The Neighborhood Effect

National-level statistics can obscure a lot – they tell us we have enough of something, but nothing about who has it:

Though there are enough children’s doctors in the United States, they work in the wrong places, a new study has found.

Some wealthy areas are oversaturated with pediatricians and family doctors, while other parts of the nation have few or none.

Nearly 1 million children live in areas with no local doctor. By relocating doctors, the study suggests, nearly every child could have one nearby.

This is one of the more common misuses of statistics in American politics. We’re told that we have the best of something, so why would we want to change it. But not told that 42% of the children in Mississippi live in areas with more than 3,000 children per doctor.

It’s not just health care. When she moved from having one of the nicest houses in a not-wealthy area to having one of the more modest houses in a fairly wealthy suburb, one of my friends was shocked by the different levels of all kinds of services—she got more warning when the town would be doing work in her neighborhood, the grocery stores were better, on and on to a dozen little things you’d never have thought of. Until you’ve crossed those boundaries, you don’t fully understand how different is the America people richer or poorer than you live in. And policy decisions—and media commentary—come from people who have access to everything they could want.

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Supreme Court Swings Toward Corporate Interests

It’s hard not to notice the tidal wave of money the Chamber of Commerce has poured into influencing elections and policy decisions. But that’s not all—they’ve also significantly influenced the Supreme Court to favor corporate interests in its decisions.

On the center’s 30th anniversary in 2007, Carter G. Phillips, who often represents the chamber and has argued more Supreme Court cases than any active lawyer in private practice, reflected on its influence. “I know from personal experience that the chamber’s support carries significant weight with the justices,” he wrote. “Except for the solicitor general representing the United States, no single entity has more influence on what cases the Supreme Court decides and how it decides them than the National Chamber Litigation Center.”
A study prepared by the Constitutional Accountability Center, a liberal group, examined the center’s success rate in the Supreme Court. It found that the positions supported by the chamber prevailed 68 percent of the time in the Roberts court, compared with 56 percent in the last 11 years of the Rehnquist court, a period without changes in the court’s membership.
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Doug Kendall, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, drew a different conclusion, saying the numbers proved that the Roberts court increasingly sided with corporate interests. He also said the study documented “a sharp ideological divide that did not exist before 2005.” In the last 11 terms of the Rehnquist court, the five more conservative justices voted for the chamber’s position 61 percent of the time, while the four more liberal justices voted for it 48 percent of the time

In the first five terms of the Roberts court, the corresponding bloc of five more conservative justices voted for the chamber’s position 74 percent of the time, and the four more liberal justices 43 percent of the time.

The Chamber, naturally, thinks this overstates its influence. You know, when it’s being covered in the New York Times, as opposed to in 2007 when doing a victory lap.

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The Future of Pell Grants

From the NY Times:

With the lame-duck Congress winding down and a $5.7 billion gap in financing looming for next year’s Pell grants — and a further $8 billion gap for the following year — there is growing uncertainty about the future of the grants, the nation’s most significant financial-aid program for college students.

and

Earlier this year, Congress passed legislation that provided an extra $36 billion over 10 years to the Pell grant program and increased the maximum grant to $5,550, up from $4,050 five years ago. But with a new Congress arriving in January and determined to cut spending, it is unclear whether that expansion is sustainable.

If Congress does not cover the gap in financing, millions of students could see their Pell grants reduced by more than 15 percent, with the maximum grant shrinking by about $845.

Financial aid officers are starting to worry about a program that is supposed to provide more than $30 billion next year to college students.

This is scary news for families of college students – and a story we’ll be keeping an eye on as the new Congress convenes.

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Carpentry Not Recovering in Las Vegas

Building trades not experiencing recovery in Las Vegas. From WaPo:

In past recessions, it has been an article of faith that as the economy revives, the work will return. But after the profound recession that began in December 2007, jobs in some industries aren’t coming back.

