Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Use of Public Assistance Programs Increasing

From USA Today:

Government anti-poverty programs that have grown to meet the needs of recession victims now serve a record one in six Americans and are continuing to expand.

More than 50 million Americans are on Medicaid, the federal-state program aimed principally at the poor, a survey of state data by USA TODAY shows. That's up at least 17% since the recession began in December 2007.

The increase in the food stamp program is even more dramatic:

More than 40 million people get food stamps, an increase of nearly 50% during the economic downturn, according to government data through May. The program has grown steadily for three years.


More than 4.4 million people are on welfare, an 18% increase during the recession. The program has grown slower than others, causing Brookings Institution expert Ron Haskins to question its effectiveness in the recession.

As unemployment benefits run out, more people are turning to what we used to call "welfare," which is now TANF, Temporary Aid to Needy Families. In Philadelphia:

Between February and June, the number of people receiving welfare through the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program has climbed 2 percent in New Jersey to 98,856 and 3 percent in Pennsylvania to 217,884.

Camden County has hovered near the top of New Jersey's welfare rolls for years, fueled primarily by the city of Camden and its decades-long struggle to bring jobs back to the once-bustling manufacturing center. Since the beginning of this year, those numbers have only grown

TANF is a temporary program, intended to aid people and get them back to work. Obviously, the getting people back to work part is especially challenging right now.

Nidia Sinclair, a middle-aged social worker from Panama who strolls through the office in bright embroidered dresses, says the task of getting people off welfare and into the workplace has never been harder, and her clients know it.

"It's a work-first program, but the problem is, with the economy the way it is, there's no work," she said. "The frustration level is very high right now."

(if you read the whole online article, you may find the comment section disturbing.)

In Williamsburg, Virginia:

Agencies that help people are simply overwhelmed.

In Williamsburg, for example, the number of families on food stamps rose by 28% in the past year. Food stamps in James City soared even higher, by 60% to 1,638.

Many are suffering from losing their jobs. Temporary welfare cases rose by 31% in the city and 22% in James City. Medicaid cases rose by about 9% in each locality.

Adult protective services cases and child protective services cases in the city rose as well, although the numbers are smaller.

As many as 10% of the city population of 13,000 are suffering.

Safety net program budgets have been on the chopping block for years. The need for services is already surpassing the funds available to help people. How much worse do things have to get before our elected officials wake up to the ongoing crisis?

Cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Look at Layoffs Around the Country

This is just a sampling of layoffs announced during the last seven days. The economic recovery we keep hearing about seems to be a well kept secret.

In Trenton, NJ a notice was sent out to all 1200 city employees, notifying them that layoffs were coming:

An estimated 111 police officers and 70 firefighters could be out of jobs, while 200 other city workers face unemployment.

In Massachusetts:

A second round of layoffs began yesterday at Northeast Hospital Corp., as the health care organization looks to eliminate up to 100 full-time positions.

Corporate handed out pink slips to personnel ranging from vice presidents to nurses yesterday at the nonprofit organization's three hospitals, Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester, Beverly Hospital and BayRidge Hospital in Lynn, and two outpatient centers, Beverly Hospital at Danvers and the Cable Center in Ipswich.

In Kansas:

Cessna Aircraft Co. is issuing 75 layoff notices to employees at its Independence, Kan., plant Wednesday and Thursday, company spokesman Doug Oliver said.

In Mississippi:

The Masonite Mill in Laurel announced Wednesday they have laid off 83 employees saying market conditions are forcing the reduction in staff.

In Connecticut:

Officials from Pratt & Whitney have told union workers that the company will be eliminating 129 hourly jobs at the Cheshire Engine Center, union officials said.

In Utah:

LAYTON -- Officials with Citi Commerce Solutions announced Wednesday they are laying off about 120 workers at the firm's credit card service center in Layton.
The center at 2195 University Park Blvd. employs about 540 people and supports the private label credit division for Citigroup Inc.

In New York:

DeWitt, NY--New Process Gear Inc. Tuesday notified the New York State Department of Labor that it plans to lay off 107 workers in November.

