Tag Archives: unemployment

Yellen to college grads: Best job market in nearly a decade

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said Monday that college graduates are entering the strongest job market the country has seen in nearly a decade, and their degree is more important than ever.

Yellen said that with changes in the job market such as technology and globalization, succeeding in the job market is increasingly tied to higher education.

“Those with a college degree are more likely to find a job, keep a job, have higher job satisfaction and earn a higher salary,” Yellen said in remarks at commencement ceremonies at the University of Baltimore.

She said that annual earnings for college graduates last year were on average 70 percent higher than those with only a high school diploma. Back in 1980 that difference was only 20 percent, she said.

Yellen said the increasing demand for people with college and graduate degrees reflected the need for higher technological skills and the impact of globalization, which allows goods and services to be produced anywhere. She said those trends were likely to continue.

“Success will continue to be tied to education, in part because a good education enhances one’s ability to adapt to a changing economy,” she said.

In her remarks, Yellen did not make any comments about Fed interest-rate policies. The Fed last week boosted its benchmark rate by a quarter-point. It was the first increase in a year. In making the announcement, the Fed projected that it would move rates up another three times in 2017.

Yellen said that in addition to the improvement in the unemployment rate, which in November fell to a nine-year low of 4.6 percent, there have been recent signs that wage growth is picking up.

But Yellen noted that challenges remain.

“The economy is growing more slowly than in past recoveries and productivity growth, which is a major influence on wages, has been disappointing,” she told the graduates.

Risk to Wisconsin unemployment fund seen as still high

Wisconsin employers vastly overpaid for unemployment costs during the Great Recession because the state wasn’t adequately prepared. And when the next big downturn comes, the state could face the same problem all over again.

The issue resurfaced when Republican Gov. Scott Walker highlighted a likely drop in what employers are required to pay into the fund covering unemployment benefits. With a $1 billion balance in the fund, legislators and state officials are pointing to it as a success.

But the state Department of Workforce Development stands by a year-old report saying the financing system has longer-term structural challenges and faces high risks in the event of another recession.

“We’ve got to be prepared, because we don’t want to be put in the same position we were 10 years ago,” said Dale Knapp, research director at Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

Unemployment benefits are paid out of a state trust fund financed by employer taxes. Like many states, Wisconsin’s fund dipped into the red following the recession, falling to a $1.3 billion deficit in 2010. It quickly climbed out of that hole to a $1 billion balance thanks to an improving economy and business-friendly changes that have cut down on benefit payments and fraud.

But the ability of Wisconsin’s unemployment fund to withstand another downturn is still below what it should be, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, which ranks Wisconsin 35th among the 50 states, Washington, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

The fund has been in a rough spot for more than a decade. It was dwindling even from 2004 to 2006 when the economy was doing well.

“We heard talk from some legislators and from some state officials that it was something we need to address and we never did,” Knapp said. “And along came the recession and we were put in a real bad position.”

Had the state’s fund been in a better condition ahead of the recession in 2007, employers could have saved $369 million during that period, according to an April 2015 Department of Workforce Development financial outlook report. Instead, employers lost federal tax credits and had to cover interest payments, in addition to paying higher fund taxes. Taxpayers also had to cover $25 million in interest payments.

Yet many employers say they would rather have lower taxes when times are good and deal with an economic downturn as it happens.

“The idea that we ought to be increasing taxes on employers and just socking money away in the event that we might have a great big recession in the future _ that’s not just something that we think is good policy,” said Scott Manley, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Senior Vice President of Government Relations.

He said a survey of members shows most would rather keep their money and put it to better use than having it sit in a trust fund.

“From a business perspective, you’re not going to want to increase your taxes at all,” said Allied Construction Employers Association CEO John Topp. “That, to me, would not be the way to go.”

Knapp said the challenge with that approach is that businesses are actually better able to afford higher taxes during good times. He said the state would probably be better off having higher taxes over the entire time period.

The state could also further cut down on benefit payments to address the fund’s solvency.

Changing any policies would require legislative action, with input coming from the Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council. Department of Workforce Development spokesman John Dipko said the department hasn’t changed its position since the April 2015 report, which recommends the council review the policies and provide solutions to the governor and Legislature on how to further strengthen the trust fund.

But any major changes are unlikely to happen in the near future. Manley, who is on the advisory council, said he doesn’t think solvency is a concern right now, and Knapp said legislators likely see the billion-dollar balance and are unconcerned.

“I think it’s one of those issues where we should always be vigilant of where we’re at,” Knapp said.

Madison, Dane County post lowest unemployment rates

New data show Madison and Dane County still have the lowest unemployment rates among cities and counties in Wisconsin.

State Department of Workforce Development data released this week show preliminary December unemployment rates in most cities and counties increased slightly since November but are down since last year.

