“We have to laugh about it, you know? Because if we didn’t, we would spend all of our time crying.” The truth is, this member meeting has been full of laughter, even as their stories break my heart. I am sitting with Angela and Carmen in Angela’s apartment in suburban Pennsylvania. They are sisters. Both unemployed, both single mothers, both waiting for a break.
Angela and Carmen have always been very close. They spend afternoons (just like we are now) sitting in Angela’s kitchen, drinking homemade iced tea, and talking about the world. They lean on each other when times get tough. But what are you supposed to do when the person you lean on is struggling just as much as you are? Where are you supposed to turn?
Angela was laid off two years ago from her job in management. She sends out applications every week but has been unable to find anything. “At first, I only applied to management positions. I would list my salary requirements as the equivalent of what I was making at my last job. Now, I’ll flip burgers. I’ll make minimum wage.” After working hard for her entire adult life, Angela is struggling to survive. Because of bureaucratic red tape, she has not received unemployment benefits for months. She lost her house; she spent her daughter’s entire college savings. She worries about buying food, and in the winter, how to heat her apartment.
“I pray for a job. I cry watching television, but everywhere I turn, it seems like I am up against a brick wall.” But still, Angela serves us iced tea around her kitchen table and she and Carmen try to fight back that black cloud of unemployment and financial strain hanging over the apartment.
Carmen is a nurse. She was laid off two years ago from another job and decided to go back to school for her nursing degree to ride out the recession. Like most people, she believed that healthcare was a recession proof industry. After working hard through the entire program, she passed her boards and officially became an RN. She took a job at a nursing home but was laid off during her training period when she spoke up about the awful sanitary conditions in the facility. “There were bugs crawling on the patients during the night shift. I was trying to take care of them, but I never got the chance to do what I am supposed to do.”
Now, like her sister, she has been struggling to find a job. After investing almost $100,000 in nursing school, she can’t find anything. Every opening she finds requires 2-3 years experience. “I’ll volunteer during the training period, but no one is willing to give me a chance.” Carmen said that she panics when she thinks about the current unemployment benefits extension expiring in November. “In three months, I will have nothing.”
Not nothing, they will have each other. They have a family where everyone tries to come together. But it is hard when everyone is struggling.
Government anti-poverty programs that have grown to meet the needs of recession victims now serve a record one in six Americans and are continuing to expand.
More than 50 million Americans are on Medicaid, the federal-state program aimed principally at the poor, a survey of state data by USA TODAY shows. That’s up at least 17% since the recession began in December 2007.
The increase in the food stamp program is even more dramatic:
More than 40 million people get food stamps, an increase of nearly 50% during the economic downturn, according to government data through May. The program has grown steadily for three years.
More than 4.4 million people are on welfare, an 18% increase during the recession. The program has grown slower than others, causing Brookings Institution expert Ron Haskins to question its effectiveness in the recession.
As unemployment benefits run out, more people are turning to what we used to call “welfare,” which is now TANF, Temporary Aid to Needy Families. In Philadelphia:
Between February and June, the number of people receiving welfare through the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program has climbed 2 percent in New Jersey to 98,856 and 3 percent in Pennsylvania to 217,884.
Camden County has hovered near the top of New Jersey’s welfare rolls for years, fueled primarily by the city of Camden and its decades-long struggle to bring jobs back to the once-bustling manufacturing center. Since the beginning of this year, those numbers have only grown.
TANF is a temporary program, intended to aid people and get them back to work. Obviously, the getting people back to work part is especially challenging right now.
Nidia Sinclair, a middle-aged social worker from Panama who strolls through the office in bright embroidered dresses, says the task of getting people off welfare and into the workplace has never been harder, and her clients know it.
“It’s a work-first program, but the problem is, with the economy the way it is, there’s no work,” she said. “The frustration level is very high right now.”
(if you read the whole online article, you may find the comment section disturbing.)
In Williamsburg, for example, the number of families on food stamps rose by 28% in the past year. Food stamps in James City soared even higher, by 60% to 1,638.
Many are suffering from losing their jobs. Temporary welfare cases rose by 31% in the city and 22% in James City. Medicaid cases rose by about 9% in each locality.
Adult protective services cases and child protective services cases in the city rose as well, although the numbers are smaller.
As many as 10% of the city population of 13,000 are suffering.
Safety net program budgets have been on the chopping block for years. The need for services is already surpassing the funds available to help people. How much worse do things have to get before our elected officials wake up to the ongoing crisis?
