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“The Streets Cannot Be A Home”: A Problem That Money Can Go A Long Way Toward Fixing And That Money Must Be Found

The homeless can be scary people. They may block sidewalks, curse passers-by and aggressively demand money. Or they can be just sad.

Growing homeless encampments are stressing cities across the country. Honolulu and Sarasota responded with stiff laws taking “vagrants” off the streets and out of public parks. South Carolina’s capital, Columbia, decided to give the homeless three choices. They can go to a shelter, get arrested or leave town.

Several approaches to dealing with this tough population are being tried. The wisest combine humane treatment with respect for the public’s right to use public space without having to step around bodies.

Some “advocates” oppose forcing the homeless off the streets. They accuse the new laws of “criminalizing homelessness” and trying to “hide poverty.”

What the advocates are doing, though, is turning the homeless into spectacle. Many are mentally ill, are addicted or have criminal records. They are not street theater.

One can’t ignore the reality that rising costs in hot housing markets have priced many locals out of their rentals. But as suggested above, the inability to find other accommodations is usually part of a larger constellation of personal problems.

Enlightened advocates applaud removing the homeless from the streets as a means of directing them to the services they need. Governments have an obligation to support such services.

An example. While recently waiting in a line at New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal, I was hit by a harsh smell. Standing next to me was a disheveled man smiling sweetly. A social worker came by. She gently asked him whether he’d like to go with her and get cleaned up. He nodded, and they left together.

Of course, many of the homeless are far less docile. The infamous Jungle encampment in Seattle has become a scene of violence and other social mayhem. Law enforcement dreads going there.

That the homeless often prefer to live on the streets, as opposed to shelters, is not a reason to let them. Their objections range from hatred of rules to the inconvenience of being sent away every morning.

San Francisco has developed an interesting program to address some flaws in the shelter system. It created the Navigation Center as a kind of halfway house between a shelter and permanent housing. The “guests” can keep pets, store possessions and take showers. Case managers try to transition the residents into permanent housing while connecting them with health services, driver’s licenses and food stamps.

The Navigation Center has not been the perfect solution to the enormous challenge. Because its residents have been allowed to cut in line for permanent subsidized housing, the center has become wildly popular. The waiting list for admission is very long, and the most vulnerable people have the hardest time pushing their way in.

But this is how the homeless should be treated — with dignity and care but direction. Letting obviously dysfunctional humans live in their filth as a nod to some civil right is perverse. The Navigation Center concept is now being tried in Seattle, in New York and elsewhere.

There’s no point turning this into a class issue. Gentrification creates its own dislocations, for sure. But bringing jobs and tax dollars to downtowns with public transportation can’t help but provide a net benefit to those hurting economically.

For decades, urban neglect has left the poor isolated in rotting inner cities. Healthy city centers make the economic mainstream far more accessible to city dwellers.

Letting clusters — or virtual armies — of homeless people degrade the quality of civic life clearly serves no one. Fortunately, this is a problem that money can go a long way toward fixing. And that money must be found.

 

By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, June 28, 2016

June 29, 2016 Posted by | Homeless, Mental Illness, Poverty | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Want Fewer Murders? Tax Guns and Ammo”: An Approach That Other Municipalities Could Adopt

With a new national push to combat gun violence, the city of Seattle has begun to tax firearms and ammunition in an audaciously creative way to get around Second Amendment protections on guns. The tax has passed its first court test, signaling an approach that other municipalities could adopt, with a $25 tax on every firearm sold in the city, 2 cents on every round of .22 caliber ammunition, and a 5-cent tax for every other round of ammunition.

The tax went into effect on Jan. 1 after surviving a challenge from the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups when King County Superior Court Judge Palmer Rubinson ruled in December that Seattle has the “constitutional and legislative authority to impose taxes”—which, as she noted, is separate from the city’s ability to regulate guns.

City attorney Pete Holmes was initially surprised the NRA didn’t ask for a stay in the judge’s ruling when filing its appeal Monday in state court.  If the NRA sought constitutional relief, they would have appealed in federal court. But, from a legal standpoint, this isn’t about the Constitution. “Everybody assumes this is about the Second Amendment, but it’s not, and that’s the story,” Holmes told The Daily Beast in a telephone interview.

