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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Out of work in Charlestown

High numbers for long-term unemployed and dank prospects...unless we choose to act!
By Will Collette

When I checked the new RI Department of Labor and Training unemployment numbers for Charlestown, I was mildly encouraged to see a drop of 0.1% (from 9.1% to 9.0%) for the month of August. Any drop is welcome.

Unfortunately, the numbers reflect the trend of workers dropping out of the labor market. The DLT stats show 51 Charlestown workers dropped out of the market between July and August. That’s the real reason for the 0.1% decline in Charlestown’s rate, not that nine fewer workers were collecting unemployment benefits. Indeed, those nine workers might simply have exhausted their benefits and fallen into oblivion.

We also have fewer total people who are actually working, down by 42 workers in just one month. These numbers do not reflect people who are under-employed or have taken major cuts in wages and benefits.

Studies on the population of workers thrown out of work since the beginning of the Great Recession show that older workers have the hardest time finding new jobs. And if there's one consistent trend we've seen in the census data for Charlestown, it's that our population is aging.

If 50 year old-plus workers are able to find new jobs, they are usually at far lower pay with far fewer benefits than their old jobs. Or they are casual work – part-time or seasonal. 

Many older long-term unemployed workers try to paper over their joblessness by claiming to be “consultants” or “self-employed.”

The long-term unemployed exhaust their savings and their credit. They cash out their retirement funds. They juggle bills to try to make do, and often fail. They try to sell their homes in a bad market and often end up selling at deep mark-downs, and that has held down the recovery of home values in rest of Charlestown.

Even though the stock market has been surging for the past several months, it was too late for many older unemployed workers who had to cash in their 401(k)s just to survive. They had few if any investments left that could benefit from the market rebound.

Many of the long-term unemployed have trouble keeping their cars on the road, lacking money for gas and maintenance. Because Charlestown lacks jobs and public transportation, you must have a working vehicle to get to a job or to go looking for work.

It doesn't help that we're shredding the social safety net by cutting unemployment benefits and face even worse cuts in Food Stamps (SNAP) and nutrition programs, education and training funding.

Charlestown CAN help

Planning Commissar Ruth Platner needs to stop
killing small businesses and jobs
Charlestown’s town leadership, controlled by the CCA Party, seems to have no particular interest in these on-going problems. 

In fact, at its upcoming October 7 Town Council meeting, the CCA Party majority is likely to approve two new ordinances pushed by Planning Commissar Ruth Platner that will likely cause even more Charlestown businesses to close, inhibit expansions and renovations and discourage new businesses, killing local jobs in the process. 

Ordinance 359 on shrubbery and Ordinance 360 on parking seem designed to make doing business in Charlestown unaffordable, if not unbearable.

CCA Party leaders have said there is nothing Charlestown can do about the national and international economic factors that caused the Great Recession and the housing crash. Of course that’s true, but the CCA Party conveniently forgets the importance of small local businesses in driving the local economy and creating jobs. 

One thing the CCA leadership could do to help is to stop hurting small business in Charlestown. But that's not all.

Life may still be good in the CCA Party’s strongholds where elderly retirees can live quite grandly on their portfolios, trusts, investments and executive pensions. 
Town Councilor Deputy Dan Slattery needs to stop
claiming that Charlestown is powerless to help its people

But most of Charlestown consists of working people – more than 60%. 

Plus we do have a sizable merchant class consisting of small business owners, construction contractors, consultants and tele-commuters. 

Even Ruth Platner’s hubbie Cliff Vanover runs his trail map business from home.

Charlestown town government does have substantial control over the climate and conditions it sets for small business growth and development. 

Instead of constantly clamping down on town business, we need to encourage existing small businesses to grow and new businesses to come to town. A good starting point would be to pull Ordinances 359 and 360 and consult with town business people on a re-write.

Instead of looking for ways to drive businesses out or keep new businesses from coming in – by unreasonable, minutely detailed ordinances on parking, shrubbery, signs, lighting, aquaculture, even the required number of inches of mulch and the required color of outdoor electrical outlet covers – town government needs to talk to business owners about what they need to grow and thrive. 
Charlestown funding for RI-CAN's aid to low-income Charlestown
residents: $16,500

Tax policies that encourage Charlestown businesses to grow ought to be on the table. Tax incentives work.

It seems like the only thriving local business is the Copar quarry, perhaps because they are the only business in town that our town government seems unable, or unwilling, to regulate. But even Copar’s growth doesn’t help us because they bring their workers in from Connecticut.

Besides boosting opportunities for local business, Charlestown should also consider ways it can directly help struggling working families. Tax policy – such as the homestead tax credit proposal rejected by the CCA Party at the behest of its wealthy constituents – is worth revisiting. 

Instead of tax relief, the CCA Party has given us six straight years of tax increases despite consistent annual budget surpluses.

Charlestown should also boost its support to RI-CAN, which currently receives only modest support to act as the town’s welfare agency. They can hardly keep the doors open. Contrast that with the $2 million-plus we just paid just for the benefit of one neighborhood. Surely we can find the money to help our neighbors in desperate need.
Charlestown funding for the Whalerock fight: $2,114,425 to buy the land,
$12K+ in closing costs, $50K for a Special Counsel, plus lots and lots
more in litigation costs

And Charlestown should push hard to get us tied into public transportation. A RIPTA bus stop would be great. Or a town shuttle service to help people get to public transportation that can take them to work.

Yes, such a shuttle would cost taxpayer dollars, but so does unemployment when it translates into delayed tax payments, delinquency or default.

Besides, we can always seem to find money for other things, like $2.114,445 to protect the Sachem Passage Association, or a million to benefit the Sonquipaug Association, or who knows how much for a bike path down the length of Charlestown Beach Road.

If you are a CCA Party campaign contributor, there's no request to big for the CCA Party leaders who run town government.

Resource for the unemployed

I do have one resource to recommend to our readers who are looking for work, especially in the non-profit sector. Brown University runs a “Rhode Island Community Jobs” listserve. 

By signing up, you get a daily e-mail listing a broad range of jobs in the non-profit sector. Lots of them are in health care, but the listing spans the broad range of non-profits from activist to service. Click here to get to the sign-up page.

The e-mails go out just after midnight every night. Lately, I’ve noticed a significant surge in the number of jobs posted daily, hitting close to 30 on many days.