that must be remedied through legislation.

That employee who got a car from their boss doesn’t need a one-time gift from a generous CEO: They need reliable transit and a fair wage so they can be empowered to make their own decisions about how they get to work. Meanwhile, the oil industry continues to fight transit improvements while transit systems across the country are plagued by deferred maintenance, insufficient capacity, and accessibility issues. The federal minimum wage has remained at $7.25 hourly for almost a decade, with states slowly working on increases.

An employee with cancer doesn’t need donated sick pay — a growing trend, along with donating paid time off to new parents so they can take leave with their newborns or recently-adopted family members. They need adequate sick leave to meet their needs, along with paid family leave to help them care for their relatives and chosen family when necessary. The United States is the only industrialized nation that lacks national paid leave requirements: Just 13 percent of private sector workers have access to paid family leave, the majority do not have paid medical leave, and 29 percent have no paid sick leave.

These are systemic problems, not personal ones.

A garbage truck driver shouldn’t have to lift a 93-year-old woman into the cab of a sanitation truck and help arrange shelter at the other end of the journey. Local authorities should proactively identify residents in need of evacuation assistance and dispatch trained personnel to assist. The costs of failing to do so are high: During 2017’s Hurricane Irma, 12 Florida nursing home residents died due to inadequate disaster preparation. That same year, residents of eldercare facilities in Santa Rosa, CA were abandoned in advance of a wildfire – fortunately, the community was able to rescue them.

LASIK surgeons shouldn’t be donating procedures to veterans. The Veterans Administration should be addressing long wait times for benefits and gaps in coverage.

Waitstaff shouldn’t have to rely on random $500 tips from strangers who feel guilty about their wealth. They should be making a living wage and receiving employment benefits that allow them to access health care, paid leave, educational opportunities, and other supports. The federal tipped minimum wage has been flat since 1991 and service workers are subject to wage theft, racial inequalities, high poverty rates, and city councils and legislatures that overturn the wage increases voters asked for.

A news station shouldn’t have to buy up debt for pennies on the dollar and forgive it, passing along potentially serious tax implications. People should have access to health coverage and living wages that keep them out of debt in the first place. Medical debt is the leading cause for debt collection calls. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Nothing has to be this way.

These are systemic problems, not personal ones, and they could be better addressed through policy interventions than on a case-by-case basis. Access to things like paid leave, safe housing, transit, and health care shouldn’t be dependent on whether someone can make their story trend on Twitter or package it for a local news entity. Every time these stories are shared and re-shared, it pulls attention away from the institutional issue in favor of a highly-personal quick fix.

Individual acts of generosity like these can feel rewarding: People see a fellow human in distress and they help alleviate it, for an immediate hit of gratification (and guilt reduction, when these gifts come from people who may have contributed to the underlying problem). But they do not necessarily make a long-term meaningful difference in the recipient’s life, and they do nothing to resolve the inequities that created the situation in the first place. For every one of these happy endings, there are millions of others facing the same precarious situations with no helping hand in sight.

What happens when that employee faces car insurance and registration fees she can’t afford for the car she didn’t ask for? When that waitress receives a tax bill for her $500 tip? When that elder’s home burns, hospitality runs out, and her insurance refuses to pay out, leaving her homeless and adrift? When a teacher’s fundraising efforts for classroom cleaning supplies fail and students work in increasingly dirty conditions for the rest of the school year?

We create problems like these by putting the feelings of people who want to perform charity before the actual needs of low-income people. The consequences are the parts of the story we never see, and the illustration that far from making us feel good, these stories should make us feel very, very bad.



Low-Income People Pay When Government Tech Contracts Sour

Earlier this year, the tech company Novo Dia Group announced it would not continue as a vendor with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, due to a switch in federal contractors. What seemed a run-of-the-mill business decision threw a very real wrench into the availability of locally-grown foods for low-income Americans.

The problem was that Novo Dia held the only keys to a USDA program dedicated to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program processing software and equipment for 1,700 farmers’ markets nationwide. Without Novo Dia providing this service, markets would have no way to accept SNAP — a disruption that would cost farmers income and SNAP recipients food.

