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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Mocked and Forgotten

Mocked and forgotten: who will speak for the American white working class?

By Chris Arnade
The Guardian
March 24, 2016

When you listen to poor people who work with their hands, you hear a uniform frustration and a constant anxiety but it’s not just about economic issues

The National Review, a conservative magazine for the Republican elite, recently unleashed an attack on the “white working class”, who they see as the core of Trumps support.

The first essay, FATHER FUHRER, was written by the National Reviews Kevin Williamson, who used his past reporting from places such as Appalachia and the Rust Belt to dissect what he calls “downscale communities.”

He describes them as filled with welfare dependency, drug and alcohol addiction, and family anarchy - and then proclaims:

Nothing happened to them. There wasn’t some awful disaster, There wasnt a war or a famine or a plague or a foreign occupation. ... The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles.

A few days later, another columnist, David French, ADDED:

“Simply put, [white working class] Americans are killing themselves and destroying their families at an alarming rate. No one is making them do it. The economy isn’t putting a bottle in their hand. Immigrants aren’t making them cheat on their wives or snort OxyContin.”

Both suggested the answer to their problems is they need to move. “They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.”

Downscale communities are everywhere in America, not just limited to Appalachia and the Rust Belt - it’s where I have spent much of the past five years documenting poverty and addiction.

To say that “nothing happened to them” is stunningly wrong. Over the past 35 years the working class has been devalued, the result of an economic version of the Hunger Games. It has pitted everyone against each other, regardless of where they started. Some contestants, such as business owners, were equipped with the fanciest weapons. The working class only had their hands. They lost and have been left to deal on their own.

The consequences can be seen in nearly every town and rural county and arent confined to the industrial north or the hills of Kentucky either. My home town in Florida, a small town built around two orange juice factories, lost its first factory in 1985 and its last IN 2005.

In the South Buffalo neighborhood of Lackawanna, homes have yet to recover from the closing of an old steel mill that looms over them. The plant, once one of many, provided the community with jobs and stability. The parts that havenҒt been torn down are now used mainly for storage.

In Utica, New York, a boarded-up GE plant that’s been closed for more than 20 years sits behind Mr Nostalgia’s, a boarded-up bar where workers once spent nights. Jobs moved out of state and out of the country. The new jobs don’t pay as well and don’t offer the same benefits, so folks now go to the casino outside of town to try to supplement their income.

When you go into these communities and leave the small bubbles of success Manhattan, Los Angeles, northern Virginia, Cambridge - and listen to people who work with their hands, you hear a uniform frustration and a constant anxiety. In a country of such amazing wealth, a large percentage of people are trying not to sink.

In Blossburg, Pennsylvania, Arnie Knapp walks five miles into town every morning, trying to keep his body in shape and not succumb to the various injuries he suffered working the mills. He started working at 14 and once they closed, he worked a series of lower-paying jobs. Unlike the characters profiled in the National Review article, he isn’t looking for a handout: “I haven’t asked for anything but work from anyone. Problem is, there aren’t a lot of jobs around here any more.”

In Appleton, Wisconsin, Tom Lawless, who has been driving long-haul trucks all his life and measures his success in millions of miles safely driven, is frustrated: “I am getting squeezed, my pay gets lower, and my costs go higher.”

In Ohatchee, Alabama, Larry, taking a day off work to take his son fishing, is gracious but frustrated: “I have worked in foundries all my life, since I was 15. Hard work, and I don’t got a lot of money to show for it.”

The frustration isn’t just misplaced nostalgia - the economic statistics show the same thing.

Over the past 35 years, except for the very wealthy, incomes have stagnated, with more people looking for fewer jobs. Jobs for those who work with their hands, manufacturing employment, has been the hardest hit, falling from 18m in the late 1980s to 12m now.

The economic devaluation has been made more painful by the fraying of the social safety net, and more visceral by the vast increase at the top. It is one thing to be spinning your wheels stuck in the mud, but it is even more demeaning to watch as others zoom by on well-paved roads, none offering help.

