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WV op-ed: Keep the promise of Social Security

West Virginia Citizen Action Group / WVCAEF Executive Director Gary Zuckett op-ed in the Charleston Gazette 9/11/2011

We all have heard the casualty reports from today’s economy. Almost 14 million Americans are now out of work, and another 25 million Americans are unemployed or under-employed. These reports are grim, but even more so for our elderly, one of the hardest hit groups by what enablers are calling the “new normal.”

Elderly Americans, most of whom have worked nearly all of their adult lives and invested Social Security payroll taxes from every single paycheck, face a new threat: Some are talking about hiking the retirement age for receiving full Social Security benefits from 67 to 69.

However, the sad state of today’s economy means that most older unemployed workers cannot find a job. In 2009, one year after the economic meltdown began, nearly three out of every four new retirees — 2 million out of 2.7 million Americans — claimed retirement benefits early, resulting in a permanent benefit reduction of as much as 25 percent.

Many of these two million Americans retired early because they had no choice. They may have been laid off and are unlikely to find new jobs. They may have health and physical challenges. And many face age discrimination. Older workers have little likelihood of getting back into the work force. They should not be penalized for their lack of options.

Raising the retirement age from 67 to 69 represents a whopping 13 percent cut in Social Security benefits for those affected. And this comes after we’ve already bumped the retirement age from 65 to 67 for those born after 1960. Not only would this new cut create increased hardships for unemployed seniors; it’s a broken promise.

What is the promise we made when we set up Social Security? It is a social contract, a promise we make to each other that when you grow old or are hurt or if a parent or spouse dies suddenly, you’re not alone. We, as a society, will help out. This isn’t a government give-away or welfare. Remember, we all pay into Social Security every time we receive a paycheck. Social Security is a uniquely and profoundly American program and it represents a profoundly patriotic value — we’re all in this together.

For 76 years, Social Security has been helping keep elderly Americans out of poverty. It helps pay the utility bills and puts food on the table. And it’s not making anyone rich — the average retiree receives less than $14,000 a year, which is even less than full-time at minimum wage. Still, for many, Social Security represents that line of demarcation between “making it” and abject poverty. Between staying in your own home and moving in with the kids, if you’re lucky. Social Security did away with the “poor farm.”

It is important to remember the principles upon which this promise to America was founded. Social Security belongs to the workers and their families who worked hard, put in payroll taxes and earned its benefits. Social Security did not cause the federal budget crunch and the deficit should not be used as an excuse to cut benefits.

Unfortunately, from time to time, some people suggest we forget the promise made when we first created Social Security as part of FDR’s New Deal. Now, with the economy struggling and many elderly workers suffering, it’s a good time for all of us to remember the promise. Let us say with pride that when it comes to Social Security, we made a promise to Americans. And we kept it.

Gary Zuckett is executive director of WV Citizen Action Group and WV Citizen Action Education Fund.


Tell Congress to pass Pres. Obama’s American Jobs Act and KEEP GOING

Wow! What a week!

First, a victory in our campaign to end hiring discrimination against the unemployed! This week, Indeed.com, the largest job listing website in the U.S., announced it will stop posting job ads that refuse applications from unemployed candidates.

Then, last night, President Obama laid out an aggressive agenda to put millions of Americans back to work by investing in programs that USAction/TrueMajority members have been demanding — investing in infrastructure, rebuilding schools, extending unemployment benefits and prohibiting discrimination against unemployed workers.

President Obama’s American Jobs Act is a ray of hope for millions of struggling Americans, especially in opposition to the job-killing, cuts-only approach of the right wing.

Congress should quickly pass these provisions and then it should keep going and pass a robust public job creation plan.

NOW is the time for Congress to act. Please tell Congress to put America back to work.

Stop hiring discrimination against the unemployed? “Indeed” we can!

By David Elliot

Indeed.com, reportedly the largest job listing website in the U.S., has announced it will stop posting job ads that refuse applications from unemployed candidates.

Earlier this summer, USAction launched an online petition drive to outlaw hiring discrimination against the unemployed. Although we were the first to launch an online drive, we weren’t the first to document this egregious practice. That distinction goes to our friends over at the National Employment Law Project, which released a report showing that employers of all sizes and staffing agencies are using recruitment and hiring policies that expressly deny employment to the unemployed – simply because they are not working.

The NELP study reviewed job postings that appeared on four of the nation’s most prominent online job listing websites: CareerBuilder.com, Monster.com, Indeed.com and Craigslist. NELP identified more than 150 ads that openly discriminated based on employment status. The overwhelming majority of the discriminatory ads required that applicants “must be currently employed.”

After the NELP study was released and widely distributed, USAction’s petition drive targeted companies like Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com and asked them to stop posting ads that discriminate against the unemployed. Later, Change.org, CREDO Action and ColorofChange.org launched their own petition drives, and together we’ve gathered more than 243,000 signatures!

At first, we didn’t get the answer we wanted, although Monster.com did help generate some publicity by sending us a “cease and desist” letter.