If you’ve ever attempted to switch your cell phone provider but keep your actual device, you might be able to relate: Farmers’ markets had perfectly functional and expensive equipment that simply would not work with any other SNAP processing software. It’s the government equivalent of trying to keep your iPhone when you move from Verizon to AT&T.

This episode raised a lot of questions about the government’s relationship with tech companies tasked with administering public programs: How does it choose who to hire? How does it hold those companies accountable? And how do those decisions affect the daily lives of low-income Americans who rely on being able to access their benefits?

The answers are vitally important: Governments are increasingly relying on new technologies to sort applications, manage caseloads, and distribute benefits. How such technology is contracted, developed, and deployed will have real impacts on millions of low-income Americans.

Take, for instance, what happened in Washington, D.C. In the fall of 2016, the city’s Department of Human Services, along with the contractor Infosys Public Services Inc., replaced a computer system the District had been using since the early 1990s to enroll low-income residents in SNAP and cash assistance programs. The Food and Nutrition Service, the USDA agency responsible for administering the country’s nutrition assistance programs, issued a letter to the D.C. Department of Human Services, warning against launching the new system without having done adequate testing.

But two months later, D.C. rolled out the system anyway — to repeated outages and glitches, including benefits not being loaded onto Electronic Benefit Transfer cards.

Frustrations between agency employees and customers ran so high that there were physical altercations in some enrollment offices, causing the union representing the workers to issue a formal grievance. The union asked that the agency return to using the previous technology or distribute hazard pay to employees.

Rhode Island, meanwhile, has been struggling to serve its SNAP recipients since it rolled out a new $364 million computer system in 2016 — known as the Unified Health Infrastructure Project — causing delays in distribution by the thousands. Recently, the Food and Nutrition Service threatened to withhold more than $900,000 in federal reimbursements due to Rhode Island’s continued failure to address a list of nearly 30 items related to system functionality, issuance of benefits, backlogs, certification, and more.

In turn, state Department of Nutrition Services Director Courtney Hawkins blamed Deloitte Consulting, the company contracted to build the computer system saying, “This formal warning underscores the fact that Deloitte has not yet delivered a fully functioning system that works on behalf of Rhode Islanders.” In April, the company apologized for its disastrous roll-out.

To date, two federal class action lawsuits have been filed against Rhode Island over its SNAP program. Recently, it was reported that the total cost of its new computer system had reached “$647.7 million through the 2019-20 federal fiscal year, with $138 million of that amount to be covered by state taxpayers and the rest by the federal government.”

Part of the problem in developing these systems is how the government chooses which companies to hire, said Dave Guarino, director of GetCalFresh, a project of Code for America. He notes that there are only “a small number of vendors who know how to navigate the procurement process, and they’re the ones who get the contracts.”

Thus, the proposal and bidding process limits the amount of competition and creates stagnancy in the technology developed for government programs. It also leaves out newer, smaller, and more innovative companies.

In theory, this is because the government process is designed to decrease risk, given the high amount of sensitive and confidential information managed by these systems, so it’s the well-known contractors with a track record of managing large projects who ultimately get the gig.

But Guarino says that government technology crises, such as IT disasters for SNAP recipients, highlight the need for a true shift in thinking about risk and agility. “We should be demanding better software and better experiences,” said Guarino. “But if we want government to be able to act more nimbly and quickly, we also need to be able to say that government can take more risks.”

Short-sighted decisions and worse implementation of new government tech can adversely impact scores of people.

While risk-taking can have downsides, Guarino said the best practice is to test new ideas “on a really small scale in a way that minimizes risk, but maximizes learning” — a concept that could have helped to prevent harm caused by the failure of the D.C. system roll-out, as problems could have been spotted and fixed with a relatively small control group.

Guarino also noted the importance of working with a broad range of partners to develop and administer technology, as well as dividing up tasks to “the best firm for each job.”

