‘This Is What the Middle Class Looks Like’

By Stephen Herzenberg, Third and State

“This is what democracy looks like.” Even though this chant originated with the Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO), which haven’t yet led to major reforms, the phrase nonetheless captures the idea of a social movement that has crystallized its demands and has a better chance to succeed because of it. Other examples include the right to vote in the civil rights movement, or the fight to legalize gay marriage, a simple modern demand that culminates a fight for equality in all its dimensions.

One challenge in the U.S. fight for economic justice since inequality began to yawn wider in the 1970s has been the lack of a simple demand that either working people or elites thought could bring back the middle class. Having such a demand fuels social movements because it gives members of the movement confidence – conviction – that there is a way for the world to give them what they want. It also fuels social movements because it gives the broader society a way to let the protesters get a win.

The fast food workers engaging in one-day strikes across the country may be on the verge of crystallizing a simple demand to which their low-wage employers could accede – and, in the process, cracking the code to the next U.S. middle class.

Today’s story on these strikes in The New York Times says that the organizers aren’t actually clear yet on the path to victory. The demand is a $15-per-hour wage – a ticket to the middle class. But will progress result from a higher minimum wage, local living wage requirements for big chains, or companies themselves raising wages to get off the front page? (This is where you say in your best pompous pundit voice, “Well, ah, um, cough, good question.”)

Because these protesters have a practical, confident vision of the end point they want – an economy that pays lower-wage workers a middle-class wage (so what if Big Macs cost 50 cents more) – they have a good chance of finding the mechanism that can get them there and keep them there (or forcing the rest of us to figure out the mechanism).

I think the mechanism is pretty simple – it’s a union of all fast food workers in a metro area, across multiple companies. It would borrow heavily from building trades union models, such as electricians and carpenters. It would set area-wide wages, $15 an hour to start, as well as establish multi-employer health and pension plans. Most of the basic institutional solutions here were anticipated by SEIU’s Justice for Janitors campaigns going back to the late 1980s. Former KRC Research Director Howard Wial wrote a brilliant article about this back in 1993. Howard, another colleague, and I wrote a shorter version of the same pitch in the house organ of the Democratic Leadership Council (The New Democrat) in 1998. These ideas also overlap those in Dishing It Out, a history of waitress unions published by Dorothy Sue Cobble in 1991, in part because Cobble recognized the relevance of these unions to the contemporary low-wage service sector.

The same basic union model works in any service industry sector that cannot relocate because it has to be near customers – in other words, for virtually all the nation’s low-wage jobs. This includes workers in hotels, supermarkets, hardware stores, and other parts of retail; in non-fast-food restaurants; in child care, long-term care, and health care as a whole – doctors and some nurses are well paid, but too often workers on the lower end of the pay scale do not get middle-class wages even though their compensation is a small fraction of health-care costs. The generic formula: $15 per hour starting wage, decent benefits, and, if some businesses and policymakers are smart about it, more investment in training and the creation of career ladders.

This is what the middle class looks like.

If we can cross the Rubicon to this type of institutional solution and lock in $15 per hour in just one or two places, it will take off. We’ll have a mass variation on the old line from When Harry Met Sally – “I’ll have what she’s having.” Except, in this case, it will be, “I’ll have that kind of unionism New York, or Chicago, or St. Louis fast food workers are having.” This take-off would be analogous to when the United Auto Workers broke the code to establish a union at GM after the Flint sit-down strike, which paved the way for unionism at Chrysler, Ford, GE, Westinghouse, and in the steel industry. It paved the way for industry-wide wages and benefits through mass manufacturing. And the American middle class was born with employers paying, who knows, maybe twice what they paid before the upsurge.

So, with respect, I disagree with labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein who says in The New York Times that these protests won’t lead to unionization.

Of course, to paraphrase an old joke about economists and recessions (“I’ve predicted seven of the last three recessions”), I’ve predicted three of the last zero “New Deals for a New Economy.”

Still, I stand by my conviction. This IS what the middle class looks like. And it’s just right there, waiting to be born.

