by Christine A. Scheller | Feb 7, 2012 | Family, Feature, Headline News |
Unemployment Fell, but Remains High
The Labor Department reported on Friday that the unemployment rate fell to 8.3 percent in January from a high of 10 percent in late 2009, but unemployment still “remains higher than it has been for any presidential election since the Great Depression,” The New York Times reported.
Encouraging, but a Long Way to Go
“This report is encouraging, but it still underscores how far a distance we have to go and how many people are still long-term unemployed and disconnected from the workforce,” Harvard economist Lawrence Katz told The Huffington Post. “Even if we were willing to say that the scars of the great recession mean a couple of million people drop out permanently, we still have many years to go before we get back to where we were.”
Don’t Expect ‘Full Employment Until 2012
More precisely, the year began with fewer workers employed than in January 2001, said economist Paul Krugman at The New York Times. “At January’s pace of job creation it would take us until 2019 to return to full employment,” said Krugman.
Private Sector Remains Engine of Growth
“The private sector remained the engine of growth,” according to The Times. “While federal agencies and local governments continued to lay off workers, businesses added 257,000 net new jobs in January. The biggest gains were in manufacturing, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality.”
Companies Looking to the Future
“The past several recent jobs reports seem to indicate that private companies are beginning to look toward the future and consider hiring,” Brian Hamilton, CEO of financial information company Sageworks Inc. told Forbes. “We don’t know if the positive jobs trend will continue, but it is definitely a good trend,” he said.
Politicians Disagree on Interpretation
Republicans “downplayed” the report, “describing the improvements as welcome but ‘anemic,’” Fox News reported. “The White House, meanwhile, cited the report as ‘encouraging’ evidence that the economy is on the upswing, and urged Congress to support jobs measures backed by President Obama to keep that trend going.”
It’s All Good
“The strangest thing about January’s jobs report is that it’s pretty much all good,” said Ezra Klein at The Washington Post. “The bottom line is that this isn’t just a good jobs report. It’s a recovery jobs report.”
Austery Measures Will Backfire
Krugman warned however that renewed calls for federal austerity measures would backfire. “The sad truth is that the good jobs numbers have definitely made it less likely that the Fed will take the expansionary action it should. So here’s what needs to be said about the latest numbers: yes, we’re doing a bit better, but no, things are not O.K. — not remotely O.K. This is still a terrible economy, and policy makers should be doing much more than they are to make it better,” said Krugman.
What do you think?
Is there reason to be optimistic about the economy?
by Christine A. Scheller | Feb 3, 2012 | Feature, Headline News |
Since the emergence of Occupy Wall Street last year and the subsequent rise of the Occupy movement in cities across America, many have viewed them as a liberal counterpart to the conservative Tea Party movement. But how accurate is that analysis?
UrbanFaith columnist Andrew Wilkes supports the Occupy movement’s “efforts to shift the public conversation from a narrow focus on deficits and a libertarian view of government and free markets to one that addresses income inequality and the easy translation of economic power into disproportionate political power on an international stage.” Rafael Rivadeneira, president of the Illinois Chapter of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, shares “core beliefs of small/limited government, fiscal responsibility, constitutional adherence, free markets, personal responsibility and individual freedom” with the Tea Party movement. UrbanFaith posed a series of questions to both men in an effort to foster respectful dialogue and to explore areas of possible common ground. The pair answered the following questions, then were given the opportunity to respond to each other’s answers. The dialogue has been edited for length and clarity.
How Different Are They?
UrbanFaith: A Public Religion Research Institute poll that compared Tea Party supporters and Occupy supporters found some predictable differences between them. Among them are the fact that 85% of Tea Party supporters are white, one-third of whom are white evangelical Protestants, while 28% of Occupy supporters have no formal religious affiliation and a “sizeable minority” (37%) are people of color. Occupy supporters also tend to be considerably younger than Tea Party supporters. What do these statistics say to you? And, are there are areas of agreement between the two groups that might resonate with the 46% of respondents who said they didn’t identify with either movement?
Tea Party supporter Rafael Rivadeneira
Rivadeneira: A lot of people are fed-up with greed and waste. The Tea Partiers and the Occupiers are operating out of that same frustration, but Tea Partiers aim more at government greed and waste and Occupiers at corporate greed and waste. Of course, it’d be wonderful to see both the Tea Party and Occupy movement more diverse and representative of various races and ethnicities, religions and socio-economic standings, but I don’t believe that we need to look at these numbers and declare that one of these movements is more inclusive or more racist—or whatever wants to be said—than the other.
