Shooting ourselves in the foot

Michigan and the seven other states that cut unemployment benefits in the wake of the Great Recession caused financial hardship for unemployed workers and failed to boost the overall economic outlooks of the states, a new report from the Economic Policy Institute concludes.

Problems with the unemployment system actually stemmed from underfunding the state trust funds in good times, rather than paying out benefits too generously, the report concludes. And cutting benefits not only shortchanged jobless workers and their families, it undermined the countercyclical role of the unemployment system that is designed to kick in when times are tough.

In the eight states cutting benefits, African American workers made up a more disproportionate share of the long-term unemployed than African American workers in the other 42 states.

The Michigan Legislature cut the basic period of unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to 20 weeks beginning in January 2012 — even as unemployment remained high and long-term unemployment took its toll on families across the state.

In State Cuts to Jobless Benefits Did Not Help Workers or Taxpayers, EPI Research and Policy Director Josh Bivens, economist Valerie Wilson, and economic analyst Joshua Smith provide an overview of the U.S. unemployment insurance system, explain the interaction between federal and state financing of unemployment insurance, and examine the economic conditions of states that cut the duration and dollar amount of jobless benefits.

“There’s no evidence of any benefit to reducing the length or dollar amount of unemployment insurance when the economy is so weak,” said Bivens. “It’s hard to understand why states would shoot themselves in the foot like this.” (more…)

Need Facts About Your County?

How much does a parent need to earn to be able to afford a two-bedroom apartment in your county? What percentage of children receive free or reduced-price lunches at school? What percent of the population in your county is Native American?

Answers to questions such as these can be found in the new, updated county fact sheets called Mapping the Facts, by the Michigan League for Public Policy. We developed these fact sheets for advocates, policymakers and concerned citizens. The sheets have been updated with the latest data available, including 2012 poverty statistics. (more…)

Vets lose benefits as we celebrate Fourth of July

Just as we head into one of our most patriotic celebrations of the year next week (the Fourth of July), a new estimate out shows that 285,000 unemployed veterans will lose jobless benefits by the end of June, including thousands of out-of-work vets in Michigan.

Extended benefits known as Emergency Unemployment Compensation expired Dec. 28. Congress’ failure to extend the benefits means that 1.3 million workers were cut off from unemployment benefits nationwide at the end of last year, with an additional 1.6 million exhausting their regular state benefits in the first six months of this year. Included in those numbers are nearly 300,000 jobless vets, Chad Stone, chief economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, estimates. (more…)

Senator’s claim smells fishy

Two out of the last three times the minimum wage was raised, Michigan’s unemployment rate decreased in the years that followed.

That indisputable fact makes a recent claim from state Sen. Pat Colbeck, R- Canton, surprising.

The Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News reported last week the senator’s assertion that raising the minimum wage will decrease the rate of employment “every time.” This false claim needs to be corrected. (more…)

Ramp up pressure on Unemployment Insurance

“I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.”  ~ President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Sidney Hillman and other labor leaders after his election in 1932.

“I don’t think there is a great sense of pressure on our members.”  ~ Deputy Whip Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., responding to a question about renewing long-term Unemployment Insurance benefits, 2014.

The U.S. Senate passed a bill to extend Emergency Unemployment Compensation Monday evening with bipartisan support and with benefits retroactive to Dec. 28 when the program expired. Yet U.S. House leaders show little interest in bringing it up for a vote. (more…)

Raise Michigan raises hope

The possibility of a long-overdue increase to Michigan’s minimum wage is on the horizon with the kickoff of the Raise Michigan campaign to put the issue before voters on the fall ballot.

If successful, it will raise Michigan’s $7.40 an hour wage minimum wage to $10.10 over three years and index it to inflation. It also includes a gradual increase of the $2.65/hour “tipped” wage for restaurant servers.

With so many problems to report on – rising income inequality, growing number of low-income working moms and shrinking windows of opportunity for our young people – it’s good to be able to talk about a positive solution. (more…)

Unemployment drama redux

It is December again. Along with the annual holiday season comes what is beginning to feel like an annual drama: Congress approaching year’s end without reauthorizing long-term Unemployment Insurance benefits.

If Congress does not reauthorize Emergency Unemployment Compensation, up to 189,700 Michigan workers could lose benefits as they continue to look for jobs: 43,800 immediately, an additional 86,500 if their unemployment goes beyond 20 weeks before June 2014, and 59,400 more if they go beyond 20 weeks between July and December 2014. (more…)

A gift for the future

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 The holidays are upon us, and I’d like to offer Michigan the gift that keeps on giving – 10 ways to invest in our future.

The generations that came before us knew what it took to build a Mighty Mac, freeways and strong universities. Yet today, when you hear about economic development, you often hear about tax cuts, not investments. We can’t cut our way to prosperity. We simply must pay it forward for future generations and give them the investments they need for a strong economy.

A recent report by Senior Policy Analyst Pat Sorenson offers 10 ways to invest in our economy. It’s the League’s gift for the future:

1.
Invest
In early childhood.
2. Make sure all kids get
a great education – and a diploma!
3. Make college affordable 4. Encourage good health
with access to physical and mental health treatment 5. Offer help
with basic needs to those who cannot work or who cannot find
a job. 6. Invest in community services to attract businesses and young
professionals. 7. Generate revenue by strengthening the personal income tax,
based on the ability to pay. 8. Make sure businesses pay their fair share 9. Bring sales tax
into the modern age by taxing services and Internet sales. 10. End ineffective tax breaks
and put funds
into what works.

Happy holidays, and make sure to sign up for our Dec. 9 policy forum!

– Gilda Z. Jacobs

Walking the walk with infant mortality

Factors that may drive Michigan’s tragically high infant mortality rate include stress, unemployment, poverty and neighborhood safety in addition to what might be thought of as the more traditional reasons, such as lack of healthcare or poor safe sleep practices, according to a new report from the Michigan Department of Community Health. The report takes a broad look at why Michigan’s rate is so high and in particular why an African American infant in Michigan is 2.6 more times likely to die before reaching the child’s first birthday than a white infant. (more…)

As economy improves, food assistance goes down

A new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that spending for the food assistance program called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) fell slightly in fiscal year 2013. This trend is expected to continue as the economy recovers and fewer low-income people qualify for SNAP.

As seen in previous recessions, this is expected enrollment behavior for SNAP: Caseloads go up when unemployment rises and the economy struggles and then they go down when the economy recovers and more jobs become available. The recent increase in SNAP caseloads is due almost exclusively to the deep recession and our current slow recovery.  The Congressional Budget Office predicts that SNAP spending will return to its 1995 levels by 2019. (more…)

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