Category Archives: unemployment

Inherent Bias

The Atlantic has an amazing story about the entrenched biases that affect peoples’ perceptions of the world, and how they are affected by political allegiance. Aptly titled “It’s Not About the Economy,” author Alana Semuels uses the northern Indiana town of Elkhart to illustrate how in this post-truth era, political tribalism affects our views more than economic realities:

Elkhart’s unemployment rate, which had reached a high of 22 percent in March of 2009, is now at 3.9 percent. Hiring signs dot the doors of the Wal-Mart, the McDonald’s, and the Long John Silver’s. The RV industry makes 65 percent of its vehicles in Elkhart, and the industry is producing a record number of vehicles, which is creating a lot of jobs in this frosty town in northern Indiana.

Despite this good economic and jobs news, Elkhart voters don’t credit President Obama or the Democrats. Not only do they think the economy improved in spite of, not because of, Obama, they also blame Obama for things he didn’t do, or don’t give him credit for things that he did. It basically boils down to this: people in Elkhart, IN don’t like Democrats, period, and nothing will change that:

These biases are only increasing as the country becomes increasingly polarized. As people become increasingly loyal to their parties, they are unlikely to give leaders from the other party credit for much of anything positive. Both sides are instead more likely to believe narratives that suggest that the other party has only made things worse.

“People’s predispositions affect their factual beliefs about the world,” said Brendan Nyhan, a professor of government at Dartmouth College who has researched why people believe what they do about politics. “What we want to be true influences what we believe to be true.”

Indeed, as the economy began improving, Elkhart voters grew less likely to support Democratic candidates for president. Obama won 44 percent of the vote in Elkhart County in 2008, 36 percent in 2012, and Clinton received just 31 percent in 2016.

Thanks, hate radio and Fox News! Really, this has to be the Fox Effect, more than anything. (And yes, it works the other way, too. Democrats generally won’t credit Republicans with doing anything right, either. Although we do embrace conservative policies, and hullo, who ever thought Democrats would fight to the death to support a Republican healthcare plan?)

Check out these reasons why people in Elkhart don’t like President Obama:

Ed Neufeldt, whose daughter and two son-in-laws now work in the RV industry after losing their jobs in it during the recession, told me he thought Obama was responsible for improving the economy in Elkhart, but that he still didn’t like the president because of his stance on abortion.

Okay, I can buy that. I don’t agree with it, but at least it’s an actual policy disagreement. For the record, Ed Neufelt was the only person Semuels spoke with who credited Obama with improving the economy. But he found another reason not to like him. Funny how that works.

And then there’s this:

Brandon Stanley owns a bar in Elkhart. He says he’s optimistic that the economy is improving now that Republicans have regained power, but emphasizes that there are still a host of economic problems that haven’t been solved in Elkhart. As for the shrinking unemployment rate in Elkhart, “they changed how they report unemployment numbers,” he told me, so they’re not believable.

Ah, the “damn lies” contingent. When the facts are in opposition to your preconceived political bias, the facts must be wrong. For the record, I remember a version of this among liberals during the Bush years: yes, unemployment numbers were at a certain rate, the popular talking point went, but it didn’t reflect those who had “given up looking for a job.” I’m quite certain I repeated that line myself, and it may or may not have been true at the time. I now hear that same line repeated by Republicans in regards to current unemployment numbers. And thanks to the internet, it’s really easy to find links bolstering whatever argument you want to make.

Now let’s meet another Elkhart resident with some really good reasons for hating Obama:

Andi Ermes, 39, offered a number of reasons for disliking Obama. She said Obama didn’t attend the Army-Navy football game, even though other presidents had. Obama has actually attended more Army-Navy games than George H.W. Bush. She said that he had taken too many vacations. He has taken fewer vacation days than George W. Bush. She also said that he refused to wear a flag pin on his lapel. While it is true that Obama did not wear a flag on his lapel at points during the 2007 campaign, it was back on his suit by 2008. Ermes told me the news sources she consumes most are Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and a local conservative radio show hosted by Casey Hendrickson.

