US Unemployment

  • Drop in unemployment raises debate on optimal rate, By Jim Zarroli, October 17, 2014, National Public Radio: “The U.S. unemployment rate has been falling steadily over the years. Down from the recession peak of 10 percent in 2009, it reached 5.9 percent in September. That’s getting close to what economists call the natural unemployment rate — the normal level of joblessness you’d expect in a healthy economy. But a lot of economists are asking whether the old rules about full employment still apply…”
  • Sept. unemployment rates fall in 31 states, By Paul Davidson, October 21, 2014, USA Today: “Unemployment rates fell in 31 states in September as the labor market rebounded after softening in August. Joblessness increased in eight states and was unchanged in 11 states and the District of Columbia, the Labor Department said Tuesday…”
  • Long-term unemployment persists, By Michelle Jamrisko, October 22, 2014, Sun Sentinel: “Leticia Vives thought her rise from teller to senior teller to manager during 23 years at Bank of America had earned her staying power, or at least the experience to find work elsewhere. Still jobless 18 months after being let go in a downsizing move, Vives is wondering whether she had either. ‘I just feel helpless,’ said Vives, 44, of Ansonia, Conn. ‘The more you are unemployed, the more helpless you feel.’ More than five years into the U.S. expansion, 2.9 million Americans are long-term unemployed, meaning they’ve been out of work for 27 weeks or longer. They make up 31.9 percent of all jobless, more than twice the average in records dating to 1948. Vives is among the 2 million who have been off the payrolls for more than a year…”

Skills Gap and Inequality

Economist: Skills, tech gap can’t explain inequality, By Pedro Nicolaci Da Costa, October 20, 2014, Wall Street Journal: “Gaps in educational achievement and shifts in technology, often cited as key reasons for widening income and wealth inequality, do very little to explain the trend, said Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank in Washington. Speaking Saturday at a conference on ‘Equality of Economic Opportunity’ hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Mr. Mishel criticized the event’s narrow focus on local actions to reduce inequality when other possible approaches lie in the realm of broader economic policy…”

Minimum Wage – Arizona

Arizona’s minimum wage to rise 15¢ on Jan. 1, By Howard Fischer, October 19, 2014, Arizona Daily Star: “What would you buy with an extra $6 a week? Two gallons of milk? A Big Mac meal? A venti half-caf, sugar-free latte? That’s how much more those at the bottom of the pay scale will be making come Jan. 1 when the minimum wage in Arizona rises 15 cents to $8.05 an hour. Before taxes. Arizona voters mandated in 2006 that the state have its own minimum wage not tied to the federal figure. And that law requires annual automatic adjustments tied to inflation. The federal minimum wage, currently $7.25, goes up only when Congress approves it, something that last happened in 2009…”

Chronic Homelessness – Utah

Will Utah end chronic homelessness in 2015?, By Christopher Smart, October 18, 2014, Salt Lake Tribune: “When Joseph Hardy and his three siblings were young, his mother took them from his polygamist father and bolted. They spent the next decade on the run — camping in the summers, crashing with friends when they could, and grabbing an inexpensive rental when the money held out. ‘I feel like I grew up in the back seat of a car,’ Hardy says today. At age 15, he began using methamphetamine to dull his grief and anxiety. Drug use and depression have ravaged his health, and he’s spent about 14 years of his life behind bars. But the last time he was arrested, Hardy was offered a new choice: treatment and his own apartment, with support from a caseworker to help him shape a new life…”

Section 8 Housing – Oregon

Locked out: Some landlords still turn away Section 8 tenants despite a new anti-discrimination law, By Bennett Hall, October 12, 2014, Corvallis Gazette-Times: “Elizabeth Prevish knew it could be tough to find a house to rent in Corvallis, but she had no idea just how hard it would be when she decided to relocate from Redmond in May. A single mom, Prevish has two sons, ages 3 and 13. The older boy struggles with a serious emotional disorder, and Prevish was thrilled when she got him placed in the Children’s Farm Home for inpatient treatment in January. After months of making the three-hour drive across the mountains to visit her son, she got approval to transfer her federal housing benefits from Deschutes County to the mid-valley — but ran into a brick wall when she tried to use them in Corvallis. So far, she says, half a dozen local landlords have refused to accept her Section 8 voucher — even though such discrimination is illegal under Oregon fair housing laws…”

