Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Hallelujah Corporations

Just in time for your Christmas caroling pleasure:

Student Debt Continues to Grow

This graphic from Mother Jones shows very starkly how student debt quadrupled in the years between 2000 and 2011. (There are more good graphs available at the link.)

Just check out these stats: Unemployment among college grads is twice what it was in 2007. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the unemployment rate for 16-24-year-olds is twice the national average; grads under 25 are twice as likely to lack a job than their older peers. The New York Times reports that just half of students who graduated in 2010 had a job in the spring of 2011, and even those who did get jobs were often way overqualified.

Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan gave a speech this week on the topic of student debt. From the NY Times:

At a time when the Occupy movement has helped push college costs into the national spotlight, the Education Department characterized the speech, delivered in Las Vegas, as the start of a “national conversation about the rising cost of college.” The department took the opportunity to call attention to steps the Obama administration has taken to reduce the net price that students and families pay for higher education and make it easier to pay back student loans.

The Occupy movement really has changed our national dialogue in just a few short months. Remember when all we heard about was the deficit?

In his speech to financial-aid administrators, Mr. Duncan also discussed the department’s work with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to create a financial aid shopping sheet, or model disclosure form, to help students understand and compare the type and amount of aid in different aid packages, and the department’s new watch lists, required by Congress, showing which colleges have the highest and lowest tuition and net prices.

This makes a lot of sense, and it would be very helpful to families from the 99%.

He cited, for example, Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, which is offering a 50 percent discount on tuition and fees for freshmen who enroll in the school of education; the University of Oregon’s PathwayOregon, guaranteeing a tuition-free education to qualified Oregonians from low-income families; and, in West Virginia, the University of Charleston’s plan to cut tuition 22 percent for next year’s incoming freshmen and transfer students.

It's good to see even a few colleges taking this kind of action. Now that the spotlight is on student debt and unemployment, let's hope that other schools take similar action so that a college education is affordable for everyone who wants one.

cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Santas Have New Responsibilities This Holiday Season

The bad economy and ongoing unemployment are creating new challenges for Santas. From the NY Times:

The result is a Christmas season in which Santas — including the 115 of them in this year’s graduating class of the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School — must learn to swiftly size up families’ financial circumstances, gently scale back children’s Christmas gift requests and even how to answer the wish some say they have been hearing with more frequency — “Can you bring my parent a job?”


On the flip side, some, like Fred Honerkamp, have been visited by children whose expectations seem to have sunk to match the gloom; not long ago, a boy asked him for only one item — a pair of sneakers that actually fit.

“In the end, Santas have to be sure to never promise anything,” said Mr. Honerkamp, an alumnus of the school who also lectures here. He has devised his own tale about a wayward elf and slowed toy production at the North Pole for children who are requesting a gift clearly beyond their family’s price range. “It’s hard to watch sometimes because the children are like little barometers, mirrors on what the country has been through.”

Christmas is a hard, hard time for folks who are treading water in this economy. Our consumer culture bombards us with ads for things we must want, and the latest in cool toys. Kids get caught up in all of this, and it can be very difficult to explain financial realities to them. We don't want our kids to worry or feel bad. The new Santas are working on developing tools to handle all of this.

Given the state of the economy, this Santa school graduated the largest Santa class in its history. Many of the graduates have a Santa history, but a number of them are underemployed, needing to supplement retirement, or are flat out unemployed. The Santa gig doesn't last long, but it does pay decently. Mall Santas earn somewhere between $25 and $50 an hour.

These new Santas will need all of the skills they've just learned to deal with the kinds of situations they're seeing as a result of this economy. Most of us don't think much about Santas, or the kind of situations they have to deal with. This story has given me a whole new appreciation for the people who do this, especially during bad economic times.

