Presidential election season is officially underway, and the next Chief Executive - hopefully, a Democrat - will have to deal with an economy that, while recovering, is still less than stellar. March‟s jobs report was underwhelming: the federal government stated only 126,000 jobs were created after a year- long streak of monthly job figures north of 200,000. Meanwhile, the situation of the long-term unemployed - people out of work 27 weeks or more - has only slightly improved. Although the numbers in that group have dropped, 2.6 million people are still long-term unemployed, far higher than before the Great Recession began. That‟s a lot of wasted potential.
Despite all the rhetoric coming from the media and politicians asserting that the U.S. economy is on the upswing, many of our citizens are not feeling it. Wages are still stagnant for those who are working. Most of the gains made from the recovery have gone to the very richest. And the official employment numbers don‟t tell the whole story. For instance, the labor force participation rate is 62.7% - the lowest figure in nearly 40 years. Many people are either working part-time and want a full-time job, or have simply given up trying to find a job at all. They are not counted in the official unemployment rate of 5.5%. (Neither are people in prison, for that matter).
I can certainly attest to the problem of long-term unemployment, because I have been suffering bouts of unemployment for years, even before the 2008 financial crash (remember George W. Bush‟s “jobless recovery?”). For four blissful months last year, I had a full-time job on a state Senate campaign. Since that campaign ended last June, I have yet to land another job, despite continuing to send out resumes and leveraging my network of friends and acquaintances. There are others I know in the same situation. Unfortunately, the stigma of being unemployed for so long runs so deep in our society that some employers are openly discriminating against people who show long gaps in their employment histories. Then add to that difficulty, the unique challenges that certain groups - women, people of color, the disabled, people over 50 - have when trying to land jobs. For example, blacks, who still face rampant employment discrimination, don‟t have the same access as whites to the kinds of social networks that connect people to the best and highest paying jobs within the “hidden job market.” Decades of institutionalized racism and residential segregation have limited blacks‟ access to good employment opportunities.
Despite these challenges within American employment, the problem of long-term unemployment is getting little attention, aside from political fights over the length of time for unemployment benefits. I feel that those of us who are still unemployed and want to work are being left to twist in the wind. “Fighting for $15” minimum wage and talking up the “plight of working families” are great issues, but what about the folks who can only dream of getting a wage at all? This is where the government must come in. When the market fails, it is the government that must become “the employer of last resort.”
Democrats once trumpeted that principle from the days of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who established the famed Works Progress Administration that put thousands to work during the Great Depression. But, today, our party seems too timid to promote “muscular government,” and won‟t effectively push back against the ridiculous idea that “government doesn‟t create jobs (tell any civil servant that they aren‟t actually doing a „job‟).” That timidity is the result of 40 years of American society being bombarded with bad right-wing economic theories and policies. The WPA was a successful program, and so was another federal jobs program in the 1970s, called the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act. CETA trained unemployed people and provided them with jobs in civil service. Other countries have similar programs. CCDC member Darryl Cherness told me about CETA. Eventually, CETA and a subsequent successor were repealed in the 1990s. But we need such a program again. The recalcitrant Republican Congress likely won‟t implement it, so our California state Legislature should.
April 22 is Earth Day!
This February, I was pleased to attend the Green Venice Expo at Mark Twain Middle School, an event organized by our area neighbors, the Venice Neighborhood Council. The day was filled with informative talks about waste and consumption, recycling, eating locally, and sustainable living. Transition Culver City was one of the many local environmental groups who set up information tables for the public. Luxury electric car brand Tesla Motors even brought in one of its famed Model S sedans to display, and I briefly got to sit inside!
Doing small things like buying energy efficient light bulbs, painting your rooftop white, or reusing containers makes many of us feel good. Yet, when it comes to sustainability on a grand scale, America still lags behind the rest of the world. For example, France just passed a law requiring the rooftops of all new buildings in commercial areas to be covered in plants or solar panels. Green rooftops lower temperatures and reduce energy consumption, as the vegetation absorbs carbon dioxide. I also read that an architecture firm has proposed designing a system of bike paths in London to be built above existing rail lines. If achieved, the project would be quite an amazing innovation, perhaps even surpassing the extensive bike path network that impressed me on a trip to Copenhagen, Denmark, a few years ago. Canada’s largest grocery retailer is going to start selling “ugly produce” at discounted prices as a way to cut down on food waste. Germany and Denmark are leading the way in solar and wind power, with the latter country, according to the Sierra Club, aiming to be free of fossil fuels by 2050.
America certainly has wind turbine and solar energy projects, but if we are to really combat climate change, our country must treat the problem as a top priority and build solutions into public policy. That means counteracting the oil and gas industry lobby’s influence, and demanding that representatives and political candidates who take campaign money from the industry, cease doing so. It means demanding the mainstream media stop treating climate change as a debate, start relegating deniers to the fringe where they belong, and stop misinforming the public on the issue. It means stopping Republicans from derailing green projects and enacting stupid policies like prohibiting public officials from mentioning the words, “climate change” (see Florida’s Rick Scott).
