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Thursday, June 17, 2021

Blaming the Victims

 By William Street, Jr

Douglas County Commissioners have sent a letter to the Governor requesting that she reduce unemployment insurance payments to Oregon’s unemployed. Following the lead of about 26 Republican-controlled states, these County Commissioners seek to blame the unemployed for being without work and assert that the length and amount of unemployment payments are enabling the unemployed to be “picky” about what jobs they will accept, especially if the job offered pays less than enhanced unemployment insurance benefits.


For the county commissioners, the path forward is to cut unemployment insurance benefits and force these “lazy” workers to accept a job, any job. Under their reasoning, idled Boeing machinists should give up their recall rights, health insurance, and endanger their pensions and accept work as bartenders, while unemployed bartenders should get hired building airplanes.


This demand by Douglas County commissioners is as misguided as the Republican-controlled states that have already or are about to cut unemployment. Here’s why:




If the duration of the unemployment insurance benefit or the amount of the benefit was a factor in determining an employer’s ability to find workers, then one would expect that the historic increase in the current unemployment benefit amount would produce a historically large number of unemployed collecting benefits.

Yet both in Oregon and nationwide the unemployment rates for those receiving benefits are at or below normal levels. In fact, as the chart above displays, despite historically unprecedented high unemployment in Oregon during the benefit year for COVID-idled workers, the rate of unemployment of those collecting unemployment insurance remains well below normal levels.  The chart also shows that the number of Oregonians unemployed for longer than 15 weeks is also below normal levels for the given unemployment rate.

As of May the unemployment rate composed of those receiving benefits was 2.82%. This number pales in comparison with the decline in the state’s civilian labor force. From a high in May 1998, the labor force participation rate has dropped from 68.9% to 62.4%. This represents a disappearance in excess of 141,000 Oregon workers. Where did they go? Why are they no longer in the labor force? It is possible that many of them are working in some portion of the “gig” economy and thus could escape traditional labor-force participation measures. Possible for some, but unlikely for the majority of Oregonians because of the robustness of the data collection process and efforts specifically targeted at identifying the self-employed.

Another challenge to the “lazy” worker theory behind efforts to cut unemployment insurance benefits is the reality that in Oregon, the greatest job growth over the year has been in lower-wage sectors. If enhanced unemployment benefits were truly a barrier to job growth, then those sectors with the lowest wages should be the sectors with the least job growth, not the most job growth.

From April 2020 to April 2021, the sectors with the highest percentage of hiring in Oregon were the lower-wage Leisure and Hospitality sectors. Employment in these lower-wage sectors grew by 55.6%. That outpaces the higher-wage manufacturing sectors, which grew over the year only by 1.6%. Until a situation arises where jobs paying less than unemployment insurance are shrinking while jobs paying more are growing, it is impossible to defend the concept that unemployment insurance has created a significant financial disincentive to work.


The argument that unemployment insurance is a barrier to job growth fails when we consider the low rates of unemployed people who are actually receiving benefits along with the average lengths of longer-term duration of unemployment. And let’s not forget that employed workers contribute to unemployment insurance funds, along with their employers.

 

If, as seems to be the case, neither the level of unemployment insurance benefit nor the length of benefit is a primary driver for the claimed labor shortage, what could be?





There are a number of good explanations. One, as already suggested above, is a mismatch between the skills of unemployed workers and the skills sought by employers. As documented by the state’s senior labor market analyst, those who were most heavily displaced by the COVID restrictions were younger, less educated workers from industrial sectors that have fewer technical skill requirements. Given that these sectors were the hardest hit, it would be reasonable to assume that they would be the ones with the greatest hiring needs going forward. These workers are also less likely to have met the qualifications for unemployment insurance edibility at anything but the lowest payment levels.


Likewise, women were more likely to be idled than men. Prior to the pandemic, men were the largest group of workers covered by and receiving unemployment benefits. That was reversed a few months into the pandemic, and now women compose the largest group.


A primary driver for longer-term female unemployment, aside from the social and economic undervaluing of women’s contribution to the economy, is the ongoing lack of infrastructure for working parents. The lack of day care becomes critical when schools are closed. This represents a real obstacle not only in terms of parenting but also in terms of family safety. Hybrid school schedules with days or only afternoons off create havoc in the ability to be at work and at home simultaneously. Unless, of course, you are a remote qualified worker. Remote eligible work tends to offer higher wages and require higher education levels and also tends not to be the classifications where a labor shortage has been widely reported.


There is one other seldom discussed driver for an unemployed worker to refuse a job: If taking the job costs more than being unemployed.

