Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for April, 2012

At Least 30 Countries Have Unemployment Benefits More Generous Than The U.S.

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

Image: Pat GarofaloAccording to data from the International Monetary Fund analyzed by Tim Vlandas, there are at least 30 countries with unemployment benefits that are more generous than those that go to American workers. The University of Missouri-St. Louis’ Kenneth Thomas broke the data down:

The metric used is the gross replacement rate (GRR) the ratio of unemployment benefits to a worker’s previous wages. The United States gives, on average, a miserly 27.5% of previous wages in unemployment benefits, behind 17 OECD members, though ahead of 11 others (no data was given for OECD members Iceland, Luxembourg, Mexico, Slovak Republic, and Slovenia). Not only that, the U.S. falls behind 13 non-OECD members, including Algeria, Taiwan, and Ukraine, all of which have at least double the replacement rate of the U.S.

The U.S. does rank ahead of the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia, but trails Egypt, Azerbaijan, and Tunisia in terms of the amount of income replaced by unemployment insurance. And in the wake of the Great Recession, instead of fashioning a better unemployment insurance system, Republicans across the country have slashed benefits, even while some, such as Florida, have high unemployment rates. Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers in Congress have blocked andvoted against several benefit extensions.

But it remains the case that there are nearly four unemployed job seekers for every available job opening, making unemployment benefits a critical source of income for those who can’t find work through no fault of their own. And contrary to conservative claims that unemployment benefits are a “lifestyle,” those unemployed workers receiving UI stay unemployed less than two weeks longer than those who receive no benefits at all, according to research by the San Francisco Federal Reserve.

In 2009, average unemployment benefits were just $310 per week, with some states paying much less (like Mississippi, with its $192 weekly benefit). As the IMF data shows, that simply isn’t keeping up with the standard set by other developed (or not so developed) nations.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on April 16, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Pat Garofalo is Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Pat’s work has also appeared in The Nation, U.S. News & World Report, The Guardian, the Washington Examiner, and In These Times. He has been a guest on MSNBC and Al-Jazeera television, as well as many radio shows. Pat graduated from Brandeis University, where he was the editor-in-chief of The Brandeis Hoot, Brandeis’ community newspaper, and worked for the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life.

Initial Unemployment Claims Rise to 380,000

Friday, April 13th, 2012

unemployment_claims_4_12_12
The Department of Labor is reporting that initial claims for unemployment insurance rose to 380,000 last week, an increase of 13,000 over the previous week’s revised figure. The four-week moving average, a measure preferred by many analysts because it smooths out volatility, was 368,500, an increase of 4,250 from the previous week’s revised average of 364,250.

The general rule is that a level of unemployment claims below 375,000 is associated with dropping unemployment levels; that being the case, last week’s figure of 380,000 is not good news, especially coming on the heels of last week’s weak jobs report. However, there’s a reason we look at the four-week moving average—weekly numbers do have a lot of volatility, so the question is whether this week’s number signals the beginning of a trend. Though this is the highest level of unemployment claims we’ve seen since January, not all that many months ago it would have looked like good news.

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on April 12, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

Harvard Students, HEI Hotel Workers Score Mutual Victory

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

David MobergAs undergraduate students at Harvard, Devi Lockwood and Jia Hui Lee would typically have little reason to know Rosa de la Rosa or Heather Nichols, who work just a few miles from Harvard Yard cleaning guest rooms and staffing the front desk, respectively, at Le Meridien Hotel.

But Lockwood and Lee, overcoming the classic town-gown social divide, have successfully joined with fellow students in the school’s Studet-Labor Action Movement to win a major victory that may help Rosa and Nichols win a union to help change what they describe as appalling working conditions at the hotel.

After several years of campaigning and following student victories at Yale, Brown, Vanderbilt, Princeton and other elite schools, Harvard students persuaded university authorities to review their investment in HEI, a owner and operator of hotels. HEI raises investments primarily from prestigious university funds, then strips down costs and re-sells the hotels at what is promised to be a hefty profit. Harvard has invested around $70 million in HEI, according to researchers with UNITE HERE, the union organizing Le Meridien and other HEI workers, making it HEI’s third largest financial backer.

HEI’s drive for efficiency, profit, and a high price when it flips the hotel leads to overwork, poor pay, abusive treatment and arbitrary supervision of workers like Rosa, 57, and Nichols, 23. “One big reason I want a union is how they treat people–and the pay,” Rosa said. “There are a lot of people being overworked, sometimes given the work of three  people. Then sometimes they don’t give people enough work. They charge a lot for health and dental insurance. I have to pay for rent and food, and there’s just not much money left.”