I’m a Hispanic Mainline Christian and I certainly don’t feel like an outcast based on any of that within the Tea Party. I’d imagine that a conservative white evangelical could say the same thing about the Occupy movement. When people agree on ideas and purpose, I’m not sure that race and religion get too much in the way. That the majority of Americans say neither movement resonates with them makes sense. Most Americans aren’t involved in politics and most Americans consider themselves “moderate.” Neither the Tea Party or the Occupiers are moderate positions, necessarily, and for the most part the members are active—or at least paying attention to—politics.
Wilkes: Many Americans are split between left-wing and right-wing populism. Chris Hedges, a former New York Times writer, tells a story about a veteran running for office in upstate New York that illustrates the point. He is frustrated by long-term unemployment, a fragile economic recovery, and the underwhelming performance of both political parties. Both movements, on one level, are an organized reaction to the perceived failure of established forms of dealmaking in our politics.
This poll, along with public opinion synthesis conducted by the Opportunity Agenda, suggests that many Americans share the three foregoing sentiments. The prognosis of each movement is different, but the diagnosis to some extent is shared – America needs to restore economic opportunity, particularly on the issue of jobs and education.
Rivadeneira: Absolutely. Consistently we have seen increased government regulation and the power of the teachers unions get in the way of economic and educational opportunity. There are many wonderful public schools, of course, and many wonderful teachers doing amazing work with few resources. However, I’m a big fan of charter schools and vouchers so that parents–ALL parents–have a choice in where their kids are educated. Choice in education leads to greater economic opportunities for individuals and communities.
Occupy supporter Andrew Wilkes
Wilkes: Various communities within the Occupy movement are concerned with corruption and ineptitude within both the public and private sector, but especially the financial sector. Despite Rafael’s personal comfort within the Tea Party, many Latino-Americans are put off by the nativist language that the Republican party and Tea Parties have used in the past.
Theologically conservative white evangelicals may very well be comfortable within the Occupy movement. It is highly unlikely, however, that politically conservative white evangelicals will not feel like “outcasts” within the Occupy movement. The untold story of the Occupy movement is that progressive voices of faith–progressive here referring to politics and economics–are organizing within the broader movement.
Is Race a Factor?
UrbanFaith: Last fall, The Washington Post asked “why blacks aren’t embracing Occupy Wall Street” when it “might seem like a movement that would resonate with black Americans.” Why aren’t blacks occupying?
Rivadeneira: I can’t speak for the black community, but there are other ways to protest and fight injustice than by setting up tents and hanging in public parks.
Wilkes: Black folks are indeed occupying. There’s Occupy the Hood. Some are involved in various Occupy Faith movements across the country. More recently, Occupy the Dream represents a broad attempt by black church clergy to reinvigorate its tradition of social justice rooted in Jesus’ liberating ministry, the prophets, and so on. It is true however, that a small minority of African-Americans are involved in Occupying. But at every stage in American history, from the abolitionist and suffrage movements to the civil rights and anti-apartheid movements it has been small groups of folks dedicated to making social change happen, not the majority
Rivadeneira: Small groups make big differences.
Do Tea Partiers Harbor Racial Resentment?
UrbanFaith: In a report produced for the NAACP, The Institute for Research & Education on Human Reports found that white Tea Partiers are more likely than other whites to downplay the problems faced by African Americans. They also tend to hold negative opinions about African Americans’ work ethic. Almost three-quarters told pollsters that government programs aimed at providing a social safety net for poor people actually encourage them to remain poor. One-fourth said the Obama administration favors blacks over whites, and three-fourths said the president doesn’t understand the needs of people like them or “share the values most Americans try to live by.” What, if anything, do these statistics prove?
Rivadeneira: I’m not sure that the findings “prove” anything, but here’s my take on government programs: I certainly don’t believe that “too much has been made of the problems facing black people.” As a minority, I’m well aware of the racism that exists—and the issues that stem from groups of people believing you are “less than.” But I know that this racism doesn’t respect party lines. I’ve faced racism from Liberal Democrats and Conservative Republicans (and every sort of moderate) alike. So I’m not ready to support any claims that the Tea Party is racist. Certainly some Tea Partiers are. But so are some Occupiers.
As to government “safety nets,” while certainly there is a place for public assistance, the truth is: many politicians delight in keeping people dependent on government (in one way or the other) because it gives politicians tremendous power over their constituents. So often big-government promises are less about helping and more about keeping people under government’s thumb. It sounds harsh, but it’s true. This is why we get so much fear-mongering in politics. Politicians want people afraid of how they’ll suffer if there is less help from the government.
I realize that many communities or people have battles ahead of them that are harder than many will ever have to face—failing schools, desperate poverty, cycles of abuse. So we can’t ignore that. But nor should we think that more government is always the answer.
