Archive for the ‘Unemployment’ Category

A report released by the Census Bureau shows that income dropped for U.S. families and more families were living at or below the poverty line in 2010 than in previous years. In fact, 2010 marked the third consecutive year that the poverty rate increased; since 2007, the total has crept up by 2.6 percent.

The Census Bureau further reported that:

  • Between 2009 and 2010, the poverty rate increased from 14.3 percent to 15.1 percent.
  • Last year, 46.2 million Americans were living in poverty.
  • 2010’s numbers mark the highest poverty rate the country has seen since 1993.
  • About 16.7 percent of Americans are now either unemployed or “marginally attached to the workforce” (i.e. underemployed).

One interesting side note about these numbers is that the unemployment rate has not changed significantly in the last year, even though the number of people living in poverty has. This suggests, according to sources, that the high unemployment rate has pushed wages down.

Higher Prices

Perhaps contributing to the nation’s rising poverty rate is a steady upward movement of consumer prices. Last month’s numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the energy index rose 1.2 percent and the food index increased by 0.5 percent, its largest jump since March.

Even without the volatile energy and food price changes, other prices rose 0.2 percent, largely driven by apparel and housing costs.

Saving Money in the Thick of It

So what can a cash-strapped consumer do when times get tough? Spend more carefully, for one thing. Here’s a look at some tips for keeping bills lower, even as prices creep up and income falls.

  • Use the freezer. While you might forget leftovers in the fridge, you can store them in all their first-night freshness in the freezer. Bonus: freezing food for later saves time when you defrost it.
  • Learn sneaky food-saving recipes. Stale bread can be a real bummer – nobody wants to spend money on something and throw it out. But recipes for bread pudding and homemade croutons are both super-easy ways to rescue stale bread. Soup stocks are a great way to rescue vegetables past their prime.
  • Buy in season. Summer’s bounty means prices on produce are often at their lowest in the hot months. To take advantage, stock up and either freeze, dehydrate, or can the extras.
  • Check your bills carefully. Small mistakes may end up costing you over the long run. Make sure you’re paying only what you truly owe on bills. And vigilance can help you detect any suspicious activity (like possible identity theft) before it becomes a major problem.
  • Downgrade. Cable and Internet services can be pretty costly. If you aren’t watching all your channels or using your Internet for work, consider trimming the extras to save every month.
  • Go green. Three small steps can help you save serious money on electric bills. First, unplug electronics when you’re not using them. To make this easier, install surge protectors that you can switch off or unplug easily. Next, replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents, which use less energy and last about ten times longer. Finally, opt for natural light and air whenever possible.

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Falling SAT Scores & The Future of the Economy

The College Board announced this week that SAT scores among U.S. high school students dropped from last year. While the decrease may not seem significant (the average reading score fell three points, writing fell two points, and math dropped by one), analysts are worried that the dip could be part of a larger trend.

Unfortunately, that trend could have significant long-term impact on the future of the U.S. economy and jobs market.

The Test Score-Employment Link

Here’s a look at why faltering SAT scores are raising some concern among those worried about the long-term recovery of the U.S. economy.

  • SAT Benchmark: The College Board, which administers the SAT, has determined that a score of 1550 out of 2400 indicates that a student has a 65 percent chance of earning at least B-minus grades in college and thus of earning a degree.
  • Less than half of seniors meeting the benchmark: In 2011, only 43 percent of seniors planning to attend college achieved the benchmark score. This suggests that the majority of those entering college this fall have a less than 65 percent chance of completing school (according to the College Board’s research).
  • Unemployment by degree earned: The failure to complete college is troubling considered in the context of current unemployment rates. While the national average hovers around nine percent, that number varies significantly when total education is considered. In 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released numbers indicating that, when the nation’s unemployment rate was at 8.2 percent, the rate for those with a doctoral degree was a mere 1.9 percent; professional degree earners had a 2.4 percent rate; those with masters degrees, 4.0 percent; those with bachelor’s degrees, 5.4 percent; associate degrees, 7.0 percent; some college, 9.2 percent; high school diploma, 10.3 percent; and no high school, 14.9 percent.
  • The future of U.S. jobs: Those numbers reflect a trend in the U.S. that involves available jobs becoming more and more skilled. The Secretary of Education has gone on the record saying that most jobs available in the U.S. in the future will be skilled and that education and training are becoming more and more essential to obtaining and keeping employment.

