Friday, March 6, 2009
Why the Unemployment Rate is not Really 8.1% and Why that Matters. It's Higher, Much Higher.
A BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS by Meg White
Conventional wisdom tells me I shouldn't be writing about unemployment on a beautiful Friday afternoon. People want to hear about employment numbers on Mondays, so they can be reminded how lucky they are to be returning to work, or to feel in solidarity with others looking for a job.
By that measure, I most definitely should not be writing about job losses approaching levels seen during the Great Depression. But conventional wisdom might be the problem here, so I'm going to try shock therapy on for size.
What if I told you the unemployment rate last month was 14.8 percent?
Well, in a way it's true. In another way, it might be an overly conservative estimate. While we're wringing our collective hands now that unemployment topped 8 percent, it's important to know where those numbers come from.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the agency within the Labor Department that reports on the unemployment rate, has six statistics measuring peoples' involvement in the labor force. The U3 is the official unemployment rate, arrived at by sample surveys of approximately 60,000 Americans each month.
Furthermore, some people who are not paid are still counted as employed. A person who helps out with a family member's business for free without getting a paycheck is counted as employed. A person who has a job but is on unpaid leave is still considered employed.
The unemployment rate may just be one of the least dependable economic indicators available. Economist Dean Baker suggested we should use employment rate, since it's easier to count workers, who have a better-defined status in the workforce than the unemployed.
Despite its authoritative name, BLS has been a victim of political posturing for decades. Every president since at least Kennedy has fudged the country's economic numbers to make their administration look better.
The last one to radically change the unemployment outlook was Clinton, who excised from the equation "discouraged workers" who had been frustrated with the labor market for more than one year, eliminating millions from concern in one move.
When you consider that the "gimmicking" of the federal deficit goes back to Johnson, Obama's plan to represent the deficit in its true shamefulness is downright shocking in its innovation. Tell the painful truth about our debt? Wow. Why don't we just come out and say how many people are unemployed while we're at it?
The reason we don't lies both in bureaucracy and the media. Economics reporting is quickly being revealed to be the most fraught and inaccurate available (thanks, Jon Stewart). And the media blindly reports the favored number (the U3) from BLS that is released officially each month. As a result, few truly know what an unemployed person looks like.
BLS doesn't count unemployed people who tell the agency they scoured the want ads, who are engaged in job training, or who check Internet job sites daily. You have to make concrete, measurable steps toward gainful employment: knocking on doors, sending out resumes.
What happens when there are no unlocked doors, and no addresses to which to send one's resume? When jobs disappear, do unemployed people become invisible?
What kind of sense does it make to spend time and sometimes money on trying to get a job if there are no jobs out there? Workers who feel this way are defined as "discouraged workers" and are not counted as unemployed by BLS.
What about the laid-off worker who took a part-time job hoping it would turn into something full-time, or just to try and stay above water until they could find something more permanent? While they might not consider themselves fully and gainfully employed, BLS's official statistic on unemployment doesn't make that distinction.
BLS's U6 statistic -- where I got my scary 14.8 percent stat earlier -- does count these people, but as mentioned earlier, they only count discouraged workers from the past year. Anyone who's been paying any amount of attention to this economic crisis can tell you it is more than a 12-month fling.
Clearly, while the U6 number might be a more accurate measure of national economic misery, it's also less politically palatable. What if I told you the unemployment rate was closer to 20 percent? According to John Williams' Shadow Government Statistics Web site, the unemployment rate is already more than 18 percent when you add back in those workers excluded since the mid-1990s.
As is pointed out here, maybe the entire idea of relying upon percentages is the problem in the way we measure the effect of unemployment:
A vastly more interesting and important comparison is of actual total human beings without jobs or who are severely underemployed. The number of people affected at the peak of the depression was 13.5 million unemployed vs. today's official number of 11.6 million. Eleven million six hundred thousand human beings unemployed is within a dangerously short distance of the worst number the Great Depression ever printed.