It is not just about economic issues and jobs. Culturally, we are witnessing a tale of two Americas that are growing more distinct by the day.

The differences are manifest in education. The pathway offered out of the working class is to get a college education. Yet at the best colleges there are very few low-income students, except for a few lucky enough to grow up in New York City, Los Angeles or Boston.

Differences are also stark around health issues, as well as social issues such as marriage, family and where people live. The growing differences have made it easier and seemingly acceptable to ridicule the white working class, further marginalizing and isolating them. Go into an office in New York City (I worked in them for 20 years) and you will hear people joke about “white trash”, “trailer trash”, “rednecks”, “round people from square states”. Turn on the TV and you hear more cheap jokes about how they dress, talk and behave.

As the isolation has increased and opportunity diminished, some have turned to drugs. America, and particularly the white working class, is dealing with a drug epidemic that is killing more people each year at a startling rate. Just in the past decade deaths from drugs has doubled.

The National Review sees it as another sign of the flawed character of the poor. This is a common and moralistic trope those battling an addiction have long dealt with - that it is all the fault of their weakness. The reality is often far more complex. Addiction thrives in societies undergoing stress. How much someone abuses drugs is a measure of the trauma, pain, anxiety and isolation someone has experienced.

Then again, blaming the changes in the white working class on moral failures, rather than political and economic ones, is very convenient for conservatives and Republicans.

At almost every juncture over the past 35 years, Republicans have supported and passed policies that have empowered businesses while supporting the removal of POLICIES THAT PROTECT WORKERS.

They have supported the shift towards an aggressive free market that rewards the winners, regardless of where they started, and does little to protect the losers.

They supported, and got, massive tax cuts for the wealthiest.

They supported, and got, the deregulation of Wall Street.

They supported every effort to dismantle the social safety net: food stamps, welfare, social security and Medicaid.

Some of the polices they have supported, such as free trade, have also been supported by the Democrats. These policies were justified by the notion that the entire country would win, because the winners will win more than the losers lose.

Yet this is contingent on the winners sharing, and the Republicans have no interest in making the winners share.

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Posted by Elvis on 03/26/16 •
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Friday, March 25, 2016

A Real Account of Long-Term Unemployment

image: no job, no house

By Kristen Frasch
HRE Online
March 4, 2016

It’s been awhile since we’ve reported on efforts to solve the nations long-term-unemployment problem.

HERE are our HRE Daily posts, and HERE are our news analyses examining the problem and what can and should be done about it.

Just recently, though, I came across an interesting write-up on the U.S. Department of Labor site about a panel DISCUSSION that was held in New Brunswick, N.J., on the topic.

The panelists, themselves, caught my eye: DOL Secretary Thomas E. Perez was leading the long-term-unemployment discussion, joined by former N.J. Gov. Jim Florio and U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-New Jerseys 6th District. Those who attended shared story after story of “devastation” as they continue to look for employment to support their families, the write-up says.

Which gets me to what was most interesting about the DOL release: the write-up and writer, themselves. Kevin Meyer, a public-affairs specialist at the DOL, wrote mostly about himself in response to what attendees were sharing. In his words,

“Those stories felt too familiar. In January 2014, I was one of the nations then nearly 3.6 million long-term unemployed. I was 52 and had spent two of the previous three years jobless. The great recession hit everyone hard, but older workers like me had a particularly tough time bouncing back.”

“Even now as the overall unemployment rate [falls] below 5 percent for the first time since 2008, more than 2 million people have been out of work for more than six months. Today, the typical duration of unemployment for workers between 45 and 64 is still about a month longer than it is for younger workers.”

“Ask someone - a relative, friend or neighbor - who is unemployed at this age, you hear the same things. Endless applications, unreturned calls, useless job searches, financial losses, anger, guilt and fear.”

Although he goes on, and in great detail, to tell his own harrowing story of being in the long-term-unemployed ranks for years before coming to the DOLs Office of Public Affairs, he does also mention his agency’s Ready to Work grants where and how well they’re working and the fact that Perez had come to hear about New Jersey’s success with them.

But most of what he shared was impressive and moving, and I commend him for taking this tack. Full disclosure: Perez did ask Meyer to share his story at the roundtable. But he didnt have to writeit all down - which he did and did well. Case in point:

“Like those I met [in a previous roundtable on long-term unemployment, held in Washington, with Perez presiding there as well], I was desperate. I was fearful for my family; knowing that I would soon lose my home without more than another temporary job.”

“I introduced myself and shared my work history of two decades as a writer and communications professional. My words then turned blunt, in typical New Jersey fashion. Mr. Secretary, I must tell you that I battled an aggressive form of cancer into remission in 2006. As difficult as my cancer was, long-term unemployment has been worse,ђ I shared, in a hushed conference room, trying to bury my emotion. If I failed to beat cancer, my family had my company insurance and would have been cared for. If I fail to beat unemployment, I will leave them with nothing.”

We sometimes forget - as we writeand read about joblessness, and unemployment rates, and layoffs, and older workers out of work that for every number, there is a person there, struggling through pieces of a life event we will never know unless we go through it ourselves.

Thanks to a very different kind of press release, a tiny windowwas opened here, at least for me. For any employer hesitant to hire someone from these ranks, I’d say this is a must-read.

SOURCE

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Long-Term Unemployment, a Problem That Hits Home

By Kevin Meyer
US Department of Labor
February 18, 2016

Two years ago, I was like many who came Feb. 16 to Rutgers Universitys Heldrich Center for Workforce Development. The center hosted a roundtable for job seekers, volunteer career coaches, local leaders and employers to understand the problem of long-term unemployment better.

Joined by former Gov. Jim Florio and Rep. Frank Pallone, Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez led a discussion as one person after another shared stories of devastation as they continue to look for employment to support their families.

Those stories felt too familiar. In January 2014, I was one of the nation’s then nearly 3.6 million long-term unemployed. I was 52 and had spent two of the previous three years jobless. The great recession hit everyone hard, but older workers like me had a particularly tough time bouncing back. Even now as the overall unemployment rate fell below 5 percent for the first time since 2008, more than 2 million people have been out of work for more than six months. Today, the typical duration of unemployment for workers between 45 and 64 is still about a month longer than it is for younger workers.

Ask someone a relative, friend or neighbor - who is unemployed at this age, you hear the same things. Endless applications, unreturned calls, useless job searches, financial losses, anger, guilt and fear.

Late one day, I received an unexpected email from the executive director of my networking and support group asking if I would like to be part of the secretarys first roundtable on the long-term unemployed. Eager for a change in a dismal routine, I joined him as we braved a nine-hour round trip on a typically cold Northeastern day to Washington. Like those I met that day, I was desperate. I was fearful for my family; knowing that I would soon lose my home without more than another temporary job.

I introduced myself and shared my work history of two decades as a writer and communications professional. My words then turned blunt, in typical New Jersey fashion. “Mr. Secretary, I must tell you that I battled an aggressive form of cancer into remission in 2006. As difficult as my cancer was, long-term unemployment has been worse,” I shared, in a hushed conference room, trying to bury my emotion. “If I failed to beat cancer, my family had my company insurance and would have been cared for. If I fail to beat unemployment, I will leave them with nothing.”

As luck would have it, my communication skills and experience made an impression on the Department of Labor, where I sought a position in the Office of Public Affairs. My unemployment ordeal ended in November 2014 when I accepted my current position with the department.

At the roundtable in New Brunswick, the secretary asked me to share my story. I did in the hope that, by opening up to those around me, I could help them see that the road ahead - challenging as it will be - is not a dead end.

Being jobless can be a soul-killing experience. For many, the work we do is an important part of our identity and a source of dignity. So it is important that the long-term unemployed have a community to which they can belong. Programs like the NEW START INITIATIVE at Heldrich and others that received Ready to Work grants from the Department of Labor help participants re-establish their self-worth. Beyond providing tools and resources for a job search or writing a resume, they open an umbrella under which people can find career counseling, advice on handling finances, one-on-one coaching and even referrals for mental health support if needed.