“One thing our hotel is notorious for is its unclear descriptions of jobs,” Nichols said. “We have job descriptions, but they also say that the job includes anything else management decides. They’ve cut so many people you’re left doing six or seven jobs. It can be exhausting and frustrating.” Compared to her previous hotel job, the pay is low: $13.75 an hour vs. $16 an hour at a locally owned hotel. And compared to the previous management under Hilton, Rosa said, raises are rare and skimpy. Nichols can’t afford the insurance, she said, nor her uninsured medical expenses. “I have a serious illness,” she said. “I have to spend $400 a month on medicine, but I can’t afford it, so I’m continually tired, sick, bleeding and dizzy. It’s frustrating and debilitating.”

Adding to the misery, at first she was hired part-time, then shifted to 40 hours without any benefits of full-time work, and now her hours of work fluctuate. “They play games,” she said about her supervisors, who play “power trips” with workers and ignore them or speak rudely to them. “They just don’t care—don’t care if service is good, don’t care if employees are happy.”

Back at Harvard, students met HEI workers and learned about both their lives and the university’s involvement as part owner.

“There’s a hotel down the road, Le Meridien, and Harvard owns more than 10 percent,” Lockwood, a sophomore who just recently became involved with SLAM, said. “The working conditions are horrific. One man who worked in the kitchen, his hours were so badly scheduled he would have to leave his child around seven years old home alone. These are people’s lives, and as students we’re implicated in what the university does. It’s time for Harvard to live up to its responsibilities.”

That’s the gist of the message Lockwood delivered to Harvard President Drew Faust on March 26, when she signed up for the once-a-semester opportunity for students to talk with the school’s leader. She was so nervous she remembers few details of the meeting, except that Faust was “diplomatic,” and that as Lockwood left,  she gave the president her pin with a slash mark through HEI.

On March 31, Faust’s assistant sent her an e-mail that Harvard Management Company decided not to invest in HEI in the future, a big blow to the private equity firm’s anticipated solicitation of a new round of funds this year. Unlike authorities at Brown, however, which linked its decision not to invest further to HEI labor practices, Harvard said its decision was based on HEI’s portfolio and strategy, “not on concerns about HEI’s practices.”

The same day Lockwood met with Faust, Lee joined with a delegation of HEI workers, who presented a petition for a fair process of union recognition signed by more than 70 percent of Le Meridien workers.

A senior who had been involved with SLAM for three years and had learned how working together students could make the world better, Lee was surprised at how the hotel manager treated the employees and the “power inequalities” in the workplace. At first the manager retreated into his office, then made some phone calls, and came back out but refused to accept the petitions, all the while acting “very confrontational.”

“The workers feel empowered and inspired by the actions students are willing to take,” says Leigh Shelton, a researcher with UNITE HERE on the HEI campaign. “It helps them keep going to know they have the support and a point of pressure.”

HEI may be feeling pressure not only from the withdrawal of its major investors but also from dozens of wage and hour violations and complaints from the National Labor Relations Board. UNITE HERE is increasing the number of hotels being organized and bargaining at a Hollywood HEI property, where local economic development regulations kept management neutral. And more campaigns are developing at universities like Michigan, Notre Dame and Chicago, says UNITE HERE researcher Riddhi Mehta-Neugebauer.

“In this country, the first thing is the money,” housekeeper Rosa said of the latest campus interruption of investment flowing to HEI. “So a shift in investment could make the difference. Hopefully, by getting the money out, it will help the workers to change things.” And that’s what both the workers and students want.

This blog originally appeared in Working in These Times on April 11, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: David Moberg, a senior editor of In These Times, has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy. He can be reached at davidmoberg@inthesetimes.com.

BREAKING: White House To Delay Implementation Of Key Anti-Discrimination Order

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

Igor VolskyAfter months of dodging questions about the progress of an executive order prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in federal contracting, the White House won’t issue the directive, but will instead study whether gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees require employment protections, ThinkProgress has learned. The news comes after White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett held a meeting with LGBT advocates to discuss the matter.

Existing studies suggest that 11 to 16 million additional employees would have gained protections as a result of the measure, since many “federal contractors do not currently have those policies, and they employ millions of workers.” Among them are Jarrod Scarbrough and Les Sewell, a gay couple who attended Monday’s Easter Egg Roll at the White House to ask Obama to sign the order. “Jarrod works for a company that the government contracts through, and we live in New Mexico — we’re actually protected, we don’t have to worry too much about being discriminated against. However, in June we’re moving to Florida where that protection, we’ll no longer have that,” Sewell explained during an appearance on MSNBC. “Without this administrative action, Jarrod could lose his job and then where would this family be?”