This Santa's story is enough to make even Scrooge tear up a little:

“If they asked for something that’s totally impossible — a job for Daddy, say — I usually tell them, ‘Santa specializes in toys, but we can always pray on the other,’ ” Mr. Ruperd said. “ ‘Is there anything in toys that you’d like?’ ”

Let's all do what we can to help one another in this holiday season.

Cross posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Birthers and Despots

Once again, members of the Teabaglican majority in the NH House have brought national attention to our state. Once again, it’s the kind of national attention that most of us would prefer to avoid. In other words, once again, members of the NH House have made our state a national joke.

This past Saturday (November 19) Orly Taitz, the leader of the “Birther movement,” filed a complaint with the NH Ballot Commission. Mrs. Taitz contends that President Obama is not a citizen, and should not be on the ballot. Mrs. Taitz is a naturalized citizen and is both a dentist and an attorney. She holds a number of interesting views, including:

 Hugo Chavez owns the software that runs US voting machines.
 Obama has vandalized her car and threatened her life.
 Osama bin Laden was killed years ago, and put on ice, and thawed out to distract the world from her upcoming court case challenging Obama’s citizenship.
 Rep. Alcee Hastings, and the US House are planning to build at least six labor camps.

Orly Taitz is a bucket full of crazy, and has made it her mission to “prove” that President Obama is not a citizen. A video of Ann Dunham giving birth under the Welcome to Hawaii sign would not deter her.

This time, though, Taitz was joined by a number of NH State Representatives who signed on to her petition to the ballot commission. These representatives are: Larry Rappaport of Colebrook, William Tobin of Sanbornton, Moe Villaneuve of Bedford, Lucien and Carol Vita of Middleton, Al Baldasaro of Londonderry, Susan DeLemus of Rochester, Harry Accornero of Laconia, and our very own Laurie Pettengill, of Glen.

Al Baldasaro is both a long-term embarrassment to our state, and a member of the O’Brien leadership team. His most recent turn in the national spotlight came when he announced his approval of those who booed a gay Marine during a Republican presidential debate.

Harry Accornero garnered national attention recently for sending out an email to all of his fellow legislators that accused President Obama of being a traitor, for essentially following Bush’s immigration policies. It seems those policies weren’t objectionable when a white guy was in charge.

Laurie Pettengill has done little to distinguish herself since her election. She did support O’Brien in his campaign to become Speaker of the House, and we should certainly all thank her for the many good things that have come from that. The O’Brien budget has killed thousands of jobs, increased unemployment, and become a national joke. Now, Pettengill has signed on to a petition that makes NH and the NH Primary a joke. At the heart of this petition and the whole Birther movement is, quite simply, racism. Be sure to thank Laurie for her role in giving the rest of the world the impression that NH is comprised of a bunch of inbred, racist hicks.

The hearing before the Ballot Commission became quite heated and contentious. According to Orly Taitz’ online description, the room was full of screaming idiots. Rep. Carol Vita was screaming at an assistant AG. Acconero (who is clearly a few accorns shy of an oak) accused Ballot Commission Chair Brad Cook of being a traitor, and warned him that he shouldn’t leave his house without a mask. These people have brought nothing but shame to our state, and their conduct at this hearing is reprehensible. They should be forced to resign. Rep. Rappaport is trying to distance himself from this by telling the Concord Monitor that he isn’t a “true Birther.” In other words, he believes what they do, but he doesn’t want to be tarred with the crazy brush. It’s too late for that. Associating one’s self with anything Baldasaro or Acconero are part of is a sure fired trip to the land of the deranged.

It’s difficult to imagine that the NH legislature could keep up the hectic pace of lunatic ideas and legislation, but it seems that there is no bottom for this bunch. HB 590 (which became law without the Governor’s signature) established a committee to review state participation in federal aid programs. Committee Chair Gregory Sorg of Easton, recently released the committee report. This committee wants to ensure that NH receives no federal aid dollars for anything. It’s not so much a report as an ideological rant. They are opposed to nutrition programs for pregnant women – yet these same legislators would force women to be involuntary incubators. Most telling of all, however, is their opposition to weatherization and fuel assistance programs. From the report:

“The people of New Hampshire must be held competent to understand that every November, without fail, it gets cold at this latitude and that they must arrange their affairs so as to provide for this fact of life as a matter of personal responsibility.”