What did I say about hate radio and Fox News? This is particularly stupid because, really, who gives a shit if someone wears a flag pin or not? And it just goes to show, there’s nothing a Democrat can do to earn the votes of the brainwashed. Just as there was literally nothing Donald Trump could do that would lose the allegiance of these same brainwashed folks. As long as you have that “R” behind your name and spout the same stupid approved points, you are golden with these folks.

I’m not sure what the solution to this is. It all seems part of a larger social and demographic unraveling. I also wonder how uniquely American this is. Other countries have the internet, fake news, partisan news media and biased columnists. Has the poison of hyperpartisanship affected Canada, Australia and the UK? Do people blindly not accept facts that challenge their preconceived worldviews in France and India and China?

If living in a cocoon of ignorance is more palatable than moving one’s biases one inch to the right or left, we are all truly doomed.

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Filed under 2016 Election, 2016 Presidential Election, economy, unemployment

Lifestyles Of The Lazy & Unemployed

If only they’d show more initiative, eh Republicans?

They are proud, but not too proud to stand for hours. They are tired, but not so fatigued that they didn’t start turning out before sunrise to participate in a job fair scheduled to start at 11 a.m. with the promise of 3,300 positions. The work is varied, and it is coveted. By the time the fair ends, an estimated 6,000 people will stand in this line.

And:

(NECN: Melissa Toupin: Worcester, Mass.) – 3,013 people attended a job fair on Tuesday sponsored by U.S. Sen. Scott Brown — about 1,000 more than attended a similar event in October.

Potential job-seekers stood elbow-to-elbow at Worcester State University.

Clementine Viga of Worcester has been looking for a steady job since she graduated from college in 2009 and is finding that she’s competing against people with doctorates.

Some came from as far away as New Hampshire, like Deb Lund, who is looking for a job in the medical field.

And wake up Tennessee, Florence, SC is showing they’re hungry! More than 1,200 job applicants showed up for 530 potential new jobs that don’t even exist yet. Agero hasn’t decided where it’s going to locate its new call center yet, but held the jobs fair so they could give the workforce the once-over:

The job fair will be useful to Agero if it does decide to locate the 529-job center here – Agero officials will have a big pile of resumes it can sift through — but Monday’s event was more about guaging the depth of the local job market than locating actual hires.

OH. Hope those 1,200 eager applicants didn’t have their hopes up. Because c’mon Clarksville, Tennessee! Represent!

Agero is still weighing the charms of Florence against those of Clarksville, Tenn., a city some 133,000 in northern Tennessee between Nashville and Ft. Campbell, Ky. Agero will hold a similiar fair in two weeks in Clarksville. The results of the two fairs will weigh on the company’s decision, which is imminent. Agero officials said Monday they wanted to be picking up phones in a new call center by June.

Dust off those resumes and get those suits dry-cleaned, Clarksville. Agero has come a-courting. Let’s show those 1,200 hungry people in South Carolina what Clarksville’s got.

Republicans really need to stop telling everyone the unemployed are lazy, enjoying a life of luxury off their unemployment benefits. Not with headlines like these in the news every day.

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Filed under unemployment

For The Birds

A couple weeks ago a friend forwarded along this hilarious video sent him by a wingnut buddy. You can now see it over at FunnyOrDie.com.

It’s one of those tortured analogies people often devise to justify being assholes. Here’s this guy comparing his bird feeder to unemployment benefits. He put up “da boid feedah” and ach! Da boids, dey made a mess! On da patio! And next to da bahbecue! And da poop! Everywhere! And da boids, some of ’em, dey turned mean! Dive bombin’ and everythin’, dese ungrateful asshole boids! Ach! After all I’d done for ’em, too! Offa my lawn! I took down de boid feedah and problem solved! No more poop! Yay!

And this, my friends, is how we solve the unemployment problem! Just stop giving people unemployment benefits and they magically go away. Amiright?

