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Keeping the Heat On

Art Handy wrote a great op/ed piece on Rhode Islanders battling utilities during the winter months and the My Home Energy Rate Affordability Act which will help those who need it.

Every fall, families throughout Rhode Island struggle to pull together enough money to get their utilities turned on before the cold months. Each winter, we hear about another fire caused by a family keeping warm with their oven after losing their heat. More and more we hear about children struggling at school because they can’t sleep in their frigid apartments. Emergency rooms deal with the consequences of a system that allows children to go months without heat and electricity.

In the last year, over 30,000 homes – a record high – had either gas or electricity shut off. While many shutoffs are in the cities, the affluent communities are also affected: in Westerly 612 homes were shut off. East Greenwich had 270, Barrington 118, Newport 811, even Little Compton had 30. This problem isn’t happening somewhere else; it’s in your community.

Currently, all winter long, even if they can make payments, few families can keep up with their current bills and even fewer can make headway into eliminating the old debt. The result is that most end the winter in even greater debt and have their utilities shut off again when the moratorium ends.

A side effect of this cycle is that most available heating assistance is aimed at paying just enough to get utilities restored before winter. There is simply not enough money to help customers become current. Each year rising energy costs and the growth of that debt mean it costs more for the customer to reach the point where power is restored. This hopeless cycle leaves more than 30,000 Rhode Island households exposed to the risk of a cold, powerless winter every year and exhausts public assistance funds.

Read the full article here or after the jump.
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Stimulus money to pay interest on some RI school bonds

According to the ProJo, RI’s government has, “approved the allocation of $44.4 million in interest-free bonds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.”

The districts approved to issue interest-free bonds allocation are:
Central Falls, $7.8 million
Chariho, $4.8 million
Compass Charter School, (South Kingstown) $1.6 million
South Kingstown, $78,000
Warwick, $3.9 million
and Westerly, $3.9 million

Providence was not forgotten as it received a “separate interest-free award of $22.3 million, an award based on its size and poverty level.”

Le plein article

Foreclosures Force Ex-Homeowners to Turn to Shelters

PETER S. GOODMAN | New York Times

CLEVELAND — The first night after she surrendered her house to foreclosure, Sheri West endured the darkness in her Hyundai sedan. She parked in her old driveway, with her flower-print dresses and hats piled in boxes on the back seat, and three cherished houseplants on the floor. She used her backyard as a restroom.

The second night, she stayed with a friend, and so it continued for more than a year: Ms. West — mother of three grown children, grandmother to six and great-grandmother to one — passed months on the couches of friends and relatives, and in the front seat of her car.

But this fall, she exhausted all options. She had once owned and overseen a group home for homeless people. Now, she succumbed to that status herself, checking in to a shelter.

“No one could have told me that in a million years: I’d wake up in a homeless shelter,” she said. “I had a house for homeless people. Now, I’m homeless.”

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Poverty and Income Inequality

by: Brian Hull

The U.S. Census Bureau released data today showing that 118,556 Rhode Islanders were living in poverty in 2008.  The data is based on a 3 million person sampling in the United States called the American Community Survey, and shows that Rhode Island’s poverty rate in 2008 stood at 11.7%.  This is lower than (although statistically insignificant to) last year’s rate of 12%.  Rhode Island ranked 31st highest in the nation, below the national average.  When compared to the other New England states, however, Rhode Island had the second highest level of poverty, after Maine.

The wealthiest 10 percent of Americans — those making more than $138,000 each year — earned 11.4 times the roughly $12,000 made by those living near or below the poverty line in 2008, according to newly released census figures. That ratio was an increase from 11.2 in 2007 and the previous high of 11.22 in 2003.

Nationally, the poverty rate for 2008 stood at 13.2%, an 11-year high.  This represents a total of 39.8 million people (14 million of which are children) living in poverty.  There have not been this many people living in poverty since 1960.

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The Real Misery Index: Unemployment Increases the Hardship

Marcus Baram The Huffington Post

The rise in unemployment continues to prolong the hardship for millions of Americans, according to the latest update of the Huffington Post’s Real Misery Index.

The index rose to 32.2 in August 2009, after peaking at 29.2 in July, largely due to the increase in the U6 unemployment rate, which tracks part-time workers looking for full-time employment and those who’ve given up looking for work. The index would be even higher if it weren’t for a slight rebound in housing prices.

Rising unemployment — and the accompanying increase in the number of Americans who have been out of work for more than 6 months (5.4 million as of September) — threatens to diminish the chances of a speedy recovery.

