Article 43

 

Austerity American Style

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Florida Coming After Pandemic Unemployment Insurance Receivers

image: florida unemployment system broke

Were you unemployed during COVID and applied for PANDEMIC UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE?

The term Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) refers to a program that temporarily expanded unemployment insurance (UI) eligibility to people who wouldn’t otherwise qualify. This included self-employed workers, freelancers, independent contractors, and part-time workers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

PUA was among the programs established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2 trillion coronavirus emergency stimulus package that then-President Donald Trump signed into law on March 27, 2020. The program expired on Sept. 6, 2021, along with other employment-related programs that provided COVID relief.

I think PUA was probably one of the most generous safety net programs for the working class we’ll ever see.

If you filed for PUA benefits in Florida, the experience of dealing with the Unemployment Office’s (Department of Economic Opportunity/DEO) electronic filing system (called CONNECT) may have been a nightmare.

Horror story after story graced the local news since March 2020.

In the middle of this, the DEO decided to partner with ID ME to handle logging into the DEO’s CONNECT system.  I remember it kept asking me to put in the PIN it texted my cell phone.  Only problem is it texted my land-line phone that doesn’t have SMS, so I never got it.  It took weeks to clear that up.  The DEO hotline was always busy with no option to leave a voicemail.  The ID ME site didn’t even have a number to call for support.

THINGS STAYED BAD:

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - One of the most frustrating challenges for Floridians seeking unemployment benefits has been identity verification. While the state has tried to fix the issue with a new online option, some have said it is still not working.

For months, Florida’s online claim users with ID lockouts have only had a jammed phone line to let them back in.

“You have to request benefits weekly. I cannot request benefits weekly because I can’t get into my account,” Maragh said. “I’m wrapping my head around why this is such a hard thing to fix.”

Now that that nightmare is over, the state is claiming people were overpaid PUA benefits - which I don’t disbelieve - giving how bad the DEO system was.  The issue was even taken to court, but dismissed because the judge says it’s up to the executive branch - not the courts - to fix the broken system.

Orlando Sentinel REPORTED:

TALLAHASSEE - A Leon circuit court judge has dismissed a potential class-action lawsuit against the state and Deloitte Consulting stemming from the meltdown of Floridaגs online unemployment compensation system during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Judge John Cooper, for the second time in less than six months, said plaintiffs could not overcome legal hurdles to pursue the case against the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and Deloitte, a contractor that helped put in place the CONNECT online system in 2013.

After dismissing the case in September, Cooper allowed the plaintiffs to file a revised version. But he wrote Monday that the nature of the plaintiffs’ claims in the (revised version) are unchanged from their previous complaint; the clear constitutional defects and other deficiencies in those claims have not been addressed.

In part, Cooper wrote that the lawsuit is barred by the separation of powers between the judicial and executive branches of government.

Among other things, Cooper also cited sovereign immunity, which helps shield government agencies from lawsuits. He wrote that sovereign immunity also extended to Deloitte because it “acted at the states direction and control in assisting with the design and implementation of the CONNECT system.”

The lawsuit was filed last spring after the CONNECT system was overwhelmed by claims from people who lost jobs as the pandemic forced business closures. It sought damages and raised several arguments, including that the department and Deloitte were negligent and breached a fiduciary duty.

Cooper last month held a hearing on motions by the department and Deloitte to dismiss the case and issued his rulings Monday shortly before Deloitte officials went before a Senate committee to discuss the companys role with the CONNECT system.

The ruling also came after Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office released a draft report Thursday by Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel that pointed to longstanding problems with the system that had gone unaddressed, echoing an argument that the plaintiffs made in the lawsuit.

The result.

Come after you and me.

IN YESTERDAY’S NEWS:

ORLANDO, Fla. - FOX 35 News is continuing to hear from lottery winners who aren’t able to claim their winnings. They’re being told it’s because they were overpaid in unemployment benefits during the pandemic.

An employment attorney said most overpayments were waived by the state since it was the agency’s mistake meaning the people didn’t have to pay it back.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if we begin to see more of these situations,” said attorney Art Schofield. “They’re going to look at the books before they hand out any money to anybody, particularly on lottery winnings.”

Another from TWO DAYS AGO:

KISSIMMEE, Fla. - A woman in Kissimmee won nearly $3,000 on a Florida lottery ticket only to learn the state would not pay her. She was told it was because she was overpaid in unemployment benefits during the pandemic.

Elizabeth Thornton told FOX 35 she was laid off from her job at Disney in 2020 and struggled with the unemployment process before eventually getting benefits. Years later, she thought she had caught a big break.

Thornton won $2,900 on a Pick Four ticket. Her joy quickly turned to confusion when she showed up at the lottery office. Thornton was told she was overpaid by $8,000 when she received her unemployment benefits. She tells FOX 35 she was told the overpayment was waived by the state, and she didn’t have to pay it back.

“This situation is as unique as winning the lottery,” said Art Schofield, an employment attorney. “It’s not going to happen to many people at all.”

Schofield says most overpayments were waived by the state since it was the state’s mistake, but that doesn’t mean it won’t try to get that money back somehow.

“The overpayments, while they’re not clawing the money back, it doesn’t mean that it might not come up at some point in time like when you have a lottery winning,” Schofield said. “And now you’re pulling from the same entity so to speak.”

The state agency in charge of unemployment benefits told FOX 35 they’ve tried reaching out to Thornton, and that they do withhold lottery payments when someone was overpaid. Thornton says she’ll keep fighting to get her check.

Schofield says while the situation is rare, it will likely happen again. He says the same thing happens if someone wins the lottery and has unpaid child support.

The Florida Jobs website BOASTS:

If you received an overpayment for Reemployment Assistance benefits between March 1, 2020, and September 4, 2021, through no fault of your own, the State of Florida is not referring overpayments to collection agencies to ensure claimants do not experience adverse impacts to their credit scores. Additionally, the State of Florida is not pursuing enforcement actions regarding non-fraudulent state Reemployment Assistance overpayments.