This creates what economists call “structural unemployment,” the result of a mismatch between the skills of the workforce and those needed by employers. It is feared because it causes longer unemployment spells as workers struggle to transition from one trade to another.

Economists and other know-it-alls often tell the long term unemployed folks that they need to move, to go where jobs are. Anyone who has ever relocated knows it isn’t that easy; it’s expensive, and it may be impossible for families to sell their homes in this market.

Moreover, the carpenters are reluctant to abandon their trade to start as a rookie in another field. Union carpenters in Nevada train as apprentices for four years. Many have had fathers or uncles in the trade. And several said they simply like to build massive projects – bridges, memorials, high-rises – and watch them “come out of the ground.”

Some of these guys are getting on toward middle age, which means they’re at risk for staying unemployed.

This is the part that isn’t mentioned often enough:

Exactly how much of the unemployment is “structural” is a matter of debate among economists. But it evokes deep concern because it is resistant to stimulus efforts and other quick policy measures.

Already, long-term unemployment has become one of the defining aspects of the recession. The incidence of people who have been unemployed for more than six months is much higher than it has been in 60 years.

The long-term unemployed are seldom mentioned in the media, or in policy discussions. We need a better lobbyist.

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Those Lazy Jobless Bums

David Sirota examines the persistant myth of the “lazy jobless” in truthout:

During the recent fight over extending unemployment benefits, conservatives trotted out the shibboleth that says the program fosters sloth. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., for instance, said added unemployment benefits mean people are “encouraged not to go look for work.” Columnist Pat Buchanan said expanding these benefits mean “more people will hold off going back looking for a job.” And Fox News’ Charles Payne applauded the effort to deny future unemployment checks because he said it would compel layabouts “to get off the sofa.”

First: as a NH resident, I’d like to apologize to all of you on behalf of my state, for sending Judd Gregg to the US Senate.

Second: Judd Gregg started working hard before he was born, thereby ensuring he was born into a very wealthy family. He knows what hard work REALLY is.

The idea is that unemployment has nothing to do with structural economic forces or rigged public policies and everything to do with individual motivation. Yes, we’re asked to believe that the 15 million jobless Americans are all George Costanzas — parasitic loafers occasionally pretending to seek work as latex salesmen, but really just aiming to decompress on a refrigerator-equipped recliner during a lifelong Summer of George.

Have you noticed that the folks who spread this myth are all comfortably employed and/or independently wealthy?

Narcissism is also a factor. In a nation that typically dehumanizes the destitute Other with epithets like “welfare queen” and “white trash,” our self-centered culture leads the slightly less destitute to ascribe their own relative success exclusively to superhuman greatness. The myth of the lazy unemployed plays to that conceit, helping the still-employed experience potentially scary unemployment news as a booster shot of self-aggrandizement. You remain in a job, says the myth, because you are better than the jobless.

This explains why the comment sections in online stories about long term unemployed and/or homeless people are filled with such horrifying comments. Many working people realize they’re about 2 paychecks away from homelessness. They’re scared to death of losing everything, AND being labeled lazy bums.

The trouble, though, is that the whole narrative averts our focus from the job-killing trade, tax-cut and budget policies that are really responsible for destroying the economy. And this narrative, mind you, is not some run-of-the-mill distraction. The myth of the lazy unemployed is what duck-and-cover exercises and backyard nuclear shelters were to a past era — an alluring palliative that manufactures false comfort in the face of unthinkable disaster.

From merriam-webster.com:

Palliate:
transitive verb

1: to reduce the violence of (a disease); also : to ease (symptoms) without curing the underlying disease

2: to cover by excuses and apologies

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Advice from the Unemployed

The end of the year is the time to sit back, reflect, and toke stock of where we are as a country and on a personal level. Sadly, we are still losing the fight against unemployment. Our national unemployment rate is still hovering round 10% and every day, more and more Americans are losing their jobs, their homes, and their sense of dignity. More than just holiday presents and Christmas dinner, America’s unemployed are struggling to pay their heating bill this winter, to put basic groceries on the table, to boy their kid’s shoes.

