Commentary, News

High unemployment and loss of federal assistance continue to plague NC workers

This morning the U.S. Department of Labor released the latest weekly data on Unemployment Insurance claims, showing that jobless workers continued to make initial claims for UI in North Carolina at elevated levels. More than 13,000 initial claims were filed the week of September 12th, compared to 3,000 initial claims in the same week last year.

“Joblessness is widespread across North Carolina, and the loss of federal boosts to Unemployment Insurance is worsening the economic harm to people and communities,” said Bill Rowe, Deputy Director of Advocacy at the North Carolina Justice Center. “It is clear North Carolina is far from returning to prior employment levels and that UI must continue to be a federal and state priority in policymakers’ response to this economic downturn.”

The trends in UI in combination with recent labor market data released for North Carolina, as well as Household Pulse Survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau for the week of September 14th, show there are widespread job losses and hardship.

More than 1.2 million North Carolinians have filed UI claims since the start of the pandemic. Daily new claims tracked by the Division of Employment Security show there have been more than 6,000 claims received.

North Carolina’s number of renter households behind on rent increased by nearly 30,000 week over week, suggesting the loss of UI could continue to ripple throughout the state and put pressure on communities.

The number of adults reporting being unable to put food on the table in their households totaled more than 780,000.

National figures not only show the persistent joblessness that is plaguing communities across the U.S. but also that the country needs sustained federal action on UI until the recovery is underway.

The latest available data find that North Carolina is losing at least $356 million each week in household income, impacting spending and the broader local economy. Across the country, researchers point to problems with the Lost Wages Assistance program not meeting the need and running out of core funding too soon to sustain workers through the crisis.

“Federal action on Unemployment Insurance is critical to keeping jobless workers connected to the labor market and ensuring that families aren’t pushed deeper into poverty as a result of job losses from the pandemic,” said Alexandra Sirota, Director of Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “Taking action on unemployment now can make sure that people can pay rent and put food on the table, and will provide the foundation our economy needs to begin to recover. Absent this action, hardship will continue to ripple through communities.”

Julia Hawes is the Director of Communications for the NC Justice Center.

Commentary, COVID-19, News

Lawmakers, workers, advocates call for NC to rebuild its unemployment system

Rep. Vernetta Alston

Sen. Wiley Nickel

Rep. Yvonne Holley

North Carolina lawmakers, workers, and advocates gathered for a virtual press conference yesterday to call for the General Assembly to move forward with changes to North Carolina’s unemployment insurance (UI) system. Even before the COVID-19 public health and economic crisis, North Carolina long provided the worst UI in the nation, offering too little in benefits for too short a duration to too few people who needed it.

“More than 1 million North Carolinians, including many of our friends and neighbors, have joined the ranks of the unemployed,” said Representative Vernetta Alston, one of the primary sponsors for House Bill 1075, which aims to modify the state UI system. “Despite that, we have done very little in the NC General Assembly to do more for them and to do more for all our workers.”

Changes made in 2013 broke North Carolina’s UI system, which helps people stay connected to the labor market and provides workers a portion of the lost wages from the unprecedented job loss due to COVID-19.

“North Carolina lawmakers waged a war on the ability of working families to survive any kind of crisis, let alone a global crisis,” Rep. Alston said. “Workers are suffering, the unemployed are suffering, and bad policy led us here… I believe together we can salvage our economy and support our workers at the same time but we have to act quickly.”

UI can strengthen and sustain the state’s recovery from this downturn but only if lawmakers reverse the 2013 changes, ensuring workers can access the system and have adequate wage replacement while the economy recovers. Rep. Alston said HB1075/SB792 is a step in the right direction.

Corey Hill, President of UAW Local 3520, represents workers at the Freightliner truck manufacturing plant in Cleveland, North Carolina. He has been speaking out on unemployment insurance since lawmakers made changes to the system in 2013.

“It took a pandemic to get us here today to get in front of people and talk about this,” Hill said. I’ve been talking about this since 2013 because of the effect it had on my community.”

Lawmakers need to act today, Hill said, not just for those who need benefits and their families but their communities as well.

“It’s never too late to do what’s right for the working class people in North Carolina,” Hill said. “We’re better than this. We need to take care of the people who put in labor every day… people who make this economy run. They’re the ones we’re neglecting for not acting on this bill.”