Continued on page 2.
by Christine A. Scheller | Jan 25, 2012 | Family, Feature, Headline News |
I may have watched one too many Republican presidential debates. At least that’s what I thought after re-reading my tweets about President Obama’s State of the Union address last night. I detected a note of cynicism in them that I surmise is a symptom of election season fatigue. The president struck strong notes for the middle class when he talked about ending tax breaks for U.S. companies that export jobs overseas, but lost me when he highlighted a laid-off 55-year-old man who found a green energy job. Clearly he hasn’t looked for work in four years.
Through a Middle-Class Lens
For a straightforward report on the speech, check out Cynthia Gordy’s at The Root. She summarized it like this: “The president largely focused on the economy through the lens of the struggling poor and disappearing middle class. Laying out his blueprint for restoring the economy through manufacturing, clean energy, education and a revised tax code, he also touched on what he called ‘the defining issue of our time’ — delivering on the American promise of hard work and responsibility paying off with the ability to own a home, raise a family and retire.”
Others weren’t so generous.
At The New York Times, John Harwood declared the speech “more partisan than presidential,” saying the president’s “promises to heal the rifts between red America and blue America have fallen flat,” so “he is now trying to highlight his differences with Republicans in an effort to win a second term and new leverage.”
Times Columnist Ross Douthat basically agreed, but concluded that “the substance of the speech could be summed up in one word: More.” More spending on, well, everything, “all of it to be paid for, inevitably, by more taxes on the wealthy.”
The president’s new policies may not do much for Black unemployment, said Perry Bacon Jr. at The Root. This is because experts tie African Americans’ high jobless rates to their disproportionate work in America’s disappearing manufacturing base and in the public sector. “Obama’s speech included a number of ideas to further speed up the revival of American manufacturing. But many of his ideas, such as provisions to raise the tax rates for companies that ship jobs overseas, may not pass the Republican House of Representatives,” Bacon Jr. concluded.
More Republican Critique
Newser has a nice summary of Republican responses to the speech, including that of Herman “I’m Not Going Away” Cain. He focuses on Tea Party complaints like “Obamacare,” class warfare, and the “liberal media,” Newser reported. Cain also reportedly said sexual impropriety allegations like the ones that derailed his campaign have failed against Newt Gingrich because “the American people are waking up to dirty, gutter politics.”
Oh, is that why? Whoops. My cynicism is showing again.
What do you think?
Did the president’s speech inspire you or merely tire you?
by Christine A. Scheller | Nov 22, 2011 | Family, Feature, Headline News |
Blame the President
Democrats and Republicans are predictably hurling blame at one another after news broke Monday that a bipartisan group of congressional leaders had failed to make a deal to reduce U.S. debt, and two operatives from the George W. Bush administration, are, of course, blaming the president.
“It’s not going to advantage the president, even if these numbers stay where they are today, because at the end of the day, people are going to say, ‘You’re the guy in charge. Why didn’t you get something done?'” former senior Bush advisor Karl Rove told Fox News. Likewise, in a Washington Post column, former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson said, “The super committee failed primarily because President Obama gave a shrug.”
Blame Congressional Gridlock
President Obama’s entire first term “has shown that neither political party can impose its will on the other,” countered William Galston at The New Republic in response to the news. “Unless he were to win a victory as large as FDR in 1936 or LBJ in 1964 (and there’s no prospect of that), his second-term choices reduce to two: continuing gridlock or a new formula for doing the people’s business across party lines.”
“The idea of the committee was, in part, to save Congress from itself,” said Michael Cooper at The New York Times. “It was Congress lashing itself to the mast, like Odysseus, to resist the siren calls of lobbyists and special interest groups. But in the end, the ship went nowhere.”
It’s no surprise then that citizen reaction reflected disgust and “a record 84 percent of Americans said they disapproved of the way Congress was handling its job in the most recent New York Times/CBS News poll,” but it may be surprising to learn that some are actually celebrating the failure.
“A super committee working to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits was an absurd anachronism in the era of Occupy Wall Street,” Adam Green, a co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, told The Huffington Post. “Good bye and good riddance,” he said.
Even if there had been a deal, only $1.2 trillion would have been cut from a projected decade-long $9 trillion in deficits and each new congress would have had to re-enact the cuts, explained Edward Morrissey at The Week. “Congress is still in session for the next 14 months before the sequestration cuts take effect. Instead of throwing our hands up in surrender, we should insist that the full Congress do its job and plan a responsible budget. There is also a benefit to this failure; it will be a long time before any Congress can propose another ‘super committee’ to avoid accountability for one of Congress’ basic responsibilities,” he argued.