But now, momentum is growing against hiring discrimination. Legislation is pending in both chambers of Congress and has been introduced in several states. Late last month, President Obama endorsed the legislation during an appearance on the Tom Joyner Show.

And with Indeed.com’s announcement this week, the good news continues. The company’s announcement was first reported by Change.org:

“Indeed.com strives to provide the best job search experience for job seekers,” said Indeed.com Communications Director Sophie Beaupere. “Our policy is to exclude job listings that do not comply with federal or local laws related to discriminatory hiring practices as well as job listings that discriminate against the unemployed.”

So what’s next? USAction realizes that even if the practice of employment discrimination ended today, we still would not have enough jobs in our country for the almost 14 million unemployed and 25 million un- or under-employed Americans who want them. That’s why USAction is ratcheting up its “Good Jobs for Everyone in America” campaign, which calls for ending hiring discrimination, extending federal unemployment insurance beyond 2011 and passing robust jobs legislation like Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s Emergency Jobs to Restore the American Dream Act, which would create two million public-sector jobs over the next two years.

David Elliot is the Communications Director USAction / USAction Education Fund.

Obama: Discrimination Against Jobless ‘Makes Absolutely No Sense’

President’s comments come after USAction launches online campaign to stop hiring discrimination.

Last month, USAction launched an online petition campaign aimed at companies that refuse to consider hiring unemployed workers, a perverse form of discrimination in today’s economy.

Today, President Obama endorsed legislation to stop the discrimination. In an appearance on the Tom Joyner Morning Show, President Obama was asked about long-term unemployment and businesses that tell applicants, “If you’re unemployed, we don’t want to hear from you.”

Obama noted that the long-term unemployed have a tougher time landing jobs and said that a stronger overall economy would make employers less choosy.

“But we have seen instances in which employers are explicitly saying we don’t want to take a look at folks who’ve been unemployed,” Obama said. “Well, that makes absolutely no sense, and I know there’s legislation that I’m supportive of that says you cannot discriminate against folks because they’ve been unemployed, particularly when you’ve seen so many folks who, through no fault of their own, ended up being laid off because of the difficulty of this recession.”

Alan Charney, USAction director of strategy and policy, welcomed the President’s remarks.

“Since USAction launched its campaign to end discrimination against the unemployed, hundreds of thousands of Americans have demanded that this outrageous practice end,” said Charney. “New Jersey already has passed a law banning hiring discrimination and a similar bill was just introduced last week in Ohio, after the launch of USAction’s campaign. In addition, bills to end this insidious form of discrimination are pending in both chambers of Congress. Ending hiring discrimination won’t end unemployment – only robust legislation to create jobs now can significantly bring down unemployment. But this is a step in the direction of what is right and moral.”

Almost 70,000 people have signed a USAction petition to end hiring discrimination against the unemployed. Since USAction launched its campaign, important progressive allies like Change.org and ColorOfChange.org have launched similar petition drives. All told, the groups have collected more than 218,000 signatures.

This week, USAction members across the country are attending congressional town hall meetings and organizing other events to shed light on the plight of the unemployed. USAction members are sharing with members of Congress stories collected at USAction’s new web site, www.goodjobsforamerica.org.

The events are all part of USAction’s Good Jobs for Everyone in America national campaign. The three-pronged campaign calls for an end to hiring discrimination against the unemployed, extension of federal unemployment assistance and passage of robust jobs legislation, such as Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s Emergency Jobs to Restore the American Dream Act, which would create two million jobs in two years.

“The question we are asking members of Congress across the country is, where are the jobs?” said Charney. “The best way to cut the deficit is to get everyone back to work, not to pick the pockets of the middle class and low-income families. If millionaires and billionaires paid their fair share, we’d have plenty of money to get millions of people back to work and to make big cuts in the deficit.”

Why won’t Rep. Todd Akin meet with his constituents?

On Wednesday, August 24th, Missouri ProVote and their partners and allies held a community town hall that Rep. Akin was invited to, but declined through a post on his website the day of the event.
While the temperature rose to 100 degrees, 200 people met and then marched over to Rep. Akin’s office to tell him – Stop balancing the budget on the backs of the middle class, voting for budget cuts that would cost Missouri jobs and playing politics with America’s future.

Check out the photos below and more from Missouri and across the country: USAction August Recess album.

And for even more photos from Missouri check out Missouri Pro-Vote photos from the ‘Where’s Rep. Akin?’ community town hall in St. Louis here: http://j.mp/q3nHTE

Make Congress listen! Good Jobs NOW.

The view from the front lines of the Great Recession is grim: One in ten are out of work. One in four aren’t working as much as they want or earning what they need to get by. And yet the rich keep getting richer — Warren Buffet pays a lower tax rate than his cleaning lady, and Wall Street CEOs are making record bonuses, just like they were before.

Amidst all this suffering an injustice, conservatives in Congress are spending August hiding from their constituents.

The American middle class is shrinking, and we need leaders who understand how to rebuild it. We’ve gathered over 500 stories from the front lines of the Great Recession.

And starting now, we’re going to MAKE Congress listen to them and create jobs.

Click here to read a sample of the stories on our new website – http://www.goodjobsforamerica.org/.