Fact Checking the Corbett Jobs Record…and Some Unsolicited Advice

By Stephen Herzenberg, Third and State

The Corbett administration has a new summary of Pennsylvania’s recent job performance. Today’s news that Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate is as high as the national unemployment rate underscores, however, that the state’s recent jobs record is not  good. Let’s take a closer look.

PA vs. U.S.: The Corbett jobs summary notes that Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate is below the national rate – and it was when the summary was first released. This was not a new trend: the Pennsylvania rate was a point or a point-and-a-half below the national rate for most of the four years before Governor Corbett took office. A year ago, the gap between the Pennsylvania and U.S. unemployment rate was still statistically significant. (See Table A.) But the gap between the two rates – the “Pennsylvania advantage” – has been shrinking steadily since 2010 until the Pennsylvania rate finally climbed to the U.S. level in August 2012, both equaling 8.1%.

Private-sector Job Growth: While the administration touts private-sector job growth in 2011, the numbers reflect a national trend, rather than a unique Pennsylvania story. 

The U.S. economy has had 30 consecutive months of private-sector job growth. In fact, Pennsylvania’s rank for the percent growth in private-sector job growth has fallen from 8th in 2010 to 36th in the 12 months ending in July 2012. One of the reasons that Pennsylvania’s private-sector job-growth ranking is down is the deeper cuts in public employment in Pennsylvania compared to other states. Deep cuts to Pennsylvania public schools and colleges led to a loss of 14,000 education jobs alone in 2011.

These layoffs impact the classroom and Main Street too. Unemployed teachers, like unemployed factory workers, don’t have money to spend, which affects the broader economy. 

Manufacturing Job Growth: Manufacturing jobs growth improved in 2011, but again reflects national trends. In fact, Pennsylvania’s manufacturing job growth since early 2010 is slightly below half the national increase. (See The State of Working Pennsylvania 2012.) 

New Hires in Marcellus Shale: Not this one again. The administration is touting natural gas industry growth by citing the number of new hires. As we’ve explained repeatedly, new hires are not new jobs (most new hires replace people who quit or are fired). In fact, the number of new hires is basically a meaningless number. Statewide there were 580,400 new hires during the 2nd quarter in Pennsylvania, while total non-farm employment rose between the 1st and 2nd quarter by less than 300 jobs. In other words, the only reason to cite new hires is to make the job gain seem substantially larger than it really is. 

The gas industry has led to some job growth in Pennsylvania, just not on the scale claimed by the industry. Between the 4th quarter of 2008 and the 4th quarter of 2011, employment in the core Marcellus Shale industries grew by 18,000. That gain was largely wiped out by the loss of 14,000 education jobs in just one year. Even using the most generous estimates, employment in the Marcellus Shale in direct and ancillary industries in the 4th quarter of 2011 (as published by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and industry) was 238,400 – about 4.2% of total state employment.

Here’s the unsolicited advice: Twenty months into Governor Corbett’s first term, there is still time for the Governor to pursue policies that will improve Pennsylvania’s job performance. There are multiple options that have strong bipartisan and business support. For example, investing in transportation infrastructure as recommended by the Governor’s own transportation commission. 

In manufacturing and workforce development, the administration is also saying some of the right things. But talk is cheap: we need actual investment in skills and innovation if our job performance is going to improve relative to other states and the nation.

PA’s July Jobs Report Is Out, and It’s Not Good News

By Mark Price, Third and State

Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate shot up three-tenths of a point in July to 7.9%. Just two months before in May, the rate was 7.4%. Total nonfarm jobs in the state were down 3,100 in July.

That’s not all. There was a big revision downward with the state’s nonfarm payroll count for June: it was originally reported as 5,729,700, but was revised down by 17,400. To put it in some perspective: Pennsylvania reported a June jobs gain in its report last month of 14,600 jobs. After the latest revisions, Pennsylvania actually lost 2,800 jobs in June.

Industry-wise, the July report is a mixed bag. Mining; trade, transportation & utilities; information; professional & business services; and other services saw gains. Constructions; manufacturing; financial activities; education & health services; leisure & hospitality; and government saw losses.

