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Limited Good Economic News Won’t Last

10:11 am in Uncategorized by dakine01

"Perishable!" by Young Master Sunshine on flickr

"Perishable!" by Young Master Sunshine on flickr

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You might have seen some headlines from yesterday on the weekly report of Initial Unemployment claims about those claims “falling sharply” (Reuters headline phrase):

Applications for unemployment benefits fell by 37,000 to a seasonally adjusted 391,000 in the week ending September 24 from an upwardly revised 428,000 the prior week, the Labor Department said on Thursday. 

My first prediction today is that the 391K figure first announced will be revised upwards when next week’s report comes out. My second prediction is whatever good news that can be wrung from this report will have a limited overall effect.

CNN’s report was a bit more circumspect with this:

The recent drop to 391,000 maked the lowest level since the week of April 2, when 385,000 new claims came in. 

Still, economists cautioned against getting too excited about the better number. It’s just one week of data, and according to a government spokesman, seasonal adjustments could have impacted the calculation.

…snip… Read the rest of this entry →

Sluggish Economy Stubbornly Resists Lack of Effort to Stimulate It

9:04 am in Uncategorized by dakine01

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This past week, President Obama was in Pittsburgh to tout a government/industry/academia initiative for technology. CNN had this to say:

President Barack Obama — whose poll numbers have dipped in recent weeks amid a stubbornly sluggish economic recovery — touted the hard-hit manufacturing sector Friday, saying the country’s best production days may well lie ahead.

“We are inventors, we are makers, and we are doers. If we want a robust growing economy, we need a robust manufacturing sector,” Obama told a crowd at Carnegie Mellon University, the school founded by steel industrialist Andrew Carnegie nearly 100 years ago.

The NY Times:

President Obama visited a university research center in Pittsburgh on Friday to announce a new partnership between the government, industries and leading universities to speed the movement of technological advances to commercial users. The trip was the latest of his increasingly frequent travels to battleground states to showcase administration efforts to create manufacturing jobs.

After touring the National Robotics Engineering Center at Carnegie Mellon University, a high-technology facility adjacent to a rusted factory symbolic of the area’s industrial past, Mr. Obama said federal agencies would invest more than $500 million to seed the initiative. Of that, $70 million is to go to robotics projects like one he viewed at the center: a boom-box-size robot that inspects sewer pipelines, made by a company started by a Carnegie Mellon professor.

Now, I am all for technological advances. My professional field is Software Quality Assurance and Testing and I have worked in every phase of software development projects. I remember all the “world of the future” type stories that Disney and other film makers would do, showing their visions of how robots would affect the world of the 21st century, making life so much easier for everyone from the assembly line worker to the housewife in her kitchen. Yet for all the potential this initiative may have for the long term future, it does nothing for the “stubbornly sluggish economic recovery.” The US economy needs something along the lines of $500B investment (and that is probably no where near enough) in initiatives that bring jobs now, not five or ten or twenty years from now.

We need good jobs for people so that they don’t need to juggle four jobs just to eke out a living (via the NY Times):

Some of these workers are patching together jobs out of choice. They may find full-time office work unfulfilling and are testing to see whether they can be their own boss. Certainly, the Internet has made working from home and trying out new businesses easier than ever.

But in many cases, necessity is driving the trend. “Young college graduates working multiple jobs is a natural consequence of a bad labor market and having, on average, $20,000 worth of student loans to pay off,” said Carl E. Van Horn, director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers.

…snip…

An entry-level salary often doesn’t go very far these days. According to a study by the Heldrich Center, the median starting salary for those who graduated from four-year degree programs in 2009 and 2010 was $27,000, down from $30,000 for those who graduated in 2006 to 2008, before the recession. (Try living on $27,000 a year — before taxes — in a city like New York, Washington or Chicago.)

Many earn even less than $27,000. Maureen McCarty, 23, who graduated from American University in 2010 with a journalism degree, makes $25,000 before taxes as managing editor of TheNewGay.net, a blog focusing on gay issues, with no benefits like health insurance or a 401(k). The salary doesn’t cover her expenses, so she often baby-sits five nights a week for six families in the Washington area.

See this for my wag on trying to survive on minimum wage – and I was not describing trying to do so in New York City or Dee Cee.

MSNBC had this the other day on how people who are un and underemployed pay their bills:

Transamerica enlisted polling firm Harris Interactive to survey 668 people who had been fully employed but are now unemployed or underemployed, meaning they are working part-time but would like to be working full-time.

