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“Move From Unemployment Insurance To Income Insurance”: Why The Sharing Economy Is Harming Workers And What Must Be Done

In this holiday season it’s especially appropriate to acknowledge how many Americans don’t have steady work.

The so-called “share economy” includes independent contractors, temporary workers, the self-employed, part-timers, freelancers, and free agents. Most file 1099s rather than W2s, for tax purposes.

It’s estimated that in five years over 40 percent of the American labor force will be in such uncertain work; in a decade, most of us.

Already two-thirds of American workers are living paycheck to paycheck.

This trend shifts all economic risks onto workers. A downturn in demand, or sudden change in consumer needs, or a personal injury or sickness, can make it impossible to pay the bills.

It eliminates labor protections such as the minimum wage, worker safety, family and medical leave, and overtime.

And it ends employer-financed insurance – Social Security, workers’ compensation, unemployment benefits, and employer-provided health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

No wonder, according to polls, almost a quarter of American workers worry they won’t be earning enough in the future. That’s up from 15 percent a decade ago.

Such uncertainty can be hard on families, too. Children of parents working unpredictable schedules or outside standard daytime working hours are likely to have lower cognitive skills and more behavioral problems, according to new research.

What to do?

Courts are overflowing with lawsuits over whether companies have misclassified “employees” as “independent contractors,” resulting in a profusion of criteria and definitions.

We should aim instead for simplicity: Whoever pays more than half of someone’s income, or provides more than half their working hours should be responsible for all the labor protections and insurance an employee is entitled to.

In addition, to restore some certainty to people’s lives, we need to move away from unemployment insurance and toward income insurance.

Say, for example, your monthly income dips more than 50 percent below the average monthly income you’ve received from all the jobs you’ve taken over the preceding five years. With income insurance, you’d automatically receive half the difference for up to a year.

It’s possible to have a flexible economy and also provide workers some minimal level of security.

A decent society requires no less.

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, November 27, 2015

November 30, 2015 Posted by | Jobs, Shared Economy, Unemployment Benefits, Unemployment Insurance, Workers | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“No Love For Veterans”: House Republicans Show Only Disdain And Thanklessness To Veterans

All politicians profess love and gratitude for military veterans. But for most Republicans, that does not translate into providing federal unemployment benefits to veterans who can’t find jobs.

At the end of 2013, federal benefits expired for people out of work for six months or longer. The Senate passed a retroactive extension last spring, with the support of a handful of Republicans. But the measure got nowhere in the Republican-controlled House.

In all, 2.9 million long-term unemployed people have been denied benefits this year that would be available if the program were renewed. Of them, 285,000 are veterans, according to estimates by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

When Republican opponents of federal jobless benefits say that aid to the unemployed encourages idleness, that includes veterans.

When they say that the nation can’t afford to pay for federal jobless benefits, that includes veterans. They are also, not incidentally, dissembling, because the Senate-passed extension was paid for with offsets. Besides, even if the money to pay for jobless benefits were borrowed, it would be more than worth it.

There is no doubt that federal unemployment benefits are still needed. Even with recent improvements in job growth, nearly a third of the nation’s 9.5 million unemployed people have been out of work for six months or longer, a level that is far higher than at any time before the Great Recession in records going back to 1948.

In addition, no previous Congress has ever let federal benefits expire when long-term joblessness has been as bad as it is today.

That’s not love and gratitude. It’s disdain and thanklessness.

 

By: Teresa Tritch, Taking Note, The Editorial Page Editors Blog, The New York Times, July 14, 2014

July 15, 2014 Posted by | House Republicans, Unemployment Benefits, Veterans | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Crumbling Walls”: Boehner’s Anti-Unemployment Insurance Excuse Is Falling Apart

Nearly three months after federal unemployment benefits expired for over a million Americans nationwide, House Speaker John Boehner’s excuse for refusing to take up a bill to renew the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program is falling apart.

When Senate Democrats and five Republicans struck a deal that would reauthorize the EUC program for five months and retroactively pay the benefits that expired on December 28, Speaker Boehner immediately dismissed the bill.

Citing a letter from the National Association of State Workforce Agencies (NASWA) – the state agencies that distribute the unemployment checks – Boehner argued that extending unemployment benefits would be too “difficult” and “unworkable,” due to the complications involved in ensuring that beneficiaries were actually looking for work during the proceeding three months.

Abandoning the House’s continuous claims that an extension would hinder job creation and dissuade long-term unemployed Americans from seeking employment, the Speaker argued that “the Senate bill would be costly, difficult to administer, and difficult to determine an individual’s eligibility.”

The bottom line, according to Boehner:  ”This could increase the likelihood of fraud and abuse.”