Overall, July was not a good month for the labor market in Pennsylvania, with employment falling in both the household (-10,000) and establishment (-3,100) surveys, and, of course, with the unemployment rate rising to just shy of 8% and shamefully close to the national unemployment rate of 8.3%.

I say shamefully because Pennsylvania weathered this recession better than most states and early in the recovery posted strong job gains. The Pennsylvania advantage coming out of the recession is being slowly whittled away by the persistent loss of public-sector jobs, mostly in local school districts, that has followed deep cuts in state funding.

I wouldn’t panic over these numbers; there is no reason to believe the Pennsylvania or national economy are headed into a recession. Growth just remains disappointingly weak and will likely remain so through the end of the year.

PA Job Numbers Out, The War On Unemployment Insurance, and Inequality

By Mark Price, Third and State

Happy Sunny Friday, people! Now for the not so good news. The job numbers for Pennsylvania came out Thursday, and the overall picture was somewhat disappointing. The unemployment rate edged down slightly to 7.4% and nonfarm payrolls declined by 600 jobs. Focusing on the jobs data, the biggest loser in April was construction, which shed an eye-popping 5,400 jobs. That is a big swing at a time of year when construction projects should be ramping up. Odds are that loss is driven by sampling error rather than real trends in construction activity. Another troubling stat was the loss of 1,700 jobs in the public sector.

Because monthly data are somewhat erratic, you shouldn’t make too much out of any one-month change in employment overall or within a sector. Looking at nonfarm payrolls since October, the jobs picture is somewhat brighter with Pennsylvania adding, on average, 3,900 jobs a month. So Pennsylvania’s labor market, like the national labor market, is continuing to recover.

Now for the bad news: if you were hoping the Pennsylvania economy would finally return to full employment by 2015 (remember, the recession started in December 2007), nonfarm payrolls need to grow by about 10,000 jobs a month. So by that metric, we are a long way from fully recovering from the worst recession since the Great Depression.

It is important to remember that people continue to lose jobs each month, even though the economy is recovering. And because employment hasn’t fully recovered, those people who do lose their jobs face a long line of other people looking for work.

Fortunately for them and for the economy as a whole, workers today who lose a job for reasons beyond their control can rely on the unemployment insurance system to provide them with a modest lifeline to meet their very basic needs, like buying food and paying the rent or the mortgage bill. Unfortunately, the economic crisis has created an opportunity for the business lobby to push for changes in the state’s unemployment insurance system that will make the system less effective when the next recession hits. As Rick Bloomingdale of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO explains, Governor Corbett and a lot of Pennsylvania lawmakers are supporting these very shortsighted reforms.

Since when did members of Pennsylvania’s General Assembly become so shortsighted that they think it’s good to pass legislation that harms the most vulnerable people? This would be the consequences of proposals to restore the solvency of our state’s unemployment compensation fund on the backs of unemployed persons.

These are the persons who have most suffered from the recent recession and for whom this unemployment insurance was established. Our national history reflects a legacy of helping those who need help, instead of saying, “sorry for your luck,” or “gee, too bad, if only you worked a few more weeks.” We must get back to the ideal that helping those who need help is the right thing.

The governor has already signed into law a bill that cut UI eligibility and reduced UI benefits for thousands of unemployed Pennsylvanians. Yet less than a year later, the administration urges more cuts that likely would deprive an additional 50,000 individuals of the unemployment insurance lifeline. When did we get so selfish and shortsighted?

It is easy to assume that trends in income inequality reflect rising top incomes on Wall Street alone, but as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports this morning, outrageously high salaries are not limited to the masters of the universe who live in Manhattan. The reality is that those high Wall Street salaries end up creating room for compensation committees in other parts of the economy to reward executives and managers with higher and higher salaries. In this way, the growth in top incomes are more about keeping up with the Joneses than about merit.

The West Penn Allegheny Health System, which lost $75 million over the first three quarters of the current fiscal year, paid out $17.35 million two years ago to 12 administrators who have left the organization, including nearly $9 million in retirement and other deferred compensation, according to its recent tax filing….