Statewide data released last week put the preliminary December unemployment rate at 4.3 percent, up slightly from the November rate of 4.2 percent. The estimated number of people working rose by 7,000 from November and the number of unemployed rose by 3,400.

The figures are based on a survey of 3.5 percent of Wisconsin employers. The numbers tend to fluctuate more than quarterly employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The national unemployment rate held steady at 5.0 percent in December.

Oscar Mayer had a way with M-a-d-i-s-o-n

Madison — especially its North and East sides — won’t be the same without Oscar Mayer.

Neither will the lives of some 1,000 employees, most of whom are losing their jobs.

The company’s sad announcement Wednesday that its headquarters and plant will close delivered a heavy if not surprising blow to workers and their families. Many said they saw it coming. The aging factory and offices, which once employed 4,000, have been shaving jobs for years.

The pain to those people most affected, including local businesses that cater to the plant and its workforce, can’t be minimized. Madison Mayor Paul Soglin estimated the impact at “hundreds of millions of dollars” on the area’s economy.

The only consolations may be that Madison has a low unemployment rate, and the company plans to phase out the plant over more than a year. So workers will have some time to prepare. They’ll get severance benefits and help finding new jobs, a company spokesman said. The mayor pledged to work with state officials to help displaced workers retrain.

But this loss, more than others in recent years, really hurts.

Oscar Mayer, famous for manufacturing hot dogs and lunch meat, has been a fixture here for nearly a century, giving to countless community causes. Along with its employees, it gave more than $500,000 to the United Way of Dane County last year, for example. And many of its workers serve as an army of community volunteers.

Madison needs more company headquarters, not fewer, because of the prosperity and generosity they so often provide.

If only Kraft Heinz, the recently merged parent company of Oscar Mayer, had seen the value of consolidating its manufacturing and corporate operations here, rather than in Iowa, Missouri or Chicago, where many of Madison’s jobs are apparently going. Local officials say they’ll try to talk the giant corporation out of its decision, but hope is thin.

The plant closing will leave a big hole on the North and East sides. The city should start planning now for ways to remake the large site so its shuttered factory and large surface parking lots don’t sit idle for long.

Madison loved being associated with Oscar Mayer, a pop culture icon. Everyone seemed to love its classic hot dogs. And the company’s fun bologna jingle and goofy Wienermobile complemented Madison’s quirky spirit.

When the State Journal last year compiled the 100 objects that define Madison, the Wienermobile easily made the list. Oscar Mayer’s 27-foot vehicle shaped like a wiener is a “pure Madison trademark,” much like the colorful, sunburst-patterned chairs of the Union Terrace, this newspaper reported.

And now it’s leaving.

The smell of Oscar Mayer meat wafting in the air near the plant may have bothered some neighbors in the past, but now it will be badly missed.

Oscar Mayer shutting down in Madison is the end of an era. It’s another hit to traditional manufacturing in a city that’s rapidly going high-tech. It hurts our city’s psyche as much as its heart.

Burl poachers threaten California’s redwood forests

Authorities say unemployment and drug addiction have spurred an increase in the destructive practice of cutting off the knobby growths at the base of ancient redwood trees to make decorative pieces like lacey-grained coffee tables and wall clocks.

The practice — known as burl poaching — has become so prevalent along the Northern California coast that Redwood National and State Parks on Saturday started closing the popular Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway at night in a desperate attempt to deter thieves.

Law enforcement Ranger Laura Denny said this week that poachers have been stalking the remote reaches of the park with their chain saws and ATVs for decades, but lately the size and frequency of thefts have been on the rise.

“When I interview suspects, that is the (reason) they say: their addiction to drugs and they can’t find jobs,” she said.

Her husband, park district interpretation supervisor Jeff Denny, said it is comparable to poor people poaching rare rhinos in Africa to sell their horns. Jobs are hard to come by since the timber and commercial fishing industries went into decline.

“Originally there were 2 million acres of old growth forest that spanned the coast of Northern California from Oregon to Monterey,” he said. “Over the past 150 years, 95 percent of that original forest has been cut. The only remaining old growth forest in existence now is almost entirely within the Redwood national park” and some state parks.

A redwood tree can survive the practice, but the legacy of the organism that could be 1,000 years old is threatened, because the burl is where it sprouts a clone before dying. Sprouting from burls is the prevalent method of redwood propagation, and the source of the Latin name for coast redwood, Sequoia semper vierens, or forever living, he added.

Lorin Sandberg is a burl dealer in Scio, Ore. He occasionally goes to Northern California to buy burl, but it is tough to find any more, with almost all of the old growth that makes the best burls protected on public land. The good stuff with a lacey grain full of eyes will go for $2 to $3 a pound, unseasoned.

