Is it so much to ask for?
Courtesy of Spencer Green, Gary Stockdale and found on HuffPost
Is it so much to ask for?
Courtesy of Spencer Green, Gary Stockdale and found on HuffPost
A couple of weeks ago I took a look at the question of when do Americans care about the homeless? Turns out there's a remarkably predictable pattern to it, and we're currently in the midst of the annual burst in concern. I used a fun little tool called Google Insights to learn this.
Today, a look at a completely different pattern. How has our interest in unemployment changed over time? Like my question about the homeless, the answer tells us a lot about Americans and our economy. Check out this graph:
This chart tells us two very important things. First, as the impact of the 2007 financial crisis began to be felt, there was a sudden surge in people who wanted to learn more about unemployment, and that surge has not yet declined. The US unemployment rate shot up from 5.2 percent in May 2008 to 8.9 percent by February 2009; the Google search surge actually preceeded that slightly. Second, the terms people search for on Google is a pretty good indicator of what's going on in the real world.
What were the top five unemployment-related searches? You won't be surprised:
That last one is interesting in light of yesterday's news that House Republicans have blocked another unemployment extension. Based on the comments on this blog, I can tell you anecdotally that Americans have been deeply interested in every unemployment extension that has or has not been passed by Congress during the downturn. Google Insights data gives the statistical evidence to support it.
Americans are a kind, caring people, right? If internet searches are a good measure of what people care about, then check out this chart from Google Insights:
There are four things you can learn from this one simple graphic:
Where is the greatest interest in the homeless? Top five states by Google search:
What else do you see in the statistics? What can we learn from these stats?
You can go much deeper into this data by place, time and search terms by going directly to Google Insights.
As the Great Recession wears on and states have had to pay out ever more unemployment benefits to struggling citizens, flaws in the unemployment system have been laid bare. Twenty million Americans collected benefits last year.
And twenty-six state unemployment trust funds have gone broke in the process. They've borrowed money from the feds to stay afloat. But worse, some have started whittling away at benefits to try and stop the flow of red ink.
The National Council of State Legislatures recently held a webinar on State Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund Solvency to help states find strategies to address the problem. You can watch a recording of the webinar here (free registration required).
Yes, economists are saying they see hints that we've turned the corner on the recession. However, unemployment is still at record levels in many states and regions, and states are still struggling to stay afloat. They'll continue to need help for their citizens in greatest need for a long time to come.
Marketplace radio had a great piece yesterday on how public libraries have become a popular place to search for work, especially for low-income job seekers. Overall, use of libraries and their free services is up since the Great Recession began. As the Boston Globe puts it, "But historically, nothing boosts the profile of a public library like a nice, dreadful recession."
As the recession has worn on, libraries have had to cope with a surge in people using the library for job searches. It's had serious ramifications for library staff and resources. From the Marketplace story:
With at least 15 million Americans out of work, libraries across the country have seen their own transformations: An Illinois library installed a new reference desk beneath a sign saying "Your Job Search Starts Here." In North Carolina, public librarians from nearly every county came together to share ideas on helping the unemployed. And some big city libraries are renovating entire floors to make more space for job-hunters.
This isn't the only role libraries have played in helping job seekers. In early 2009, the Indiana Department of Workforce Development partnered with the state library to hold sessions at the libraries to help laid-off residents sign up for unemployment benefits.
This at a time when library budgets are being slashed. Another round of short-sighted cuts that hurt the people who need these services the most. If you haven't been in a library recently, you might not be aware just what a crucial role they play keeping Americans connected in the social media age. This recent report from the Gates Foundation is a real eye-opener.
You can read the Marketplace story on job seekers and libraries reported by Zachary Barr, or listen to the full show here:
Now I'm curious - have any workforce boards, One-Stops or nonprofits partnered with their local libraries to serve job seekers? If you know of any examples, please add comments below.
Do you have any ideas for how the workforce system can work with libraries to help job seekers?
Have you used the library to look for a job?
In the Great Recession, unemployment has not hit all demographic groups equally. Youth, African-Americans and Latinos are all experiencing higher rates of unemployment than older, white Americans. Workers with less education have higher unemployment than those with more. Men have been hit harder than women. Different parts of the country have experienced wildly varying rates of job losses.