Out of this devastating economy grows a community of unemployed people working together to get through this crisis. We have seen it at Working America offices around the country: our members swapping secrets on how to save money, how to navigate state bureaucracies to obtain desperately needed services, how to keep their spirits up. We have seen it on the news and on the unemployment line, or from friends sitting around the kitchen table.

As we head into the New Year, here is some advice on surviving unemployment from the unemployed.

From Surviveunemployment.com:

    First things first:

    Apply for unemployment benefits and find creative ways to obtain cash.

  1. Take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Do everything every old person ever told you to do. Eat lots of fruits and veggies, beans, whole grains and not so much salt, sugar, and fat. Exercise daily. Get fresh air and sunshine. “Early to bed and early to rise…” Stay busy. Maintain your social relationships to whatever extent possible. Be kind to your family and to every stranger you meet. Get in touch with God or whatever you want to call the animating force of the universe in whatever way works for you. If you don’t believe the universe has an animating force — that it just is — then go with that. Anyway, it’s a three-pronged deal — body, mind, spirit. Neglect one and you might as well neglect them all. That’s what I’ve found, anyway.
  2. Never give up. Life changes. It changed to get you where you are. It will change to take you somewhere else. Do whatever you can to move yourself toward the “somewhere else” of your choosing. When life gives you shit, make fertilizer. Never lose faith. Never stop hustling. Survive.

On Anxiety:

The most difficult struggle is the one that happens in your head and in your heart, the one that may not be visible to those around you, even if you tell them about it. Even other unemployed people will not fully recognize your personal unemployment demons. It’s different for everybody. We are complex creatures.

Here is what I do know: Taking a few deep breaths or a walk can’t hurt

Once you’ve got the panic under control, you have to do something so that it won’t come back. This is the “stay busy” thing that everybody tells you. It’s much easier said than done because sometimes it seems there’s just not that much with which to occupy oneself constructively when one is unemployed. Make a to-do list! Unless every item on it is crossed off, you have no excuse to sit around in a paralyzing panic. If every item on your list has been accomplished. Go to the park and fly a kite or something, and don’t feel the least bit guilty about it.

From Esquire.com:

What I’ve Learned: “Ten months is a very long time.

Every time a right-wing jerk is on TV talking about how the unemployed could get jobs but they don’t because they are getting paid not to work, I want to throw something at the TV. But I can’t afford a new one.

I now understand why some people never want to retire.

I always took pride in the fact that I was not one of those guys whose ego was tied to his career. But when I lost my job, I was amazing how much my ego was hurt.

Have two kids in college is not a good time to be unemployed.

I went back to coaching because I had the time and I wanted to give to others. I was reminded how much the kids give to me. Thirteen- and fourteen- year old boys do not care if you have a job or not, they just want to be coached. They want to you treat them like the young men that they’re becoming, and it helps if you’re a little immature yourself.

There are people who are far worse than I am.”

These are just a few pieces of advice of many, many more. If you are unemployed and have your own survival techniques, share them. The only way we are going to survive this crisis is by coming together.

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Keep Filing

From Mitchell Hirsch:

Now that Congress has passed and President Obama has signed the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010, the federal unemployment benefit programs that had lapsed December 1st are being restored retroactive to that date.

That means that eligible recipients of federal unemployment insurance, who have not exhausted all weeks of available benefits in their states, should continue to file their unemployment claims and should begin receiving those benefits again shortly.

Many unemployed workers who are eligible for these benefits had received notices from state agencies informing them of the December 1st lapse and, in some cases, stating that their eligibility for those benefits had come to an end.

In some cases this may have been explained as resulting from the lapse in the programs starting December 1st. In other cases, this may not have been fully explained, causing some eligible unemployed workers to believe that their benefits were simply ending prematurely.

The rule of thumb for all eligible jobless workers is to keep filing weekly claims. And keep a record of having done so, whether or not the state immediately allows the claim or not.

