What Do You Want to Hear in President Obama’s Jobs Speech?

President Barack Obama has requested time to address a Joint Session of Congress to lay out his agenda to get Americans back to work, create jobs, and spur economic development. UPDATED: The speech will take place next Thursday, September 8th at 8:00pm ET.

In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, the President gave clues to what his speech will contain:

It is my intention to lay out a series of bipartisan proposals that the Congress can take immediately to continue to rebuild the American economy by strengthening small businesses, helping Americans get back to work, and putting more money in the paychecks of the Middle Class and working Americans, while still reducing our deficit and getting our fiscal house in order.

In our thousands of conversations every week, we hear from you about friends and family who are unemployed, the struggles of local businesses, and the effects of the devastating cuts to safety nets and public services. We know from talking to you that jobs has been the issue you care most about since the economic downturn in 2008, and that you are especially dissatisfied with the lack of attention paid to the economy by the current Congress.

Here’s our question: What do you want to hear from the President next Thursday?

To join the discussion, you can:

We’re looking forward to hearing from you. While we’re glad the President is taking time to talk to Congress and the nation about jobs, we also know that we’ve all been waiting too long.

Social Security: Not a Ponzi Scheme

Presidential candidate and Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, recently told a group of voters in Iowa that Social Security is “a Ponzi scheme.” This is an argument often made by those who wish to destroy Social Security, which is not an “entitlement” either. It’s a form of retirement insurance that we’ve paid into, throughout our working lives.

Nic Baumann, at Mother Jones created a handy Venn diagram that shows the difference between Social Security and a Ponzi scheme:

Presidential Candidates to American People: You Get Paid Too Much

There seems to be a new rule for candidates vying for the Republican Presidential nomination: you must advocate for lower wages.

There’s Texas Governor Rick Perry, whose so-called “Texas Miracle” was built on low-wage jobs. Then there’s former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who is now strongly pushing right-to-work laws, which have led to lower wages in 26 states.

Most recently, at a campaign stop in Florida, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann said she would consider a reduction in the minimum wage. This is the first time she’s expressed this as a Presidential candidate. She has previously said that abolishing the minimum wage would “wipe out unemployment completely, because we would be able to offer jobs at whatever level.”

Since Bachmann could very well be the Republican nominee for President, it’s important to consider the implications of this statement.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, which accounting for inflation is lower than it was 30 years ago. A worker who gets paid the minimum wage for 40 hours a week would make $15,080 – before taxes. For an individual, that’s barely above the poverty line, and if you have a child to care for, that amount becomes even more stringent.

If President Michele Bachmann were to fulfill this promise and abolish the minimum wage, what would happen to the 4.4 million Americans currently making the bare legal minimum – or less?

For one thing, unemployment would absolutely not disappear, as Bachmann claims. Lowering or eliminating the minimum wage would act as the opposite of a stimulus; the low-wage workers who spend income the fastest would have even less than the small amount they have to provide for themselves and their families. That would hurt overall demand, which would hurt the businesses that rely on that fast cash, which in turn would make it harder for them to hire. And that hurts the whole economy.

In a broader sense, abolishing the minimum wage would make it practically impossible for millions of Americans to survive. In 2011, $15,000 a year is barely enough for an individual, and if a worker has a child to care for, those costs create an untenable, unstable situation for millions of American families. As one editorial stated: “the United States is too rich to tolerate such an underclass.”

It’s heartbreaking to think that anyone would advocate paying third-world wages to American workers, let alone someone who wants to be our President.

In Five States, Buyer’s Remorse Campaign Strikes a Chord

From New Mexico to Michigan, voters have come down with a bad case of buyer’s remorse for the smooth-talking politicians they elected in 2010.

New officeholders, swept in on promises of jobs and getting folks back to work, have instead played political games, pursued ideological agendas, or pandered to fringe interest groups.

