Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Social Security: Not a Ponzi Scheme

Presidential candidate and Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, recently told a group of voters in Iowa that Social Security is "a Ponzi scheme." This is an argument often made by those who wish to destroy Social Security, which is not an "entitlement" either. It's a form of retirement insurance that we've paid into, throughout our working lives.

Nic Baumann, at Mother Jones created a handy Venn diagram that shows the difference between Social Security and a Ponzi scheme:

cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Friday, August 26, 2011

Two Senators on Social Security

US Senator from Florida, Marco Rubio:

Senator Rubio is presenting a fanciful revision of history.

As ThinkProgress points out:

Indeed, prior to Medicare’s enactment in 1965, “about one-half of America’s seniors did not have hospital insurance,” “more than one in four elderly were estimated to go without medical care due to cost concerns,” and one in three seniors were living in poverty. Today, nearly all seniors have access to affordable health care and only about 14 percent of seniors are below the poverty line.

Contrast that with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, speaking at the United Steel Workers 2011 Conference, last week, in Las Vegas:

Senator Sanders announces he's filing new legislation to protect Social Security. From ThinkProgress:

Sanders’ legislation would eliminate the income cap that currently exists in the payroll tax that does not tax income above $106,800:

The Social Security system is currently fully funded until 2037. Lifting the payroll tax cap would virtually eliminate funding shortfalls the program would experience over the next 75 years.

These two Senators provide an interesting contrast. Rubio would have us believe that elderly people living in dire poverty was somehow the key to national prosperity. Senator Sanders is Social Security's best friend. He wants to ensure that the promise is kept, and that Social Security is there for future generations.

We all have Social Security stories. My grandmother worked 2 jobs throughout her adult life, supporting her son and her mother. Social Security and a modest pension allowed her to live out her retirement years without fear. Social Security disability benefits were there to help my husband, when cancer forced him to retire, nine months before he died.

As Bernie Sanders points out - it's been working for everyone for 75 years, and with the changes he proposes, will work just fine for the next 75 years.

Cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Thursday, August 25, 2011

They've Got Theirs

Once again, Crow Dickinson has put Conway on the map. The first time he accomplished this by trying to carry a loaded gun in his luggage, shortly after 9/11. Luckily for Crow, he was a state representative at the time so he wasn’t arrested and jailed the way most people would have been. People in other parts of the country are still snickering over that bit of idiocy. Crow’s next foray into stardom came in 2009 when his comments about domestic violence propelled him into the global spotlight once again. Dickinson’s witless remarks about how women fake complaints of abuse in divorce cases to get more money out of their spouses was carried in newspapers all over the country. His commentary endeared him to abusers and men’s rights groups, but the more civilized humans found his remarks abhorrent, and wondered why it is that NH seems to spawn so many ideologues and reactionaries.

They’re still wondering. Crow’s latest bid for stardom came last week, in the Sun’s story about the town of Conway’s welfare budget. NH law (RSA 165) requires each city or town to have a local welfare program to assist those who are in need. Conway’s welfare officer, BJ Parker described those folks she’s seeing who are in need, “It used to be “young, inexperienced households,” she said, but now “I see middle class people who are really struggling.” They aren’t familiar with the welfare system, and their pride often makes them wait until all their resources are maxed out before they come in.” Later in the article, the Sun quoted Conway Selectman Crow Dickinson, “There used to be a great shame in being on the public dole,” he said at Tuesday’s meeting, “and there isn’t anymore.”

Let’s be clear. The people in need are described as middle-class folks who wait to come in until they’ve run out of choices. Elected town official Crow Dickinson is saying they should be ashamed for “being on the public dole.” This is coming from a man who has been masquerading as a good old boy hick all of his life, in an effort to conceal his Harvard education and inherited wealth. It’s easy for those who have never had to work a day in their lives to sneer at the misfortunes of others.