In short, we must all manage our affairs so that we do not get old, do not develop a serious health problem, do not lose our jobs, and do not suffer from sudden poverty caused by the destruction of the US economy. Based on these findings, Rep. Sorg should be expecting 3 ghosts to visit him on Christmas Eve.

These pompous ideologues seem to be under the impression that refusing federal money will create some sort of national change. All it means is that the tax dollars sent in to the federal government will go to aid other states. Our roads and bridges will fall further into disrepair, people will freeze to death, and NH will no longer be just a national joke, but a national disgrace.

"External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty." Charles Dickens

© sbruce 2011
Published as an op-ed in the 11-25-11 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Suffering is Part of Life

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum spoke about poverty and suffering recently at a town hall meeting in Ottumwa, Iowa:

It seems Rick thinks that people ought to suffer. Poor people, that is. They get too many bennies, like food stamps, Medicaid, and housing assistance. h/t ThinkProgress.

Mother Jones takes a look at those folks who need to suffer:

In 1996, welfare was turned into a block grant and its budget was fixed at $16 billion, so that states received roughly the same amount of money every year, regardless of how many people might be out of work and suffering. Many Republicans in Congress would like to do this to the Medicaid program. But TANF should serve as a serious cautionary tale about what happens when the safety net is left up to the congressional appropriations process. Congress hasn't increased the TANF block grant since it was created. As a result, new data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that the value of cash benefits to poor families have fallen by as much as 30 percent in some states simply because of inflation—call it a stealth budget cut.

In some states legislators have diverted funds from the TANF block grant into other areas of the budget. Some states have cut benefits this year. Since TANF became a block grant, only 2 states show an increase in the amount of TANF benefits since 1996. This graph from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities illustrates how benefits have failed to keep pace with current costs:


In the District of Columbia, for instance, the monthly TANF benefit for a family of three is now $342, not anywhere near enough to pay the rent, for instance. Once upon a time, welfare or TANF benefits were enough to at least keep needy families above 50 percent of the federal poverty line (about $9,000 a year for a family of three). But TANF benefits are now so low that they aren't enough to keep anyone out of deep poverty, which is a troubling development. According to CPBB, a family relying only on TANF for support during tough times would be much poorer today than such a family in 1996.

The US had, at one point in time, made significant progress in eradicating poverty, but those days are over. Poverty is on the rise, and thanks to people like Rick Santorum, the demonization of the poor is rising rapidly, too.

One wonders how well Santorum could do with a TANF budget for his 7 kids. In fact, one wonders how much suffering would be enough to suit Rick Santorum and his ilk.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Food Banks in Desperate Need

Across the country, food banks are in desperate need of donations. Right now they're struggling to meet the demand for Thanksgiving dinner baskets.


The York County Food Bank plans to hand out more than 2,000 turkeys to families in need this Thanksgiving, but has collected only half of their goal with their deadline less than a week away.

"Since the economy is bad, some of the people that used to be donors are now recipients," assistant director Deborah Eichelberger said.

Torrington, CT

Friendly Hands Food Bank faces an unprecedented struggle to meet the demand for Thanksgiving turkeys and trimmings, with 65 turkeys in hand by Friday afternoon and more than 360 baskets to be assembled for a Nov. 20 giveaway.

Fort Myers, FL

At the Harry Chapin Food Bank off Fowler Street in Fort Myers, they have until Monday to reach their goal of 9,000 turkeys. They said Tuesday they are about half way there with less than a week to go. They're hoping the community will step in to help.

Inside the Harry Chapin Food Bank, Monday's deadline to collect 9,000 turkeys will come fast. Those turkeys will be distributed to the 150 local organizations that provide Thanksgiving meals to those that need it the most.