Hilarious. Funnily enough, I happened to watch this video on the same day that I had gone down to my local retailer and picked up about 50 pounds of bird seed for my own feeders. So as I’m filling my feeders and hearing my avian friends chirp excitedly in the trees I thought to myself: you know what? I’ve been feeding birds in my backyard for years and I’ve just never had these problems. I don’t have bird nests in inappropriate places, nor is my patio covered in bird poop. And none of my birds have ever dive-bombed us when the feeders are low. Funnily enough, I just have never had this man’s experience with the local wildlife. I wonder why. Maybe, just maybe, this tortured analogy was pulled out of somewhere other than reality.

It’s a popular wingnut myth that, during the Second Great Depression when unemployment has been stuck at a stubborn 10% or so (and is most certainly higher than that, because people who have given up looking are no longer counted), somehow people have no jobs because they’re lazy. Somehow, people who have never had to take unemployment are just convinced that the benefits are so generous that people would rather sit back in the La-Z-Boy and just wait for those checks to roll in than get off their asses and work for a living.

Indeed, this week we heard that same idea from Tennessee’s own smug, self-righteous Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, aka the “Shadow Governor,” referring to unemployment benefits as “a lifestyle” because someone told him there are jobs but no applicants out there.

Hey, Ron Ramsey: I’m going to call bullshit on that little anecdote. Mr. Ramsey needs to pony up here. You know of someone with job openings? Give us their name and phone number. Put it in the paper. Betcha anything they will be overwhelmed with applicants, just like the 5,000 people who showed up for 1,600 jobs at Nissan this week.

I dare you. No, I double dare you.

You know what else I’m calling bullshit on? This:

Ramsey’s event also spotlighted his http://www.TNRedtape.com Web site documenting anti-business state government decisions.

[…]

“The ironic part about this is we will have some people get on the Web site and call us and then we will ask ‘Can we use this publicly?’” Ramsey said of the information collected by the Web site. “Most people don’t want to be cited publicly. … They are dealing with the Department of Revenue, the Department of Environment and Conservation, and think there will be repercussions.”

Really? Well, I guess if you say so, then! Clearly government is the problem, not the solution, says the man who has devoted months to gun nuts and blocking peoples’ voting rights, but didn’t do one thing to actually help the state’s employment situation. We’ll just take your word for it! Unless, like our friend with “da boid feedah,” you’re just making shit up. Wouldn’t put it past you one bit, either. But we’ll never know!

Hey guess what: I have this super-secret story too, about how all of the knuckle-dragging homophobic Muslim-hating Neanderthals in our state legislature have kept businesses away from the state of Tennessee. Someone whose name rhymes with “Pierrot Brevada.” But when I asked them if I could go public with it, they all said they didn’t want to be cited publicly, either.

What a coinky-dinky.

Here’s a thought: let’s stop blaming people in desperate straights straits for the economic situation. Let’s recognize that we are in the middle of the Second Great Depression right now. Taking away people’s unemployment benefits is not going to solve the unemployment problem. It’s just going to inhibit people’s ability to buy food, medicine and pay their rent. How that’s supposed to solve anything, I have no clue.

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Filed under right wing, Ron Ramsey, unemployment

Where There’s Shit There’s Always Flies

Is there nothing an American corporation won’t try to exploit for profits? Nothing at all? Of course not. So who’s gonna be the first company to turn unemployment into a commodity?

Ta-da: it’s Hallmark and their new line of sympathy cards for the unemployed! Hallmark’s Creative Director Derek McCracken says the idea came from consumers. Or, to be more precise, “that macro trend around the economy” that is millions of people getting pink slips. Le sigh:

MCCRACKEN: Wow. It was just that macro trend around the economy where there were layoffs and consumers were asking us for something that was more specific to the situation.

BLOCK: So you’re saying this idea actually came from people who buy cards, from customers?

MCCRACKEN: Yeah. They sent us letters. They phoned it in. They asked their retailers, you know, in their neighborhood, where do I find a card that says this?

Oh, bullshit. This is the kind of crap spewed by corporate MBA types who always like to pretend whatever they’re doing meets some great consumer demand. That’s how we got stuck with New Coke and the late, great Qwikster. And now it’s the “sorry you got canned” sympathy card. McCracken might as well say, “We would never do anything that tacky but … heh heh … it’s what our customers want!” Give me a break. Is it cynical of me to say they wanted to tap into a market of 14 million unemployed persons? Of course it is. That doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

Anyway, the whole idea of a line of sympathy cards for the newly jobless seems too bizarre to be believed. I cannot imagine under what circumstances I would send such a card to anyone. Because I don’t care how mushy the sentiment, greeting cards are impersonal.

