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News from EPI Midwestern state lawmakers undermine workers’ rights and economic well-being by preempting local policymaking

A new report from the Economic Analysis and Research Network (EARN) at EPI and the Local Solutions Support Center (LSSC) describes the ways in which interference by state policymakers is impeding local democracy and derailing progress on a variety of economic issues for communities throughout the Midwest.

Across the United States, local governments have varying degrees of authority to pass their own local ordinances. However, conservative state lawmakers have increasingly used preemption—a tactic whereby a higher level of government limits or eliminates the power of a lower-level government to regulate an issue—to reduce the policy tools and power available to local lawmakers. This has been especially prevalent in the Midwest, where the abuse of preemption is intertwined with a history of segregation and other policy choices that have reinforced anti-Black racism and white supremacy.

As documented in a previous EPI report, preemption of worker rights policies is most common in the South, where these laws are part of a long-running effort to limit the rights and freedoms of Black people and entrench white supremacy. White supremacy has been and remains an unfortunate component of Midwest history as well, as seen in state governments’ abuse of preemption to prevent policies that would improve economic security and equality for workers of color, women, and workers who are paid low wages.

“Preemption of local efforts to raise standards and combat collective challenges reinforces the very same elements of racial injustice and economic inequality that segregation does,” said Julia Wolfe, state economic analyst for EPI and co-author of the report. “Midwestern lawmakers in majority-white state legislatures continue to restrict and harm Black and Brown communities as they prevent, or even roll back, efforts by local governments to make life better for their residents.”

Local government efforts across the country have often been key to advancing welfare-enhancing policies to protect workers and counter economic inequities.

Many local communities in the Midwest, however, have been prevented from enacting policies on a multitude of work-related issues, such as minimum wage increases, fair scheduling laws, and paid sick leave requirements. Midwestern communities have also been blocked from implementing various other social and economic policies that are increasingly common in other parts of the country, such as laws that would fight climate change, protect and promote public health, and reverse systemic injustices against people of color, women, immigrants, and the LGBTQ+ community.