Madison, WI:

Pantry organizers say this year, they're seeing at least 10 percent more families coming in, which makes it harder to keep shelves stocked.

The River Food Pantry in Madison serves 500-600 families every week.

"Our budget for food this year was $6,200 per month and we're actually spending over $10,200 month on food," says Jenny Czerkas, founder of The River Food Bank.

Ossipee, NH:

More specifically, Agape, the largest food pantry in Carroll County, needs donations for its Thanksgiving basket program. It will also need help to meet the town's deadline to rehabilitate a building that's supposed to become Agape's new location.

For the last decade, Agape, a registered non-profit, has provided food baskets at Thanksgiving time to hungry families in the Ossipee area. Agape hopes to distribute about 250 food baskets before Thanksgiving.

Private donations and assistance from government agencies have kept the baskets full in the past but resources are drying up, said Kevin Straughan who founded Agape with his wife, Janna. By Nov. 18, Agape needs people to donate fixings like gravy, stuffing and cranberry sauce.

in a town to the north:

Vaughan Community Service Inc., in North Conway, is also seeing increased demand for help — especially from people who haven't asked in the past, said Vaughan administrator Denise Leighton. During the month of October, Vaughan served 8,000 meals. To date, 125 people have sought Thanksgiving food baskets from Vaughan.

"I keep getting calls every day," said Leighton of the demand for baskets

There are more people in need, and fewer resources to help them. It's a sad state of alleged economic recovery when some of the folks who used to be donors to food pantries are now recipients.

According to worldhunger.org

In 2010, 17.2 million households, 14.5 percent of households (approximately one in seven), were food insecure, the highest number ever recorded in the United States.

In 2010, about one-third of food-insecure households (6.7 million households, or 5.4 percent of all U.S. households) had very low food security (compared with 4.7 million households (4.1 percent) in 2007. In households with very low food security, the food intake of some household members was reduced, and their normal eating patterns were disrupted because of the household’s food insecurity.

In 2010, children were food insecure at times during the year in 9.8 percent of households with children (3.9 million households.) In one percent of households with children,one or more of the children experienced the most severe food-insecure condition measured by USDA, very low food security, in which meals were irregular and food intake was below levels considered adequate by caregivers.

All this in the wealthiest country in the world. As we approach the Thanksgiving Day holiday, if you can afford to make a donation to a local food pantry, please do. The need is great, and continuing to grow.

cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Occupy Cleveland Helps a Single Mother Stay in Her Home

Last week we saw Occupy Atlanta occupy the neighborhood of a cop who was being foreclosed upon. This kind of direct action is (fingers crossed) starting to catch on.

Occupy Cleveland helps a single mother stay in her home for the holidays. From ThinkProgress:

After her husband left her and refused to provide any real support, Beth Sommerer was due to be evicted from her home today, along with her children. But at the last moment, she made a desperate plea to the protesters of Occupy Cleveland. Soon afterward, Occupy Cleveland pitched its tents in Sommerer’s yard, vowing not to move unless she was allowed to stay in her home. On Monday, a local court gave in and gave a 30-day stay on the eviction order.

This is a perfect illustration of the phrase "united we stand." We should all be united in the belief that homeless families are just not acceptable.

cross posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Sunday, November 13, 2011

NH Congressman Does the Stimulus Hypocrisy Dance

From NH Congressman Frank Guinta's campaign website:

He also is against the Obama stimulus package that has yet to bring us jobs.

That's in the section titled "Strengthening the Economy." Rep. Guinta's opposition to the Obama stimulus package is well documented. If there's one thing Guinta likes better than opposing Obama, it's getting his picture taken. From TPM:

With Recovery Act funding running out, that old TPM favorite — the anti-stimulus Republican who takes credit for stimulus funding in their district — is becoming somewhat of a rarity. But Rep. Frank Guinta (R-NH) kicked it old school on Thursday by cutting the ribbon on a new road that received millions from the same spending bill he opposed.