Senator Wiley Nickel, a primary sponsor on SB792, said North Carolina started the year with the worst system in the country in terms of maximum weekly benefits, duration of benefits, and a program that is intentionally hard to access. Nickel worked with members of the NC Senate to raise the weekly maximum benefit but the provision was blocked in the NC House. Read more

News

STATEMENT FROM THE NC JUSTICE CENTER: It is immoral, irrational, and unacceptable to hold our nation hostage over building a border wall

RALEIGH (January 8, 2019) – President Trump’s speech tonight sought to further hold our nation hostage over the building of a useless, massively expensive, and politically fabricated border wall – one that few want, security experts agree wastes our time and resources, and further divides our country before construction even begins. The government shutdown over this immoral and irrational political stunt has now led to hundreds of thousands of federal employees missing paychecks and halted vital services, affecting families and children across the United States.

The only crisis at the border is the one that was caused by the Trump administration’s cruel policies towards children and families—policies that actually jeopardize, rather than enhance, our security. Any crisis here was politically manufactured by the President.

It is further unacceptable to negotiate new immigration policies while the government is shut down. Calling for “compromise” creates a false equivalency between thoughtful discourse over reasonable, pragmatic policy options and the demands of a chaotic White House administration using a ransom note to dictate the way forward.

There is no ransom here to be paid; no bargaining to be done. Holding the nation, innocent federal employees, and lawmakers hostage in the name of a divisive, archaic border wall is harmful not only to our democracy, but in concrete ways, to millions of families and local economies across the nation. We are better than that as a people.

The vast majority of Americans oppose the wall and want the government reopened immediately. The Justice Center urges our North Carolina lawmakers to support bipartisan government funding bills that will end this reckless shutdown.

Commentary, Trump Administration

President Trump’s proposal to “improve” border security and enforcement attacks the immigrant community

President Donald Trump took immediate and counterproductive steps on Day 6 of his administration to appease the hateful, anti-immigrant faction among his supporters by announcing immediate and rapid changes to U.S. border security and immigration enforcement.

Expanding the use of local law enforcement as a tool for mass deportations of immigrants runs counter to our nation’s highest ideals and eviscerates the trust local law enforcement has cultivated and needs to keep our communities safe. North Carolina has seen this picture before, and it ends in racial profiling and violation of civil rights.

The President’s announcement of the immediate construction of a costly, ineffective, and unnecessary wall for our southern border is a sledgehammer to the Statue of Liberty and an affront to our core principles of protecting those who are fleeing unspeakable violence and persecution. This wall invites ridicule from the rest of the world as well as long-lasting animosity from our allies.

Read more

Policing

Statement from the NC Justice Center on the shootings and protests in Charlotte

Our hearts remain heavy in the wake of the shootings and protests in our state one week ago. There are still many things we don’t know about the tragic events in Charlotte. What we do know is that — regardless of specifics — the deaths of Keith Lamont Scott, Terence Crutcher, Tyre King, and countless others are too often a consequence of systemic racism, which results in racial disparities and inequities that frequently lead to communities of color being policed differently and denied both due process of law and full protections of the legal system.

At the NC Justice Center, we are committed to justice for all people in our state. Acknowledgment of the existence of community inequities and difference in treatment for people of color – not just in the criminal justice system – is the first step to reducing those racial inequities, whether they are in:

    • Education, where a disproportionate number of African-American children face expulsion and attend high-poverty schools;
    • Housing, whether it be historic redlining, segregated public housing, or other discriminatory practices;
    • Our economy, wherein an African-American male with an associate’s degree has around the same chance of getting a job as a white male with just a high school diploma;
    • Health, as people of color are more likely to go without health care due to cost and face higher uninsured rates;
    • And, indeed, North Carolina’s own criminal justice system where African-American men compose more than 50 percent of the state’s prison population.

Conversations about inequities are difficult and complicated, but that’s exactly why we need to have them. Allowing these destructive and divisive disparities to continue, as well as any discriminatory systems that encourage or condone these continued inequities, erodes public trust. That is why we feel it is important for us, and like-minded organizations, to use our voice and our resources to combat racial injustice and lift up equitable policies in our state.