What Working America Members Want for Christmas

Here’s a holiday wish list that represents what working people want this holiday season:

  • Medicare and Social Security to be protected for Santa
  • Medicaid and Education to be protected for Tiny Tim
  • A good job to be available for Bob Cratchit
  • And NO MORE Bush Tax Cuts for Scrooge!

Working America Pittsburgh members delivered that message loud and clear to Sen. Bob Casey this week. With negotiations underway in Washington, we’re in the final stretch now. What better gift for our seniors is there than protecting their retirement security? What better gift is there for our children than protecting their health and educations? And what better gift is there for working people than protecting decent jobs that help the community?

Three Working America Pittsburgh members presented their personal stories about why they value and need Social Security, education, and other essential programs and services that are on the chopping block. Another member, Lisa Caffo—who participated in yesterday’s event along with her daughter—wrote about what some of these programs mean to her from a health and workers’ rights standpoint:

I wanted to share what cuts to Medicare and Medicaid could do within a nursing home.

The staff who took care of my mother while she was in a nursing home were excellent, but from working in nursing homes for 36 years, I know that nursing assistants receive little pay for their demanding and invaluable work. Nursing assistants care for 8 to 15 people per shift, feeding them, bathing them, walking them, repositioning them, toileting them, and helping them with daily activities they cannot do alone. Nursing assistants also are often the only people who are consistently in the lives of patients in nursing homes. A nursing assistant will become like family to his or her patients. I’ve seen patients withdraw, complain, or flat-out holler if they’re separated from the aide they’ve grown to know and love.

But if nursing homes have to slash already-low wages because of reduced funding for Medicare or Medicaid, caretakers may find such physically and mentally demanding work that offers little pay to be an unsustainable way to live. And so some caretakers may end up leaving the field.

Nursing assistants can’t afford lower wages. And patients shouldn’t have to suffer through emotional and health-related fall-out from high staff turn-over.

Fortunately, we can prevent such problems. We can protect programs like Medicare and Medicaid in a fiscally responsible way by allowing the Bush Tax Cuts to expire on the highest-earning 2% of Americans.

Take Action for Workers Hurt By Unfair Trade Deals

For American workers, free trade agreements have been anything but free. When companies realized that they could hire workers in developing countries for a fraction of the cost, good manufacturing jobs flew overseas. And as our markets were flooded with cheaper goods, any factories left in America floundered. Workers suffer, families suffer, and entire communities suffer when a factory is moved overseas.

Some members of Congress seemed to understand this: when American workers lose their jobs to unfair trade agreements, they deserve help to get through this rough patch and training to find another job. This help came in the form of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program. Unfortunately, under Speaker John Boehner’s lead, our Congressmen let this program expire on Saturday.

Manny Herman of the AFL-CIO has something to say about that,

By rejecting extension of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, Boehner and House Republicans have decided that people who lose their jobs because of unfair trade deals like NAFTA no longer deserve help. Maybe they’re supposed to pull themselves up by their Chinese-made bootstraps.

When Boehner and Republican leaders pulled TAA extension off the floor last week, they said they didn’t want to pick “winners and losers.” That’s a cruel joke for working men and women. The deck has been stacked, and the winners already have been picked: CEOs, multinational corporations and Big Banks. America’s workers have lost.

Displaced workers struggling to find their footing deserve dignity and the possibility of working again. If we’re going to continue with unsustainable and unacceptable trade deals, the very least we can do for workers who lose their jobs is provide financial and training assistance.

Demand Speaker Boehner reverse this outrage immediately.

Sign the petition.

News Flash: Public Sector Employees Didn’t Destroy State Budgets

In the last few months, public sector employees have become the economic scapegoats. Governors and state legislatures around the country are claiming that their budget problems and shortfalls are due, not to the Great Recession, but to the overwhelming burden of public employee’s salaries and pensions.

James P. Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters has something to say to these politicians today in the Detroit News:

It’s time for a reality check. Government employees did not blow a hole in any state budget, including Michigan. Economist Dean Baker points out that shortfalls were almost entirely caused by the recession. “If revenue had increased in step with normal growth (2.4 percent real growth, plus inflation), state and local governments would have had an additional $290 billion since the start of the downturn,” Baker notes.

Public employees didn’t create a huge housing bubble. Wall Street did that. And public employees didn’t cause the Great Recession through reckless speculation. Wall Street did that, too.

