The latest post in the Workonomics series at Upworthy asks the question, “How Did We Get to a Point Where a Child Is Saying Sorry to Her Mom for Costing Her Money?” The video is an excerpt from the HBO documentary “American Winter,” which follows eight families struggling in the aftermath of the Great Recession. This clip shows how income inequality and cuts to social services have real consequences for families.
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: aflcio, budget cuts, Jobs, unemployment
It’s true: the number of recipients of food stamps have gone up since the start of the worst recession since the Great Depression. But it turns out that some of the loudest critics and attackers of the program represent constituents who have the most to lose from food stamp cuts.
Bloomberg reviewed 2,049 U.S. counties for food stamp usage. Among the 250 counties with the highest concentration of food stamp recipients, 227 are wholly within one congressional district, with 160 represented by Republicans and 67 by Democrats.
Many of those same Republicans voted for a farm bill this past June that cut about $2 billion annually from food stamps. Many of them also voted for a July 11 farm bill that stripped all funding for food stamps – that bill passed the House.
Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) voted for both bills. He represents the second poorest district in the country, Kentucky’s 5th, where 32 percent of residents receive SNAP benefits.
His district also includes Owsley County, where 52 percent of residents received SNAP in 2011, a higher proportion than any other county in America.
Reporting for Bloomberg, John McCormick and Greg Giroux found that Owsley County residents were supportive of keeping the supplemental income:
“Of all the things they could cut in America, it shouldn’t be the food stamp program,” said Marshall, 58, who received Social Security disability payments and is raising three grandchildren, ages 7 through 17, in Booneville, Kentucky, on a monthly income of $1,255, all from the state or federal government.
In Owsley County, the unemployment rate is 11.8 percent, according to the Kentucky Office of Employment and Training. Residents say few jobs are available in an area hit hard by the closing of coal mines…
“Almost everyone I know gets at least some food stamps,” said Sara Price, a Booneville resident who has used the program for about a decade and gets $333 a month for her family of six. “There used to be more stigma attached to it. There is no shame with it, if you are working and trying to make ends meet.”
Maxine Gibson, 47, said she gets $165 a month in food stamps that she uses for a grandchild and another child, ages 9 and 5, that she’s raising. With her Social Security disability and other government assistance, she said her household has about $1,500 a month in income. “I buy a lot of soup because it’s cheaper,” she said. “It really doesn’t last all month.”
But to ideological hardliners like Rep. Rogers, that doesn’t matter so much.
“If there was no deficit, they would still want to cut this kind of program,” Graham Wilson, the political science department chairman at Boston University, said of Republicans. “They have a fervent ideological belief that government should be cut back.”
Rep. Rogers was criticized in the local press for his votes. Yet just last year 84 percent of his constituents voted to send him back for his 16th term. Would they, and other SNAP recipients represented by Republicans, be so supportive if they knew what their lawmakers were up to?
Check out the Bloomberg piece, and while you’re at it, see what the Lexington Herald-Leader about Rep. Rogers’ votes.
Photo by Gage Skidmore on Flickr
Tags: food stamps, Jobs, Kentucky, unemployment
Since the end of April, Moral Monday protests have occurred every Monday in front of the state legislature in Raleigh, North Carolina.
The Moral Monday rallies have gathered thousands of supporters, and over 900 have been arrested through civil disobedience actions. These massive protests have been centered on issues of economic justice and basic fairness—cuts unemployment benefits, the failure to extending Medicaid for 500,000 uninsured people, cuts to public school funding, voter suppression, and other issues.
This Moral Monday protests have begun to spread across our state. This past Monday, in conjunction with the Raleigh protest, a Moral Monday march was organized in Greensboro. Since many people couldn’t travel to Raleigh to voice their support, activists organized a Greensboro Moral Monday rally to focus on voter ID laws and looming cuts to early voting.
Over 200 people marched and chanted, toted signs saying “Save Early Voting,” “Voter ID = Voter Suppression,” and “Keep Sunday Voting”.
“I thought it was wonderful,” said Working America member Carol Tweede, who attended. “Turnout was more than I ever expected. I feel very happy at these demonstrations, because everyone pulls together. It’s one great big body of people trying to help each other. It is so inclusive and nice to be around people who believe the same way you do, the right way.”
Across North Carolina, folks are standing up against the right-wing state legislature, not just in Raleigh.
Tags: Education, Health Care, Jobs, moral monday, North Carolina, unemployment, voter suppression, voting
Across the country, it’s been a tough road out of recession, but North Carolina has had a tougher time than most: its unemployment rate is still nearly 9%, the fifth-highest in the country. Now the state is about to cripple its own economy further.
A new set of changes to unemployment benefits in North Carolina have just taken effect. With these deep cuts, the state legislature has also disqualified North Carolinians from extended federal benefits. So people who are facing long-term unemployment in North Carolina have just lost their entire income, without any corresponding increase in the number of jobs available. Indeed, cutting off benefits for so many people so abruptly is likely to slow down the state’s economy even more, as people will find it harder to buy the things they need, stay in their homes and support North Carolina businesses.
North Carolina’s state legislative majority was swept into the office in 2010 and 2012, thanks in part to clever redistricting and the investment of millions by Republican megadonor Art Pope. Now, Pope has been appointed to a key state economic office and the legislators he helped empower are going on a tear through public education, health care, voting rights and tax rates. These legislators’ attack on unemployment benefits is perhaps the clearest expression of a national agenda aimed at dismantling the safety net.
The silver lining is that people in North Carolina aren’t letting these attacks go unanswered. Weekly “Moral Monday” protests are drawing crowds of hundreds to the state capitol in Raleigh. Last week, 1,500 people came out to make their voices heard.
The changes to unemployment insurance, however, are taking place now, and that means families facing unemployment are losing hundreds of dollars every month—at a cost of millions to the state economy. It’s morally repugnant, but it’s also just stupid economics.
Tags: economy, Jobs, moral monday, North Carolina, poverty, UI, unemployment
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