One example is Mike Coffman, the new Congressman from Colorado’s 6th District. Our organizer Ali Cochran explains:

We were invited into Rep. Coffman’s office to ask a question and/or make a statement and deliver postcards to our representative. Unfortunately he wasn’t there, so each of us left our comments with a staffer.

The following morning we saw a story detailing Mike Coffman’s work on new legislation – he’s going to propose that in the future, ballots only be printed in English.

So basically, while we were telling Coffman’s staff how hard it is out there, and that we really need some help, and need him to step up and start looking out for his working class constituents, he was busy making sure that we’re further repressed and disenfranchised. It’s been a week and we still haven’t heard anything from Rep. Coffman or anyone at his office.

In Minnesota, Saint Cloud residents delivered 870 postcards to the District office of Michele Bachmann, who has been busy grabbing headlines instead of bringing jobs to her constituents:

The group of demonstrators received many honks of approval from passing traffic on busy HWY 23 for their messages that read “We Are Working America”, “Where Are The Jobs?” and “You Work For Us, NOT Corporations.”

“Michele Bachmann is hurting our community by supporting cuts to vital services that help a lot of people here in Saint Cloud,” said Saint Cloud resident and Working America member, Corinne Weyer “She needs to know that we won’t stand for her extreme political agenda anymore.”

Through high winds and heavy rain, Working America members arrived at the Colonial Plaza in Orlando to gather petition signatures. According to our organizer David Fernandez, “People who signed up these return votes were not only for [Rep.] Dan Webster but also for Gov. Rick Scott and all other extremist politicians, who are continually putting their partisan politics in front of people.”

“I no longer feel like I’m being represented properly,” said Central Florida member Enrique Collazo. “It’s not about party politics anymore. It’s about real people, and it’s time to hold our officials accountable.”

Over in Jackson, Michigan, hit hard by the recession, protesters delivered 586 postcards to Rep. Tim Walberg, whose spokesman claims he is addressing the jobs crisis by working to repeal the Affordable Care Act. But his extreme rhetoric has apparently lost him the vote of one Jackson small business owner, as Rafael Mojica reports:

The woman who was working at a small restaurant near the intersection came out to express her support for our action and invited us to come to her place of business afterwards. After the action was finished we brought everybody there to have lunch and she showed great enthusiasm for what we were doing. As a blue collar worker, she identified with what we were doing and urged us to come back again and hold meetings there for Working America. It was uplifting to see that sort of support.

On the other side of the country, Albuquerque residents had similar feelings toward new Governor Susana Martinez, who, elected on a jobs platform, has been so unwilling to work with members of the legislature that some have started to call her “Governor Gridlock.”

It’s clear: from the thousands of “Buyer’s Remorse” cards submitted, and the hardworking people that showed up across the country in all sorts of weather, Americans are sick and tired of politicians who say one thing and do another – especially when it comes to the jobs crisis.

Luckily, while there might not be able to return Webster, Walberg, Coffman, Martinez, and Bachmann to Macy’s for store credit, voters will have the chance to “return to sender” in November 2012.

Two Senators on Social Security

US Senator from Florida, Marco Rubio:

Senator Rubio is presenting a fanciful revision of history.

As ThinkProgress points out:

Indeed, prior to Medicare’s enactment in 1965, “about one-half of America’s seniors did not have hospital insurance,” “more than one in four elderly were estimated to go without medical care due to cost concerns,” and one in three seniors were living in poverty. Today, nearly all seniors have access to affordable health care and only about 14 percent of seniors are below the poverty line.

Contrast that with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, speaking at the United Steel Workers 2011 Conference, last week, in Las Vegas:

Senator Sanders announces he’s filing new legislation to protect Social Security. From ThinkProgress:

Sanders’ legislation would eliminate the income cap that currently exists in the payroll tax that does not tax income above $106,800.

and

The Social Security system is currently fully funded until 2037. Lifting the payroll tax cap would virtually eliminate funding shortfalls the program would experience over the next 75 years.