Not surprisingly, the most common source of funds were savings and unemployment benefits, with half of those surveyed reporting that they rely on each of those. About one-third also reported relying on credit cards and/or a partners’ income.

When the unemployment runs out, the retirement funds don’t last a whole lot longer either, believe me.

MSNBC also had this article last week on jobs going unfilled due to “lack of qualified applicants:

Despite an unemployment rate of 9.1 percent in May, nearly three million job openings went unfilled — up from roughly 2.1 million when the recession ended in June 2009. To be sure, that’s not nearly enough jobs for the roughly 15 million Americans who are out of work.

But many of those positions remain unfilled because employers can’t find qualified candidates to do the work. From manufacturing to health care, employers report that they can no longer rely on hiring entry level workers and training them on the job.

…snip…

Darlene Miller, CEO of Permac Industries in South Burnsville, Minn., said the days are long gone when a new hire could learn how to operate machinery on the job. Miller said she would add another half-dozen workers to her payroll of 38 workers — if she could find people skilled at operating the high-tech equipment she recently purchased to boost productivity.

…snip…

Miller is a member of President Barack Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, which recently announced a goal of turning out an additional 10,000 American engineers annually by leaning on the private sector to boost university funding, add internships and create other incentives.

So apparently while sitting on record amounts of cash, industry is willing to invest in technology but not people. Again from the MSNBC article:

“In the ’60s and ’70s you could go from an entry level job on the loading dock to manufacturing engineer or accountant to maybe a manager in a corner office,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. “It doesn’t work that way anymore. The qualifications have gone up. The commitment between employer and employee has gone down. And (employers) don’t want to take five years to get you ready. They want you ready to start working — and learning — the day you walk in the door. “

What this article conveniently misses is that a lot of businesses, in their search for a better deal in a new location, create these types of problems for themselves. They want the state and local governments to subsidize the building of new facilities; they want the long term tax breaks and credits to “create new jobs” in the new locale but they are still not willing to bring a corresponding level of investment in the people to develop the necessary skills themselves. Friday’s Hartford Courant had the results of a poll of area businesses:

Fully 25 percent of the firms in the Hartford-Springfield region said they had been approached by other states, according to a report issued Friday by the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. More than 650 firms participated in the 2011 Hartford-Springfield Business survey.

…snip…

Forty-three percent of respondents said the region’s quality-of-life is its greatest asset; 30 percent of firms surveyed said the area’s best asset is its proximity to customers, while 17 percent cited the area’s skilled work force as its primary asset.

If management does not actually value proximity to a skilled labor force, then management should probably not whine about not being able to find workers with appropriate skills.

Now, poaching of businesses has long been a staple of life in the US. Growing up in small town Kentucky, I remember when the factories first came to town from the upper parts of the Midwest. I also recall how easily a factory could shut down and move on if a union were brought in.

I saw this story this week on the governor of the state in which I reside wooing of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Of course, if the CME were to move from Chicago to Florida, it would not help the overall economy of the US as it would destroy a corresponding job in Illinois for every job it created in Florida. And how soon would it take for the CME folks to start whining about not being able to find qualified workers in Florida.

It just seems that too many corporate executives look only at the next quarterly profit statement rather than at a long term sustainable future, for their companies and for their workers.

And because I can:

Cross posted from Just A Small Town Country Boy

Is There Possibility Of A Glimmer Of A Clue?

1:55 pm in Economy, Financial Crisis, Government, Jobs, Media, Unemployment by dakine01

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Clue Game 1960

Clue Game 1960 by Thrift Store Addict, on Flickr

No. It probably isn’t. Probably just some more wishful thinking on my part. Nevertheless, I was quite surprised this morning to see a few pieces around the web pointing out that a “new Republican Jobs bill” was just another tired rehash of the same failed policies of the last thirty years. Ezra Klein at the Washington Post, Paul Krugman at the NY Times, Steve Benen at Washington Monthly all pounded on the Republican “Plan” and for good reason. From the Klein link:

The best evidence that Washington has forgotten about the jobs crisis is to look at the plans emerging to address it. Yesterday’s House GOP plan was a perfect example. It was, as MIT economist David Autor told me, a classic case of “now-more-than-everism”: Everything on the agenda was also on the GOP’s agenda in 2006, in 2002, in 1987, etc. It’s lower taxes, less spending, fewer regulations, more trade agreements, more domestic oil production. You can argue about whether these proposals are good for the economy. But as Autor says, there’s “no original thinking here directed at addressing the employment problem.” 

Actually, you can argue whether those “proposals” are good for the economy as we have thirty years of evidence that they are not good for the economy.