In its recent State of Black America report, the National Urban League argues that the next jobs bill should more precisely target those groups experiencing the greatest unemployment. Read the report here or watch a webcast from its release. From the report:
With black unemployment numbers nearly double that of whites, the National Urban League's State of Black America report shows that the ravages of the recession are impacting minorities much worse than the rest of the nation. The solution to this crisis is getting jobs to people in these communities and the Urban League is encouraging the nation's leaders to act swiftly and support a $168 billion plan it has to generate jobs to make sure no one is left behind or left out of economic recovery efforts.
Their six-point Plan for Putting Americans Back to Work includes proposals to fund direct job creation, create "green empowerment zones" in areas where at least 50 percent of the population has an unemployment rate higher than the state average, and investing $500 million in housing counseling agencies nationwide to help delinquent borrowers secure more affordable mortgages.
After the release of the NUL's report, several African-American leaders discussed the issue on CNN. Watch below.
If you can't see the embedded video, click here to watch it on PolicyLink's Equity Blog.
Readers, what do you think? Should the next jobs bill target those in greatest need? What is the best way to do that?
In less than six days, unemployment benefits for long-term out-of-work Americans will begin to expire. That's because Congress can't agree on the terms of another emergency extension. The Senate is unlikely to act again on the issue until after the Easter recess.
After senators couldn't agree on the terms of the emergency extension last week, Oklahoma Senator Tom Colburn put a hold on the extension bill under consideration. It had already passed by the House. Earlier in the month, Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning held up another extension bill.
Other benefits will also begin to expire on April 5, including COBRA benefits for the jobless, federal highway funding and reimbursement fees for doctors serving Medicare patients
Some 14.9 million Americans were out of work in February 2010. More than 6 million of them have been unemployed for more than 27 weeks. Standard unemployment benefits run for only 26 weeks, but since the start of the Great Recession, Congress has passed periodic extensions to help the long-term unemployed.
The National Employment Law Project is calling on Congress to pass an unemployment extension to run through the end of 2010 (pdf), rather than having to pass shorter bills every few months. Given recent projections that unemployment will remain high through at least 2011, that makes a lot of sense.
Hey, readers. I need your help to determine whether I've just been discovered by a valuable resource for job seekers or a scam.
A company called Assurance Wireless left a comment yesterday on an old blog post. The writer describes the company as "a new cell phone service for eligible low-income households from Virgin Mobile USA, part of Sprint’s Prepaid group."
The comment is lengthy and provides a lot of details, then conveniently links back to their own website. I was about to delete it as spam when I read that they'll be holding an event at the upcoming Tennessee Association for Community Action Conference. I clicked over to check out this Association, and yes, it's a real conference for real community action agencies. I'm a big fan of CAAs, so I had to pause. If the CAA association in Tennessee has given Assurance Wireless the thumb's up, then maybe this is the real deal.
I clicked over to the company website, and wasn't impressed. I now know that "Assurance Wireless offers a FREE wireless phone and 200 minutes of wireless service to eligible customers each month." I also know that it's "brought to you by Virgin Mobile USA and is a Lifeline Assistance program supported by the Universal Service Fund," which is one of the many small taxes I pay on my phone bills. But I don't know much more than that.
I still ask: is this a scam targeting low-income people?
Here's how you can help:
If you or anyone you know has had any experience with Assurance Wireless, please add your comments below or send me an email.
If you're from Assurance Wireless or one of its parent companies, you're also welcome to add comments and additional explanation below, but please do identify yourself as such.
Please forward this post to colleagues who might be able to help out with info and insights into Assurance Wireless.
Old British telephones - photo by Dan Brady
Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed a $15 billion jobs bill that seems unlikely to make much of a dent in our nation's chronic unemployment problem. It's almost identical to a measure passed by the Senate last week, but different enough that the Senate will have to take additional action to reconcile the two versions. The Senate bill itself was a scaled-down version of a much larger bipartison compromise jobs bill.
Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats opposed to the bill say it's too expensive and doesn't cut taxes enough. Liberal Ds like Rep. Barbara Lee from Oakland, CA, say it's far too little and helps businesses rather than actual workers.
Let's do the math. Today's report from the Bureau of Labor Stats finds 14.9 million Americans unemployed. Another 8.8 million are working part-time when they'd prefer to work full-time. Another 2.5 million are "marginally attached to the labor force," meaning they've simply stopped looking for work. That's a total of 26.2 million Americans who need jobs help.