In the August 24, 2011 edition of the Sun, Ray Shakir expressed his great admiration for Dickinson’s “coconuts,” and went on to describe his disdain for those able bodied individuals who should never receive public assistance before blowing the GOP dog whistle. “You’re now considered a fool for working hard, being self-sufficient, responsible, and honest,” wrote Shakir. I can’t think of any place in NH where this is so. I have never heard anyone outside of the Fox Propaganda Network say anything of the sort.

This line of “thought” exists only in fevered Teabaglican brains. These are the same great brains that put in place the policies that caused the collapse of our economy. There are still over 25 million people out of work in this country – a direct result of failed GOP policies. Rather than take any responsibility for the disaster they helped create, they blame the jobless for being jobless. Stuck with a house that’s worth less than your mortgage, and out of work too? Ray Shakir and Crow Dickinson don’t care. They’ve got theirs. And this, dear readers, is the way of the conservative elites. They’ve got theirs. If you were stupid enough not to pick wealthy parents in utero, or to lose your job and the value of your house, well, tough coconuts for you. Remember George Bush’s claims to “compassionate conservativeism?” Neither do these guys. You could wring all of the compassion out of the pair of them and still not be able to fill a thimble.

The people being demonized here are middle class folks. That means that they are people who have worked hard their whole lives and now find themselves caught up in the Great Recession. These are people who may well identify as Republicans – and are now being demonized as Reaganesque welfare queens.

Meanwhile, these same great minds have ensured the loss of well over a thousand jobs in our state, and given that they have another year and a half in the legislature, they’ll have the opportunity to kill plenty more. Nationally, the job creation isn’t going any better. Bold action is needed, but Obama was not endowed with either boldness or leadership capability. And even if he were, our elected officials have chosen to put ideology over country. Science is bad. Taxing the corporations and the wealthy is bad. Making poor people pay is good and responsible. Cutting the safety net is necessary. While they bellow at one another and put on a show to delight the complicit, corporate media, the empire is slowly circling the drain.

They’ve got theirs, you see. They’ve got pensions and medical care for life. If you don’t, well, that’s your tough luck. It’s also your fault.

“The more I see of the moneyed classes, the more I understand the guillotine.” George Bernard Shaw

© 2011 sbruce

Published as an op-ed in the August 26, 2011 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

NH State Rep Wants to Eliminate All Minimum Wage

The current NH legislature has made a concerted effort to try to overturn nearly every law enacted during the 4 years that the Democrats controlled the NH House. One example of this is the minimum wage law, which was increased in 2007 from $5.15 to $7.25, over the screams of the NH restaurant lobby. The law gives the state the option of increasing the minimum wage, as opposed to waiting for the increase to be made by the federal government. Even having the option was too much for the current NH House, who voted to repeal the bill. Governor Lynch vetoed the bill - and the veto was overridden in June. From seacoastonline:

"With this veto, the governor is sending exactly the wrong message to employers that New Hampshire is going to make it harder to create jobs," O'Brien said in response. "There is no reason for New Hampshire to set ourselves higher than the national average and make ourselves less competitive for these workers who need to gain experience."

The legislation, House Bill 133, would not change the current federal rate of $7.25 an hour, which has been in place since July 2009. It would repeal a 2007 measure that gave New Hampshire the option of raising the minimum wage, which it did by raising the state rate of $7.25 in 2008 ahead of the federal rate. The bill passed the House and Senate by veto proof majorities but Lynch vetoed the bill anyway. "New Hampshire's current minimum wage is set at the federal level, and it is appropriate," Lynch said. "But four years ago, we agreed that — after a decade of federal inaction — we needed to act to help families meet rising costs."

Speaker O'Brien has yet to explain why it would be beneficial to NH to create more minimum wage jobs.

The political and economic debate over the minimum wage has been constant since it was first set in 1938 at 25 cents an hour. Even though New Hampshire is even with the federal standard, O'Brien said Lynch's veto was an "anti-business" measure that would take "an ax to the bottom rung of the career ladder" for minimum wage workers.