SNAP and EBT Cards

Will new federal regs force bodega owners to shun food stamps?, By Alfred Lubrano, October 14, 2014, Philadelphia Inquirer: “A little-noticed change in federal law may hurt small neighborhood grocery stores and their low-income customers who use food stamps. In 2004, food stamps went digital, switching from paper coupons to electronic cards. In large supermarkets, such Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards are swiped at checkout terminals along with credit and debit cards. But in around 118,000 bodegas, corner stores, and mom-and-pop markets nationwide, EBT cards have been used in specific EBT machines provided to stores free in a federal-state partnership, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the food-stamp program, known as SNAP. Now, all that is changing. The states and the federal government will no longer foot the bill for EBT machines, a measure that could save an estimated $154 million over 10 years, according to federal officials…”

Foster Care System – Oklahoma

Report: DHS faltering in progress in foster care services, By Ginnie Graham, October 16, 2014, Tulsa World: “The Oklahoma Department of Human Services has not made a ‘good faith effort’ at attracting new foster homes, bringing down worker caseloads, reducing shelter use for children older than 6, staffing the hotline and finding permanent homes for foster children, according to a report issued Wednesday by an independent oversight panel. The report is the third commentary on the improvement plan, referred to as the Pinnacle Plan. It is the agreement made to settle a federal class-action lawsuit in 2012 filed four years earlier by the nonprofit group Children’s Rights…”

General Assistance and Immigrants – Maine

  • For couple who escaped from Angola, General Assistance ‘gives us a chance’, By Sandy Butler and Luisa Deprez, September 26, 2014, Bangor Daily News: “Robert and Elena (not their real names) live in Lewiston with four of their five children. They escaped from their homeland of Angola having lost their livelihood, enduring torture and fearing for their lives. Elena came first, one year ago, with their three daughters, ages 7 through 11, having experienced physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the government after being falsely accused of connections to an anti-government separatist group. Robert followed eight months later, when the government started pursuing him. He brought their five-year-old son, but could not afford to bring along his elder, eight-year old son, who remains with family in Angola. They hope to bring him to Maine as soon as possible. General Assistance provided Robert and his family needed emergency assistance when they arrived…”
  • Governor candidates on the issues: Welfare and immigration, By Randy Billings, October 16, 2014, Portland Press Herald: “Welfare has emerged as a high-profile issue in the 2014 gubernatorial race, with ads about illegal immigrants receiving tax dollars filling the airwaves and mailboxes. The University of New Hampshire Survey Center has conducted two polls for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. In June, 46 percent of poll respondents believed that welfare did more harm than good. By September, that sentiment was 50 percent. Maine’s welfare system is a complex web of programs, including MaineCare – the state’s Medicaid program – Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps). The programs are mostly funded by federal money…”

Supplemental Poverty Measure

  • Alternative poverty rate declines to 15.5% from 16%, By Neil Shah, October 16, 2014, Wall Street Journal: “Poverty in America declined in 2013 from the year before, according to an alternative measure released by the Census Bureau on Thursday that many economists consider more comprehensive than the nation’s official rate. According to this ‘supplemental’ measure, the poverty rate dropped from 16% to 15.5%. However, roughly 48.7 million people were still below the poverty line in 2013—not statistically different from 2012, Census said. The drop echoes the recent fall in the official poverty rate, reported in September. That rate dropped from 15% to 14.5%, thanks entirely to reduced poverty among Hispanics…”
  • Census Bureau: California still has highest U.S. poverty rate, By Dan Walters, October 16, 2014, Sacramento Bee: “California continues to have – by far – the nation’s highest level of poverty under an alternative method devised by the Census Bureau that takes into account both broader measures of income and the cost of living. Nearly a quarter of the state’s 38 million residents (8.9 million) live in poverty, a new Census Bureau report says, a level virtually unchanged since the agency first began reporting on the method’s effects…”
  • Is poverty in Mass. worse than we thought?, By Evan Horowitz, October 16, 2014, Boston Globe: “The real poverty rate in Massachusetts may be higher than we thought, according to a new and improved poverty assessment released this morning by the Census Bureau. Whereas the so-called ‘official’ rate puts state poverty at 11.5 percent, the new more comprehensive measure suggests that actually 1 of every 7 people in Massachusetts lives in poverty, or 13.8 percent…”
  • Over 48 million Americans live in poverty, By Patrick Gillespie, October 16, 2014, CNN Money: “Over 48 million Americans live in poverty, according to a special report by the Census Bureau Thursday. It provides an alternative look at the worst off people in the nation than the official numbers that come out in September. Government programs such as food stamps do help some people, especially children, but even so 16% of American children are living in poverty, according to the supplemental report…”