This $15 billion jobs bill would provide about $573 for each person in need. Anyone in workforce development will tell you it costs a lot more than that to retrain a person and get them placed in a new job.
But it's more than just the price tag that's at stake here.
As a blogger who writes about jobs a lot, I find it hard to find anything to say about the jobs bill at all. Tough times call for imagination, creative problem-solving and foresight. From Congress we're getting short-term thinking that relies on tired, uninspiring ideas.
Our reps in Congress promise this is only step one and that more legislation is on the way. Will it just be more of the same? Or will we see legislation that addresses fundamental problems in our national economy?
Where are the creative ideas that respond to the way labor demand and jobs are being restructured by global economic forces today?
First came at a panel discussion for small business owners about how new federal health care legislation could affect their bottom line. Panelists from a local chamber of commerce and Aflac agreed that one of the best ways to reduce US health care costs would be for Americans to make lifestyle changes that would reduce chronic health problems like obesity and diabetes.
Second, I read in the Washington Post that fewer people are going out for fast food breakfasts, in part to save money, in part because fewer people are going to work. Places like McDonald's, Denny's and 7-Eleven have launched big promotions to get people back in the doors at breakfast.
This raises two big questions for me:
1) Which is more important to the economy overall?
2) How did we get to a place in America where our economy depends on making people unhealthy?
by Julian L. Alssid
The unemployment rate fell below 10 percent in January to 9.7 percent. While this is positive news and a sign the stimulus may be kicking in, the mismatch between employer needs and the education and skills of much of the workforce remains. This was an issue before the Great Recession and it will persist and only get worse if we do not dramatically improve the way we prepare people for work in this country.
One of the factors contributing to the improvement in the unemployment number is the fact that more Americans have given up looking for work. In fact, the number of "discouraged job seekers" was at 1.1 million people in January, up from 734,000 this time last year. Added to this are those who are underemployed, working just a few days a week and not making enough to sustain a living wage, and you have about 16.5 percent of the workforce sitting on the sidelines or not being fully utilized.
The skills gap, or "skills recession," is a contributing factor to this phenomenon. Many employers involved in advanced manufacturing, health care and energy cannot find qualified workers, despite near record unemployment. Employers like Ace Clearwater Enterprises in California, which specializes in supplying parts to the aerospace and energy industries, which hired 70 people in 2009, only to see nearly half of them leave because they did not have the skills required to do the job. Or Spectrum Lighting in Massachusetts, which is having a hard time filling jobs because the local workforce doesn't have the expertise needed to work with more technically advanced "green" lighting systems.
Real wages have not improved for the average American in nearly a decade. Much of this has to do with the fact that many of the jobs Americans relied on for decades, blue-collar jobs that could be done with a high school education or a minimum of technical training, can now be done in China or Latin America for a fraction of the cost. This depresses wages for these kinds of low-skilled jobs in the U.S. as America tries to compete with the global workforce.
In order to compete successfully, America must become more strategic in its approach to workforce development. Our workforce development system must become more "demand-driven," which means a more effective matching of skills training with the needs of employers. If our country does not become more proactive on this front, it is only a matter of time before employers begin to figure out how to outsource those high skill, high wage jobs that are currently going unfilled.
Julian L. Alssid is the founder and executive director of Workforce Strategy Center, a nonprofit organization that advises leaders who seek to make education and workforce development more responsive to the economy.
The devil is in the details. Wonder where they are in Obama's 2011 budget?
Here are a few places where you can learn about what the administration wants to do related to jobs and human services:
the National Skills Coalition (formerly known as The Workforce Alliance) offers this preliminary analysis of the proposed 2011 budget. They also have a great budget chart comparing the 2009 budget, ARRA, 2010 budget and Obama's 2011 proposal.
The Coalition for Human Needs is hosting a free webinar tomorrow, February 5, to explain the details. Speakers include Robert Greenstein, Executive Director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Deborah Weinstein, Executive Director of the Coalition on Human Needs.