Those who start college and don’t finish may still have to contend with student loans, which are not dischargeable in bankruptcy. Student debt can be especially difficult without the increased earning potential that typically accompanies a completed degree.

Economic Recovery and Employment

Naturally, nobody will insist that the economy has recovered until the unemployment rate has fallen closer to normal levels. Though many analysts say that recovery must start in the housing market, most citizens and politicians pay more attention to employment numbers, because these have a more observably direct impact on citizens.

Part of the worry that the College Board’s numbers spurred comes from overseas: students in China and elsewhere are improving on standardized tests as U.S. students fall behind. This has led some people to worry that, if American workers, students, and schools don’t improve, the country might have to start outsourcing jobs for the highly trained.

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Latest Unemployment News: More of the Same

The Department of Labor’s latest report on the unemployment situation in the U.S. shows little change from a week earlier, indicating that significant recovery in the jobs market has not yet taken hold. Here’s a look at some of the latest numbers (for the week ending July 17, published at the end of last week):

  • Seasonally adjusted initial unemployment claims increased 37,000 from the previous week, to 464,000, bringing the four-week floating average up 1,250 to 456,000.
  • The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 3.5 percent, down slightly from the previous week’s 3.7 percent.
  • The seasonally adjusted insured unemployment number was 4,487,000 for the week ending July 10, down from the previous week’s 4,710,000.

Week to week, the changes often aren’t very significant and don’t always reflect larger trends; however, last week’s numbers provide a somewhat hopeful picture when compared with figures gathered a year ago:

  • Initial unemployment claims under state programs (unadjusted) totaled 498,022 for the week ending July 17; in 2009, the same week saw 585,575 claims.
  • The number of people claiming insured unemployment benefits in state programs came to 4,581,351 in the most recent week, which marked a 186,572 person increase from the week prior, but was down from 6,256,960 during the same period in 2009.

These data, like many of the job loss information collected this year, show that recovery in the jobs market continues to be slow and inconsistent. While the national unemployment rate is down slightly from its 10+ percent high, it’s still well above where it needs to be and bankruptcy filing rates continue to remain high.

Unemployment Benefit Extension

Some more-or-less good news for unemployed Americans is that Congress and the White House have reportedly passed legislation that will extend unemployment benefits through November of this year.

The measure, which had difficulty getting through Congress because of Republican opposition, means that those whose benefits have expired or are about to will receive a few more weeks of government support.

While the nation’s unemployment rate clearly indicates that jobless citizens need help, many GOP legislators were apparently hesitant to pass the bill because of the affect it will have on the nation’s deficit.

So how will the extended benefits work? It seems that distribution of the funds will vary by state, so check out local resources to see what steps you need to take if you’re eligible for funding from the extended benefits.

Congress passed a six-month extension of emergency unemployment benefits, restoring a lifeline to nearly 3 million out of work Americans whose benefits have run out since June 2.

However, a processing delay could see many Americans waiting "several weeks" for their unemployment checks to arrive, according to the Washington Post.

The bill was passed by a vote of 272 to 152 in the House on Thursday, after being approved by the Senate on Wednesday following weeks of contentious debate. President Obama is expected to sign the extension immediately.

The expected delay in payments may be difficult for those whose benefits ran out as much as seven weeks ago.

With the official unemployment rate at 9.5%, and even more working significantly reduced hours, many Americans are turning to bankruptcy to help them eliminate high-interest credit cards and personal loans--often necessary to help maintain household finances. Nearly 800,000 bankruptcy cases were filed in the first half of 2010, and even more are expected in the second half.

If you are out of work and struggling with debt, consider your options by talking to a bankruptcy attorney. Click here to connect with an attorney in your area for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

Despite some signs of economic recovery across the United States, the nation's unemployment level remains near 10 percent and, according to recent reports, concerns in the Senate over the country’s budget deficit and expansive recovery spending could prevent unemployed Americans from seeing extensions to their benefits.

