Are You Unemployed Because You Are Lazy?

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.
Are you still unemployed? Obviously it is because you are lazy. At least, many members of Congress think so, anyway.
And besides, cutting the deficit — caused by tax cuts for the rich and massive military spending increases — is much more important than paychecks for Americans. The solution to the deficit — caused by tax cuts for the rich and massive military spending increases — is to cut back on things that help the American public.
Here is Senator Gregg on CNBC (Senate salary $174,000, see benefits below**), saying that unemployment checks mean people are “encouraged not to go look for work” and “don’t want to go look for work”:

And this in the news today, In Congress, spending measures meet bipartisan resistance,

“It’s time to start paying for things,” said Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D-Pa.), a freshman who voted for last year’s economic stimulus bill but said she is likely to oppose the next spending package, scheduled to hit the House floor Tuesday. “We’ve done some good things, but one of the best things we could do right now is get control of our fiscal house.”
. . . Dahlkemper, facing a well-funded Republican car dealer in the blue-collar district she seized from the GOP in 2008, said businesses back home complain that they want to start hiring but are getting few applicants because Congress has repeatedly extended unemployment benefits.


“At some point we have to pivot” away from saving the economy and start reducing the deficit, said Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.).

So remember, the deficit — caused by tax cuts for the rich and massive military spending increases — has to be brought down and the way to bring down the deficit — caused by tax cuts for the rich and massive military spending increases — is to cut back on things that help the American public, and cut back on the investments in infrastructure (the seed corn) that bring future economic growth. But not to do anything about the cause of the deficits: tax cuts for the rich and massive military spending increases.
So if you are unemployed, just remember, in Washington the people who put $13.89 trillion at risk to bail out the big Wall Street firms, $4.71 trillion disbursed with $2.01 trillion still outstanding, think this is because you are lazy.

**Senate benefits:

Along with earning salaries, senators receive retirement and health benefits that are identical to other federal employees, and are fully vested after five years of service. Senators are covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) or Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). As it is for federal employees, congressional retirement is funded through taxes and the participants’ contributions. Under FERS, senators contribute 1.3% of their salary into the FERS retirement plan and pay 6.2% of their salary in Social Security taxes. The amount of a senator’s pension depends on the years of service and the average of the highest 3 years of their salary. The starting amount of a senator’s retirement annuity may not exceed 80% of their final salary. In 2006, the average annual pension for retired senators and representatives under CSRS was $60,972, while those who retired under FERS, or in combination with CSRS, was $35,952.

NOTE: Part of the America’s Future Now conference in Washington D.C. from June 7-9 will be devoted to strategy on how the progressive movement can fight the deficit cutters. Speakers such as Van Jones, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Howard Dean, AFL CIO President Richard Trumka, Arianna Huffington will offer a build vision for how the progressive movement can rebuild America’s economy and put people back to work. Click here to attend.

Stimulus Shifts To Reverse — Where Is The Congress?

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
The stimulus is running out, millions lose health insurance in 12 days as COBRA subsidies start to run out, unemployment benefits also start running out, all while the unemployment rate is rising. Foreclosures are up. At the same time out-of-money states are laying off hundreds of thousands of employees, beginning with teachers. (But hey, who needs teachers?) They are deferring infrastructure maintenance like roadwork and water/sewer systems and other public investments that employ people while creating the conditions that enable to economy to grow.
In fact, the stimulus is not only running out, but these state layoffs and other factors mean that government is now a net drag on the economy. The hope was that the stimulus would be enough to hold off the effects of the downturn and provide enough of a boost to get the “economic engine” running again. But for various reasons much of the stimulus was cut back or wasted on ineffective tax cuts, so as it runs out there are signs that the economy could sink back down.
This chart shows government contribution to GDP growth, now negative due to state and local governments laying off employees and reducing infrastructure investment.
With all of this going on the DC “conventional wisdom” is that the economy has turned the corner, and no more help is needed. Wall Street and big corporations are making money again so it is time to move on and let regular people fend for themselves. The public wants jobs and a government that works for them, the DC insiders want government to stop spending on We, the People and focus on big corporations.
Compare this DC “conventional wisdom” with the current jobs situation. While the economy has finally stopped losing jobs, it is not yet creating enough jobs even to keep up with new workers entering the labor force. Never mind putting unemployed people back to work. Following is a chart of job losses during recessions. This chart shows just how bad this recession is compared to previous recessions, and how we are nowhere near normal.
This “Wall Street and corporations are OK so our jobs here is done” sentiment combines with the right-wing drumbeat that anything government (We, the People) does is bad, (which translates to all decisions should be made by the biggest corporations) and the related drumbeat that any government spending on We, the People is a very bad thing after President Bush left us with a $1.4 trillion deficit.
Congress, what’s the holdup?
There are efforts in the Congress to try to do something to help the situation for regular people. For example, the War Supplemental (this is in a war bill because bills for bailing out Wall Street, and for anything to do with military MUST PASS and do so within 72 hours) contains $23 billion to help keep states from laying off 300,000 teachers. It is meeting opposition as “another bailout.” That’s right, the very people who bailed out Wall Street are now blocking a bill helping teachers, calling it a “bailout!”
Then there is the Local Jobs for America Act. This act puts $75 billion into direct government hiring at the state and local level, creating or saving an estimated one million jobs. According to EPI, the $39 billion comes straight back from taxes and reduced unemployment payments!
Unemployment is about 10%. Millions are unemployed and are about to lose COBRA subsidies and unemployment benefits. States are laying off hundreds of thousands. Investment in maintaining and modernizing infrastructure is nil. DC elites think everything is fine. The disconnect between people inside and outside the DC bubble is growing almost as fast as the concentration of wealth at the top.
President Obama has talked about a bold, large scale vision for a new direction for the country. But Congress and the President are getting trapped in austerity budget thinking that won’t allow them to go in direction of stimulus and helping regular people. If there is to be no money because of an austerity budget then American competitiveness, the economy and the mood of the public can only get worse. Do the DC elites actually believe the public is going to reward this with votes?
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Congress FAILs On Jobs AGAIN!