Finished dining room tables are being offered for $1,300 on eBay.

“I don’t buy them unless they have proof of where they got it,” he said. “I’ve got to have a paper trial. If there’s not a paper trial, it can stay in their yard.”

With few law enforcement rangers — and 133,000 acres of park stretching south from the headquarters in Crescent City, Calif. — to patrol, arrests are rare, Laura Denny said. She can recall two or three over the past 12 years. While charges can be felonies carrying prison time, convictions usually end up as misdemeanors carrying fines.

She is currently chasing a bunch that cut a massive burl from a redwood just south of the mouth of the Klamath River that was discovered by a bear researcher tramping the woods in April. The cut left a scar measuring 8 feet by 10 feet.

Over the course of weeks, the thieves cut the burl into slabs weighing more than 100 pounds each that they dragged behind ATVs through the woods several hundred yards to a road.

She found the slabs in a burl dealer’s yard. After matching the wood to pieces left behind at the scarred tree, she seized the slabs. The dealer had paid $1,600 for eight slabs that he was going to sell for $700 apiece, for a total of $5,600. “They are very difficult to catch because they move site to site,” operate in remote areas far from roads, and even the sound of a chain saw doesn’t travel far in the woods, she said of poachers.

She hopes that the road closure will raise awareness among park visitors so they question the source of slabs offered for sale at burl shops.

Disturbed by Walker’s cronyism

Gov. Scott Walker’s tenure has been marked by very low approval ratings, an extremist agenda and a worsening unemployment rate.

If that isn’t bad enough, now we are seeing headlines involving a John Doe investigation and the FBI searching the home of a top Walker aide. John Doe investigations are secret proceedings. Witnesses can be subpoenaed and compelled to testify under oath, and they’re forbidden from talking publicly about the case.

On Sept. 14, reports surfaced that officers with the FBI and other agencies were searching the home of Walker’s former deputy administration secretary Cynthia Archer. She recently resigned from that post but still is part of the administration. The raid of her home appears to be a part of a John Doe investigation that is certainly nothing new.

Over the past 16 months, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Dan Bice has repeatedly reported on the existence of a John Doe investigation. It appears to involve Walker’s campaign and a number of his former Milwaukee County staff.

Based on the reports of the investigation, at least one element appears to deal with campaigning done by Walker staffers while they were at their county jobs, which are paid for by taxpayers. In fact, one of Walker’s former Milwaukee County aides, Darlene Wink, resigned last year when she was confronted with that issue.

The Walker campaign must be taking this investigation seriously because they have retained the services of an expensive law firm.

These recent developments shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who paid close attention to Walker and his Milwaukee County administration. Although he originally campaigned on ending cronyism, in many ways he perfected the practice. He went further than anyone before him in blurring the lines between his various campaigns and county government.

Throughout his tenure as Milwaukee County executive, Walker provided high profile county jobs to his long list of campaign cronies and other supporters. Many of them were cycled back and forth between his campaigns and official county positions.

These campaign cronies were effective at getting Walker elected, but many were not so great at their cushy county jobs. The county’s economic development division repeatedly had problems while Walker’s campaign cronies ran it, including multimillion-dollar deficits. Eventually the division became such a failure that Walker eliminated it.

Unfortunately not even that disaster stopped him from continually cycling these and other campaign cronies into taxpayer-funded jobs.

Hopefully the John Doe investigation is looking into how Walker’s political cronies were handling things like open records requests sent to his county administration. When political opponents sent requests for records, they were often met with deception and obstacles. One incident led to a rebuke of the Walker administration by an assistant attorney general.

Last year, when the anonymous blog “ScottforGov” sent in a records request to the Walker administration, it received the documents with lighting speed and at no charge. But the administration took months and charged hundreds of dollars to requests from others. The “ScottforGov” example is even more disturbing because this cult-like blog was taken down very quickly after serious questions were raised about Walker cronies possibly campaigning on county time. Many found the timing very telling.

Clearly investigators in this John Doe investigation believe they are on to something big. Otherwise, It would be hard to justify a 16-month investigation and raids of homes.

LGBTs sunnier through recession

LGBT people seem to be weathering the recession with a sunnier attitude than heterosexual people, according to a new poll conducted by Harris Interactive.

Fear of unemployment and job security remain central concerns for many American households, including LGBT households.

However, the poll conducted in March found that LGBT adults remain more optimistic about the future of the job market than heterosexual adults.

75 percent of heterosexual adults and 64 percent of LGBT adults rate the job market in their region of the country as either “very bad” or “somewhat bad.”

One in four of LGBT adults believe the job market will start to improve within the next six months, compared with 12 percent of heterosexual adults.

One-fifth of LGBT adults believe the economy will start growing again within the next six months, compared with 10 percent of heterosexual adults.