His own project, GetCalFresh, is one such successful model. GetCalFresh offers online SNAP applications for 36 counties in California, and its technology was developed to measure and remove barriers that often prevent low-income people from accessing their benefits. Users can easily submit SNAP applications by mobile phone or computer, often in fewer than 10 minutes, and can also send verification documents securely via their phones. And by working with a wide range of partners, including Code For America, state and county agencies, and organizations, Guarino said the project is more successful than it would be with a single entity at the helm.

“These things often aren’t talked about as dimensions of why poverty persists and why some poverty solutions don’t reach everybody they could,” said Guarino, “But they’re a really huge deal.”

The thousands of farmers and customers affected by the Novo Dia debacle would likely agree. And as D.C., Rhode Island and surely other places have proven, short-sighted decisions and worse implementation of new government tech can adversely impact scores of people. Indeed, if we want innovative, effective poverty solutions in today’s digital landscape, we need to think hard about tech.


First Person

How Chicago Is Making its Own Affordable Housing Crisis Worse

For low-income people, a lot of our time is taken up by jobs that don’t give paid time off, children who need attentive parents, and relationships that require work. The gaps are filled in with everything else life brings. There’s no time left over to go on a treasure hunt just to find an affordable place to call home. In the winter of 2012, my move to Chicago would set me on the path to have to do just that.

I traded in my MetroCard for a CTA pass and moved to the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. There was a creative black community, my $750 rent was affordable, and I still had enough money to get bottom-shelf whiskey if I went out. A new job opportunity took me from the beauty of the Southside to an $800 gem in Humboldt Park.

Things were going decently until the neighborhood — filled with “2 Flats,” an affordable Chicago housing staple — began to change. Moving trucks were constantly present, and I began to see a lot more white faces. A 2018 study from the Institute of Housing Studies at DePaul University states that due to gentrification, 2 Flats in neighborhoods like mine — which often house multiple generations — were being purchased and turned into single family homes, pushing out lower-income residents.

My building was purchased by a management company who slapped on a coat of fresh paint, put one washer/dryer set in the basement ($4 per load), and then slid a note under my door telling me they were raising my rent. Within three years, the rent went from $800 to $1,200. In August of 2017 I got another notice: the rent was going up to $1,475.

A single-person household in Chicago earning under $36,000 yearly is considered to be very low income — that was me. Factoring in transportation, bills, student loans, helping family, food and more, there was no way I could survive in this or many other Chicago neighborhoods. Survival included entertainment, such as seeing a film or treating myself to my favorite lunch spot, even though the world chastises poor people for trying to get moments of joy in our everyday lives.

I needed a place to live and fast. I had to stay in Chicago; I built a life here with relationships and a budding career. I couldn’t afford to start over. I scoured the internet and tucked away in the news tab of Google was an article about an initiative that I had never heard of. The Affordable Requirements Ordinance, as it’s called, requires developers to dedicate 10 percent of their units to affordable housing or pay into a low-income housing fund; most developments, unsurprisingly, opt to pay out. A new twist to the ordinance was being tested in the areas of Logan Square, Avondale, and West Town (The Hipster Triangle), along with some Near North/West areas. It required developers to commit 15 percent of new residential buildings to affordable rentals or build affordable housing within two miles of the development.

This sounded like my key to staying in Chicago, but getting that affordable housing would prove to be a difficult and time-consuming task. There was no list of participating properties, no one answered at the phone number I found, and the only contact email was for buyers of low-income units. I walked around the city and collected numbers from the temporary signage of 18 developing properties. With every phone call, my inquiries were met with exasperation, confusion, or false promises of a returned phone call.

Getting affordable housing would prove to be a difficult and time-consuming task.

After a few weeks, one building set me up with an interview to obtain an application. A leasing agent asked about my educational background, my work experience, and if I was in programs like LINK and Medicaid. I was being vetted to make sure I was the “proper” low-income resident. They didn’t want to make their wealthy future residents uncomfortable. They wanted someone who could not be clocked as poor on top of being black when they saw me checking my mail. After more interviews and massive amounts of paperwork that included a copy of my degree and character letters from my managers, I was offered a studio. I had played their game and three weeks later I moved in.