Most prominent among the departed leaders is former WPAHS president and CEO Christopher Olivia, whose total reported compensation for 2010 amounted to $7.39 million, or nearly $1.5 million more than Jeffrey Romoff, president and CEO of the much larger UPMC. Of that $7.39 million, about $5.4 million was for retirement or deferred compensation.

Finally this morning, Catherine Rampell of The New York Times explores new data on mobility released by the Pew Center on the States.

While Rampell’s exploration is interesting, Travis Waldron at Think Progress does a better job illustrating the key findings and their implications.

One Year and Still Going Strong

Third and State celebrated its one-year anniversary this week. We launched on February 1, 2011, and 350 posts later we’re still going strong.

We couldn’t do it without our readers, so we thought it would be fun to take a look back at what posts you liked the most. And so we bring you a countdown of the top 10 most viewed blog posts at Third and State.

10. Governor Corbett Unveils 2011-12 Budget Proposal, March 9, 2011:

By taking direct aim at schools and higher education, the Governor’s plan disregards a fundamental principle of economic growth – businesses locate and expand in states with an educated workforce and academic centers of innovation.

There is a better choice. Lawmakers can choose to take a more balanced approach that makes targeted cuts, improves accountability and raises revenue.

9. 2011-12 State Budget Highlights, June 28, 2011:

State legislative leaders and Governor Tom Corbett agreed on a 2011-12 state budget deal this week, and on Tuesday, the state Senate approved it on a 30-20 party-line vote. The bill heads to the House of Representatives next. …

The biggest cuts, in both dollars and percentages, are in education programs, including PreK-12 and higher education.

8. Marcellus Shale, Unemployment and Industrial Diversity, August 3, 2011:

There is always a danger that Marcellus Shale extraction may crowd out rather than seed new industries. Policymakers in Harrisburg and elected officials in these regions should make efforts to ensure that some of the good economic fortune represented by Marcellus Shale gas is reinvested in the seed corn necessary to increase the economic diversity of these communities. A drilling tax is the most sensible way to generate the funds needed to pay for these investments.

7. What is Pat Toomey Doing? Inequality and America’s Future, November 16, 2011:

On a day when a national newspaper is using Philadelphia to illustrate the erosion of the middle class, why is Senator Toomey championing ideas that threaten the most cherished American values (opportunity, democracy) and the country’s future living standards? You’d have to ask him.

6. CEO Pay Soars While Workers’ Pay Stalls, April 6, 2011:

Since there’s been a lot of discussion about public-sector pay recently, it’s interesting to compare these CEO salaries with that of the top-earning public workers in Pennsylvania. According to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story in 2009, the top 100 highest-paid state employees in Pennsylvania earned $19.4 million as a group. In other words, the two highest-paid CEOs in Pennsylvania earn a lot more than the top 100 public-sector workers.

5. Fruit Salad, Anyone?, March 14, 2011:

The Governor’s speechwriter appears to love apples to pears comparisons, or maybe bananas to oranges. But nothing so plain as apples to apples. …

In sum, when you do apples-to-apples comparisons, public-sector workers do not earn more than comparable private-sector ones. In addition, Pennsylvania public-sector wages have not risen faster than in the private sector over the last half decade.

4. A $56 million ‘Oops’: PA Revenue Department Updates Marcellus Shale Tax Estimates, November 23, 2011:

Back in May, the Department estimated that taxable Marcellus Shale royalties generated $102.7 million in PIT collections in 2010. Now the Department says that figure is a tad lower – $46.2 million, a decrease of $56.5 million or over 55% from what was reported six months ago. To quote Britney Spears, “Oops!” …

The gas industry has been very effective in arguing that it is contributing a “game-changing” number of new jobs and tax revenue, and uses these claims to beat back efforts to enact a meaningful drilling tax. We have made the case for some time that these claims are well overstated. The Department of Revenue data, particularly the paltry PIT numbers for 2010, seem to back up our case.