In Florida:

MANATEE — Mosaic cut 140 employees from its South Fort Meade mine staff today as a result of the pending closure at the 10,885-acre tract.

In Nebraska:

An Omaha company that sells veterinarian products and equipment will lay off about 300 workers and sell all its assets.
Professional Veterinary Products said Friday that it had filed for bankruptcy protection to help facilitate the sale of its assets.

In Pennsylvania:

UNIONTOWN, Pa. — Defense contractor BAE Systems plans to lay off 124 workers - half of the work force - at its western Pennsylvania plant beginning in mid-October.

In Arkansas:
Fort Smith, Ark. - Whirlpool has expanded its planned layoff of refrigerator factory workers here this fall.
Whirlpool didn't say how many workers would be affected by the actions, but local TV station KFSM-TV projected the number of pink slips at between 600 and 1,000.

In Missouri:

Food-and-facility services giant Aramark laid off 78 workers in St. Louis last month.

In Ohio:

AKRON, Ohio - Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic announced on Tuesday that the city will lay off 49 police officials, including 40 officers and 9 supervisors.

cross posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Monday, August 23, 2010

Get a Job, Ya Bums

We've all heard the mantra of how the long term unemployed are lazy bums who should "go get a job at McDonalds."

The wealthy folk who blame the unemployed for their plight also seem to believe that there are unlimited job openings available at the McDonald's fast food restaurant chain. A number of job seekers in northern Nevada and California recently discovered that there the job openings at the chain are actually finite:

Thousands of job seekers turned out at McDonald’s stores in Nevada and California today as part of a “Hiring Day” event.
McDonald’s plans to hire about 1,000 people across 600 restaurants in the Pacific-Sierra region, which includes Northern Nevada and California.

From the Sacramento Bee:

About 300 applied at Courtney Ristuben's five McDonald's locations in Citrus Heights, Fair Oaks and Folsom. There, she saw "people from (age) 16 to folks with families; people with four-year degrees to others with résumés two pages long."

The scene was repeated at McDonald's restaurants from Sacramento to Visalia, Reno to the San Francisco Bay Area, with managers describing lines that formed around restaurants and spilled into parking lots, said Julie Wenger, a McDonald's regional marketing manager.

Apparently even the McDonald's chain doesn't have over 15 million job openings.

cross posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Becktearian Faux-Feminists

The 19th Amendment to the US Constitution was adopted by Congress on June 4, 1919. There were 48 states in the union at that time, and a three-quarters majority of them (36) was required to vote in favor of amending the Constitution. These votes took place in state legislatures. Twenty-one states had voted in favor of suffrage by the end of 1919. The pro-suffrage organizations hoped to have the amendment ratified before the 1920 elections. By July of 1920, 35 of the necessary 36 states were in place. On August 18, the Tennessee House of Representatives took their vote. (The Tennessee Senate had already voted to ratify.) The lobbying had been intense, and no one had an accurate count on how the representatives would vote because the numbers kept changing. The pro-suffrage groups chose a yellow rose as their symbol, and the antis chose a red rose. The vote stood at 48-48 to table the resolution, when the Speaker (knowing that a tie would kill the measure, and feeling pretty secure) called for a vote to ratify. The youngest member of the Tennessee House, Harry Burn, had voted to table. Now, still wearing a red anti rose, he cast his vote to ratify. In his pocket was a letter from his mother, telling him to be a good boy and vote for suffrage. On August 26, the US Secretary of State issued a proclamation of final ratification, in time for women to vote in the 1920 elections.

New Hampshire was the 16th state to vote in favor of ratifying the 19th Amendment, in a vote taken on September 10, 1919. The town of Sandwich had already voted in favor of women’s suffrage, some 17 years earlier, according to Sandwich, New Hampshire 1763-1990, the excellent town history written by the Sandwich Historical Society. In fact, the people of Sandwich were incensed to learn that their elected state representative had voted against ratification, and so, they voted him out at the next election. Given our state legislative schedule, NH was certainly early to vote in favor of suffrage. When it comes to equality issues, NH gets it right more often than not.

