Tell NC lawmakers to drop their draconian, hurtful, immoral unemployment insurance proposal.
Republican legislators in North Carolina are pushing an extreme package of cuts to unemployment insurance.
The Senate committee in charge of the issue, the Revenue Laws Study Committee, voted to move the proposal forward on Tuesday. It will come to the General Assembly for a vote when they reconvene on January 30.
The proposal cuts the weekly maximum benefit by 35 percent, (even though the statewide average benefit is much less). It also reduces the number of benefit to a sliding scale between 12 and 20 weeks, even though the average length of unemployment is at an all-time high of 40 weeks.
In total, unemployment benefits would be slashed by $600 to $700 million annually. The reduction in benefits would be permanent.
“No state has ever cut their maximum benefit so severely,” said George Wentworth, senior attorney at the National Employment Law Project. Bill Rowe of the N.C. Justice Center called it “one of the most radical, if not the most radical [unemployment] proposals in the country.”
Republican legislators say the cuts are needed to retire North Carolina’s $2.4 billion debt to the federal government. But if North Carolina employers paid unemployment taxes at roughly the national average, there would be no debt – and no need for cuts. Despite claims that the plan is “balanced,” the responsibility for paying down this debt falls almost completely on unemployed workers, the majority of whom lost their jobs through no fault of their own.
The real reason legislators are pushing this plan? They are doing the bidding of the N.C. Chamber of Commerce, the state arm of the national right-wing lobbying group. The Chamber cooked the plan up last year, and their political action committee donated to the campaigns of 17 out of the 20 members of the Revenue Laws Study Committee.
Chris Fitzsimon of NC Policy Watch was the hearing on Tuesday:
The most absurd moment of the public comment period came when the lobbyist for the N.C. Chamber of Commerce addressed the committee to praise the plan, a plan that he helped write in the backrooms over the last few weeks. Funny he didn’t mention the secret meetings in his remarks.
Not only The N.C. Justice Center writes:
Contrary to what has been said by some of our lawmakers, the proposed changes to our insurance system are dramatically out of line with our neighboring states, and would in fact move North Carolina toward the bottom of state rankings.
Here are more details of the proposal in question, via the News-Observer.
Stop the unemployment cuts – send a message now.
Tags: Chamber of Commerce, Corporate Accounability, Jobs, North Carolina, unemployment
Take action now – tell the North Carolina legislators to keep unemployment benefits strong
Thankfully, earlier this week Congress fulfilled its (minimum) obligation to the long-term unemployed by passing an extension of federal unemployment benefits as part of the “fiscal cliff” deal.
But while that drama in Washington, D.C. comes to a close – for now – Republican legislators in North Carolina and their well-funded backers have a plan to drastically cut unemployment insurance for thousands of Tarheel families.
The proposal, first revealed in early December, would cut weekly benefit checks from $506 to $350. The benefit periods would be limited from 26 weeks to a sliding scale between 12 and 20 weeks. These changes constitute an overhaul of the state’s whole unemployment system:
“This is probably one of the most radical, if not the most radical, proposals in the country,” said Bill Rowe, advocacy director for the N.C. Justice Center, a Raleigh-based nonprofit.
The plan is similar to recommendations made by the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce, who, not at all coincidentally, contributed to the campaigns of 17 out of 20 members of the legislative committee that produced the plan, according to IndyWeek.
But regardless of why Republican legislators are proposing these cuts, that fact remains that they would be devastating to families in North Carolina, where the unemployment rate is already above the national average of 9.1 percent.
Even at the current 26 weeks, unemployment benefits aren’t nearly sufficient. As of November 2012, the average length of unemployment in the United States was 40 weeks, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s the longest average unemployment length in the 60 years the BLS has been recording data.
And those statistics translate into real pain for families, even without the cuts Republicans are proposing. 1 in 10 children in North Carolina lived with a parent who was unemployed this past year. 118,000 children in the state lived with parents who were unemployed for six months or more.
Now is the time for jobs, not cuts:
MaryBe McMillan, secretary for the state chapter of AFL-CIO, says when the economy was booming in the late ’90s, employers got a tax break. “And now they want to rebuild the fund on the backs of workers,” she says. “I think that’s dead wrong.”
Unemployment benefits do not only provide crucial assistance to those most in need. They also constitute a stimulus to the local economy, as unemployed workers use the benefits as soon as they come in to pay bills, fill up their gas tanks, shop for groceries, and make the necessary purchases to keep themselves and their families afloat. Taking a chunk of that money away, as Republicans legislators are proposing, only serves to hurt North Carolina’s recovering economy.