3. Déjà vu All Over Again: Mid-year Cuts and a Budget Shortfall on Tap for 2012, December 20, 2011:

Secretary Zogby rightly identified areas of built-in growth that will contribute to a structural budget deficit moving forward.

His analysis failed to mention how much tax cuts, both enacted and planned, will contribute to the short- and long-term problem. For example, the administration has likely under-estimated the cost of the 100% bonus depreciation policy enacted in January, contributing to the lower-than-expected corporate tax collections. (This policy allowed corporate taxpayers in 2011 to deduct 100% of a capital expense up front, instead of stretching it out over a period of years.)

The Governor’s budget guidance issued earlier this year called for $400 million more in tax cuts, which could contribute to more than half of the expected gap for 2012-13.

2. What’s Good for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Isn’t So Good For You, March 3, 2011:

All else equal, the Chamber seems to prefer that any given level of job growth go along with lower wages and less human development. This leads you to conclude that the Chamber values lower wages and less human development as simply good things in and of themselves. Kind of like apple pie. Go figure.

And the number 1 top viewed blog post of the year:

Teacher Salaries and the Medieval Bloodletting of the Public Schools, May 23, 2011:

The Teacher Salary Project seeks to educate Americans that this country has relatively low teacher pay compared to the most successful educational systems in the world. That’s one reason it’s difficult for American schools to retain their most talented teachers, especially in distressed communities. …

Yet policymakers in Pennsylvania are running hard in the opposite direction. Cuts in public school funding will mean stagnant or lower pay, especially in our poorest districts. More education delivered in charter schools and private schools will mean greater inequality in pay in two senses: a bigger gap, on average, between the charter and private schools serving affluent students and those serving lower-income children; and a bigger gap, again on average, between the pay of school CEOs and principals and the pay of front-line teachers.

When public school performance predictably suffers, any chance this will be used to push privatization of education further? Heh, when the first round of medieval bloodletting doesn’t work, let’s bleed the patient a bit more.

SOTU 2012: Community Colleges, Workforce Development, Taxes & Infrastructure

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a pretty good summary of the State of the Union.

Here is the full text of the President’s speech, and Wonkblog has a version of the speech with only what they define as specific policy proposals.

What follows are our favorites from the speech.

Community colleges and workforce development:

Join me in a national commitment to train two million Americans with skills that will lead directly to a job. My Administration has already lined up more companies that want to help. Model partnerships between businesses like Siemens and community colleges in places like Charlotte, Orlando, and Louisville are up and running. Now you need to give more community colleges the resources they need to become community career centers – places that teach people skills that local businesses are looking for right now, from data management to high-tech manufacturing.

I want to cut through the maze of confusing training programs, so that from now on, people like Jackie have one program, one website, and one place to go for all the information and help they need. It’s time to turn our unemployment system into a reemployment system that puts people to work.

Taxes:

But in return, we need to change our tax code so that people like me, and an awful lot of Members of Congress, pay our fair share of taxes. Tax reform should follow the Buffett rule: If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes.

Infrastructure:

Building this new energy future should be just one part of a broader agenda to repair America’s infrastructure. So much of America needs to be rebuilt. We’ve got crumbling roads and bridges. A power grid that wastes too much energy. An incomplete high-speed broadband network that prevents a small business owner in rural America from selling her products all over the world.

During the Great Depression, America built the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge. After World War II, we connected our States with a system of highways. Democratic and Republican administrations invested in great projects that benefited everybody, from the workers who built them to the businesses that still use them today.

In the next few weeks, I will sign an Executive Order clearing away the red tape that slows down too many construction projects. But you need to fund these projects. Take the money we’re no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest to do some nation-building right here at home.

Must Reads: State of The Union, Stimulus and Austerity Economics PA Style

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

Tonight President Obama will deliver his State of the Union Address to Congress. We are expecting the President to recommend an extension through the end of 2012 of extended unemployment insurance benefits and the payroll tax credit. It looks as though a major theme in the address – besides the catch phrase “built to last” – will be conventional policies aimed at reducing inequality, such as increased spending/tax credits for education and training.

