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Lunch Links: School vouchers in the spotlight, a State of the Union preview and last night’s most memorable moment at the Grammys (video)

As you’re enjoying lunch today, take a moment to think about those places in North Carolina where affordable and healthy food is difficult to come by. A new legislative study committee is meeting this afternoon to begin discussing food desert zones and what can be done to reduce food insecurity in North Carolina.

While talk of snow in the forecast may dominate most of Tuesday’s news coverage, there are a number of other items that need to be on your radar.

First, the state unemployment rate for December will be released and we’ll see whether the rate trends upward or downward. The new data comes on the heels of Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker penning this piece in the Charlotte Observer over the weekend defending Gov. McCrory’s ‘Carolina Comeback.’

Make time to also read this piece by Budget and Tax Center policy analyst Alan Freyer, who asserts the decline in the jobless rate has been accompanied by a drop in the labor force, which is not a good thing:

The governor and his allies tend to ignore the shrinking labor force and instead point to job creation in the months after unemployment benefits cuts took effect in July. There are two problems with this claim. First, it is inaccurate to compare employment in one part of a year to another part of the same year. Hiring naturally swings from month to month based on seasonal hiring patterns. As a result, it’s virtually impossible to tell whether employment changes from one month to the next were caused by a policy decision or by seasonal hiring patterns.

But the biggest problem here is our state’s actual record of job creation. From January to November 2013, North Carolina created just 37,700 jobs, barely half the 66,000 jobs created the year before, and still short of jobs created in 2011 and 2010.

Gov. McCrory may believe that cutting unemployment benefits will force unemployed workers to find jobs, but this falsely assumes there are enough jobs for unemployed workers to fill. There is still just 1 job opening for every 3 unemployed workers.

Also on Tuesday, the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations will hear from several cabinet members at its Tuesday meeting, including a presentation by State Budget Director Art Pope.

If you don’t have plans Tuesday evening, join the NC Justice Center for a free screening of Inequality for All, a new documentary addressing widening income inequality in the United States presented by American economist and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. The doc will be shown from 6:00-9:00 p.m. at William Peace University’s Browne-McPherson Music Building in Raleigh.

If you’d rather stay home, check out Public Schools First NC’s  7:00 p.m. webinar where  concerned parents and taxpayers can learn more about the school voucher program in North Carolina. You can register for the event here.

Readers of the Progressive Pulse of course will remember that last month 25 plaintiffs from across North Carolina filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the newly-passed school voucher law. Since then, at least 40 school districts have joined the lawsuit.

If you missed it over the weekend, former state school superintendent Dr. Mike Ward joined NC Policy Watch on our weekend radio program to discuss his opposition to the voucher program. You can hear the full 10 minute radio interview here and click below to watch a short video excerpt:

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So, do you plan on skipping or actually watching President Obama’s State of the Union Tuesday evening?  Salon offers 5 things to know about the State of the Union – including who was the first President to popularize shout outs to guests in the balcony.

Speaking of special guests at the SOU, look for Karyn Dickerson of Grimsley High School in the audience. Dickerson, who was named the 2013-2014 Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year last May, will be the guest of U.S. Senator Kay Hagan. NC Policy Watch had a great profile of Dickerson last June.

On the lighter side, check out this story in the LA Times about  the multi-year partnership Hershey Co. inked last week with the promise of 3D-printed chocolate confections in our future.

Finally we’ll wrap up today’s lunch links with the performance from the Grammys Sunday night that everyone is buzzing about today – 33 gay and straight couples being wed on national TV as Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ performed their song ‘Same Love’:

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