It’s not just the city that has a vendetta against its non-wealthy residents; it’s the surrounding suburbs as well. The 85 percent lily white and wealthy suburb of Tinley Park, for example, recently reached a settlement with the Department of Justice and Department of Housing and Urban Development after an affordable housing development that would have brought black and brown faces failed to get approval after being opposed by residents. This historically racist suburb is paying out over $2 million in damages. This didn’t happen on some very special episode of a 1960’s sitcom. This happened in real life in a place that is 45 minutes outside of Chicago.

Developers are cashing in when they pay into the aforementioned low-income housing fund instead of offering an affordable unit. They get about half of that $225,000 fee back in tax credits and that’s just one of the incentives the city offers; more than $4 million has gone missing from the fund. Chicago has to stop rewarding developers for opting out of helping the poor. These buildings need to increase the amount of units available to low-income people and be required to offer them, no buying your way out. They should then be required to help fund housing in forgotten communities, helping them to rebuild and thrive.

This Affordable Requirements Ordinance Pilot Project is one way to address housing affordability and segregation, but communication and access are key to making it work. A visit to the city’s website or an appointment at the local Department of Human Services should have residents well on their way to finding housing that they can afford and be proud to call home. Residents shouldn’t have to become a detective at the poorly proposed West Side police and fire academy to find proper housing.



Missouri Is Denying Parole to People Sentenced as Children

Tino Wedlow’s future ended in 1989, when at 17 years old he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. After exhausting the appeal process, there was nothing left for him but to slowly age to death.

Finally, a recent major court decision opened the door to possible freedom for Wedlow and other Missourians who were sentenced to life without parole before they were old enough to vote. It also shined a light on how — despite a Supreme Court ruling that mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles are cruel and unusual — authorities have been slow in granting those prisoners their chance at freedom.

Wedlow, now 46, was sent away at a time when prison sentences — and prison populations — were skyrocketing. In 1992, there were about 12,500 people serving life without parole in the United States. By 2017, there were 53,000, including 2,200 who were convicted as children. These lengthy sentences for violent offenses are a major driver of mass incarceration.

Then a series of groundbreaking Supreme Court rulings rolled back the sentences that can be given to children. In 2012, Miller v Alabama banned mandatory sentencing schemes that give children life without parole. In 2016, Montgomery v Louisiana ruled that people already serving such sentences — such as Wedlow — must be given a “meaningful opportunity to obtain release.”

“Mandatory life without parole for a juvenile precludes consideration of his chronological age and its hallmark features — among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the 2012 ruling. “It prevents taking into account the family and home environment that surrounds him — and from which he cannot usually extricate himself — no matter how brutal or dysfunctional.”

To comply with the ruling, the Missouri legislature passed a law allowing Wedlow and about 90 others to petition for parole after 25 years. It instructed the parole board to consider specific factors at hearings for this group, including growth and rehabilitation, age and maturity at the time of the crime, and “the defendant’s background, including his or her family, home, and community environment.”

Wedlow watched the news about the decision on his cell mate’s television. “I was like, ‘Wow. God is good,’” he recalled. “That ruling gave all of us hope.”

But as Missouri’s juvenile lifers began going before the parole board in 2016, they were almost uniformly denied. At Wedlow’s February 2017 hearing, he was asked about the details of his 1989 crime for about 10 minutes over video conference. Afterwards, he received a one-page, boilerplate denial form stating his release “would depreciate the seriousness of the present offense.” His next hearing was set for February 2022 — five years in the future.

In May 2017, four Missourians serving juvenile life without parole who were similarly denied filed a federal class action lawsuit, alleging that this treatment was not what the Supreme Court had in mind when it ruled that those imprisoned as children deserve a chance at release. This October, U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey agreed, giving the Missouri Department of Corrections until Dec. 11 to come up with a plan that “should include revised policies, procedures, and customs designed to ensure that all Class members are provided a meaningful and realistic opportunity for release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.”

