Pennsylvania

Six Months after the End of adultBasic

A blog post by Sharon Ward, originally published at Third and State.

It has already been six months since Pennsylvania pulled the plug on the adultBasic health insurance program for 37,588 people. The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center recently took a look at what happened to the Pennsylvanians who lost their adultBasic coverage on the first of March. While some found health insurance elsewhere, many have simply fallen through the cracks.

In all, fewer than 40% of former adultBasic enrollees have enrolled in Medical Assistance or Special Care, a low-cost, limited benefit product offered by Pennsylvania’s Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans. These were the two options most touted as alternatives for adultBasic enrollees.

According to data provided by the Pennsylvania Departments of Public Welfare and Insurance, only 12,814 former enrollees signed on to the Blues’ Special Care — about 34% of those enrolled in adultBasic when it ended. Special Care came at a cost four times more expensive than adultBasic, and with limits on medical coverage including a four-doctor-visits-per-year cap that may have kept it out of reach for most adultBasic enrollees.

How About A Sitdown Strike Across Hershey’s Supply Chain?

A blog post by Stephen Herzenberg, originally published at Third and State.

By now most of you have heard about the recent Hershey incident in which foreign students, having paid for the privilege of participating in a “cultural exchange” visit to the United States, found themselves packaging the candy company’s chocolate for about $8 per hour (not counting the upfront fee for the program and before you subtract the living costs taken out of the students’ paychecks). 

As Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale and I pointed out in a recent Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed , the implications of this incident go far beyond the advantage taken of the 400 students. It’s a case that demonstrates the irresistible urge of global corporations to fragment workers in their production chains so that the most vulnerable can be paid very low wages. Hershey, after all, has a stronger motivation than most corporations to resist this impulse: it’s in a capital-intensive industry, it has a cherished consumer brand placed at risk by the relentless pursuit of low wages, and the company is held in trust on behalf of a school for underprivileged children. The Hershey case demonstrates the need for constraints on companies’ freedom to pursue low-wage strategies.

Our suggestion in the Inquirer was a union that cuts across the entire company supply chain (within the U.S. for starters). This type of “network” unionism would generate long-term economic benefits for the U.S. because companies would be able to pursue productivity enhancing strategies with all their workers and also through cooperation among plants at different points in the production chain.

Since the legislative route to such multi-plant unionism could take a while, what about taking a tactic out of the students’ playbook — and out of the 1930s — a sitdown strike, this one including all workers in the entire Hershey production chain?

More than any other single step that I can think of, broad-based unionism that restores industrywide private-sector wage and benefit standards — in local service industries as well as within manufacturing — could fix the economic inequality threatening the United States and restore the middle class.

School’s Open but There’s Less Funding for Kids

A blog post from Chris Lilienthal, originally published at Third and State.

Kids are back in school across Pennsylvania and the nation, but many of them are likely seeing the fallout from education funding cuts.

Pennsylvania ranked among the top 10 states to cut school funding this year, according to a recent analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The Center found that 21 of 24 states for which data are available (including Pennsylvania) are providing less funding per student to elementary and high schools than last year (after adjusting for inflation). These states account for about two-thirds of the nation’s school-age population.

Pennsylvania ranked sixth among the 24 states, with an 8.8% cut in per-student, inflation adjusted spending. Only Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, California and Ohio cut school funding more.

Overall, Pennsylvania is doing better than many of the other states, where funding cuts this year come on top of other cuts in state K-12 funding since the recession hit. As the Center’s Phil Oliff wrote:

As a result, 17 of the 24 states studied are providing less funding per student than they did in 2008. (See second graph.) In ten of these states, funding is down more than 10 percent since 2008, and in South Carolina, Arizona, and California, it is down more than 20 percent.

These cuts have serious consequences for students and the broader economy. They slow the economic recovery, hurt education reform efforts, damage the nation’s long-term competitiveness and leave school districts with few choices for restoring the lost state aid.

It all comes down to a question of priorities, as Oliff wrote:

While the state funding cuts partly reflect the economic downturn, which has depressed state revenues and raised the demand for public services, they also reflect choices by state and federal policymakers.  Most states took a cuts-only approach to closing their budget shortfalls for the current fiscal year, rather than using a more balanced mix of cuts and additional revenues.  And the federal government has failed to extend the emergency education aid it gave states earlier in the downturn, which played a crucial role in limiting the funding cuts to schools across the country.