Send a message to North Carolina legislators – tell them to drop this terrible plan and keep unemployment benefits strong.
Tags: Jobs, North Carolina, unemployment, unemployment extension
With Congress continuing to struggle in federal budget negotiations – the notorious “fiscal cliff” with its automatic cuts to federal spending along with an end to all the Bush era income tax cuts – Working American members have more than their personal New Year’s resolutions on their minds. Throughout the last several weeks of the “lame duck” session in Congress, as they have been paying close attention to developments taking place on Capitol Hill, they have been moving forward with a campaign to make their strength in numbers felt in the debate.
Here in southwest Ohio, the target of their efforts has been Senator Sherrod Brown. They want him to clearly understand what members are demanding: an end to Bush era tax cuts for the richest 2%, along with no cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
Members have been writing letters as part of a campaign to gather hundreds of hand-written messages to the Senator from throughout the state. First of all, there was a desire to thank the Senator for being a reliable and long-time advocate for working families. Now, middle class Ohioans are asking him to be a champion for us on the issues that we all care about. In doing so, many in the greater Cincinnati area have also told their personal stories of how they or loved ones depend on these essential programs for their livelihoods, and even their very lives.
One such member is Julia Rothwell. A single mother with a full-time job, a new small business, and a daughter soon heading off to college, she worries about the future of Social Security:
“I will be hopefully retiring in about 25 years, and wonder whether I will have the Social Security benefits that I have been contributing to for the last 25 years. Please make sure to protect what I have worked for, and many Americans have worked for, so we may have peace of mind when we grow old.”
Karen Dollinger is another. A visiting assistant professor from Oxford in southwest Ohio, she holds these concerns for her parents, who also reside in the state:
“My parents are in their 60s, and my mother, who is a cancer survivor, and my father, who has Parkinson’s Disease, are on Medicare. Should my father need to go to a nursing home, my parents would need Medicaid to pay for it. They are not wealthy, and need a fair amount of medical care. If Medicare and Medicaid are cut, I worry about their survival, as they are already struggling to pay bills. I am certain that many other Americans find themselves in the same situation.”
And finally, there is Tammy Friedman. A nurse by training, she is currently a stay at home mom, and has a young son with special needs. In her letter to the Senator, she discusses the importance of preserving programs and institutions that are vital to the well-being of the “98%” and crucial to affording opportunity to people like her:
“We need to end the Bush tax cuts for the disproportionately richest Americans and restore them to the levels they were previously. This only makes sense and helps the nation as a whole. The burden of taxes on the middle class is already oppressive enough, and restoring the previous tax percentage on the 1-2% of wealthiest Americans would not burden or oppress anybody.”
Tammy gives voice to a view held by so many. What she recognizes – along with Julia, Karen, and millions of Working America members across the country – is that when they raise their voices together, they are more powerful. This strength can have a significant impact on what is taking place in Congress right now and into the New Year. You can raise your voice as well! Make contacting your members of Congress about these important issues your resolution. You can take action here.
Tags: Health Care, Jobs, Ohio, unemployment
Reposted from the AFL-CIO NOW Blog
This month marks the end of the federal extended unemployment insurance benefits program for 35 states with the nation’s highest jobless rates. More than half a million long-term jobless workers have lost their unemployment lifeline.
Chad Stone of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) says:
As we’ve explained previously, EB [extended benefits] will no longer be available in any state, not because most states’ economies haveimproved to anywhere near pre-recession conditions, but because they have not significantly deteriorated in the past three years.
The end of the program that provided up to 20 additional weeks of jobless benefits—in addition to the states’ usual 26 weeks—and the additional weeks available under the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC), was part of legislation passed in February to keep the EUC alive through 2012.
That bill reduced the number of weeks of available to jobless workers and also changed the formulas that would trigger extra federal jobless benefits, in effect, cutting benefits even further by setting higher thresholds for unemployment pain. Click here for a closer look from the National Employment Law Project (NELP).
The cuts, a recent report in USA Today notes:
are nudging some Americans into poverty, straining social services just as states and localities face their own budget woes and further crimping weak economic growth as those who lose benefits spend less.
The average unemployed American has been out of work 40 weeks, according to the Labor Department, and there are still about three jobless people for every job opening.
If Congress doesn’t act when it returns after August recess, the situation for long-term jobless workers will grow even more dire because the entire federal EUC expires at the end of the year, leaving workers only state benefits upon which to rely.