Equality advocates who had been working to advance the measure are asking similar questions. “Today’s news that the White House’s Council of Economic Advisors will launch a study to better understand workplace discrimination against gay and transgender Americans is confounding and disappointing,” said Winnie Stachelberg, the Executive Vice President for External Affairs at the Center for American Progress. “The President should use his executive authority to extend existing nondiscrimination requirements of federal contractors to include sexual orientation and gender identity,” she added.

Earlier this month, 72 Congressional lawmakers urged the administration to enact the order, noting that it would “extend important workplace protections to millions of Americans, while at the same time laying the groundwork for Congressional passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).” Data show that “43 percent of LGB people and 90 percent of transgender people have experienced workplace discrimination” and that the overwhelming majority of Americans — 73 percent — would have supported a measure prohibiting it.

The delay represents a departure for the president who committed to supporting a “formal written policy of non-discrimination that includes sexual orientation and gender identity or expression…for all Federal contractors” as a candidate in 2008 and pledged to fight for the community in 2009 and 2011. “I’m here with a simple message: I’m here with you in that fight,” Obama told the Human Rights Campaign in 2009, adding, “Nobody in America should be fired because they’re gay, despite doing a great job and meeting their responsibilities. It’s not fair. It’s not right. We’re going to put a stop to it.”

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on April 11, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

*Disclaimer: The thoughts and opinions of this author are his own and not those of Workplace Fairness.

About the Author: Igor Volsky is the Health Care and LGBT Editor for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Igor is co-author of Howard Dean’s Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform and has appeared on MSNBC, CNN, Fox Business, Fox News, and CNBC television, and has been a guest on many radio shows. Prior to joining the Center, Igor interned with Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), hosted his own political radio show at Marist College, and edited and published a political newspaper in high school. Igor grew up in Russia, Israel, and New Jersey.

Workers Stay on Job as AT&T Contracts Expire and Negotiations Continue to Avert a Strike

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

Laura ClawsonContracts for about 40,000 unionized AT&T landline workers represented by the Communications Workers of America expired over the weekend. Four divisions are governed by separate contracts; 9,000 AT&T Mobility workers ratified a new contract last week.

The landline workers had voted March 31 to authorize a strike if new contracts weren’t reached, but they have continued reporting to work under the terms of the now-expired contracts as negotiations continue:

“We’re committed to continuing to work together with the union to reach an agreement that will allow us to continue to provide and protect” jobs, Marty Richter, a spokesman for AT&T, said in an e-mail after 5 p.m. [Sunday.]

On a call late last week with members:

[CWA Vice President Seth] Rosen summed up the goals of all four negotiations: “We have a very clear common goal that when it is all added up — wages, benefits, the complete package — that every single member, from the lowest paid to the highest, will be better off at the end of the contract than he or she was at the beginning.”

As is usual in negotiations these days, health care costs are at issue, as well as scheduling and job security questions.

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on April 9, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

Newsflash: Youth and Good Looks Work Well on TV.

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

In 2010, seasoned Southern California weatherman Kyle Hunter got wind of a weather anchor opening at KCBS, a Los Angeles-based television news station. Mr. Hunter, who at 42 had accumulated 22 years of broadcasting experience and has a degree in geosciences and broadcast meteorology, contacted the station’s management about the job immediately. He never heard back.

Instead, KCBS hired Jackie Johnson, a 32-year-old female weather forecaster from its sister station, KCAL. Eager to fill the new void at KCAL, Mr. Hunter then contacted that station, but was told in an e-mail that there was “not an opening for you here now.” He later learned that 25-year-old weather anchor Evelyn Taft snagged the spot.

Mr. Hunter, an award winning, certified meteorologist, claims the stations hired young, attractive females, instead of qualified males like himself, in an effort to hook more male viewers. He is suing CBS Broadcasting in California state court for gender and age discrimination in violation of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), seeking money damages, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees for the alleged discrimination and his “pain and suffering.”

Well-known discrimination attorney and active feminist Gloria Allred is representing Mr. Hunter in what she says is a “trail blazing lawsuit” because “most victims of gender discriminatioin are female.” According to the Huffington Post, CBS maintains that the accusations are “frivolous” and predicts “an early dismissal” of the lawsuit.

