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Senate Labor Legislation Update

BillsDiscussions on Senate Bill 1195 (Gordner) continue between the Senate and the Department of Labor and Industry to address stakeholders' concerns with the legislation.

The bill would make changes to the claims process for the Uninsured Employers Guaranty Fund (UEGF), authorize the fund to create lists of designated health care providers treating injured workers, transfer $4 million to the fund and establish new penalties.

House Bill 403 (Grove) may be scheduled for consideration by the Senate Labor and Industry Committee during the 2014 Legislative Session. This bill would increase fines and penalty weeks for employees, employers and incarcerated persons who commit unemployment fraud.

A preliminary amendment (Gordner) to HB 403, would incorporate language into the bill that is essentially the same as SB 1214 (Tartaglione/Stack) and would cap wage eligibility requirements for claimants to qualify for the maximum weekly benefit rate and includes other technical changes.

Unemployment Update

laborDespite a relatively small gain of 74,000 jobs in December, the national jobless rate dipped to 6.7 percent. This level is the smallest since October 2008, but the drop is being attributed to a cold month and people leaving the labor force.

Workers leaving the labor force is also an issue in the commonwealth, as 14,000 people fled the state’s civilian labor force in November, which contributed to the drop in the state’s unemployment rate to 7 percent.

Pennsylvania continued to shed construction and manufacturing jobs during the most recent month for statistics, but witnessed a sizeable increase (12.1 percent) in service providing employment due mostly to a more than 8 percent bump in trade, transportation and utility jobs.

The Philadelphia metropolitan workforce is still the 7th largest in the United States, but the number of workers who make it that way dropped from a little more than 3 million in November to 2.99 million in the interim. Pittsburgh’s labor force, the 22nd largest in the country, holds 1.25 million workers.

It will be interesting to see how the expiration of extended unemployment benefits impacts the unemployment rate.

Man WorriedUnemployment Benefits Extension in Jeopardy

The U.S. Senate finally acted this week to extend emergency unemployment benefits for another three months, but I am worried this much-needed legislation will die in the House, where Republican lawmakers are just not willing to consider it unless there are spending cuts to help pay for the assistance.

I think Democrats are right in not agreeing to cuts. You can bet your bottom dollar that Republicans would continue to target the very social safety nets that many people have needed – and continue to need – to survive this rocky economy.

According to Time Magazine, “the White House Council of Economic Advisers has estimated that failing to extend the unemployment benefits could cost the economy 240,000 jobs this year.”

Jobs Outlook for PA – Continued Bleak

jobsThe Corbett administration has botched its promised delivery of new job growth, and Pennsylvania continues to be one of the worst in the Northeast U.S. in generating new opportunities for workers.

According to the well respected Pew Charitable Trusts, the commonwealth is expected to generate a measly 1.31 percent job-growth rate in 2014. The prediction, which is based on Moody’s Analytics, means 40 other states – including Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey – are expected to be better job creators.

Healthier – even robust – job growth is expected in southern and western states. California and Texas alone are anticipated to add 572,000 new positions.

There are many, many great proposals to grow jobs in the commonwealth. However, the leadership is not there to ensure that at least some of them get a chance to be successful.

Minimum Wage Increase -- UPDATE

moneySometimes it might seem as if the people who are supporting an increase in the minimum wage in Pennsylvania are struggling to find human examples of why this is important. For the cynical among us, they seem to need a face to understand the human tragedy of this situation.

I get that, but if it were you, why would you want to step in front of cameras to bare your soul like that?

While not a face, The New York Times provided a stark reminder this week of just how perilous this issue is for the people who can only find minimum wage – or no – jobs.

The Times’ interactive “Mapping Poverty in America” atlas shows many, many census tracks in Philadelphia and throughout the commonwealth with high poverty rates. There are small pockets of the city and elsewhere that have low rates, but far too many places are being crushed by impoverishment that exceed 30 and 40 percent! It is sad to see the reality of personal economic situations this way, but we can no longer keep our heads in the sand.

Raising the minimum wage will not bring people out of poverty, but it will go a long way to helping them make their day-to-day lives more rewarding and hopeful.

By the way, the poverty threshold for a family of four in 2012 was $23,283. For a single person younger than 65, the bar was $11,945. Someone who works a full-time minimum wage job today in Pennsylvania earns just over $15,000 a year. If they live by themselves, they are considered to not be living in poverty. But you and I know, considering the cost of living in the City of Brotherly Love and elsewhere in Pennsylvania, that’s not a fair wage.

Minimum Wage Voices

I was happy to read and hear some poignant and supportive articles and statements this week about the dire need to increase the minimum wage in Pennsylvania.

One of the articles was an editorial written by’s John Micek; the other was a statement by AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale on WITF’s “Smart Talk” radio show. Click here to listen.