Article 43

 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Out of Work, And Out Of Benefits

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By Andrea Orr
Economic Policy Institute
November 17, 2010

For today’s unemployed workers, job searches often last six months or longer. The Great Recession and the SLOW RECOVERY that has followed have been MARKED not only by persistently high rates of unemployment but also unusually long periods of unemployment. In the third quarter of 2010, 43% of the unemployed had been looking for work for more than six months, and 22.7% had been looking for work for more than a year.

Many of THESE UNEMPLOYED WORKERS are in their teens or twenties. Others are nearing retirement age. They are young and old, black, white, Hispanic, Asian American, and Native American. Some lack high school degrees, others have ADVANCED DEGREES. Despite their demographic differences, they are united by the simple bad luck of having lost their jobs during the worst recession since the Great Depression, which thrust them into a job market where the odds were stacked solidly against them. Two million long-term unemployed those who have been seeking work for six months or longer will lose their unemployment insurance benefits before the end of this year if Congress fails to act to maintain extended benefits.

Annette Tomberg, 50, of Sacramento, California is one of them. In August of 2009, she was laid off from her job at a book binder, where she had worked for three years operating a paper cutter, shrink-wrapping books, and lifting heavy boxes. In the 15 months since, she has applied for multiple jobs every day, rarely receiving even an acknowledgment of her application. Her life, when not consumed by scouring online job boards and taking online training courses to augment her administrative skills, is spent gingerly going over the family finances and deciding which bills she will pay and which ones she will put off paying. The $295 weekly unemployment insurance she receives helps, but still leaves her $400 short each month. “Either I pay the rent or I pay other bills,” she explains. In order to avoid falling further behind on some bills, she has cashed out her retirement savings. Although her husband still has a job in the printing business, he cannot afford his company’s health insurance. The couple visits drugstore mini-clinics when they are sick, but live in fear of a serious illness. Even with the support of unemployment insurance, the couple is living close to the edge. “If I wasnt getting those benefits, it would be an even worse situation,” says Tomberg.

Tomberg’s inability to find work reflects not a lack of skills or initiative, but rather a severe shortage of jobs. In the three years since the Great Recession began, there have at times been more than six unemployed workers competing for every job opening. Today, well over a year since the recession officially ended, there remain five unemployed workers for every job opening. That current ratio is well above the peak of 2.8-to-1 reached in the prior recession and speaks to the difficult odds even the most motivated unemployed worker faces in finding a new job today.

Earlier this year, Rutgers University conducted a nationwide survey of 900 workers who, like Annette Tomberg, were unemployed in August of 2009. It found that six months later, only 21% of them had found full time work, while 67% were still looking and 12% had left the labor force. In other words, eight out of ten of those surveyed who had lost their jobs during the Great Recession were still out of work. Those who found jobs often took a long time to do so. Among those surveyed, 55% of the newly reemployed said their job search had taken more than seven months.

WHAT HAPPENS when unemployment drags on for so long? Workers who have struggled for months to find a job often describe a similar cycle of exhausting what savings they had, before being forced to choose between basic essentials: paying the utility bill or buying groceries, paying the rent or going to the doctor. Beyond these daily choices, there are LARGER TRADEOFFS: Whether to pay for health insurance or housing, whether to go into more debt today, or preserve college or retirement savings for tomorrow. The Rutgers University survey, No End in Sight: The Agony of Prolonged Unemployment, found that 30% of the unemployed have used food stamps, 18% have visited a soup kitchen, and 70% have used money from savings to make ends meet. Often, those were savings intended for retirement. A January 2010 AARP survey of Americans age 45 and older found that 18% had prematurely withdrawn funds from a 401(K), IRA, or other retirement plan.

