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.
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 Shierholzsays 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In late 2008, 28-year-old Rochester native Tim Wynn injured his hand on the job while working as a machinist and was eventually unfairly fired due to the injury. “It was at that time I had to file for unemployment insurance,” Wynn recalls. “Which was only a little over $400 a month, but we were able to make it work with one of us still working.”
Wynn had to rely on unemployment insurance for over a year, while looking for a job and simultaneously trying to get the surgery he needed for his damaged hand, but could not afford to pay for. However, if the federal system for unemployment benefits had been overhauled to include new proposals, Wynn would not have qualified for unemployment insurance.
Working America, the grassroots organization for workers whose 250,000 members in Minnesota have expressed great concern about these new requirements, has been bringing awareness to this issue to Minnesotans all over the state. “One of these new state requirements would be to deny unemployment insurance claimants without a high school diploma from receiving benefits, unless they are currently enrolled in a GED program,” says Working America’s Minnesota State Director, Brianna Halverson. “Barriers that would require jobless workers have diplomas are simply unfair and unworkable when the waiting lists for GED programs are sometime years long.”
Wynn, like many, had a family early in life. “I did what I needed to do,” he said, “Which was to take responsibility for my family and go straight into the workforce. I knew my career choices would be limited, but I was willing to work hard to provide for my child.”
“I never thought that I would have been in the situation I was in, but the idea that not having a high school diploma would prevent me from receiving unemployment insurance is outrageous,” exclaimed Wynn. “Actually, it would discriminate about half of the co-workers I’ve ever known, many of whom are currently out of work and would be devastated by this.”
Brianna Halverson adds, “This provision seems part of a larger agenda to stigmatize unemployment insurance by suggesting that Americans are jobless because of their own failings, rather than because our economy still has six million fewer jobs than when the recession started.”
After three years, Wynn prevailed in holding his former employer accountable for unfairly firing him; allowing him to get the surgery to repair his wrist. Wynn now has medical clearance to work again. When asked what would have happened if he had been required to have a high school diploma to receive unemployment insurance, Wynn said: “We would have lost everything. Those benefits were the only thing that kept a roof over our heads and our spirits up.” He added that without the insurance, he would never have been able to get surgery and would have lost use of his hand forever.
Information in a January 26, 2012 statement from Committee of Ways and Means Democrats indicates that if House Republican Bill HR 3630 is enacted, more than 35,000 Minnesotans would lose unemployment insurance.
“I want others in Minnesota to stop looking at unemployment insurance as something that only costs taxpayers money and which can be easily cut,” says Wynn. “When people have money to stay above water, that means they’re spending it into the economy, which keeps many businesses, employees and families above water as well. Congress should not make being jobless even harder than it already is.”
As today is Valentine’s Day, Working America joined Pennsylvania Wants to Work for an action encouraging our elected officials to have a heart and keep extended unemployment benefits in place Federal extended benefits will disappear after February 29th if our Congressmen and U.S. Senators don’t listen to their hearts and extend unemployment insurance (UI). Our politicians will likely be voting this week on whether or not millions of families will be able to feed their families, see their doctors, and pay their rent after the 29th.
The jobs crisis hasn’t ended since benefits were temporarily extended two months ago, and we cannot afford to pretend that it has. When there are four job seekers for every job available, families scraping by depend on their unemployment insurance to keep a roof over their heads and food on their tables. If anyone doubts the severity of this jobs crisis and the need for extended benefits, the experience of a Pittsburgh Working America member, described below, demonstrates such things all too clearly:
I am a laid-off engineer. I have been seeking work since 2009, and although I have a Ph.D. in computer science and 30 years of experience in information systems, I have not been able to secure full-time employment for the last two years. I have been consistently applying for jobs online, but I often do not even receive a response to my applications. Since 2009, I have had only one interview in response to my job searching. In effect, in the last few years, I have had to reduce my expenditures by reducing food, eliminating my phone line, foregoing TV, and relying on public transportation.
The jobs crisis is impacting many more workers than those who are receiving unemployment insurance. This crisis also directly impacts workers who have maxed out and no longer receive unemployment benefits, workers who simply gave up trying to find a job, workers who are working outside of their fields, workers who are working a fraction of the hours they would like to be, and workers who are receiving much lower compensation than they would if there weren’t such an huge pool of under- and un-employed workers to compete with.
It has also become clear to me how expensive it is to be unemployed. I have to carefully monitor the amount I’ve got left in my checking account so that I do not find myself stuck with a $35 dollar overdraft fee – or many of them. I have to pay legal fees on top of school taxes for not being able to pay school taxes on time. I’ve got to pay high interest rates on credit cards and insurances, because being unemployed has devastated my credit, leading companies to charge me exorbitant interest rates or “fees.” Unemployment’s impact on my credit has also compromised my employability, as companies perform credit checks for professional positions in most industries when considering an applicant.