“No one is telling you that you can’t own or buy a gun,” says Holmes. “We believe we are in a safe haven. We’re not regulating guns; we’re simply adding a tax.”

In Seattle, satisfying the Second Amendment is easier for gun-safety advocates than clearing “State Preemption,” a legislative barrier that the NRA employs to block gun-safety regulation in some three-dozen states, including Washington. It’s a short statute the gun rights lobby writes and then muscles through state legislatures; it says no other body, such as the municipal authorities in cities like Seattle, can regulate firearms. The NRA’s Institute of Legal Action (ILA) churns out the statutes and lawmakers in state after state are happy to oblige.

And with so many state legislatures wholly owned subsidiaries of the NRA, it’s an effective maneuver. Holmes says it was the undoing of an executive order issued two Seattle mayors ago banning firearms in city playgrounds and parks. The Court overturned the ban not under the Second Amendment but under State Preemption.

So it is a big deal in Seattle that this modest tax is in place, and that the money it generates will go toward compiling data about gun violence and putting targeted intervention programs in place. After the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre of first-graders, Seattle funded a study that found people with gunshot wounds treated at Harbor View Hospital, the regional trauma center, are 30 percent more likely to return with another gunshot, or as a homicide victim.

The study was the first of its kind done by a city, and researchers found parallels with alcohol-related injuries in the early 1990s. Spending 20-30 minutes with patients injured in such incidents before releasing them to talk about risk and their chances of being readmitted paid off in lower re-admittance rates.

That is now considered Best Practices in all trauma centers when it comes to alcohol. So could Seattle do the same for gunshot victims? It was worth a shot, and when the seed money ran out for the gun-violence victim research and intervention program, then-City Council President Tim Burgess, a former Seattle police officer, proposed the gun-violence tax to fund continued efforts.

Not all proponents of gun regulation are fully supportive of the Seattle tax. Ralph Fascitelli, Board President of Washington Ceasefire and a longtime gun-safety advocate, praises the tax as a “good morale boost” but says it is “more symbolic than significant” because gun buyers can easily avoid the tax by going outside the city limits for their purchases.

He would also rather see the money raised go toward smart-gun technology than more research. Noting that his organization has given its “civic leader of the year” award to both Burgess and Holmes, he says, “They’re doing the best they can, but they’re like Houdini in a straitjacket—getting oxygen at sea level is success.”

Asked for his response to the criticism, Burgess notes that the tax will raise $300,000 to $500,000 a year to fund research and prevention programs, which is hardly chump change. And while his friend Fascitelli argues smart guns are prevention, “we’re not there yet,” says Burgess.

Also, if people are counting, many millions are spent each year in uncompensated care at Harbor View to care for gunshot victims, and there’s no tax anybody dares to imagine at this point that would cover that.

Seattle, like every city in America, is “awash in guns,” says Holmes. “We’re looking to do something to help reduce what is a public health issue.” Automobile deaths are second to gun deaths in America for the first time in part, he says, because as a society we treated car accidents as a problem we could solve. He’d like to see the same approach to guns.

“I’m a hayseed from Virginia,” Holmes says. “I go hunting; I was on the skeet and trap team in college. I own guns. I want to be able to talk to my friends from the rural areas and tell them if you want an AR-15 in the country, you probably won’t be doing much damage.”

Washington is an open-carry state, but when a bunch of people with loaded AR-15’s showed up at the state’s annual gay pride parade, Holmes says that “spoiled the parade and alienated a lot of people.”

That’s the kind of behavior that can get states with a deeply engrained pro-gun culture to embrace new regulations. Washington passed a ballot measure in 2014 expanding background checks. Gun groups protested the new law by coming to the state capitol in Olympia, brandishing their guns and loudly objecting until the lieutenant governor banned bringing guns into the state house.

Common-sense gun laws are the new refrain, and while they don’t go far enough for some people, they look more achievable than they have in a long time. More regulations are inevitable, and the question now is how many cracks will it take in the NRA’s façade for its cloak of invincibility to crumble.