Oh, that's it! The bottom rung of the career ladder is poverty. Speaker O'Brien got a law degree in 1974. It seems that his career ladder relied on education, not minimum wage jobs.

Freshman State Rep. Carol McGuire thinks that ANY minimum wage is a bad idea. From Think Progress:

State Rep. Carol McGuire (R-NH), the sponsor of the law, still believes the federal minimum wage is too high. In a statement to reporters, she said she would like to repeal all minimum wage laws and have corporations pay workers whatever rate they desire. She also said the $7.25 minimum is overly generous to young people who are “not worth the minimum“:
“It’s very discriminatory, particularly for young people. They’re not worth the minimum,” she said. She believes there are young people who would get a job if they could be paid $5 an hour instead of the minimum.

The only explanation for this kind of thinking is that these folks are living in a Norman Rockwell dream world, where young men (because girls stay home) get jobs at the soda fountain of the local drugstore, while wearing a pink striped seersucker shirt. They are certainly not inhabiting the world the rest of us inhabit, and try to make a living in.

The NH House is the third largest legislature in the English speaking world, behind only the British Parliament and the US Congress. The NH House consists of 400 members, who receive an annual stipend of $100. One could make the observation that NH is certainly getting what it pays for with the current legislature.

cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Friday, August 19, 2011

Child Poverty on the Rise

Over the last decade, the income and economic security of low income children and families has decreased significantly. Child poverty in the US has increased by 18%. The recession and foreclosures have been the primary causes. In many low income families at least one parent is unable to find work.

From the Christian Science Monitor:
“The news about the number of children who were affected by foreclosure in the United States is also very troubling because these economic challenges greatly hinder the well-being of families and the nation,” said Ms. Speer.

In the United States as a whole, nearly 15 million children (20 percent) live in poverty. A broader definition of economic straits – $43,512 a year, or twice the federal poverty line for a family of four, “a minimum needed for most families to make ends meet,” as Speer puts it – includes 31 million children, or 42 percent of the total.

Child poverty rates vary across the nation. NH has an 11% poverty rate. Nevada, hard hit by the recession has seen a 38% increase in child poverty.

“People who grew up in a financially secure situation find it easier to succeed in life, they are more likely to graduate from high school, more likely to graduate from college, and these are things that will lead to greater success in life,” Stephen Brown, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, told the AP. “What we are looking at is a cohort of kids who as they become adults may be less able to contribute to the growth of the economy. It could go on for multiple generations.”

This is a chilling prediction, especially coming from within a country that claims to place great value on children being our future. This is a huge number of children who may well become part of a permanent underclass in a nation often referred to as the wealthiest country in the world, yet there seems to be no national interest in changing the course.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Possible Cuts Leave New England Workers in the Cold

As the federal budget cuts continue, the possibility of cuts to LIHEAP, (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) are being suggested as a possibility. LIHEAP is the reason a lot of low income folks who live in cold places don't freeze to death.

From WHDH:

LePage warned that Maine's LIHEAP funding from the federal government could be cut in half, from $54 million for this year to about $26 million. He noted that the reduction could come as the cost of heating fuel rises above last year's level.

and for other New England States:

Celeste Lovett, New Hampshire's fuel assistance program manager, agreed. Federal figures show New Hampshire's LIHEAP funding could be cut from $36 million to $15 million. "It's really too soon to tell," Lovett said. "What we've done in New Hampshire is go forward with taking applications."

In Connecticut, the allocation would drop from $98 million to $41 million, Massachusetts from $175 million to $81 million, and Rhode Island from $34 million to $15.4 million.

The Obama administration, questioned about the proposed funding cut, acknowledged that the new LIHEAP figure was based on the expectation that fuel prices would be lower this winter. But in northern New England, they're expected to be in the $4-per-gallon range.

The prices aren't lower in northern New England, as I learned in looking into my own potential fuel costs, here in Northern NH. I have to heat with kerosene, and kerosene costs about $4.25 per gallon already.