Krugman points to how foolish it is to try to negotiate with the Republicans on these issues (as does Blue Texan at FDL this afternoon). Krugman said:

Anyway, the new “jobs plan” illustrates, once again, the foolishness of believing that we can reach any real bipartisan agreement on economic policy. The GOP stopped thinking a long time ago; all it knows how to do is parrot Reaganite rhetoric over and over. And there’s so little there there that the document — look at it! — has to rely on extra-large type and lots of pointless pictures to bulk it out even to 10 pages. 

Benen is even less forgiving than both Klein and Krugman:

As we discussed yesterday, the jobs agenda, such as it is, is practically a conservative cliche: the GOP wants massive tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation, more coastal oil drilling, and huge cuts to public investment. Republicans are confident this will work wonders, just as they were equally confident about the identical agenda in the last decade, and the decade before that, and the decade before that. 

Indeed, the most glaring problem with the GOP jobs agenda is that it won’t work, but nearly as painful is the realization that it’s already been tried, over and over again, to no avail. They either don’t care or can’t understand the famous axiom: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

The agenda is the agenda: tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation, cut public investments. Good times and bad, deficit or surplus, war or peace, it just doesn’t matter.

It’s as if someone bought an iPod, uploaded one song, and hit “shuffle.”

Read the rest of this entry →

Unemployed Are Not the Reason Unemployment Funds Are Broke

11:03 am in Economy, Financial Crisis, Government, Jobs, Media, Unemployment by dakine01

OK. I guess technically the title is not true. If folks hadn’t been laid off and collected Unemployment Compensation, the funds would just be sitting in the various state coffers, unused. But the unemployed are not the reason the economy tanked; the unemployed are not the ones sending jobs overseas; the unemployed are not the ultimate root cause of the problem.

Michigan started things back in March but has since been followed by Missouri and now Florida. (Other states may have done so as well, these three are the ones I know for sure have done this.) Florida’s new law actually goes beyond Michigan and Missouri, as bad as their laws are. Where MI and MO cut the maximum period for collecting state level unemployment compensation from 26 weeks to 20 weeks, Florida ties the benefits to the overall state unemployment rate. Via the Tampa Tribune article linked above:

TALLAHASSEE — Out-of-work Floridians would receive fewer state benefits while businesses pay less tax under a controversial proposal approved Friday by a divided Legislature.

The deal, which Gov. Rick Scott is expected to sign into law, immediately cuts unemployment benefits by 11.5 percent.

Jobless Floridians would continue to receive a maximum payment of $275 per week, among the lowest of any state in the country. But they would be paid for no more than 23 weeks, instead of 26.

…snip…

The bill also creates a sliding scale that cuts and adds weeks of benefits based on the unemployment rate. Unemployment compensation would drop to as low as 12 weeks if the average unemployment rate drops to 5 percent or lower. A week would be added for every 0.5 percent the jobless rate climbs.

I can guarantee you that the newly unemployed person is not going to give two shits to know that the overall state unemployment rate is X percent so the number of weeks of benefits are limited accordingly. All that newly unemployed person is going to see is s/he is out of work and the state supplied safety net is full of gaping holes. Annie Lowrey at Slate on Friday offered this analysis:

In March, Michigan became the first state to take an axe to its standard unemployment benefits, even though the state boasts one of the worst labor markets in the nation. The Republican government cut the number of state-sponsored, initial weeks from 26 to 20, effective in January. It said the state simply could not afford them: It owes the federal government $3.9 billion, borrowed to pay past unemployment benefits, and just cannot go further into the red. (Michigan and 48 other states have mandatory balanced-budget rules.)

For all the other states cutting back, the issue is inaction, rather than fiscal pressure. Some states needed to make a certain simple legislative fix to ensure that the federal government kept on kicking in its share of weeks of benefits—weeks of benefits already budgeted and paid for in Washington. A number of states failed to do so. So, on April 16, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin all lost 20 weeks of federal benefits, effective immediately. Missouri did on April 2 as well.
Read the rest of this entry →

Trying To Avoid Incoherent Rage

11:49 am in Economy, Financial Crisis, Jobs, Unemployment by dakine01

As I read news sites across the toobz and see the occasional cable talking heads populated by the Beltway Village Idiots Pundits, it is often difficult to keep myself from dissolving into a mass of protoplasm due to simple rage.

First up today is this article from Reuters on Sunday, March 27:

(Reuters) – The U.S. labor market is finally improving, just when many of the other economic indicators are wavering.

