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Who’s Really To Blame for Unemployment?

4:54 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Though some protesters at an ‘Unemployment Olympics’ event in Tompkins Square Park, N.Y. blamed joblessness on ‘the boss,’ a new report suggests that the economic climate is more at fault. (Clementine Gallot / Flickr / Creative Commons)

Originally published at In These Times

Guided by the mythology of the “American dream”—the idea that, given the opportunity, the deserving will excel and rise above their peers—politicians often attribute unemployment to a mystical “skills gap.” If people can’t find a job, the logic goes, they clearly weren’t fit to be hired. As a consequence, many legislators tout specialized training programs or education reforms as possible solutions to America’s seemingly intractable jobs crisis. But a new study shows that blaming the “skills gap” for unemployment makes about as much sense as blaming a mass famine on “excess hunger.”

A recent analysis by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute shows that elevated unemployment is due to a general lack of demand in the job market, fueled by overarching economic decline. In other words, this is not a problem that can merely be addressed by retraining workers or revamping the education system.

In the report, economist Heidi Shierholz outlines this economic imbalance by comparing unemployment at different levels of education. Her results reveal that workers are suffering across the board:

Workers with a college degree or more still have unemployment rates that are more than one-and-a-half times as high as they were before the recession began. In other words, demand for workers at all levels of education is significantly weaker now than it was before the recession started. There is no evidence of workers at any level of education facing tight labor markets relative to 2007.

Moreover, the report continues, there are no specific job sectors that appear to be especially “tight.” So it’s not that the economy especially favors, for example, radiologists or software engineers; bosses seem to be shutting the door on workers of all sorts:

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New York City Immigrants Test a New Economic ‘Bridge’

8:04 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Lady Liberty welcomes immigrants to New York City, but in reality it’s hard for skilled workers to get their foot in the door. (Sgt. Randall. A. Clinton / Flickr )

Originally published at In These Times

For all the supposed potential of the “American Dream,” immigrants in New York City often have a terrible time redeeming its promise. Many arrive in the United States with no financial grounding or burdened by a heap of debt; others can spend years priced out of financial credit by poverty and discrimination. Now, however, the city is allocating a little seed capital toward the long-overlooked economic potential of poor immigrant communities.

The Immigrant Bridge program of the city’s Economic Development Corporation is a pilot initiative that aims to invest in the future careers of struggling, underemployed immigrant workers who came equipped with credentials earned in their home countries but have been unable to get their foot in the professional door of the city’s labor market. A core component of the program is a special loan fund for immigrants with a college background, ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, borrowed on five-year terms, which can be used to cover any expense, including the cost of necessary licensing exams, training classes, or basic life expenses like transportation costs. In addition to the loan fund, which will be administered by Amalgamated Bank, selected program participants would engage in career development programs to place them into jobs that suit their aptitudes.

Though Amalgamated obviously has a commercial interest in the program, the union-owned bank has built up street cred as a proletarian-friendly institution, with historical ties to the immigrant labor movement. “There’s a lot of unutilized human capital here in immigrant communities… and we want them to be reaching their full potential,” says Andrew Weltman, Amalgamated’s first Vice President for Strategic Development.

The 400 participants who will ultimately be selected to participate in Immigrant Bridge reflect just a sliver of a systemic gap in the city’s economic landscape, though. Many well-educated immigrants face structural obstacles when seeking to break into a professional field, even one in which they were successful before migrating. (Nationwide data on metropolitan areas hows that the majority of immigrants hold “middle skill” or “high skill” qualifications.)

According to the New York-based think tank Fiscal Policy Institute, immigrant New Yorkers hold considerable economic clout, making up “84 percent of small grocery store owners, 69 percent of restaurant owners, and 63 percent of clothing store owners.” But even if they are technically business owners, the work can be rough and the pay low, whether you’re running a daycare business in your home or driving a cab every night. Read the rest of this entry →

Bullet-proof Jobs: Summer Employment May Help Stem Youth Violence

3:38 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

A 2011 installation outside of Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church displayed 77 t-shirts, representing the 77 Chicago youth who were killed by violence during the 2010-2011 school year. (Photo by Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar via Flickr)

Originally published at In These Times

It’s conventional wisdom: Kids get into trouble when they have nothing better to do. Now, research reveals that a summer youth employment program might reduce violence, apparently bearing out the adage that “nothing stops a bullet like a job.”

A new study by researchers at the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab think tank shows that youth who participated in the city’s One Summer Plus employment program had a much better chance of avoiding arrests for violent crime than those who did not have the same opportunities.