UPDATE FEB 5: The webinar has been postponed due to snow. It's currently rescheduled for Tuesday, February 9, 3:00-4:30 p.m. EST
And for the more ambitious of you, here's the full text of the proposed budget, including appendices.Have other 2011 budget resources to recommend? Add them in the comments below.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) stimulus package included $5 billion to establish a new Emergency Fund for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs. TANF is what's commonly referred to as traditional "welfare," and it's the program that replaced AFDC.
The Emergency Fund is intended to help TANF programs serve more families seeking employment opportunities and other forms of assistance during the economic downturn. These funds will allow programs to subsidize jobs, paying up to 100% of the wages for local employers who hire on clients.
Because of timing and unanswered funding questions, the program was slow to roll out. Here in California, San Francisco and Santa Clara Counties led the way with early implementation. According to the SF Chronicle, San Francisco's Jobs Now program has used the TANF Emergency Fund to place just over 1,500 workers in subsidized employment and seeks to place at least 2,100 total. It has about 3,000 people on a waiting list and 400 to 500 jobs waiting to get filled, according to Trent Rhorer, executive director of San Francisco's Human Services Agency.
General requirements include being enrolled in or eligible for the CalWORKs program or having a household income over the previous 30 days that was 200 percent below the federal poverty limit. There must be a child in the family under the age of 18, and participants must have the right to work in the US. There is no limit to the wages that someone can earn. Currently, the program is set to expire Sept 30, 2010 but many hope the program will be extended for an additional year as unemployment is projected to remain high.
TANF programs are hoping that the subsidized work experience will lead to unsubsidized employment down the road. At the very least, this program would allow low income families to earn a living and to gain valuable work experience.
For ex-offenders who are part of a CalWORKs family, this is an exciting opportunity to get back to the world of work.
Contact your local social service agency to find out how TANF Emergency Funds are being administered in your county.
Racy Ming is manager of the Marin Employment Connection, the one-stop in Marin County, CA. She is also chair of the board for the California Re-Entry Program at San Quentin.
By now you've heard it a thousand times - be careful what you post online. Employers are looking you up, finding your Facebook and MySpace pages and anything else you've posted to learn more about you. What you posted online yesterday or five years ago could prevent you from getting a job, and it could get you fired.
Online searches are a 21st century addition to the old fashioned background checks many employers have used for years. They look for criminal records, and may even look up your credit rating.
At a small company and for entry-level jobs, an online search might be done by a manager with a few minutes and Google. Maybe they'll find you, maybe not.
At a big company and for high-level jobs, they're likely to hire a company like Fetch Technologies to do the search for them. They have access to all sorts of online databases, and they utilize computer programs to analyze the data they find about you. Here's how Fetch describes their FetchCheck Pre-Employment Services on their website:
FetchCheck uses artificial intelligence technology and machine learning to systematically access online data sites, easily handling changing data formats and site irregularities. It then finds, extracts, filters and aggregates candidate background information that can be integrated to flow directly into your screening fulfillment process. Best of all, using FetchCheck eliminates the potential for human error, always delivering the most accurate, real-time data available.
Makes you nervous about those old high school photos your friends have been posting on their Facebook pages, doesn't it?
Here are a few tips for job seekers:
Remember, once it's posted online, it's there forever. You may not be able to take it down, but over time you may be able to push the bad stuff down in a Google search. Still, a company like Fetch is going to find much more about you that what's online.
The Ad Council recently did a series of PSAs targeting young girls, but the lessons are relevant to job seekers too. Remember to Think Before You Post
If you thought Bureau of Labor Stats data was dull, think again. It's all in how it's delivered.
Check out this amazing map of the Geography of Jobs from the TIP Blog. It's actually a very simple progression of net job gains and losses in major metro areas (MSAs), from January 2004 to mid-2009. Click to the page, then click play.
Things we all know, for sure, but this map condenses and presents the data in a way that doesn't require poring over tiny print and spreadsheets. Great for presenting to the general public, elected officials, etc.
What do you think Congress should do to create jobs? Vote here.
To be sure, there will be legislation on jobs. The House squeaked through a $154 billion jobs bill in December, and the Senate is working up their own version. I've heard one pundit say the Republicans won't dare do to it what they've done to health care legislation because they won't want to be seen as being opposed to jobs. Then again, the House version of the bill barely passed.
But will it be enough? Can Congress really pass legislation that will create jobs?
How do you think they should go about doing it? Vote here:
To vote, just click in the box on the answer you like best.