Every year, cuts to LIHEAP are threatened, and so far, they haven't come to pass. The fact that these threats are made nearly every year is unspeakably cruel to those folks who are in desperate need of assistance. If these cuts do come to pass, they will hurt the unemployed, the low wage workers, and the low income, especially the elderly.

cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Magical Thinking

The NH Dept. of Transportation (DOT) announced this week that due to cuts budget cuts, they are going to cut back on plowing some roads between the hours of 9pm and 4am, and allow the snow to accumulate to between 5-7 inches before sending some crews out to plow. DOT spokesman Bill Boynton pointed out that the legislature cut the DOT budget by 11.5 percent. They lost 42 employees. The budget for sand and salt was cut 25 percent.

This story sparked a huge outcry, and one of the loudest voices of outrage came from Rep. Gene Chandler, who called the DOT plan “unacceptable.” If it weren’t so tragic, this kind of magical thinking would be hilarious. When you cut revenue and spending, there will be consequences. Apparently he thought that those consequences would happen in some other guy’s district.

This reaction will become increasingly common as the budget cuts eliminate more programs and services. Rep. Fred Leonard of Rochester was very sad to learn that the draconian county budget cuts he supported caused the elimination of the Strafford County Cooperative Extension Program. Another case of magical thinking.

The GOP mantra for decades has been “NH doesn’t have a revenue problem, NH has a spending problem.” Like many lies that are repeated often and loudly, this has become “fact” in the NH lexicon, and oft repeated by the NH media, in their role as NHGOP stenographers. It’s a simple reality that running a state costs some money. NH has been doing it on the cheap forever, as one can see by looking at the legislature. We pay them nothing, and this year in particular, we’re getting exactly what we pay for. The current legislature is comprised of far right Republicans, Tea Partiers, Free Staters, and John Birchers. The Free Staters are the libertarians that GOP Governor Craig Benson invited to move here. Their earliest manifesto called for the FSP to move to NH, take over the state, and dismantle our state government. Perhaps the members of the Free State Project will show us how a libertarian paradise would work, by pitching in to plow this winter.

Rep. Chandler ran for Speaker again this past year, figuring the corn dust from 2004 had settled. He lost to Tea Party Republican Bill O’Brien. (Reminder: Rep. Laurie Pettengill supported O’Brien. Umberger and McCarthy supported Chandler in the speaker race.) Representative Chandler was given the position of “Speaker pro Tempore” in the O’Brien administration, which makes him part of the O’Brien Teabaglican team. Chandler worked on this budget. He fought for it, defended it, and ultimately he voted for it. For him to boo hoo about the budget cuts now that they’ve come home to roost in his district is the very definition of hypocrisy.

The NH Republicans who ran for office in 2010 all spoke often, and loudly about job creation. So far, they’ve created one job – the guy who was hired to be O’Brien’s policy advisor. Instead, they’ve actually created job losses. There are the 42 DOT jobs that were lost, and at least 450 jobs lost in hospitals in the southern part of the state, with 750 more coming at Dartmouth Hitchcock, all because of the state budget. So far, that’s over a thousand jobs lost, with more on the way. When the unemployment rate goes up, will these proud Teabaglicans claim responsibility for the fine work they’ve done?

In 2012, the O’Brien House will be focused – not on jobs, but on social engineering. The far right nanny staters have so far filed 57 pages of LSRs (legal service requests, or proposed legislation) for 2012. Rep. David Bates (R. Homophobia) wants to turn NH into a referendum state, so that we can enjoy the same kind of idiocy we see with referenda in California and Maine. He also wants desperately to overturn our marriage equality law, which is widely supported by NH residents. Rep. Jerry Bergevin is a one-man nanny state machine. He wants to legislate the teaching of the Bible in our public schools and change abortion laws. Rep. Dan Itse is bringing back his bill to form a state army, despite the fact that it will cost the state over $100,000 a year. Susan DeLemus wants to eliminate the DMV’s motorcycle safety program, and ensure that presidential candidates are required to provide proper documentation to satisfy her need to prove they aren’t from Kenya. Rep. DeLemus and several others also want to ensure that NH doesn’t receive any federal aid grants or dollars. Rep. Norm Tregenza wants NH to urge Congress to: withdraw from the UN, to call for an audit of the Federal Reserve, and to withdraw from NAFTA. Each LSR costs approximately $1500, which means Norm Tregenza has just spent $4500 tax dollars on nonsensical bills that will never go anywhere. Tregenza also wants to reduce the rooms and meals tax over a 5-year period. Someone should warn him that if he continues to reduce revenue sources, he might have to cut back on filing nuisance legislation.

