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As state leaders deride the unemployed as lazy good-for-nothings and slash their insurance benefits, the news about finding a job job remains discouraging for a large swath of North Carolinians. Here’s the latest sobering news about the “Carolina Comeback” from economist Patrick McHugh:

“Unemployment is still a major problem in North Carolina. The headline unemployment rate has inched up from 5.3% to 5.9% since the beginning of the year, but that still doesn’t tell the whole story. When people who have been forced out of the job market since the Great Recession by a lack of job openings are included, the actual unemployment rate is still in double digits, almost twice what is commonly reported. This gap between the official unemployment rate and the reality on the ground can skew the policy conversation, making it look like the good times are back when that’s not really the case.

The US economy has improved since facing down the prospect of complete collapse a few years ago, which has buoyed employment prospects in North Carolina. However, any talk of a complete recovery is grossly overstated. There are likely more than 230,000 North Carolinians who would like to work, but don’t show up in the official figures. When those “missing workers” are included, the total tally of North Carolinians who can’t find a job rises past half a million. Read More

Commentary

unemploymentVeteran Raleigh News & Observer political reporter Rob Christensen, a confirmed centrist who has sometimes frustrated progressives down through the years with his extremely high tolerance for conservative policy blather, is right on the money this morning with a new and powerful takedown of the state’s Scrooge-like unemployment insurance policies.

In addition to explaining and dissecting the state’s U.I. system and the recent conservative-designed changes that have made it the “stingiest…in the country” in succinct terms, Christensen takes an important  extra step and speaks from the heart in the conclusion to his essay:

“So why are our political leaders behaving this way when most of their constituents punch a clock or fill out a time card?

Here are several thoughts. Businesses bankroll most of the legislator’s campaigns and finance a battery of lobbyists on Jones Street. There is almost no one to speak for people who get laid off.

There is also a view among some conservatives that unemployment insurance is, in the words of the Civitas Institute, “paying people not to work.’’

This view, I might add, is contrary to my life experience. Three of my grandparents worked in a textile mill. My father was a factory worker. I worked in a textile mill and other manufacturing plants in my early years.

I have known lots of hard working people – family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues – who have been laid off. It is a terrifying experience. You don’t know how you will take care of your family or meet your mortgage payments. Often your self-esteem takes a beating. The modest amount of unemployment insurance doesn’t even begin to cover living expenses.

There are apparently some people who believe the American worker is a slug just waiting for a chance to sit on his or her duff. I think they are wrong. I believe most Americans just want a chance to earn a decent living.”

Click here to read and share the entire column. It deserves it.

Commentary
Photo: WRAL.com

Photo: WRAL.com

As we noted in this space yesterday morning, there were some things to like in Gov. Pat McCrory’s State of the State speech Wednesday evening. For the most part, the Governor sounded more like good ol’ Moderate Mayor Pat rather than the champion of reactionary change who signed some of the nation’s most extreme legislation during his first two years in office.

Still, there were moments when Ebenezer Scrooge McCrory was on display — perhaps most notably when he talked about unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation. In both segments, the Governor’s message was as clear as it was callous and offensive: the Governor believes (and his policies are premised on the notion) that large numbers of North Carolina workers are lazy and don’t want to work.

How else to explain his crowing about having enacted the harshest unemployment insurance cuts in U.S. history and then repeatedly professing a desire to create jobs for all who “want to work”? And if one had any idea that these repeated references were simply an awkward if unnecessary nod to retired folks and, perhaps, the disabled, these were pretty thoroughly trashed when the Governor went off on a lengthy diatribe about how his “examination of workers compensation estimates that 40 percent of workers costs are related to abuse or outright fraud.”

Say what, Governor? Do you really believe that large numbers of people don’t want to work and that that’s why some were surviving on unemployment insurance during the Great Recession? Do you really believe that two out of five worker’s comp claims are bogus?

If so, perhaps you should have checked ahead of time with Rep. Jason Saine. Saine, of course, is the GOP state lawmaker who only managed to get off unemployment insurance by getting elected to the House of Representatives.

Or, perhaps he could have talked with one of the state’s most respected and experienced worker’s comp lawyers — Raleigh’s Leonard Jernigan. As WRAL.com reported this morning: Read More

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McCrory SOS

Photo: WRAL.com

Be sure to check out today’s Fitzsimon File for a more thorough reaction to last night’s State of the State speech. For now, however, here are few preliminary observations:

The good: Pat McCrory can display a winning personality and there’s a reason he’s won a lot of elections. Even with all the mispronunciations and malapropisms, he can be very likeable and sincere. This was on display last night as he related stories about dirty water fountains, his first job as a student teacher and driving on North Carolina highways. He’s not a fat cat or a right-wing ideologue at heart — which partially explains why he’s often so bad at playing those roles on TV. The Governor likes tangible things to fix — which is one of the reasons he’s much better at talking about rehabilitating run down state buildings than discussing large, overarching issues like taxes and health care.

The bad: Unfortunately, the Governor just doesn’t seem to (or doesn’t want to) grasp the enormous gap that exists between his rhetoric (and his espoused ideal of Eisenhower Republicanism) and the policies that he has implemented over the past 25 months. Simply put, a genuine Eisenhower Republican would not have helped impose the most draconian unemployment insurance cuts in American history, enacted huge tax giveaways to the top 1%, denied affordable health insurance to hundreds of thousands of working North Carolinians or presided over the decimation of the state agency charged with protecting our rapidly declining natural environment.

The ugly: The most disappointing moment in the speech came Read More

Commentary

poverty916-1Today’s nominee for most maddening, hypocritical and self-serving tradition in the world of politics is the spectacle of politicians who dedicate the their professional lives to de-funding public services — especially those that serve people  in need — solemnly preaching to us on holidays and/or when the weather is bad about the importance of helping the poor.

Here’s North Carolina’s ultra-right, anti-public safety net Lieutenant Governor this morning on Facebook:

“With these incredibly low temperatures sweeping across our state, let us not forget all of those less fortunate than us. Last month First Lady McCrory and Alice Forest teamed up with the Durham Rescue Mission for a canned food drive. We have been informed that over 2,500 cans of food were collected, and nearly $2,000 donated!

With the cold weather we are experiencing this week, the Durham Rescue Mission is expecting an influx of people. Thank you to to everyone who donates their time and resources to causes like this across our state. Your generosity will ensure that nutritious meals will be available for all who come.”

Isn’t that special? The same fellow who crusades on an almost daily basis against Medicaid expansion, unemployment insurance and any number of other essential safety net programs that would actually make a difference for low income people is all about tossing a few cans of food (and maybe a night in a shelter) to the poor when the weather is bad.

Chris Fitzsimon rightfully described this noxious phenomenon this past Thanksgiving as “cynically suspending the blame.”

“But there’s a disconnect somehow in the holiday message and the rhetoric we hear from many political leaders and right-wing pundits the rest of the time.

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