State governments didn’t get $3 trillion dollars in loans from the Federal Reserve and profit from those loans by relending them. Again, that was Wall Street.

It’s also important to remember, as economist Robert Reich points out, that the typical public employee’s pension is only $19,000 a year.

These attacks on working families and government workers are nothing more than divide-and-conquer tactics aimed at weakening or eliminating all unions. “

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Education Funding Under Attack Across States

Our schools should be palaces. Our kids only deserve the best. Education is the key to the future.

Political rhetoric is falling short this year as states across the country are in the midst of budget shortfalls and slashing education spending. Our public schools are already making due with less and further cuts will cripple them. In Pennsylvania, the state is cutting funding by $1 billion:

Less than three weeks after taking office, Gov. Tom Corbett is swinging the budget axe at public schools. Schools may lose up $1 billion in state aid in the coming school year, setting up one of three scenarios.

Homeowners could see substantial property tax increases. School boards may slash programs and jobs in the coming school year. Or families may take a hit to their wallets and still see school programs or jobs wiped out…


How big is a $1 billion loss? It amounts to about a fifth of the $5.1 billion that the state budgeted for basic education this year. That is by far the biggest source of money outside of property taxes that most districts receive.

“It doesn’t matter if you are a big district, a small district, an urban district, a suburban district, rich or poor,” said Harrisburg School District’s business manager Jeff Bader.

“You are going to have some funding gap that’s going to have to be made up either through cuts to programs or layoffs or at the expense of taxpayers.””

Pennsylvania isn’t alone. At least 34 states have had to make cuts to K-12 education. From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

Arizona eliminated preschool for 4,328 children, funding for schools to provide additional support to disadvantaged children from preschool to third grade, aid to charter schools, and funding for books, computers, and other classroom supplies. The state also halved funding for kindergarten, leaving school districts and parents to shoulder the cost of keeping their children in school beyond a half-day schedule.

California reduced K-12 aid to local school districts by billions of dollars and cut a variety of programs, including adult literacy instruction and help for high-needs students.

Colorado has reduced public school spending in FY 2011 by $260 million, nearly a 5 percent decline from the previous year. The cut amounts to more than $400 per student…

Missouri is cutting its funding for K-12 transportation by 46 percent. The cut in funding likely will lead to longer bus rides and the elimination of routes for some of the 565,000 students who rely on the school bus system.

New Jersey cut funding for afterschool programs aimed to enhance student achievement and keep students safe between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m. The cut will likely cause more than 11,000 students to lose access to the programs and 1,100 staff workers to lose their jobs.

North Carolina cut by 21 percent funding for a program targeted at small schools in low-income areas and with a high need for social workers and nurses. As a result, 20 schools will be left without a social worker or nurse. The state also temporarily eliminated funding for teacher mentoring…

Sadly, the list goes on and on.

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Labor Secretary Responds to the State of the Union

Everyone seems to have an opinion about the State of the Union. Tuesday night alone, political junkies tuned in for the Republican Party’s rebuttal speech, as well as Rep. Michele Bachmann’s Tea Party response. The next day we were inundated with opinions from columnists and pundits. They loved it, hated, or something vaguely in between. However, one of the most honest and sincere responses came from Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.

Sec. Solis spoke about the importance of investing in good jobs and the opportunities that lie ahead for the American workforce:

Two years after the worst recession in our lifetimes the stock market is roaring back, corporate profits are at an all time high, the economy is growing again, and in each month last year the private sector added jobs. That’s progress. But we don’t measure the progress of our nation simply by looking at the bottom line. Our progress, our prosperity, must also be linked to the opportunities available to us. In that regard there remains much work to be done.

Our nation and especially our workers face big challenges and strong competition. But isn’t rising to the challenge what has defined our nation throughout history? Isn’t that spirit what continues to make this country a beacon of opportunity?

That promise of opportunity is certainly what drew my parents to each seek a better life in Los Angeles. It’s also what led them to instill in me a belief that when faced with big challenges, you don’t shrink away from the fight, you think boldly, and you do big things.

That’s what I heard from the president last night — bold ideas and a plan to do the big things that will keep the American workforce leading the world not only in our lifetimes, but for generations to come.

Creating the jobs and industries of the future will require America doing what it does best — investing in the creativity, imagination, and ingenuity of our people. No nation has workers more productive than ours. No country has more successful companies, inventors, and entrepreneurs. So when the president says that 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean sources by 2035, I know we will meet that goal.