Legislation to keep the EUC operating is expected. But with the Republican lawmakers’ track record of blocking, filibustering and other delaying tactics in previous attempts to extend the federal unemployment insurance benefits, the outlook is uncertain.
NELP’s George Wentworth told USA Today:
There’s going to be lots of people without any income still unable to find a job. You’re going to see these people not be able to feed their families and not able to pay their mortgages. It will have a devastating impact on a lot of local economies.
Tags: Health Care, Jobs, Retirement, unemployment
Hiring biases are still in place when it comes to the long term unemployed. Some states are in the process of passing laws that would fine employers running help wanted ads that warn unemployed folks not to apply. That kind of overt action is increasingly difficult to get away with, but the same basic intent has moved underground. Recruiters and screeners who do the preliminary screenings for big companies are likely to screen the long term unemployed right out of the interview pile.
From the AP via Yahoo News:
Terri Michaels, who manages a Hartford employment firm that primarily staffs temporary employees, criticized hiring practices that screen out unemployed job seekers. Despite the policies of small staffing companies such as hers, some large employers have an unspoken policy against hiring applicants who’ve been out of work for two years or more because they want workers with a stable job history and recent references, she said.
Michaels said employers may use unemployment to weed out applicants for no other reason than to cut down a huge number of resumes for coveted job openings.
“When you have 14 million unemployed, everyone is applying for everything,” she said. “You have to be somewhat discriminating.”
A New Jersey lawmaker who co-sponsored the nation’s only law barring ads that restrict applicants to those already with a job, agrees that job hunters need to show they’ve been active, even in unemployment.
“Don’t sit at home. Make yourself available to your community,” said Assemblywoman Celeste M. Riley.
That’s the latest trend in advice for the long term unemployed. Do volunteer work. The jury is still out on whether that actually helps anyone get paying work.
Connecticut lawmakers are proposing legislation that would ban discriminatory job ads, but may back off from a more far-reaching provision that would permit unemployed job seekers who claim discrimination to file a complaint with the state’s human rights commission or sue in court.
The Connecticut Business and Industry Association hates the lawsuit part of the bill, and is pressuring lawmakers to remove that part of the bill. The state’s human right’s commission isn’t sufficiently staffed or funded to deal with a glut of discrimination cases, which can be very difficult to prove.
The National Employment Law Project, based in New York, wants states to add laws that do more than ban discriminatory ads. Laws should explicitly prohibit employers and employment agencies from eliminating from consideration candidates who are unemployed, the advocacy group says.
That seems like sensible policy. We also need a shift in societal attitudes. As long as pundits and politicos continue to blame the unemployed for being out of work, the discrimination will continue.
The nation is slowly moving in the right direction, which we can certainly all feel good about, but we can’t allow the millions who remain unemployed to be forgotten.
Image from Yeah Im Kenny on Flickr, via Creative Commons.
Tags: Jobs, unemployment
In 2009, the Supreme Court eliminated something called “mixed motive” lawsuits against employers who discriminate against older workers, in the Gross v. FBL Financial Services decision. From Think Progress:
Employment discrimination cases are difficult to prove because the plaintiff ultimately must show what their boss was thinking at the time they were fired or demoted–it is illegal for an employer to fire a worker because they think the worker is too old or too black or too female, but not because they think the worker is incompetent or poorly dressed. Since workers don’t have ESP, the Supreme Court long ago put certain procedures in place to make sure that laws banning discrimination amount to more than just empty promises.
“Mixed motive” suits are an example of these procedures. To win a mixed motive case, a plaintiff had to prove that discrimination was one of the reasons behind their boss’ decision to fire or demote them. It was then up to their boss to prove that they would have made the same decision regardless of the worker’s race or gender or age. Workers are spared the nearly impossible task of having to prove that that their boss was thinking only of bigotry when they lashed out at their employee; and employers are given a fair chance to prove that discrimination is not the real reason why the worker was cast aside.
With the Gross decision, older workers suddenly have been forced to become mind readers. At a time when older workers face an uphill battle trying to keep or find jobs, this decision has made life even more difficult for them, while making it easier for employers to discriminate.
This week a bill was filed to attempt to remedy that decision. From Think Progress:
A bill introduced Tuesday by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) will overturn Gross and restore to older workers the same ability to fight discrimination that they agreed before a 5-4 Supreme Court took it away from them. Although many Senate Democrats have long supported undoing the justices’ mischief in this way, this is the first time a Republican has signed on to the effort — Grassley’s endorsement of the bill is a hopeful sign that it could become law.