Jobs are considered a lagging indicator. They typically recover many months after the economy comes out of a recession, and this cycle was no exception. So will troubles in Japan, Libya and elsewhere push up U.S. unemployment later this year?

…snip…

Friday brings the March employment report, and economists polled by Reuters are looking for growth of about 188,000 jobs, with the unemployment rate holding steady at 8.9 percent.

Any bets on how the headlines Friday will include some variant of “economists surprised“? I’m betting right now that the 188K figure will be way high for the entire economy. Of course, since the BLS jobs numbers will be first out this month ahead of the ADP Jobs reports on private sector jobs created for the previous month which appears the first Wednesday of each month, my bet will also be that the ADP report will be more positive than the BLS report so that will get all the good publicity next week and folks will forget the reality of the BLS report.

Sunday also had this article from the Boston Globe on Massachusetts going after the rail funds that Florida’s Gov Scottdemort rejected:

When the Obama administration awarded $10.4 billion for high-speed rail projects last year, Florida was a big winner, scooping up 20 times as much money as Massachusetts. But now that Florida’s new governor has rejected his state’s $2.4 billion for political reasons, Massachusetts officials are racing to make another pitch to Washington.
Read the rest of this entry →

Elections Have Consequences, Right?

10:06 am in Government by dakine01

-> Vote Here Vote Aquí ->

Vote Here Vote Aquí ; by myJon, on Flickr

How many times these last few weeks have we heard some politician or pundit say, “Elections have consequences“? Hundreds of times, right? At a minimum. Looking back through that Google search for that phrase, it has been especially prevalent these last few weeks to justify the actions of Scott Walker in Wisconsin in his union busting activities. Even when it has been pointed out that at no time did Scott Walker ever campaign on union busting.

Now I’m not going to go into all the ways the Republicans have worked against this idea from January 2009 through current times. Or how they tended to ignore the idea back when President Clinton was first elected then re-elected. Nor shall I go on about how all the Democrats seem to have themselves forgotten that the elections have consequences as they continually appease the Republican minority in the Senate especially, leaving the House to take the brunt of the voter displeasure during the 2010 mid-terms.

But I guess the Republicans get to pick and choose what parts of elections have the consequences. Here in Florida during the last election, voters passed two anti-gerrymandering state constitutional amendments that would require state level legislative districts and federal congressional districts to be drawn as compactly as possible. Amendment 5 (for state level legislative districts) stated:

Legislative districts or districting plans may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. Districts must be contiguous. Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.

Amendment 6 for Federal Congressional districts was similar:

Congressional districts or districting plans may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. Districts must be contiguous. Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.

Read the rest of this entry →

The Rush to Declare “Recovery” and Move On

9:03 am in Economy, Financial Crisis, Jobs, Unemployment by dakine01

There are times that I begin to despair a bit about all the crap going on all over. I can’t do anything about earthquakes, tsunamis, and nuclear disasters (all in one) but I can address some of the reporting I’ve seen in the TradMed the last couple of days.

Apparently the Beltway Village Idiots Pundits are anxious to stop writing all those bummer articles about the un and underemployed and the destruction of the global economy. I guess it’s just too Debbie Downer for them. So they’ve started the “Everything’s Getting Better” articles. The NY Times and Floyd Norris started with this headline:

Crisis Is Over, but Where’s the Fix?

Of course, without anything being fixed, it’s rather difficult for the “crisis” to be over. And to be fair, Norris does address some of this in the article:

When the financial system began to crumble more than three years ago, the world rushed to rescue it. Country after country went deeply into debt to keep banks afloat and prevent a deep recession from turning into something worse.

…snip…

But the world has changed since then. The economic recovery in most developed countries is stuttering at best, and governments are struggling with their own finances. It is time for remorse and second-guessing.

A surprising citadel of that second-guessing is at the International Monetary Fund, where researchers this week concluded that the rescues “only treated the symptoms of the global financial meltdown.”

The researchers, Stijn Claessens and Ceyla Pazarbasioglu, warned that “a rare opportunity is being thrown away to tackle the underlying causes. Without restructuring financial institutions’ balance sheets and their operations, as well as their assets — loans to over-indebted households and enterprises — the economic recovery will suffer, and the seeds will be sown for the next crisis.”

…snip…

In retrospect, it is clear that the bailouts came with too little pain for those responsible. Bondholders who financed banks that failed largely escaped pain. That was true even in Ireland, where the bailout would have led to a default of government debt had Europe not stepped in. It is still not clear how Ireland will pay its national debt, but the bank bondholders did fine.

Norris goes on to point out that one of the problems is the lack of accountability. Imagine that?

