UNEMPLOYMENT: Federal Action Must Focus on States, Jobless
North Carolina's unemployment rate soared to 11.2 percent in December, surpassing the previous historic high of 11 percent. This is the first time in months that North Carolina has seen a significant increase in joblessness, and the impact on the state's working families must not be underestimated.
This jobless rate highlights the immediate need for further state fiscal relief and an extension of benefits for jobless North Carolinians. The additional weeks of benefits and other assistance for unemployed workers in the recovery legislation Congress enacted early last year -- and recently extended through February -- have helped relieve hardship among the long-term unemployed while also boosting economic activity and job creation. But lawmakers must do more.
"State fiscal relief helps to maintain vital public services and reduce layoffs of teachers, firefighters, and police officers," said Elaine Mejia, director of the Justice Center's Budget & Tax Center. "It also consistently ranks very high in economists' assessments of bang-for-the-buck impact in boosting demand and creating jobs. Assistance for unemployed workers and state fiscal relief should be at the top of the list as Congress decides what measures to include in a new jobs package."
EDUCATION: NC Schools are Still Failing Minority Students
Ten years ago, North Carolina officials vowed they would close or significantly narrow the racial achievement gap by the year 2010. Over the next two years, they created the Closing the Achievement Gap section of the Department of Public Instruction, formed a commission, conducted a year-long study, and released several reports that identified the root causes of learning gaps and offered recommendations to eliminate them.
Then for the next eight years, the state made only limited efforts to accomplish its ambitious goal.
In our new report, Exposing the Gap: North Carolina Schools are Still Failing Minority Students, the Justice Center finds the achievement gap remains stubbornly wide. American Indian, black, and Hispanic students continue to have significantly lower standardized test scores than white students. They have higher dropout rates and lower graduation rates, are under-represented in programs for the gifted and disproportionally disciplined with suspensions and expulsions. Clearly, what attention and resources the state has put toward closing the achievement gap have been wholly inadequate, and tens of thousands of children have been deprived of a quality education as a result.
HEALTH REFORM: We've Come This Far, We Can't Stop Now!
The effort to secure federal health reform is alive and well. Despite all the recent bluster, remember that majorities of members in both the U.S. House and Senate support passage of health care reform. Health advocates all over North Carolina know how hard it was to get to this point, and we will not turn back now.
The most likely scenario that gets comprehensive reform passed is for the House to pass the Senate bill, and then Congressial leaders can fix problems with the legislation through the reconciliation process. We need to let our Congressional delegation know we need quality, affordable health care and that the status quo is not an option.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
- SIGN ON to this letter to Members of Congress by Families USA using their online form.
- CALL HOUSE DEMOCRATS AT (866) 279-5474 WITH A SIMPLE MESSAGE: We need to reform the health care system -- the status quo is not a viable option for America's struggling families. Health care reform will stabilize families' finances, reduce the risk of medical debt and provide peace of mind to Americans across the country. Congress is so close to meaningful reform, and we urge you to pass the Senate bill. We will stand behind you when you make the right choice to support reform.
- JOIN OUR PHONE BANK NEXT WEEK to urge other North Carolinians to call their House members in Washington. To join us, contact HAC Outreach Coordinator Hope Marasco at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-863-2405.
WORK & FAMILY: Committee Looks at Benefits of Paid Sick Days
For North Carolina's families to stay healthy during tough times, lawmakers can and should back smart policies that promote public health and economic security. Last week's inaugural meeting of the General Assembly's Joint Select Committee on Work & Family Balance was a necessary first step. North Carolina is one of the first states in the nation to form a study commission to examine how labor laws have not kept pace with the changing needs of the workforce. With women now outpacing men in the labor force and Baby Boomers aging, families are struggling to balance their caregiving responsibilities with the demands of their jobs.
Without policies such as paid sick leave, flexible work time, paid family and medical leave, North Carolina workers often must make the difficult decision to leave their sick children or parents at home without care. Some 1.6 million North Carolina workers don't have access to paid sick leave. Family-friendly workplace policies would help public health and improve the economic well-being of North Carolina's families.
STATE OF THE UNION: President Obama to offer aid to middle class
This Wednesday, President Barack Obama delivers his first State of the Union address. Among other topics, the president is set to unveil a slate of policies designed to help the middle class.
This week, the White House floated a package of modest initiatives "intended to help families pay for child care, save for retirement, pay off student loans and care for elderly parents."
In the midst of this economic crisis, working families in North Carolina and nationwide are hurting. The course we chart now is essential to millions of Americans in need -- and to future generations. Experts from the Justice Center and NC Policy Watch will analyze the president's prescriptions in real-time at the Justice Center's Twitter feed, www.twitter.com/ncjustice.
IMMIGRATION: Uniting NC launches media campaign
Uniting NC -- a new 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that works to promote understanding and respect between recent immigrants and their U.S.-born neighbors -- has launched an ambitious media campaign across the state. With billboards viewed by thousands of North Carolinians daily in Asheville, Charlotte, Rocky Mount, Smithfield, and Washington, and with public service announcements running on several major radio stations, Uniting NC is making a significant impact in the immigration debate by highlighting the positive contributions that immigrants make in our society.
Because of the heated rhetoric surrounding immigration issues, Uniting NC engages in two main activities in order to promote mutual understanding between immigrant and non-immigrant communities. First, they sponsor local conversations on these difficult issues.
These dialogues take place at colleges, churches, libraries and community centers – anywhere people want to come together to discuss what’s important in their community. Second, Uniting NC sponsors positive messaging around the theme of welcoming new North Carolinians to our state – promoting positive values that North Carolinians cherish, including mutual respect, intercultural understanding, and diversity.
Through its website, Uniting NC introduces people to some of their immigrant neighbors in order to learn their stories: what brought them to North Carolina, what their families are like, and what they’re doing to contribute to our communities and make a better life for themselves.
Uniting NC ’s statewide campaign has been endorsed by a wide range of business, faith, education and community leaders.