Interesting Things Around the Internet

  • Michigan’s Monroe on a Budget blog covers the Unemployment Lifeline.
  • Teamsters President James P. Hoffa takes on the idea of taxing health care benefits, which:

    would destroy employer-sponsored health insurance.

    Adding a tax onto an already crushing expense for employers and employees would create a huge disincentive to buy employer-sponsored health insurance.

    It would mostly burden people who are older or sicker, women of childbearing age, employees of small businesses and residents of high-cost communities.

    It would set off a stampede to the public plan. And the public plan would lose a major source of revenue.

  • At the Media Consortium: Radical Inequality Fueled the Wall Street Meltdown.
  • Calculated Risk calls for caution when it comes to claims that house prices are stabilizing.
  • Bernie Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison, and prosecutors have a number of his associates under investigation.

Working America Rallies for Health Care

On Thursday, Working America staff joined thousands of other union members and health care activists to rally for real health care reform.

You can read about the rally here or here or here or here.

And here are a few pictures from the Working America angle:


(That’s Edie Falco of Nurse Jackie and The Sopranos, who spoke at the rally.)

Scenes from Ohio: Education Reform at Wal-Mart

Dan O’Malley–Ohio

We had a great week organizing customers and employees of the Sandusky, OH Wal-Mart
around education reform. We heard the same thing we’ve been hearing all around the community: schools in towns like Sandusky are hurting badly, with recently announced layoffs the latest piece of evidence.

Of course, at Wal-Mart, we heard that message more loudly and clearly than anywhere else we’ve been. After all, this is a corporation that, while running up annual profits in the tens of billions, gives its new employees special forms to help them prove their poverty status for the purpose of public assistance.

I’m going to bet most Wal-Mart workers with whom we spoke are sending their kids to public schools.

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Chipping Away at Retirement Security

In The Great Risk Shift, Jacob Hacker lays out the deterioration of retirement benefits:

Twenty-five years ago, 83 percent of medium and large firms offered traditional “defined-benefit” pensions that provided a predetermined monthly benefit for the remainder of a worker’s life. Today, the share is below a third….Between 1989 and 1998 – a decade in which 401(k) coverage exploded and the stock market boomed – the share of families whose pension savings allowed them to replace at least half of their prior income in retirement actually declined, as old-style guaranteed pensions rapidly became a thing of the past….

Now, 401(k)’s are being chipped away.

About a quarter of companies have either suspended their 401(k) plan match or are considering doing so because of the economic downturn, according to a recent survey by CFO Research Services and Charles Schwab. The list of companies that have suspended matches includes Hewlett-Packard, Sears Holdings, Starbucks and Eastman Kodak.

“Nearly half” of “large companies” that have diminished their workers’ retirement security by reducing or suspending 401(k) contributions say they’ll return them within a year. “Only” 5% say they won’t return 401(k) matching at all. And some companies that do reinstate matching contributions will change them.

So…large companies? Defined how, and accounting for what percentage of workers affected? Is it “only” 5% if you’re one of the workers to see your chance at a comfortable retirement diminished? And we can totally rely on the companies that change how they contribute to 401(k)’s to change it in ways that benefit their workers, right?

Oh, yeah. Another thing. What’s going to happen to the retirement funds of these companies’ CEOs?

Hacker’s “great risk shift” argument remains a crucial one for understanding what’s happening to workers in this country. Bit by bit, the building blocks of the middle class have been chipped away. In good times, workers are told they don’t need defined benefit pensions because their 401(k) will give them ownership in a stock market that will rise forever. In recessions, they’re told that they can’t have employer matching in their 401(k) because, well, they just can’t. And after the recession, eh, we’ll see what they get back.

And Hacker’s fundamental principle is a powerful moral argument:

If you work hard and do right by your families, you shouldn’t live in constant fear of economic loss.

That’s why we fight.

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Interesting Things Around the Internet

Hey, pass the TUMS

I’m a single mom. And I’ve got lots on my mind, yeah, like many of you.

I seem to always be worrying about the future. You know like:

How do I make the mortgage this month?
Do I have to by generic or can I go for the brand name cereal?
Oh, no, not the Electric bill?

But now, I got this other thing on my mind, college.

My kid is looking at graduating. She attends a very small private school in DC on a scholarship (rock on my most amazing kid for getting a scholarship) and can graduate as early as this winter.

As proud as I am of this amazing kid, I’m like a lot of parents, I’m worried. I’m worried about how to put her through her top choices, and it appears, students are worried about the same thing according to MSNBC:

For many transfers, the financial burden dawned on them after several years. The poor economy and high tuition has already filtered down to high school seniors. A recent survey showed that many don’t want to make the same mistake as their old counterparts — they’re forgoing costly schools now.

I’d love for my daughter to go to her top choices, Stanford or Middlebury, but I can’t see how I’ll be able to afford more than Ohio State, if I can even do that. And this seems to be the real trend, rising costs for college, across the board.

As the economy worsened, less has been given to endowment funds, less to state run schools, even to the county schools. Take Winona State University in Minnesota:

Tuition at WSU has increased 85 percent since 2001, from $3,110 to $5,768 per year.

An 85% increase in 8 years?

How is that even possible? According to the Freakonomics blog,there’s a lot of factors, but they boil it down to staffing.

Support staff! SNIP

This explanation seems satisfying (intellectually, at least, if not emotionally). But it’s probably also important to consider how much money colleges have been putting into student amenities as well. When I visited my undergrad alma mater a few years ago, the chancellor pointed out that three buildings had gone up in the past decade or so that were each larger than any existing building on campus. There was a library, a convocation center (a multipurpose arena), and a huge student gym. The gym, he said, was a top priority because parents and prospective students increasingly think of themselves as customers, shopping for the most amenities for the best price, and the colleges that didn’t come to grips with this would soon see their customers going elsewhere.