“Obviously, we’re really excited,” said Amy Breihan, Director of the St. Louis office of the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center, which represented the incarcerated plaintiffs. “This has been a long battle in Missouri to get some semblance of justice for these folks.”

However, Breihan noted that in Missouri, “It’s far from the end of the case.” She and her clients are waiting to see what remedy the Department of Corrections proposes by the deadline. “My hope is what that means is the board can no longer deny parole to these individuals based solely on the circumstances of the offense,” she said. “That’s something our clients have been saying all along doesn’t make sense in light of the spirit and language of Miller, and it doesn’t make sense to us either.” Earlier this month, Laughrey granted Breihan and her clients permission to create and file their own, competing plan for getting Missouri into compliance with the Supreme Court rulings.

People whose early life looks like Wedlow’s are disproportionately likely to wind up incarcerated.

“Compliance with Montgomery has varied significantly around the country,” the Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth reported in January. “Whether an individual serving [juvenile life without parole] has a meaningful opportunity for release depends foremost on the state in which he or she was sentenced.” In New York, a similar ongoing federal suit alleges that the parole board routinely denies release to people sentenced as children, in defiance of the Supreme Court rulings.

Wedlow hopes that at his next hearing, the parole board will be required to consider his successful prison record, the classes he has taken, and mitigating factors of his crime, including his age and family life. Wedlow entered foster care when he was seven, after a child care worker responding to a domestic violence report found food-bare cabinets filled with cockroaches, urine-soaked mattresses, and piles of reeking dirty clothes. At 16, after he refused to live with his mother at a family friend’s house, a juvenile court determined that his behavior was “injurious to his welfare” and he was sent to juvenile detention school, despite not being charged with any crime.

People whose early life looks like Wedlow’s are disproportionately likely to wind up incarcerated. Last March, the Brookings Institution linked incarceration records and IRS records, finding that boys born into households earning in the bottom 10 percent of income earners are 20 times more likely to be in prison in their early 30s than boys born into the top 10 percent. And these economic disparities have knock-on effects: According to an Equal Justice Initiative report from before the Supreme Court rulings, “kids who cannot afford competent counsel face a dramatically escalated risk of being sentenced to die in prison.”

If released, Wedlow plans to live in a halfway house and work for a family friend until he can save enough money to move into a one-bedroom apartment in a low-crime area outside Kansas City. He also wants to take night classes to get a trade job. And he looks forward to meeting his four nieces and nephews in person for the first time. His sister — who was just six when he went away — has never been able to bring them, since he is allowed just three visitors at a time.

Wedlow believes that if the parole board considers his background and circumstances, they will let him go: “Once they look at that and see that I was never in juvenile for no crime, that I was physically and verbally neglected and abused as a child, and in and out of foster care — not for juvenile delinquency but for my own safety and welfare — they’ve got to give me a date.”



Black Friday Isn’t the Only Time Workers Face Unfair Schedules

Some of the biggest retailers in the U.S., including Best Buy, Macy’s, and Target, will be opening their doors to shoppers directly on Thanksgiving this year, getting Black Friday — one of the year’s biggest shopping days — started early. That means employees at those stores will have to leave their families and turkey dinners aside in order to come to work.

In a 2016 survey, nearly half of retail workers reported having to work on Thanksgiving, and big employers are far more likely to have their workers on duty than are smaller ones. Those who refuse or complain can face retaliation, leaving many to decide that putting up a fight isn’t worth seeing their hours cut or losing their jobs entirely.

Every year there are a flurry of stories that question whether that practice is worth denying workers a holiday at home. However, long holiday hours are just one of the myriad abuses employees face when it comes to their work schedules.

Take, for instance, Aliyyah Miller, a housekeeping supervisor at a hotel in Philadelphia. She only receives her work schedule one day in advance, on Saturday for a workweek that begins on Sunday. “Literally, you know the day before which days you’re working,” she said. “You can’t make a doctor’s appointment because you don’t know if you’ll have the day off.”