Next up with the Let’s Declare Victory Recovery crowd is Ben Smith at Politico, though he projects it on to President Obama as the President’s “dilemma” about when to declare Recovery:

The economy has been growing for 18 months after the longest recession since the Great Depression – but public opinion has yet to fully reflect what economists generally agree are incipient signs of hope. One truism of presidential politics that actually happens to be true is that voters’ perception of the economy trumps just about any other issue, so Obama, acutely aware of both the need to present a successful economic record and the dangers of prematurely declaring victory, is treading very, very carefully.

…snip…

Yet despite several quarters of real — if uninspiring — growth, the pessimism remains deep. A Bloomberg National Poll conducted in early March found that more than a third of Americans continue to believe that the U.S. is in a recession, more than a year after it ended, and 63 percent of Americans say the nation is on the “wrong track.”

Yeah. Gee. Now why ever would folks not be inspired with unemployment still hovering around 9% and un and underemployment nearly double that? There are still nearly five applicants for every job opening. But that’s only because all the people without jobs just lack the pertinent skills right? Well, no, that is not right:

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.

And this from Yahoo’s The Lookout:

Why the shortage? Many of the people who were laid off from factory jobs and are looking for work don’t have the specialized skills companies are looking for, manufacturing execs say. And they’re not eager to acquire them, because, having been laid off from one manufacturing job, they’re convinced that the whole sector is on the decline. So they don’t want to spend time retraining for jobs that they fear could soon be shipped overseas.

Some say those fears are misplaced, arguing that skilled manufacturing jobs are difficult to outsource. But the numbers tell a different story. As we’ve reported, middle-wage, middle-skill jobs — a category that includes both skilled manufacturing jobs and white-collar clerical work — are shrinking rapidly as a percentage of total U.S. jobs, thanks to the effects of offshoring and mechanization. So it may make sense for a worker to decide against spending a year retraining himself to learn these skills.

My bold. Today’s (Saturday, March 11) Hartford Courant had three articles that reflect the reality of things today.

Links to the articles are embedded in the titles but there we have it. UTC is laying off workers and moving the jobs elsewhere. They are doing it because they can (profitable but want more profits) and they reward the CEO with $24M in compensation to oversee these cuts and outsourcing. And the CEO likes to brag about it (from prepared remarks delivered in Mumbai to NASSCOM):

…snip…
Today, we have almost 5,000 employees in India. Our Otis factory in Bangalore has produced more than 30,000 elevators since the 1990s. Our Carrier factory in Gurgaon produces 200,000 air conditioning systems per year. In addition, Pratt & Whitney engines power the aircraft of many Indian airlines, including Air India, Kingfisher, and Indigo – as well as more than 225 turboprop aircraft, business jets and helicopters in India.

From our perspective, this is really just the beginning of our relationship with India. Before talking about some of the big macro forces that will shape the global economy over the next decade, I’d like to share just a little data that highlights the size of the opportunities in both the infrastructure and aerospace markets. Last year, UTC’s sales in India were $500M. We expect this to grow to $2.5B by 2015. I’m confident in this level of growth based, in part, on the current per-capita consumption rates. As countries like India become more urban, consumption levels for air conditioners, security systems and air travel will increase toward the levels seen in more mature markets.
…snip…

But surely there are folks in the US working to see US workers employed, building things useful to all citizens, right? Just today there were two more articles on Republican governors attempting to justify killing rail projects within their states. First up is John Kasich in Ohio refusing to put up $52M for a project estimated to cost $128M for streetcars in Cincinnati:

Gov. John Kasich said he can’t justify spending $52 million in state money for Cincinnati’s streetcar – the new governor’s most emphatic statement on what Cincinnati leaders consider a major economic development project.

…snip…

Without the state money, the project could be up to $30 million short of the $128 million needed to build a streetcar route from Downtown’s central riverfront to the Uptown communities near the University of Cincinnati. The city could seek that money from Washington or other sources, say backers.

Then the NY Times tried to paint Florida Governor Rick Scott’s rejection of high speed rail funds as a rejection of President Obama’s planning:

The federal government had agreed to pay $2.4 billion of its estimated $2.6 billion in construction costs, railroad companies were vying to build and operate it, and state transportation planners had even dummied up proposed timetables: Train 7092 would depart Tampa at 8:10 a.m. and arrive in Orlando at 9:04 a.m.

The fast train was sought, and won, by Florida’s former Republican governor, Charlie Crist. But it was killed last month by his successor, Rick Scott, who joined several other Republican governors in spurning federally financed train projects over fears that their states could be on the hook for future costs. The final nail in its coffin came last week when a Florida court ruled that the new governor could not be forced to accept the federal money and start building it.