More details at UnemployedWorkers.org.

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Stubborn Denial

Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts, is believed to be considering another presidential run. He recently wrote an opinion piece on the Obama tax deal for USA Today. One has to almost admire the stubborn refusal to believe what is painfully obvious: the Bush tax cuts were a failure. They did not create jobs. But Mitt is clinging to that denial, like a drowning man:

Of course, delay now is better than an immediate tax hike. But because the extension is only temporary, a large portion of the investment and job growth that characteristically accompanies low taxes will be lost. When entrepreneurs and employers make decisions to start or expand an enterprise, uncertainty about tax rates translates directly into a reduced propensity to invest and to hire. With only a two-year extension, investors know that before their returns are realized, tax rates may be jacked up to the levels favored by President Obama. So while the tax deal will succeed in temporarily putting more money in the hands of consumers, it will fail to deliver its full potential for creating lasting growth.

Those tax cuts have been in place for a decade. If they were going to work, they would have by now.

What Mitt has to say about unemployment insurance is particularly frightening:

The indisputable fact is that unemployment benefits, despite a web of regulations, actually serve to discourage some individuals from taking jobs, especially when the benefits extend across years.

He must be referring to all those jobs created by the tax cuts…?

The system is also not designed for a flexible economy like ours in which some employees move from job to job for short periods, and are therefore ineligible for unemployment compensation when they are faced with a protracted spell without work.

To remedy such problems we need a very different model, perhaps establishing individual unemployment savings accounts over which employees would exercise direct control when they lose their jobs, or putting in place financial incentives for employers to hire and train the long-term unemployed. One thing is certain: While we cannot rebuild our flawed system overnight, we are surely not required to borrow the funds to pay for it. In spending $56.5 billion to extend benefits, the deal is sacrificing the bedrock Republican principle that new expenditures be paid for with offsetting budget cuts.

Individual unemployment savings accounts? Just like the health savings accounts that so many of the free marketeers love so much! The fact that wages have been stagnant for decades while the costs of everything have increased sharply doesn’t seem to be a consideration for this type of thinker. Of course multi-millionaire Mitt doesn’t have to worry about these things. He’s living quite comfortably in the top 20% of wage earners in the US, who received 49.4 percent of the income generated in the U.S. last year, according to the census.

The average working family is struggling to make ends meet as it is. That anyone is even considering the idea that these folks should have to pay into an unemployment fund is both ridiculous and frightening.

BP Held Responsible for Oil Spill

It’s about time. The White House announced that they would be holding BP and four other companies accountable for the tragic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last April. On Wednesday, the Department of Justice filed a civil lawsuit in New Orleans for damages from the spill.

According to the New York Times, Attorney General Eric Holder said, “I have seen the devastation that this oil spill caused throughout the region, to individuals and to families, to communities and to businesses, to coastlines, to wetlands, as well as to wildlife.”

Who can forget the pictures of the pelicans covered in oil?

The defendants in the law suit are BP, Transpocean, Anadarko Petroleum Corp., MOEX and Lloyd of London’s, BP’s insurer.

Politico reported:

“We intend to prove that these defendants are responsible for government removal costs, economic losses, and environmental damages without limitation,” Holder said in a statement. “Even though the spill has been contained, the Department’s focus on investigating this disaster and preventing future devastation has not wavered. Both our civil and criminal investigations continue, and our work to ensure that the American taxpayers are not forced to bear the costs of restoring the gulf area and its economy is moving forward.”

The lawsuit falls under the Oil Pollution Act and the Clean Water Act. While the extent of the damages is unknown, the costs have been projected to surpass the $75 million cap in the Oil Pollution Act.

Disappointingly, Haliburton, the contractor recently blamed in a presidential commission for the sloppy cement work in the well, is not being sued at this time. However, Mr. Holder noted that the government is reserving the right to add any defendants to the suit as they see fit.

Watch the whole press conference here.

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