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
It is hard to imagine out here in the real world, but there seem to be people in the Congress who think they can get (or deserve to be) re-elected when they are failing to do anything about jobs or extending unemployment and COBRA with unemployment at 10%, underemployment at 17%,and forecasts that say this will go one for years.
The public certainly is well aware of the disconnect:
This billboard was put up by a local Buffalo group representing young people, and I recommend clicking through to see their site. Especially if you are a member of Congress.
Failing is the wrong word this time. Maybe “disgusting” better fits the lack of seriousness of our representatives. Childish and spineless are the words that come to mind. Anti-porn provision sinks Dem jobs bill,

House Democrats had to scrap their only substantive bill of the week Thursday after Republicans won a procedural vote that substantively altered the legislation with an anti-porn clause.

Quick backstory: Bush’s SEC, the people who were supposed to be regulating Bernie Madoff and Wall Street banksters were instead spending days surfing for porn on their computers. Republicans — the people who put the porn-surfers into the SEC — offered an “anti-porn” amendment to the jobs bill.

That provision scared dozens of Democrats into voting with Republicans to approve the motion to recommit. After it became clear the GOP motion was going to pass, dozens of additional Democrats changed their votes from “no” to “yes.” In the end, 121 Democrats voted with Republicans — only four fewer than the number of Democrats who voted with their party.

Because of idiocy like this,and a few other killing provisions they had to set aside the bill. The unemployed sit and wait for news. Playing games and posturing when we have a serious set of problems to solve, and real people out here in the real world are facing the worst crisis since the Great Depression. You can try to blame this on the obvious conservative obstruction strategy to stop the government from working, but spineless Democrats were stampeded into going along with it! Who’s “not serious” now? If there are disruptive kids in the back of the class snickering and giggling, you aren’t supposed to join them.
A new WSJ/NBC poll came out yesterday. 72% disapproval of Congress. (I wonder why?) Highest priority: Job creation and economic growth 35%, Deficit and government spending 20%. (Guess which one the out-of-touch DC elite are concentrating on.)
Listen, Congress, in DC you are employed, or you wouldn’t be there. And the people you know are probably all employed. The lobbyists swarming you are employed. The people in the nice restaurants you enjoy are employed. But out here where I live the “official” unemployment rate is 13%. People we all KNOW are out of work and getting desperate. People in our families are out of work and getting desperate. 10% is NOT OK!
Trillions given to Wall Street, used to pay bonuses, FAIL on jobs. Do they think the public doesn’t see that? What is the matter with these people?
Lesson: It’s the jobs, stupid. JOBS FOR MAIN STREET!
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Update I got fooled by that billboard. The group behind it is just another right-wing front group. Sorry.

We Need Jobs, Jobs, Jobs. And Jobs.