Wait a minute....what?? The stimulus project that has created no jobs?? Did this road build itself?

“It’s going to help us with our tourism, our economy, and it’s going to provide us greater flexibility for our residents, our business commuters, and those visiting our state,” Guinta said at the event. “It’s a real example of how when we put our mind to it we can accomplish anything we want to accomplish.”

All this help with tourism, the economy, and business commuters sounds suspiciously like jobs.

Frank Guinta is no stranger to stimulus hypocrisy. As mayor of Manchester:

Guinta also complained that state officials were dragging their feet in getting federal stimulus money to the city and complained that state officials were shortchanging communities because so little of the money was designated for local highway and bridge projects.

In 2009 he couldn't wait to get his paws on the money that he'd sharply criticize in 2010. And in 2011, he's taking credit for a job creating project built with stimulus money.

Mighty fancy footwork, Congressman.

Cross posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Thursday, November 10, 2011

OWS Brings Focus to the War on the Poor

Older readers will remember LBJ declaring a war on poverty in his 1964 State of the Union address. He was responding to the national poverty rate of 19%. The nation (back then) was united in thinking poverty was a bad thing. The official poverty rate for 2010 was 15.1%, according to the US Census.

We abandoned the war on poverty a long time ago. These days, instead of fighting poverty, the US is waging war against the poor.

Frances Fox Piven in The Nation writes about how OWS is bringing attention to poverty:

Some facts: early in 2011, the US Census Bureau reported that 14.3 percent of the population, or 47 million people—one in six Americans—were living below the official poverty threshold, currently set at $22,400 annually for a family of four. Some 19 million people are living in what is called extreme poverty, which means that their household income falls in the bottom half of those considered to be below the poverty line. More than a third of those extremely poor people are children. Indeed, more than half of all children younger than six living with a single mother are poor. Extrapolating from this data, Emily Monea and Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution estimate that further sharp increases in both poverty and child poverty rates lie in our American future.

This kind of information goes largely unreported, and would (I hope) shock people if they were made aware of it.

Some experts dispute these numbers on the grounds that they neither take account of the assistance that the poor still receive, mainly through the food stamp program, nor of regional variations in the cost of living. In fact, bad as they are, the official numbers don’t tell the full story. The situation of the poor is actually considerably worse. The official poverty line is calculated as simply three times the minimal food budget first introduced in 1959, and then adjusted for inflation in food costs. In other words, the American poverty threshold takes no account of the cost of housing or fuel or transportation or healthcare costs, all of which are rising more rapidly than the cost of basic foods. So the poverty measure grossly understates the real cost of subsistence.

Those "experts" must be the same folks that insist that poor folks can't really be poor because they have refrigerators. In the tourist area of NH where I live, the wage scale (as advertised in the help wanted section of the paper) is exactly the same as it was in 1989. Nothing costs the same as it did back then.

Nor are these catastrophic levels of poverty merely a temporary response to rising unemployment rates or reductions in take-home pay resulting from the great economic meltdown of 2008. The numbers tell the story and it’s clear enough: poverty was on the rise before the Great Recession hit. Between 2001 and 2007, poverty actually increased for the first time on record during an economic recovery. It rose from 11.7 percent in 2001 to 12.5 percent in 2007. Poverty rates for single mothers in 2007 were 49 percent higher in the United States than in fifteen other high-income countries. Similarly, black employment rates and income were declining before the recession struck.

Weakening unions, a lagging minimum wage, outsourcing - all of these things contributed to the problem.

Inevitably, the overall impact of the campaign to reduce labor’s share of national earnings meant that a growing number of Americans couldn’t earn even a poverty-level livelihood—and even that’s not the whole of it. The poor and the programs that assisted them were the objects of a full-bore campaign directed specifically at them.