These two Senators provide an interesting contrast. Rubio would have us believe that elderly people living in dire poverty was somehow the key to national prosperity. Senator Sanders is Social Security’s best friend. He wants to ensure that the promise is kept, and that Social Security is there for future generations.

We all have Social Security stories. My grandmother worked two jobs throughout her adult life, supporting her son and her mother. Social Security and a modest pension allowed her to live out her retirement years without fear. Social Security disability benefits were there to help my husband, when cancer forced him to retire, nine months before he died.

As Bernie Sanders points out – it’s been working for everyone for 75 years, and with the changes he proposes, will work just fine for the next 75 years.

NH State Rep: Young workers not worth minimum wage

The current New Hampshire legislature has made a concerted effort to try to overturn nearly every law enacted during the four years that the Democrats controlled the House. One example of this is the minimum wage law, which in 2007 was increased from $5.15 to $7.25, over the screams of the state restaurant lobby. The law gives the state the option of increasing the minimum wage, as opposed to waiting for the increase to be made by the federal government.

Even having the option was too much for the current Tea Party-controlled House, who voted to repeal the bill. Governor Lynch vetoed the repeal  and the veto was overridden in June.

From seacoastonline:

“With this veto, the governor is sending exactly the wrong message to employers that New Hampshire is going to make it harder to create jobs,” O’Brien said in response. “There is no reason for New Hampshire to set ourselves higher than the national average and make ourselves less competitive for these workers who need to gain experience.”

The legislation, House Bill 133, would not change the current federal rate of $7.25 an hour, which has been in place since July 2009. It would repeal a 2007 measure that gave New Hampshire the option of raising the minimum wage, which it did by raising the state rate of $7.25 in 2008 ahead of the federal rate. The bill passed the House and Senate by veto proof majorities but Lynch vetoed the bill anyway. “New Hampshire’s current minimum wage is set at the federal level, and it is appropriate,” Lynch said. “But four years ago, we agreed that — after a decade of federal inaction — we needed to act to help families meet rising costs.”

Speaker O’Brien has yet to explain why removing even the option to increase the minimum wage would lead to economic growth for the state:

The political and economic debate over the minimum wage has been constant since it was first set in 1938 at 25 cents an hour. Even though New Hampshire is even with the federal standard, O’Brien said Lynch’s veto was an “anti-business” measure that would take “an ax to the bottom rung of the career ladder” for minimum wage workers.

O’Brien has it wrong. The bottom rung of the career ladder is poverty. Speaker O’Brien got a law degree in 1974. It seems that his career ladder relied on education, not minimum wage jobs.

Freshman State Rep. Carol McGuire thinks that ANY minimum wage is a bad idea. From Think Progress:

State Rep. Carol McGuire (R-NH), the sponsor of the law, still believes the federal minimum wage is too high. In a statement to reporters, she said she would like to repeal all minimum wage laws and have corporations pay workers whatever rate they desire. She also said the $7.25 minimum is overly generous to young people who are “not worth the minimum”:

“It’s very discriminatory, particularly for young people. They’re not worth the minimum,” she said. She believes there are young people who would get a job if they could be paid $5 an hour instead of the minimum.

The only explanation for this kind of thinking is that these folks are living in a Norman Rockwell dream world, where young men (because girls stay home) get jobs at the soda fountain of the local drugstore, while wearing a pink striped seersucker shirt. The truth is in today’s economy, low-wage service jobs are the only option available in some areas to adult workers, and the minimum wage should reflect that. O’Brien’s crusade isn’t based in reality – like most of his policies this past year, it’s all ideological, and doesn’t help New Hampshire’s working families one iota.

The NH House is the third largest legislature in the English speaking world, behind only the British Parliament and the US Congress. The NH House consists of 400 members, who receive an annual stipend of $100. One could make the observation that NH is certainly getting what it pays for with the current legislature.

More Buyer’s Remorse: Congressmen use intimidation tactics at town halls

At least two GOP House freshmen, U.S. Reps. Daniel Webster (R-FL) and Tim Griffin (R-AR) are using tactics out of the McCarthy playbook to supposedly keep order at their town halls.

