Bread and Circus

Bread and Circus by TRiver, on Flickr

While I was surfing through the various news sites this morning (Friday, March 18), I came across this story from the Los Angeles Times about the apparent suicide of a maintenance worker for Costa Mesa, CA. It seems that Costa Mesa is laying off nearly half of its employees and intending to outsource the work. Of course, the layoff notices have gone out, even though the city is still trying to figure out exactly what they are doing.

Costa Mesa has sent layoff notices to nearly half of its employees in a dramatic austerity program being closely watched by other cities struggling with ballooning pension obligations.

The move was sharply criticized by union leaders, and it stunned city employees, one of whom apparently committed suicide by jumping off Costa Mesa City Hall hours after layoff notices went out Thursday.

City officials said the cuts were the first step in a plan to outsource many services to the private sector and significantly reduce the number of workers at City Hall.

…snip…

The man reported to have committed suicide, a 29-year-old maintenance worker, was expecting to receive a layoff notice, authorities said. His identity has not been released pending notification of relatives.

Employees were shell-shocked upon receiving the notices Thursday, even before news of the suicide spread.

This article is on the heels of this one from Wednesday’s NY Times on the unemployment rate in El Centro, CA:

For two years, El Centro has struggled with the highest unemployment rate in the country. The latest official figures put it at 28 percent, an improvement from the peak of 32 percent last summer. At unemployment centers, often the most bustling places in town, it is something of a competition to talk about how long a job search has lasted.

…snip…

California’s agricultural heartland has been hit particularly hard in the downturn — 8 of the 10 metro areas with the highest jobless rates are in the state, in central inland cities like Fresno, Modesto and Merced. But the only area that comes close to El Centro’s unemployment rate is Yuma, Ariz., another border town about 55 miles east of here.

…snip…

For some people, the unemployment numbers are more of a nuisance than anything. Some relatively well-heeled residents say they do not know anyone without a job. If anyone is not working, they say, it must be because they are not really looking. They point to the large hiring banner in front of the International House of Pancakes.

There has long been a promise that the heat and sunshine will provide work. Local leaders speak excitedly about geothermal plants and solar projects bringing more jobs. Several training programs offer courses to develop skills for that kind of work. But Jesse Aguilar, who completed such a class last year, said that of the 30 in his class, only two have found jobs. Both of them are at fast food outlets.


Those last two paragraphs are really quite telling. As I pointed out in this post (and others), it is not a lack of skills, even though that is a perceived conventional wisdom, usually coming from individuals and organizations with a vested interest in either not recognizing or not admitting where the problems actually lie.

The Washington Post had this article on Tuesday on the people who have given up their job search out of frustration and how they impact the “recovery”:

Overshadowing the nation’s economic recovery is not only the number of Americans who have lost their jobs, but also those who have stopped looking for new ones.

These workers are not counted in the Labor Department’s monthly unemployment rate, yet they say they are willing to work. Since the recession began, their numbers have grown by 30 percent, to more than 6.4 million, amounting to a hidden labor force that could stymie the turnaround.

Adding these workers to February’s jobless rate pushes it up to 10.5 percent, well above the more commonly cited 8.9 percent rate.An even broader measure of unemployment, which includes people forced to work part time, stands at nearly 16 percent.

Of course, the Post also promotes the idea of a mis-match on skills but as I’ve cited before, this is just not true:

Structural unemployment – unemployment stemming from a mismatch of workers’ skills and job requirements – has been cited in mainstream media as the main cause of current, high unemployment. Data from the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), however, suggest that structural unemployment is not what is ailing the economy. The graph below draws on data from the NFIB’s monthly survey from December 2007 (the official start of the recession) to January 2011. Each month, the NFIB asks its sample of small businesses to state the single most important problem facing their business today. Since the recession began, respondents overwhelmingly have cited “poor sales,” suggesting that today’s unemployment is primarily due to a lack of demand. “Quality of labor,” the factor most consistent with structural unemployment, barely made the list.

One move that may help matters for some (though probably not) is a recently introduced bill from Rep Hank Johnson, (D-GA) to block discrimination against the unemployed. From Yahoo:

Over the last year or so, America’s jobs crisis has been accompanied by a troubling trend: discrimination against the jobless.

…snip…

At a time when long-term joblessness is a record high, the practice puts what some say is yet another obstacle in front of Americans who aren’t working–often through no fault of their own. It’s not illegal to discriminate against the unemployed. But Rep. Hank Johnson (pictured), a Georgia Democrat, wants to change that. This week, he introduced a bill that would extend the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act so that it bars discrimination against the jobless just as it bars discrimination on the basis of race or age.

Johnson’s measure stands little chance of passing the GOP-controlled House. …snip…

And what about that Republican controlled US House? The Washington Post reported Wednesday that they were trying to “steer the focus back on jobs” though I’m still trying to figure out how requiring the IRS to audit abortions creates jobs. But then, these are the same people who are working three weeks in Washington then spending the fourth week at home doing their fundraisers. Today, Politico also offered their view of the Republican Senate’s “struggle” to get their message out on jobs.

Jobs strategy has been the subject of closed-door GOP meetings and strategy sessions. At the request of GOP leaders, freshman Sen. Rob Portman, budget director under George W. Bush, circulated an internal roadmap this week that is intended to serve as a launching pad for a more sweeping economic agenda, which senior Republicans say must include a sharper message and a more aggressive legislative plan.

As a reminder to talk up the connection between spending cuts and jobs creation back home during next week’s recess, the Senate Republican Conference distributed a series of talking points on pocket-sized cards to the 47 GOP senators.

Ah yes, it’s always in the marketing and never a fault of the actual policies. In this case, it is linking budget cuts to jobs creation. This of course, comes after all the years of tax cuts not creating jobs. Of course, they also want more tax cuts as well.

I wonder just how many suicides we’ve already had over the last few years from lay-offs, unemployment, and underemployment and how many more we’ll have while the elected officials of both parties dither and preen and say nothing?

And because I can:

Cross posted from Just A Small Town Country Boy