Education and training are important and fruitful means of reducing inequality, but they fall well short of what’s needed to reduce the degree of inequality we now face.  A more forceful step in the direction of reducing inequality would include raising the minimum wage and making it easier for workers to form and join unions. We don’t expect to hear the President call for either of those changes.

The President will propose paying for his new initiatives with higher taxes on wealthy households. As with education and training, restoring some sense of fairness to the tax code is a laudable goal but longer-lasting reductions in inequality will only come from policies that allow the pre-tax wages of more Americans to rise as the size and wealth of our economy grows.

Manufacturing, energy, job training and middle-class growth will be the cornerstones of President Barack Obama’s speech tonight as he takes to the nation’s grandest political stage for the annual address on the state of the union, according to senior advisers.

We are slowly getting details of a settlement of allegations of fraud by banks during the housing bubble. Dean Baker notes this morning that the deal is said to include immunity from prosecution for banking executives in exchange for mortgage relief paid for by investors (not the banks). It’s good to be a banker.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports this morning that the association that represents construction contractors who mainly compete for work in the non-residential construction sector is expecting essentially no change in the number of workers they will employ in 2012. Non-residential construction makes up roughly two-thirds of all construction employment in Pennsylvania. Also of note in the article: 62% of Pennsylvania contractors surveyed reported relying on some stimulus-related work. Remember that factoid next time you hear someone claim stimulus spending had no effect on the economy.

Construction employment will go up – very slightly – in 2012, contractors predicted in a survey released Monday by the Associated General Contractors of America…

The survey notes that many contractors relied on stimulus-funding projects over the past years, but few expect to perform much stimulus-funded work in 2012.

In Pennsylvania, for example, 62 percent of those surveyed had stimulus work, with most of them assigning the majority of their workers to those projects. But in 2012, only one in five expects stimulus work.

More news of property tax hikes, teacher layoffs and larger class sizes – this time out of Dauphin County.

The Central Dauphin School Board Monday night approved a $155.4 million preliminary budget for 2012-13 that could mean higher taxes, larger class sizes or furloughs of as many as 50 district employees.

The Patriot-News Editorial Board notes that the asset tests for food stamps proposed by the Corbett administration are unwise and likely to punish many rural families.

Creating an asset test for food stamps in Pennsylvania is the wrong approach…

Given the economic woes many families are facing with at least one parent – sometimes both – out of a job, the car rule hardly makes sense. This is especially true in rural parts of the state. Reliable transportation is critical to achieving financial independence, and in many families that means parents having two decent cars to drive.

The other issue is the $2,000 limit in savings. Families struggling to get out of poverty are likely to be trying to save money, build up funds to help them pay off bills, make a security deposit on an apartment or catch up on mortgage payments. It makes no sense to compel people to potentially liquidate funds to be able to put food on the table.

Hunger is a problem in our state, and many people rely on food stamps to solve it.

PA Job Growth in 2011 and More Layoffs, Higher Property Taxes in 2012

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

On Thursday, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry released data on employment and unemployment in December. Compared to the summer months, the top line numbers were good, with unemployment falling three-tenths of one percent to 7.6% (U.S. rate is 8.5%).

Nonfarm jobs were up 6,500, which is a pretty good number (we need to average 8,000 new jobs a month to get back to full employment in three years). Service-sector job growth in December was atrocious; the sector added just 300 jobs. Most of the month’s job growth was in durable goods, with manufacturing adding 2,600 jobs, construction adding 3,000 and mining adding another 600.

Those 3,000 construction jobs don’t represent a sudden resurgence of the construction industry. As most of you are happily aware, December was quite warm; this meant construction activity in the month was above historical averages which shows up as job growth in the final numbers. The actual trend in construction employment is at best no or very slow growth.

The bottom line is that in the last 12 months, Pennsylvania added 59,200 jobs. That’s fewer jobs than were added from December 2009 to December 2010 (63,900). The primary reason Pennsylvania added fewer jobs in 2011 than it did in 2010 is the loss of 19,800 jobs in the public sector.

Ann Belser at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has more on the job numbers.