Critics of extended unemployment insurance often maintain that giving money to people who cannot find work removes the incentive to look for work. The actual people who are trying to make ends meet on unemployment benefits tell a different story: one of desperately seeking work while fearing their unemployment benefits will be cut off before they find another job. Tim Zaneste, 44, of Flushing, Michigan, has been applying for jobs daily since he was laid off from a software company in June 2009. The unemployment benefits he receives cover only a fraction of his former salary. Like so many unemployed, Zaneste had to withdraw retirement savings, but he still struggled to cover all of his familyҒs expenses and eventually had to file for bankruptcy protection. Because of the terms of that personal bankruptcy filing, he says he is at risk of losing his modest 1,600 square foot house within 30 days of missing a mortgage payment. Today, his family is a few unemployment checks away from being homeless. I have worked all my life since the time I was 12,Ӕ he says. Never in my life did I think I would be in this position.Ӕ

Zanestes family has sold one of their two cars, delayed purchasing new clothing for their children, and even cut back sharply on groceries. This sort of sharp curtailment illustrates how the lost spending power resulting from joblessness impairs the larger economy, and how unemployment insurance can mitigate that effect. EPI President Lawrence Mishel and Economist Heidi Shierholz recently calculated the fiscal benefits of extending unemployment insurance and found that, in addition to saving millions of people from poverty, it would generate more than 700,000 full-time equivalent jobs.

Those findings are consistent with a Congressional Budget Office analysis earlier this year, which found that providing unemployment insurance is the most effective way to stimulate the economy. In May, EPI hosted a panel of economists who explained that these unemployment benefits help people maintain some level of consumption, which in turns stimulates local economies, preventing the loss of some jobs and creating others. “If you give money to someone who is unemployed and has been unemployed for a year, they are going to spend it the next day,” Jesse Rothstein, Chief Economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, said. Another indication of the fiscal value of unemployment insurance came from Harvard Economics Professor Raj Chetty, who also spoke at the conference, where he presented a chart showing a sharp drop in food consumption when a person loses his or her job: the median unemployed person has less than $250 in accessible savings at the time of job loss. This helps explain why unemployment insurance dollars are quickly put back into local communities.

Congress has in the past responded to the severe jobs crisis with multiple extensions to the standard 26 weeks of unemployment insurance, but each extension has been short-lived and unless they are maintained, unemployed workers who have been receiving benefits even a few days beyond six months could be cut off. Brian Sugalski, 39, lost his job as a printing plant manager in May of this year and says that he will miss the cutoff for qualifying for extended benefits by four days, unless Congress votes to maintain the extension. Sugalski went from earning an annual salary of $98,000 to receiving $600 a week in unemployment insurance benefits. Because a large chunk of that money goes toward his $800 a month bill for COBRA health insurance benefits and for therapy for his four-year-old disabled son, Sugalski fell behind on other bills. He recently lost his New Jersey home to foreclosure and his family moved in with his wife’s mother in upstate New York, where they continue to seek work. Combining households in such a way has become more and more common. Recent Census Bureau estimates showed the number of adults age 35 and older who are moving in with parents, in-laws, siblings, or other families has reached historically high levels.

UNEMPLOYED WORKERS often report higher levels of stress, but some research suggests that the long-term health consequences that result from a JOB LOSS are far MORE SIGNIFICANT than is commonly understood. During EPIs recent event exploring how losing a job jeopardizes your health and can shorten your life, several researchers presented data connecting job loss with poor health, such as weakened immune function and metabolism, stroke, hypertension and heart disease, and even increased mortality rates, which often lasted for years, or decades even after a new job had been found.

While the best way to avoid such outcomes would be to avoid unemployment, the researchers said that given the reality of unemployment there would be great value in making the loss of a job a less stressful experience by reducing the financial strain. Maintaining a SAFETY NET that would help protect families from financial ruin would not only help ease the stress of job loss, but would have multiple fiscal benefits, including keeping workers in the job market. Till von Wachter, associate professor of economics at Columbia University noted at the conference that long-term unemployed workers, especially those with health problems, often file for SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY INSURANCE, a program that is far more expensive than unemployment insurance.

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Posted by Elvis on 11/20/10 •
Section Dying America
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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Publically Talking About Work

NLRB: Facebook Discussions Between Co-Workers are Protected Speech

By Michael Whitney
Work In Progress
November 9, 2010

This is why its nice to have a Democratic majority on the National Labor Relations Board: workers get rights. The National Labor Relations Board ruled that an employee can safely discuss work issues with their co-workers on Facebook without fearing punishment by their employer.