 

By: Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast, January 7, 2016

January 8, 2016 Posted by | Ammunition Taxes, Firearms Taxes, Gun Violence, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Boost That Comes From Raising The Minimum Wage”: Au Contraire, Raising Wages Does Not Destroy Jobs

The standard argument — really, the only argument — against raising the minimum wage is that it will lead to job loss. The argument is beloved by die-hard opponents of raising the wage because it provides them with a veneer, however flimsy, of concern about the welfare of the working poor.

Economic studies have repeatedly shown that argument to be spurious. Now the latest survey of 350,000 small businesses from Paychex, a payroll provider company, and IHS, a business analysis firm, provides strong indications that the exact opposite may be true.

In April, the Paychex/IHS survey, which looks at employment in small businesses, found that the state with the highest percentage of annual job growth was Washington — the state with the highest minimum wage in the nation, $9.32 an hour. The metropolitan area with the highest percentage of annual job growth was San Francisco — the city with the highest minimum wage in the nation, at $10.74.

This suggests that the relationship between a high minimum wage and job creation needn’t be inverse. If anything, it suggests that relationship is direct.

To be sure, the Bay Area economy is booming, but minimum-wage opponents would nonetheless have us believe that mandating the payment of close to $11 an hour must cause job loss at least in fast-food joints and Chinatown’s kitchens. San Francisco shouldn’t be creating more small-business jobs than any other city. It’s theoretically impossible.

So much for the theory. San Francisco is doing exactly that.

The compatibility of higher wage standards and job creation shouldn’t come as a surprise. A classic study of fast-food employment by former White House economic adviser Alan Krueger and Berkeley economics professor David Card demonstrated that raising the minimum wage does not lead to an appreciable decline in employment. Opponents of a higher wage have invoked a recent study by the Congressional Budget Office that argued a raise in the national minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10, as President Obama has advocated, might cost up to 500,000 jobs. But even that study said that the raise would increase the wages of 16.5 million Americans — at least 33 times the number of those who might lose jobs — and elevate 900,000 people out of poverty.

What critics of a higher minimum wage ignore is that, by putting more money into the pockets of the working poor — a group that necessarily spends nearly all its income on such locally provided basics as rent, food, transport and child care — an adequate minimum wage increases a community’s level of sales and thereby creates more jobs. The Los Angeles Economic Roundtable recently concluded that raising the hourly minimum to $15 in Los Angeles County — the nation’s largest, home to 10 million people — would generate an additional $9.2 billion in annual sales and create more than 50,000 jobs.

The Seattle City Council is expected to enact a proposal from Mayor Ed Murray, developed by a business-labor task force, to phase in a $15 citywide minimum wage over seven years. The progress of the measure is a testament not only to the fast-food workers nationwide who’ve been campaigning for $15 hourly pay from McDonald’s and other chains but also to local labor and community leaders. They injected that issue into last year’s mayoral election, winning a pledge from Murray to push for the $15 standard. With direct employee-employer collective bargaining close to a dead letter in the private-sector economy, the likely success of the Seattle measure points to a new model for bargaining, in which progressive governments respond to worker pressure by legislating the wage increases employees can no longer win in the workplace.

In a nation where most people’s wages have been stagnant or dropping for many years, and where the combination of globalization and de-unionization has stripped from workers the bargaining power they once possessed, the role of government in addressing wage issues has become more central than ever. By investing in job-creating public works, by raising the minimum wage, by lowering taxes on those corporations that give their workers annual productivity increases and raising taxes on those that don’t, government can take up the slack created by the suppression and near-disappearance of private-sector unions. But first, it must dispel the canard that raising wages destroys jobs. Now it can point to San Francisco and Washington as evidence that it doesn’t.

 

By: Harold Meyerson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 21, 2014

May 25, 2014 Posted by | Jobs, Minimum Wage | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Contrary To Popular Belief”: In Real Life, Higher Minimum Wage Doesn’t Kill Jobs

Economists and government officials endlessly speculate on the impact of raising the $7.25 federal minimum wage.

Most recently, a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said that raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour might cut employment by 500,000 workers. That is balanced by the projection that higher pay could also boost about 900,000 people out of poverty.

But some places in the U.S. already have real-life experience with raising their minimum wage.