You can check out some of the new line here.

(via Gawker)

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Filed under consumerism, corporations, unemployment

A Cheap Labor Update

We have an update on Vanderbilt Landscaping (not affiliated with Vanderbilt University), which I wrote about last August, after it treated its Mexican guest workers like modern-day slaves. One had to actually escape with the help of an Atlanta human rights group.

The Dept. of Labor has fined the company for violating H-2B visa rules, and ordered back pay to 42 guest workers.

Horwitz called the nearly $40,000 in backpay and fines a big victory, but he also said the fight isn’t over. In fact, just last week, Jimenez and 14 other former employees of Vanderbilt Landscaping filed a federal lawsuit in Nashville, alleging human trafficking, forced labor, and civil rights violations.

“Some of the elements of that lawsuit included workers’ passports being held, workers being told they weren’t allowed to leave the premises, and if they did leave, they were told their passports would be burned,” said Horwitz.

According to the Department of Labor, the company has agreed to pay the $18,496 in backpage, but has filed an appeal in regards to the $18,000 penalty being imposed by the government.

Something not mentioned in this update is that the company had $2.4 million in state Transportation Department contracts, plus a $900,000 a stimulus loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

I would expect a company in violation of the law would lose its government contracts and be ineligible for benefits like Dept. of Agriculture loan guarantees. But the follow up story didn’t address that. For that matter, I don’t know why companies getting state and federal contracts are hiring cheap foreign labor, but I’ve already harangued about that enough.

America is truly a fucked up country right now.

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Filed under immigration, Tennessee, unemployment

Your Country Is Addicted To Cheap Labor

There is so much wrong with this scenario I don’t even know where to start.

How about starting with the human rights violations:

SMYRNA — A Mexican guest worker says a landscaping company with Tennessee state contracts and a federal stimulus loan guarantee held him and fellow workers like indentured servants, confiscating their passports and subjecting them to constant surveillance by managers who were often armed.

Hilario Razura Jimenez said in an interview that he was rescued from Vanderbilt Landscaping’s company housing Wednesday night by staff from the Alliance of Guestworkers for Dignity. He waited until everyone else was asleep before sneaking out at about midnight, he said. Staff with the New Orleans-based nonprofit were in touch with him by text message and drove out to pick him up.

Alliance executive director Saket Soni said company officials last week put another worker on a bus back to Mexico when they learned that he had been talking with their group.

A person who answered the phone at the company on Thursday said he would not comment on the allegations and refused to give his name. The company, which has $2.4 million in state Transportation Department contracts and a $900,000 a stimulus loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has offices in Smyrna and Mason.

Jimenez said he has come to the U.S. on an H2B guestworker visa twice before. Both times the pay and conditions were exploitative, but he came again because he was desperate.

Oh my God. It’s the John Pickle Company all over again! We never learn, do we?

Hey America, wake up. You want to know where your jobs went? They went into the pockets of the Greed Machine, “small businesses” that would rather exploit cheap labor provided by desperate people from foreign countries than pay you a living wage you can use to send your kids to college.

This is what’s wrong with America, people. This is what happens when you “privatize” public jobs. This is exactly what will happen when all of those Metro school custodians are fired and Metro contracts out its landscaping and custodial services. Who will get those jobs? Not hard working Americans, but hard working foreigners, who because they are desperate will work for peanuts and live in substandard, slave-house conditions.

The State of Tennesseee is using taxpayer money to pay foreign workers, when there are plenty of people in this state who need the work. And don’t you know as soon as someone suggests that the state not hire companies who use foreign labor we’ll hear all of that screeching and squawking about the “free hand of the market.” You know what? The free hand of the market can bite me. Hell, it’s biting you.