That’s one reason why it’s painful to read the faux-feminist lamentations of the pro-war crowd, who attempt to use the plight of women to justify warmongering. Remember all those purple fingers? Remember all that phony concern from George and Laura Bush about Iraqi women? What a load of codswallop. Say what you will about Saddam Hussein, the Baathist regime was largely secular, and protected women from the kind of religious extremism that quickly moved into place with the US invasion. Women had more equality before we blundered in. It was women who bore the brunt of the sanctions against Iraq. It is women who bear the burdens caused by the US destruction of the Iraqi infrastructure. They are the ones who have to deal with having little or no electricity or clean water. It is their bodies that are treated as spoils, during wartime. Yet, for a time, the tearful (in the most Beckian sense) lamentations about Iraqi women were touted as a justification for a war that can never be justified.

The same tactic is being employed to justify the ongoing war in Afghanistan. One of the documents released by Wikileaks is a CIA analysis on how support for the war might be shored up, in part by using Afghan women as a tool. I don’t know that this is a valid document, but the government has not said otherwise. The document suggests that using Afghan women to speak out against the Taliban might have an impact on female audiences in the US and Europe. The cynicism is breathtaking, especially when we consider how the Taliban came into being. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, a group of conservative religious rebels formed to engage in resistance. They were called mujahideen, or holy warriors. The US decided that the Soviets were a threat to our interests in the Gulf, and so we began giving the mujahideen money, weapons, and CIA training. President Carter initiated the aid giving. President Reagan continued – praising the mujahideen as freedom fighters. Some of those weapons went to a new mujahideen group formed by a young rebel named Osama bin Laden. When the Russians finally left Afghanistan, the chaos the US helped along left a void filled by a new group that some of the surviving mujahideen morphed into – the Taliban. The CIA continued to arm and fund them well into the 1990’s. The Taliban is our creature, just as Saddam Hussein was. US interference in other countries politics and wars has been nothing short of disaster. We are no friend to the women in these countries.

I wonder about these becktearian faux-feminists. They claim concern for the women of Afghanistan in order to justify the ongoing war. They have no apparent concern for the US women serving in the military, despite the statistics that show that one out of every three of them will be raped by a male soldier. The becktearian contingent is silent on the horrifying reality of a backlog of some 180,000 untested rape kits sitting around in labs around the United States. They don’t seem to wonder how it is that this can happen – or how it is that cases can be closed without examining the evidence.

Their concern is solely for women who aren’t real to them – women in a war zone thousands of miles away from here. They cynically use these nameless, faceless women to justify their support for wars that have shamed us as a nation and bankrupted our treasury. It’s also safe to say that some of these same people would have voted gleefully against ratifying the 19th Amendment in 1919 – and would today, given the opportunity.

"The women's suffrage movement is only the small edge of the wedge, if we allow women to vote it will mean the loss of social structure and the rise of every liberal cause under the sun. Women are well represented by their fathers, brothers, and husbands."
Winston Churchill

published as an op-ed in the August 20, 2010 edition of the Conway Daily Sun
© sbruce 2010

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Decline: The Geography of a Recession

This shows the progression of unemployment over the last decade - a frightening video by LaToya Egwuekwe. Remember, this does not include the underemployed or those who have given up.

Originally posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Routine Health Care Compromised by the Economy

The global economic crisis has affected routine health care more in the US than in countries that have universal systems;

The study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, finds that “Americans, who face higher out-of-pocket health care costs, have reduced their routine medical care” much more than people in Britain, Canada, France and Germany.


Among Americans responding to the survey, they said, 26.5 percent reported reducing their use of routine medical care since the start of the global economic crisis in 2007.
This proportion dwarfs the comparable numbers for other countries: 5.3 percent in Canada, 7.6 percent in Britain, 10.3 percent in Germany and 12 percent in France.

“Even in countries with universal coverage, individuals pay some medical care costs out of pocket,” the researchers noted.

Cutbacks were generally correlated with the size of out-of-pocket costs, the researchers found. The proportion of people reporting reductions in routine care was smaller in Britain and Canada, where the co-payments are lower, than in France and Germany, where somewhat larger co-payments are required.