FEHA prohibits employers from either refusing to hire or firing someone based on gender, but let’s face it, Ms. Taft and Ms. Johnson weren’t hired just because they are female. They were hired because they are attractive, too.

This might not sound fair or just, but television is a visual medium – and television news is a business that relies on viewers and advertisers to make a profit. So, was Mr. Hunter not being hired an exercise of sound business judgment or age and gender discrimination?

The media accurately reported the facts, but it didn’t analyze the legal issues. LASIS will.

In a 2004 California Court of Appeals case, Holly Hallstrom, a model on the television game show “The Price Is Right,” sued Bob Barker, the host of the show, for gender discrimination claiming she was fired from her on-air job for gaining weight. The court found no gender discrimination because Ms. Hallstrom could not prove that a male “of comparable qualifications” replaced her or that she was let go when similarly situated male co-workers were not (there were no similarly situated male co-workers). And evidence that the show’s 300-pound male announcer wasn’t fired was “to put it politely, unpersuasive.” He’d been hired because of the unique sound of his voice. It was no secret why the women on the show had been hired. It was because they looked beautiful. People tuned into the show just for the ladies (who had fan clubs devoted to them).

The record shows that a KCAL manager told Mr. Hunter that he “wouldn’t be the type men would want to look at,” since the station was trying to “cater to its many male viewers.” Indicating that the station sought to hire females. And it would be hard for KCAL to argue that Ms. Taft was as qualified as Mr. Hunter for the gig. In fact, the record shows that the station dropped its preference for American Meteorological Society certified weather anchors in order to hire Ms. Taft, a 25-year-old blonde beauty with only a few years of experience in front of the green screen.

So it’s possible that Mr. Hunter might succeed on his gender discrimination claim, and get some money for his litigation efforts. But keep in mind: KCAL is a business; the station was seeking to increase its male viewership. In this sense, Ms. Taft’s qualifications for the job far surpassed Mr. Hunter’s.

Mr. Hunter is also suing for age discrimination.

Last year, LASIS wrote about a 60-year-old former New York City-based news reporter who sued for age discrimination when a younger, less experienced newscaster replaced him. Reporter Asher Hawkins predicted that an aging anchor would likely lose on an age discrimination claim because a station can argue that “it had other, nondiscriminatory reasons” for ousting on-air talent.

In a 2010 California Court of Appeals case, an assignment editor at a California newspaper sued her employer for age discrimination when younger employees were promoted over her. But while the editor believed she was qualified for the promotions, her employer disagreed, and the court found that the “actual motive” for promoting the junior employees was not necessarily the discriminatory one claimed by the plaintiff.

This seems to cloud the chances of Mr. Hunter’s age discrimination claim, as the stations could argue that although he has a flood of forecasting experience, the young and female weather anchors were hired to help the stations soar ahead of the local competition.

Note that we believe the outcome would be different if Mr. Hunter had a contract and was fired and replaced by a young, inexperienced woman.

And yes, the stations’ hiring practices seem to teeter on the edge of gender and age discrimination, when looking at the law out of context. But when looking practically at the matter, news outfits can’t be forced to hire on-air talent who would garner them lower ratings – and hurt their bottom line.

This blog originally appeared in Legal as She is Spoke, a project of the Law and Journalism track at New York Law School, on April 9, 2012. Reprinted with permission

List of Shame: Goods Made with Forced, Child Labor

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

The U.S. Department of Labor has added three products to the list of good produced by forced labor, child labor or both. The list now includes 133 products from 71 countries, ranging from bamboo in Burma to zinc in Bolivia. Added to the list yesterday are bricks in Afghanistan and cassiterite and coltan in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

See the full list published in 2011 here and get the background on the new additions here.

According to the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center, more than 200 million children, some as young as five years old are part of the global workforce. In factories and in fields, children work up to 15 hours a day, seven days a week. Matches, rugs, soccer balls, leather goods, paper cups, toys, shoes, fireworks—all of these products are made by tiny hands. The center reports:

Child labor is one of the worst forms of exploitation. Child workers are deprived of schooling, forced to work in dangerous situations, beaten and sexually abused, and crippled by work-related illnesses and injuries. Children are sold or indentured to employers who pay impoverished families for the use of their children. An ensuing cycle of poverty pushes adults from their jobs and drives down wages worldwide.