Of course, buried w-a-y down in the Times article is this little nugget that negates the article’s premise (and Scott’s justification for canceling):

Last month, Mr. Scott decided to scuttle the project after reading a report by the Reason Foundation that questioned its ridership estimates. The foundation is a prominent libertarian policy research organization that employs several respected transportation analysts, but it gets some of its funding from donors with ties to the oil industry, including foundations related to Koch Industries, which owns oil refineries.

“The truth is that this project would be far too costly to taxpayers, and I believe the risk far outweighs the benefits,” Mr. Scott said.

But a state-sponsored ridership study, which was released this week, concluded that the proposed line would actually have been a money-maker from the start.

Regardless of the complaints that Tampa and Orlando are too close together and as cities are “virtually unnavigable without cars,” the line would have been a money maker. It would have eventually been extended south to Miami as well.

So here we sit. Private industry destroys jobs because they can. Governors destroy jobs because of ideology even though those jobs could eventually help people get around cities and states without buying gas, contributing to pollution and auto gridlock. Saving gasoline that has spiked in price once again, chewing up more financial resources that the long term un and underemployed could use on things like, oh food or medical care.

Let’s let the Village Idiots Pundits declare Victory Recovery and move on so they can cover such news as Newt Gingrich’s Patriotic Affairs.

And because I can:

Cross posted from Just A Small Town Country Boy

We Are Seeing the Destruction of the Middle Class

11:36 am in Economy, Financial Crisis, Jobs, Unemployment by dakine01

Today (Sunday February 27), I was doing my standard search for news and came across this headline from Bloomberg (via MSNBC)

A U.S. recovery built on low-paying jobs

I have to admit, I was a bit shocked to see something within TradMed actually recognizing the realities that millions of us have long known from personal experience to be the case. From the article:

Before she lost her job last November as a full-time health department caseworker in Aurora, Ill., Amy Valle was making $23 an hour. Now she’s paid $10 an hour as a part-time assistant coordinator in an after-school program.

“From here on out, it will be a struggle,” says Valle, 32, whose husband lost his $50,000 government job and still is out of work after a year. “I don’t feel like there’s any place we can go to get what we were getting paid.”

While the unemployment rate dropped to 9 percent in January, from a two-decade peak of 10.1 percent in October 2009, many of the jobs people are now taking don’t match the pay, the hours, or the benefits of the 8.75 million positions that vanished in the recession, according to Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics in Toronto.

Of course, things are not likely to improve when we have President Obama’s “Jobs and Competitiveness Council” comprised mainly of CEOs whose companies have outsourced millions of jobs and MOTU who were instrumental in the destruction of the global economy. We see the Federal Reserve, one of whose tasks is job creation, far more concerned about inflation, even though inflation is nowhere near the problem in today’s economy that joblessness is. Today’s NY Times has an opinion piece from Christina Romer, former Chair of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers:

The real division is not about the acceptable level of inflation, but about its causes, and the dispute is limiting the Fed’s aid to the economic recovery. The debate is between what I would describe as empiricists and theorists.

Empiricists, as the name suggests, put most weight on the evidence. Empirical analysis shows that the main determinants of inflation are past inflation and unemployment. Inflation rises when unemployment is below normal and falls when it is above normal.

Though there is much debate about what level of unemployment is now normal, virtually no one doubts that at 9 percent, unemployment is well above it. With core inflation running at less than 1 percent, empiricists are therefore relatively unconcerned about inflation in the current environment.

In other words, the Fed is wasting time arguing about a peripheral issue while neglecting the bigger problems. An appropriate analogy might be arguing about the color of the drapes in the living room while the fire races up from the kitchen to engulf the entire second story and attic.

Today’s Washington Post seems to be leaning toward the idea that destroying collective bargaining rights for public sector employees might not be such a great idea but that it’s OK to cut wages and benefits since the private sector has done such a bang up job of destroying wages and benefits. When did we become a nation that exalts the destruction of the middle class rather than one that tried to raise the standards for all? From the Post article:

OREGON, WIS. – Michael Wernick, 61, a longtime body and fender man, says his financial fortunes have gone nowhere but down over the past decade. His salary is stagnant, and his 401(k) has shrunk, derailing his retirement plans.

So as he watches Gov. Scott Walker (R) take on the public-employee unions by not only demanding steep reductions in their pension and health care benefits but by also insisting they give up many of their collective-bargaining rights, Wernick is quietly cheering him on.