If you drive from Washington, DC to Brooklin, ME you certainly won’t feel like you’re driving through a country in which there are no potentially useful infrastructure projects that could be undertaken during the several-year period of elevated unemployment that we’re now projected to face. For example, there’s the bridge from New Hampshire to Maine: “The application says the bridge is ’structurally deficient’ and ‘functionally obsolete’ and has a weight limit of three tons.”
Things like the recent massive egg recall show how messed up our food system is in so many ways, hitting agricultural and food workers and the people who eat food. (Do you eat food? I do.)
TEXAS CITY, Tex. — While the world was focused on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a BP refinery here released huge amounts of toxic chemicals into the air that went unnoticed by residents until many saw their children come down with respiratory problems.
For 40 days after a piece of equipment critical to the refinery’s operation broke down, a total of 538,000 pounds of toxic chemicals, including the carcinogen benzene, poured out of the refinery.
Rather than taking the costly step of shutting down the refinery to make repairs, the engineers at the plant diverted gases to a smokestack and tried to burn them off, but hundreds of thousands of pounds still escaped into the air, according to state environmental officials.
This plant has a history – in 2005, 15 people were killed and more than 170 injured in an explosion, and it’s been sued by the state for pollution violations.
Events like this show the interconnection of safety for workers on the job and families in their homes. Unsafe workplaces are also likely to be the ones that reach out and harm people for miles around by polluting the air and water; companies that profit by endangering their workers are likely to be the ones that don’t worry too much about the air their neighbors breathe.
If that’s the question you’ve been asking yourself, in one form or another, over the course of the past year or two, believe me you are not alone. Whenever the subject comes up people seem to respond with that instant sense of recognition and a one word accompaniment: “Right?”
By now it’s clear that a sizable consensus of all but the most wackadoodle economists think that the stimulus measures in the original Recovery Act were far too small. As the Congressional Budget Office continues to report, those stimulus measures have had a positive impact on the economy. And without them, things would have been far, far worse. But for all of the benefits of the Recovery Act — extended unemployment insurance, COBRA health subsidies, highway and rail projects, TANF low-income-family employment programs, the largest tax cut for the middle-class in history, Medicare assistance for states and education aid for the nation’s schools — it just wasn’t big and bold enough to create the millions of new jobs needed to restore full employment.
Now, with the economic impact of the original stimulus winding down, the job market, the housing market and the economy overall are worsening again. The Republican obstructionists, especially in the Senate, have succeeded to a large extent in thwarting additional measures to boost the economy. Those measures that have passed, including a partial extension of unemployment benefits and aid to states, were substantially reduced in funding and scope even as they took months off the legislative calendar. Larger jobs bills were at least temporarily abandoned. Even a small business lending bill is stalled.
Caring not a whit that their obstruction is itself a cause of deepening misery for millions and increasing economic woes for the country, Republicans are betting that a worsening economy will work to their political benefit in November.
Unemployment remains staggeringly high. For more than a year, the monthly jobs figures have reported roughly 15 million American workers unemployed. That’s more jobless workers in our country than there were in 1933, at the depths of the Great Depression.
Meanwhile, calls are mounting for additional stimulus, particularly large-scale public-funded jobs programs, amid warnings that not acting would have devastating consequences. As Paul Krugman wrote recently:
The markets aren’t demanding that we give up on job creation. On the contrary, they seem worried about the lack of action — about the fact that, as Bill Gross of the giant bond fund Pimco put it earlier this week, we’re “approaching a cul-de-sac of stimulus,” which he warns “will slow to a snail’s pace, incapable of providing sufficient job growth going forward.”
With the worst jobs crisis since the Great Depression worsening, you might expect emergency action out of Washington. But the biggest upcoming debate there is whether to extend the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2 percent, or for everyone, or for no one. This is like debating whether to get a mousetrap when your home is sinking in quicksand.
We need a response proportional to the crisis.
First item on the agenda: establishing a federal bank that will provide states and locales zero-interest loans, to be repaid when their unemployment rates drop to 5 percent or below.
Second item: eliminating payroll taxes on the first $20,000 of all incomes and make up the difference by subjecting all income above $250,000 to the payroll tax. (Remember, the wealthy save most of their after-tax income, lower-income Americans spend it.)
Third item: recreating the WPA to hire Americans directly. The Works Progress Administration put Americans back to work during the Depression rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure.
The jobs emergency requires no less.
And in a withering critique, titled ‘Fire and Imagination’, Bob Herbert urges the Obama administration to “re-examine what it might do to improve what is fast becoming a depressing state of affairs.”
Mr. Obama’s problem — and the nation’s — is that in the midst of the terrible economic turmoil that the country was in when he took office, he did not make full employment, meaning job creation in both the short and the long term, the nation’s absolute highest priority.
Besides responding to the nation’s greatest need, job creation would have been the one issue most likely to bolster Mr. Obama’s efforts to bring people of different political persuasions together. In the early months of 2009, with job losses soaring past a half-million a month and the country desperate for bold, creative leadership, the president had an opportunity to rally the nation behind an enormous “rebuild America” effort.
Such an effort, properly conceived, would have put millions to work overhauling the nation’s infrastructure, rebuilding our ports and transportation facilities to 21st-century standards, establishing a Manhattan Project-like quest for a brave new world of clean energy, and so on.
Think of the returns the nation reaped from its investments in the interstate highway system, the Land Grant colleges, rural electrification, the Erie and Panama canals, the transcontinental railroad, the technology that led to the Internet, the Apollo program, the G.I. bill.
The problem with the U.S. economy today, as it was during the Great Depression, is the absence of sufficient demand for goods and services. Consumers, struggling with sky-high unemployment and staggering debt loads, are tapped out. The economy cannot be made healthy again, and there is no chance of doing anything substantial about budget deficits, as long as so many millions of people are left with essentially no purchasing power. Jobs are the only real answer.
During the Depression, Franklin Roosevelt explained to the public the difference between wasteful spending and sound government investments. “You cannot borrow your way out of debt,” he said, “but you can invest your way into a sounder future.”
Now, with so much money already spent and Republicans expected to gain seats in the Congressional elections, the president finds himself with a much weaker hand, even if he were inclined to play it boldly.
Perhaps he can still. In fact, he must. The ideas needed to re-employ millions of Americans are not what’s lacking. There are plenty of effective ideas, and plenty of ways to finance them as well. What is needed is the resolve to put them forward and fight for their effective implementation. And not in two years or three years. Much sooner. Like now.
In a recent speech, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s grandson, Curtis Roosevelt, described the situation facing FDR in the late summer prior to the 1934 mid-term elections during his first term, in the context of the situation facing President Obama today. The full text makes for some fascinating reading; but for our purposes here, I’ll offer some relevant excerpts.
Needless to say, looming in the background for both Presidents were and are the mid-term elections. Both — 1934 and 2010 — were and are predicted to be resounding defeats for the Democrats.
Looming over Roosevelt’s head was the Great Depression, already entrenched for several years when he became president.
During the first year and a half of FDR’s first term, as his grandson recounts, FDR’s New Deal had largely focused on addressing the banking and financial crises. And while progress had also been made to help stabilize employment in some industries, and to improve wages and working conditions for many of those workers with jobs, vast numbers of workers remained unemployed. In 1934, what we’ve come to view as the core signature programs of the New Deal — the Works Progress Administration (WPA), Social Security and unemployment insurance — were yet to be enacted. That would come a year later, in 1935.
Curtis Roosevelt continues:
Roosevelt biographer Arthur Schlesinger Jr., described FDR’s dilemma during the few months before the 1934 mid-term elections. “Roosevelt, suddenly silent and irresolute, seemed to have lost his touch … The administration appeared to lack coherence both in policy and in strategy.” Schlesinger added, “these were hard days for the President. He knew that things were going badly … Roosevelt faced the organised business community [and] its determination to halt the New Deal …[He] faced the tumult of mass opinion, so ardently stirred by the radicals and demagogues … Overhanging was the threat of judicial action against New Deal laws and programs.”
The most influential historian of the day Charles A. Beard forecast doom for FDR in 1934. He wrote: “the disintegration of President Roosevelt’s prestige proceeded with staggering rapidity during February and March.”
FDR could not have felt his accustomed confidence, and was certainly not wearing his usual jaunty air. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes recorded in his diary that he found his old friend “distinctly dispirited. He looked tired … and he seemed to lack the fighting vigour or the buoyancy that has always characterized him.”
Reviewing the criticisms leveled against New Deal programs was apparently instructive for the president. Roosevelt listened to his advisors suggesting one or another alternative, one option against another. And then he pondered … and pondered … taking his time, much to his aides’ frustration. “He knows nothing about economics!” was the usual charge exchanged among them.
Then, suddenly, FDR brightened and seemed to know how and where he wanted to move. His staff remained perplexed, but again Schlesinger gets it right.
“The basic reason for [FDR's] inaction was that he was simply unprepared to act … [His] inscrutable processes of decision were moving all too slowly within.” Concludes Schlesinger, “He could not lead until he knew where he wanted to go.”
My grandfather’s convoluted way of decision-making-from the stomach up to the heart, and then the head-was, as usual, right on. Later, historians would call it his natural intuition, or something like that.
