September 7, 2011
STATE OF WORKING NC: Policies could shape economic recovery
It’s been more than two years since the Great Recession officially ended, and yet North Carolina’s families continue to struggle with a lack of job opportunities and the staggering loss of earnings and wealth. The transformation of the state’s economy has only compounded their struggle – stagnated wages and increased income inequality, among other issues, have reduced the pathways to economic security. North Carolina’s workers are in dire straits.
It often feels like North Carolina’s lawmakers willfully ignore just how significant these workers are to the state’s economic recovery. They produce, earn and spend in the economy, and their well-being is crucial to our economic future. Yet unemployment remains above 10 percent. Those fortunate to have jobs are seeing their pay erode and are losing benefits, and the recent state budget eliminated even more jobs in the public sector.
Creating quality jobs is central to North Carolina’s recovery, and the national and state government have the tools to create these jobs, if only policymakers would act boldly. A significant wage subsidy program could provide subsidies to small businesses and non-profits to cover part of the wages and benefits associated with hiring an unemployed worker for a new post. Similarly, work-sharing programs could encourage employers to reduce hours rather than lay off workers by using unemployment insurance funds to pay a portion of the wages that an employee would lose due to the reduction in hours.
These are just a couple of the options available to lawmakers. It’s time for them to focus on fiscal decisions and policies that will help close the jobs deficit in North Carolina, and ensure our economic recovery.
PAID LEAVE: Compensated sick days help balance work-family care
Most of us wouldn’t dream of going to work if we were suffering from a serious illness that could infect our coworkers or customers. However, what if skipping work meant losing your job? What if you simply couldn’t afford to take a day or multiple days off without losing money that you so desperately needed to support your family?
It’s a quandary that more than 1.6 million North Carolina workers have to face due to their lack of access to paid sick days. And recently, the challenge took a perilous turn, when a food server working at an Olive Garden restaurant in Fayetteville chose to go to work despite suffering from hepatitis. The server possibly exposed thousands of customers to the disease all because they couldn’t risk taking a sick day.
This is a widespread issue, particularly for individuals that work and are also responsible for taking care of a sick family member or friend. A majority of North Carolina’s 1.2 million caregivers struggle to balance work and family-care responsibilities, and often jeopardize their own health as well as that of their families simply because they lack access to paid sick leave.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Enforcing sensible workplace leave policies, such as enacting a minimum standard for pay sick days or expanding the reach of the Family and Medical Leave Act, would help protect workers and avoid public health scares. A 2009 study found that guaranteeing North Carolina workers paid sick time would save the state millions of dollars, and provide direct economic benefits to both employees and employers.
Workers should be able to take care of themselves and their ill family members with the knowledge that they can keep their jobs, particularly at a time when employment is so hard to come by.
EDUCATION CUTS: The numbers are in
The new school year is upon us, and amidst all of the debates on school reassignment and charter schools, there are some very simple, straightforward and altogether staggering numbers that no debate can deny. Vows from legislators that no teachers would lose their jobs as a result of budget cuts were clearly empty promises.
Last week, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction released data showing that thousands of individuals have lost their jobs in North Carolina’s school districts. More than 500 teachers were laid off and more than 1,200 teacher assistants abruptly found themselves without work. In total, 2,723 educators received pink slips from the budget cuts at the state level for this school year, with more than 30 percent of the layoffs coming from the K-12 level. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg county area alone lost more than 300 classroom teachers and 102 teacher assistants, the highest losses in the state. But these cuts are widespread, and no county is immune to the far-reaching effects of the legislative budget.
North Carolina’s lawmakers claimed they did all they could in protecting education and jobs. But where’s this protection now? These alleged jobs they protected are dwindling by the day, and it's these jobs - the ones that help shape the future of our state - that most deserve our policymakers' protection and respect.
CAMPAIGN FOR BETTER CARE: Lunch for older adults, caregivers
Join the NC Justice Center and AARP NC on Wednesday, September 21 for the next Campaign for Better Care community luncheon and make your voice heard on one of the most important, complex issues in North Carolina today.
The Campaign for Better Care aims to make improvements in the health system for vulnerable, older adults, and build a strong, lasting consumer voice for better health care. Come and share your experiences about what you think needs to be changed in our health system, and take advantage of the expertise offered from the AARP and the Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP). A physician and his staff will be on site to conduct health screens in one of OIC’s mobile medical units.
The free event will be held from 11:30 a.m.-2:00 p.m. at the OIC Community Health Education Center in Rocky Mount. To reserve your space, contact OIC at (252) 212-3461 or Nicole Dozier at email@example.com or 919-856-2146. For more information, visit the NC Justice website.