This isn't a surprise. People who have difficult choices to make about keeping a roof over the family's head and food on the table will ignore their own health issues for as long as possible. Sadly, this will mean ignoring problems until they reach a critical stage, which will mean that many will die for want of routine care.

Economic desperation is why massive free medical clinics are a draw, like this one at the beginning of the month. From HuffPo:

A massive free health clinic for uninsured people in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday morning attracted nearly two thousand people, from infants to the elderly, all taking advantage of free doctor attention, blood tests and cancer screenings they otherwise wouldn't be able to afford.

The story profiles two men in their fifties who were laid off from their good jobs where they had insurance. They just can't afford COBRA.

One of the men is quoted:
"Did I think I was gonna be coming to a free health clinic after working as a teacher for 24 years? No," he told HuffPost. "My resumé speaks for itself.

Originally posted at Main St/workingamerica.org

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sign of the Times

From CNN:

A crush of people 30,000 strong unexpectedly turned out Wednesday in hopes of getting public housing applications in East Point, Georgia, causing a panic to ensue once the process actually began, authorities said.

Crowds began gathering in the municipality on the outskirts of Atlanta as early as Monday for the applications, officials said.

and in HuffPo:

13,000 applications were handed out.

The large numbers indicate a huge demand, but there is literally no supply. The housing agency director "stressed that none of her agency's 455 housing aid vouchers is available at the moment."


"I find this amazing," Ed Schultz said on "The Ed Show" Wednesday night. "One can only imagine watching this videotape ... how many other cities have it like this across America. And I think we have to ask ourselves the moral question, aren't we better than this?"

East Point's approximately 200 public housing units are full, according to 11Alive, and more than 400 Section 8 vouchers are already in use. It is unlikely that many of those waiting for the applications would ever receive the housing funds.

"A lot of these folks will never get off that waitlist, and the executive director of the housing authority acknowledged that today," NBC reporter Ron Mott told Schultz. "Dozens upon dozens of people passing out from the heat, standing in the heat just to apply for public housing. ... I've got to tell you, the first thought that I had when we pulled up on the scene here was whether we were in America."

This was handled badly by the housing authority and the police, though to be fair, they couldn't have anticipated such an enormous crowd.

The desperation on display here is heartbreaking.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Originally posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Monday, August 09, 2010

Stories from the Road to Nowhere

Laura mentioned Paul Krugman's excellent op-ed. He and Salon.com blogger Glenn Greenwald have been thinking along similar lines. Here are some of the stories that inspired them:

The city of Camden, NJ is permanently closing it's library system by the end of the year:

Camden is preparing to permanently shut its library system by the end of the year, potentially leaving residents of the impoverished city among the few in the United States unable to borrow a library book free.

At an emotional but sparsely attended meeting of the library board Thursday, its president, Martin McKernan, said the city's three libraries cannot stay open past Dec. 31 because of severe budget cuts by Mayor Dana L. Redd.

"It's extraordinary, it's appalling," McKernan said.

All materials in the libraries would be donated, auctioned, stored, or destroyed. That includes 187,000 books, historical documents, artifacts, and electronic equipment. Keeping materials in the shuttered buildings is a fire hazard, officials said, and would make them vulnerable to vandalism and vermin.

Camden is a city of over 500,000 people, who will have no access to free books or to free library computers and internet.

Ripping up the roads:

Paved roads, historical emblems of American achievement, are being torn up across rural America and replaced with gravel or other rough surfaces as counties struggle with tight budgets and dwindling state and federal revenue. State money for local roads was cut in many places amid budget shortfalls.

In Michigan, at least 38 of the 83 counties have converted some asphalt roads to gravel in recent years. Last year, South Dakota turned at least 100 miles of asphalt road surfaces to gravel. Counties in Alabama and Pennsylvania have begun downgrading asphalt roads to cheaper chip-and-seal road, also known as "poor man's pavement." Some counties in Ohio are simply letting roads erode to gravel.

Remember when America's roadways and highways were something to be proud of?

Utah looks at making the senior year of high school optional:

The sudden buzz over the relative value of senior year stems from a recent proposal by state Sen. Chris Buttars that Utah make a dent in its budget gap by eliminating the 12th grade.