Overturning the Gross decision would make it easier for older workers to fight discrimination in the work place. It’s certainly a hopeful sign that this is a bi-partisan effort, which certainly makes it more likely that the bill could actually pass. This is worth keeping an eye on.
Tags: Iowa, Jobs, Retirement, unemployment
by Mike Hall – Reposted from the AFL-CIO NOW Blog
The nation’s economy added 227,000 jobs in February, but the unemployment rate remained steady at 8.3 percent according to the latest figures released this morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
The jobless rate has dropped by 0.8 percentage points since August and remains at its lowest point since February 2009. The New York Times reports that are about 1.6 million more jobs now than were last April and the new jobs were spread across more industries and more cities.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says that even with the positive signs of growth, “it will take some time before the benefits reach many middle-class and working poor families.”
We must reinforce the President’s efforts to revive an economy that works for the 99 percent, and we must block the destructive agenda of the 1 percent and their Republican political allies…. We must instead build an economy built to last. By contrast, Congressional Republicans and GOP candidates running for President would have us repeat the mistakes that caused the crash of 2008 and the Great Recession.
The number of jobless workers—12.8 million—was unchanged from January and the number of long-term unemployed workers (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) dipped slightly from at 5.5 million in January to 5.4 million last month, or about 42.6 percent of the workforce.
Private-sector jobs grew by 233,000 and government employment was essentially unchanged, but over the past 12 months about 280,000 public employee jobs have been lost.
In February, professional and business services add about 82,000 jobs, but a little more than half were in the temporary services area. Health care employment grew by 61,000 jobs and the leisure and hospitality industry added 44,000 jobs.
Manufacturing saw an increase of 31,000 jobs, mostly in durable goods. Durable goods manufacturing has increased by 444,000 jobs since 2010. Construction employment dropped by about 14,000 jobs, mostly in residential construction.
The unemployment rates for adult men (7.7 percent), adult women (7.7 percent), African Americans (14.1 percent), whites (7.3 percent) Hispanics (10.7 percent) and teenagers (23.8 percent) were little changed.
Economic Policy Institute (EPI) economist Heidi Shierholz says the latest figures “show a strengthened recovery [and] mark two full years of job growth.” She says the labor market has gained back 3.5 million jobs during the past two years after losing 8.7 million in the downturn.
However, the jobs deficit remains very large. We have 5.3 million fewer jobs now than we did before the recession started, and we should also have added around 4.6 million jobs over this period just to keep up with normal growth in the working-age population. Even at the quite strong average growth rate of the last three months (245,000 jobs added per month), it would take roughly five years to get back to full employment in the labor market.
Tags: Jobs, unemployment
There are signs of life in the economy, and we’re hoping for a good jobs report at the end of the week—but the recovery from the devastating Great Recession is still fragile, with a number of dangers that could tip us backwards. The most irritating threat to the recovery, however, is a self-inflicted wound: the shredding of public sector jobs as austerity fever hits state budgets.
In education, in public safety and in other vital services, states are kicking people off the job rolls—even as, in many cases, they’re cutting taxes for corporations. When hundreds of thousands of teachers, firefighters and other public workers lose their jobs, it’s just like when anyone else loses a job: they end up competing in the job market for a smaller number of openings, they draw on unemployment insurance, they have a harder time making mortgage payments and feeding their families, and they have less money to spend to support businesses in their community. What’s more, their neighbors are getting a lower level of public service. It’s lose-lose. Newly-elected state legislators on an ideological quest to shrink the services states provide are playing their games at the expense of actual people’s actual paychecks.
As Paul Krugman notes, the right wing is fond of contrasting the current recovery with the recovery from the recession of the early 80s, during Reagan’s first term. But during that era, the public sector was adding employees, not losing them. Krugman estimates that if we weren’t turning teachers and other public employees into the unemployed, our economy would be much stronger and the unemployment rate almost a full point or more lower than they are now.
And as David Dayen notes, these cuts aren’t just short-term: “when you scale back public education and investment, the practical effect of those job losses, that has far-reaching effects into the future.”
Of course, President Obama’s American Jobs Act could have helped in this regard—it would have given states money to invest in keeping teachers and public safety employees on the payroll. But it was repeatedly filibustered by Republicans in the Senate who are about as interested in how the economy works for real people as their colleagues in state capitols are.