Absorbing fully and unflinchingly just how bad our labor force is faring in this downturn may not seem like a fun way to spend the weekend. And my lack of economic expertise may allow you to write this whole article off as manic speculation. But the next time someone tells you unemployment today isn't anywhere near what it was in the Great Depression, remind them that 18 percent is not that far from the 25 percent rate at the peak of the Depression, and most experts say things will get worse before they get better.
Do we gain anything from this, other than ruining our weekends? I'd say yes. If you listen to frustrated economists such as Paul Krugman, there seems to be a fair amount of foot-dragging both in Congress and the White House over what to do about this crisis we find ourselves in.
Perhaps a different perspective on those same old numbers will knock them out of their Friday afternoon comas.
The hatred for the GLBT folks is horrifying... I no longer feel safe in this country.
Here are two reasonable comments from the debate at the bottom of the article:
I cannot help but speculate about the lives of those who so virulently seek to deny others basic civil rights, especially when those they seek to oppress are gay. Cloaking themselves in tortured Biblical jibberish, they so often try to impose rules upon gay people they themselves could not ever adhere to, and more often than not violate themselves. When viewing the character of people like Ken Starr, who became the nation's pornographer in his malicious and completely unnecessary prosecution of President Clinton, strutting about affectedly and inappropriately using antiquated latinese legal terms and oversolicitous mannerisms before the court as if this was the court of St. James rather than the CalSupremes, it just all seems such fakery and fraud. However it seemed that more reasonable minds opened the very real possibility of considering this case as one of first review, and as such, Prop 8 will indeed fall.
11.24.08 - (Reuters) CA's gay marriage ban could open the door to legal discrimination against unpopular groups if the state Supreme Court allows the voter-approved measure to stand, blacks, Latinos, Asians & other minorities said. Legal scholars say the measure, which defines marriage as between a man & a woman, breaks new ground by limiting the courts' ability to protect minorities. "They could take away any right from any group," said USC Law Professor David Cruz. "The entire purpose behind the constitutional principle of equal protection would be subverted if the constitutional protection of unpopular minorities were subject to simple majority rule," read a brief by black, Asian & Hispanic groups challenging the ban. "This case is not simply about gay & lesbian equality", pointing to segregation laws & one excluding Asian-Americans from land ownership as examples.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
According to most of California's major newspapers, today was not our day.
San Francisco Chronicle:
California Supreme Court justices directed sharp questioning today at attorneys seeking to overturn Proposition 8, the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. Justice Joyce Kennard, one of the justices in the majority of the 4-3 ruling last year that legalized gay and lesbian marriages - a decision that voters overturned in approving Prop. 8 in November - said at one point that opponents of the measure would have the court choose between "two rights ... the inalienable right to marry and the right of the people to change the constitution as they see fit. And what I'm picking up from the oral argument in this case is this court should willy-nilly disregard the will of the people."San Jose Mercury News:
The California Supreme Court today appeared inclined to uphold Proposition 8, but showed obvious reluctance to void thousands of same-sex marriages already in place when voters restored a ban on gay marriage last fall. During three hours of arguments in San Francisco, the justices peppered lawyers opposing Proposition 8 with questions that suggested they do not believe they have the authority to trump the will of the voters. At the same time, even justices who voted against striking down's California's previous ban on gay marriage, indicated that Proposition 8 should not wipe out an estimated 18,000 same-sex marriages that took place last year. "Is that really fair to people who depended on what this court said was the law?" Justice Ming Chin asked Ken Starr, the former Clinton impeachment prosecutor who argued that same-sex marriages shouldn't be recognized under Proposition 8.Los Angeles Times:
The California Supreme Court appeared ready today to vote to uphold Proposition 8, the November ballot measure that banned gay marriage, but also seemed ready to decide unanimously to recognize existing same-sex marriages. During a three-hour televised hearing in San Francisco, only two of the court's seven justices indicated a possible readiness to overturn the initiative. Chief Justice Ronald M. George noted that the court was following a different Constitution when it approved gay marriage last May. "Today we have a different state Constitution," he said. Justice Joyce L. Kennard, who usually votes in favor of gay rights, voted against accepting the revision challenge to Proposition 8 but said she would hear arguments over the validity of existing same-sex marriages. Kennard said during the hearing that "Prop. 8 did not take away the whole bundle of rights that this court articulated in the marriage case."Sacramento Bee:
The seven justices, who will render their decision on Proposition 8 within 90 days, immediately questioned opponents' view that the November initiative was an improper revision of the state constitution. Justice Joyce Kennard noted that the Proposition 8 added just 14 words to the state constitution: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California," and so could not be considered a revision based simply on length. Chief Justice Ron George noted that the California constitution has been properly amended hundreds of times, much more frequently than the U.S. constitution. He raised the possibility that the change gay-marriage proponents oppose is simply the result of California's system, which gives the people the right to amend the constitution through the initiative process.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
The California Supreme Court finds itself center stage this Thursday when it will hear oral arguments on whether it should uphold Proposition 8's ban on same-sex marriage.