Rep. Webster’s Winter Garden, Florida district office gave out a “Watch List” of six Floridians who had asked questions at Webster’s previous town halls. The list, with the header “For the Media,” included names, photographs, and questions that members of the media should ask them.

The Watch List itself doesn’t contain any information on who wrote it or where it comes from. The memos surfaced in Arkansas in connection to the office of Rep. Tim Griffin, and were traced back to Rep. Webster’s office.

With black and white photos that resemble police surveillance, some of them pulled from the individuals’ Facebook profiles, the memo is clearly meant to intimidate these six people and anyone else who might stand up and ask a question of their elected representative. At a Griffin town hall, staffers were handing out the Watch List to attendees, calling it their “homework.” Griffin staffers were also spotted taking photos and shooting video of attendees, creating an extra layer of intimidation.

In one instance, the memo suggested that members of the media question the military service of a Vietnam veteran named Ron Parsell, a man who questioned Webster at a town hall in Orlando. The memo recommends they ask: “Are you a military veteran who served in Viet Nam? If yes, what branch of the Services, what military unit and where specifically in Viet Nam did you serve.”

After learning his name had ended up on the memo, Ron Parsell told the Orlando Sentinel:

“I think it’s pretty weird. Someone asks a legitimate question, and all of the sudden somebody’s got a dossier on you,” said Orlando resident Ron Parsell, 66, one of the six named. “It’s the type of thing they’d do in old Russia.”

Another member of the “Watch List Six” is Tamecka Pierce, Executive Director of Florida community organization Organize NOW. As a constituent, Pierce attended a Webster town hall and asked about cuts to the healthcare programs that helped pay for her chemotherapy after she lost her job.

“This action sends a clear message to constituents: If you disagree, keep quiet or face retribution,” said Pierce. “I’m scared to know that if I speak at a public meeting, that the Federal Government will use their vast tax-payer funded resources to spread lies and fear across the country. Big government should not be used to intimidate its citizens.”

It’s a disgusting tactic reminiscent of more repressive regimes – but unfortunately, it’s working on some. At the Griffin town hall, a local activist who talked to the press about the memo refused to give his name, saying he didn’t want to “end up on the next handout.”

Organize NOW has started a petition asking Rep. Webster to apologize.

Webster himself says he doesn’t “see it as a big issue,” and that if it were him on the list “I would not need an apology.”

Rep. Griffin’s response, “I didn’t know they were real people.”

Republicans oppose tax cuts…for folks like us

Republicans opposing a tax cut? What a crazy thought. After the GOP-controlled U.S. House brought us to the brink of default over their opposition to any sort of revenue increase, it’s clear that lowering taxes is an essential part of today’s Republican platform.

Unless those tax cuts are for us.

President Obama last week announced that he would support an extension of the payroll tax cuts that he signed into law last year, which lowered the tax that funds Social Security from 6.2 to 4.2 percent.

Incredibly, some GOP politicians are opposing this tax cut. Our favorite friend Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who charges for his public appearances, called it “sugar high economics.” Mitt Romney, who fired thousands of workers during his time in the private sector, said he’d rather see the tax cut “on the employer side.” And Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), champion of the Bush tax cuts for the super-wealthy, described his opposition like this:

“It’s always a net positive to let taxpayers keep more of what they earn,” says Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), “but not all tax relief is created equal for the purposes of helping to get the economy moving again.”

This tax, as blogger Alex Seitz-Wald points out, only applies to the first $106,800 of a worker’s wages, and the maximum benefit is $2,136. For most of us who make less than $107,000 (raises hand!), the savings, while not life-changing, is enough to pay utility bills, buy groceries, and cover some rent money; the kind of purchases that millions of Americans are currently struggling to make.

Put another way, this tax relief is exactly the kind of thing that working Americans are asking for in our 22,000 weekly conversations. Not luxury, and not a handout, but a little boost to get to the next paycheck, if they’re lucky enough to have one.