Beyond seriously harming my credit, my savings have been exhausted, in part due to the cost of being unemployed. The other factor causing my savings to be nil is the cost of medical care. A family member, who needed medical treatment that insurance wouldn’t sufficiently cover, absolutely needed certain prescriptions as well as other treatments. The prescriptions cost a few hundred dollars a week. I cashed in my retirement savings to cover those medical expenses. As I was unemployed at the time and had minimal resources, I had to borrow money and transportation from friends. Between the overwhelming cost of treatments and prescriptions and my lack of income, once we spent all of our savings, we could no longer afford the care she needed.
The costs of unemployment extend into each area of my life. The jobs crisis is a broad one, impacting people of an array of professions, backgrounds, ages, ethnicities, experience levels, and geographic areas; it impacts deeply their families and those who depend on them; it impacts their friends and neighbors; it impacts all of society.
The news from today’s job report is strongly encouraging. In January, our economy added a net 243,000 new jobs, and the unemployment rate fell to 8.3%. And as economist Jared Bernstein points out, it’s not just the big numbers that matter, it’s the trend—the economy is going in the right direction.
Let’s not forget, though, that while an upward climb is welcome, there’s still more climbing to do. The recession of the past few years put in a huge hole—by late 2008, the economy was dumping hundreds of thousands of jobs every month, and it took major, determined effort to get the economy to start adding jobs again. We’re still trying to recover from that recession and we haven’t gotten back to pre-recession levels yet. And the effort to recover is being actively undermined by job cuts at the state and local level.
One bright spot is that things are looking up for veterans. Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan had an unacceptably high unemployment rate of 13%. That rate has fallen to 9% in the latest report—still high, but a huge improvement for people who have served our country overseas. The only portion of President Obama’s American Jobs Act that Congress was able to pass was a set of incentives to help businesses hire veterans. Imagine if two other key portions of the AJA—a bill to help states keep teachers, firefighters and police on the payroll, and a bill to invest in infrastructure and construction—had passed instead of being blocked by Republicans in Congress.
The economic recovery is still fragile enough, and unemployment still high enough, that we need to keep supporting those out of work by extending unemployment insurance. Pulling away that lifeline would be a real hit to families and to the economy as a whole. We should also renew the payroll tax holiday that helps put extra money in the pockets of 160 million working people.
It’s gotten swallowed up in news coverage by the ups and downs of the Republican presidential primary race, but we’re still in a pretty dire jobs situation.
In December, Congress did the right thing and extended unemployment insurance coverage for thousands and thousands of long-term unemployed. With about for job-seekers for every job opening, that’s just common sense. But the extension was only approved for two months, through the end of February.
Well, February is here, without a new extension—meaning that as of March 1, the lifeline for thousands of jobless families will be cut off.
Will Congress act once again to protect their many unemployed constituents? If so, they need to act fast—they only have a month, and they haven’t exactly distinguished themselves so far in appreciating urgency.
What’s worse, the House Republican majority has been clear about its preferred course of action: slashing benefits and imposing conditions to prevent unemployed people from getting the benefits from a system they paid into.
Tens of thousands of people have signed on to the Nine Demands of the 99 Percent, and extending unemployment insurance is one of those key demands. Families between jobs depend on unemployment benefits to feed their kids, stay in their homes and support businesses in their communities.
Congress didn’t pass the last extension out of the goodness of their hearts. They did it because of sustained public pressure. With one (short!) month to go, it’s time to get active again.
In December, after being battered in the arena of public opinion, House Republicans reluctantly agreed to a short extension of unemployment insurance (UI) for the nation’s jobless workers. That reprieve runs out Feb. 29 and House Republicans are set to relaunch their attack on UI.
A conference is now underway between the Senate and House over two very different one-year extensions of the UI program passed late last year and the Republican bill would “slash federal benefits, impose harsh new restrictions and move to dismantle the essential lifeline of unemployment insurance,” writes Mitchell Hirsch of the National Employment Law Project (NELP).
Among other things the Republican UI bill would:
Slash federal UI by more than half in the highest unemployment states;
Allow mandatory drug testing of unemployment insurance claimants, stigmatizing jobless workers;
Make jobless workers pay for their reemployment services;
Deny benefits to those not fortunate enough to finish high school or GED; and
Let states reduce benefits and divert unemployment benefit funds to other uses.
Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee says House Republicans:
are threatening another round of brinksmanship by insisting on starting with a rerun of the approaches within the House Republican bill… Department of Labor data shows that 2.8 million Americans would lose unemployment benefits under the House Republican proposal compared to current law… Democrats won’t start from the premise that the unemployed are to blame for unemployment, that weeks can be slashed without harming workers in the hardest hit states.
NELP has published a detailed legislative analysis of the Republican bill, click here and you can click here to send a message to your member of Congress to reject the drastic cuts and restrictions in the Republican UI bill.