I get the support staff increases. With new technologies, you do need new types of staff. When I went to college, we had 3 computer labs on campus and my Apple at each of them always seemed to freeze up everytime I tried to type a freakin’ paper, I hear Macs are much better than my old computer lab days, but, I digress. Today, how many kids still rely on the computer lab? How many professors are reading e-mailed papers or papers saved on google docs?

As we have moved into the age of technology, strains have been placed on our schools from the elementary level to the highest levels of graduate education. But what do we get from all of this? From the technology to the cost to the education?

What do we really get?

Indigestion seems to be the answer for me. Indigestion caused by worry.

As a single working mom, I don’t think I can afford either. Could somebody pass the Tums?

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Raises for Wall Street

Oh, look. Another story about bailed-out financial corporations planning to give raises or extra bonuses to employees.

For some Citigroup investment bankers and traders, the changes could mean salary increases of as much as 50 percent, depending on their position. Legal and risk management employees, as well as those in the credit card and consumer banking units, whose pay is typically skewed toward salary, rather than bonuses, are expected to receive smaller increases.

Citigroup executives said the changes were aimed at retaining employees. Some Citigroup workers have already left for small, boutique investment banks or large rivals that are not so beholden to the government.

It’s not getting any more ok just because more of them are planning to do it, or because it’s about making pay come more as salary and less as bonuses, or because “Total industry pay would still be below the record levels of 2007, but only a bit.”

And do the employees getting raises include, like, the receptionists and custodians? You know, the ones who didn’t make the decisions that caused the financial crisis and who don’t earn enough to begin with?

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“Hunger Can Be a Positive Motivator”?

Daily Kos diarist Dem Beans points to an appalling newsletter from Missouri State Rep. Cynthia Davis. Objecting to an expansion of a summer lunch program, Davis wrote that “hunger can be a positive motivator. What is wrong with the idea of getting a job so you can get better meals?”

Is Rep. Davis not aware that Missouri’s unemployment rate is 9%? Just going out and getting a job may not be as easy as all that.

Everywhere you look in Rep. Davis’ rejoinder to a bill to feed hungry children, you see a line more appalling than the previous one. Like,

If parents are laid off, that doesn’t mean they stop feeding their children, at least not any of the parents I know. Laid off parents could adapt by preparing more home cooked meals rather than going out to eat.

If you can’t afford enough food, you can’t afford enough food. All the love in the world won’t change that. But she jumps from that “parents will go without to feed their children” schtick (never mind how offensive it is to think that it’s reasonable for parents to have to go hungry to feed their kids) to this:

Why have meals at home with your loved ones if you can go to the government soup kitchen and get one for free? This could have the effect of breaking apart more families.

That’s right, the same parents that love their children enough to go hungry for them might, despite being able to afford plenty of food, forgo eating the meal of their choice in their home alone with their families to save a couple bucks by going to the government soup kitchen. Because that sounds like so much fun.

Each paragraph of Rep. Davis’ response to this summer lunch program for low-income children is offensive and ridiculous in itself. But the shifts in logic from paragraph to paragraph are simply astounding—one moment her imagined low-income family is laid off, the next someone in the family could just go get a job if they wanted. One moment they love each other enough to do without, the next the family would be broken apart by the prospect of a free meal at the government soup kitchen.

But then, it does take some seriously flawed logic to argue against feeding hungry children.

Health Care Reform Rally THURSDAY

Thursday as in tomorrow.

Join thousands of union leaders, union members, Working America members and allies in our nation’s capital to demand real health care reform that works for real people.

Tomorrow’s mobilization comes at a historic time in our fight to turn around America. This summer, Congress will craft the way we fix our broken health care system. And this will be a battle of epic proportions–don’t sit by quietly.

What: National Health Care Reform Rally
When: Thursday, June 25, 11:30-12:30
Where: Upper Senate Park, Constitution Ave. & Delaware, NE (Closest Metro is Union Station)

Interesting Things Around the Internet

  • Organizing for America is posting health care stories “told by hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans who have watched their premiums rise faster than wages, and spiraling costs shackle American businesses.” Read other people’s stories or share your own.
  • Student loans make it possible for people to go to college who otherwise never could. They also leave college graduates with decades of debt. Amy Benfer takes on shallow arguments like “so don’t go to a school you can’t afford” (really, for most people, what school is affordable?) and looks at the improvements coming soon.

    Everyone benefits when the population of a university, especially the best ones in the nation, are made up of the kids who are there because they earned their place based on their own work, not the education or income of their parents. This is democracy 101, folks. You’d think that the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps conservatives would be the first ones to concede that giving smart kids the means to join the educated class is the swiftest route out of poverty. What’s more, universities are the place where, hopefully, future politicians, lawyers, writers, activists, judges, journalists, social workers and everyone else who will grow up to be in a position to make policy and interpret culture for everyone else learn the way the world works. And it sure as hell helps the discussion in any poly-sci or literature or American studies class if you have members of the group in question right there next to you, debating as your equal.

  • This really wouldn’t be right:

    Staff at Goldman Sachs staff can look forward to the biggest bonus payouts in the firm’s 140-year history after a spectacular first half of the year, sparking concern that the big investment banks which survived the credit crunch will derail financial regulation reforms.

    A lack of competition and a surge in revenues from trading foreign currency, bonds and fixed-income products has sent profits at Goldman Sachs soaring, according to insiders at the firm.