“Maybe there is a little bit of jealousy here, but public workers have what I don’t have,” Wernick, a political independent, said as he sipped coffee in this bucolic village a few miles outside of Madison. “It’s nice to have these things, but if there is no money you can’t afford them.”

Along with the attempted destruction of public sector unions by the governors of Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana, we have this article from the AP (via NY Times) detailing how limited the public sector “unions” are already in most of the “right to work” states in the south.

Florida Governor Rick Scott seems to put the lie to Republican claims of wanting to create jobs. He initially rejected High speed rail funds because:

Among Scott’s reasons for rejecting the funds allocated to Florida: “Capital cost overruns that could put Florida taxpayers on the hook for an additional $3 billion,” “overly optimistic” ridership and revenue projections, and $2.4 billion owed to the feds if the project “becomes too costly for taxpayers and is shut down.”

Other Florida elected officials from both parties worked to address Scott’s ‘concerns’ presented a plan to the governor’s office last Wednesday that Scott rejected on Thursday:

The plan, calling for local governments to take over the project, was submitted to Scott on Wednesday after meetings between the governor’s office, federal transportation officials and representatives from local governments including Tampa, Orlando, Lakeland and Miami.

This new partnership would be considered a “non-recourse entity,” which is the key piece of the proposal. It means that if the project goes bust, in no way would the state or local governments be held liable for construction or operating cost overruns. The new entity would oversee the design, building and operation of the rail system, which would effectively be privatized, with the private company bearing all risks for construction and operating cost overruns.

The state would effectively be rendered into little more than a pass-through agency for the federal grants, accepting the money and turning it over to the “non-recourse entity.” The state would still provide the land on which rail lines are placed and provide some consulting to ensure a smooth transitions

.Senator Bill Nelson had an opinion piece in today’s Miami Herald on Scott’s decision:

For the past week, Scott has cited so-called economic realities that led him to first turn down the money. He claimed Florida taxpayers would be on the hook for possible cost overruns. He claimed that ridership and revenue projections were overly optimistic. He claimed the state would have to repay the federal government all of the $2.4 billion, if the project faltered.

His claims were hasty and ill-informed when he first announced his decision a week ago. Today, they’re untrue.

A bi-partisan group from Florida’s congressional delegation has spent the past week working with U.S. Department of Transportation officials and representatives of the cities of Orlando, Tampa, Lakeland and Miami, to painstakingly address all of Scott’s concerns.

They came up with a detailed plan that removed any financial burdens from the state and taxpayers and placed them into the hands of private companies.

Under this plan, Florida would accept the $2.4 billion federal grant. The state would transfer the money over to a new legal entity made up of city officials from along the first leg of the route between Orlando and Tampa.

Essentially, Scott is saying that an approximate 24K jobs for Floridians, at a time when Florida unemployment is at or over 12% is not a priority. And here I was under the impression that Republicans loved private enterprise yet Scott is rejecting allowing a private entity to be formed, at no extra cost to the tax payer, to build and operate a business. I guess Scott really does want to make Florida just like Texas. I just still do not see how cutting programs that will create jobs will actually help to create jobs. There must be some magic involved that brings this in from whatever alternative universe people like Scott dwell in. Unfortunately, I have to deal with the realities of this world. As do most of the rest of us forced to deal with people who think outlawing abortion is also a jobs creator.

And because I can:

Cross posted from Just A Small Town Country Boy

More Republican “Respect” for the Workers

12:28 pm in Economy, Jobs, Unemployment by dakine01

photo: twicepix via Flickr

On Wednesday (February 16), I wrote a post with the (admittedly rhetorical) title “Is Cutting Jobs Programs to Create Jobs Like Cutting Taxes to Increase Revenues?

Today, I’d like to offer up a few more examples of how the new governors of Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin are treating workers within their states as they “create” jobs.

To begin with, we have yesterday’s report of Initial Unemployment Claims for last week. After falling to a two-and-a-half year low the week before, yesterday’s report showed an increase once again in the initial claims:

There were 410,000 initial jobless claims filed in the week ended Feb. 12, according to the Labor Department. That was up 25,000 from the week before, and slightly more than the 408,000 claims economists surveyed by Briefing.com had expected.

Continuing claims — which include people filing for the second week of benefits or more — rose by 1,000 to 3,911,000 in the week ended Feb. 5, the most recent week available.

Of course, the economists interviewed looked on the sunny side of life because the trend “is still pointing downward.” I’m sure that is bringing a warm feeling to the nearly 15 million unemployed and the 25 to 30 million un and underemployed. Why at the rate things are trending downwards, we might once again reach full employment in, oh, maybe in the year 2525?  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

Is Cutting Jobs Programs to Create Jobs Like Cutting Taxes to Increase Revenues?