The secretary visited New Jersey to learn about these efforts and, as is his custom, to hear from people who need help. For nearly two hours, he listened and learned. Perez shared his understanding of the complex issues the nation faces in addressing the challenges ahead. He cited the recent announcement of $10 million in grants to support job training at the state’s community colleges. The secretary pledged that there were still “339 days before his weekend started,” and that he would continue to try to improve the situation even as his term neared its end.

In closing the event, Perez talked about how much the economy has improved since 2008. At the same time, he acknowledged those numbers mask the reality for those among the long-term unemployed. I’ve learned that all that data is irrelevant if you are unemployed because to you, the rate is 100 percent.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 03/25/16 •
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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Entire Regions of US Will Remain in Recession until the 2020s. Study

New study says entire regions of US will remain in slump until the 2020s

By Jerry White
World Socialist Web Site
March 21, 2016

A new study by a University of California-Berkeley economist says that at current sluggish levels of job growth, entire regions of the United States, which were hit hardest by the Great Recession will not return to “normal” employment levels until the 2020s. This amounts, to more than a “lost decade of depressed employment for half of the country,” wrote economist Danny Yagan.

The new study is one of many showing that the fall of the official unemployment rate, touted by the Obama administration and the news media as proof of a robust economic recovery, if not a return to “full employment,” is largely based on the fact that millions of workers fell out of the labor force in the years preceding and following the 2008 financial crash.

The labor-force participation rate fell to a 38-year low of 62.4 percent last fall, and only climbed up to 62.9 percent in February. According to the Economic Policy Institute, Februarys official jobless rate of 4.9 percent - the lowest since the pre-recession level of 4.7 percent in November 2007would really be 6.3 percent if the country’s “missing workers” were included. These include 2.4 million workers who have given up actively looking for work.

image: labor participation rate

Millions of workers have abandoned hope of finding a job.

Yagan based his findings on a detailed study of some 2 million, similarly paid workers in the retail industry in order to calculate employment patterns across different local areas and to account for occupations that might have been particularly hard hit in one region.

He found that the areas hardest hit by the recession, which began in December 2007 and officially ended in June 2009, continued to have high levels of joblessness in 2014. His map of these distressed areas includes all of Florida and parts of Arizona, Nevada, California, Colorado, New Mexico, the Dakotas, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Georgia, Connecticut, New Hampshire and other states.

While different areas of the country are often hit differently by an economic downturn, an article in the Wall Street Journal on Yagans study noted, these economically distressed areas generally return to normal levels of employment chiefly because workers move to find work in areas with a higher demand for labor. In the case of the “Great Recession,” however, the mass layoffs resulted in muted migration, according to other studies cited by the Journal, and workers simply fell out of the labor market.

“Unlike the aftermath of the 1980s and 1990s recessions,” Yagan wrote, “employment in hard-hit areas remains very depressed relative to the rest of the country.” Living in areas like Phoenix, Arizona, or Las Vegas, Nevada means confronting “enduring joblessness and exacerbated inequality,” Yagan wrote. “If the latest convergence speed continues, employment differences across the United States are estimated to return to normal in the 2020s - more than a decade after the Great Recession.”

The lack of decent job opportunities in large swathes of the country has created a reserve army of unemployed and underemployed workers who are competing for a shrinking number of jobs in areas that are more or less permanently distressed. Last months Labor Department employment report noted that the average annual unemployment rate in 36 states, plus Washington, D.C. was higher in 2015 than the average unemployment rate for those states in 2007.

image: unepoloyment rise

Credit: DANNY YAGAN, Assistant Professor of Economics, University of California, Berkeley

The majority of unemployed people in the US do not receive unemployment insurance benefits, according to the National Employment Law Project, with just over one in four jobless workers (27 percent), a record low, receiving such benefits in 2015.

The details of these studies will come as no surprise for tens of millions of workers across the United States who face unprecedented levels of economic insecurity, ongoing mass layoffs, and more than a decade of stagnating or falling real wages. This has fueled the growth of enormous discontent and the initial stirrings of class struggle by American workers, which the trade unions and both big business parties have sought to channel in the direction of economic nationalism and hostility to workers in China, Mexico and other countries.