Oh, and I’m calling bullshit on this:

A Nashville Union leader also brought up the issue of taking jobs from American workers. The Vanderbilts said they ran ads in newspapers in Nashville and Memphis for three weeks. They said they did 70 interviews, and said most of the applicants decided the work was too hard.

I’m not buying that. That just reeks of Rush Limbaugh “the unemployed are lazy” white privilege elitism. Try paying people what they are worth, then you’ll get some takers. This is life in a “right to work” state: right to work? Bullshit. Right to see your job go to desperate “guest” workers, more like.

A bunch of greedy, selfish bastards have sold the notion that legally exploiting desperate Mexicans is somehow better than paying Americans a decent wage to do the same job. I know it really sucks that companies like Vanderbilt Landscaping can’t legally exploit American workers, gosh I have a sad for you. Poor, pitiful “small business” that you are, I know we’re all supposed to worship at the altar of the “small businessman” these days, you’re American heroes you really are. Except when you’re not, like when you exploit foreigners to boost your profits, just because you can. Hey, fuck you.

How many times do I have to say it? We are cheap labor addicts. When will Democrats wake up and say, enough already? Time to support American workers?

This is why I have been opposed to “guest worker” programs every time they are proposed, be it from George W. Bush or Barack Obama. Guest worker programs are simply institutionalized cheap labor. We refuse to pay what things are worth so we’ll just create a permanent underclass to toil in the sun for us, meanwhile millions of Americans need work but we’ll just say they’re lazy and be done with it.

Pay no attention to the giant elephant in the room. The problem is not “undocumented workers” or “illegal immigration” or “organized labor.” The problem, as always, is greed. Slave labor in the interest of corporate profits is not just fine and dandy.

This pisses me off more than you can begin to believe. We need a national living wage law. Now. Pay people what they are worth.

(h/t, Joe Powell at KnoxViews)

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Filed under immigration, rants, TDOT, Tennessee, unemployment

>We Live In Strange Times

>Here’s a very strange scenario. I caught an interview with Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, on the radio yesterday. It appears that there has never been a time in U.S. history when the unemployment rate has exceeded 7% and the U.S. Congress has failed to pass an extension of unemployment benefits. Never.

We are now in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, with unemployment still near 10%. Amazingly, it appears our U.S. Senate may do what it has never done: fail to pass an extension of unemployment benefits. Of course, Republicans are filibustering the bill and of course Democratic Senator Ben Nelson, whose state has an enviable unemployment rate of 4.5%, has joined it.

This is very odd. Why would the Senate do this? Nebraska’s modest unemployment rate notwithstanding, there are unemployed people all over the country: red states, blue states — even that 4.5% in Nebraska. With an election a few months down the road, why would you want to look like you aren’t responsive to the people in your state who are out of work? Why would you want to keep these people from having money to spend, when the economy depends on people spending money?

I’ve heard the argument that Republicans want the economy to keep sucking so they can blame the Democrats and the Obama Administration. The worse things are for Americans, the better Republicans look; at least, so goes the argument. And I realize not everyone pays attention to this stuff. But if you’re out of work you’re surely paying attention and if your unemployment benefits have run out, you surely know who is trying to hammer out an extension and who is blocking it.

For years no matter what your party affiliation it was generally deemed a good idea to at least put up the pretense of caring about the people in your district and state. You wanted to look like you “felt their pain,” that you understood where people were hurting and you were there to help. This is why every time unemployment rose above 7% Congress was quick to pass an extension of unemployment benefits.

These days we have a disconnect. For some reason, Congress doesn’t feel like there is a penalty to be paid for their inaction. Even if it were true that Republicans could mine the misery of the unemployed into electoral gold in November, what makes them think they won’t suffer some of the same blowback? If it’s true that politicians are facing an “anti-incumbent” backlash, and with Tea Partiers trying to oust less pure conservatives from the ranks of the Republican Party, wouldn’t you want to look like you are concerned about people in your state who are out of work?

I don’t get it. But hey, maybe someone can explain it to me. And I’m not the only one asking, too. Yesterday, Bob Herbert wrote:

What’s needed is the same sense of urgency about helping struggling families and putting people back to work as the Bush and Obama crowds showed when the banks were about to go bust. That sense of urgency is always missing when it’s ordinary people who are in trouble.