In their next edition, Time magazine reported: “Franklin Roosevelt’s mood suddenly changed.” His whole legislative program was in the pot and boiling …The Social Securities Bill, the Banking bill, the Utilities Bill, the Wagner Bill, the fate of the NRA … Suddenly the irritability which had marked his recent actions dropped from him. Pronounced Time: “His ‘winter peeve’ was over.”
Yes, the New Deal was rolling again. Referring to the autumn term of Congress in 1934, just at the time of the November elections, Charles A. Beard radically changed his tune from only a few months before. “Seldom, if ever, in the long history of Congress had so many striking and vital measures been spread upon the law books in a single session.”
And the results of mid-term election of November 1934?
The Democrats increased their congressional seats in both houses, increased their governorships, and chalked up a higher proportion of the popular vote. So much for the pundits!
The Democrats’ recovery, I think, continued to be dependent upon Franklin Roosevelt’s very personal style. He seemed to sense his way through the political maze. Whatever, it remains an exceptional example of political leadership.
What FDR did in the late summer of 1934, was talk straight with and directly to the American people, fighting for expanded public job-creation programs on a scale to re-employ millions of unemployed American workers.
In his famous Fireside Chat radio broadcast of August 30, 1934, FDR said:
To those who say that our expenditures for Public Works and other means for recovery are a waste that we cannot afford, I answer that no country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources. Demoralization caused by vast unemployment is our greatest extravagance. Morally, it is the greatest menace to our social order. Some people try to tell me that we must make up our minds that for the future we shall permanently have millions of unemployed just as other countries have had them for over a decade. What may be necessary for those countries is not my responsibility to determine. But as for this country, I stand or fall by my refusal to accept as a necessary condition of our future a permanent army of unemployed. On the contrary, we must make it a national principle that we will not tolerate a large army of unemployed and that we will arrange our national economy to end our present unemployment as soon as we can and then to take wise measures against its return.
I believe with Abraham Lincoln, that “The legitimate object of Government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done but cannot do at all or cannot do so well for themselves in their separate and individual capacities.”
I still believe in ideals. I am not for a return to that definition of Liberty under which for many years a free people were being gradually regimented into the service of the privileged few. I prefer and I am sure you prefer that broader definition of Liberty under which we are moving forward to greater freedom, to greater security for the average man than he has ever known before in the history of America.
The Democrats’ predicted defeat in the 1934 mid-term elections was averted. The nation rallied to FDR’s side in the battle against unemployment — for jobs and economic recovery. The core New Deal programs that most directly benefited working Americans, both employed and unemployed, were largely enacted the following year. The WPA alone went on to employ 8 million American workers.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s impassioned statements, refusing to accept joblessness for millions of Americans, were stirring words indeed. But they were not merely words. FDR and his administration were resolved and committed to enacting big, bold New Deal plans — like the WPA — to re-employ America. And they knew that the costs of not doing so would, in fact, be far greater.
That’s the resolve that was needed in 1934; and it is needed again today.
The author is the winner of the 2010 CREDO Mobile/Netroots Nation award for Blog Activist of the Year.
Fire departments that can’t keep all their units open at any one time are instituting “rolling brownouts,” in which today the firehouse down the block from me might be closed and tomorrow it will be open while the one in your neighborhood across town will be closed. According to the New York Times, this is increasingly widespread—the article mentions Philadelphia, Baltimore, Sacramento, San Diego.
Firehouse closures don’t just affect the response time for fires. Increasingly, emergency medical response teams are part of fire departments, so people in cities with brownouts don’t just have to worry about facing a relatively rare fire. Much more common medical emergencies are suddenly a far graver concern: A heart attack, a fall down the stairs, being hit by a car. Or choking:
The risks of cutting fire service were driven home here last month when Bentley Do, a 2-year-old boy who was visiting relatives, somehow got his hands on a gum ball, put it in his mouth, started laughing and then began choking.
“It blocked the air hole,” said his uncle, Brian Do, who called 911 while other relatives frantically tried to dislodge the gum ball. “No air could flow in and out.”
It is only 600 steps from the front door of the neatly kept stucco home where the boy was staying to the nearest fire station, just down the block. But the station was empty that evening: its engine was in another part of town, on a call in an area usually covered by an engine that had been taken out of service as part of a brownout plan.
The police came to the home within five minutes and began performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, officials said. But it took nine and a half minutes — almost twice the national goal of arriving within five minutes — for the fire engine, with a paramedic and more medical equipment, to get there. An ambulance came moments later and took Bentley to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Maybe that little boy would have died anyway. But wouldn’t you rather the question wasn’t out there? His family would, and they’re publicizing his story to draw attention to the problem.