So how large are the ramifications of Congress’s failure to act? Sources indicate that:

  • As many as 900,000 people have already seen some decrease in the unemployment benefits they receive
  • If no congressional action is taken, an estimated 1.2 million people will lose some or all of their unemployment benefits by the end of June
  • If Congress doesn’t act by the end of July, more than 2 million could be affected

The lack of action —or rather, lack of productive action—:on this matter in Congress will likely mean only temporary halts to unemployment support, but those affected could see their finances take a serious hit, particularly because so many Americans are in financial situations that mean they’re only a few late bills away from default, foreclosure or filing for bankruptcy.

Unemployment Benefits and Extensions

Because of the country’s unusually high unemployment rate and difficult job market, the federal government has extended the 26-week state- and employer-sponsored unemployment insurance programs with three other forms of assistance, all of which could expire without Congressionally approved extensions. The forms of unemployment insurance in jeopardy include:

  • Extension of benefits: This program allows those on unemployment to receive benefits for between 60 and 99 weeks, rather than the half-year state standard.
  • Extra weekly money: Another program offers an additional $25 weekly to certain unemployment beneficiaries.
  • Extension of COBRA benefits: The third program allows those who have lost their jobs to continue the health coverage they had at their last job and subsidizes the cost of that coverage, paying 65 percent for up to 15 weeks.

As some analysts have pointed out, for the millions of Americans unable to find a paying job, these extended benefits can mean the difference between good health and unmanageable medical bills.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Senate Republicans are reportedly concerned that these extensions, while giving invaluable aid to many American families, are contributing ever more to the United States’ budget deficit, which is skyrocketing thanks in part to recovery efforts.

Though the situation may be sticky for some families, sources note that Congress still has time to act to renew the extensions.

The U.S. Labor Department released its latest unemployment numbers for the month of April, and the news is mixed. The U.S. job market added 290,000 jobs in April, more than predicted and the fourth straight month of job growth. However, the unemployment rate crept up to 9.9% from 9.7%, where it had been for the first three months of the year.

With a record-high 45.9% or unemployed people had been jobless for 27 weeks or more, the unemployment rate is expected to remain high despite other gains in the economy.

Your Rights as an Employee

In tight times, it's important to know what you can legally expect from your employer so you can take appropriate action if your rights are breached. Here's an outline of your rights as a worker.

  • Right to freedom from discrimination: Federal law prohibits your employer from treating you in a specific way based on your race, ethnic identity, religion, national origin, sex, disabilities and so forth. If you suspect that a boss took action based on one of these factors, it may be a good idea to contact a lawyer.
  • Right to a safe workplace: No employer can subject you to perilous conditions at work or expose you to known safety hazards.
  • Right to privacy: While not every state has a right to privacy law, many do, and most include your personal possessions (like purses), storage areas, private phone calls and emails. Be careful, though, because company-owned computers or phones offer only limited protection – in general, if you wouldn’t want your boss or coworkers to see something, keep it out of work email.
  • Right to whistle-blowing without consequences: Blowing the whistle on a boss or coworker (that is, notifying authorities about forbidden or illegal activities that someone is conducting or has conducted) is not legally considered grounds for termination.
  • Right to leave for qualified medical purposes: Being penalized for certain types of medical leave is prohibited.
  • Right to fair wages: This can get murky, because women in the U.S. only make 77 cents to males' dollar despite the law. Plus, discussing salary with coworkers is always uncomfortable, and may be forbidden in some workplaces. Know if your wage fairly represents your experience, job duties and performance—and how to address it if you aren't earning a fair wage.

It’s important to advocate for yourself in the workplace; if you suspect you were let go for reasons that violate any of the above rights, you may want to consider legal action.

But how can you prove whether or not a superior's actions were acts of discrimination? It’s a good idea to have regular discussions with your boss about your expectations at work. When you have a clear outline of what's expected of you, you have more leverage to offer concrete evidence that you upheld your end of the bargain. Standing up for yourself in the workplace can help strengthen your career and help you move on from bankruptcy.