New Year, Same Old Economic Austerity

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

From November 2009 to November 2010, Pennsylvania added 63,300 jobs. From November 2010 to November 2011, the state added just 51,000.

Wait, isn’t that backwards? Nope. A weak economy, the end of federal Recovery Act funds and state budget cuts slowed the pace of Pennsylvania job growth in the most recent year.

The big question mark going forward is whether the pace of job growth in the Commonwealth will continue to lag the rest of the country. Key will be whether school districts continue to face large budget deficits.

The news out of Stroudsburg this morning suggests this is going to be another challenging year for the Pennsylvania job market.

Larger class sizes, staff reductions, eliminating elective courses for students or a wage concession are possible remedies to close a projected $9.8 million deficit in the Stroudsburg Area School District budget, said Business Manager Don Jennings.

As school districts continue to add people to the unemployment lines, the Corbett administration is looking to make the situation that much worse by adding costly new regulations to address a problem that doesn’t exist. 

Pennsylvania plans to make the amount of food stamps that people receive contingent on the assets they possess – an unexpected move that bucks national trends and places the commonwealth among a minority of states…

The DPW plan caught many by surprise, but has been widely condemned by Philadelphia city officials, business leaders statewide, and advocates for the poor.

They point to federal statistics showing that Pennsylvania has one of the lowest food-stamp fraud rates in the nation: one-tenth of 1 percent.

In fact, the state recently won a federal award for running its program efficiently, federal officials say.

Moreover, about 30 percent of people who are eligible for food stamps in Pennsylvania and throughout the nation don’t access them, making the entitlement program under-subscribed.

Critics of the DPW plan say it would particularly punish elderly people saving for their burials, poor people trying to save enough money to get out of poverty, and working- and middle-class people who lost their jobs in the recession and may now have to liquidate assets to feed their families.

Length of Unemployment at All Time High

A blog post by Sean Brandon, originally published at Third and State.

While the U.S. unemployment rate fell to a 32-month low of 8.6% in November, the average duration of joblessness hit an all-time high – 40.9 weeks. This number has more than doubled since the start of the Great Recession in December 2007. Nevertheless, it should come as no surprise amid lingering unemployment. There are four job seekers for every job opening these days.

With long-term unemployment at its historic worst, Congress must decide whether or not to continue federally-funded extended unemployment insurance benefits that are scheduled to begin phasing out at the end of this month

Should Congress fail to act, 281,000 jobless Pennsylvanians will lose their unemployment benefits between December and June, with the bulk of benefits expiring in the first quarter of 2012, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.

This should concern each and every taxpayer because unemployment insurance serves two vital purposes.

First, these benefits go to individuals and families who have suffered through the longest and deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression. As a society, the more fortunate have a moral obligation to help the less fortunate in their time of need. The money is being spent on necessities like rent, utilities, food, and clothing – not Cadillacs.

The second point is an echo of the first – money is being spent in the economy. Those eligible for extended unemployment insurance are cash-strapped and immediately spend their benefits to pay for rent, groceries and other necessities. Spending in our economy creates jobs. This is why many economists regard government spending on unemployment insurance as an effective means to both support and create jobs for the unemployed.

A policy brief from the Economic Policy Institute estimates that continuing extended unemployment benefits through 2012 would increase the U.S. Gross Domestic Product by $72 billion while only costing $45 billion. The extension is also expected to save or create 560,000 jobs, boosting tax revenue that will cover $26 billion of the cost of extending benefits.

Opponents contend that extended unemployment insurance creates a disincentive for unemployed workers to return to work. In a recent study titled Unemployment Insurance and Job Search in the Great Recession, author Jesse Rothstein finds that only one and half out of every 100 workers delay taking a job to remain on unemployment. In other words, any disincentive to work from extended benefits is a tiny factor in driving up unemployment. For the vast majority of people who are unemployed, it’s about the lack of jobs.

President Obama has called for the extension of unemployment insurance benefits for the long-term unemployed through the end of 2012. Now we’re waiting on Congress to act.

The U.S. has never failed to extend unemployment insurance with the jobless rate this high. Now would be a terrible time to start.