The notion quickly gained some traction among supporters who agreed with the Republican's assessment that many seniors frittered away their final year of high school, but faced vehement opposition from other quarters, including in his hometown of West Jordan.

"My parents are against it," Williams said. "All the teachers at the school are against it. I'm against it."

Buttars has since toned down the idea, suggesting instead that senior year become optional for students who complete their required credits early. He estimated the move could save up to $60 million, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

There's more. In the NY Times we learn of a Georgia public bus system being shut down completely:

Many transit systems have cut service to make ends meet, but Clayton County, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, decided to cut all the way, and shut down its entire public bus system. Its last buses ran on March 31, stranding 8,400 daily riders.

and Hawaii furloughed schools:

Plenty of businesses and governments furloughed workers this year, but Hawaii went further — it furloughed its schoolchildren. Public schools across the state closed on 17 Fridays during the past school year to save money, giving students the shortest academic year in the nation and sending working parents scrambling to find care for them.

We're in a big, big mess - and there aren't any real solutions being offered. Cutting taxes for the wealthy isn't going to dig us out of this hole. Worrying about the deficit isn't going to dig us out. Cutting food stamps or Social Security isn't the way forward. President Obama has said that everything other than defense is on the chopping block. We are supporting over 1000 overseas military bases. Is this really making us stronger or safer? If we can cut food to hungry families without even blinking, we shouldn't be afraid of reevaluating how we spend our defense dollars.

originally posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Mad Hatter's Tea Party

This could have been a boring mid-term election season, but thankfully, we have the tea partiers to liven things up. Rand Paul, Sharron Angle, Sarah Palin – the fun just never stops. Tea Partiers complain that they’re fed up, and they’re a legitimate political movement, but it’s difficult to take them seriously when they appear to be channeling the Mad Hatter.

Take Rand Paul, the Tea Party candidate who won the Republican primary in Kentucky in the race to replace retiring US Senator Jim Bunning. Right after winning the primary, he was caught up in controversy over his remarks about the Civil Rights Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act. He said that he’s in favor of ending discrimination, but opposed to telling business owners that they can’t discriminate, and that’s pretty much what he said about the ADA. Not only did he say this stuff, he went on television to justify it. That didn’t go well for him. Apparently the GOP hasn’t been able to reel him in, because he steps in it every time he opens his mouth. After the Deepwater Horizon explosion, where 11 people were killed, and millions of gallons of oil drained into the ocean, Mr. Paul’s sympathies were with BP. He told Good Morning America that “accidents happen” and that President Obama was “un-American in his criticism of business.”

Shortly after that, the disavowals began. Mark Meckler of the Tea Party Patriots said of Rand Paul, “He’s a politician. HE doesn’t represent the movement on anything regardless of what he says.”

Since then, Rand Paul has gone on to further distinguish himself with his knowledge of coal mining in Kentucky. At a campaign stop at the Harlan Center, Paul was asked about the disaster at the Big Branch Mine, where 29 miners were killed. Paul said,” "Is there a certain amount of accidents and unfortunate things that do happen, no matter what the regulations are?" Paul says at the Harlan Center, in response to a question about the Big Branch disaster. "The bottom line is I'm not an expert, so don't give me the power in Washington to be making rules. You live here, and you have to work in the mines. You'd try to make good rules to protect your people here. If you don't, I'm thinking that no one will apply for those jobs.” It’s a charmingly naive Libertarian viewpoint, to think that no one will apply for jobs in a dangerous setting, but it’s not based in any kind of reality. The mine had been cited for over 1300 safety violations over a 5-year period. Sometimes an accident is not an accident. This Randian philosophy hasn’t endeared him to coal miners, who rely on safety regulations to protect them. Paul also believes that business should be self-regulating, a tired bit of baloney that is continually recycled by people who work behind desks.