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.
Things are good for the plutocrats. Stock market soaring, bonuses are big… Things are going mighty fine. So fine, in fact, that the urgency of extending unemployment, COBRA and programs to help the people harmed by the financial disaster is moving off the table.
But out here on Main Street we need jobs, jobs, jobs. And we need jobs, too. You just hear people say this over and over, and it’s like we’re told in response, “OK go to bed now, children.”
Here’s the deal: Say what you want about bailing out Goldman Sachs and AIG pass-throughs, and letting the FASB suspend “mark to market” accounting, it was unemployment benefits and the FDIC and the stimulus’ job-creation that kept this economic crisis from turning int a full-blown depression. And it is still unemployment benefits and FDIC and the stimulus’ job creation that are preventing it from happening. They may have hidden the bad assets on the banks’ books by using a “mark to model” trick, but the bad assets are still there. The private-sector jobs are not.
We need a real economy, and real jobs for real people. If the plutocrats think they can have an economy without all of those people who are right now losing their benefits, losing their homes, losing their dignity, then we might all be in for a surprise. We need jobs. And that requires government action. If the available money goes instead to deficit reduction, you can’t create the jobs. You can’t create the green jobs that will drive the economy of the future, you can’t keep the teaching jobs, and you won’t keep the stimulus jobs.
Why isn’t the Local Jobs For America bill on the front burner of the Congress?
We need a new WPA program to directly create jobs.
We need unemployment benefits and COBRA extended — both the subsidies and COBRA itself.
What is the matter with these people? Do they really think an economy of, by and for the rich and only the rich can really work? It’s been tried, and the results aren’t usually pleasant:


Oh, did I mention that we need jobs, and we need government action to create jobs, and in the meantime we need unemployment and COBRA extended?
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Congress Giving Up On Helping Unemployed?

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
Suddenly the word is all over the place that the Congress is not going to extend unemployment benefits further! It seems that the economy is booming (for Wall Street, top corporate executives, and Washington legislators) so it doesn’t feel like there is a need to keep carrying these people.
Is the economy booming? Michael Moore’s movie “Capitalism, A Love Story” brought attention to a concept known as “plutonomy,” referring to economic growth that is powered and consumed entirely by the wealthy. The idea is that the world’s economy no longer needs regular people or a middle class to keep it going. The thinking is that the rich at this point are just carrying them along for the ride – for now. And for sure, an attitude seems to have set in among the elites that they are carrying the rest of us, and we are a burden. Stock markets are up, bonuses are up, we’re out of the woods. Next month the jobs report is expected to be 300,000 new jobs created. Problem solved. So why are we still acting like there’s a problem?
A Bloomberg report yesterday that Congress won’t be extending unemployment benefits reflects exactly this worldview, quoting Sen. Max Baucus,

Democrats who have pushed through the past extensions agree there’s insufficient backing to go beyond 99 weeks, largely because of mounting concern over the federal deficit, projected to reach $1.5 trillion this year.
“You can’t go on forever,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, of Montana, whose panel oversees the benefits program. “I think 99 weeks is sufficient,” he said.
“There’s just been no discussion to go beyond that,” said Senator Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat.
Some Republicans say cutting off aid will spur people to find work.

Goldman “designed to fail” Sachs is quoted seeing no “political climate” for helping the unemployed,

“The political climate is not as conducive to additional expansions as it had been last year,” a Goldman analysis said. “The result is likely to be a greater share of unemployed workers not receiving unemployment compensation.”

“Why don’t they just give themselves million-dollar bonuses like everyone else does?” one expects to hear next.
The radio show Marketplace interviews Stuart Rothenberg, confirming that Congress actually might not extend benefits to the millions and millions of unemployed,

We just don’t have the resources to do this. The money’s not there, and we’re already in debt. Everybody’s fighting for every nickel, and so it would be difficult to extend benefits.

The Marketplace correspondent adds,

But there is an argument that paying benefits for longer actually keeps the unemployment rate high. That’s because people who get a check don’t search as hard for work. And they’re picky.

“The money’s not there.” Maybe because we got tricked into giving it all to Wall Street?
So is it just a problem if people not wanting to get jobs? The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes unemployment rates for metropolitan areas. Scroll down to number 209, Prescott, AZ, where the numbers first reach 10%, then scroll to the bottom where number 372, El Centro, CA is 27%. If any of those people in those 163 metropolitan areas do find a job all they are doing is taking a job from someone else, at a lower wage. (Which may be the objective of denying unemployment benefits, to drive wages down further.)
What are people going to do? Job seekers still outnumber jobs by 6 to 1. Deborah Weinstein of the Coalition on Human Needs says,

We have 6.5 million people who are long-term unemployed. The numbers jump each month. Even from Feb to March the number grew by 414,000 in just that one month. There are record-breaking numbers of people who have been unemployed for 6 months or more. If we cut off benefits we are hurting the people who are hurting the most and we will threaten the very fragile beginnings of the recovery that we are only just starting to see.

