Policy Points

16.07.2013 Policy Points No Comments

The Sequester And America’s Poor

In a blog post at The Atlantic, Nancy Cook describes “the sequester’s devastating impact on America’s poor.”

This was not the way sequestration was meant to go. The reductions were designed to be so painful — to both defense and nondefense discretionary programs — that Republicans and Democrats would flock to the negotiating table to find a compromise. Instead, the effects of sequestration have been uneven, with small pockets of intense upheaval rather than widespread but mild disruptions. Now, many Republicans openly profess their love of the cuts, especially since the fiscal-cliff deal did not seriously slash government spending or tweak entitlement programs, as the GOP had hoped it would. In their view, sequestration turned into the next best option for shrinking the federal government.

Democrats did manage to safeguard programs for the absolute neediest Americans. The sequester exempts a long list of safety-net programs such as food stamps, Medicaid, Medicare benefits, and Social Security. But Democrats have not been able to protect cornerstone social programs such as Meals on Wheels or Head Start, nor have they been able to prod Republicans to undo the cuts — especially now that the White House’s many dire projections have yet to come true. Border Patrol agents did not get furloughed, airplanes were not grounded, and the mass layoff of teachers did not occur.

15.07.2013 Policy Points No Comments

A Politics of Cruelty

Writing in The New York Times, Paul Krugman criticizes the politics of the farm bill, particularly the House of Represenative’s decision to separate nutrition assistance from farm subsidies.

So: Food stamp usage has indeed soared in recent years, with the percentage of the population receiving stamps rising from 8.7 in 2007 to 15.2 in the most recent data. There is, however, no mystery here. SNAP is supposed to help families in distress, and lately a lot of families have been in distress.

In fact, SNAP usage tends to track broad measures of unemployment, like U6, which includes the underemployed and workers who have temporarily given up active job search. And U6 more than doubled in the crisis, from about 8 percent before the Great Recession to 17 percent in early 2010. It’s true that broad unemployment has since declined slightly, while food stamp numbers have continued to rise — but there’s normally some lag in the relationship, and it’s probably also true that some families have been forced to take food stamps by sharp cuts in unemployment benefits.

What about the theory, common on the right, that it’s the other way around — that we have so much unemployment thanks to government programs that, in effect, pay people not to work? (Soup kitchens caused the Great Depression!) The basic answer is, you have to be kidding. Do you really believe that Americans are living lives of leisure on $134 a month, the average SNAP benefit?

12.07.2013 Policy Points No Comments

“How To Disappear The Unemployed”

Writing in The Huffington Post, George Wentworth of the National Employment Law Project describes changes to North Carolina’s unemployment insurance syste  as an unfortunate example of “how to disappear the unemployed.”

That line drawn by Governor McCrory and the Republican majorities in the North Carolina General Assembly has taken the war on the unemployed to the next level. This week, more than 70,000 unemployed North Carolinians lost their federal unemployment insurance — benefits that help pay for food, rents and mortgages; benefits that are not funded by the state or its employers; dollars that would help boost consumer demand by more than $1 billion in a state that still boasts the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the country.

As we slowly turn the corner in today’s economy and unemployment fatigue settles in, we risk losing sight of those Americans still fighting to get back in the game — families that are patching together temporary assignments, multiple part-time jobs, low-paying work with less job security, and those still looking for an employer to take a chance on them. They are not just the rubble of the economic crisis to be cleared away and pushed out of public view. As a nation, it is time to stand up against attacks on the unemployed. We are better than this.

11.07.2013 Policy Points No Comments

NC Unemployment Claims: Week Of 6/22/13

For the benefit week ending on June 22, 2013, some 9,570 North Carolinians filed initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits and 76,031 individuals applied for state-funded continuing benefits. Compared to the prior week, there were fewer initial claims and fewer continuing claims. These figures come from data released by the US Department of Labor.

Averaging new and continuing claims over a four-week period — a process that helps adjust for seasonal fluctuations and better illustrates trends — shows that an average of 10,787 initial claims were filed over the previous four weeks, along with an average of 86,573 continuing claims. Compared to the previous four-week period, the average number of initial claims was lower, and the average number of continuing claims was lower.

One year ago, the four-week average for initial claims stood at 11,080, and the four-week average of continuing claims equaled 99,681.

In recent months covered employment has increased and now exceeds the level recorded a year ago (3.82 million versus 3.76 million). Nevertheless, there are still fewer covered workers than there were in January 2008, which means that payrolls are smaller today than they were 5.5 years ago.

The graph shows the changes in unemployment insurance claims measured as a share of covered employment in North Carolina since the recession’s start in December 2007. untitled

Both new and continuing claims appear to have peaked for this cycle, and the four-week averages of new and continuing claims have fallen considerably.  In fact, the four-week average of initial claims, when measured as a share of covered employment, is now at the lowest level recorded since early 2008.  Yet continuing claims remain at an elevated level, which suggests that unemployed individuals are finding it difficult to find new positions.

 

10.07.2013 Policy Points No Comments

“The Decline Of North Carolina”

An editorial in today’s issue of The New York Times assesses some of the policy changes underway in North Carolina.

The cruelest decision by lawmakers went into effect last week: ending federal unemployment benefits for 70,000 residents. Another 100,000 will lose their checks in a few months. Those still receiving benefits will find that they have been cut by a third, to a maximum of $350 weekly from $535, and the length of time they can receive benefits has been slashed from 26 weeks to as few as 12 weeks.

The state has the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the country, and many Republicans insulted workers by blaming their joblessness on generous benefits. In fact, though, North Carolina is the only state that has lost long-term federal benefits, because it did not want to pay back $2.5 billion it owed to Washington for the program. The State Chamber of Commerce argued that cutting weekly benefits would be better than forcing businesses to pay more in taxes to pay off the debt, and lawmakers blindly went along, dropping out of the federal program.