Researchers tracked a sample of 730 youth who were selected through an open, lottery-based application process to participate in the jobs program. They ranged in age 14 to 21 and attended schools in low-income communities with high rates of violence. In the year prior to the program, they had missed an average of six weeks of school, and about one in five had been arrested. In short, they represented the youth most vulnerable to Chicago’s epidemic of gun violence, as well as to a general decline in youth employment—both problems that disproportionately affectblack teens.

The One Summer Plus teens were matched with private, nonprofit and faith-based workplaces, in entry-level, minimum-wage positions such as child care, clerical work and landscaping. The program is financed by foundation and government funding.

Researchers found that the “at-risk youth” who had engaged in the summer work “experienced a 51 percent drop in arrests for violent crime” in the seven months after the program’s conclusion when compared to a peer control group. Though researchers say more data is needed to comprehensively assess the impact on schooling and long-term development, the positive findings so far suggest that the money invested in the program (about $3,000 per youth) pays economic and social dividends down the line.

The study parallels other research showing the social benefits of teen employment, including a recent study on a similar program in Boston that linked summer jobs to “positive changes in risky, deviant, delinquent, and violent behaviors” among urban youth.

Though the University of Chicago researchers provided rare empirical insight into the benefits of youth employment, for kids like Devontae Banks, the cost-benefit analysis is more straightforward. One Summer got him a job as a peer health educator with a local HIV/AIDS prevention campaign. That summer job, which involved giving presentations to other youth on sexual health and HIV prevention, has since grown into a long-term position. He now plans to study medicine after graduating—an aspiration he would never have picked up in his old summer job, helping harvest crops at a farm in Sterling. For Banks, the real reward of the program was access to a job that was more stimulating and made him feel invested in his community, rather than just manual labor for pocket money.

“In the previous job, it was just no skill required, just all hard work,” he says. The challenge of the One Summer job was daunting at first, he recalls: “I was nervous, because I didn’t know as much as I know now about HIV and STDs. But now it’s like a walk through a park. It’s actually kind of fun.”

Researchers note that the effects of summer employment continue long after the six-to-seven-week work period, which suggests it does more for youth than just occupy idle time. University of Chicago researcher Sara Heller, one of the authors of the study, tells In These Times via email that she sees a long-term behavioral shift: Read the rest of this entry →

A Budget That Tightens Belts by Emptying Stomachs

10:24 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

(U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr / Creative Commons)

Originally posted at In These Times.

A time-honored tactic of conservative lawmakers is to “starve the beast”by defunding government programs. In the case of food stamps—the quintessential whipping boy for budget hawks—they’re going a step further by trying to starve actual people.

The House of Representatives and Senate have proposed the United States “tighten our belts” by slashing billions of dollars from poor people’s food budgets. The main mechanism for shrinking the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funding is the removal of “categorical eligibility.” Basically, most states have used this policy to streamline enrollment: Families are made eligible for food stamps based on their receipt of other benefits, such as housing or childcare subsidies. That often means broadening eligibility for working-poor families or those with overall household income or savings that exceeds regular, stricter thresholds for qualifying for food stamps.

Now the House and Senate farm bill proposals, particularly the House plan, seek to “save” billions more by cutting categorical eligibility. Under the House farm bill budget, which cuts $20.5 billion in SNAP over 10 years, benefits would be eliminated for “nearly 2 million low-income people, mostly working families with children and senior citizens,” according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). (The Senate bill also cuts SNAP but only by about $4 billion over 10 years). In addition, the cuts would devastate poor students, because SNAP eligibility has enabled 210,000 low-income children to qualify for free school meals. That means more hunger pangs for kids in the cafeteria, and an emptier refrigerator waiting for them at home. Meanwhile, their working-poor parents may find themselves buying cheaper, less nutritious food to stretch budgets, or turning to the local food pantry, or facing cruel trade-offs like delaying rent payments to pay for groceries or leaving a health problem untreated. Read the rest of this entry →

That Unemployment Form Might Violate Your Civil Rights

1:40 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Originally posted at In These Times

If you think being jobless is tough, try applying for unemployment benefits. In Florida, simply filling out the form requires considerable talent and endurance. According to a recent ruling by the federal Department of Labor, the state’s new online application process is so fraught with arbitrary obstacles that it violates federal civil rights protections.

An initial determination by the Department of Labor’s Civil Rights Center, announced last week, concluded that Florida’s recently implemented web-based unemployment benefits system effectively deterred people from completing the claims process because it was needlessly burdensome and complex. The CRC’s investigation found that the state failed to provide adequate services or alternative application procedures to applicants who face special barriers, particularly people with disabilities and those with limited English proficiency.