Meteor Blades, writing at Daily Kos, adds,

Among those politicians who are too sensitive to invoke the specter of hobos, there’s still a widespread view that most jobless people so much enjoy living on benefits that they won’t look for a job until the benefits go away. So, take the benefits away and, magically, everybody is employed again.
Then there is the real world.

Are they just engaging in magical thinking
The Congressional leadership has to come out right now and tell us what they are doing about jobs. Are they or are they not extending unemployment, COBRA subsidies and COBRA itself? Are they supporting the Miller Jobs Bill? What about additional proposals? What about aid to the states? Like Nevada, New York, Virginia, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, and that is just from 5 minutes of The Google.
You can help the Congress figure out if they should be helping the unemployed. You can call your own member of Congress and let them know your own thoughts on this.
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The Bonuses and the Damage They Do

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.
This is a story we are all too familiar with: Wall Street vs. Main Street. Irresponsible behavior leads to bonuses for Wall Street while working hard and playing by the rules leads to unemployment and foreclosure for Main Street.
You’ve heard the elements of the story: For quite some time Wall Street and the banks were operating irresponsibly, fomenting a huge credit bubble which led to the financial collapse. At the end of 2008 millions and millions of regular people – popularly known as “Main Street” – began losing their jobs, losing their houses, losing their savings and forgetting about ever retiring.
Wall Street: Huge Wall Street bonuses are in the news: Bank Bonus Tab: $33 Billion

Nine banks that received government aid money paid out bonuses of nearly $33 billion last year — including more than $1 million apiece to nearly 5,000 employees — despite huge losses that plunged the U.S. into economic turmoil.
… The nine firms in the report had combined 2008 losses of nearly $100 billion. That helped push the financial system to the brink, leading the government to inject $175 billion into the firms through its Troubled Asset Relief Program.

The Cost: The same amount, used for the people, would bring over 2.5 million good-paying jobs.
The “financial collapse” bonus pool is $33 billion. For comparison, look at what $30 billion could buy for We, the People, if only we had some control over things. $30 billion is the amount requested in Senator Sherrod Brown’s (D-Ohio) Impact Act. $30 billion = more than 2.5 million jobs:

“IMPACT (Investments for Manufacturing Progress and Clean Technology) creates a $30 billion Manufacturing Revolving Loan Fund to help small and medium-sized manufacturers finance retooling, shift design, and improve energy efficiency.
. . . the IMPACT Act could create 680,000 direct manufacturing jobs nationally and 1,972,000 indirect jobs over the next five years.”

Gas Prices and Bonuses: Do you remember those soaring gas prices that hit Main Street so hard last year. They play a part in this bonus story. For some background, see Matt Taibbi’s Rolling Stone piece, Inside The Great American Bubble Machine,

So what caused the huge spike in oil prices? Take a wild guess. . . . [Wall Street] persuad[ed] pension funds and other large institutional investors to invest in oil . . . The push transformed oil from a physical commodity, rigidly subject to supply and demand, into something to bet on, like a stock. Between 2003 and 2008, the amount of speculative money in commodities grew from $13 billion to $317 billion, an increase of 2,300 percent. By 2008, a barrel of oil was traded 27 times, on average, before it was actually delivered and consumed.
[. . .] But it wasn’t the consumption of real oil that was driving up prices — it was the trade in paper oil. By the summer of 2008, in fact, commodities speculators had bought and stockpiled enough oil futures to fill 1.1 billion barrels of crude, which meant that speculators owned more future oil on paper than there was real, physical oil stored in all of the country’s commercial storage tanks and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve combined. It was a repeat of both the Internet craze and the housing bubble, when Wall Street jacked up present day profits by selling suckers shares of a fictional fantasy future of endlessly rising prices.

This fits our story because the top bonus-getter this time around is Andrew J. Hall. Hall “earned” it by helping to run up the price of oil last year. Hall is getting a $100 million bonus. (Thanks to previous years’ bonuses Hall already owns a 1000-year-old castle called Schloss Derneberg. Go look at some of the pictures of what these nice Wall Street bonuses can buy.)
Here’s some more bonus news: Goldman may pay out largest bonus pool ever,

Looks like things are back to normal, or perhaps even better, at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE:GS) as the firm is reportedly on track to pay out its largest bonus pool in the firm’s 140-year history thanks to soaring profits in the first half of 2009.

Yes, that’s right “back to normal.” Huge bonuses, in some cases the largest ever.

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