The case touches the heart of our democracy and poses a profound question: can a bare majority of voters strip away an inalienable right through the initiative process? If so, what possible meaning does the word inalienable have?
The state faced a dilemma like this before. In 1964, 65 percent of California voters approved Proposition 14, which would have legalized racial discrimination in the selling or renting of housing. Both the California and U.S. Supreme Courts struck down this proposition, concluding that it amounted to an unconstitutional denial of rights.
As California's Attorney General, I believe the Court should strike down Proposition 8 for remarkably similar reasons - because it unconstitutionally discriminates against same-sex couples and deprives them of the fundamental right to marry.
Some vigorously disagree. That's the position of Ken Starr and those who argue that a simple majority can eliminate the right to marry. But such a claim completely ignores California's history and the nature of our constitution.
Fundamental rights in California are recognized and protected by our constitution, which declares in Article I, Section 1 that "all people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights" and "among these are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining safety, happiness, and privacy."
These fundamental premises of a free people were declared when the constitution was first adopted. The initiative process came much later in 1911, when the immediate concern was to give the people power over the railroads, which were seen as having a stranglehold over the legislature. In creating this initiative process, there was no discussion or any evidence of intent to permit a simple majority of voters to take away the pre-existing rights deemed inalienable by Article I.
In 2008, the California Supreme Court was faced with the question of how the values enshrined in Article I apply to same sex marriages. It concluded that the concept of "liberty" includes the right to form the enduring relationship called marriage and that no compelling interest justified denying this right to same sex couples. Just like the right to be free from discrimination in housing, citizens have the right to be free from discrimination in state-granted marriage licenses.
With this Supreme Court decision, same sex marriage has the protection of Article 1 and, like other inalienable rights, cannot be taken away by a popular vote - whether it be 52% (as was the case in Proposition 8) or 65% (as it was for Proposition 14).
I believe, therefore, the Court must conclude as I have that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional and should be stricken.
Edmund G. Brown Jr. is the Attorney General of the State of California.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Have you heard that the hate crimes bill is coming before Congress again?
I hope you'll join me in sending a message to Congress: we can't wait any longer for a federal law to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans from violent hate crimes. Take action at:
Ordinary people are living in fear for their safety and their lives every day, in small towns and big cities. Hate crimes against LGBT people are on the rise, but the federal government has no direct authority to investigate, prosecute or help local law enforcement crack down.
We can't let this continue. We can't let friends and neighbors become targets for violence simply because of who they are.
Congress passed the hate crimes bill in 2007, but because of George Bush's veto threat, it never became law. And now, right-wing extremists are once again making outrageous claims that the bill would criminalize preachers, end free speech, and so on.
Will you help make sure their lies aren't the only things members of Congress are hearing about this bill? Please click below to send a note urging Congress to pass the Matthew Shepard Act.