Housing Policy and Poor Children

How small changes to federal housing policy could make a big difference for poor kids, By Emily Badger, October 15, 2014, Washington Post: “Children are shaped in profound ways by the neighborhoods where they grow up. Perhaps this sounds like common sense (why else do we fret over where to raise them?). But it’s borne out by research, too. High-poverty neighborhoods can be bad for children’s health, school performance and even cognitive development. Low-poverty ones, meanwhile, often mean they have access to better schools and do better academically as a result. It makes sense, then, that when we subsidize housing for poor families…”

Long-Term Unemployment – New Jersey

N.J.’s long-term unemployed rate worse than 48 states, By Erin O’Neill, October 15, 2014, Star-Ledger: “Nearly half of jobless residents in New Jersey have been out of work for more than six months, according to a new report, a level that ranks the state among the worst in the country. The brief released today by New Jersey Policy Perspective notes the ‘long-term unemployment crisis is a national problem’ but found every other state except Florida fared better than New Jersey. Also, while the share of long-term unemployed in New Jersey has fallen from its peak in 2010, the brief found that drop has not been as sharp as it has nationally…”

Students and Internet Access

With no Internet at home, Miami-Dade kids crowd libraries for online homework, By Douglas Hanks, October 12, 2014, Miami Herald: “Once again, Christina Morua found herself in the South Dade library longer than she would like on a school night. The 28-year-old single mom sat in the bustling children’s section on a recent Thursday, waiting for her fourth-grader to get on a computer and start some online math homework. ‘We don’t have any Internet at home,’ Morua said as her oldest, 11-year-old Abel, clicked through an assignment on a library laptop while Alina, 9, waited for her turn at a desktop. ‘We just reserved a computer. We have to wait 70 minutes. He got one of the last laptops.’ With more school materials heading online, parents like Morua find they can no longer count on home for homework. That leaves Miami-Dade libraries as a crucial venue for their youngest patrons, but funding challenges, reduced hours on school nights and aging equipment have made it harder to meet the demand…”

Food Deserts – Denver, CO

Corner stores in NE Denver part of pilot program for food deserts, By Colleen O’Connor, October 14, 2014, Denver Post: “Hip-hop artist Kingpen Ken stops by the Gem Food Mart in his northeast Denver neighborhood on the way to the recording studio, and plunks down two bottles of water and an orange juice on the counter. ‘It’s just better to eat healthy things before you go to the studio,’ he said. ‘It’s better energy for the day. If you eat candy, it’s weird energy all day.’ This colorful corner store, painted orange and lime green, sits at the intersection of East 30th Avenue and Downing Street in the Whittier neighborhood, which is considered a food desert, far from a full-service grocer. It’s one of five corner stores in a pilot program called the Healthy Corner Store Initiative, started in August by the city and county of Denver’s Department of Environmental Health, and funded by a grant of more than $327,000 from the Colorado Health Foundation…”

Health Insurance Coverage

  • For those who make too much — and too little — for health insurance, the options are limited, By Jordan Shapiro, October 9, 2014, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “Beverly Jones, a 51-year-old St. Louisan with custody of her three grandchildren, is supposed to get her blood tested every few months to make sure the medicine she takes daily isn’t harming her kidneys. But she can only afford to make the trip to the doctor two times a year because she lacks health insurance. ‘It’s hard for me to accept that I put in so much work and so much time and now that I get sick there is no one that can help me,’ she said. ‘That doesn’t seem fair to me.’ Jones isn’t alone. She is one of nearly 300,000 Missourians who would qualify for government-funded health insurance if they lived across the Mississippi River in Illinois or in 26 other states that have decided to expand their Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act. But because Missouri hasn’t agreed to expand its program, Jones said she is forced to go without her blood tests and some of her prescriptions…”
  • Medicaid, often criticized, is quite popular with its customers, By Margot Sanger-Katz, October 9, 2014, New York Times: “Low-income people in three Southern states were recently asked whether they preferred Medicaid or private insurance. Guess which one they picked? A study published in the journal Health Affairs found that poor residents of Arkansas, Kentucky and Texas, when asked to compare Medicaid with private coverage, said that Medicaid offered better ‘quality of health care’ and made them better able to ‘afford the health care’ they needed. Medicaid, the federal-state program for poor and disabled Americans, is a frequent political target, often described as substandard because of its restricted list of doctors and the red tape — sometimes even worse than no insurance at all. But repeated surveys show that the program is quite popular among the people who use it…”
  • A quarter of Latinos are uninsured, By Teresa Wiltz, October 10, 2014, Stateline: “In the ‘sala de espera,’ or waiting room, at La Clinica del Pueblo, a community health center in Washington, D.C., signs in Spanish encourage patients to ‘Empower yourself!’ and sign up for insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act. Adults slump in chairs, scribbling on application forms, texting friends, waiting. In a tiny office a few feet away, William Joachin, the center’s patient access manager, faces down the frustrations of trying to navigate the federal health care program for the thousands of mostly Central American immigrants who flood the clinic each year. He’s not alone. A year after open enrollment for the ACA began, one in four Latinos living in the U.S. does not have health insurance, according to new census data, more than any other ethnic population in the country—and most states have few backups in place to help those in the coverage gap…”