If your answer isn't one of the choices above, then get in the comments and tell me what you think Congress should be doing to create jobs.
And please share this post with your colleagues and friends! I'd love to hear from them.
In November 2008 I wrote a brief post about the most recent federal legislation extending unemployment. As layoffs skyrocketed nationwide, state unemployment systems were quickly overloaded with far more applicants than the technology and staff could handle. Since then, the comments section on this post has become a place where people struggling with the systems can share information and advice on what benefits they are eligible and how to access them.
The post itself (reposted below) isn't all that notable. Far more enlightening are the comments from many readers.
Amazing how fast the legislative and executive branches of government can work when they put their minds to it. Yesterday the Senate put aside its usual rules to pass an unemployment benefits extension (HR 6867) by voice vote. The House had passed it back in October. Just before 8 a.m. this morning, Bush signed it into law.
This is the same unemployment extension that Bush had been calling "fiscally irresponsible" up until the Department of Labor issued its latest round of historically high unemployment figures yesterday. Six Republican Senators voted against it.
The bill extends unemployment benefits for those who are on the verge of losing those benefits, for three months. The way unemployment works, federal funds are provided to states, which are responsible for administering them. If your benefits are about to run out or recently did, contact your local unemployment office to find out how they'll be managing the extension.
This comes on the heels of news yesterday from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Both announced a moratorium on home foreclosures until after the holidays.
Update: This post is about the Nov 2008 unemployment extension. Click for info on the newest extension in 2009.
I was chatting with a colleague who works for city government last week about - what else? - the Great Recession and how it's hitting us all. When I asked about furloughs, she pointed to a coworker typing away at another desk. "She's working her furlough day today."
A friend who's a state employee had to sign a document promising not to work on her furlough days. She's had to work them anyway, sometimes when her boss schedules her for meetings on those days. She tells of coworkers shaming others for not working on their furlough days.
A little googling shows this isn't at all uncommon. The NYT wrote about the phenomenon of employees working their furlough days back in June. Bloggers who also happen to be furloughed professors have written about what it means if faculty take the burden of less pay without passing on the pain to students and staff.
One California employee of the Department of Motor Vehicles put it this way:
It's not doing what it was designed to do. We were imagining three-day weekends. There was some optimism. It was a trade-off for sure, but people were O.K. The mood now, I would say, is down. People are working in fear because they don't know what's going to happen next.
Which makes this eHow article about how to use your furlough days wisely seem even more absurd. Maybe you really could take a part-time job or grow veggies to replace lost income if you didn't actually have to work on your furlough days.
What does it mean that we're asking workers to take pay cuts but refusing to call them exactly what they are? For one thing, it prevents us from addressing the very real economic problems we're facing.
If there is too much work to be done to let people actually take their furlough days, what does it tell us about the amount of work being done by American workers these days? Have we pushed productivity to the breaking point?
Are you working on your furlough days? Why or why not? What does this mean for you?
Photo source: Sacramento Bee
Yesterday, the big-wigs got together in Washington, DC, for a summit to talk about national policies to create jobs. Perhaps it's fitting that Ben Bernanke sat on the hot seat in another part of the city on the same day and asked to keep his.
Today, folks who are doing the work on the ground to help people find and keep good jobs are getting together in the other Washington to talk about jobs too. Their focus is on what it takes to help workers get the skills they need for the jobs that do exist and will come in the future. The forum is called Warning: Good Jobs Ahead, and it's hosted by SkillUp Washington and Seattle's Port Jobs. Here's how they describe it:
Today's workers will make up more than half of the 2017 workforce -- yet America has fallen behind in literacy and other critical skills.
How can we ensure that all of Washington's workers have the skills to compete?
Join us on December 4th for a provocative policy forum, as we hear from national and local experts about how we can improve opportunities for working adults and strengthen our state's businesses.
Speakers include Irwin Kirsch, author of America's Perfect Storm, Julie Strawn of the Center for Law and Social Policy, and Betsy McKay who directs McDonalds' English Under the Arches program. Yes, that McDonalds.
If you can't be in Seattle, don't worry. The entire forum will be streamed live, beginning at 8:30 a.m. To watch, just click this link and turn up the volume.
If you have comments, add them below or Tweet them and include the hashtag #skillup.