At issue was an employee complaining about her supervisor on her Facebook wall, which solicited feedback from other co-workers. While the employer fired the person who originally posted the complaint to Facebook, the NLRB ruled yesterday that the employee should not have been fired.

The labor relations board announced last week that it had filed a complaint against an ambulance service, American Medical Response of Connecticut, that fired an emergency medical technician, accusing her, among other things, of violating a policy that bars employees from depicting the company in any way on Facebook or other social media sites in which they post pictures of themselves.

Lafe Solomon, the boards acting general counsel, said, “This is a fairly straightforward case under the National Labor Relations Act whether it takes place on Facebook or at the water cooler, it was employees talking jointly about working conditions, in this case about their supervisor, and they have a right to do that.”

This is a big step forward for workers, who don’t necessarily have to fear being fired for discussing their work on Facebook with coworkers on their own time. But the key phrase here is “with coworkers” - there may be a danger of an employer taking disciplinary action if an employee takes to Facebook about their work, but doesn’t involve coworkers in the discussion.

The labor board said that her comments “drew supportive responses from her co-workers and led to further negative comments about the supervisor.” Mr. Kreisberg said: “You’re allowed to talk about your supervisor with your co-workers. You’re allowed to communicate the concerns and criticisms you have. The only difference in this case is she did it on Facebook and did it on her own time and her own computer.”

An administrative law judge is scheduled to begin hearing the case on Jan. 25. Marshall B. Babson, a member of the National Labor Relations Board in the 1980s, said a broad company rule that says one cannot make disparaging comments about supervisors is clearly illegal under labor law. But he said an employee’s criticizing a company or supervisor on Facebook was not necessarily protected activity.

“There will arguably be cases where it is not concerted activity,” Mr. Babson said, suggesting that if a worker lashed out in a post against a supervisor but was not communicating with co-workers, that type of comment might not be protected.

“If the Facebook conversation involves several co-workers, however, it is far more likely to be viewed as concerted protected activity,” he said.

While this is a step forward for employees digital rights, thereҒs much ground to be made up. The NLRB still allows employers to ban employees from using office email to discuss union activity. But having Facebook discussions as protected speech is a big deal for workers rights.

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Posted by Elvis on 11/18/10 •
Section American Solidarity
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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Aristophanes And America

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How Democracy Dies: Lessons From a Master

By Chris Hedges
TruthDig
October 10, 2010

The ancient Greek playwright ARISTOPHANES spent his life battling the assault on democracy by tyrants. It is disheartening to be reminded that he lost. But he understood that the hardest struggle for humankind is often stating and understanding the obvious. Aristophanes, who had the temerity to portray the ruling Greek tyrant, Cleon, as a dog, is the perfect playwright to turn to in trying to grasp the danger posed to us by movements from the tea party to militias to the Christian right, as well as the bankrupt and corrupt power elite that no longer concerns itself with the needs of its citizens. He saw the same corruption 2,400 years ago. He feared correctly that it would extinguish Athenian democracy. And he struggled in vain to rouse Athenians from their slumber.

There is a yearning by tens of millions of Americans, lumped into a diffuse and fractious movement, to destroy the intellectual and scientific rigor of the Enlightenment. They seek out of ignorance and desperation to create a utopian society based on biblical law. They want to transform Americas secular state into a tyrannical theocracy. These radicals, rather than the terrorists who oppose us, are the gravest threat to our open society. They have, with the backing of hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate money, gained tremendous power. They peddle pseudoscience such as Intelligent Design in our schools. They keep us locked into endless and futile wars of imperialism. They mount bigoted crusades against gays, immigrants, liberals and Muslims. They turn our judiciary, in the name of conservative values, over to corporations. They have transformed our liberal class into hand puppets for corporate power. And we remain meek and supine.