The poor have been vilified for decades now, starting with the "welfare queens driving Cadillacs" right up to the contemporary legislation calling for drug testing of welfare or food stamp recipients.

OWS has brought national attention to income inequality and the concentration of wealth at the top. The shift in our national media dialogue has been startling. For most of the last year it's been "all deficit all the time." Those days appear to be over. The reportage these days is broader and better, and Occupy has spread around the country, and continues to grow. Frances Fox Piven writes of her hopes for a more moral economy in our country. Let us hope, as she does, that this is just the beginning.

cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Occupy Atlanta Occupies a Neighborhood

Occupy Atlanta is getting personally involved with members of the 99%. From ThinkProgress:

Last week, Tawanna Rorey’s husband, a police officer based in Gwinnett County, e-mailed Occupy Atlanta to explain that his home was going to be foreclosed on and his family was in danger of being evicted on Monday. So within a few hours Occupy Atlanta developed an action plan to move to Snellville, Georgia on Monday to stop the foreclosure. At least two dozen protesters encamped on the family’s lawn, to the applause of neighbors and bystanders

The Roreys haven't been evicted yet. They tried to work with the mortgage company, but, like millions of other Americans, they were unsuccessful.

From the local CBS affiliate:

From the Atlanta Journal -Constitution

Experts were doubtful that the protest could do much to help the family. Misty A. Oaks, an Atlanta lawyer who specializes in foreclosure, said sitting in at an foreclosed home won't be effective legally.

"But it certainly will make for an interesting story and bring attention to the issues surrounding foreclosures and the enormous ramifications foreclosures are having," she said.

It seems that idea has been on the minds of the Occupy Atlanta's organizers:

Tim Franzen, one of Occupy Atlanta's organizers, said the group had been seeking a good story to highlight the problems with the mortgage industry. He said Rorey's husband, a law enforcement officer with DeKalb County, sent Occupy Atlanta an e-mail detailing their plight last week and within a few hours they formulated a plan to bring attention to the foreclosure.

"What I envision is a model of protest coming out of this," Franzen said. "We plan to develop an occupy community in this neighborhood and maybe create something that can be duplicated nationally."

I love this! This is community organizing at the grassroots level - this is taking direct action on behalf of a family that is part of the 99%. It would be great if this kind of direct action catches on, since there is certainly no shortage of foreclosures. This kind of outreach action makes an excellent addition to the OWS encampments.

cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Occupy Conway NH

75 people turned out to show solidarity with OWS, on very short notice. There was a lot of community support, if the honking was any indication. A few shouts of "get a job ya bums."

Our local purveyor of hate speech, Daily Sun columnist Tom McLaughlin stopped by, undoubtedly looking for fodder for his next rant.

Friday, November 04, 2011

An Unethical Foreclosure Story from NH

A family who owns a small second home in rural northern NH just experienced a foreclosure - on a house that has no mortgage. From The Conway Daily Sun:

A major Wall Street bank is apologizing to a Maine couple who allege that the bank wrongfully claimed ownership of their second home on Green Mountain Road in Effingham. But the apology rings hollow for the Drew family.

Apparently, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. confused a little red house, owned by Travis and Paula Drew, at 529 Green Mountain Road, for a no-longer-existent mobile home at 519 Green Mountain Road.

The structures were owned by different people even though they once shared the same lot. The confusion led the bank's agents to change the locks on the Drews' home and remove $14,000 worth of belongings from the property.

Mind boggling.

The Drews aren't impressed with Chase's admission of an error. As of Wednesday afternoon, Chase still hadn't explained itself to them. Bank employees told the Drews that a representative named Michelle would be in contact with them when the bank's investigation is complete.

One would think that a company like Chase, after making such a mistake would be all kinds of apologetic, trying to make up for this. One would think they'd be at least attempting to do something - given how tarnished the company's image already is.
One would be wrong.