Thanks for your help.
from the SacBEE:
3/3/09: Math fans to celebrate Square Root Day
Published: Monday, Mar. 2, 2009 - 4:40 pm
REDWOOD CITY, Calif. -- Dust off the slide rules and recharge the calculators. Square Root Day is upon us.
The math-buffs' holiday, which only occurs nine times each century, falls on Tuesday - 3/3/09 (for the mathematically challenged, three is the square root of nine).
"These days are like calendar comets, you wait and wait and wait for them, then they brighten up your day - and poof - they're gone," said Ron Gordon, a Redwood City teacher who started a contest meant to get people excited about the event.
The winner gets, of course, $339 for having the biggest Square Root Day event.
Gordon's daughter even set up a Facebook page - one of a half-dozen or so dedicated to the holiday - and hundreds of people had signed up with plans to celebrate in some way. Celebrations are as varied: Some cut root vegetables into squares, others make food in the shape of a square root symbol.
The last such day was five years ago, Feb. 2, 2004, which coincided with Groundhog Day. The next is seven years away, on April 4, 2016.
Monday, March 2, 2009
Historic measure would enact a tax on oil and natural gas at the wellhead in the state to create a funding mechanism for public higher education
As California continues to slash the budgets of its public higher education institutions, CFA and Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico have taken a historic first step towards creating a dedicated funding source for the state's public colleges and universities.
Last week, Torrico introduced Assembly Bill 656 - sponsored by CFA - which would generate funding for all three segments of public higher education in California by enacting a new tax on oil and natural gas "severed" from California land or water.
California, the third-largest oil producing state in the country, is the only such state where oil is extracted without a tax. A similar fund in Texas has successfully endowed public colleges and universities in that state since the 1800s.
This new funding would supplement - and not replace - existing state funding.
The CSU doesn't have a defined funding source and is thus especially vulnerable in bad economic times. Since 2002, the CSU budget has been cut by nearly $800 million, resulting in faculty and staff layoffs, cuts to course sections and 10,000 eligible students being denied access to a college education.
"Our system has been decimated by funding cuts in recent years," said John Travis, Chair of CFA's Committee of Political Action/Legislation. "As our recently published Mortenson Report indicates, California is on course to irreparably damage its own economy if the state continues to disinvest in our public higher education system."
To learn more about the effect of persistent budget cuts to the CSU on California's economy, go to: http://calfac.org/CalAtTheEdge.html
"California is on the wrong track heading in the wrong direction," said Torrico. "Our prisons are overflowing and yet we are turning away students at our universities. The Master Plan for Higher Education is becoming a distant memory. This is not a sustainable path for California. We must invest more in higher education. It is a solid down payment on our economic future."
As of press time, CSU Chancellor Reed was reviewing this piece of legislation and has not yet taken a position on the bill, which could potentially generate billions of dollars for the system.
To read the text of the bill, go to: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/09-10/bill/asm/ab_0651-0700/ab_656_bill_20090225_introduced.pdf
To read the news release on AB 656, go to: http://democrats.assembly.ca.gov/members/a20/press/20090225AD20PR01.htm
Sunday, March 1, 2009
What have seven Baha'i prisoners, and the oppressed community they serve, achieved for the nation of Iran?
What have seven Baha'i prisoners, and the oppressed community they serve, achieved for the nation of Iran?
As seven heroic souls in Iran await an impending trial on absurd and dangerous charges, which place their very lives at risk, while excluded from their lawyer, the brave Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, the question recurs: why?
- Makes a $634 billion down payment on fixing health care that will go a long way toward paying for a more efficient, more affordable health care system that covers every single American.
- Reduces taxes for 95% of working Americans. And if your family makes less than $250,000, your taxes won't go up one dime.
- Invests more than $100 billion in clean energy technology, creating millions of green jobs that can never be outsourced.
- Brings our troops home from Iraq on a firm timetable, finally bringing the war to a close—and freeing up almost ten billion dollars a month for domestic priorities.