The huge amount of taxpayer money doled out to Wall Street, investment banks, the oil and natural gas industry and the defense industry, along with the dismantling of our manufacturing sector, is why we are impoverished. It is why our houses are being foreclosed on. It is why some 45 million Americans are denied medical care. It is why our infrastructure, from public schools to bridges, is rotting. It is why many of us cannot find jobs. We are being fleeced. The flagrant theft of public funds and rise of an obscenely rich oligarchic class is masked by the tough talk of demagogues, themselves millionaires, who use fear and bombast to keep us afraid, confused and enslaved.

Aristophanes saw the same psychological and political manipulation undermine the democratic state in ancient Athens. He repeatedly warned Athenians in plays such as “The Clouds, “The Wasps,” “The Birds,” “The Frogs” and “Lysistrata” that permitting political leaders who shout “I shall never betray the Athenian!” or “I shall keep up the fight in defense of the people forever!” to get their hands on state funds and power would end with the citizens enslaved.

“The truth is, they want you, you see, to be poor,” Aristophanes wrote in his play “The Wasps.” If you don’t know the reason, Ill tell you. It’s to train you to know who your tamer is. Then, whenever he gives you a whistle and sets you against an opponent of his, you jump out and tear them to pieces.

Our democracy, through years of war, theft and corruption, is also being diminished. But the example Aristophanes offers is not a hopeful one. He held up the same corruption to his fellow Greeks. He repeatedly chided them for not rising up and fighting back. He warned, ominously, that by the time most citizens awoke it would be too late. And he was right. The appearance of normality lulls us into a false hope and submission. Those who shout most loudly in defense of the ideals of the founding fathers, the sacredness of Constitution and the values of the Christian religion are those who most actively seek to subvert the principles they claim to champion. They hold up the icons and language of traditional patriotism, the rule of law and Christian charity to demolish the belief systems that give them cultural and political legitimacy. And those who should defend these beliefs are cowed and silent. 

“For a considerable length of time the normality of the normal world is the most efficient protection against disclosure of totalitarian mass crimes,” Hannah Arendt wrote in “The Origins of Totalitarianism”. Normal men don’t know that everything is possible, refuse to believe their eyes and ears in the face of the monstrous. ... The reason why the totalitarian regimes can get so far toward realizing a fictitious, topsy-turvy world is that the outside non-totalitarian world, which always comprises a great part of the population of the totalitarian country itself, indulges in wishful thinking and shirks reality in the face of real insanity.

All ideological, theological and political debates with the representatives of the corporate state, including the feckless and weak Barack Obama, are useless. They cannot be reached. They do not want a dialogue. They care nothing for real reform or participatory democracy. They use the tricks and mirages of public relations to mask a steadily growing assault on our civil liberties, our inability to make a living and the loss of basic services from education to health care. Our gutless liberal class placates the enemies of democracy, hoping desperately to remain part of the ruling elite, rather than resist. And, in many ways, liberals, because they serve as a cover for these corporate extremists, are our greatest traitors.

Aristophanes too lived in a time of endless war. He knew that war always empowered anti-democratic forces. He saw how war ate away at the insides of a democratic state until it was hollowed out. His play “Lysistrata,” written after Athens had spent 21 years consumed by the Peloponnesian War, is a satire in which the young women refuse to have sex with their men until the war ends and the older women seize the Acropolis, where the funds for war are stored. The play called on Athenians to consider radical acts of civil disobedience to halt a war that was ravaging the state. The plays heroine, Lysistrata, whose name means “Disbander of Armies,” was the playwright’s mouthpiece for the folly and self-destructiveness of war. But Athens, which would lose the war, did not listen.

The tragedy is that liberals and secularists, like Obama, are not viewed as competitors by the corporate forces that hold power, but as contaminates that must be eliminated. They have sought to work with forces that will never be placated. They have abandoned the most basic values of the liberal class to play a game that in the end will mean their political and cultural extinction. There will be no swastikas this time but seas of red, white and blue flags and Christian crosses. There will be no stiff-armed salutes, but recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance. There will be no brown shirts but nocturnal visits from Homeland Security. The fear, rage and hatred of our dispossessed and confused working class are being channeled into currents that are undermining the last vestiges of the democratic state. These dangerous emotions, directed against a liberal class that as in ancient Athens betrayed the population, have a strong appeal. And unless we adopt the radicalism held by Aristophanes, unless we begin to hinder the functioning of the corporate state through acts of civil disobedience, we are finished.