Although most countries have laws against child labor, and it is banned by officially recognized conventions of the United Nations and the International Labor Organization, child labor exists everywhere in the world. Child labor is most common in countries where there are no unions and where other worker rights violations, such as pay inequity, discrimination and lack of health and safety measures, are widespread.

The Solidarity Center and partner organizations push for governments to curb child labor so children can go to school rather than to jobs and their parents can earn decent wages so their children don’t have to work.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now on April 4, 2012.

About the Author: Donna Jablonski “I’m the AFL-CIO’s deputy director of public affairs for publications, Web and broadcast. Prior to joining the AFL-CIO in 1997, I served as publications director at the nonprofit Children’s Defense Fund for 12 years. I began my career as a newspaper reporter in Southwest Florida, and since have written, edited and managed production of advocacy materials— including newsletters, books, brochures, booklets, fliers, calendars, websites, posters and direct response mail and e-mail—to support economic and social justice campaigns. In June 2001, I received a B.A. in Labor Studies from the National Labor College. Most important: I’m the very proud mom of a spectacular daughter.”

The Great Training Wreck: Job Skills Deficits and Corporate-Backed Tech Schools

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

Roger BybeeWorker training has emerged as a major flashpoint between labor and corporate leaders, igniting conflicts over low corporate tax rates, the offshoring of jobs and the low-skilled nature of most future job growth in America.

First, corporate leaders have been insisting that a significant part of the unemployment problem is due not to the massive offshoring of jobs or lack of effective consumer demand caused by low pay, but under-skilled U.S. workers. The CEOs sometimes blame workers themselves: PIMCO investment fund founder Bill Gross has stated: “Our labor force is too expensive and poorly educated for today’s market place.”

Second, corporate leaders—although intransigent about paying higher taxes (or, quite often, any taxes) to help provide funding for education and training—seek to convert technical education into short-term retraining that benefits corporations while workers fail to learn portable skills.

This latter issue has emerged in a new law passed just before the end of the recent legislative session in Madison, when Wisconsin Republicans engineered a last-minute takeover of technical education at Milwaukee Area Technical College.

The long-term implications of the MATC takeover for working people will mean a shift from seeking skills that increase long-term opportunities to quick re-training to suit corporate needs, said Michael Rosen, president of American Federation of Teachers Local 212 at MATC and a member of Wisconsin’s Technical College Board.

“This restructuring will move MATC away from upgrading skills into training programs that will flood labor markets,” Rosen says. “It doesn’t bode well for comprehensive technical training. Our mission has been to provide industry with skills they want from their workers, but also to provide workers with skills that are portable and will build their careers.”

However, the new restructuring will take power away from a board appointed by area School Board presidents to a new entity selected by four county executives, giving power to two leaders from wealthy, conservative counties far out of proportion to the amount of funding and number of students they provide for MATC. Ozaukee and Washington counties account for only 6 percent of students, but 18 percent of funding. Milwaukee County supplies 82 percent of the funding, but accounts for nearly all MATC students.

“Two of the county executives are hardcore Republicans who don’t care about urban education at all,” Rosen asserted.

LITTLE FUNDING, BUT BIG VOICE FOR CORPORATE PRIORITIES

But despite the low funding that they provide, the new appointees will likely champion the view that technical education should be trimmed to fit immediate corporate priorities.

Rosen notes that even as corporate leaders complain about the shortage of skilled workers, CEOs have insisted on lower taxes that drain the funding base for technical education at both the high-school level-—where it is the most expensive component of education—and at two-year technical colleges.

Routinely using the threat of relocating jobs and capital to extort tax reductions that drain educational funding, corporate leaders have nonetheless escalated their complaints about the technical education provided in high schools and technical colleges.

“The very people complaining about the lack of tech ed have been fighting against increases in their own taxes, corporate and personal,” fumed Rosen. In Wisconsin, more than 60 percent of the corporations netting $100 million or more in revenues wind up paying no corporate income taxes, according to the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future.

But corporate leaders in Wisconsin, led by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce and helped by Republican legislators, have nonetheless blamed MATC to justify the hostile takeover.

Corporate leaders, led by Tim Sullivan, the former CEO of  Bucyrus-Erie and chair of Gov. Scott Walker’s Workforce Investment Council, has been sounding the alarm for producing more skilled labor. This revitalized technical education system would be based on the reallocation of federal dollars, not new funding from corporations, which are a primary beneficiary of a skilled workforce.