I believe it because I’ve seen the promise of clean energy technology, and I’ve seen the impact of green jobs. Take Kwanasia Smith, a young woman in Oakland, CA. Thanks to the Recovery Act, she attended a summer jobs program studying solar paneling, mounting, and wiring. Her dedication and desire impressed her employer, and she was able to launch a career as a result.

These new industries and new jobs require new training and a strong educational foundation. To compete for these jobs we must win the race to educate our current and future workforce. Adding 100,000 science and math teachers to provide our students with the skills they need for the jobs of the future is the very type of big thing that will allow us to continue our competitive edge.

We’re also working to revitalize the community college system and permanently extend the American Opportunity Tax Credit, making a college education more accessible and affordable than ever.

I was first attracted to public service because I saw a need to speak up for the most vulnerable in my own community. That belief provided the foundation of my career in the House of Representatives, and it drives my work as your Labor Secretary.

White House to Overhaul the Corporate Tax Code

In last night’s State of the Union, President Obama briefly mentioned the problems with America’s current corporate tax code. Most notably, the code is packed with so many loopholes and tax breaks for specific industries like the Oil Industry and Big Banks, that a large chunk of the tax code burden falls to small businesses. Misguidedly, businesses are given incentives to ship jobs overseas, instead of hiring struggling Americans.

It is time for a change. The National Journal reports:

The issue could offer a rare opportunity for collaboration with Republicans in Congress. But while there is considerable consensus about the appeal of reform, the administration doesn’t want the effort to widen the deficit. Some officials said they are worried that bringing any tax reform proposal would end up more as tax cuts than tax reform.

“That was a big point of debate and pushback,” explains a source familiar with a meeting between Geithner and a number of corporate CFOs on January 14. “A number of the CFOs said, ‘If you want to achieve objective No. 1, which is developing a competitive system, there shouldn’t be a heavy emphasis on doing so in a deficit neutral and deficit reducing fashion.’”

White House officials say the annual cost of “tax expenditures” — special tax breaks — is already $1.1 trillion. That’s more than the government actually collects in personal and business taxes under the current code. “It’s more holes than cheese,” one White House official said last week. Given the challenge of taming the government’s trillion-dollar budget deficit, Obama’s team isn’t willing to make the problem even worse while Republicans clamor for deep spending cuts.

Rather, the administration seems to prefer a strategy akin to its approach to health care reform: By convincing concerned private interests to buy into the White House approach, or at least not oppose it publicly, officials hope the political lift will be easier. During the health care fight, insurers gained millions of new customers while agreeing to restrictions on their behavior. Now, the administration is offering support for a variety of corporate tax reforms in exchange for backing on fiscal responsibility.

America needs a corporate tax structure without loopholes for irresponsible businesses like the Big Banks, which caused the current economic meltdown, or the Oil Industry, who was responsible for the BP spill last April. We need a tax structure that provides incentives for hiring Americans, not for shipping jobs overseas. Hopefully, President Obama and the current Congress will work to make this a reality.


House Republicans Propose $2.5 Trillion in Spending Cuts

A group of conservative House Republicans presented a plan to drastically cut government spending over the next ten years. The plan takes aim at everything from Amtrak to housing subsidies, to the National Endowment for the Arts and totals $2.5 trillion.

The plan was presented by the Republican Study Group, a conservative caucus, and is not yet endorsed by Republican leadership. The group is notably silent on entitlements and defense spending. From Politico,

All told, it adds up to $2.5 trillion in cuts, whacking 55 different agencies and programs, including public housing, benefits for federal employees, funding for the arts and humanities and international aid.

Many of the proposed cuts represent longtime conservative targets, like the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. They also would gut a wide range of energy and environmental programs — like weatherization and beach erosion funds — and have proposed clamping down on federal employee unions.


The plan also cuts funds for the District of Columbia, including subsidies for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Democrats are not enthusiastic about the proposed cuts and outlined the important programs that would lose workers and funding in the Washington Post,

According to Democratic estimates, cuts of that magnitude – if applied across the board – would require the Justice Department to fire 4,000 FBI agents and 1,500 agents at the Drug Enforcement Administration. The federal prison system would have to fire 5,700 correctional officers, the Agriculture Department would have to cut about 3,000 food safety inspectors, and the Head Start early-childhood education program would be forced to cut about 389,000 children from its rolls.