The new process for filing for unemployment benefits, first rolled out in 2011 as part of a “modernization” program, has introduced daunting new hoops for applicants. The main quagmire is a “skills assessment” that can take as long as 45 minutes. Activists point out that forcing someone answer a long questionnaire about their job skills and abilities, simply to qualify for benefits, seems a conveniently backhanded way to arbitrarily exclude applicants.

Although advocates criticize the system as a whole as unnecessarily burdensome, the CRC complaint, brought by the Miami Workers Center, focuses on people protected by the anti-discrimination protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Though the initial determination is not a final ruling, CRC’s investigation has found that the state has failed to meet federal standards for ensuring equal access. So the system actually reproduced the same social barriers that made it hard for these vulnerable groups to climb out of unemployment. That is, immigrants with limited language ability, who are often relegated to the worst-paid, least stable jobs, and people with disabilities, who suffer extraordinarily high unemployment rates, may have been arbitrarily denied the meager benefits payments that might be their main financial fallback as they struggle to find work.

The supposed purpose of the state’s online skills assessment is to better assess the needs of the applicant. But that information is extracted at a high price. As a prerequisite for qualifying for unemployment payments, the CRC concludes, the skills review “tends to screen out persons with disabilities from fully and equally enjoying the benefits of [Florida’s unemployment compensation] program.”

Spending nearly an hour fumbling with a web application would be frustrating for anyone. But if you’re poor, jobless and have to rely on a local library for Internet access, or suffer from a repetitive stress injury that makes typing unbearable, or have trouble reading English, it may be virtually impossible to surmount the state’s bureaucratic firewall. Under the previous, simpler application system, applicants could file by phone or fill out a paper form. According to National Employment Law Project (NELP), phone applications previously accounted for some 40 percent of filings.

George Wentworth, an attorney with NELP—which has worked with Florida Legal Services to petition the Labor Department about flaws in Florida’s application process—says that eligibility for unemployment should be based on three simple things: a workers’ unemployed status, whether she’s actively seeking work and whether she’s worked enough in the past to meet the basic requirements. “That should be all that’s necessary to get in the front door of the system,” Wentworth says, “and what Florida has done is to erect a wall, rather than a door.”

According to the CRC’s initial findings, despite federal civil rights laws that entitle protected groups to alternative accommodations, the state has failed to provide needed services. NELP’s analysis of the ruling outlined several examples of discriminatory barriers:

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Cutting the Budget, Bleeding Us Dry

2:23 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen


Originally posted at In These Times

If you feel like that recovery we keep hearing about hasn’t quite trickled down to your block, there’s a good reason. A huge swath of the country’s workers are out of sync with the economic cycle, continually falling further behind the rich. And, now Obama’s proposed budget may hinder them even more.

According to a new multi-year study by Pew’s Economic Mobility Project, many families are priced out of “recovery” for reasons that long predated the recession and will persist indefinitely even as the economy “bounces back.”

Though it’s unsurprising that economic insecurity becomes more ingrained over time, the Pew study reveals that struggling families have had to make trade-offs that further deplete their’ resiliency for coping with the next crisis. According to the analysis, “Those without personal savings and kinship networks to support them frequently used resources they had allocated for their children’s education or their own retirement to fund short-term needs.”

Experiencing unemployment is linked not only to temporary income loss, but to a long-term erosion of wealth over many years. With long-term joblessness still at epidemic levels, the trauma of the recession may bleed into a lifetime of hardship, freighted with crushing debts,  or dependency on meager public benefits, or the foreclosure of their children’s college prospects.  Read the rest of this entry →

Reluctant to Hire the Unemployed? Too Bad, Says NYC

8:42 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

(UnemployedWorkers.org)

Originally posted at In These Times

How do you get a job without experience? How do you get experience without a job? And so it goes for millions of people trapped in a dismal cycle of joblessness.

On Wednesday, New York City took a step to help unemployed workers out of that spiral. The City Council approved a groundbreaking measure to bar employers from using unemployment status as a deciding factor in reviewing job applicants. It would also outlaw job advertisements that make explicit reference to employment status itself as job criteria. By updating the city’s anti-discrimination policies, the legislation would enable individuals to file complaints or sue if they are “available for work, and seeking work” and have been unfairly denied consideration simply because they’re out of work.

The bill, passed by a 44-to-4 margin, is just a modest action against the crisis of chronic unemployment. But it draws a line against a relatively invisible form of discrimination fueled by the Great Recession. According to the latest employment statistics, the number of those who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more has remained stubbornly high, constituting about 39 percent of the unemployed. In New York City, where unemployment is particularly severe, an analysis by the think tank Fiscal Policy Institute found that in 2012, about half of unemployed residents spent more than six months seeking work. The average duration of unemployment in 2012 topped 40 weeks in New York City. Women, blacks, and workers in older age brackets have been especially hard hit.

