Happy Holidays

We’re taking a bit of a break into the new year. We may post sporadically over the next 10 days, but nothing predictable.

If you celebrate Christmas, have a wonderful one.

Have a fantastic New Year’s Eve and a promising start to 2010.

If you’ve struggled in 2009, let’s be optimistic that things will look up in 2010—but let’s recommit to fight to make things better for all of us, to put people back to work, to promote an economy that’s balanced rather than working for Wall Street, to create green jobs here at home rather than sending our tax money to other countries for green technology.

New York Times: Put Jobs First

The New York Times editorial board argues the House jobs bill is a start, but does not go far enough (my own view, come to think of it :-P ):

Right now, finding people work is a more urgent task than reducing the deficit. Indeed, deficits cannot be tamed without more jobs to generate more tax revenue. A government boost to job growth is also necessary to help replace the millions of jobs that have been lost in the recession.

Perhaps most important, without a revival in hiring, the economy itself — which appears to be recovering — could regress. A second contraction could be worse than the first, bringing a downward spiral of falling wages, falling prices and even higher unemployment. With interest rates at rock bottom and other market interventions already deployed, policy makers would have few weapons left.

The House bill has strong features. It would extend unemployment benefits, now set to expire in February, through June. It would also increase aid to states and local governments. These are the bedrocks of any jobs program because, by increasing demand, they help preserve and create jobs.

But with joblessness at record levels, unemployment benefits should be extended even further — to the end of the year. Similarly, the stimulus plan for the states should be extended well into 2011; otherwise, federal aid will dry up midway through most states’ fiscal years, leaving them vulnerable to a relapse.

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Trumka Talks Job Training and Real Solutions

From Tuesday’s online jobs discussion with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:

Coalition Launches Jobs for America Now

The campaign promoting substantial new jobs plans to address the unemployment crisis got a real boost with the formation of Jobs for America Now, a major coalition of more than fifty national organizations including Working America.

In announcing this broad coalition of labor, civil rights, community and progressive policy groups, the groups noted how they had come out of last month’s jobs policy initiative at the Economic Policy Institute.

On Nov. 17, the leaders of the AFL-CIO, Center for Community Change, Economic Policy Institute, Leadership Conference for Civil Rights, NAACP and National Council of La Raza issued an urgent call for legislation to address the jobs crisis in the U.S.

Since then, the coalition has expanded to include more than 50 national groups and nearly 100 local and state organizations.

The coalition supports expanded job-creation policies, including the five-point plan promoted by the AFL-CIO.

Jobs for America Now has issued an urgent call for action to address the jobs crisis:

The U.S. unemployment rate exceeded 10% in October for the first time in a quarter century. Over 15 million Americans are able and willing to work but cannot find a job. More than one out of every three unemployed workers has been out of a job for more than six months. The situation facing African American and Latino workers is even bleaker, with unemployment at 15.6% and 12.7%, respectively.

These grim statistics don’t capture the full extent of the hardship. There are another 9 million people working part time because they cannot find full-time work. Millions of others have given up looking for a job, and so aren’t counted in the official unemployment figures. Altogether, over 17% of the labor force is underemployed—more than 26 million Americans—including one in four minority workers. Last, given individuals moving in and out of jobs, we can expect a third of the workforce, and 40% of workers of color, to be unemployed or underemployed at some point over the next year.

Despite an effective and bold recovery package we are still facing a prolonged period of high unemployment. Two years from now, absent further action, we are likely to have unemployment at 8% or more, a higher rate than that attained even at the worst point of the last two downturns.

The president and the Congress have already taken significant steps to stop the economy’s nosedive. Their efforts have already created over a million jobs and led to renewed economic growth in the third quarter of 2009. But it is clear that much more must be done to generate millions more jobs to assure a robust recovery that reaches all Americans.

The Jobs for America Now coalition launch came just as the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed the Jobs for Main Street Act, the first of what should be several substantial new job-creation measures.

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Trumka Talks Economic Stimulus

From last week’s online chat with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:

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Trumka Talks Neo-Liberalism

From Tuesday’s online chat with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:

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House Passes Jobs Bill

The House of Representatives passed a preliminary jobs bill Wednesday, which now moves to the Senate:

The bill would provide $48.3 billion for infrastructure projects that promise to get workers back on job sites by April. Highway construction projects would get $27.5 billion, while subway, bus and other transit systems would get $8.4 billion.

As in the earlier stimulus bill, steel and other products used in these projects would have to come from the United States.

The bill would also help cash-strapped state and local governments avoid layoffs of public employees.
States would get $23 billion to pay 250,000 teacher salaries and repair school buildings, and $1.2 billion to pay for 5,500 police officers.

In other words, the bill not only creates and saves jobs but provides teachers and well-kept school buildings for kids, and makes our bridges safer and improves transit around the country. Also, much of it is already paid for by excess bailout money.

This is a great step. But, as Seth Michaels writes,

The bill must next be approved by the U.S. Senate. But unless we light a fire under that august body, nothing will move before the end of the year and the unemployment insurance for millions of jobless workers will expire.

Tell senators to pass the Jobs for Main Street Act (H.R. 2847), which invests $154 billion to create and save jobs.

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Bartering

The barter economy is not suffering during the recession. In times of economic downturn, barter can help a family or a business stay afloat. Barter can be really helpful to small business owners. Finding ways to barter for advertising or other services can be invaluable when money is tight. A CNN story takes a look at a business bartering trade show and organization:

Ted Rahaim, owner of DBK Family Jewelers in Plainville, Conn., said that bartering has been a great way for him to get things for his small business that he wouldn’t be able to afford if he had to shell out the cash — like advertising.

He came to the show expecting to barter $30,000 to $40,000 worth of jewelry. He didn’t know what he’d be trading for, but he did pick up one case of meat. In the past he’s bartered for business needs, including business cards and plumbing and heating services for his stores.