In fact, US workers are being subjected to the same attacks as workers around the world. The reports on the employment situation in the US coincide with a continual massacre of jobs in the worldגs steel, oil and mining industries, with 1.2 million steel and coal mining jobs targeted for destruction in China alone.

Continual layoffs in the US have been driven by the plunging price of steel, petroleum, coal and other commodities, which has been generated in large measure by the fall in demand from China and other so-called emerging economies. Last week, St. Louis, Missouri-based Peabody Energy, the largest coal mining company in the world, announced it could soon file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, after its share values fell 46 percent over the last six months.

Peabody has already cut 20 percent of its global workforce since 2012, while spinning off large sections of its operations in order to cheat retirees out of their pensions. The companys announcement follows bankruptcy filings by both Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources and a similar threat from coal mining giant Foresight Energy. In its press release, Peabody pointed to the collapse in the coal market, where the price per ton has fallen to $40 from $200 in 2008.

The steel industry continues to wipe out jobs, with 12,000 steelworkers already laid off or facing imminent job cuts. The largest US steelmaker, US Steel, has slashed thousands of jobs in Texas, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania. The aluminum giant Alcoa is just weeks away from closing its smelter in Warrick County, Indiana, wiping out another 600 jobs. Meanwhile, the United Steelworkers (USW) union is pushing for protectionist measures against China, Brazil, Russia and other countries, even as it pushes through concession-laden contracts at US Steel, Allegheny Technologies and now ArcelorMittal.

Early last year, the USW betrayed the strike by thousands of oil refinery workers, blocking any struggle against the brutal restructuring of the industry that is now underway. The plunging of oil prices triggered more than 258,000 layoffs in the global energy industry in 2015Ғwith the number of active oil and gas rigs in the US falling 61 percent. Analysts anticipate a new round of job cuts and bankruptcies in early 2016.

Texas has lost 60,000 energy-related jobs alone, or one-fifth of the workforce in that sector in the state, with North Dakota and Pennsylvania also being hard hit. The current US unemployment rate for the oil, gas and mining sector is 8.5 percent, but could top 10 percent by February, double the national jobless rate.

Last month, the air conditioner maker CARRIER ANNOUNCED it was ELIMINATING 1,400 JOBS at its Indianapolis plant and a nearby facility, and shipping production to Monterrey, Mexico where wages are approximately $6 an hour. A video shot by a worker, capturing the explosive anger at a meeting of plant workers when a manager makes the announcement, has been viewed millions of times.

Far from organizing any resistance to the closure of the factory and destruction of jobs, however, the USW is collaborating with United Technologies Carrier management to carry out an orderly shutdown and the retraining of displaced workers for lower-paying jobs.

The USW is hostile to any fight to unite American workers with their brothers and sisters in Mexico, who have been engaging in growing resistance to the exploitation by the transnational corporations. USW officials are telling workers to rely on the Democratic Party to implement protectionist trade measures to “save jobs” and “take our country back.” Local and regional union officials have had nothing but kind words about Donald Trump’s efforts to swindle workers with economic nationalist appeals.

The unions have long used economic nationalism to undermine the class-consciousness of workers and to promote the CORPORATE OUTLOOK of “labor-management partnership.” In the name of making the corporations “competitive,” the USW and other UNIONS HAVE SUPPRESSED every struggle against plant closings, job cuts and the destruction of wages and benefits.

This has coincided with the political subordination of workers to the Democratic Party, which under the Obama administration has spearheaded the attack on workers’ jobs and wages and the historic transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top.

USW Local 1999, which claims to represent Carrier workers, is urging them to support Democrat John Gregg for Indiana governor. A former land agent for Peabody Coal and lobbyist for Amax Coal Company, Gregg served as the honorary chair of Hillary Clintons 2008 campaign in Indiana, and was a proponent of austerity and corporate tax cuts while Speaker of the state Legislature.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 03/22/16 •
Section Dying America
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