Let us not stand at the open gates of the city meekly waiting for the barbarians. They are coming. They are slouching towards Bethlehem. Let us, if nothing else, like Aristophanes, begin to call our tyranny by its name.

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Posted by Elvis on 11/09/10 •
Section Revelations
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Monday, November 08, 2010

Why College Isn’t Worth It

Why I Went To College And Why You Shouldn’t

By Jessie
PF Firewall
October 21, 2010

In a 1999 survey by the Consumer Federation of America and financial services firm Primerica, 40% of Americans with incomes between $25,000 and $35,000 and nearly one-half of respondents with an income of $15,000 to $25,000 - thought winning the lottery would give them their retirement nest egg. Overall, 27% of respondents said that their best chance to gain $500,000 in their lifetime is via a sweepstakes or lottery win, the survey said.  MSN MONEY.

I never believed surveys like this, until now my school loans just went into repayment. Stupidly, I never actually tracked my school loans and was shocked by my total balance when calculating everything, it was quite a bit more than what I estimated during my schooling. Like many kids out there, being granted financial aid was like free money, woohoo! and I just went on with my schooling. Now that school is over, reality is really taking hold and my $50,000+ school loans are like a huge weight that has been dropped on me. I actually contemplated buying lottery tickets, if just for a second or two, in the hopes of winning and lightening my financial load.

The average student loan in the United States in 2009 was close to 25,000 but I know there are people graduating with over 100,000 in loans. Like many of these people, I regret many of the choices I made when deciding on collegeŅ

If I were to do it all over again, what would I do?

Honestly, in my mind, there are only a couple reasons to go to college and the choice all depends on what you actually plan to do afterward.

If you plan to go into a particular profession, and the dream of job security is what you aim for, college is where you should be, but you have to choose the right profession that will benefit from a college education and degree. Professions in the dentistry or medical field are two that come to mind that you cant really pursue without a degree and unless you are completely loaded (in which case, why do you want to work in the first place!) you will be graduating with a boatload of loans.

Another reason to go to college is to network and meet people that will help you pursue your dreams. Mark Zuckerberg, the youngest billionaire ever, is a prime example of this. If you are intelligent and plan on making your mark on the word by coming up with an idea never before thought of and changing the way the world works, college is a perfect place to meet other people with a similar mindset. Certain colleges and degrees are just think tanks for entrepreneurs; the degree is just a trivial part of that goal and the fact that many of the richest and most successful people in the world dropped out of college is an indicator of this. Peter Thiel, another self made billionaire is even offering college kids $200,000 because

As for me? I went to college because I love to learn and was told I couldn’t get anywhere without a degree. These two reasons were a horrible combination for me to go to college, especially an expensive online college. You can and many people certainly do just fine without a degree; the need for one all depends on what you plan on doing for the rest of your life. As for my love of learning, I have learned more in the past two years both in the field my degree is in and in completely unrelated fields, all on my own. These two reasons I went to school were not the best motivators for me to do well in school either. My goals were to get the piece of paper saying I finished, and to learn as much as I could, neither of which required exceptionally good grades

If I were to do it all over again, I would have gone to a traditional school to be part of a think-tank of like minded people but in reality college is not required to connect with others. I donŒt plan on working the rest of my life, and the more people I meet that are like me, the more I realize that I missed out on one of the most important aspects of college, connecting with other people. Instead of going to an online school, I would have enrolled in a traditional community college and gotten to know more people not to mention having less of a financial burden afterward.

What am I going to do now?

Thats simple; I’m going to work like a madman to make as much money as possible in any way that I can to pay these loans off as quickly as I can.

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Posted by Elvis on 11/08/10 •
Section General Reading
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