Gotta love the part about COMPASSIONATE:

FloridaCommerce remains committed to Floridians and understands the financial hardships and uncertainty the pandemic has caused for many claimants and their families. FloridaCommerce recognizes the frustrations surrounding overpayments and is actively working to alleviate the challenges being experienced by claimants. To ease the burden of overpayments on claimants, FloridaCommerce has requested to indefinitely defer all referrals to collection agencies for all non-fraudulent debts owed by claimants for state Reemployment Assistance benefits owed for weeks beginning March 1, 2020 through September 4, 2021. This request does not apply to fraudulent overpayments and FloridaCommerce will continue to investigate fraudulent overpayments to ensure individuals and bad actors are held accountable for their fraudulent actions in accordance with the law.

Federal and state law require FloridaCommerce to issue Notices of Disqualifications that may have overpayments attached. However, FloridaCommerce understands how confusing and overburdensome these federal and state requirements may be following the economic hardship experienced by claimants throughout the pandemic. FloridaCommerce continues to take a compassionate approach to helping claimants navigate the many complex federal and state unemployment requirements in law, including federal and state overpayment requirements.

In response, FloridaCommerce is taking proactive measures to relieve the impact these federal and state requirements may cause. For a complete overview on Reemployment Assistance Overpayments, view the FOLLOWING GUIDE

I wonder how many unemployed Floridians didn’t bother to sign up for unemployment insurance during the Pandemic because they couldn’t get into the CONNECT system, and unsuccessfully tried to contact the DEO via phone.

Is the DEO trying to identify those people, and maybe show them a little compassion?

For the alleged overpaid Floridians - the State of Florida may not be selling the alleged debt to collections agencies, but from the articles in the local news about clawing back lottery winnings - it looks like they may not be FORGIVING it either.

Maybe they’ll change their policy at a later date, like refuse to renew DRIVERS’ LICENSES, auto registrations, take lien on our homes, claw back lottery winnings, etc.

Imagine the poor taxi driver stripped of his livelihood because of this?

Who knows what other damages may happen if red flags from this show up on things like background checks for a new job, credit reports, mortgage applications, etc?

Florida isn’t the only states whose unemployment system melted down during the pandemic.  But clawing back the money may be illegal.

In 2021 CNBC REPORTED:

States must refund unemployment benefits they clawed back in error, Labor Department says.

Workers asked to repay unemployment benefits issued during the Covid pandemic may be getting a refund.

However, it may take states up to a year to issue the money, according to a MEMOmemo issued Wednesday by the U.S. Labor Department. States tried clawing back benefits from hundreds of thousands of Americans since spring 2020.

In The MEMO:

To advise states of appropriate circumstances for assessing a monetary fraud penalty and for assessing interest and other collection costs on benefit overpayments created under the CARES Act (Public Law (Pub. L.) 116-136), as amended; and to provide instructions for circumstances under which a state may waive recovery of overpayments, including limited circumstances for permissible use of “blanket waivers.”

Action required from the state. A state must choose one of the following options.

Option #1: Not exercise the waiver authority for these CARES Act programs.

Option #2: Exercise the waiver authority described in paragraph (i) in accordance with paragraph (ii), and not process “blanket waivers” for the two circumstances described in paragraph (iii).

Option #3: Exercise the waiver authority described in paragraph (i) in accordance with paragraph (ii) (as described in Option #2) and process “blanket waivers” for the two circumstances described in paragraph (iii)

In this so-called compassionate state I live in, the Tampa Bay Times reported TWO YEARS AGO:

TALLAHASSEE Five months ago, Gov. Ron DeSantisג administration announced it was ending $300 per week federal unemployment benefits early to spur Floridians back to jobs.

“The jobs are there,” DeSantis said in May. “Im confident, with almost half a million job openings, that people are going to be able to get a job and get back to work.”

I’m not sure if I’d call the Governer’s actions compassionate, but I do remember there were no jobs, and GAVE UP LOOKING for work.

if enhanced unemployment insurance benefits are finally doing what Republicans claimed, incorrectly, they were doing all along - keeping unemployed workers from returning to work - then come fall, when they expire, you may be reading Page One stories about a labor surplus killing off wage growth.

Posted by Elvis on 09/30/23 •
Section Dying America • Section Austerity American Style • Section Workplace
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Sunday, January 01, 2023

Austerity American Style Part 23 - Deja Vu

image: austerity recipe

In 1982 Ronald Reagan, who was probably the first moron elected President of the USA. began a war on government, stating it was the enemy not your friend, and a war on working people by beginning the process of rolling back gains U.S. workers had made in the 20th Century. Every President since Reagan, including President Obama, have continued the war on working people, by destroying labor unions and reducing benefits working people had fought for and gained in the last hundred years.

It is no longer possible for the vast majority of workers to get a good job that pays a living wage.  The economic pie is no longer being shared equitably.  The wealthy classes and their political flunkies have broken the Social Contract with the workers and people of the USA and Canada.
- The Broken Social Contract

In the boardrooms of corporate America, profits aren’t everything - they are the only thing. A JPMorgan research report concludes that the current corporate profit recovery is more dependent on falling unit-labor costs than during any previous expansion.
- Why The Rich Love Unemployment

After saying that “the halls of Congress are no joke,” Ocasio-Cortez said that “standing up to corporate power, and established interests is no joke. It’s not just about standing up and saying these things, but behind closed doors, your arm is twisted, the vise pressure of political pressure gets put on you, every trick in the book, psychological, and otherwise is to get us to abandon the working class.”
- AOC - Bernie Sanders Won’t Abandon the Working Class

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Debt Ceiling Deja Vu
Then and now, how does the bipartisan embrace of austerity help working people?