Rep. Hensarling, in an odd way, is right. Not all tax cuts are created equal. The ones he fought for – the Bush tax cuts on the mega-rich – have the least positive effect on economic growth (according to the Congressional Budget Office, the Moody’s credit rating agency, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and most economists). Payroll tax cuts, on the other hand, are an extremely effective form of stimulus because working folks often spend it right away – and spend it locally – instead of sitting on it.

So it works, it’s backed up by data, and it’s popular with a majority of Americans – what’s the problem?
Unfortunately, the plan has two aspects that disqualify it for today’s Republican Party: it helps working families, and President Obama supports it.

Word on the Street: Why Social Security Matters

Deliria Jaramillo – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The other night I was calling our members in Deming. An older gentleman answered the phone and he expressed right away that no one ever calls him and that he was pleased to talk to me. He is 75 years old and has run out of his retirement savings.

He said his Social Security is his only source of income. He told me that he has been looking for work in order to pay all of his bills and have some money left for groceries, but there isn’t a lot of work available in Deming. He told me, “I can’t go back into the fields, my body can’t handle it and the only other thing that is here is Wal-Mart. I have tried applying, but I never heard back from them. I don’t know how much longer I can continue to live like this.”

It was a heart-breaking story, but as we neared the end of the conversation he told me he would really appreciate if I stayed in touch with him and that he would be willing to help out with organizing his community around our message. It made me feel good to be able to reach out to someone and show them that Working America wants to hear from them – that we care about their story and that we are finding ways to get them involved.

While asking for more tax breaks, companies deliberately hiding extent of outsourcing

While multinational corporations trumpet their role in American economic growth, and while many in Congress warn against ending sweetheart corporate tax breaks, some important information is missing: exactly how many Americans are being hired, versus how many jobs are going overseas.

Ripped from the headlines of today’s Washington Post:

Some of the country’s best-known multi¬national corporations closely guard a number they don’t want anyone to know: the breakdown between their jobs here and abroad.

So secretive are these companies that they hand the figure over to government statisticians on the condition that officials will release only an aggregate number. The latest data show that multinationals cut 2.9 million jobs in the United States and added 2.4 million overseas between 2000 and 2009.

Some of the same companies that do not report their jobs breakdown, including Apple and Pfizer, are pushing lawmakers to cut their tax bills in the name of job creation in the United States.

But experts say that without details on which companies are contributing to job growth and which are not, policymakers risk flying blind as they try to jump-start the hiring of American workers.

For many Working America members who have lost their jobs to outsourcing and off-shoring, this is upsetting, but not surprising.

In our 2010 report Outsourced, we wrote about a 2008 Duke University survey of 1,600 service companies about their future investments. 53 percent had come up with a company-wide off-shoring strategy – a 200 percent increase in three years. Moreover, 60 percent of the firms already engaged in outsourcing intended to expand those activities over the next three years. Former Hewlett-Packard CEO and Republican candidate for Senate Carly Fiorina encapsulated the attitude best: “There is no job that is America’s God-given right anymore.”

But when working families caught wind of this deliberate strategy to rip away their jobs and devastate their communities – all for the bottom line – there was a huge uproar. In 2004, the U.S. Senate voted to stop federal contractors from shifting jobs overseas using U.S. tax dollars, and some 30 bills to restrict outsourcing were introduced into state legislatures.

Seeing the anger, multinational CEO’s – instead of changing their off-shoring strategies – decided it would be best to hide the numbers. And that’s where we are today.

But make no mistake: the shuttered factories and long unemployment lines aren’t an accident, and they aren’t a “natural” development of the global economy. Shipping away American jobs is part of a deliberate strategy on the part of U.S.-based multinational corporations to increase profits, and they want Congress to charge us – through tax breaks and loopholes – so they can keep doing it.

Are there companies in your community shipping jobs overseas? Use our Job Tracker tool to find out.

And in case you missed it, check out our full 2010 report on outsourcing and offshoring.