- Reverses growing income inequality. The plan lets the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans expire and focuses on strengthening the middle class.
- Closes multi-billion-dollar tax loopholes for big oil companies.
- Increases grants to help families pay for college—the largest increase ever.
- Halves the deficit by 2013. President Obama inherited a legacy of huge deficits and an economy in shambles, but his plan brings the deficit under control as soon as the economy begins to recover.
- Dramatically increases funding for the SEC and the CFTC—the agencies that police Wall Street.
- Tells it straight. For years, budgets have used accounting tricks to hide the real costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush tax cuts, and too many other programs. Obama's budget gets rid of the smokescreens and lays out what America's priorities are, what they cost, and how we're going to pay for them.12
This is the change we voted for. President Obama has done his part, now we need to do ours.
Turns out there are way more than 10 amazing things in Obama's budget and we couldn't resist sharing just a few more.
Stops unnecessary government subsidies to big banks, health insurance companies and big agribusinesses.13,14,15
Expands access to early childhood education and improves schools by investing in programs that make sure every child has a qualified, strong teacher.16
Negotiates for better prescription drug prices using Medicaid's tremendous bargaining power.17
Expands access to family planning for low-income women.18
Caps the pollution that causes global warming, and makes polluters pay to support clean energy innovation.19 Sources:
1. "Climate of Change," The New York Times, February 27, 2009 http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/27/opinion/27krugman.html?em
2. "Obama Calls His Budget Sweeping, Needed Change," The New York Times, February 28, 2009 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=51201&id=15687-538505-35VJRlx&t=2
3. "Obama Offers Broad Plan to Revamp Health Care," The New York Times, February 26, 2009 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=51202&id=15687-538505-35VJRlx&t=3
4. "Obama Expects Fight Over $3.55 Trillion Budget Plan," Bloomberg News, February 28, 2009 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=51203&id=15687-538505-35VJRlx&t=4
5. "Energy Budget Is Sunlight After Eight Years of Darkness," Center for American Progress, February 26, 2009 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=51204&id=15687-538505-35VJRlx&t=5
6. "The Economic Cost of War in Iraq and Afghanistan," The New York Times, March 1, 2009 http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/01/weekinreview/01glanz.html
7. "Tax Cuts," The New York Times, February 26, 2009 http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/27/washington/27web-tax.html
8. "Energy Budget Is Sunlight After Eight Years of Darkness," Center for American Progress, February 26, 2009 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=51204&id=15687-538505-35VJRlx&t=6
9. "Student Loans," The New York Times, February 26, 2009 http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/27/washington/27web-edu.html
10. "Obama unveils budget blueprint," CNN, February 26, 2009 http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/02/26/budget/
11. "Obama budget would boost SEC, CFTC, FBI," Reuters, February 26, 2009 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=51205&id=15687-538505-35VJRlx&t=7
12. "Obama's budget," Los Angeles Times, February 27, 2009 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=51206&id=15687-538505-35VJRlx&t=8
13. "Student Loans," The New York Times, February 26, 2009 http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/27/washington/27web-edu.html
14. "Health Insurance Stocks Dive on Medicare Advantage Cuts," The Wall Street Journal, February 26, 2009 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=51207&id=15687-538505-35VJRlx&t=9
15. "Agriculture," The New York Times, February 26, 2009 http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/27/washington/27web-agri.html
16. "Investing Wisely in Our Children," Center for American Progress, February 26, 2009 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=51208&id=15687-538505-35VJRlx&t=10
17. "Obama Offers Broad Plan to Revamp Health Care," The New York Times, February 26, 2009 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=51202&id=15687-538505-35VJRlx&t=11
18. "Obama Offers Broad Plan to Revamp Health Care," The New York Times, February 26, 2009 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=51202&id=15687-538505-35VJRlx&t=12
19. "Setting 'Green' Goals," The New York Times, February 26, 2009