Food Deserts – Wichita, KS

Low-income Wichitans face barriers in finding healthier foods, By Becky Tanner, October 6, 2014, Wichita Eagle: “A new study released by the Health & Wellness Coalition of Wichita has found specific barriers preventing Wichitans in three ZIP codes from buying healthier foods. Last year, the coalition discovered 44 square miles in Wichita considered food deserts — areas where low-income residents have little to no access to healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables and who live more than a mile from a full-service grocery store. The new report, released last week, uncovers six barriers that affect those residents: cost, quality, transportation, stores, sources and personal…”

Medicaid Expansion – Mississippi

Health advocates decry lack of Miss. Medicaid expansion, By Emily Wagster Pettus, October 7, 2014, Jackson Clarion-Ledger: “Groups supporting low-income Mississippi residents said Tuesday that elected officials are ignoring 300,000 people and refusing billions of federal dollars by choosing not to expand Medicaid in one of the poorest states in the nation. If the state were to extend Medicaid, as allowed under the health overhaul that President Barack Obama signed into law, many low-wage workers could receive coverage that would enable them to afford doctors’ visits, prescriptions and medical supplies, said Roy Mitchell of the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program…”

Consumer Debt Loads

How debt loads are changing for young and old consumers, By Jonnelle Marte, October 8, 2014, Washington Post: “The kind of debt consumers take on is changing. And the changes look very different by age, according to a TransUnion report released Wednesday that looks at the shifting make up of consumer debt loads over time. Not surprisingly, younger consumers are seeing student loans crowd out most other types of loans, says Charlie Wise, vice president in TransUnion’s Innovative Solutions Group. For instance, student loans accounted for 36.8 percent of the total debt load for consumers ages 20 to 29 in 2014, up from the 12.9 percent reported in 2005…”

Homelessness and Housing First – Utah

  • Utah praised for initiative to end chronic homelessness, By Christopher Smart, October 8, 2014, Salt Lake Tribune: “Utah is making national headlines for a successful initiative to end chronic homelessness — it’s down 72 percent since 2005 — as the 11th Annual Utah Homeless Summit convenes Wednesday in Salt Lake City. The number of chronic homeless — people who have been without housing for more than a year or who have been homeless four times in three years — has dropped in the state from 1,932 in 2005 to 539 this year. But the overall number of homeless during that period has remained at about 13,600. Most of those people will find housing within a 12-month period, according to the ’2014 Utah Comprehensive Report on Homelessness,’ released Wednesday…”
  • Affordable housing helps prevent, cures homelessness in Utah, new report says, By Marjorie Cortez, October 8, 2014, Deseret News: “Affordable housing is not only a key to preventing homelessness, it’s the cure to chronic homelessness, officials say. But Utah’s needs far outstrip the state’s ability to build affordable housing. Utah needs some 44,000 units of affordable housing statewide to keep pace with demand, according to federal and state estimates. When a segment of Utahns can’t afford housing, they’re at great risk of becoming homeless…”

Access to Health Care – Wisconsin

State ranks high in health care but low on access for minorities, By Guy Boulton, October 7, 2014, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Wisconsin remains one of the top states in the country for the quality of its health care system and its access to health care. But the state’s strong overall performance masks a long-standing flaw: African-Americans and Latinos are much less likely to receive the same quality of care or have the same access as whites. The disparities can be seen in the annual State Snapshots compiled by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The report is based on more than 100 measures of quality and access to care…”

Unemployment Rates

  • Unemployment rates fall for least educated, By Paul Davidson, October 5, 2014, USA Today: “A better labor market is benefiting more Americans, including those with less education. September’s unemployment rate fell from 6.1% to 5.9%, slipping under 6% for the first time since 2008. Those with only, or less than, a high school diploma saw even sharper declines…”
  • Rising jobless rates are a southern mystery, By Cameron McWhirter and Ben Leubsdorf, October 5, 2014, Wall Street Journal: “A sharp uptick in jobless numbers across a slew of Southern states has baffled economists and rattled at least one big political race. It has also raised an unusual question: Is the trend real? When the Labor Department last month said Georgia’s unemployment rate had jumped to 8.1% in August, making it the worst state for joblessness in the country, Democratic gubernatorial challenger Jason Carter seized on the news…”