[…]

With our help, the banks and Wall Street have done fine. Better than they had any right to expect. It’s the ordinary folks outside the casino, in the real world, who are still in desperate need of help. But in a society of, by and for the rich, that help will be a long time coming.

I wonder if it’s as simple as that? This is the plutocracy argument, that a government of and by the wealthy is also only for the wealthy. Historically, times such as these are followed by populist surges and reforms. I’m just wondering if we’re there yet? The Tea Party, for all the media attention, seems bent only on reforming the Republican Party, and not in a good way: these far-right candidates support policies that further establish the plutocracy, not dismantle it.

True populism, it seems, is dead. Where are the “ordinary people”? The ones Washington has been giving the middle finger to for the past few months? Clearly there is some feeling that the “ordinary Americans” hurting right now won’t lash out in some way, either through civil unrest or at the voting booth. Washington seems to think that it can ignore the needs of ordinary Americans for some reason, and I really don’t get it.

It defies logic.

23 Comments

Filed under politics, unemployment

>Tennessee Republicans Put Party Over Jobs

>It really is all about punching hippies for Republicans these days:

Twelve Republican members of the House Commerce Committee squashed the Green Jobs Act this week that would provide green jobs with federal money to unemployed people in Tennessee’s most distressed communities.   Many of these legislators come from communities with high unemployment and some of them actually voted for a stronger version of the bill in a March subcommittee hearing. 

The reasons for their opposition to the Act are murky at best but it appears this is all about party politics.  The bill’s key sponsor is Rep. Mike Stewart, a rising young Democrat from East Nashville, a liberal enclave.

[…]

There is no rational reason for the Republican rejection of the Green Jobs Act.   It does not ask for any money from the state’s troubled budget, relying totally on federal funding. It would simultaneously provide jobs and training for people who are longtime unemployed, which would help jumpstart the economy, and help Tennessee transition into a new green, sustainable economy. 

The Green Jobs Act will be back again next year.   Meanwhile, as the November election approaches, constituents of the legislators who voted against it need to be informed that, in the middle of the worst recession since the 1930s, their elected representative voted against jobs. 

As I wrote  earlier this week, it really is mind-boggling how paralyzed our state legislature appears to be when it comes to creating jobs for Tennesseans. We’ve got all sorts of culture war legislation, guns in bars, signage in abortion clinics, English as the state language, even an expensive and futile battle over the federal healthcare legislation. But can you people get off your asses and do something about the high unemployment rate in this state? No, you seem unable to figure that part out.

Now we finally have a jobs bill and what happens? Tennessee Republicans vote it down for no earthly reason except, I guess, it’s a “green” bill which means liberal, tree-hugger, latte-drinking, NPR-listening fake American and by God the “real” Americans of this state are going to punch that hippie but good.

I mean, what else can it be? Unless for some reason Tennessee Republicans don’t actually want to create jobs in this state. Do they think if people stay unemployed and angry and scared they are more likely to vote Republican come November?

I mean dang, I know I’m cynical, but that’s pretty cold, even for me. Surely Tennessee Republicans aren’t that evil, are they?

I’m not sure I like the hippie-punching alternative much better. But listen up, Tennessee legislators: people in this state can’t wait until next year for jobs. They need them now. So quit dicking around and playing your political games. Enough with the bills about Jesus and guns and gays. You’re wasting everyone’s time.

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Filed under Tennessee politics, TNGOP, unemployment

>TN Unemployment Up

>May unemployment figures are out and it’s not good news for Tennessee:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The number of unemployed people in Tennessee jumped by 30,800 in May, a 19 percent increase over the previous month, the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday.

The state’s unemployment rate jumped from 5.5 percent in April to 6.4 percent in May, nearly a full percentage point above the national rate.

Someone alert the real estate and homebuilders associations. They keep insisting the Tennessee economy is rainbows and lollipops, and they can’t understand why the real estate market is tanking.

As Atrios says, facts are stupid things.

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Filed under real estate, Tennessee, unemployment