Verizon Strike is About All of Our Economic Futures

By Richard Kirsch

Cross-posted at NewDeal2.0.

For now, Verizon’s striking workers are back on the job. A two-week walk-out by 45,000 Communications Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) members from Massachusetts to Virginia led to Verizon finally agreeing to seriously engage the unions at the bargaining table. But the tough bargaining is just beginning. The issues at hand are about more than just a labor dispute — they are at the heart of the problems facing our economy.

So what about the rich getting richer while average Americans tread water? The Chairman of Verizon, Ivan Seidenberg, made $18 million last year, 300 times that of the average worker (see Verizon proxy statements). Verizon made $3 billion in profits for the first half of this year alone and $22.5 billion in the past four years. Still, the company is asking its workers for $1 billion in annual concessions, which work out to about $20,000 a worker. Verizon’s list includes cuts in pensions, holidays, sick leaves, and benefits for workers injured on the job. The company is asking workers to pay thousands of dollars more for health care each year, while Seidenberg and his wife get free health care for life.

Corporate America is doing fine while paying fewer taxes at home and shipping jobs overseas. Verizon got corporate tax refunds from the IRS totaling $1.3 billion in 2009 and 2010, years in which it made $7.5 billion. Verizon has outsourced thousands of jobs and is asking in the new contract for provisions that would make that outsourcing even easier.

Unions are a shrinking part of the American work force, leading to lower wages and benefits. CWA and IBEW represent Verizon’s landline business. Despite repeated attempts to unionize Verizon, only 70 Verizon wireless workers belong to a union. One bright spot is that the unionized members of Verizon are also installing the company’s FiOS product, which delivers cable television and Internet. But Verizon is competing with big, non-unionized cable companies like Time Warner and ComCast, where wages and benefits are significantly lower. There is better news in the broader wireless industry, where 40,000 employees of AT&T wireless are unionized. But that represents about one-third of the industry, whereas virtually the entire landline business is unionized.

Is new efficient technology replacing the old and displacing jobs? Verizon wants to make it seem like its unionized landline workers are working for a dying technology. But much of what we think of as new technology relies on the landlines installed and maintained by Verizon’s unionized workers. Did you realize that your wireless signal actually goes through landlines that carry it from a cell tower? Or that when you use Skype or make a call on Gmail that they are carried by landlines? Severe limits on available spectrum force wireless companies to constantly find new ways to transmit signals over wired connections.

Where did Verizon get the funds to start Verizon Wireless? From the cash generated by its traditional landline business. But while Verizon shareholders continue to reap the benefits of that investment, Verizon wants to stop the landline workers from sharing in the returns.

In short, what’s at stake in the labor dispute between Verizon and its unions are the middle class jobs that drive the economy but are fast disappearing. It’s not a surprise that Verizon’s Chairman, Seidenberg, is also the Chairman of the Business Roundtable, the organization that represents the CEOs of America’s biggest companies. Verizon is working hard in its proposed contract to keep up with all the corporate Joneses that have reaped record profits by cutting wages and benefits, shipping jobs overseas, and legally bribing Congress to create huge loopholes in the corporate tax code.

In two weeks we will mark the tenth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center. Will we remember that in the days following the catastrophe, Verizon technicians resurrected the entire communications infrastructure of lower Manhattan, allowing the stock market and world financial markets to resume business with barely a hitch? In the last decade, Wall Street did great — even after crashing the economy and getting government bailouts. It’s the Main Street workers who kept the Wall Street infrastructure going who remain under attack, just as our entire economy remains under attack by companies like Verizon that would destroy middle class jobs in the United States to protect their multi-millionaire CEOs and corporate shareholders.

Next time you pick up your telephone, remember that the fight that Verizon’s workers will continue to wage with the company over their contracts in the coming weeks and months is not just about whether the men and woman who make that call possible will continue to hold decent jobs that provide security for their families. It’s about whether one more middle class engine of America’s puttering economy will be wrecked.

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and a Senior Adviser to USAction, whose book on the campaign to win reform will be published in 2012. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

August Recess Photos: “Where are the jobs?”

Millions out of work. 16.1 percent of America un- or under-employed. And Congress is talking about attacks on America’s safety net!?!?

Across the country, USAction affiliates and partners are rallying for jobs, hosting roundtable discussions on economic security, challenging “tea party” members of Congress, protesting attacks on Medicare and Medicaid and asking a question that is simple yet fundamental to the future of our country:Where are the jobs?

Check out the whole photo album here: http://j.mp/qvb8i9

PHOTOS: Funeral for the Middle Class

At Rep. Fitzpatrick’s office in Newtown PA, SEIU, AFL-CIO, Penn Action, MoveOn and others held a funeral for the middle class with more than 100 of Rep. Fitzpatrick’s constituents.

Unemployed workers spoke and Pennsylvanians shared their stories of the recession and how the lack of jobs is affecting them. After the rally Penn Action went up to the Congressman’s office for the fifth time with letters from constituents requesting a series of town halls dedicated to his vote to defund Medicaid and privatize Medicare.