Fortunately, President Obama and his administration are taking climate change very seriously. In February, the environmental community cheered when Mr. Obama vetoed the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, a project that would have had devastating impacts, while only creating a minuscule number of jobs. Years of work and protests by environmental activists, led by 350.org, pushed Mr. Obama to do the right thing. GOP Senators were unable to overturn his veto. It was a great day for the environment. While Mr. Obama is leading the way on the federal level, here in Culver City, Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells is leading the way locally. The Mayor, whom I call The “Green Mayor” for her tireless advocacy of biking and sustainable living, will speak at our April General Meeting. April is her last month as Mayor before the City Council rotates the position, so come with your questions about Culver City issues!
Housing in Los Angeles County is now unaffordable even for those residents in the middle class. One needs to make at least $33/hour to afford the average basic apartment at about $1,700/month in L.A. County, according to a recent report by researchers at USC. Yet, the minimum wage is only $9/hour. So buying a house at that income level is pretty much out of reach.
Over at UCLA, researchers concluded that Los Angeles is the nation’s least affordable rental market, due to lower median incomes, compared with San Francisco and New York City, and the scarcity of federally- subsidized and rent-controlled housing. The Great Recession worsened L.A. County’s affordable housing shortage, as people who lost their homes in the financial crash turned to rentals. Unfortunately, the problem of unaffordable housing only exacerbates wealth inequality.
Culver City is one of the most desirable places to live in California, with its tree-lined streets, walkable downtown, and many venues for fine eating and entertainment. Though I do not live in Culver City - I spend a great deal of time and money as a visitor - I am aware that it is a struggle for some residents to pay for living in such a wonderful place, as it is in the rest of L.A. County. The issue of rising rents in Culver City came up at a recent city council meeting. At the March 11 General Meeting, we will continue the discussion of rental housing in Culver City with a forum on tenants’ rights that I’m sure will be highly informative. The concerns of middle-class homeowners are given a lot of attention in the mainstream media and in Democratic Party discourse, but we also need to pay attention to the interests of renters as well.
In addition to the tenants’ rights panel, we will have a short presentation from the AllCare Alliance about what’s next in the movement to achieve universal health coverage in the wake of the Affordable Care Act. Although the ACA has dramatically reduced the number of uninsured Americans, 4 million Californians will remain without coverage even after the law is fully implemented. Even though the rate of premium increases has slowed somewhat, many Americans still struggle to pay medical bills. And some of those newly covered - either under expanded Medicaid or ACA- subsidized plans - have trouble finding doctors who will treat them because of these health plans’ low reimbursement rates. Personally, as one of those people who had an ACA-subsidized plan once, still had a hard time finding a doctor, and still has out-of- pocket medical bills - I prefer Medicare for All.
February 5, 2015
President Obama’s State of the Union address last month was the moment many Democrats were waiting for: a full- throated endorsement of liberal, Democratic ideas. The President showed where our country has made great strides in strengthening the economy, shrinking the deficit, boosting scientific research, and ending the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. But he also showed where we still have room for improvement. And of course, everyone was buzzing about Mr. Obama’s off-the-cuff jab at a group of heckling lawmakers: “I have no more campaigns to run...I know, because I won both of them.”
Following the rout from the 2014 midterm Congressional elections, Mr. Obama could have lurched to the right in order to pander to the smaller, more conservative electorate that showed up in November. Instead, he doubled down on progressive values with a new list of priorities he wants to work with the Congress to deliver on: free community college, tax credits for child care, paid sick leave, a free and open Internet, tax fairness, fighting climate change. With bold moves such as protecting immigrant children from deportation and taking the first step toward normalizing relations with Cuba, Mr. Obama is demonstrating that he will be no “lame duck.”
Still, though the President proclaimed that the “state of the union is strong,” it may not feel that way to many Americans. Since the beginning of Mr. Obama’s administration, the United States has regained the amount of jobs lost in the Great Recession. According to the White House, 11.2 million jobs have been created in the past five years. Yet, there are still millions more people looking for work, and for the majority of those who are working, wages remain stagnant. The Affordable Care Act has significantly reduced the number of uninsured Americans nationwide, and has halved the number of uninsured in California. But, experts say, 30 million Americans will remain uninsured, even after the ACA is fully implemented. And finally, as the recent protests against police brutality and the aftermath of the high-profile murders of two NYPD officers showed, America’s racial chasm still runs wide and deep.
As with any society, America remains an experiment, in constant need of update and repair. And, what is the state of the Culver City Democratic Club? That is what we will discuss at our February general meeting, as well as your thoughts about President Obama’s address. Let’s share ideas on what we can do to improve the Club. What topics would you like to see featured at future meetings? Should the Club take a more active role in grassroots activism? What ideas do you have to boost membership and/or fundraising? Are there any particular activities you’d like to see the Club do that hasn’t been done before or recently? Should the Club do some things differently? Come with your suggestions, and we’ll take notes. In addition, we will be voting on the positions of CCDC First Vice President and Correspondence Secretary for the 2015 Executive Board. The new Board will be installed at our annual luncheon on Feb. 22, which will also feature our special guest speaker, grassroots activist and women’s rights champion, Sandra Fluke. We will be presenting Ms. Fluke with the Democratic Activist of the Year Award, and former CCDC President Bill Wynn with the Trudy Cherness Democrat of the Year Award. We hope to see you there!