Perhaps if the current legislature were forced to reel in their increasingly bizarre proposed legislation, we’d have enough money in our state budget to plow our roads.

This was published as an op-ed in the August 12, 2011 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.

The credit for the picture goes to the Eagle Tribune newspaper

© 2011 sbruce

Barely Scraping By in the USA

Barbara Ehrenreich's award winning book "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America" was published ten years ago. It was a ground breaking look at the lives of folks who were barely scraping by on low wages. Ehrenreich went under cover, working at jobs like waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, and discount chain worker and quickly learned the realities of how hard people working for $7 an hour actually had to work to manage to live indoors.

Ehrenreich has written an afterward to the book, ten years later. Seen here in MoJo:

At the time I wrote Nickel and Dimed, I wasn't sure how many people it directly applied to—only that the official definition of poverty was way off the mark, since it defined an individual earning $7 an hour, as I did on average, as well out of poverty. But three months after the book was published, the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, DC, issued a report entitled "Hardships in America: The Real Story of Working Families," which found an astounding 29 percent of American families living in what could be more reasonably defined as poverty, meaning that they earned less than a bare-bones budget covering housing, child care, health care, food, transportation, and taxes—though not, it should be noted, any entertainment, meals out, cable TV, Internet service, vacations, or holiday gifts. Twenty-nine percent is a minority, but not a reassuringly small one, and other studies in the early 2000s came up with similar figures.

Sorry to keep saying it - but remember, this was 10 years ago.

When you read about the hardships I found people enduring while I was researching my book—the skipped meals, the lack of medical care, the occasional need to sleep in cars or vans—you should bear in mind that those occurred in the best of times. The economy was growing, and jobs, if poorly paid, were at least plentiful.

And now for the chilling part:

In 2000, I had been able to walk into a number of jobs pretty much off the street. Less than a decade later, many of these jobs had disappeared and there was stiff competition for those that remained. It would have been impossible to repeat my Nickel and Dimed "experiment," had I had been so inclined, because I would probably never have found a job.

She's right. At a time when it's harder to get into McDonald's than Harvard, she wouldn't be able to get the same kind of low wage jobs that sustained her while she researched "Nickel and Dimed."

And speaking of depressing - the results of a survey in The Consumerist:

According to the NFCC survey, 64% of Americans don't have enough cash available to them to cover a $1,000 emergency.

As wages remain stagnant, increasing numbers of working folks are living paycheck to paycheck, one emergency away from financial disaster.

cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

NH Budget Cuts Come Home to Roost

Last week, I wrote about how the latest NH state budget has resulted in at least 450 jobs lost, so far.

This week, there's some magical thinking afoot in the Granite State. From The Conway Daily Sun:
New Hampshire Department of Transportation (DOT) is proposing no longer plowing some roads between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m. as well as allowing snow to build up to between 5 and 7 inches before turning some crews out onto the road.

The DOT plan is not acceptable, according to Rep. Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, who also serves as the chair of the transportation department in the New House of Representatives. He hopes DOT officials will come up with a new plan because the current one could have "huge ramifications" on tourism and revenue for the Granite State.

Boynton said DOT lost 42 employees to budget cuts (there remain about 800 employees). Its budget was cut 11.5 percent; the budget is expected to be cut an additional 11 percent in 2012 and 13 percent in 2013; there was a 25 percent reduction in the state's sand and salt budget.