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The Young and the Disconnected

11:02 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Young artists work with Beacon House and DC Summer Youth Employment Program to paint a mural. Such programs help fight youth disconnection and the unemployment that is correlated with it--but they are scattered and underfunded. (Rails to Trail Conservancy / Flickr / Creative Commons).

Originally posted at In These Times

A first paycheck has traditionally been seen as a rite of passage, but these days, that paycheck is often coming later and later. Rather than launching a career, young adulthood is becoming, for many, a springboard to a lifetime of hardship, debt and instability.

According to a sobering new study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF), “More youth than ever—2.2 million teenagers and 4.3 million young adults ages 20 to 24—are neither in school nor working…. It often takes a GED to get a job flipping hamburgers. Even some with college degrees are having trouble finding work.”

And joblessness itself, AECF warns, can set back youth in the long term.

Though mass unemployment hits older workers hard, the scourge of joblessness among youth affects the future in ways that concern advocates, who predict that youth are being tracked toward chronic economic insecurity. Getting early work experience can jumpstart youth on a career path, or at least confer viable job skills that make them more economically resilient in adulthood. Conversely, as the AECF report suggests, missed opportunities early in life can deprive youth of long-term dividends:

At this rate, a generation will grow up with little early work experience, missing the chance to build knowledge and the job-readiness skills that come from holding part-time and starter jobs.

The huge numbers of young people who are shut out of those opportunities are typically up against other challenges. Youth “disconnection”—detachment from work and school—is often associated with setbacks such as poverty and household social stress. Disconnected youth are disproportionately black and Latino, concentrated in impoverished households, and more likely to have children themselves. A study published in September by Measure of Americashows that youth disconnection follows socioeeconomic divisions between neighborhoods. In New York, “disconnection rates range from 3.7 percent in parts of Long Island to 35.6 percent in parts of the South Bronx.” Read the rest of this entry →

Reforming Welfare and Gutting the Poor: A Bipartisan Platform

8:57 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Charles McCain/Flickr/Creative Commons

Originally posted at In These Times

The Romney camp’s new attack line on the Obama administration–that he “gutted” the work requirements imposed on families receiving public assistance–has been widely debunked as a distortion of a mundane policy memo. But the real scandal here isn’t what Obama did or didn’t do to “workfare”; it’s that both parties have gutted the welfare system as a whole to conduct a cruel social experiment on impoverished families.

As many watchdogs have pointed out, the memo in question from the Department of Health and Human Services basically offers states more flexibility to meet mandatory targets for moving people off of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and into gainful employment. This program, administered jointly through federal and state agencies, is the central plank of Clinton-era welfare reform, and its principal political aim has always been to reduce the statistical presence of the poor, not alleviating their poverty.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), as welfare reform approaches its Sweet Sixteen, TANF’s track record contrasts bitterly with that of its predecessor, AFDC, which Reaganite conservatives had savaged as undeserved entitlement:

Looking for a Good Job? Don’t Get Your Hopes Up

4:51 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

CEPR / In These Times

 

Originally posted at In These Times

 

If you think your job stinks, you’re not alone. And if you’re still looking for a decent job, don’t expect to find one anytime soon, or ever.

A new analysis of job quality, assessing various measures of benefits and wages, confirms what many of us already suspected: Good jobs are vanishing from the United States, with global trade and social disinvestment leaving workers stranded on a barren economic landscape.

The report, published by John Schmitt and Janelle Jones from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), shows that the downward spiral began long before the recent economic crisis. It notes that since 1979, the “good job” (one that “pays at least $18.50 an hour, has employer provided health insurance, and some kind of retirement plan”) has become an endangered species:

[T]he economy has lost about one-third (28 to 38 percent) of its capacity to generate good jobs. The data show only minor differences between 2007, before the Great Recession began, and 2010, the low point for the labor market.

In 2010, “less than one-fourth (24.6 percent) of the workforce” possessed those precious good jobs. And the clincher is this downturn is beginning to look like a sad plateau:

The deterioration in the economy’s ability to generate good jobs reflects long-run changes in the U.S. economy, not short-run factors related to the recession or recent economic policy.

While workers around the world have witnessed massive economic volatility in the recent boom-bust cycles, food crises and political upheavals, the trend line of labor hardship holds steady. The societal impacts of unemployment crises parallel the effect of long-term effects on individual workers, especially young ones–a self-perpetuating sense of despair and isolation, and perhaps entrenched, long-term suffering. Read the rest of this entry →