“It opens up a lot of doors for me,” he said.

People are also using barter to get medical or dental care for their families. A recent story in the Sky Valley Chronicle from Washington State provides an example:

A recent Washington Post article reported Craigslist had an 80 percent increase in activity in its bartering section this year. Some of these posts – as well as posts on other sites that specialize in barter – are for people seeking to trade something for health and dental care.

Ramona Heath, whose story is contained in a recent broadcast radio report, had been out of work for over a year. Her husband lost his job also in the recession. Essentially homeless after the unemployment for so long, Ramona went on the Internet and found a dentist who would fix her daughter’s long neglected teeth in exchange for her skills and labor in housekeeping.

Now her 8-year old daughter can smile without covering her mouth. In the past whenever she would smile she would cover her mouth, embarrassed about the bad shape her teeth were in.

A family in Ohio is using barter as a way to buy Christmas presents:

Gina and Richard Lavelle are determined to give their four children a Christmas this year despite losing their income and their home. To do so, Gina turned to Craigslist where her ad joined dozens of other ads from people wanting to barter services or other items for Christmas presents.

Planet Green has some suggestions on barter websites, and of course there is craigslist.

Most of us have things around the house that we’d like to get rid of, but we don’t want to throw away. A great solution to that problem is Freecycle.Someone who wants your unwanted object will actually come and take it away! Freecycle can also help you find things you might need. Freecycle’s mission statement:

Our mission is to build a worldwide gifting movement that reduces waste, saves precious resources & eases the burden on our landfills while enabling our members to benefit from the strength of a larger community.

There are Freecycle networks in all 50 states and 85 countries – and best of all, it’s free.

A Jobs Solution for the Amoral and Immoral

On Monday, Washington Post editorial page staffer Charles Lane had a fantastic idea for solving the jobs crisis. Fantastic, that is, if you hate working people and the very concept of fairness. His idea, you see, was lowering wages for construction workers and low-wage workers. How? By repealing the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires employers receiving federal funding to pay the prevailing wage in the area. And by reducing the minimum wage.

Pandagon’s Jesse Taylor:

What Lane is actually proposing is that we create hundreds of thousands of terrible new low-paying jobs to artificially lower the unemployment rate.  While these jobs will technically exist (should they come to fruition; a drop of $2.10 per hour per worker isn’t exactly freeing up massive pools of money for new cashiers and ride operators at amusement parks), it’s hard to say that there’s a benefit to our economy in creating the least rewarding type of employment for a group of workers almost all of whom had better jobs paying more beforehand. 

Technically, we could “solve” unemployment tomorrow by allowing every employer in the country to pay $2.50 an hour (ever wonder why even in the most economically depressed times, shitty restaurants are still hiring waitstaff?) – employers could easily create incredibly low-cost positions, we’d have jobs for everyone and, best of all, our entire economy could collapse under the weight of a newly employed populace that doesn’t earn enough to pay rent.  Or get bank accounts.  Or eat, really. 

Jake McIntyre at Daily Kos:

Davis-Bacon simply requires the federal government to pay the same for its construction projects as the bulk of private builders in a metropolitan area. In so doing, Davis-Bacon allows construction workers to remain a bulwark of the shrinking American middle class. Without Davis-Bacon, construction wages would fall dramatically, which might warm Charles Lane’s heart, but which would put a damper on the overall economy by seriously depressing consumer spending. And at a time where even low interest rates and Federal assistance to banks aren’t spurring construction lending, I wouldn’t count on a drop in construction wages doing a damn this to create jobs. Lane’s prescription would serve to do little but line the pockets of mammoth general contractors like KBR. (As this piece is already running long, I won’t even get into the myriad positive effects of Davis-Bacon on the economy, but they’re substantial.)

The proposed repeal of Davis-Bacon is a niche corporatist hobby horse, like the repeal of the estate tax or the incessant call to cut capital gains taxes. And like the constant braying for tax cuts for the rich, the push to screw construction workers will forever be tailored to the tone of the moment. The economy’s booming? Cut capital gains taxes and repeal Davis-Bacon! The economy’s in the toilet? Cut capital gains taxes and repeal Davis-Bacon! No matter what the situation, the prescription from Lane and his plutocrat buddies in the same: make the rich richer and turn the middle class into the working poor. It never ceases to amaze me that comfortable, soft-handed pundits feel so threatened by tradespeople earning decent middle-class wages, but they do. It’s pathological.

So now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s see what else Lane suggests to create jobs:

Reduce the federal minimum wage.

Did I say that repealing Davis-Bacon “is a niche corporatist hobby horse, like the repeal of the estate tax or the incessant call to cut capital gains taxes?”  I meant, “repealing Davis-Bacon is a niche corporatist hobby horse, like the repeal of the estate tax or the incessant call to cut capital gains taxes or the non-stop attacks on the minimum wage.”

Truly, this is a jobs solution only someone without a decent moral sense could embrace.

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What to do about COBRA

Let’s say you’ve been getting COBRA subsidies, or you have just been laid off and want to find out if you are eligible. And you’ve heard about extensions and the possibility of people losing their coverage and you just want to know what’s going on.

The New York Times has some very useful information for you.

Founding Executive Director of Families USA Ron Pollack took questions here, answering questions not just about subsidies but about eligibility for COBRA at all—for instance, some states have their own continuation coverage programs—and about how to move from COBRA to new insurance.

In another article, they provided some general advice under the headings:

Avoid a lapse
Buy time
Stay on top of it
Look for reductions
Newly laid off?

What we need is an economy where people don’t live in fear that losing a job will mean losing their health care and maybe their lives. But while we’re dealing with this economy, being informed is an important defense.

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