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.
Culver City Democratic Club – 62 Years
General Membership Meeting – Veterans Auditorium Rotunda
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
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!
by Sylvia Moore
At the March 11 General Meeting, the Culver City Democratic Club voted in favor of joining the AllCare Alliance movement for universal health care. I'm very happy that the membership decided to join this important coalition of community and progressive organizations. The Alliance's goal is to get a publicly-financed healthcare program established in California based on "Medicare for All." There was no time to share my personal story with the membership at the meeting, so I share it here now. Last year, I injured my hand in a car accident. I briefly had employment for a few months, and got a silver health plan, thanks to the Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare"). I was eventually able to get surgery for my hand. But, the ACA just isn't good enough. It was a first step, and only a step. The accident was in February 2014, and because of CoveredCA website hiccups, I didn't get my coverage until May 2014 (I started the application process in December 2013, and restarted it in March 2014 because of the new job).
It was not easy for me to find a surgeon because of the limited networks of ACA/Covered California plans. Even with my silver plan, I still had to pay high out of pocket costs for an MRI ($400), and co-pays for my primary care doctor ($55 a visit), and specialist visits ($65 a visit). At the time, my job didn't pay a whole lot. When that job ended, I paid premiums and costs out of savings I accumulated. I did, however, get some of these medical costs reimbursed from my auto insurer. I'm unemployed again and was eventually forced out of my silver plan, and put into the MediCal application process. Unfortunately, I could not locate a physical therapist who would take MediCal. I delayed possibly effective treatment trying to locate a PT who would take MediCal. For the PT I chose, my mother (who's helping me out) ended up paying $75 out of pocket (this was a discount!) for each visit.
My thumb has improved, but not enough where I have restored range of motion. I am going back to the surgeon, this time, uninsured. He does not take MediCal. The visit will cost $250. I may need more surgery, and if I don't get employment with health benefits soon, I shudder to think how much more surgery will cost. I will have to try to get all of these costs reimbursed by the other driver's insurer (I was not at fault). My auto insurer will not pay out for most of the out of pocket costs. Granted, this is not a life or death situation, but since I am a writer, having a bum hand is potentially career-affecting.
For some Californians on MediCal, they still have problems finding a doctor because of low-reimbursement rates. We have a two-tier health system in this country: a pretty good one for the affluent, employed and middle class, and a lesser quality one with harder or no access for the unemployed and low income. To me, that is unfair. When so many of us are still struggling to land jobs in a difficult economy, especially jobs with good health coverage, when wages are stagnant for many, having employment and/or access to a good income stream shouldn't determine the kind of coverage you get or whether you get coverage at all. That is unfair. In my opinion, health coverage must be decoupled from employment/income level. Health care is a right and should be paid for through taxation. Everyone accepts that public schools, police and fire are paid through taxation - why not health care?
If we had a universal system like Canada, Japan or Europe, I would have been able to seek treatment immediately or fairly soon after my accident at little to no cost. I would have been able to see any specialist no matter my employment/income situation. I wouldn't be "churning" in and out of MediCal/the private system and have my care interrupted because of bouts of unemployment. So, for those who have been lucky enough to have had continuous employment and generous health benefits most of your life, and consider the ACA to be the best we can do, please consider my experience and that of other people - particularly freelancers - who routinely experience bouts of unemployment. I have a good friend who is a freelance artist who is also experiencing coverage affordability issues despite the ACA.
I know President Obama and Congressional Democrats did as much as they could in getting some sort of improvement to our healthcare system passed. The ACA was what we got under the difficult circumstances at the time. But, we STILL need a publicly financed health system that covers everyone. Four million Californians will remain uninsured even when the ACA is fully implemented. What about them? This is where the states and the AllCare Alliance come in. California can lead the way to passing a truly universal healthcare system based on the ones in Canada, Japan, Europe, based on Medicare for All. California can be a model for the rest of the country. I'm imploring our state Democratic legislators, and Gov. Brown to support this effort. www.allcarealliance.org