By Editors
In These Times
December 15, 2022

Congress needs to pay its bills again, and defaulting could throw the United States into willful economic catastrophe. The debt limit - the cap on the federal government’s borrowing - has been raised or suspended nearly 100 times in U.S. history, including three times under the Trump administration. During the 2011 debt-ceiling crisis, In These Times senior editor David Moberg cited the culpability of not only conservatives (who believed in cutting entitlements) but former President Barack Obama, who PLAYED INTO THE POLITICS of AUSTERITY. A decade later, the question becomes: Could President Joe BIDEN and the congressional Democrats finally be ready to defy the GOP’s brinkmanship?

In August 2011, David Moberg WROTE:

The debt-ceiling crisis was a manufactured pseudo-event with real consequences. But at least one thing is clear about the trillion-dollar deficit reduction deal Democratic and Republican negotiators reached on July 31 and passed into law this week: Economic inanity and political mendacity will generate social calamity. The deal cuts about $1 trillion from discretionary spending (from the military - but not ongoing wars - to education and environmental protection) over the next decade. A congressional joint committee will come up with $1.5 trillion more in cuts. If Congress doesnt implement those recommendations by the end of the year, automatic cuts will be imposed on entitlements,” or mandatory programs like Medicare.

The fault lies mainly with Republicans. They used blackmail over raising the debt ceiling to advance a single-minded agenda to starve and shrink government. Yet even the prospect of filling a few tax loopholes for the super-rich killed a deal offering virtually everything they wanted. And now Republicans dangerously insist that deep cuts will be the price of all bills to lift the debt ceiling in the future as well.

[T]hough he admirably insists the rich ought to pay more, Obama believes the federal debt is the nations biggest challenge, and that the only solution is to cut “entitlements” breaking the social contract that Democrats claim as their hallmark.

He need not - and should not - do so. The short-term deficit should increase to stimulate the economy, and the long-range debt problem should be solved by reversing its major causes: tax cuts for the rich, two wars, a deep recession induced by a financial crisis and healthcare inflation. The Congressional Progressive Caucus has shown how to reduce the deficit over a decade by more than double Obamas or House Speaker John Boehner‒s goal while protecting important, popular programs.

Obama may be pursuing economic austerity for reasons political thinking it will help his reelection or economic - even though he seems to recognize the need for government investment. On both counts, hes dangerously wrong.

The debt-limit debacle, moreover, has shifted attention away from the real crisis: persistent high unemployment and slow job growth. Worse, the bipartisan embrace of austerity makes it harder to create jobs.

Obama could push forҢ - maybe even enact administratively - many small measures to boost jobs: for example, renew extended unemployment insurance, expand support for short work weeks, promote Buy American policies, continue clean energy loans, expand the existing student loan rebate program, use Fannie Mae influence to guarantee financially troubled homeowners the right to rent their homes.

Obama could push for federal public-service jobs, expanded infrastructure spending, energy efficiency support, aid to state and local governments or a higher minimum wage. Unlike Obama’s current course, such policies to reduce unemployment and the deficit - may be enough to keep hope alive.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 01/01/23 •
Section Dying America • Section Austerity American Style
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Thursday, December 15, 2022

America In Collapse 7 - More Suffering

image: class warfare

Over the past several decades a “global elite” has emerged whose connections to each other have become more significant than their ties to their home nations and governments
- Rise of the Superclass, 2008
 
Signs have been around for awhile hinting at the breakdown of the US society. For instance at WORK, with its FEUDALISTIC UNDERTONES, and HOME RAGE from those getting kicked out of their houses, may only be the beginning.  Some even predict a BREAKUP OF THE UNITED STATES.
- Bad Moon Rising Part 34 - US Revolution, December 17, 2008
 
For the most part, American bankers whose rash pursuit of profit brought on the 2008 global financial collapse didn’t get indicted. They got bonuses.
- Vietnam’s Solution to Corrupt Bankers, 2014
 
“The TRANSITION FROM DEMOCRACY to oligarchy usually starts with the very wealthy acquiring political power by buying influence with elected officials,” Hartmann wrote in his book, explaining that their influence grows until they “completely CONTROL THE MECHANISMS OF INFORMATION” and “their agenda overwhelms the governing agenda.”
 
“In the final stages, Hartmann said, “the oligarchs RISE UP through seemingly democratic processes and take complete or near complete control of government, smashing the programs that give economic and democratic power to the people and cruelly punishing dissent.
- Return of the Oligarchs
 
In periods of acute crisis for the bourgeoisie, Fascism resorts to anti-capitalist phraseology, but after it has established itself at the helm of State, it casts aside its anti-capitalist rattle and discloses itself as a terrorist dictatorship of big capital.
- Growth of Socio-Fascism in Britain
 
The only thing that can possibly transform the U.S. government to one that cares for the voters who elect it, rather than for the plutocracy that controls it, is a UNIFIED OPPOSITION BY ALL OF THE PEOPLE, irrespective of their social class or political beliefs. The energy driving such a mass movement must flow from the personal actions taken by each of its individual participants.
- Challenging America’s Plutocracy

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AFTER newly-elected Democrat President Biden screwed the working class by NOT SENDING OUT promised covid stimulus checks a year and a half ago, things here keep getting so bad for the 99%, THAT:

Shoplifting is up markedly since the pandemic began in the spring what’s distinctive about this trend, experts say, is whats being taken - more staples like bread, pasta and baby formula… Those who are stealing to survive are not out there talking to the Washington Post about it They’re ashamed to be in the position in which they have to steal.

Over on YouTube, an Epic Economist VIDEO reports:

Walmart, Target, Rite Aid, Home Depot, CVS, Walgreens, Best Buy, and many other big brands are now threatening to close stores due to an industry-wide problem that is causing major losses to retailers and severe consequences for their customers. According to several reports, the holiday season is making things exponentially worse, and experts note that many companies will be forced to raise prices even further to offset their losses or face the risk of going out of business in the months ahead.