Tags: Congress, Education, Jobs, Public Safety, state budgets, stimulus, unemployment
This morning, President Obama signed into law a deal that extends the payroll tax holiday for the rest of the year. With the economic recovery still fragile, it’s good to keep this payroll tax cut in place to help keep a little extra money in working families’ pockets. But the flaws of today’s deal—flaws forced through by Republicans in the House, but passed with big numbers from both parties—really illustrate the cluelessness and callousness of policy-making.
Unemployment Insurance: The compromise does, indeed, renew unemployment insurance, but dramatically cuts back the number of weeks that the jobless can draw on it, to 73 weeks or even fewer in some states. The problem of long-term unemployment is still a serious one, with about 40% of the unemployed out of work for six months or more, so pulling away this lifeline is silly. In addition, the deal imposes humiliating conditions on the jobless before they can draw on the benefits they paid into. The net result will be that far too many people who depend on UI will lose it.
Pensions: One of the ways the deal pays for the UI extension—and another provision to keep Medicare payments to doctors at current levels—was to charge future federal employees more for their pensions. This pits workers against each other—pulling money away from future retirees in order to support unemployed people now. Congress’ willingness to go after these pensions is a bad sign.
Health Care: Another way that the bill is paid for is with a sizable cut to a fund meant to pay for preventative care services under the Affordable Care Act. Preventative care for those who can’t otherwise afford it helps them stay healthier and lowers their longer-term medical costs. Cutting this fund isn’t just morally loathsome; it’s economically short-sighted.
With cuts and new conditions on unemployment benefits, a major hit to the Affordable Care Act and an attack on public-sector workers, it seems like the details of this bill are a big ideological win for the hard-right Tea Party caucus of congressional Republicans. That they’d demand this kind of ransom as the price for passing the payroll tax holiday is infuriating; that so many ostensibly pro-worker members of Congress would let them is just depressing.
When President Obama first offered up the American Jobs Act, it was funded in a popular, common-sense way—with a small surcharge on income over $1 million. It also included a broader set of job-creation components, including investment in infrastructure and support to state budgets for keeping teachers and firefighters on the job. Provisions of this bill were blocked by Senate Republicans because they were not willing to exchange a tiny tax increase on millionaires for literally hundreds of thousands of jobs for working people.
Politics is about priorities. The people we talk to across the country have their priorities: they want to see the very richest pay their fair share and use that money to create jobs and support communities. In Washington—particularly among congressional Republicans—they have their priorities exactly backwards. It’s sick people, retirees and the jobless who have to sacrifice, not those who are already doing well.
Tags: Barack Obama, Congress, economy, Health Care, pensions, Retirement, taxes, unemployment
by Mike Hall – Reposted from the AFL-CIO NOW Blog
The House (293-132) and the Senate (60-36) passed legislation today to extend federal unemployment insurance (UI) benefits and the pay roll tax cut. UI benefits were set to expire Feb. 29 and the legislation that President Obama will sign extends the program for the nation’s nearly 13 million jobless workers through the end of the year.
In letter to lawmakers this morning, the AFL-CIO said that not extending UI and the payroll tax cut would compound the hardship of jobless families and jeopardize the recent signs of job growth.
But the bill not only reduces the number weeks of benefits for the unemployed, it unfairly penalizes federal workers. “Shared sacrifice should start at the top, with a surtax on millionaires, not with unemployed workers or middle class working families. The AFL-CIO does not support the bill.”
Here is the full text of the letter:
Federal unemployment benefits and the temporary payroll tax cut need to be extended through the end of this year because the jobs crisis is far from over and the economic recovery is still fragile. Withdrawal of these critical economic supports would compound the already unacceptable hardship of jobless families and jeopardize the recent promising signs of job growth. By contrast, the conference report for H.R. 3630 would reduce the number of weeks of unemployment benefits available for unemployed workers and gratuitously penalizing federal employees.
Any offset to this package will reduce its effectiveness in stimulating economic growth and creating jobs, and for this reason federal extended benefits have historically not been offset. However, if there has to be an offset in this bill, it should be a surtax on incomes over $1 million. Republicans in Congress have insisted on protecting millionaires at the expense of jobless workers and middle income working class Americans.
Unemployed workers and federal employees continue to be blamed for problems they did not cause. Meanwhile, the people who did cause the crash of 2008, from which our economy is still slowly recovering, have largely gotten off scot free. Shared sacrifice should start at the top, with a surtax on millionaires, not with unemployed workers or middle class working families who provide vital services to the federal government.
For all of these reasons, the AFL-CIO cannot support H.R. 3630.