NASWA president Mark Henry, however, is now clarifying that the organization does not endorse a particular position on whether or not the bill should proceed. As Politico reports, Henry says that some in Washington had “conflated” the concerns mentioned in NASWA’s letter.

“The letter that I wrote did not label the legislation ‘unworkable’; that was Speaker Boehner’s word,” Henry said, distancing himself from the Speaker’s stance.

Also, as The New York Times points out, state agencies managed to overcome that same “difficulty” back in 2010, when benefits were renewed after a lapse.

Even others in the GOP are not buying Boehner’s excuse, which seeks to appease House Republicans, who, for the most part, oppose an extension of the EUC program.

According to Politico, Senator Rob Portman, a powerful Republican also from Ohio, shot back at Boehner, saying he understands the “concern” over implementation, “but it’s been done before.”

“We’re eager to hear [the House’s] ideas as to how it could be implemented more effectively,” he added.

Portman was not alone in speaking out against the House’s opposition to the program’s renewal.

“There’s a lot of things that the Speaker doesn’t like that we do over here,” says Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. “What we have out there is a fair proposal.”

Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) also spoke out, describing the deal as a “good compromise that takes care of people who are running out of their checks and does it in a way that is paid for appropriately.”

 

By: Elissa Gomez, The National Memo, March 26, 2014

March 27, 2014 Posted by | House Republicans, John Boehner, Unemployment Benefits | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Pete Sessions And The GOP’s ‘Immoral’ Conservatism”: Allowing People To Die To Advance A Political Philosophy Isn’t Just Bad Policy

“It is immoral.”

That was the judgment of Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican and committee chairman, on the House floor this week. But the subject of his sermon wasn’t the Assad regime in Syria or human trafficking. What Sessions found immoral was the repugnant notion that the government would help Americans who lost their jobs and are looking for work.

Sessions was preaching in response to Democrats’ pleas that the Republican majority hold a vote on restoring unemployment-insurance benefits to the 1.7 million who have lost them since the benefits expired six weeks ago and the 70,000 or so who are losing them each week. Sessions, on the floor to usher through the House “sportsmen’s heritage and recreational enhancement” legislation, explained why he wouldn’t bring up jobless benefits: “I believe it is immoral for this country to have as a policy extending long-term unemployment to people rather than us working on creation of jobs.”

In fact, the economy has added about 8.5 million private-sector jobs in the last 47 months, and overall unemployment, at 6.6 percent in January, would be substantially lower if Sessions and his colleagues hadn’t been so successful in their “work” of cutting government spending when the recovery was fragile.

One result of the Great Recession, though, has been historically high long-term unemployment — 3.6 million people out of work 27 weeks or more, according to Friday’s Labor Department report. This is falling — by 1.1 million over the last year — but those still searching, from all parts of the country and all walks of life, need help.

Republican opponents of the benefits extension said they would consider extending that help if it were “paid for” by saving money elsewhere. So Senate Democrats drafted a three-month extension that was paid for using an accounting method Republicans have supported in the past. Republicans responded with another filibuster — and on Thursday they again succeeded in blocking an extension of benefits.

Those opposing unemployment insurance were conspicuously absent during the debate. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) was brave enough to issue a statement: “We can get Americans back to work and our economy booming again, but this is not achieved by Washington turning a temporary federal benefit into another welfare program.”

That echoes the Sessions complaint that extending benefits is “immoral.” And, as is often the case, these complaints, in turn, echo Rush Limbaugh. After President Obama on Jan. 31 signed a memorandum directing the federal government not to discriminate against the long-term unemployed, the radio host responded: “So he says, ‘I’m directing every federal agency to make sure we are evaluating candidates on the level, without regard to their employment history.’ What if they’re fired because they’re drunk? What if they’re fired because they were having affairs with the boss’s secretary? Doesn’t matter. Can’t look at that.”

Of course, the memorandum says no such thing. Limbaugh and his congressional apostles are justifying indifference to the unemployed much the way one denies a panhandler under the rationale that he would use the money only to buy more booze. But these are not panhandlers; these are, by definition, people who had been working and are trying to work again.

The Sessions/Inhofe/Limbaugh definition of morality is based in the ideal world of universal productivity they’d like to see, but it offers little help for human misery in the real world. This morality can be seen, too, in the attempt, led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and embraced by many conservative lawmakers, to repeal the “risk corridors” that protect health insurers from unanticipated losses under Obamacare. That would likely bring down the entire health-care law, as its foes desire. But a collapse would also cause 30 million to 40 million additional people to lose their health insurance suddenly, with no obvious solution or easy way back to the old system. “It would precipitate a crisis,” says Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

This morality is also at work in the decisions by 25 states under Republican control to reject the expansion of Medicaid offered under Obamacare. The states generally object because they are philosophically opposed to entitlement programs. But a new study from researchers at Harvard Medical School and City University of New York calculates that 7,115 to 17,104 more people will die annually than would have if their states had accepted the Medicaid expansion. The researchers, who favor a single-payer health system, examined demographic data and past insurance expansions.