Washington state, for example, has the nation’s highest rate, $9.32 an hour. Despite dire predictions that increases would cripple job growth and boost unemployment, this isn’t what happened.

At 6.6 percent, the unemployment rate in December was a click below the U.S. average, 6.7 percent, and the state’s job creation is sturdy, 16th in the nation, according to a report by Stateline, the news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

In Seattle, where metropolitan-area unemployment is 5.3 percent, that $9.32 sounds so yesterday. The mayor and city council are practically in a race to see who can move faster and with more gusto to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Safe bet: They will make a move by summer. Seattle could then surpass San Francisco, another city that fancies its role as a laboratory. The City by the Bay’s minimum wage is the highest (not counting airport workers), at $10.74 an hour, and officials are discussing a new rate of about $15.

While Seattle and San Francisco are unrepresentative of the nation, they have helped pressure their states to raise their minimum wages. Fifteen years ago, Washington voters approved an initiative giving the lowest-paid workers a raise almost every year, with increases now tied to inflation. Those increases produced the highest U.S. rate, although California could lap that in 2016 when it hits $10 an hour. Washington governor Jay Inslee and Democratic legislators have been pushing to raise the statewide amount to almost $11 or $12 an hour, but that now seems unlikely this year.

Critics of the voter-approved increase in Washington said it would harm the economy and cause businesses to flee to lower-wage states, such as neighboring Idaho, where the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. That didn’t happen, as the experience of Washington counties bordering Idaho show.

At the Olive Garden in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, the spaghetti and meatballs are about $1.70 cheaper than at the Olive Garden about a half-hour away in Spokane, Washington. That may be explained by Idaho’s lower minimum wage, taxes, land costs or something else. A restaurant spokeswoman would only cite vague costs of products and of doing business in various locations. Whatever it is hasn’t stopped Olive Garden from operating two restaurants in the Spokane area.

Bruce Beckett, government affairs director of the Washington Restaurant Association, said he wasn’t aware of any restaurants bailing out of Spokane for Idaho. He said he had heard anecdotes about local restaurateurs buying cheaper supplies in Idaho — fairly small potatoes.

Two bakeries moved across the border a few years ago, said Robin Toth of Greater Spokane Incorporated, a Chamber of Commerce and economic-development organization, but she said those businesses cited Washington’s taxes, not its higher minimum wage, as the reason for doing so.

Yes, but what about businesses that can be based anywhere?

The Spokane chamber group had heard of one telemarketing company that had considered an operation in Spokane, then chose El Paso, Texas, instead. The company mentioned the higher minimum wage.

To be fair, it is difficult to measure what didn’t happen: the businesses that didn’t locate in the state, the job growth that vanished, the young people who missed opportunities. There is fear that adults are taking some jobs from teenagers. The state teenage unemployment rate is about 30.6 percent, compared with a national figure of 22.9 percent.

But over the years, states have raised the minimum wage above the federal level without major harm.

A study at the University of California at Berkeley compared hundreds of pairs of adjacent counties in states with differing minimum-wage rates and concluded that a higher minimum wage didn’t significantly affect employment.

“We found in these cross-border comparisons that employment did not decline on the higher wage side of the border,’’ said Michael Reich, one of three authors.

The research found that employers in places in the U.S. where the minimum wage was higher, as in eastern Washington, had an easier time recruiting and retaining workers, said Reich, who directs Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.

“As a result, they saved on hiring and turnover costs, as well as the costs of not being able to fill all their vacancies,” he said. “Increased labor supply, together with small price increases in restaurants, could explain why we did not find employment moving to lower wage areas, such as in western Idaho.’’

Minimum-wage workers are younger, often single, perhaps working two jobs in leisure, hospitality, food preparation and serving. A single individual working full time and being paid Washington’s minimum wage earns more than the federal poverty level.

That changes if the earner is supporting a family. Maybe Seattle’s ascent into $15 territory — along with a few other cities — will eventually give Washington and other states the political will to follow this path. There is little real-life evidence to discourage them.

 

By: Joni Balter, The National Memo, February 24, 2014

February 25, 2014 Posted by | Jobs, Minimum Wage | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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