The turnover at Miller’s hotel is high, and the housekeepers lose hours and income when they have to call out of shifts that conflict with their other responsibilities, thanks at least in part to the unpredictable nature of their schedules.

Nearly one in five workers experiences similarly unstable work hours, and those who are subjected to the worst abuses are disproportionately women and people of color, because they are more likely to work in the low-wage, part-time jobs that include the most haphazard scheduling.

Younger workers, too, are more likely to face abuses: According to research from the University of Chicago, nearly 40 percent of early-career workers receive one week or less of notice regarding their work schedules, with young part-time workers and workers of color experiencing rates even higher.

Workers report weekly earnings fluctuating by 34 percent or more

Other scheduling problems include the inability to ask for time off when it’s needed; split shifts, wherein workers have unpaid hours in the middle of their shifts; and being dismissed early when businesses isn’t high enough, meaning they aren’t paid for hours they were banking on. On-call work, when workers are put on notice that their services may be needed between particular hours, requires them to reserve time for which they may not be compensated.

The income volatility that comes with an unpredictable work schedule can lead to all sorts of adverse outcomes. After all, monthly bills stay the same no matter your hours, whereas service workers report weekly earnings fluctuating by 34 percent or more. Erratic schedules also make it difficult to commit to other paying work in order to make those ends meet.

Unpredictable scheduling also makes securing child care difficult, as it has to be done on short notice. It makes it harder for workers to access the health care system, as Miller noted, or to invest in themselves via more education, which requires predictability in order to choose and attend classes.

Unsurprisingly, then, workers who face schedule volatility are more stressed and experience more health problems, as do their children.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. When Miller previously worked as a kitchen manager, she knew that her staff members had lives outside of work. So she ensured they had regular schedules that were planned out ahead of time.

“We would rotate weekends and everyone had one day off during the week to take care of things,” she said. “I had zero turnover. Everyone was happy because they could attend to their children, they could have a life.”

Some national chains, such as Walmart and Starbucks,  have taken steps toward improving scheduling practices, even if they fall short of what workers and activists have demanded. According to a study done in 2015-2016 at Gap stores, more regular schedules result in more productivity and higher sales. That finding jives with other data showing pro-worker policies improve the performance of the businesses at which they work.

Still, fair scheduling isn’t common practice. So cities and states have stepped in.

San Francisco was the first locale to pass a fair work schedule law, followed by New York City, Seattle, Emeryville, California, and others. Oregon has a statewide fair scheduling law. Though they differ in the details, the general thrust of all of them is to provide workers with some level of predictability, including knowing their schedules more than a week in advance, and providing compensation for erratic or unfair scheduling, such as paying workers for some portion of their time if a shift gets canceled.  (There was also a federal bill introduced in 2017 by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) that never received a vote in the Republican-controlled Congress.)

Miller’s home of Philadelphia could be next. At the end of the month, the city council is expected to vote on a measure that would require employers at large firms to give their workers 10-days notice of their schedules (increasing to 14 days in 2021) and for those firms to compensate workers for last-minute schedule changes. If it becomes law, the legislation is expected to affect about 130,000 workers. According to a 2018 survey by the Shift Project, a joint effort between the University of California, Berkeley and the University of California, San Francisco, two-thirds of Philadelphia service sector workers report having unpredictable work schedules. More than a third say they receive less than one week’s notice regarding when they’re going to be on duty. Miller and her housekeeping staff, then, have a lot of company.

Philadelphia City Councilmember Helen Gym, who introduced the bill, described one Philadelphia worker she met who quit school because his ever-shifting schedule didn’t allow him to attend classes, and another who sat around all-day, paying for child care, while waiting for on-call hours that never materialized.

“I am trying to do more than pass a bill. I’m trying to change people’s understanding of a problem we’ve got and why this matters, and why this shouldn’t be left to the purview of the market,” Gym said.

No new law is going to help those employees who are stuck working on Thanksgiving this year, but far scheduling efforts like the one in Philadelphia can, hopefully, ensure that next year turns out better.