Some of the property that was removed from the house has been returned, but it was left outside, uncovered. The local sheriff had to issue a "stand down" order to the property management company that was hired by Chase - the company responsible for changing the locks and removing the Drew's property. That this could even happen is just insane.

Incidents of this sort have happened all over the country. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is getting involved. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is an independent bureau of the US Treasury, charged with regulating and supervising federal banks and savings and loans institutions. From the Christian Science Monitor:

About 4 million homeowners who may have been improperly foreclosed upon in 2009 and 2010 are getting an opportunity to have their cases reviewed. Whether they will be reimbursed is up to the same lenders who are accused of moving too swiftly to seize their homes.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said Monday that mortgage services will begin sending out letters this month that ask borrowers if they want their case reviewed.

The nation's 14 largest mortgage servicers — including Citibank, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo — were ordered to offer to review cases after the government found that some rushed the foreclosureprocess without carefully reviewing documents.

At long last the folks who have been treated unfairly at best, and illegally at worst will have a review and some recourse.

Stories like this are why customers are moving their money out of big banks and into credit unions in record numbers. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Some 650,000 customers have opened credit union accounts and deposited about $4.5 billion since Bank of America announced its now-canceled $5 monthly debit card fee in late September, according to a survey of 5,000 credit unions by the Credit Union National Association released Thursday.

The website for the Move Your Money Project has a lot of helpful information, including a link to help interested folks find credit unions and community banks in their area.

It sends a message. This is another reason why the Occupy movement continues to grow.

cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Student Debt Continues to Grow

A new report from the Project on Student Debt shows that student debt in 2010 increased 5% on average over the year before. Those same students are walking into a world where the unemployment rate for new college graduates is 9.1%. From the NY Times:

“Student debt goes up and it doesn’t ever go down,” said Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of Finaid.org and Fastweb.com, two Web sites that offer advice on paying for college. “We’re clearly heading in the direction of decreased college affordability. Among lower-income students, the canaries in the cage that squawk first, we’re already seeing a decline in enrollment in four-year colleges and an increase in lower-cost two-year institutions,” he said.

When lower income kids can't afford to go to school, income inequality will continue to grow and solidify in our society.

More grim information available from Demos:

Only workers with at least a BA degree saw earnings increase over the last generation
Median earnings for young African-Americans are 75% of the earnings of whites; 68% for Latinos
Young women earn less than men at every level of education.
Twenty-nine percent of 18-24 year olds and 16% of 25-34 year-olds are underemployed
The percentage of young adults with jobs is at its lowest point in a generation

This all explains why the issue of student debt is being taken up by the Occupy movement. The website Occupy Student Debt gives students and former students a platform to share with all of us what impact that debt load has on their lives.

President Obama has announced plans to ease that student loan burden. From the NY Times:

At a press briefing Tuesday afternoon, Melody Barnes, director of the Domestic Policy Council, said the president would use his executive authority to expand the existing income-based repayment program with a “Pay as You Earn” option that would allow graduates to pay 10 percent of their discretionary income for 20 years and have the rest of their federal student loan debt forgiven. That plan would start next year.

Using executive authority means bypassing Congressional gridlock, thereby enacting a positive change. This new plan is good news for students and their families.

cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Long Live The Pledge!

The Pledge. In New Hampshire, these two words are always spoken in capital letters. The Pledge. Not the Pledge of Allegiance, not the Norquist Pledge, not any of the other pledges Republicans take against: gay marriage, abortion, pornography, Sharia law, or promising to adhere to term limits, pledging to rewrite the tax code, and run our government like a business. Republicans take many, many pledges. In NH, The Pledge means the anti-tax pledge cooked up by the late Union Leader publisher William Loeb, and the late Governor Meldrim Thomson. When one takes The Pledge, one promises not to support an income or a sales tax in our state. All Republicans take The Pledge, and so do many Democrats.

Ironic, isn’t it? Here in the Live Free or Die State, not thinking for one’s self is prized above all else.