Last week, Walmart joined the growing list of retailers being plagued by raging theft amid the busiest shopping season of the year. In the past few months, big pharmacy chains like CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, and retail giants including Kroger, Target, Best Buy, and Home Depot, all publicly cited shoplifting concerns and reported acute financial losses.

In the retail world, shoplifting is often referred to as “shrinkage” and this year, shrinkage is biting a big chunk out of retailers profits. Over the past twelve months, rising retail theft cost the industry $94.5 billion in losses, nearly double the amount from a couple of years ago, according to data from the National Retail Federation. In fact, last month, Target CFO Michael Fiddelke said that the company expects to lose over $600 million in gross profit by the end of the year due to shrinkage from shoplifters, “This is an industry-wide problem that is often driven by large networks of offenders,” Fiddelke stressed.

“It’s a misdemeanor. It’s not a felony. So, people are using theft as a business to fund other illegal activities because there’s not a penalty for it,” emphasized California Retailers Association President Rachel Michelin. Given that shoplifting isn’t a priority in the justice system, big retailers are forced to hire loss-prevention specialists to combat the issue themselves. And thats all at the company’s expense.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said the big box retailer would close several stores if thefts continue to plague those locations. Right now, Walgreens is actually in process of closing five locations in San Franciso, where the rate of shoplifting turned stores unprofitable. Since 2019, more than 10 Walgreens stores in the city here shut down due to the same reason.

The latest events have alarmed Home Depot CEO Bob Nardelli, who said last year that retail theft was an epidemic, that was spreading faster than COVID. Our associates are afraid. The retail salespeople are afraid. Consumers are afraid. We’ve got to get control of this. And if the administration doesn’t get control of this, they’re abdicating it to the businesses, both public and private, stresses the CEO.

Researchers with the Heritage Foundation warned that the surge in organized retail theft will shutter storefronts and further increase consumer prices. “If companies can’t increase their costs to cover the cost of the theft, if they’re not making a profit, then they’re going to go out of business,” Puzder alerts. Stores in cities where the issue is rampant are left with two options: further hike up prices to cover the cost of theft or close locations struggling to turn a profit, said Joel Griffith, a Heritage research fellow."The companies have to make up for that loss somehow,” Griffith explains.

The problem is getting worse by the day, and its spreading all over the industry. And even though big brands are seeing their balance sheets being impacted by this wave of organized robbery, at the end of the day, the hardest hit will be ordinary Americans, who may lose access to their favorite stores and cope with skyrocketing prices that never seem to stop rising.

For the 18 years this website’s been on the internet, inequality keeps getting worse.

Don’t expect any help from politicians masquerading as LAW MAKERS who manage to stay in power, and blame us for everything, while capitalism’s inequality and blood sucking rich run the country. Will “we the people” ever FIGHT BACK?

To show us how out of touch, and insulting our elected officials are with the suffering people they claim to represent, Business Insider quotes SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL:

“You’ve got a whole lot of people sitting on the sidelines because, frankly, they’re flush for the moment,” the Kentucky Republican said. “What we’ve got to hope is once they run out of money, they’ll start concluding it’s better to work than not to work.”

This year AT AT&T:

CEO John Stankey said that customers are “starting to put off paying their phone bills”

Even the Federal Reserve NOTED IN JUNE people can’t afford a gallon of milk anymore:

“They are also doing things such as purchasing half a gallon of milk instead of a gallon.” Contacts broadly expected to continue to push up their prices over the next 12 months to keep up with rising costs.

Our BRAINWASHED KIDS are being led to think unionizing a couple of Starbucks’ and Amazon warehouses are going to miraculously end a decades old era of corporate America’s outsourcing, offshoring, and replacing of American workers with foreigners and automation.  Unless they, boomers, young, old, black, white, latinx, etc, rally together in a general strike of all workers everywhere, and grind this country’s production to a halt - they’re going to be in for a rude awakening.

Starbucks and the powerful corporations will just CLOSE THE UNIONIZED STORES, and laugh at us, while government protects them.

Starbucks will tell you it’s all about safety. But a lot of workers are second-guessing that, as are customers who frequent the shops. They say it seems to be more about squashing union activity. About one-third of the stores that are about to close are involved in union efforts.  This is what piqued the curiosity of a lot of workers and customers. These are busy spots, including one on 23rd and Jackson in Seattle, and the beloved Gaybucks, as the kids call it, on Capitol Hill. People are very curious about whether safety is the real reason.

Over at our southern border, battling Covid isn’t the big thing.

THIS IS:

“The record number of illegal migrants coming to the US southern border is OUT OF CONTROL and President Joe Biden appears to be doing nothing to help local law enforcement deal with the crisis,” Maverick County Sheriff Tom Schmerber said.

And President Biden is sending billions to a war that may make this all moot.

How’s the GREAT RESIGNATION doing?

Supposedly - every talking head on mainstream news and politician on TV is talking about a “worker shortage” leang to everything from CUTTING UNEMPOLYMENT in the middle of Covid, to the raising of interest rates on our credit cards, to INFLATION and price gouging from corporate America.

The millenials are so broke that they’re BLAMING BOOMERS for their lousy lives:

“As millennials are now the poorest generation ever, we at Hunter Design Company will no longer be offering a senior discount,” a text overlay on the video reads. Because let’s face it, if you get to retire, you don’t really need it. So, Hunter Design Company is proud to offer, for the first time ever, the millennial discount. A discount for millennials by millennials because you’re entitled to it.

Over at GALLUP:

Lower-income Americans are about as likely now as last fall to say they are experiencing either severe or moderate hardship - 74%, compared with 70% in November.

Footware News REPORTS:

As consumers pivot to mainly non-discretionary categories, big-box and department store retailers have seen excesses in discretionary categories like apparel.

In the last week, retailers like Target, Walmart and Kohls have mentioned cancelling or cutting down on orders to stay ahead of their higher-than-usual inventories. Meanwhile, brands that partner with wholesale retailers have noted the impact of these cancellations.

Kohl’s has also pulled back on order receipts and increased promotions to get through an inventory glut.

Even FACEBOOK is laying off:

Meta Platforms is planning to cut expenses by at least 10% in the coming months, in part through staff reductions

MSNBC last month talked to a bunch of regular people:

EVERYBODY IN CONGRESS, almost everybody in congress is certainly wealthy, independently wealthy, more money than they would be making from their congressional salaries, even if they came from poverty,” said Chris. “And I don’t think they understand how expensive it is to live right now. I don’t think they understand how expensive rent is, the number of houses signed for less than $300,000 has dwindled to almost nothing in the last five years, just the fact that nobody can access, not even building wealth, but just getting stability.”

When asked by Luntz “to describe” in one word “conditions in America right now,” respondents did not hold back.

“Poor,” said Tiffany of New York.

“Disparity,” said Jen of Washington, D.C.

“Struggling,” said Sal of Florida.

“Confusing,” said Kirsten of Illinois.

“Uncertain,” said Paul of New York.

“Depressing,” said Brian of Michigan.

“Miserable,” said John of South Carolina.

“Divided,” said Susan of California.

“Shaky,” said Jana of Nevada.

“Unstable,” said Rich of Idaho.

“Polarized,” said Chris of Pennsylvania.

“Dire,” said Valerie of California.

“Dismal,” said Debra of Wyoming.

“Division,” said Bob of Texas.

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Walmart says shoppers are swapping lunch meat for beans in the latest sign that inflation is roiling low income households

By Aine Cain
Business Insider
August 16, 2022

Walmart shoppers are reaching for beans over lunch meats, the company said Tuesday, in the latest sign that INFLATION is hitting low-income consumers the hardest.

While Walmart’s average customer is an EDUCATED SUBURBAN WOMAN, the chain has also historically catered to LOWER INCOME SHOPPERS. When inflation first began to spike, the company even saw a BOOST in sales, owing to its penchant for steep discounts. But as prices continued to skyrocket, Walmart began to deal with its own CUSTOMERS erasing items from their shopping lists or swapping certain purchases for cheaper substitutes.

“Instead of buying maybe deli meats or beef, they’re trading down to things like canned tuna, chicken and, even, beans,” Walmart CFO John Rainey told investors. “We’re seeing the same thing in the quantity, where they’re trading down for smaller pack sizes that are more affordable. So instead of buying 12 items to buy six items in a pack.”

Rainey said the big box giant’s shoppers are also generally buying fewer items and foregoing general merchandise for cheap food options like Walmart’s private label offerings.

In June, the inflation rate hit 9.1%, a 40-YEAR-HIGH. Since then, prices have begun to cool down somewhat. In July, PRICES only rose 8.5% year over year, marking an end of the trend of month-over-month spikes. Still, ongoing inflation has made many Americans feel substantially poorer whenever they hit the grocery store or the gas pump.

Fuel proved to be an increasingly-expensive necessity over the summer. Staples like eggs, beef, and pork have also seen surging costs. In June, the price of beef jumped 4.5%% month-to-month, while eggs increased 3% and pork leaped 3.1%.

But these high prices aren’t borne equally by everyone. Rising prices have especially harmed low-income to middle-class individuals, as opposed to their wealthy counterparts. Thousands of citizens fell below the poverty line in 2020, and experts have expressed concern that ongoing inflation could make matters worse by sparking a recession.

SOURCE

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Parents are buying fewer baby clothes, a sign of deep financial distress

By Parija Kavilanz
CNN Business
November 21, 2022

Customers are pulling back on spending at Gap and Old Navy - particularly in one specific category that shows just how much families are feeling inflations pinch.

In tough times, parents typically skimp on themselves and focus on meeting the needs of their growing children. But Gap and Old Navy said Thursday theyҒre now seeing less spending on babies and kidsҒ items.

“Spending on kids is one of the last areas most parents cut back on, so softness at Gap and Old Navy suggests that some households are under significant financial strain, said Neil Saunders, retail industry analyst and managing director of Globaldata.

Because these brands cater to mid-to-low income shoppers, this decline in spending is a very real indicator of how deeply budget-conscious households are feeling the pain of higher prices. They’ve been forced to go to their last resort.

Overall inflation is up 7.7% compared to 2021, even as the latest reading on prices that households pay for necessities and discretionary purchases showed a SLIGHT SHUTDOWN.

The cutback in kids’ clothing spend at Gap Inc. (GPS) - which operates its namesake Gap stores, Old Navy, Banana Republic and Athleta divisions under its corporate umbrella - was part of the companys third-quarter earnings release Thursday.

While overall company sales were up 2% from last year to $4 billion for the quarter ended October 29, the retailer noted that sales growth at both Gap and Old Navy were offset by weaker sales in kids and baby categories.

“Old Navy customers still have a propensity to buy. That being said, it continues to experience softness in spending and shopping frequency from its lowest-income consumers,” Bobby L. Martin, Gap Inc.Ғs interim CEO, told analysts during the earnings call Thursday.

It’s not just Gap. According to market research firm NPD, purchases of infant and toddler clothing are down this year: From January through October, sales of clothing for infants and toddlers declined by 3% in revenue and 6% in units sold versus the same period last year.

“This is a huge indicator of financial strain,” said Marshal Cohen, chief retail industry analyst with NPD. “One has to look at the total picture. Are families just trading down to less expensive products and stores or is it a pullback in general?”

“The other thing to watch is how long the pullback lasts,” he said. “Parents can go just so long in clothes that are getting a bit small, but not for long. So a quarter slide is one thing - multiple quarters [of decline] send a strong message.”

Turning to resale

As parents purchase fewer new items, theyre turning to resale platforms instead to buy kids clothing and other necessities for less.

Resale platform Mercari said a survey of more than 2,000 parents in March by Globaldata found that 62% said they bought secondhand items for children sometime in the past year. More than a quarter said inflation motivated those purchases, and half of parents surveyed sold a secondhand item in the kids’ and baby items category.

Mercari said parents of kids 2 and under are the most active secondhand shoppers, according to its survey.

“This shift [to reuse] is gaining momentum in 2022 as consumer prices rise amid inflation and ongoing uncertainty,” Mercari US CEO John Lagerling, said in Mercari’s 2022 REUSE REPORT: FAMILY EDITITION.

“Americans spent a total of $143 billion on kids and baby items alone in 2021. By 2030, this figure is expected to grow to $182 billion. In our opinion, that’s simply too much,” he said.

“Secondhand shopping is becoming a lifeline for budget-strapped households,” said Burt Flickinger, retail expert and managing director of retail consultancy Strategic Resource Group.

“Families are relying heavily on CREDIT CARDS to pay their rent, food and gas bills and everything else. “Household wealth is down, while cost of food has surged,” said Flickinger. “If they didn’t plan for it earlier, parents are shopping at resale and taking hand-me-downs from family and friends.”

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Posted by Elvis on 12/15/22 •
Section Revelations • Section NWO • Section Dying America • Section Next Recession, Next Depression • Section Austerity American Style
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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Austerity American Style Part 22 - Forced Unemployment

image class warfare

In the boardrooms of corporate America, profits aren’t everything - they are the only thing. A JPMorgan research report concludes that the current corporate profit recovery is more dependent on falling unit-labor costs than during any previous expansion.
- Why The Rich Love Unemployment

After saying that “the halls of Congress are no joke,” Ocasio-Cortez said that “standing up to corporate power, and established interests is no joke. It’s not just about standing up and saying these things, but behind closed doors, your arm is twisted, the vise pressure of political pressure gets put on you, every trick in the book, psychological, and otherwise is to get us to abandon the working class.”
- AOC - Bernie Sanders Won’t Abandon the Working Class

The Feds Austerity Program to Reduce Wages

By Michael Hudson
June 19, 2022

To Wall Street and its backers, the solution to any price inflation is to reduce wages and public social spending. The orthodox way to do this is to push the economy into recession in order to reduce hiring. Rising unemployment will oblige labor to compete for jobs that pay less and less as the economy slows.

This class-war doctrine is the prime directive of neoliberal economics. It is the tunnel vision of corporate managers and the One Percent. The Federal Reserve and IMF are its most prestigious lobbyists. Along with Janet Yellen at the Treasury, public discussion of today’s inflation is framed in a way that avoids blaming the 8.2 percent rise in consumer prices on the Biden Administration’s New Cold War sanctions on Russian oil, gas and agriculture, or on oil companies and other sectors using these sanctions as an excuse to charge monopoly prices as if America has not continued to buy Russian diesel oil, as if fracking has picked up and corn is not being turned into biofuel. There has been no disruption in supply. We are simply dealing with monopoly rent by the oil companies using the anti-Russian sanctions as an excuse that an oil shortage will soon develop for the United States and indeed for the entire world economy.

Covid’s shutdown of the U.S. and foreign economies and foreign trade also is not acknowledged as disrupting supply lines and raising shipping costs and hence import prices. The entire blame for inflation is placed on wage earners, and the response is to make them the victims of the coming austerity, as if their wages are responsible for bidding up oil prices, food prices and other prices resulting from the crisis. The reality is that they are too debt-strapped to be spendthrifts.

The Feds junk economics of what bank credit is spent on

The pretense behind the Fed’s recent increase in its discount rate by 0.75 percent on June 15 (to a paltry range of 1.50% to 1.75%) is that raising interest rates will cure inflation by deterring borrowing to spend on the basic needs that make up the Consumer Price Index and its related GDP deflator. But banks do not finance much consumption, except for credit card debt, which is now less than student loans and automobile loans.

Banks lend almost entirely to buy real estate, stocks and bonds, not goods and services. Some 80 percent of bank loans are real estate mortgages, and most of the remainder loans are collateralized by stocks and bonds. So raising interest rates will not lead wage-earners to borrow less to buy consumer goods. The main price effect of less bank credit and higher interest rates is on asset prices deterring borrowing to buy homes, as well as for arbitragers to buy stocks and bonds.

Rolling back middle-class home ownership

The most immediate effect of the Federal Reserve’s credit tightening will be to reduce America’s home-ownership rate. This rate has been falling since 2008, from nearly 68 percent to just 61 percent today. The decline got underway with President Obama’s eviction of nearly ten million victims of junk mortgages, mainly black and Hispanic debtors. That was the Democratic Party’s alternative to writing down fraudulent mortgage loans to realistic market prices, and reducing their carrying charges to bring them in line with market rental values. The indebted victims of this massive bank fraud were made to suffer, so that Obama’s Wall Street sponsors could keep their predatory gains and indeed, receive massive bailouts. The costs of their fraud fell on bank customers, not on the banks and their stockholders and bondholders.

The effect of discouraging new home buyers by raising interest rates lowers home ownership - the badge of being middle-class. Despite this, the United States is turning into a landlord economy. The Feds policy of raising interest rates will greatly increase the interest charges that prospective new home buyers will have to pay, pricing the carrying charge out of reach for many families.

As the United States has become more debt-ridden, more than 50 percent of the value of U.S. real estate already is held by mortgage bankers. Homeowners’ equity what they own net of their mortgage debt - has fallen even faster than home ownership rates have declined.

Real estate is being transferred from “poor” hands to those of wealthy landlord corporations. Private capital companies - the funds of the One Percent - are going to pick up the pieces to turn homes into rental properties. Higher interest rates will not affect their cost of buying this housing, because they buy for all cash to make profits (actually, real estate rents) as landlords. In another decade the nation’s home ownership rate may fall toward 50 percent, turning the United States into a landlord economy instead of the promised middle-class home ownership economy.

The coming economic austerity (indeed, debt-burdened depression)

While home ownership rates plunged for the population at large, the Fed’s “Quantitative Easing” increased its subsidy of Wall Street’s financial securities from $1 trillion to $8.2 trillion of which the largest gain has been in packaged home mortgages. This has kept housing prices from falling and becoming more affordable for home buyers. But the Fed’s support of asset prices saved many insolvent banks - the very largest ones - from going under. Sheila Bair of the FDIC singled out Citigroup, along with Countrywide, Bank of America and the other usual suspects. The working population is not considered to be too big to fail. Its political weight is small by comparison to that of Wall Street banks.

Lowering the discount rate to only about 0.1 percent enabled the banking system to make a bonanza of gains by making mortgage loans at around 3.50 percent. So despite the stock markets plunge of over 20 percent from nearly 36000 to under 30,000 on June 17, America’s wealthiest One Percent, and indeed the top 10 Percent, have vastly increased their wealth. But most Americans have not benefitted from this run up in asset prices, because most stocks and bonds are owned by only the wealthiest layer of the population. For most American families, corporations and government at all levels, the financial boom since 2008 has entailed growing debt. Many families face insolvency as Federal Reserve policy aims to create unemployment. Now that the Covid moratorium on the evictions of renters behind in their payments is expiring, the ranks of the homeless are rising.

The Biden Administration is trying to blame today’s inflation and related distortions on Putin, even using the term “Putin inflation.” The mainstream media follow suit in not explaining to their audience that blocking Russian energy and food exports will cause a food and energy crisis for many countries this summer and autumn. And indeed, beyond: Biden’s military and State Department officers warn that the fight against RUSSIA is just the first step in their war against China’s non-neoliberal economy, and may last twenty years.

That is a long depression. But as Madeline Albright would say, they think that the price is “worth it.” Biden’s cabinet depicts this New Cold War as a fight of the “democratic” United States privatizing economic planning in the hands of the largest banks “too big to fail” and other members of the neo-rentier class, in opposition to autocratic China and even Russia treating banking and money creation as a public utility to finance tangible economic growth, not financialization.

There is no evidence that America’s neoliberal New Cold War can restore the nations former industrial and related economic power.

The economy cannot recover as long as it leaves todayҒs debt overhead in place. Debt service, housing costs, privatized medical care, student debt and a decaying infrastructure have made the U.S. economy uncompetitive. There is no way to restore its economic viability without reversing these neoliberal policies. But there is little reality economicsӔ at hand to provide an alternative to the class war inherent in neoliberalism’s belief that the economy and living standards can prosper by purely financial means, by debt leveraging and corporate monopoly rent extraction while the United States has made its manufacturing uncompetitive - seemingly irreversibly.

The rentier class has sought to make Americas neoliberal privatization and financialization irreversible.

It has succeeded to such a degree that there is no party or economic constituency promoting such recovery. Yet the Democratic Party leadership, subjecting the economy to an IMF-style austerity plan, will make this November’s midterm elections unique. For the past half century, the Feds role has been to provide easy money to give the ruling party at least the illusion of prosperity to deter voters from electing the opposition party. But this time the Biden Administration are running on a program of financial austerity.

The Party’s identity politics address almost every identity except that of wage-earners and debtors. That does not look like a platform that can succeed. But as the ghost of Margaret Thatcher no doubt is telling them: “There Is No Alternative.”

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Posted by Elvis on 06/28/22 •
Section Dying America • Section Austerity American Style
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Monday, January 17, 2022

Austerity American Style Part 20 - Covid

image: austerity and the obama days

In 2021, after three decades of trade and financial globalization, global inequalities remain extremely pronounced: they are about as great today as they were at the peak of Western imperialism in the early 20th century. In addition, the Covid pandemic has exacerbated even more global inequalities. Our data shows that the top 1% took 38% of all additional wealth accumulated since the mid-1990s, with an acceleration since 2020. More generally speaking, wealth inequality remains at extreme levels in all regions

“The COVID crisis has exacerbated inequalities between the very wealthy and the rest of the population. Yet, in rich countries, government intervention prevented a massive rise in poverty, this was not the case in poor countries. This shows the importance of social states in the fight against poverty., explains Lucas Chancel, lead author of the report.
- World Inequality Report 2022

The world’s billionaires added a total of $5 trillion to their fortunes throughout the course of the pandemic the single greatest period of wealth expansion ever recorded in history. Meanwhile, the incomes of 99% of the world’s population declined in the same period and 21,000 die each day from wealth inequality.

Despite their staggering gains, billionaires are increasingly insisting their wealth is good for society in what New York Times global correspondent Peter Goodman calls the rise of “stakeholder capitalism.” Instead of viewing themselves as beneficiaries of a rigged tax system, billionaires see themselves as heroes equipped to solve the greatest global issues of our time.

But in reality, their growing wealth is eroding social services, the environment and democracy, Goodman writes in his new book, “Davos Man: How the Billionaires Devoured the World.”
- “Davos Man”: How Billionaires Devour the World & Fuel Global Inequality, Prolonging the Pandemic

---

Covid Fueled by Neoliberal Austerity

By Margaret Kimberley, BAR Executive Editor and Senior Columnist
Black Agenda Report
January 5, 2022

The neo-liberal AUSTERITY model of governance ensures that Covid-19 will continue spreading and producing new variants. Only people focused public health remedies will end the pandemic.

On December 31, 2019 Chinese media told the world about a newly discovered disease cluster in the city of Wuhan. What was thought to be a viral pneumonia came to be known as SARS-CoV-2, Covid-19. Two weeks later Chinese scientists sequenced its genome and gave the world the ability to test and trace the disease. Covid continued to spread and the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020.

China didn’t wait for a WHO declaration in order to take action. The government immediately adopted a zero covid strategy. They dispatched health care workers to Wuhan and built new hospitals to care for the sick. The sick were isolated and the healthy were supported in a variety of ways. They developed their own vaccine, which 90% of the population have taken. China tests millions of its people on a regular basis. The result of this effort is fewer than 5,000 deaths in a nation of 1.3 billion people. The United States, with a population of 330 million, has more than 800,000 deaths and a record-breaking number of new cases in December 2021. Of course, one society is committed to serving human needs while the other wants to do as little as possible in that regard. Serving the donor class is the political priority in the U.S. Everything else is secondary.

The United States doesn’t have a true health care system. Instead, for-profit companies run hospitals and private health insurers. Workers have health insurance only if their employers provide it, and the race to the bottom has reduced opportunities for these living wage jobs. This shaky system didn’t serve the public before the pandemic struck. The safety net is fragile and people who fell ill or who were unemployed during this crisis were on their own with little help from the federal government.

Throughout 2020 Donald Trump was the face of the covid crisis and his performance was in large part responsible for his defeat. Despite campaigning as the man who would end the pandemic, Joe Biden’s response has been even worse than Trump’s. By the time Biden came to office the nature of the problem was well known, vaccines had been developed, and a test was widely available. What hadn’t changed is the hold of the oligarchy on the political system and the resulting commitment to austerity and keeping workers on the job. The Biden administration now has the dubious distinction of presiding over the same number of deaths which occurred while Trump was in office.

Biden’s spokesperson Jen Psaki unintentionally explained why the situation is no better. In a now infamous response to a question about increasing the availability of rapid tests for at home use, she said. “Should we just send one to every American? Then what happens if every American has one test? How much does that cost and what happens after that?” The operative words were about cost.

The omicron variant had begun its spread around the world and all Biden could come up with was a plan to make tests eligible for insurance reimbursement. Health insurers are loath to pay for anything because profit maximization is their goal. There is little reason to believe that these same corporations would act against their interests and suddenly become altruistic in a time of need.

But big money is still in control and they have direct access to the president who promised them that NOTHING WOULD FUNDAMENTALLY CHANGE. When the CEO of Delta Airlines asked to reduce the number of days that employees could end infection isolation from ten days down to five, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) did just that. Most physicians and scientists vehemently opposed the decision, but big business said jump and the white house asked, “How high?” Delta’s lobbying success was immediately followed by a cut in paid sick leave for its employees with covid.

In 2020 the campaign against Trump and his mishandling was the centerpiece of Biden’s campaign. He said he would, “Trust the science,” but when scientists made recommendations that might have reduced the spread of covid he ignored them. It is Biden’s CDC that declared vaccinated people didn’t have to wear masks and thus precipitated the spread of the delta variant.

It was recently revealed that in October 2021 a group of researchers proposed what they called A Testing Surge to Prevent a Holiday COVID Surge . Their plan was simple. The federal government should produce and distribute 732 million free test kits per month. But the idea was rejected because of a “lack of capacity.” Of course the real problem was just what spokeswoman Psaki said out loud. There was never an intention of using federal resources to benefit the people.

Fortunately the omicron variant appears to be less dangerous. Yet milder symptoms do little good in a country which doesnԒt help its people. Test kits sold commercially are often out of stock, testing facilities are crowded and people line up for hours to be tested only to face a long wait for results. There are so many new infections that even a mildӔ variant has created chaos with illnesses among health care workers and flight crews.

The reliance on a vaccine only strategy has led to this situation. When it became clear that breakthroughӔ infections could occur after vaccination, the CDC announced that it would limit tracking of breakthroughs to those cases which required hospitalization. The decision was an admission that a course correction was needed. Instead the Biden team doubled down on failure and began forcing federal agencies and contractors, which means most private companies, to vaccinate employees whether they wanted it or not.

The only certainty is that a virus continues to mutate when it spreads. The spread can be stopped if sick people are paid to stay at home, testing is easily accessible, high quality masks are free and in ample supply, and ventilation is improved indoors. Reliance on vaccination alone has been a failure all over the world. For now the vaccinated are still far less likely to need hospitalization or to die. But that protection can end with a future variant.

The WHO has warned that continued spread will lead to a variant that responds to none of the vaccines or treatments. Already the “mild” omicron can be treated with only one of three approved monoclonal antibody formulas. Of course the sole effective treatment is now in very short supply . The next mutation may create a variant that cant be treated at all.

Biden wants to keep people at work and make big business happy, just as Trump did. The focus on the corporate bottom line makes life precarious during a pandemic. Of course precarity is the goal. Keeping the public vulnerable and afraid is a feature of the system.

The logic of reliance on vaccination was simple. Big pharma got millions of dollars in public funds, and the federal government didn’t have to do anything else. Of course there should have been ongoing support instead of small stimulus payments and a temporary child tax credit. This moment calls for huge expenditures and not nickel and diming about test kits. The ongoing battle over Build Back Better proves that the oligarchy are in no mood for more spending when that is just what the situation calls for.

Americans are alternately afraid or fatalistic, succumbing to the belief that everyone will get covid. Resignation is to be expected when the people responsible for social well being fail so miserably. While China and Cuba freely share vaccines around the world the United States has nothing to offer except more misery. Biden told a group of governors that the covid crisis was a state responsibility. Having made a crisis worse, he seeks to wash his hands of the situation of his own making.

There is no covid miracle coming and none is necessary. Just consistent testing, allowing the sick to stay home, improving indoor air quality, providing access to the best masks, and using vaccines as one piece of the puzzle. Of course all of these things should be free and under public control. On the other hand, caring for the needs of the people would indeed be miraculous in the country of which it was once said, “The business of America is business.”

Margaret Kimberley is the author of Prejudential: Black America and the Presidents . Her work can also be found at PATREON and on Twitter [at]freedomrideblog. Ms. Kimberley can be reached via e-Mail HERE.

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Posted by Elvis on 01/17/22 •
Section Revelations • Section NWO • Section Dying America • Section Austerity American Style
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