NC JUSTICE NEWS: Unemployment Insurance + Affordable Care Act + Crucial Conversation

October 25, 2011

UNEMPLOYMENT UPTICK: Public sector losses drive numbers

North Carolina is surging to the head of the pack, but not in a good way.

Numbers released by the Employment Security Commission on Friday showed that the NC unemployment rate rose to 10.5 percent in September – significantly higher than the national average of 9.1 percent. This marks the fourth straight month in a row that the state’s jobless rate has increased and North Carolina’s unemployment increased while the national average stayed steady.

What the numbers don’t immediately show is the stark gap between the number of unemployed individuals across the state and the jobs available to those searching. The number of employed people actually increased last month, but the state’s anemic job growth wasn’t able to keep up with new workers entering the labor market. Worse yet, that job growth wasn’t able to offset layoffs in the public sector, leading to another uptick in the ever-increasing unemployment rate.

Layoffs in the public sector have been the driving force in unemployment this past year. Nearly 13,700 workers were laid off by the state and local governments in August and September. Since September 2010, the public sector lost as many as 24,000 workers. Private sector growth just hasn’t been enough to make up for these losses.

On top of these losses are the continual egregious claims by lawmakers that somehow public sector layoffs haven’t been as terrible as the numbers indicate. Sen. Jerry Tillman still contends that there are fewer public school teachers out of work than there were this past summer, saying that these teachers were rehired at the beginning of the school year. He doesn’t seem to be changing his tune even after the latest numbers, which show the public sector losses have been just as bad – if not worse – as originally reported. How is North Carolina supposed to reverse its unemployment trend if its own lawmakers won't admit to just how dire the situation really is?

AFFORDABLE CARE ACT: How it helps NC families

In a time when bipartisan bickering has kept essential legislation from passing into law – including bills that would have protected working families across the U.S. – there’s one long-gestating piece of legislation that would act as a crucial tool in aiding North Carolina families, particularly those suffering after the Great Recession.

A new report from Families USA shows how the Affordable Care Act will have substantial effects on the state’s economy as major provisions go into effect. After reform, families currently without health insurance in NC – including many middle and low-income families – will benefit substantially, both because of expanded Medicaid coverage and new tax credits.

This is money in the pockets of families in NC who are being battered by the economy, as well as those who were uninsured before reform. Households with income under $30,000 will receive an average of $6,413 in help with the cost of health coverage, and those with income between $30,000 and $50,000 will receive an average of $3,574.

Read the complete report here.

UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE: Benefits keep families out of poverty

As seen in this month’s numbers, unemployment in North Carolina has been driven by a lack of jobs and ongoing loss of jobs, even during a period that is officially considered a time of “economic recovery.”

Because of the huge disparity between unemployed workers and a labor market with insufficient jobs, workers in North Carolina have remained unemployed for longer. Last year, the average duration of unemployment insurance receipt was 18.2 weeks, up from 13.9 weeks in 2007, when the unemployment rate was at 4.5 percent – which seems like a staggeringly low number given the current rate.

Unemployment insurance has played a crucial role throughout all of this. It’s allowed workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own to meet basic needs and provide for their family. A “handout”, critics say? Hardly. Consider this – the average weekly benefit amount of unemployment insurance paid last year was $298. For an average worker, that amounts to not even 39 percent of their wages before job loss. Overall, the average monthly unemployment insurance payment represents only 32 percent of a basic budget for a family of three.

In spite of these meager amounts, unemployment insurance benefits kept 3.2 million Americans out of poverty in 2010. It also played a role in the broader economy by supporting a level of consumer spending that can encourage businesses to expand and thrive. For every $1 in unemployment benefits, $1.64 is generated in economic activity. In North Carolina, this means that unemployment benefit payments have generated an estimated $23.3 billion in economic activity across the state. For once, these are numbers we can get behind.

CRUCIAL CONVERSATION: NC Policy Watch events across NC

NC Policy Watch is taking November by storm with four Crucial Conversation events across the state.

The events kick off on Nov. 2 in Charlotte. NC Speaker of the House Thom Tillis’ recently remarked that implied his goal was to pit disabled people against poor people as part of a “divide and conquer” strategy. In many ways, his statement seems to be a neat summary of the strategy employed by conservative legislative leaders during the 2011 state legislative session. Join NC Policy Watch on Wednesday, Nov. 2 for a special Crucial Conversation event to find out just how successful this strategy has been. Policy Watch’s own Chris Fitzsimon and Rob Schofield will be leading the discussion.

The event will be held at noon in Harris Hall at the Levine Museum of the New South, located at 200 E. Seventh Street in downtown Charlotte. Click here to register for the event, and contact Rob Schofield at rob@ncpolicywatch.com with any questions

On Thursday, Nov. 10, NC Policy Watch will address “fracking,” the name given to the process of hydraulic drilling for natural gas in shale formations. After a blitz of publicity and legislative proposals, fracking is being touted by proponents as some kind of magic bullet for North Carolina’s ailing economy. Others, however, worry that fracking could bring terrible harm to the state’s already fragile environment.

The event will feature Carol French and Carolyn Knapp, dairy farmers from Pennsylvania and founders of the Pennsylvania Landowner Group for Awareness and Solutions (PLGAS), and Grady McCallie, Policy Director of the North Carolina Conservation network. Join NC Policy Watch at the Junior League of Raleigh at 711 Hillsborough Street at noon. Click here to register for the Nov. 10 event.

That's not all... Be sure to check in on NC Policy Watch for two other Crucial Conversation events in November, including a gathering in Faytetteville on Nov. 14 and a Raleigh event on Nov. 29 which will address the marriage amendment debate.

CAMPAIGN FOR BETTER CARE: Lunch for older adults, caregivers

Join the NC Justice Center and AARP NC on Wednesday, November 2 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).

The free event will be held from 11:30 a.m.-2:00 p.m. at the Northeast Regional Library in Wilmington. To reserve your space, contact the disAbility Resource Center at 910.815.6618 or Nicole Dozier at nicole@ncjustice.org or 919-856-2146. For more information, visit the NC Justice website.

 

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