That’s why Republicans take so many pledges. The pledges eliminate the need for thought, paving the way for candidates like Rick Santorum and Martin Harty. All Republicans take The Pledge, and so do many Democrats. The timid Manchester Conservadems who control the NHDP support The Pledge. They insist that Democrats can’t win unless they take it. Democrat Maggie Hassan recently announced she was going to run for governor. Within minutes of the press conference, she took The Pledge. Within minutes of taking The Pledge, Republicans were calling her a “tax and spend liberal.” The beat goes on and on – and The Pledge shuts down all discussion of what might make sense, or what would be right for our state.

Not taking The Pledge is not the same thing as supporting an income or sales tax. A candidate who refused to take The Pledge would indicate the presence of a candidate who refuses to march forward in mindless lockstep with the dead.

We all see the result of pledge politics in NH every day: inadequate roads, failing bridges and dams, and a communications infrastructure that does not meet the needs of the top half of the state. Every time you open your property tax bill, you see the results of pledge politics. The proposed changes to snow plowing by the DOT were the direct result of pledge politics. The curious fee system we have in NH is a direct result of pledge politics. That The Pledge doesn’t work is never discussed. Mediscam (the stealing of Medicaid money to fund our state government) was also a direct result of pledge politics. The state is now being asked to pay back some $35 million in Mediscam funds.

A recent story in the Conway Daily Sun focused on the inter-library loan (ILL) system, which is currently being threatened by the Teabaglican legislature. The Institute of Museum and Library Services gives NH around a million dollars every year in federal funding. About a third of that goes to fund the vans used for ILL. In other words, it’s an inexpensive program that allows small libraries to greatly expand their reach. Readers can request books that the small local library doesn’t have, and borrow the book from another part of the state. This is especially helpful when it comes to research materials. Our small libraries have limited space and budgets. ILL levels the playing field for NH students and readers.

Rep. Steve Vaillancourt (R: Odious) of the House Finance Committee wants to cut the funding for inter-library loan. It seems Rep. Vaillancourt got the book he ordered from the program “too fast,” and decried this “gold plated service.” Vaillancourt lives in Manchester, the largest city in the state. It’s a sure bet that if he lived in Pittsburg, he wouldn’t be making the same complaint. Vaillancourt is currently a Republican (though he has been a Democrat and a Libertarian in the past) and like all Republicans, he knows the best way to create more GOP voters is to prevent education.

Local Rep. Karen Umberger is also on the Finance Committee. In the Sun story, she is quoted as saying she was reserving judgment until reading a report on the matter. Translation: “Stop calling me!” We can certainly count on Rep. Umberger to think long and hard before marching in obedient lockstep with her party.

In other news, the NH unemployment rate has risen steadily every month since the O’Brien budget went into effect late in June. It was 4.9% in June. As of September, the rate is 5.4%. That laser-like focus on jobs that the GOP candidates promised has yet to materialize. Perhaps they meant a laser-like focus on job elimination? If that’s the case, they’re doing a fine job. One can only assume that eliminating marriage equality is the latest GOP plan for job creation, since that looms heavily on their agenda for 2012. The results for the cuts made to the tobacco tax are in, and show that the state is $3.5 million behind in projected tobacco revenue for the year. When the cuts were made, Speaker O’Brien was quoted as saying, "We strongly believe that reducing this tax will result in more revenue, more economic growth and more tax cuts." Believing doesn’t make it true. Of course it’s still cheaper for NH students to take up smoking than it is for them to go to college here.

Liquor and lottery funds are coming in below projection as well. A Teabaglican budget shortfall seems likely. At the same time, your property taxes have gone up! Please take a moment to thank the independent thinkers of our state government who are still taking the instructions given by a couple of long dead carpetbaggers. Long live The Pledge!

“Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work, then they get elected and prove it.” P.J. O’Rourke

© sbruce 2011
Published as an op-ed in the November 4, 2011 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper