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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Alarming increase in Charlestown unemployment at year’s end

Charlestown’s lack of concern leaves residents in the cold, Part 1
By Will Collette

It’s hard to catch a break in the real world of Charlestown. After a couple of months of modest improvements in its unemployment rate, the new state Labor Department numbers for the month of November show a sharp spike in Charlestown joblessness, going from 7.4% in October to 8.7% in November.

To understand what the November numbers mean in Charlestown, you have to put them in context. For example, the number of Charlestown residents in the workforce (i.e., either working or looking for work) showed one of the biggest changes this year. An added 102 Charlestown residents joined the workforce, causing it to climb from 4,455 in October to 4,557 in November.

However, of those 102 added members of the workforce, 69 are new unemployment insurance enrollees and only 33 of them found jobs.

According to the 2010 US Census, Charlestown has 6,761 residents over the age of 16. Of them, 486 are unable to work due to a permanent disability. Approximately 1,600 Charlestown adult residents told the Census they were “retired.” If you subtract the disabled and retired from the adult population, you get 4,675, 118 more than the current official DLT tally of the Charlestown workforce. Most likely, these 118 are the hidden unemployed – people who stopped looking or lost their unemployment benefits.

Now, presuming I haven’t put you to sleep, you’re probably asking “so what?” What point is Collette trying to make?

Cartoon by Barry Deutsch
My point is this. The Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA Party) promotes the vision of Charlestown as a quiet retirement beach resort where well-off pensioners live off their dividends on the portfolios they amassed while working for an insurance company, brokerage or bank. That’s not the real Charlestown where 70% of all adults are trying to work for a living.

Many of those working adults are not making it. Our CCA Party-controlled town government doesn’t give a damn about Charlestown working people, and especially those who are having a hard time during our extended economic downturn.

Instead, the CCA Party panders to the 1,600 retirees even though they represent only a small percentage of the permanent population and to the non-resident property owners. The core of CCA Party voters come from the pool of retirees, especially in Charlestown's 3rd precinct (West Beach, East Beach, Quonnie).The CCA's campaign money comes largely from the non-residents.

The CCA Party counts on working people to be distracted by the challenges of trying to feed their families, pay the mortgage and cope in this economy. The CCA counts on their retiree base’s civic engagement and high voter turn-out, and the lower voter turn-out and civic involvement among Charlestown working families.
Tax rates for the past 10 years from Charlestown
Tax Assessor Ken Swain's web page. The CCA Party
has controlled the Town Council since 2009

They count on those non-resident property owners to provide approximately 60% of the CCA Party’s campaign funding. 

For those campaign contributions, the CCA Party protects the interests of Charlestown’s landed gentry while, at best, neglecting Charlestown’s working families or, at worst, actively screwing them. Prime example: they have increased property taxes in Charlestown for all six years during which the CCA Party controlled tax rates despite major surpluses in all six years.

Those surpluses meant the CCA majority didn't need to raise taxes. It simply means that they could, given that their base is more likely to vote than the people who get hurts. That has to change.

The CCA Party needs to be held accountable for its failure to serve all of the people of Charlestown and to stop neglecting the 4,675 Charlestown workers and their needs. Of them, 8.7% are officially unemployed. Approximately 3% of our working-age adults have fallen out of the official statistics and due to the termination of federal extended benefits, more will join them.

Cartoon by Barry Deutsch
The official statistics do not show how many Charlestown workers have had their job situation change to where they are working less time for less money and fewer benefits. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates Rhode Island’s rate of “under-employment” (U-6) at 15.8%

Charlestown’s numbers in other categories more or less track the state’s average, so if that 15.8% under-employment rate for those listed as working is valid, add another 740 Charlietown workers who are not doing well.

So let’s tally the numbers. We have 400 officially unemployed Charlestown workers. We have 120 more who have fallen off the grid. We have 740 who are underemployed, presuming the BLS formula applies to Charlestown. 

That adds up to approximately 1250 Charlestown working people in distress - one out of seven people who make Charlestown their home. However, our town leaders, most stridently CCA Town Councilor Dan Slattery, insist there is nothing Charlestown can or should do to help our own people.

That’s not true and in the next installment, I’ll describe some specific actions the controlling CCA Party town leaders could take to help boost the economy and cut unemployment. 

But they probably won’t.