State and municipal budget crises bring the overall economic crisis into sharp focus. If we can’t look at gravel roads and disappearing public transit and closed libraries and firehouses and see that something needs to be done, will Bentley Do’s story be enough? How much more of this will our government tune out before acting to end the crisis?
Former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson, the Republican co-chairman of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, who is known for having a long-time bias against Social Security, sent an email to a prominent women’s rights advocate early this week, which said in part:
“I’ve made some plenty smart cracks about people on Social Security who milk it to the last degree. You know ‘em too. It’s the same with any system in America. We’ve reached a point now where it’s like a milk cow with 310 million tits! Call when you get honest work!”
Ashley Carson, executive director of OWL, the Older Women’s League, who received the Simpson email, made it public in a statement released (pdf) Wednesday.
In an email to Ashley Carson, OWL Executive Director, Simpson refers to Social Security as “a milk cow with 310 million tits.” Simpson also insults her intelligence, and claims she doesn’t do “honest work.” This kind of language plainly displays a complete disregard not only for women and seniors, but for the American workers who pay into Social Security throughout their working lives, and who receive benefits they earned through their own contributions. Taking those benefits when a worker can no longer work is not “milking the system.” It’s our money, and we deserve it.
Ashley Carson states: “This kind of blatant disrespect for women, and for the social fabric of our coun-try, has no place in a serious discussion about our deficit. Mr. Simpson’s fifteen minutes of sexism and degradation are over. Now is the time for serious people to have serious conversations about how to move our nation forward, protecting the men and women who have worked their whole lives to make this country great.”
But Simpson is just one cog in a Commission that is fundamentally undemocratic. Serious decisions about programs that provide health care and retirement security should not be shifted away from the elected Members of Congress, who answer to their constituents, to a select group of political insid-ers. And forcing Congress to vote on whatever recommendations the Commission makes – without the ability to debate and amend the recommendations – flies in the face of democracy.
Alan Simpson must be removed, but we should not forget that he is just one sexist, disrespectful and embarrassing component of a process that usurps the rights of citizens to hold their elected representative accountable. OWL looks forward to a serious, respectful, and honest debate in both Houses of Congress about the real causes of the deficit, and real solutions. Alan Simpson and the President’s Commission are not part of the real solutions Americans need.
Simpson has reportedly “apologized” for his remarks. But a storm of protests and calls for his removal have continued unabated.
I always thought that the deficit commission was a bad idea; it has only looked worse over time, as the buzz is that Democrats are caving in to Republicans, leaning ever further toward an all-cuts, no taxes solution, including a sharp rise in the retirement age.
I’ve also had my eye on Alan Simpson, the supposedly grown-up Republican co-chair, who has been talking nonsense about Social Security from the get-go.
And no, an apology won’t suffice. Simpson was completely in character here; it was perfectly consistent with everything else he’s said, and with his previous behavior. He has to go.
Ryan Grim reports at the Huffington Post with a host of updates on the growing coalition calling for Simpson’s removal and opposing plans to cut Social Security.
The author is the winner of the 2010 CREDO Mobile/Netroots Nation award for Blog Activist of the Year.
If you want to know how the health care reform law affects you, Healthcare.gov is one of the best places to go. And now they’ve made it possible to look up coverage options for your situation and your location. Check it out:
The song tells the story of a mill fire in which workers were killed because they were locked in. It’s a story that’s been lived out too many times—and, as Tim Eriksen and Riley Baugus noted while playing the song in a recent concert, though this song is historical, the practice of locking workers in is unfortunately not left far enough in the past. They pointed to the 1991 Hamlet chicken processing plant fire as an example, but in many more recent cases workers have reported being locked into other workplaces. Wal-Mart employees, for instance, were locked in overnight until very recently (assuming the store’s claims to have stopped the practice are truthful). They had one single fire door, but were forbidden to use it and in several cases, a needed trip to the hospital was delayed. And that fire door they were forbidden to use? Wal-Mart used to keep fire doors chained until an employee died because paramedics couldn’t get in.
And it’s a pretty safe bet that somewhere in America, there are still workers in a building where there’s no exit even in case of fire.
A second round of layoffs began yesterday at Northeast Hospital Corp., as the health care organization looks to eliminate up to 100 full-time positions.
Corporate handed out pink slips to personnel ranging from vice presidents to nurses yesterday at the nonprofit organization’s three hospitals, Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester, Beverly Hospital and BayRidge Hospital in Lynn, and two outpatient centers, Beverly Hospital at Danvers and the Cable Center in Ipswich.