For those who missed NC Policy Watch’s Crucial Conversation with Dean Baker on the state of the economy and getting back to full employment, the full program is now available online:
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Happy Monday! Well, perhaps ‘happy’ is not the right word if your NCAA bracket included Duke, UNC, NC State, or NCCU advancing to the Sweet 16. And with Warren Buffet’s billion dollar wager safe until next year, all that’s left is to enjoy the Big Dance’s Best Dances.

So what’s on tap this week other than NCAA hoops action? Plenty!

The State Board of Elections meets this afternoon to consider, among other things, proposals from local boards that are essentially suppressing the vote by compacting the calendar. If you missed this story earlier, be sure to read Sharon McCloskey’s piece on what’s at stake.

This evening in Iredell County, Governor Pat McCrory will speak at the Statesville Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Meeting. The NC NAACP along with the Forward Together Movement will also be on hand, staging the latest Moral Monday demonstration to protest the governor’s policies and the impact on the state’s most vulnerable residents.

On Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments regarding birth control and the Affordable Care Act. Pro-choice advocates from North Carolina will be traveling to the nation’s capital and rallying outside the High Court from 8:30 a.m. until noon. The Washington Post has everything you need to know about the Hobby Lobby case.

Wednesday, Dean Baker, one of America’s leading economists, will speak at NC Policy Watch’s monthly Crucial Conversation. Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and will sort fact from fiction about our economic outlook.

If you missed it over the weekend, make sure you listen to our recent interview with PolicyLink founder and CEO Angela Glover Blackwell as she discusses building an equitable economy and strengthening the Earned Income Tax Credit. Click below to hear her thoughts on increasing the minimum wage. The full radio interview can be downloaded here.

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Today’s ‘must read’ is a special report from Politico that details the increasing use of taxpayer dollars to teach creationism in the classroom. Here’s an excerpt:

‘Taxpayers in 14 states will bankroll nearly $1 billion this year in tuition for private schools, including hundreds of religious schools that teach Earth is less than 10,000 years old, Adam and Eve strolled the garden with dinosaurs, and much of modern biology, geology and cosmology is a web of lies.

…the more striking shift in public policy has flown largely under the radar, as a well-funded political campaign has pushed to open the spigot for tax dollars to flow to private schools. Among them are Bible-based schools that train students to reject and rebut the cornerstones of modern science.’

If you happen to be in Greensboro Thursday, Common Cause will be showing “State of Conflict North Carolina” – veteran journalist Bill Moyers’ documentary on the conservative takeover of North Carolina politics. The showing will take place at 7:00 p.m. at the Congregational United Church of Christ, 400 West Radiance Drive in Greensboro and will be followed by a panel discussion.

Should you need something to lift your spirits after all that, we’ll close out Lunch Links with some classic Elton John. Sir Elton turns 67 on Tuesday – and what better way to celebrate than with a few Muppets, a fabulous headdress, and a little Crocodile Rock:YouTube Preview Image

With just 13 days of open enrollment left, the White House is hoping to capitalize a bit on March Madness and get more uninsured Americans to sign-up for health care coverage.

On Monday the Obama administration launched an ACA bracket that includes their own Sweet 16 – that is “The 16 Sweetest Reasons to Get Covered.” Those reasons are accompanied by a collection of animated GIFs viewers can vote on while learning more about the Affordable Care Act and available subsidies.

The new site also features a You Tube video by UNC head basketball coach Roy Williams and Geno Auriemma, head coach of the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team.

Watch their video below, and click here to visit the ACA bracket.

To date, more than 5 million Americans have already signed up for coverage through the federal Health Insurance Marketplace. The deadline to enroll for coverage this year is March 31st.

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North Carolina’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.7 percent in January, but the decline is largely because the labor force continues to shrink not because of significant gains in employment, according to the NC Budget & Tax Center.  Over the last year, the state labor force contracted by 105,600 workers, more than 1.3 percent, to the lowest levels in three years.

“Only 4 out of every 10 unemployed workers found jobs in the last year,” said Allan Freyer, BTC Public Policy Analyst. “If North Carolina is going to see a healthy long-term recovery in employment growth, we need to see all jobless workers moving into jobs, rather than out of the labor force.”

Freyer believes that most of the job growth we’re seeing in North Carolina is due to improvements in the national economy, rather than something special happening in the Tarheel State:

“In recent months, we’ve heard claims that policies enacted in the first half of 2013 generated extra special job growth in the second half of 2013. But the reality is far different,” Freyer said. “Across every meaningful measure of labor market progress, the second half of 2013 failed to perform better than the second half of 2012.”

Freyer appeared on NC Policy Watch’s News & Views over the weekend to discuss the state’s struggling economy. For an excerpt of that radio interview, click below. You can listen to the full segment here.

The Budget & Tax Center’s takeaway message on the latest jobs report: North Carolina needs to create jobs at a much faster rate than the national average and its own recent historical performance.  Along with creating more jobs overall, the state needs to create better jobs that pay enough to allow workers and their families to make ends meet.

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A Wake County Superior Court  judge has  granted a preliminary injunction that  requires the North Carolina Division of Employment Security (DES)  to continue making hearing notices about contested unemployment claims available as it has done for the past decade.

The case pitted Durham attorney Monica Wilson against Dale Folwell, head of the state Division of Employment Security. Last month, Folwell abruptly advised attorneys that after February 28 they would no longer be able to pick up the hearing notices on a daily basis. Instead, notices would be mailed out three times a month at a cost of $600 per month, which was twice the amount the agency previously charged.

Judge Paul Ridgeway ruled Thursday:
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Click here to read the full preliminary injunction. For more background on this story, read Policy Watch reporter Sharon McCloskey’s piece from earlier this week Gaming the system at the Division of Employment Security.