If day-care costs, transportation costs, and food costs, for example, are marginally higher than the gain from wages, it could be impossible for a worker to afford to accept a job. Walmart and other businesses understand this, which is why for years they assisted their low-wage workers file for various social safety-net programs. In other words, a job that is subsidized by public assistance cannot be viewed as real if the public assistance is lowered or eliminated.

What seems clear is that the labor situation in the US today has more to do with the willingness,  rather than the ability, of employers to pay a living wage. Since about 1973, wages have not kept pace with worker productivity increases. This means a sizable surplus, created by workers, resides somewhere….perhaps in unjustified price/earnings ratios of stocks, or inflated CEO pay, or any of a number of speculative investment instruments.


Rather than target those on the bottom of the employment and wealth ladder perhaps it is time to distribute the wealth created by workers back to the workers who created it. It is easier to imagine a situation where living wage jobs have long lines of applicants than it is to believe that 141,000 Oregonians have left the labor market because of enhanced unemployment benefits for which they themselves are not even eligible. Perhaps it’s best to avoid flying in planes built by bartenders or drinking Old Fashioneds concocted by machinists.





Thursday, April 22, 2021

Special District Election takes place Tuesday, May 18, 2021

 Our Endorsements

Clackamas County Democrats is pleased to endorse the following candidates, all of whom value equity and are dedicated to assuring that all students in Clackamas County achieve at their highest potential.

May 11 is the last day to mail in your ballot. After May 11, ballots can be deposited into a ballot drop box; find a map of Clackamas County official ballot drop sites here.


District

Position/ Zone

Candidate

Canby

Position 7

Canby

Position 2

Clackamas Community College 

Zone 5, West Linn-
Wilsonville

Aaron Woods
Learn more about
Aaron Woods

Clackamas Community College

Zone 7, Canby

Gladstone

Position 6

Greg Lind

Gladstone

Position 1

Donna Diggs
Learn more about
Donna Diggs

Gladstone

Position 7

Lake Oswego

Position 3

Brian Bills

Lake Oswego

Position 2

Neelam Gupta

North Clackamas

Position 5

North Clackamas

Position 4

Tory McVay
Learn more about
Tory McVay

North Clackamas

Position 6

Oregon City

Position 3

Jason Kemmerich
Learn more about
Jason Kemmerich

Oregon City

Position 1

Oregon City

Position 4

Jeana Gonzales
Learn more about
Jeana Gonzales

West Linn / Wilsonville

Position 5

Seiji Shiratori

West Linn / Wilsonville

Position 3

Kirsten Wyatt
Learn more about
Kirsten Wyatt

Portland Community College

Zone 1

Laurie Cremona Wagner

Clackamas Fire District

Position 4

Clackamas Education Service District

At Large

Nadene Duffield

Clackamas County Sheriff's Levy

 Vote yes

Learn more about
Measure 3-566

 



Monday, April 19, 2021

You’re Invited!

 Fundraiser for Special District Candidates

2 p.m., Sunday April 25, 2021

*Registration is required*  see below

 

Clackamas County formed “CLACKAMAS COURAGE,” to recruit and support candidates. 


Cohosted by Libra Forde, Betty Reynolds, Kathleen Gordon and Charles Gallia. Meet the great candidates who are going to change the landscape of Clackamas County politics.


 CLACKAMAS COURAGE has created partnerships, provided training and is actively supporting nine diverse candidates for the May 2021 Special District Elections. 

 

Most face tough, contested races, and WE NEED YOUR HELP!

 

The stakes are high, and these candidates value equity, and want to assure that ALL students in Clackamas County achieve at their highest potential.

 

Please attend to hear from elected leaders in Clackamas County and meet candidates to learn why they’re running and learn how you can support them!

 

You must register in advance for this meeting:

https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJwlcOmopjMvGNfAKSLN9H4rxuYRkIKn8zhY 

 

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.




Monday, April 12, 2021

The American Jobs Plan: What It Means for Oregon

                                     


For decades, infrastructure in Oregon has suffered from a systemic lack of investment. The need for action is clear: Oregon’s infrastructure received a C- grade on its Infrastructure Report Card.

The American Jobs Plan will make a historic investment in our nation’s infrastructure.

• ROADS AND BRIDGES: In Oregon there are 395 bridges and over 1,287 miles of highway in poor condition. Since 2011, commute times have increased by 7.0% in Oregon and on average, each driver pays $256 per year in costs due to driving on roads in need of repair. The American Jobs Plan will devote more than $600 billion to transform our nations' transportation infrastructure and make it more resilient, including $115 billion repairing roads and bridges.

• PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: Oregonians who take public transportation spend an extra 82% of their time commuting and non-White households are 1.8 times more likely to commute via public transportation. 19% of trains and other transit vehicles in the state are past useful life. The American Jobs Plan will modernize public transit with an $85 billion investment.

• RESILIENT INFRASTRUCTURE: From 2010 to 2020, Oregon has experienced 12 extreme weather events, costing the state up to $5 billion in damages. The President is calling for $50 billion to improve the resiliency of our infrastructure and support communities’ recovery from disaster.

• DRINKING WATER: Over the next 20 years, Oregon’s drinking water infrastructure will require $6.3 billion in additional funding. The American Jobs Plan includes a $111 billion investment to ensure clean, safe drinking water is a right in all communities.

• HOUSING: In part due to a lack of available and affordable housing, 296,000 renters in Oregon are rent burdened, meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on rent. The President proposes investing over $200 billion to increase housing supply and address the affordable housing crisis.

• BROADBAND: 9.8% of Oregonians live in areas where, by one definition, there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds. And 44.5% of Oregonians live in areas where there is only one such internet provider. Even where infrastructure is available, broadband may be too expensive to be within reach. 11% of Oregon households do not have an internet subscription. The American Jobs Plan will invest $100 billion to bring universal, reliable, high-speed, and affordable coverage to every family in America.

• CAREGIVING: Across the country, hundreds of thousands of older adults and people with disabilities are in need of home and community-based services. The President’s plan will invest $400 billion to help more people access care and improve the quality of caregiving jobs.

• CHILD CARE: In Oregon, there is an estimated $857 million gap in what schools need to do maintenance and make improvements and 60% of residents live in a childcare desert. The American Jobs Plan will modernize our nation’s schools and early learning facilities and build new ones in neighborhoods across Oregon and the country.

• MANUFACTURING: Manufacturers account for more than 14% of total output in Oregon, employing 201,000 workers, or 10.4% of the state’s workforce. The American Job’s Plan will invest $300 billion to retool and revitalize American manufacturers, including providing incentives for manufacturers to invest in innovative energy projects.

• HOME ENERGY: In Oregon, an average low-income family spends 6-8% of their income on home energy costs forcing tough choices between paying energy bills and buying food, medicine or other essentials. The American Jobs Plan will upgrade low-income homes to make them more energy efficient through a historic investment in the Weatherization Assistance Program, a new Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator to finance building improvements, and expanded tax credits to support home energy upgrades.

• CLEAN ENERGY JOBS: As of 2019, there were 56,617 Oregonians working in clean energy, and the American Jobs Plan invests in creating more good paying union jobs advancing clean energy production by extending and expanding tax credits for clean energy generation, carbon capture and sequestration and clean energy manufacturing.

• VETERANS HEALTH: Oregon is home to over 300,000 veterans, 8.4% of whom are women and 53% of whom are over the age of 65. The President is calling for $18 billion to improve the infrastructure of VA health care facilities to ensure the delivery of world-class, state of the art care to veterans enrolled in the VA health care system. This includes improvements to ensure appropriate care for women and older veterans.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

The American Rescue Plan

 


The Need for Action in Oregon  


The pandemic and the associated economic crisis have had a severe impact on Oregon. The need for action is clear: 


• Since the pandemic began, more than 157,000 people have been infected  with COVID-19 and more than 2,200 people have died.  

• The unemployment rate is 6.3%, up from 3.5% before the pandemic. 

• Since February 2020, more than 26,000 fewer people are employed.  

• 282,000 adults – 10% of all adults in the state – report not having enough  

food to eat. This includes 90,000 adults living with children, or 10% of all  adults living with children, who report that the children in their household do  not have enough to eat.  

• An estimated 124,000 renters or 12% of renters are not caught up on rent.

 • An estimated 974,000 adults or 31% of all adults statewide report having  difficulty covering normal household expenses.  


The Effect of the American Rescue Plan on Oregon 


President Biden’s American Rescue Plan will provide Oregon with: 


• $2.758 billion in state fiscal relief 

• $1.5 billion in local fiscal relief 

• More than $1.1 billion in relief for K-12 schools 

• Economic impact payments of up to $1,400 per person (above the $600 per  person provided in December) for more than 2.7 million adults and 971,000 children. This is 86% of all adults in the state and 86% of all children in the  state.  

• Additional relief of up to $1,600 per child through the Child Tax Credit to  the families of 779,000 children, lifting 40,000 children out of poverty

 • Additional relief of up to nearly $1,000 through the Earned Income Tax  Credit to 264,000 childless workers, including many in frontline jobs

 • Marketplace health insurance premiums that are $1325 lower per month for  a 60-year old couple earning $75,000 per year