House Repeals Affordable Care Act

Wednesday night, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives repealed the historic Affordable Care Act. The vote was 245-189 to repeal the law, with 3 Democrats voting with all the Republicans in favor or repeal This was a mostly symbolic move as the bill to repeal the Act has, thankfully, no chance of passing the Senate.

This blog has written extensively about the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, especially concerning pre-existing conditions and lifetime caps on coverage. Yesterday, before the big vote, Mother Jones broke down the Affordable Care Act by the numbers. This is how Americans around the country are expected to benefit from the Act:

Four million Medicare beneficiaries are expected to receive a $250 rebate check for their 2010 prescription drug costs since the “donut hole” that exempted some seniors from drug discounts was closed on January 1, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

More than four million small businesses are eligible to receive a tax credit for purchasing employee health insurance in 2010, according to a July 2010 study by Families USA and Small Business Majority (both are pro-reform advocacy groups). About 1.2 million small businesses are eligible to receive the maximum 35 percent tax credit.

About 2 million uninsured children with preexisting conditions cannot be denied coverage under the current law. By 2014, everyone with a preexisting condition (as many as 129 million Americans) would receive the same insurance protections.

Nearly 2.4 million young adults can now receive coverage through their parents’ health plans, under a provision that extends coverage to dependents up to age 26, according to the Obama administration. That number includes 1.8 million young adults who weren’t insured previously, as well as some 600,000 who had to buy insurance on their own.

This year, about 10,700 people will keep their insurance coverage due to a provision in the bill that prohibits an industry practice known as “rescission,” which entailed stripping people of their coverage when payouts grew too costly.

Pre-reform, about 18,600 to 20,400 people hit a lifetime limit in insurance coverage each year and were denied coverage for claims above this ceiling. The reform bill prohibits insurers from setting these coverage caps.

Finally, repealing the legislation would also increase the deficit by an estimated $230 billion over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

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The Ninja Generation — Young Workers Still Suffering Economically

It is not an easy time to be a young person in America. This blog has written before about the struggles Millenials, or as they are other wise called the “Ninja” Generation (No Income, No Job or Assets), face in the current job market. Young people graduating high school or college and eager to enter the workforce (or simply struggling to support themselves) are left with few options. There is the finance major who has been unemployed for two years. Or the factory worker who was the last one hired and the first one fired when his company cut shifts.

A report released last month by the Joint Economic Committee confirms these personal stories with startling numbers. From The American Reporter,

one in five workers between the ages of 16 and 24 was unemployed in April. The current youth unemployment rate of 19.6 percent is the highest for the age group since the government began tracking the data in 1947, the JEC said.

Although 16- to 24-year-olds make up 13 percent of the labor force, they represent 26 percent of the unemployed, according to the JEC report; 16- to 17-year-olds have it even worse, with a 29-percent unemployment rate. Since the current recession began more than two years ago, young people between 16 and 25 have lost more than 2.5 million jobs, making them the hardest-hit age group.

In short, if you’re under 30, you’re more likely to be out of work. You’ll now find yourself competing against people twice your age with college degrees and decades of experience for entry-level positions. If you found a job before the recession got really bad, you’re more likely to be the first one laid off. And, if the current “jobless recovery” continues for the next couple of years, the 80 million people under the age of 30 will have a hard time making up lost income and job experience.

The numbers get even grimmer when you focus specifically on teenagers and take out the fresh-out-of-college crowd. Time reports:

Teens now make up just 3.2% of the nation’s working population, down from a high of nearly 9% in the mid-1970s. In all, 4.5 million teens have some form of employment, about half the 8.2 million who were employed three decades ago. Carlton Tucker, a store manager at Best Buy in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, recently told a group of teens at a nearby job-training program that it was unlikely they would land positions at his store — because they are up against much more experienced workers. “We have a lot of people filling out applications who used to make $20 an hour and work in an office,” says Tucker. “I try to have a mix, but it is a much harder choice to make these days to hire that teen.”


Sum estimates there are 4.2 million teens who can’t find a job, have stopped trying or would like to be working more than they are. That’s up 84% from 2007. A job used to be a rite of passage for a teen and, anecdotally at least, a first step to a successful career. Ross Perot, Warren Buffett and Walt Disney had newspaper routes. As recently as 15 years ago, nearly 60% of all newspaper carriers in the U.S. were teens. These days, that figure is less than 20%. Across the country, only 17 out of every 100 high school students have jobs. For African-American high schoolers, it is a mere 9 out of 100. For students who are both African American and from a low-income family, the number drops to 4 out of 100.