Lament Shameful Election Year Futility
In the end, the battle for the White House may loom largest over the failure.
“What makes the super committee’s collapse so frustrating is that a consensus seemed to be building in favor of deficit reduction. It was reflected in the report of a presidential commission and in negotiations between Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). Now, with an election looming, the possibility of change seems remote. That isn’t just disappointing, it’s shameful,” declared a Los Angeles Times editorial.
What Do You Think?
Whose fault is the super-committee failure and does it even matter?
by Ron Tinsley | Sep 15, 2011 | Family, Feature, Headline News |
The latest statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau about poverty are heartbreaking. How is it possible that, in one of the wealthiest nations on Earth, 1 out of 6 people are living below the poverty line? Many of us will never have to know what it feels like to be poor (thank God). But when so many people in our cities and neighborhoods are in the grips of poverty (especially blacks, Latinos, and children), we need to pay attention and take it personally.
I remember being in a tight financial situation in college. I was a sophomore renting a room from a family in my church. I grew up poor and was the first in my family to go to college. Fortunately, the family I lived with during my freshman year shared my precarious situation with their friends before they moved. They knew that my chances of finishing college were slim without additional help. I was always struggling to work, carry a full class load, and eat. One anonymous person made a deep impression on me through her unexpected generosity. Every few weeks, I would randomly receive a check from this person with a note that said, “God told me to send this to you.” The checks usually came when I was at my lowest point. When they came, I cried out of sheer joy and relief. Years later when I inquired about my anonymous benefactor, I discovered that she was a single, middle-aged woman living on a fixed income. At first I felt guilty — this woman who had very little sacrificed to support someone she didn’t even know — but then I felt a sense of awe. This woman gave out of her scarcity in a way that challenged my ideas about wealth, prosperity, and poverty. Ever since, I have followed her example in helping others.
As I have matured in my understanding of the Bible, I have noticed that God rarely extols a person simply because of his or her wealth. For wealth to be meaningful, wisdom has to be nearby. If not, we can end up like many celebrities and lottery winners: miserable. Solomon demonstrated this when God gave him a choice between wisdom and riches. He chose wisdom, but God blessed him with both. And his later life is a cautionary tale on the connection between wealth and pride. Godly wisdom is the sure sign of God’s blessings. We have it backward, which is why we forget that God can give His wisdom to anyone — even those we consider poor.
God’s Concern for the Poor
According to the new census report, 46.2 million Americans are now living in poverty, the largest on record dating back to 1959 when the census began tracking poverty. This has considerable political implications considering the uptick in the unemployment rate and the debt ceiling legislation that just passed.
Defining poverty is not an exact science. For instance, by current standards, a white family of six would be considered poor even though they may make $50,000 a year combined, own their home, and live frugally. Yet the face of poverty in the U.S. media is usually a black single mother with children. Politics and election cycles often decide how the media will see poverty.
In his book Just Generosity, theologian Ron Sider makes it clear that there is room in God’s economy for the less fortunate. He points us to the Old Testament, where Yahweh charges the Israelites to remember where they came from and care for those who need help within their community. Once they settled in Canaan, the concept of gleaning (leaving leftover crops for the poor) in Leviticus 19:9-10 and the Year of Canceling Debts in Deuteronomy 15: 1-6 applied to everyone. Jesus said he came to preach the good news to the poor. There are many other scriptures that support God’s concern as well.
The Widow’s Example
The crazy thing about wealth is that as we accumulate more of it, we typically find ourselves becoming ever more desperate to preserve it. We may not even be greedy or materialistic people. But the natural instinct is to get as much as we can, and then hold on to it. This is one reason why people with great wealth are rarely as happy as you’d expect.
One of the best antidotes to spiritual discontent is giving. And, paradoxically, it’s often those with the least who give the most. According to a variety of recent studies, lower-income Americans are the most charitable persons in our country. But our media would have us believe that the most generous people are the wealthy. Don’t get me wrong. I’m thankful when a Bill Gates or a Mark Zuckerberg donates millions to education or a third-world country. But I’m even more encouraged by my high school students who took up a collection to help a classmate’s family with funeral expenses. Most of them come from impoverished communities. This is one reason why the story of the widow’s offering in Luke 21:1-4 should have relevance for us: the widow sacrifices exorbitantly while the rich hoard their wealth.
Those who don’t have a lot have recognized the simple wisdom that God loves a cheerful giver and that He truly provides. The anonymous woman who helped me get through college believed this. And today’s Christians, along with our current crop of politicians, should work harder to remember this as well.
In part two of this post, I’ll share some ways that we can learn from those who are living in poverty. Please stay tuned, and share your thoughts about poverty, wealth, and generosity in the comments section below.