In the northern part of the state, winter can last a solid 6 months. An 11.5 percent budget cut to DOT is huge in a state in northern New England. How could anyone realistically think that cutting the DOT budget would NOT adversely affect winter plowing?

Chandler is serving his 13th term. He is Speaker pro Tempore, which means he's part of Speaker O'Brien's leadership team.
This is a budget that Chandler supported. He shilled for it. He voted for it. Gene Chandler never challenged his party, never stood up and said that a budget that cuts both revenue and spending will lead to problems for our state. He said nothing until one of those cuts came home to roost in his own district, and suddenly it's "not acceptable."

Stories like this will continue to happen, as the impact of those budget cuts hit home in all manner of unpleasant ways.

Cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

NH Budget Cuts Causing Job Losses

When last we heard about the right to work law in NH, the governor had vetoed it, and the Speaker of the NH House was unable to get enough of a majority to override the veto.

Speaker O'Brien is trying a new tactic. He recently sent out a "Dear Colleagues" letter to House members. In this letter he uses the standard talking points about how RTW states are more attractive to employers, so these states are seeing greater job growth. The Speaker seems to be taking some liberties with actual fact. From the NH Business Review:

In his "Dear Colleagues" letter, he holds out the equally false hope that the German automaker Audi, which is said to be looking to build a plant in the U.S., would actually consider building in New Hampshire, (except, of course, for the unfortunate fact that the state doesn't have a RTW law).

Sounds great -- just pass the law, and a thousand Audi jobs will come.

The problem with that claim can be explained a little more succinctly: Carmakers don't build factories in little states in the upper right hand corner of countries with essentially zero rail service and most suppliers hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away. RTW or not.

It's true. NH has almost no rail service, and limited highway options. We're also lagging far behind in telecommunications infrastructure. Apparently none of that has any bearing. Jobs will magically appear the moment NH becomes an RTW state.

While we're on the subject of the NH legislature, the budget that was just passed is already beginning to have an impact on employment in our state. It's just not the kind of impact that the majority party promised when they were running for office, promising a laser like focus on job creation. From the Eagle Tribune:

The fallout from the state's budget cuts has hit New Hampshire hospitals, prompting two to start laying off employees and others to consider their options.

Elliot Health System announced Tuesday it would lay off 182 employees, slash workers' benefits and end one of its programs. It operates Elliot Hospital in Manchester and several other health care facilities in Southern New Hampshire, including Elliot Medical Center at Londonderry.

Meanwhile, Southern New Hampshire Medical Center in Nashua is laying off about 100 employees, 6 percent of its staff, spokeswoman Judith Bennett said yesterday.

There are more. From the Nashua Telegraph:

Less than a week after Southern New Hampshire Medical Center announced 100 layoffs, administrators at St. Joseph Hospital revealed today plans to close two subsidiary companies, Rockingham Regional Ambulance, Inc. and Granite State Mediquip, Inc., which could affect more than 10 percent of the hospital’s workforce.


St. Joseph, which employs about 1,500 full-time workers, joined Southern New Hampshire Medical Center and eight other hospitals last week in filing a lawsuit against state officials over their plan to use Medicare reimbursements to balance the state budget.

Together, the two companies employ 174 workers, most of whom will not be re-assigned within the hospital, according to Melissa Sears, St. Joseph’s vice president of strategy and business development.

In less than a month after the budget was passed, 450 jobs have been lost. In this economy, in a small state, that is devastating.

Speaker O'Brien tried to suggest that these layoffs were in the works before the budget cuts.From WMUR:

House Speaker Bill O'Brien said he is sympathetic to the hospital's funding crunch, but he stands by the budget.
"Clearly, we don't want to see any employees laid off in any private business," he said. "Whether or not this was planned before or after the budget came into effect, time will tell. But certainly, we think this budget is going to return jobs to New Hampshire."

Indeed. Just wait till Audi builds that plant in NH.

cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org