The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) is a nonprofit think tank established in 1986 “to focus on the economic condition of low- and middle-income Americans and their families.” Its founders included economists Jeff Faux, Barry Bluestone, and Lester Thurow; Robert Kuttner, co-founder of The American Prospect; and former U.S. Labor Secretaries Ray Marshall and Robert Reich. Roger Hickey also played a role in creating the Institute.
EPI openly embraces the values of “progressivism,” which it defines as the belief that “government must play an active role in protecting the economically vulnerable, ensuring equal opportunity, and improving the well-being of all Americans.” In an effort "to reshape the way policy makers think about the economy" and to "persuade them to adopt policies that are good for working Americans," the Institute publishes books, studies, issue analyses, and educational materials; it sponsors conferences and seminars; it briefs policy makers at all levels of government; it provides technical support to activists and community organizations; it testifies before national, state, and local legislatures; and it provides information to the print and electronic media, which typically cite EPI as a source more than 20,000 times per year. EPI's encyclopedic State of Working America, issued every two years since 1988, is stocked in university libraries around the world.
In 1997, EPI was one of more than 100 leftist organizations that co-sponsored and launched the so-called “Progressive Challenge,” which worked closely with the Congressional Progressive Caucus and sought to unite their activities and talking points under a “multi-issue progressive agenda.”
As of May 2011, EPI's board of directors included such luminaries as AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, SEIU president (and Families USA executive board member) Mary Kay Henry, AFSCME president Gerald McEntee, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, and the presidents of five additional major labor unions. EPI co-founder Robert Reich was also on the Institute's board, along with Ernesto Cortes (an Industrial Areas Foundation official); Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins (CEO of Green for All and a former leader of Working Partnerships USA); Robert Johnson (board member of the Democracy Alliance, the Institute for America's Future, and the Brennan Center for Justice); Robert Kuttner (co-founder of The American Prospect and a member of JournoList); Debra Ness (president of the National Partnership for Women & Families); and at least three Clinton administration appointees. For a comprehensive listing and description of all EPI board members, click here.
Beginning in 2009, at least three EPI officials were given positions in Barack Obama's presidential administration. Former EPI senior economist Jared Bernstein, for example, became the economic policy advisor to Vice President Joe Biden. In addition, Bernstein—like Robert Kuttner—was a member of Journolist.
Numerous EPI personnel, including president Lawrence Mishel, are linked to the Democratic Socialists of America, the Institute for Policy Studies, or both. One EPI research associate, Joel Rogers, has ties to a host of far-left organizations including the Apollo Alliance, the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, the Emerald Cities Collaborative, Green For All, and the (now defunct) New Party.
EPI has staked out the following positions on various issues of political import:
Education: Rejecting the “misguided policies” that “blame schools and teachers for low performance” by students, EPI contends that most low-income children cannot thrive academically without the assistance of federal programs aimed at “poverty reduction” and “improved health care.”
Budgets and Deficits: According to EPI, budget policies focusing on “long-term deficit reduction” unwisely overlook the importance of “public investments” in “infrastructure,” “education,” “innovation,” and “health systems.”
Taxes: At the end of 2010, EPI claimed that an “economically sound approach to supporting the economy would be to let the [Bush-era] tax cuts expire for those at the top of the income scale and to use the [resultant] revenue to fund more cost-effective job creation policies.”
Health Policy: In 2007, EPI board member Jacob Hacker wrote Health Care for America, which called for a single-payer, government-run healthcare system and became a template for the healthcare reform plans of several Democratic presidential candidates. Throughout the healthcare reform debate of 2009-10, EPI advocated (unsuccessfully) on behalf of a public option—i.e., a government insurance agency to “compete” with private insurers.
Immigration: EPI calls for the “legalization of undocumented workers,” who should then be permitted “to bring in [to the U.S.] their immediate family members.”
Living Standards: Lamenting that since the mid-1970s, most working people have been “denied a fair share of the growth that they helped create,” EPI's economic-policy prescriptions generally call for increasing the role of government by: “strengthening the safety net” with expanded provisions of “unemployment compensation, COBRA health coverage, and nutrition assistance”; providing additional federal relief to cash-strapped state and local governments; investing more public funds in transportation infrastructure and the repair and modernization of school buildings; and allocating $40 billion annually to fund public-sector service jobs such as neighborhood-cleanup projects, park and playground maintenance, and child care.
Labor Policy: Maintaining that “strong unions foster a strong middle class” and serve as bulwarks against “income inequality,” EPI supports the Employee Free Choice Act, a measure that would deprive workers of the right to vote for or against unionizing by means of a secret ballot.
Race and Ethnicity: Noting that “racial inequality in the economy, education, criminal justice, and healthcare prevents many people of color from living up to their potential,” EPI's program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy focuses heavily on government aid in the form of earned income tax credits, childcare assistance, public health-insurance coverage, and housing assistance.
EPI reports that from 2005-2007, fully 53% of its funding derived from foundation grants, another 29% came from labor unions, and the rest was from individuals, corporations, and other organizations. Among its more noteworthy funders are the Ford Foundation and George Soros's Open Society Institute.
For additional information on EPI, click here.