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New Report: Middle Skill Jobs, the Backbone of Rhode Island’s Economy, Will Account for 42 Percent of State’s Job Openings in 2016; State Workforce Not Ready to Meet Demand

Rhode Island’s Economic Recovery Tied to Preparing Workers for Jobs Requiring More than High School Diploma, Less than College Degree; Rhode Island Must Use Economic Downtime to Boost Skills of Workforce.

PROVIDENCE, R.I., Oct. 6 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — In what will play a major role in Rhode Island’s economic recovery, 42 percent of all job openings projected for the state by 2016 are “middle-skill” – jobs that require more than a high school diploma, but less than a four-year degree — concludes a new study released today by The Workforce Alliance and the Skills2Compete-Rhode Island campaign, an affiliate of the national Skills2Compete campaign. But to unleash the full economic benefits of these openings, Rhode Island will need to invest in proper training and education for its embattled workforce.

While the recession is stifling current employment growth, more than 68,000 “middle-skill” job openings (including new jobs and replacement) would account for 42 percent of all Rhode Island job openings between 2006 and 2016. Low- and high- skill jobs will account for 26 percent and 32 percent respectively.

The report, which for the first time tracks Rhode Island’s jobs at the middle-skill level, notes that federal funds from the recovery bill are also expected to create thousands of new jobs — particularly in industries dominated by middle-skill occupations, like environment/energy, construction, healthcare, manufacturing, and transportation.

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As layoffs persist, good jobs go unfilled

CHRISTOPHER LEONARD | 10/ 4/09 08:05 PM | AP

In a brutal job market, here’s a task that might sound easy: Fill jobs in nursing, engineering and energy research that pay $55,000 to $60,000, plus benefits.

Yet even with 15 million people hunting for work, even with the unemployment rate nearing 10 percent, some employers can’t find enough qualified people for good-paying career jobs.

Ask Steve Jones, a hospital recruiter in Indianapolis who’s struggling to find qualified nurses, pharmacists and MRI technicians. Or Ed Baker, who’s looking to hire at a U.S. Energy Department research lab in Richland, Wash., for $60,000 each.

Economists say the main problem is a mismatch between available work and people qualified to do it. Millions of jobs with attractive pay and benefits that once drew legions of workers to the auto industry, construction, Wall Street and other sectors are gone, probably for good. And those who lost those jobs generally lack the right experience for new positions popping up in health care, energy and engineering.

Many of these specialized jobs were hard to fill even before the recession. But during downturns, recruiters tend to become even choosier, less willing to take financial risks on untested workers.

The mismatch between job opening and job seeker is likely to persist even as the economy strengthens and begins to add jobs. It also will make it harder for the unemployment rate, now at 9.8 percent, to drop down to a healthier level.

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Good luck trying to succeed as a kid in America

Julia Steiny

If the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s most recent report had been an international comparison of test scores, the media would have gone berserk. Negativity certainly erupts when ODEC releases the results of their Programme for International Student Assessment test, since it generally shows U.S. students performing poorly compared with their peers in other industrialized nations. The PISA tests invariably get lots of press, with experts making dire predictions that our under-skilled kids and lackluster schools are taking us down to economic ruin.

ODEC is a Paris-based organization that collects and monitors statistics on 30 industrialized countries.

But ODEC’s most recent report, “Doing Better for Children,” examines child well-being, not test scores. Education data are included, but the focus is poverty, teen-parenting, environmental quality, and telling measures like whether kids have desks, calculators and other basic tools to do schoolwork at home. (Forty-eight percent of U.S. children do not. The ODEC average is 35.)

In short, by ODEC’s measures, the U.S. does a wretched job of caring for its children. The statistics are appalling. So why wouldn’t the press care?

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263,000 Jobs Lost in September, Far More Than Forecast


October 2, 2009 New York Times

The American economy lost 263,000 jobs in September — far more than expected — and the unemployment rate rose 9.8 percent, the government reported on Friday, dimming the prospect of any meaningful job growth by the end of the year.

The Labor Department’s monthly snapshot of unemployment dashed hopes that the pace of job losses would continue to slow as the economy clawed its way back from a deep recession. Economists had been hoping for 175,000 monthly job losses.

In one bright spot, fewer jobs were lost in August than originally reported — with 201,000 positions gone instead of earlier figures of 216,000.

But overall, the report offered little good news for the 15.1 million unemployed people in the United States. The number of hours worked stagnated. Overtime hours slipped in many industries. And temporary help companies — typically, among the first to rebound after a recession — shed 1,700 jobs.

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