Obama Jobs Plan a Step Toward Boosting Economy

A blog post from Mark Price, originally published on Third and State.

President Obama delivered a much anticipated address on jobs and the economy before a joint session of Congress Thursday evening. I put out the following media statement in response:

There is no question that we need a jobs policy to meet the vast challenges our economy faces today. The President has put forth some good ideas, including an extension of unemployment benefits that will help families in rural and urban communities where jobless rates are particularly high. This plan should be the start of a broader discussion about how we can invest in people and local communities across the nation to repair our broken economy. Doing nothing is not an option.

If you're looking for some more analysis on the President's plan, check out these:

The team at the Economic Policy Institute has a quartet of blog posts, including Heidi Shierholz's look at the jobs gap, John Irons' analysis of the jobs impact of the President's plan, Ross Eisenbrey's take that the plan is mostly on the mark, and Lawrence Mishel's analysis of how effective the plan is.

The Labor Market is a Buyer’s Market

A blog post from Mark Price, originally published on Third and State.

Do you know many unemployed people these days who are turning down jobs while holding out for a better offer?

Me neither.

Over one in four Pennsylvania workers — and nearly one in three U.S. workers — have had less paid work than they wanted during the last 12 months. For every job opening in Pennsylvania, there are approximately eight workers who want more paid work — four of them are unemployed and four are underemployed.

Those are pretty sobering statistics.

Yet this Labor Day, readers of the Patriot-News were treated to a very different set of statistics by columnist Anne McGraw Reeves. Citing a temporary help agency, she wrote that 52% of surveyed employers "reported difficulty filling jobs."

How can this be?

Reeves offers up a theory in the voice of a local temp agency proprietor, who noted that some unemployed workers "are getting too comfortable being unemployed." Reeves goes on to lecture the unemployed:

No job seeker wants to take a job that means a cut in pay or a reduction in status. High paying jobs with great benefits and substantial cache are hard to find.

But with the amount of unemployed people increasing and the funding for unemployment compensation shrinking, many of us don't have the luxury of waiting for the next best thing.

In other words, there are jobs to be had if only the unemployed would take them. However, a ratio of nearly eight underemployed workers for every job opening in Pennsylvania means that not everyone is finding the work they need.

Out with Austerity Economics, In With a ‘Moral Economy’

A blog post from Stephen Herzenberg, originally published on Third and State.

We released our annual State of Working Pennsylvania at the Keystone Research Center today.

Bottom line: the report shows that the economy is limping along and our job market is broken. State and federal policies driven by austerity economics are increasing joblessness, sparking greater economic inequality and undercutting American values.

With working families still struggling in this weak economy, we make the case for an alternative approach that focuses directly on job creation and building a stronger economy. We’re calling this new direction a “moral economy” — one that is more competitive economically and supports American values.

Creating a “moral economy” isn’t that hard. It means establishing conditions in which our most dynamic companies can thrive and multiply and enforcing some basic rules (e.g., labor and environmental standards) so that companies can’t compete in ways that harm workers and communities. “Paving the high road and blocking the low road” is the key to unleashing American ingenuity on a larger scale, creating a stronger economy and a more robust middle class.

Some of the immediate steps we need to take to strengthen our economy include:

Stop the Hate: Arizona Style Anti-Immigrant Measures in Pennsylvania Must Be Killed

Rep. Daryl Metcalf held hearings over the past two days on what he styled as the "National Security Begins at Home" package of legislation. The hearings included the following bills:

HB 41, HB 355, HB 439, HB 474, HB 738, HB 798, HB 799, HB 801, HB 809, HB 810, HB 856, HB 857, HB 858, HB 865, SB 9

Without getting into each and every one of these bills, let me highlight some things these bills would do:

  • Require the flawed e-verify system to be used by all employers in the state
  • Penalize municipalities that are considered "sanctuary cities" (Reading and Philadelphia both fall into this definition). Penalties could include taking away public benefits from all residents in these cities.
  • Make it a crime to knowingly transport an undocumented immigrant. This would include a church driving an individual to services or a child driving her undocumented mother to the hospital
  • Require identification to be used to access any and all public benefits, despite the fact that an estimated 500,000 citizens in Pennsylvania lack ID (you guessed it: this group includes a disproportionate number of poor, black, and elderly)
  • Allow competitor companies and disgruntled employees to bring lawsuits! against a business for allegedly hiring undocumented immigrants. Seemingly no proof is necessary and one can win triple! damages (triple what, I'm not sure, but it sounds big!)
  • Allow police officers to request immigration paperwork of any immigrant and would create a criminal offense for note carrying those papers. How this law will be enforced without racial profiling, I don't know.
  • Deputize local police as ICE agents, able to carry out immigration functions.
  • Deny citizenship to children born in Pennsylvania to undocumented immigrants.
  • and many more fun provisions....

Painting a Fuller Picture of Gas Drilling in PA Economy

A blog post from Sharon Ward, originally published on Third and State.

The folks at the Penn State Marcellus Shale Education & Training Center, a collaboration of the university’s College of Technology and Agriculture Cooperative Extension service, took a look at the Marcellus Shale’s impact on Pennsylvania employment and income in 2009.

So what did they find? The Marcellus Shale is creating jobs, development and increased income, but at a much more modest level than predicted by industry studies. 

The report brings a more detached eye to the question of the economic impact of gas drilling than previous industry-funded reports. It offers a more realistic assessment of the economic effects and contemplates the uncompensated costs to paint a fuller picture of the role of gas drilling to the state’s economy.

The authors surveyed hundreds of businesses, landowners, and government officials; gathered gas industry spending data; and put the information in an economic model to estimate the statewide impact of the industry.

The report makes clear that gas drilling brings additional wealth to leaseholders but that it also brings additional headaches, and costs, to municipal officials struggling with gas-related impacts for which many receive no offsetting tax income.

New Commission to Gather Citizen input on Marcellus Shale Drilling

A new commission will convene this week giving the citizens of Pennsylvania an opportunity to tell their side of the story about drilling in the Marcellus Shale.

Eight civic and environmental organizations, including the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center (PBPC), have teamed up to launch the Citizens Marcellus Shale Commission. Chaired by former state Representatives Carole Rubley and Dan Surra, the commission will hold hearings across the state to gather citizen perspectives on the Marcellus Shale and produce a final report for policymakers by early October.

Earlier this year, Governor Tom Corbett's Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, heavy with industry representatives, produced a report and recommendations on shale drilling. The Citizens Commission is intended to supplement that work and delve deeper into a variety of issues, including water and air quality, the social impacts of gas drilling, a natural gas drilling tax, and the impacts of drilling outside Marcellus communities.

Hearings get under way Wednesday at the South Fayette Middle School in Southwestern Pennsylvania (more details here). More hearings are planned for September in Philadelphia, Northeastern Pennsylvania and Harrisburg. Check out the full schedule and come out to make your voice heard. Or submit your comments online.

About Those Pa. Job Numbers

A blog post from Sean Brandon, originally published on Third and State.

Last week (while Third and State was on holiday), Pennsylvania’s July jobs report came out. The unemployment rate for July jumped from 7.6% to 7.8%, with 493,681 Pennsylvanians out of work.

Before June, the unemployment rate in Pennsylvania had been decreasing or holding steady for 16 straight months. The chart below showing the unemployment rate since 2007 reflects the slow recovery Pennsylvania has been experiencing.

It was also reported that 8,700 jobs were created in Pennsylvania last month. The Pennsylvania economy must produce 7,850 jobs each month over the next three years in order to get back to full employment. In this light, the 8,700 jobs created in July seem to indicate healthy growth.

The stark discrepancies between what unemployment rate data and job count data are telling us are a result of two different surveys which are both conducted by the Labor Department. The Household survey asks a sample of individuals whether or not they are employed, gathering the data for the unemployment figures. The Establishment survey asks companies to report how many employees they have.

News Flash: PA Public-Sector Jobs Not Path to Riches

A blog post from Stephen Herzenberg, originally published on Third and State.

