With the release last month of the latest labor market figures, the Budget & Tax Center has updated as well its estimate of the number of missing workers in North Carolina’s labor market.  This measure estimates the number of workers who would be in the labor market, looking for work, if job opportunities were stronger.  In June 2014, the number of missing workers remained elevated at 241,445.  If these workers were counted in the unemployment rate, that rate would be 11.5 percent rather than the official 6.4 percent for that month.

BTC - Missing Workers June 2014

In combination with the state’s persistent jobs deficit, the missing worker measure points to a still weak labor market with too few jobs for those who want to work.

Pat McCrory 4There is a lot of lousy stuff happening the world of immigration these days and, lord knows, the Obama administration deserves its share of the blame — mostly for its unfortunate kowtowing to the xenophobic right and its aggressive deportation of thousands of good people who pose no threat to our country.

That said, there can be no doubt that the lion’s share of the blame for the current disastrous situation lies with those who stubbornly oppose comprehensive immigration reform that would provide a path to citizenship for “DREAM’ers” and millions who are here to stay while dramatically increasing the opportunities for legal immigration for Central Americans fleeing broken societies.

Given this factual backdrop, this week’s award for most ridiculous, self-serving and utterly irrelevant “contribution” to the discussion has to be this letter to the President from a group of six conservative Republican governors that includes North Carolina’s own Pat McCrory. In it, the six (which includes far right “humanitarians” like Scott Walker and Sam Brownback) call for a “plan” that will deal with the current crisis in which thousands of children have crossed the border in a “humanitarian and practical way.”

But, of course, the not-so-thinly-veiled undercurrent of the letter is plain: the Guvs want Obama to make these kids go away ASAP.

“More importantly, we are concerned that the failure to return the unaccompanied children will send a message that will encourage a much larger movement towards our southern border.”

And naturally, the letter provides zero in the way of specifics as to how to do this — much less an endorsement of comprehensive immigration reform that is the only hope for making a dent.

The bottom line: Gov. McCrory has more than enough policy crises of his own making to deal with in North Carolina. The last thing he needs to be doing is trying to tell President Obama what to do about an intractable issue like immigration reform when he can’t even control Art Pope, Phil Berger or Thom Tillis.

Get Covered AmericaThe good folks over at Get Covered America, who have been working tirelessly and with great success to get hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians into affordable health insurance over the last several months despite the mean-spirited obstructionism of the state’s conservative political leadership, issued the following common sense response to today’s competing U.S. Court of Appeals rulings:

Today the Federal Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which covers North Carolina, ruled in the King v Burwell case that the U.S. Internal Revenue Service does have authority to issue tax subsidies in states with a federally facilitated marketplace such as North Carolina. In a separate ruling today, the federal court in DC ruled differently. The end result, is that nothing changes for the 357,584 North Carolinians that already enrolled in insurance on the federal marketplace and nothing changes for those who can still enroll now. While the legal process takes its course, Get Covered America-North Carolina staff and volunteers will continue to reach out to uninsured North Carolinians and let them know about the financial help that continues to be available to them during the current Special Enrollment Period and the upcoming Open Enrollment Period beginning in November. The financial assistance made available by the Affordable Care Act to help consumers afford health coverage has made a huge difference for thousands of North Carolinia families. In fact, 91% of North Carolinians who enrolled in insurance on the federal marketplace are receiving financial assistance to pay for it. The clear intention of the law is to make health insurance affordable for all Americans. (Emphasis supplied.)

A new report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation provides a sobering look at how children are faring in North Carolina.

The 2014 KIDS COUNT Data Book, which looks at 16 separate factors, ranks our state 38th in overall economic well-being, 28th in education, and 32nd in health.

KIDS-COUNTpoverty-graphic1

Source: KIDS COUNT Data book http://www.aecf.org

The annual report concludes:

‘Although unemployment is slowly declining, job growth has been concentrated in low-wage sectors and in nonstandard employment that tends to be less stable and offer few or no benefits, such as health insurance and paid sick leave.

A stronger labor market and an increase in job quality, along with continued efforts to boost the education and training levels of low-income parents, would help to further reduce child poverty.’

In North Carolina, 26% of children lived in poverty in 2012, according to the new report.

Locally, the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle is working to help address this problem by creating long-term solutions to hunger for North Carolina’s low-income families.  To learn more about this week’s special HungerFreeNC community movement, click here.

Hear more about food insecurity from the Food Shuttle’s executive director Jill Bullard on News and Views with Chris Fitzsimon.

Also be sure to watch Thursday’s documentary “Hungry for Answers” at 7:00 p.m. on WRAL-TV.

A unanimous panel of the Fourth Circuit in Richmond has upheld the availability of Affordable Care Act tax credits to health insurance purchasers on both state exchanges and the federal exchange.

The decision in King v. Burwell comes just hours after the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a contrary ruling in Halbig v. Burwell.

Writing for the court, Judge Roger Gregory said:

The plaintiffs-appellants bring this suit challenging the validity of an Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) final rule implementing the premium tax credit provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the “ACA” or “Act”). The final rule interprets the ACA as authorizing the IRS to grant tax credits to individuals who purchase health insurance on both state-run insurance “Exchanges” and federally-facilitated “Exchanges” created and operated by the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”). The plaintiffs contend that the IRS’s interpretation is contrary to the language of the statute, which, they assert, authorizes tax credits only for individuals who purchase insurance on state-run Exchanges. For reasons explained below, we find that the applicable statutory language is ambiguous and subject to multiple interpretations. Applying deference to the IRS’s determination, however, we uphold the rule as a permissible exercise of the agency’s discretion. We thus affirm the judgment of the district court.

Judge Andre Davis, who took senior status in late February, took the court’s analysis one step further, writing in concurrence that, ambiguity aside, tax credits should be available to all consumers regardless of the exchange on which they purchased their health insurance.

Davis said:

I am pleased to join in full the majority’s holding that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act “permits” the Internal Revenue Service to decide whether premium tax credits should be available to consumers who purchase health insurance coverage on federally-run Exchanges. But I am also persuaded that, even if one takes the view that the Act is not ambiguous in the manner and for the reasons described, the necessary outcome of this case is precisely the same. That is, I would hold that Congress has mandated in the Act that the IRS provide tax credits to all consumers regardless of whether the Exchange on which they purchased their health insurance coverage is a creature of the state or the federal bureaucracy.

Davis acknowledged the right of those who challenged the subsidy provision to forego purchasing health insurance on an exchange, but he added this:

What they may not do is rely on our help to deny to millions of Americans desperately-needed health insurance through a tortured, nonsensical construction of a federal statute whose manifest purpose, as revealed by the wholeness and coherence of its text and structure, could not be more clear.

In both cases, the decisions may be reviewed by a full panel of  judges in the circuit (en banc), and others are percolating in district courts elsewhere across the country. But a resulting, continuing conflict in the circuits increases the likelihood of a review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the meantime, as the Obama administration has indicated, subsidies will continue.

That’s good news for North Carolina residents who purchased health insurance on the federal exchange. (North Carolina did not set up a state exchange). Of the 358,000 who did so, 91 percent (325,000) did so with the assistance of subsidies.

Read the full opinion in King v. Burwell here.