Another Tea Partier running for the US Senate is Sharron Angle of Nevada. Last week, I mistakenly gave her credit for the plan to barter health care for chickens. That was Sue Lowden, who was apparently so crazy that Sharron Angle defeated her in the primary. Angle’s been in the news this week, because a reporter unearthed an interview where she discussed her belief that the agenda of the Democrats are a “violation of the first commandment.” Not amendment. Commandment. Angle is in favor of a theocracy, and in her view, social programs being pushed by Democrats are turning our government into God. Apparently Ms. Angle’s Bible is uncluttered with all that stuff about compassion, and caring for the poor and needy. Angle is opposed to abortion even in the case of rape or incest. She advocates that young women pregnant by rape or incest should “turn lemons into lemonade” by having the baby. One wonders if she would counsel a family member in the same way – and one is certain that Ms. Angle has never been raped. She wants to make Nevada the spent nuclear fuel capital, by promoting the waste dump at Yucca Mountain. Angle also called the escrow fund for victims of the oil spill set up by BP “a slush fund.” She backtracked on that pretty quickly, though; later saying it was “an important first step.” In any case, a Republican with a pulse and a flag lapel pin should be able to beat Harry Reid in this election – but Tea Party Sharron is apparently too crazy for Nevada.

Meanwhile, back home in New Hampshire, the Tea Party is hard at work. Tea Partiers claim to be opposed to government interference, but it’s hard to see any sign of that at the NH Tea Party Coalition website. They’re opposed to marriage equality – which means they support government interference in our private lives. They’re opposed to abortion, which means they support government interference in women’s lives. They claim that schools are for brainwashing children, which does make a certain amount of sense. People who lack literacy and critical thinking skills would be far more likely to blindly follow these Tea Partiers. There’s plenty of talk about “socialism” a term always erroneously used by teabaggers and Republicans. They support the Arizona immigration laws, but they aren’t racists.

Of course not. Tea Partiers claim to be defenders of the Constitution, and angry about runaway government spending. It’s surely a coincidence that they ignored the Patriot Act and the decadent spending of the Bush administration – and chose to form up during the administration of our first black president. Are we the Dormouse, or are they?

“Up above the world you fly,
Like a tea tray in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle, little bat!
How I wonder what you're at!”

The Mad Hatter, in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland

published as an op-ed in the August 6, 2010 edition of the Conway Daily Sun
© sbruce 2010

Job insecurity and Stagnant Wages

Financial Insecurity in the USA

Insecurity in America is on the rise—and was even before the Great Recession.

The Rockefeller Foundation just released a study of economic insecurity in America, which was developed by Yale professor Jacob Hacker and measures harsh changes in circumstance: For example, it reveals how many Americans have been subjected to a staggering decline of 25 percent of "available household income," either from loss of income or sudden, unanticipated out-of-pocket medical costs, and how many were without the savings to buffer the damage. Brutal losses such as these take six to eight years to recover from, the report said.

A 25% decline in household income? Surely this can't be common.

Economic insecurity affected 12.2 percent of Americans in 1985 and spiked to 17 percent during the 2000 downturn. In 2007, when economists were celebrating "the Great Moderation," insecurity was higher than in 1985, affecting 13.7 percent of Americans. In 2009, after the downturn, Hacker estimates that one in five Americans was hit with a 25 percent decline in available household income. And the report estimates that between 1996 and 2006—before the collapse—fully 60 percent experienced such loss.

One in five families in 2009? That's pretty common.

But Ben Bernacke says:

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said rising wages would probably spur household spending in the next few quarters, even as weak job gains dragged down consumer confidence.

He never tells us where these rising wages will come from. Wall St. would be my guess.

On Main St. workers are actually being subjected to pay cuts:

The furloughs that popped up during the recession are being replaced by a highly unusual tactic: actual cuts in pay.

Local and state governments, as well as some companies, are squeezing their employees to work the same amount for less money in cost-saving measures that are often described as a last-ditch effort to avoid layoffs.

Let's be clear. These are not pay freezes - these are actual pay cuts.

It is impossible to say how many employers have cut workers’ pay, because the government does not keep such statistics. Economists say a modest but growing number of employers have ordered wage cuts, especially in the public sector. In a 2010 survey by the National League of Cities, 51 percent of the cities that responded said they had either cut or frozen salaries of city employees, 22 percent said they had revised union contracts to reduce some pay and benefits, and 19 percent said they had instituted furloughs.