Conservatives dispute the study’s findings, and I hope the critics are right. Allowing people to die to advance your political philosophy isn’t just bad policy. It’s immoral.

 

By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 7, 2014

February 10, 2014 Posted by | Medicaid Expansion, Unemployment Benefits | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How Radical Becomes Normal”: The Fight Over Unemployment Benefits Underscores The Right’s Extremism

So this is showdown week in Congress for extension of unemployment benefits. Frankly, it looks bleak. No, it’s not that the public is against it. In fact far from it—58 percent support the extension in a new poll. But as I’ve written a kajillion times these last few years, it unfortunately doesn’t much matter what the people think. Republicans in Congress care only about the views of the more radical half of their party. And in that same poll, Republicans opposed the extension 54-42.

As long as that remains the case (and there’s no reason it’s likely to change), “UI,” as they call it on the Hill, seems a heavy lift. Republicans are insisting on cuts from elsewhere in the federal budget to pay for the benefits’ $6.4 billion cost. And Democrats are talking with them. But there’s no progress yet. In fact, it seems today that even the six Republicans who voted in the Senate last week to allow debate to proceed would not vote to extend the benefits just yet.

But let’s take a step back here, because introducing a little bit of historical context shows just how extreme the Republicans’ position is, and it shows us how, over time, what used to be crazy-radical becomes normal with the people.

When George W. Bush was president, noted Labor Secretary Thomas Perez on Jim Lehrer’s PBS show last week, unemployment benefits were extended five times, “no strings attached any of those times.” So as long as it was a Republican president under whom their constituents were out of work, they were happy to vote to extend the benefits. The last extension under Bush, in late 2008, passed 368-28 in the House of Representatives. Remember, this was with no “pay-fors,” in the argot. This vote took place a month before Election Day, which may have partly motivated 142 Republicans to vote for it with only the real hard-shellers going against it.

Now let’s move forward to 2010. We have a new president from a different party. The economy is struggling. The Republicans of course haven’t exactly been supportive of Barack Obama’s agenda, but on this one, they’re ready to agree. All but one. Jim Bunning, then a GOP senator from Kentucky, insisted that he wasn’t against extending such benefits, but he was against increasing the deficit by a few billion bucks.

But even then, the Senate GOP leadership wasn’t with Bunning. I remember that time well. Bunning had a few defenders among his colleagues, but basically, his position was seen as extreme by Democrats and even many or possibly most Republicans. Bunning finally got the message after a couple of weeks of antics—which included him whining that his noble filibuster against helping the nation’s jobless was preventing him from watching an important Kentucky Wildcats basketball game—and relented.

But what was considered extreme and nutty then is standard operating procedure today. A key development here was Rand Paul saying a couple of weeks ago that benefits beyond 26 weeks just make people lazy. That unleashed the right-wing id. In addition to that, of course, there’s the standing GOP House opposition to anything with Obama’s name on it. And this is how radical becomes normal.

Friday, I was at a meeting with a group of House Democratic lawmakers. They offered a few ideas about how they might get Republicans to agree. John Garamendi of California talked about a few billion being spent on a program in Afghanistan that he thought the GOP might play ball on. There were a few other notions, but none of them, I noticed, bruited with much confidence that they’d actually get anywhere.

Several echoed Connecticut’s Rosa DeLauro in saying that they just have to win the battle in the court of public opinion. “These are Americans’ stories,” DeLauro said. “When people hear them, they’re moved.” There’s no doubt that that’s true. But it was true of gun safety, and it was true of immigration reform, and numerous other things.

I don’t know if the Democrats can win this on the floor. Maybe the horrible jobs report from December helps a little, maybe not. But since public opinion is already on their side, they can at least take this issue and make it hurt Republicans in states with high unemployment or Republicans who are singing a different tune than they did in 2010, a list that starts with Mitch McConnell, who agreed to the 2010 extension and is now going around saying that if Democrats want UI benefits extended, they’d have to agree to a one-year delay in the individual mandate under Obamacare.

And if Democrats win, great. But it looks like they’ll only win by agreeing to the pay-for demand, which means that there’ll be new demands next time. There’s no end to how far right these people will go.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, January 13, 2014

January 14, 2014 Posted by | Republicans, Unemployment Benefits | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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