Further, corporations in Wisconsin—despite occasional shortages in skilled labor—are failing to generate jobs that require advanced skills and command family-sustaining wages. As Rosen, an economist, recently pointed out in a briefing paper:

Of the 10 fastest growing occupations in Wisconsin, 9 cannot be considered skilled labor. These include, in order of total openings: cashiers, waiters and waitresses, customer service reps, food preparers including fast food service workers, laborers, office clerks and bartenders. Only nurses, ranked number 6, can be considered a skilled labor occupation.

As America’s job crisis continues, expect future battles over the role of education to be fought across the nation. CEOs will insist that technical schools should be dedicated to enlarging the pool of narrowly-skilled workers to meet their needs (and boost their profits).

How forcefully educators and students demand a broader education that empowers citizens and provides portable skills remains to be seen.

This blog originally appeared in Working in These Times on April 4, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and progressive publicity consultant whose work has appeared in numerous national publications, including Z magazine, Dollars & Sense, Yes!, The Progressive, Multinational Monitor, The American Prospect and Foreign Policy in Focus. His e-mail address is winterbybee@gmail.com.

How Long-Term Unemployment Decreases Life Expectancy

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

Image: Pat GarofaloThe latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that more than 40 percent of America’s unemployed have been out of work for six months or more. The Associated Press reported recently that the long-term unemployed are facing increased hiring bias, with employers refusing to take on workers who have been out of work for a longer stretch of time.

There are several deleterious effects of long-term unemployment, but the New York Times’ Binyamin Applebaum highlighted a particularly harrowing one — increased mortality rates. According to a study by Columbia’s Till von Wachter and the Chicago Federal Reserve’s Daniel Sullivan, long-term unemployment can knock up to 18 months off of life expectancy:

Mortality rates in the year after displacement are 50%–100% higher than would otherwise have been expected. The effect on mortality hazards declines sharply over time, but even twenty years after displacement, we estimate a 10%–15% increase in annual death hazards. If such increases were sustained indefinitely, they would imply a loss in life expectancy of 1.0–1.5 years for a worker displaced at age forty.

The authors noted that “several economic models of health determination predict that a decline in lifetime resources should raise mortality. Our empirical findings are consistent with a reduction in such resources leading to reduced investments in health or chronic stress, which, in turn, lead to a smaller, but longer term increase in the mortality hazard.”

Applebaum highlights other studies showing other negative effects of long-term unemployment, including loss of lifetime earnings, lower earnings for the children of unemployed workers, and even one study purporting to find that workers gradually lose skills, including their level of literacy. And of course, as the Congressional Budget Office noted, long-term unemployment is “also correlated with deteriorating mental and physical health.”

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on April 2, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Pat Garofalo is Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Pat’s work has also appeared in The Nation, U.S. News & World Report, The Guardian, the Washington Examiner, and In These Times. He has been a guest on MSNBC and Al-Jazeera television, as well as many radio shows. Pat graduated from Brandeis University, where he was the editor-in-chief of The Brandeis Hoot, Brandeis’ community newspaper, and worked for the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life.

More Than Half of Elders, and 60% of Older Women, Face Economic Insecurity

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

Laura ClawsonMore than half of people age 65 and older face the prospect of not having enough money to meet basic daily expenses while staying in their homes and communities, a new analysis (PDF) from Wider Opportunities for Women finds. We’re talking basic necessities here—renting a one-bedroom apartment or having a modest mortgage, basic food, health care, and transportation, and just $265 in miscellaneous monthly expenses for a single person.

Within the 52 percent of all elders struggling to get by, though, there’s a big gender gap—60 percent of women compared with 41 percent of men are economically insecure. The fact that women live longer and have more years to spend down their savings doesn’t help. But that’s not all. In retirement, as during their working years, women have lower incomes than men: “Elder men studied report typical annual incomes that are nearly 75% higher than the typical elder woman’s income ($24,300 compared to $14,000).” Women are more likely to be dependent on Social Security, and receive smaller Social Security payments than men. And, as in so many other things, women of color face greater struggles than white women: “[E]lder African-American women report median annual incomes of $12,000; both Asian and Hispanic women report median annual incomes that are less than one-half of the general male population’s median incomes at $10,100 and $9,600, respectively.”

These numbers underscore the incredible importance of Social Security, which provides, on average, 77 percent of older women’s income. They also raise a terrifying prospect: Pensions are becoming less common, but here we see how crucial they’ve been in keeping some seniors out of economic insecurity. What happens to a generation that’s forced to rely on Social Security, or whatever’s left of that after the various catfood commissions are done weakening it, and whatever savings people can cobble together despite stagnating wages and stock market crashes?

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on March 29, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

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