Some businesses are also cutting workers’ pay, often to help stay afloat or to eliminate their losses, although a few have seized on the slack labor market and workers’ weak bargaining power to cut pay and thereby increase their profits and competitiveness.

Right now workers will agree to almost anything to stay employed and some businesses are willing to hold workers hostage by threatening their jobs.

At a time when the official unemployment rate is nearly 10%, it's shocking to learn that USAID (US Agency for International Development) is contributing to train offshore IT workers:

Despite President Obama's pledge to retain more hi-tech jobs in the U.S., a federal agency run by a hand-picked Obama appointee has launched a $36 million program to train workers, including 3,000 specialists in IT and related functions, in South Asia.

Following their training, the tech workers will be placed with outsourcing vendors in the region that provide offshore IT and business services to American companies looking to take advantage of the Asian subcontinent's low labor costs.

Roger Smith spoke with the CEO of Engine Yard, Lance Walley, about their Ruby and Rails deployment platform.
Under director Rajiv Shah, the United States Agency for International Development will partner with private outsourcers in Sri Lanka to teach workers there advanced IT skills like Enterprise Java (Java EE) programming, as well as skills in business process outsourcing and call center support. USAID will also help the trainees brush up on their English language proficiency.

USAID is contributing about $10 million to the effort, while its private partners are investing roughly $26 million.

This is one unholy partnership. USAID is working with US companies (using some of our tax dollars) to help them avoid paying US labor costs by training overseas workers to get jobs, at a time when so many Americans are out of work.

The mind boggles.

Originally posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Robbing the Poor Instead of Cutting Corporate Welfare

States are begging for federal aid. And this week, the Senate is voting on an aid package that would give states Medicaid dollars, as well as money to keep teachers on the payroll. There is a catch. The money for this aid will be taken from SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - formerly known as food stamps.

That's right. To pass this aid package, the Senate is willing to take food away from children and families:

But to gain the votes of the Republicans necessary for passage, the bill includes “pay fors” to make it deficit-neutral. There is language to close a foreign tax credit loophole, raising $9 billion. Billions more come from tinkering with Medicaid drug prices and rescinding unspent funds from a variety of programs. But controversially, the bill will also likely slash $6.7 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the benefits formerly known as food stamps. This might result in a cut in benefit checks from one month to the next — an unprecedented event in the history of the benefit.

American food stamps are not generous, averaging only $4.50 a day even after being bumped up in the recession-era stimulus — less than you’d need to buy two meals at McDonald’s. And since the start of the recession, the number of families depending on them has skyrocketed. The economic crisis has pushed 12.9 million people into SNAP; as of April, more than 40 million collect the bare-bones benefits. More than 6 million Americans report no income whatsoever except for SNAP — because they are not eligible for unemployment insurance, Social Security, disability or other programs.

Still, the suggestion caused outrage on the Hill. The House Appropriations Committee originated the education-jobs provision in a war supplemental bill, and in an interview with the Fiscal Times, its chair, Rep. Dave Obey (D-Wis.), first revealed that the White House had suggested cutting SNAP early in the summer.

“We were told we have to offset every damn dime of [new teacher spending]. Well, it ain’t easy to find offsets, and with all due respect to the administration their first suggestion for offsets was to cut food stamps. Now they were careful not to make an official budget request, because they didn’t want to take the political heat for it, but that was the first trial balloon they sent down here,” he said.

It ain't easy to find offsets? He's joking, right?

But this is also a question of priorities, of what gets cut. Bernie Sanders put up an amendment last month to cut about $35 billion in oil and gas subsidies. It failed. Republicans are arguing to extend Bush's tax cuts for the rich with no offsets, and they may well succeed. But food assistance for poor families? You can get the votes to slash those.

How can this be? Sadly, it all comes down to money and influence:

The oil and gas industry, of which BP is a member, reported $169 million in 2009 lobbying expenditures.

Poor people spent $0 on lobbying.

Originally posted at Main St/workingamerica.org