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

December Unemployment Unchanged at 10 Percent

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has released its most recent unemployment numbers (for December 2009), and they paint a gloomy picture of the U.S. job landscape.

While the actual unemployment rate and number of unemployed people in the country remain unchanged from the last recorded period (10.0 percent and 15.3 million, respectively), certain figures point to a dismal immediate future.

Unemployment by the Numbers

Here's a look at a breakdown of the current unemployment figures for the United States:

  • Adult men: 10.2 percent
  • Adult women: 8.2 percent
  • Teenagers: 27.1 percent
  • Whites: 9.0 percent
  • Blacks: 16.2 percent
  • Hispanics: 12.9 percent
  • Asians: 8.4 percent

While these numbers represent little movement in either direction from the BLS's last report, they also don’t paint the whole picture. For example:

  • Long-term unemployment continued its upward movement, reaching 6.1 million people who have been without work for 27 weeks or more, composing approximately 40 percent of the total number of unemployed people.
  • The number of underemployed people remains at 9.2 million – though these people are working, they have fewer hours than they’d like because of economic restraints.
  • A whopping 929,000 workers are considered "discouraged," meaning they’re out of work and they would like to work but have stopped looking for jobs because they believe none are available. A year ago, the number of discouraged workers was only 642,000.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, job losses continued in certain sectors (including construction, manufacturing and wholesale trade) and increased in temporary help services (likely from holiday hires).

Looking Ahead

So what do these numbers mean for the future of the U.S. economy and job market? Some analysts suggest the unemployment rate will actually get higher as the economy begins to pick up.

This may sound counter-intuitive, but makes sense upon closer examination: as the economic situation improves nationally, more people will likely enter the work force, believing more opportunities for work are available. And, even if more jobs do crop up, they may not keep pace with the number of new workers seeking employment.

For now, the problem of long-term unemployment continues to plague Americans: the average length of time without a job was 29.1 weeks as of December, which is apparently the highest average since 1948, when records were first kept. With that kind of prolonged job loss, it's no surprise that more than 1.44 million Americans filed bankruptcy last year, and even more are expected to in 2010.

Thanks to the health care overhaul bills currently working their way through the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, the high cost of health insurance in America is on the public’s mind. And now, with a key provision of the stimulus bill expiring this month, another aspect of the health care dilemma has come to the surface.

Job Loss and Health Insurance

Because many Americans get medical insurance through their employers, job loss can be a double blow, meaning the loss of income as well as coverage. To address this concern, lawmakers included provisions for health insurance in the stimulus bill passed in February:

  • Subsidized coverage: The stimulus provided funds to reduce COBRA payments by 65 percent for those who wanted to keep their company’s health coverage after losing their jobs.
  • Limited offer: Naturally, the government assistance came with boundaries: to be eligible, people must have been laid off between September 1, 2008 and December 31, 2009. Further, subsidized coverage only lasts for nine months.

Because the measure went into effect in March of this year, thousands of unemployed Americans are now facing huge jumps in the cost of their health coverage.

In fact, sources indicate that the average affected family will see their costs soar $722 per month – from $389 to $1,111. In many states, that amounts to the vast majority of unemployment payments; in some states, it exceeds possible unemployment payments.

Hope on the Horizon: Bills in Congress

Luckily, the situation is not completely without hope. In fact, the Associated Press reports that Congress is currently considering bills that would add an additional $100 billion to unemployment benefits (including the COBRA subsidy).

Here’s a numerical breakdown of the proposed legislation:

  • $85 billion would be funneled toward extending emergency unemployment payments
  • $15 billion would fund the expanded health care coverage

In 2007, when unemployment hovered around 4.8 percent, about $43 billion was reportedly spent on unemployment costs.

While some measures of the economy suggest we’re pulling out of the worst of the recession, many experts still expect unemployment levels to remain high for another year or so, which means these problems likely won’t disappear any time soon. And as unemployment often leads to bankruptcy, it may signal more problems down the line.

Additional Resources

Special Report: Expiration of COBRA Subsidy (PDF)

Unemployed and Uninsured (PDF)