The Economic Policy Institute has a new report out documenting — surprise, surprise — that jobs in Pennsylvania state and local government aren’t the way to get rich.

The report, authored by Rutgers University labor and employment relations Professor Jeffrey Keefe, shows that Pennsylvania public-sector workers make the same or slightly less in wages plus benefits than comparable Pennsylvania private-sector workers. The more-generous benefits of public-sector workers are balanced by lower wages and salaries.

We weren’t very surprised by this result. We had made similar observations earlier this year.

Could It Be the Weather?

A blog post from Michael Wood, originally published on Third and State.

The Delaware County Daily Times reprinted a story from the PA Independent (the state news service started by the Commonwealth Foundation) which mistakenly blames unions for the out-migration of taxpayers in the state.

Here is the claim:

The Tax Foundation, a Washington, D.C., tax policy nonprofit, tracks tax returns filed in every state to determine how shifts in population affect working by tracking the Social Security numbers of income tax returns filed with the IRS each year.

Between 1999 and 2008, Pennsylvania saw an overall decline of 84,000 tax returns. The top three destinations for people leaving Pennsylvania during that time — Florida, Virginia and North Carolina — are all right to work states. The data is the most recent available.

There are a couple of problems with this rationale.

1. Not many people move between states as a share of the population. According to data on the IRS's website for the period 2004 to 2009, Pennsylvania lost a net 21,847 filers. This equates with less than 0.2% of our population. Most people who move do so to neighboring states.

2. Included in these numbers are retirees. If you aren't in the workforce, I don't think workforce policies are high on your priority list.

Building a Competitive Insurance Marketplace in PA

A blog post from Christopher Lilienthal, originally published on Third and State.

So have you ever used Travelocity to book a flight? Or the Consumer Reports web site to research a new car?

Then you probably know the value of comparative shopping. I, for one, never book a flight before comparing just about every option and airline. What is the cheapest day of the week to fly, which airline offers nonstop flights, how long will I be in the air?

As Antoinette Kraus of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network (PHAN) wrote in an op-ed last week:

Sites like Travelocity have made air travel, car rentals and hotel bookings more convenient, competitive and affordable.

The same can't be said for health insurance, but that's about to change. The federal Affordable Care Act calls for the creation of competitive health-insurance marketplaces by 2014 to provide individuals and small businesses with a place to buy high-quality, affordable health coverage.

Pennsylvania's Insurance Commissioner is holding hearings this month to gather public input on what the state's new health insurance marketplace should look like. Hearings were held outside Pittsburgh and Philadelphia earlier this month, with the third and final hearing happening today near Harrisburg. Sharon Ward of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center will be one of the testifiers at that hearing.

If Energy Investment Bankers Have Doubts, So Should We

A blog post from Michael Wood, originally published on Third and State.

More doubt is being cast on the Marcellus Shale Coalition's recent economic impact study. This time, by the energy investment banking firm Parks Paton Hoepfl Brown.

In a recent article published by the online oil and gas publication Rig Zone, G. Allen Brooks, the firm's managing director, points out a number of issues in the report that seem to exaggerate the economic promise of the Marcellus Shale.

Marcellus Shale, Unemployment and Industrial Diversity

A blog post from Mark Price, originally published on Third and State.

Capitolwire has a recent story (paywall) about the impact of the Marcellus Shale on Pennsylvania's unemployment rate. There is no question that oil and gas extraction is creating jobs in Pennsylvania and thus helping reduce unemployment. But it remains an open question precisely how big the impact is given how small employment in that sector is relative to an economy that employs 5.8 million people.

Table 1 below lists the 25 counties that experienced an increase in the number of Marcellus wells drilled between 2009 and 2010. For each county, I also report the change in the number of unemployed workers in that same period as well as the change in employment overall and within key sectors of the economy. It is clear from this data that the biggest impact of Marcellus activity is being felt in Bradford, Tioga, Lycoming and Susquehanna counties.

Listed in Table 2 is the share of employment that Natural Resources and Mining, Construction and Manufacturing represent of total nonfarm employment in these same 25 counties. On average in 2010, Natural Resources and Mining represented 3% of total employment in these counties, construction 4% and manufacturing 16%. Manufacturing in most of these counties is far and away the most important sector.

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