For teenagers, this means less money for personal spending, to contribute to the family, or even to save for college. Again from The American Reporter,

Young people are told to go to college if they want make something of themselves, yet tuition rates for four-year public universities have more than doubled since 1980, while financial aid has dwindled. As a result, nearly two-thirds of students graduating from four-year colleges in 2008 left school in debt.

Both reports stress how unemployment early in life can have detrimental effects on the individual, leading especially to a lower earning potential over a lifetime. From Time,

One reason to worry is that the timing of your first job often influences your future earning power. This summer, Yale economist Lisa Kahn completed a study that found that even 15 years after they entered the workforce, college graduates who first went to work in a weak economy (in her study, the early 1980s) tended to have lower incomes than those who entered the workforce when the economy was expanding. That could be explained by the normal salary arc of a professional life: one paycheck builds on another.

But the persistent lower pay suggests that workers who stumble getting their first job remain somewhat lower-skilled even decades later. Growing teen unemployment — a problem that started before the recession and has been exacerbated by it — could lead to an American workforce that lacks the skills to compete with the rest of the world. “If we lose a generation of workers, there is no way this economy is going to stay competitive,” says Joseph Walsh, director of the District of Columbia’s Department of Employment Services (DOES), which recently launched a new year-round youth-employment program. “This is an immediate crisis.”

This is a huge problem which is not receiving needed attention in the economic dialogue. Unless something is done, it has the power to seriously cripple the country in the long run.

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State Legislatures Considering Harmful Right-to-Work(-for-Less) Bills

States around the country, notably Missouri and Indiana, are considering detrimental proposals to become “right-to-work” states. This designation outlaws “union shops,” defined as businesses, schools, or organizations where employees are mandated to join a union and pay union dues after a certain amount of time. A better term is “right-to-work-for-less,” as this policy drives down wages, benefits, and worker safety.

Anti-union activists argue that right-to-work laws promote businesses and ease the burden of unemployment. State Senator Timothy Green fought back against this misconception in the Joplin Independent:

This is not accurate. In fact, the highest current unemployment in the country, Nevada, is 14.3%, and Nevada is what I call a “right-to-work-for-less state.” Furthermore, the state of Tennessee, through November of 2010, had an unemployment rate identical to Missouri, 9.4%. Of the 22 right-to-work states, several – including Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina – also have higher unemployment rates than Missouri…..

Claims that right-to-work-for-less states have added millions of private sector jobs are very misleading. Money talks and right-to-work-for-less states like Tennessee ($577 million in 2008 subsidies for one auto plant) and Mississippi ($300 million subsidy in 2007 for another plant) offered huge incentives. These property and sales tax exemptions, income tax credits, infrastructure aid, land discounts, and training grants – not right-to-work laws – played a primary role in those decisions.”

Besides the misleading claims about unemployment, right-to-work legislation makes life harder for the individual worker. Without supportive union membership, the union may not be in a strong position in any collective bargaining negotiations. This gives corporations and management the ability to lower wages and cut benefits.

Senator Green continues,

A study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, funded in part by the Ford Foundation, and on whose Board sits Dr. Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize winning economist, confirms that union employees have higher wages, and are more likely to have employer-provided healthcare and pensions than non-union states. Right-to-work-for-less will bring substantial increases in Medicaid costs to the taxpayer, if union membership declines in Missouri. While 58.5% of the employees of non-union employers have health insurance and 48.5% have employer provided pensions, 77.9% of unionized employees in Missouri have healthcare and 77.3% have pensions. A non-union employee is less likely to have employer provided healthcare than a union employee. Every time there’s an economic recession, a lot of people immediately blame the workers in organized labor. However, if you consider neighboring Illinois, or Minnesota or Wisconsin, they each have a higher standard of living and a better tax base for public schools, fire, police because they’re all unionized states.

Last, right to work legislation hurts everyone, even workers in industries without a union. As wages across the board are lowered, the tax base decreases and the state is unable to provide essential services.

Jim Kabell, secretary/treasurer for Teamsters Local 245 in Springfield, MO gave his opinion on Ozarks First:

Kabell believes such rules will hurt Missouri. He believes they could even lead to lasting social effects, from the results of those weaker negotiations.

“With lower wages the tax base is less,” he says. “So the ability to take care of schools and roads and police and fire and all the things that we expect as tax payers and citizens. So there’s a huge social impact to each state that’s a ‘right to work’ state.”