1:58 pm in Economy, Financial Crisis, Jobs, Unemployment by dakine01

So today (February 16) the current governor of the state in which I reside (there is no ef’fing way I’m going to lay any claim of ownership to this person and call him my governor) decided that he would follow in the footsteps of his fellow first term Republican governors of Ohio, Wisconsin, and New Jersey and reject federal rail funds for Florida (via CNN):

Washington (CNN) – Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott rejected $432 million in highly-touted funding from the Obama administration for an Orlando to Tampa high-speed rail Wednesday. Slamming government for becoming “addicted to spending,” Scott listed three reasons why accepting the federal funds would amount to a “recipe for disaster.”

In a statement, Scott said “I was elected to get Floridians back to work and to change the way government does business in our state.”

He “was elected to get Floridians back to work…” yet cuts a program that would have created a few thousand jobs for Central Florida and a high speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando and eventually Miami. Outgoing Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio called it:

…the worst decision she’s seen a governor make in her 26 years of public service.

“This is such a bad decision on so many different levels. I cannot believe that the governor made this decision,” Iorio said. “This is an example when you have someone who governs from ideology instead of practicality and really looking at what’s best for Floridians in the long run. This is what you get and I don’t know when I’ve been more disappointed and concerned about a decision a governor has made for our state.”

Four out of the five candidates running to replace Iorio condemned the Scott decision:

Four of the five candidates running to succeed Iorio in the upcoming municipal elections appeared at a press conference today at the site where Tampa’s high-speed rail station was supposed to be to voice their outrage and to call for Scott to reconsider his move. Former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco was not present.

Yet, Scott’s decision falls right in line with other Republican decisions the last few weeks and months. Just yesterday, Speaker of the House John Boehner commented on the prospect of Federal workers losing their jobs under the Republican Budget proposals (via CNN):

Washington (CNN) – House Speaker John Boehner said Tuesday if some federal workers lose jobs because of Republican-proposed spending cuts, “so be it.”

“So be it” just might become as famous a statement of a lack of empathy for the unemployed that this country has ever had.

This morning’s NY Times The Caucus asked if the Republican concern for the jobless ended with the jobs of federal workers:

But there’s one category of jobs that appears exempt from Republican cheering: federal workers.

During his weekly news conference on Tuesday, Mr. Boehner claimed that Mr. Obama had added 200,000 federal workers since he took office (a figure that has been disputed), and shrugged at the idea that Republican efforts to slash government spending would put many of them out of work.

However, given the responses of the new Republican governors such as Scott Walker of Wisconsin, the indifference to existing jobs extends to all public sector employees. Fortunately it appears the people of Wisconsin have decided to send a message or two to their new governor.

As David Dayen reports this afternoon at FDL News:

Republicans want the public to know they’re “serious” about “cutting the deficit” but they really don’t want the public to know that their plan would a) cost a million jobs and b) not materially impact the deficit in any serious way.

People understand that the lack of jobs is a big problem for the US (via MSNBC):

Unemployment — and not the economy in general — ranked as the most important problem facing Americans for the second month in a row, according to a Gallup poll released Friday.

When asked to name the biggest problem facing the country, Gallup poll found that 35 percent of Americans said “unemployment.”

That’s the highest percentage in more than a quarter century, since October of 1983.

And it is a weak demand for jobs, not the supposed lack of skills of the un and underemployed that is driving things at this point (via Yahoo News):

The sluggish state of the job market over the past year has led many analysts to suggest that the American labor market suffers from a structural malady. The recovering economy has created so few jobs, the argument goes, because 21st-century jobs require a set of skills that jobless workers in many geographical regions don’t possess.

But a new government study appears to undercut that view–finding that the economy’s chronic state of high unemployment stems more from a simple lack of demand in the labor market. And it could bolster the position of those Keynesian-minded economists arguing for continued government efforts to increase demand.

Initial Unemployment Claims for last week were at a 2 1/2 year low. With the deficit hysteria in DC combined with the states struggling and the ideologues who wish to prove that government is incompetent by making sure there are no workers around to do things, that low figure is probably not going to go much lower and stay much lower over the coming weeks and months. And just as we learned that cutting taxes does not raise revenues and magically balance budgets, so we will learn (I know, many of us already know this) that cutting jobs and killing programs will not create more jobs. VooDoo economics indeed.

And because I can:

Cross posted from Just A Small Town Country Boy