What Christine Sinicki didn’t like about Walker’s State of the State address

Perhaps the biggest headline-grabber coming out of Scott Walker’s State of the State address on Wednesday — other than the fact that Wisconsin is apparently doing a fabulous job of publicizing the whereabouts of its convicted sex offenders (see below) — was Rep. Christine Sinicki’s (D-Milwaukee) Facebook response to the governor’s speech.

It sent the delicate shrinking violets in the pure-as-Christmas-snow Republican Party swooning with a collective case of the vapors.

Wrote Sinicki: “OMG … this speech is so full of s***. Wish I could get up and walk out.”

Oh no! A swear! In the sacred, pristine milieu of social media, no less! And an unrealized fantasy about leaving a speech with which one disagrees! What’s next? Concealed handguns in the state Capitol?

Of course, on the same night that she dropped her now-infamous S-bomb, Sinicki also made a couple of allusions to substantive policy issues, writing, “Bottom line … the rich get richer and the poor and middle class continue to get kicked in the butt” and “When are we going to have a real discussion about the cuts to education, throwing people off of unemployment insurance or cutting medical benefits?”

Important questions, but few people wanted to focus on them because a state lawmaker just used a naughty word on Facebook and … look, Justin Bieber’s mugshots!

So I figured, why not find out what sort of s*** Walker’s State of the State address was supposedly full of? So I emailed Rep. Sinicki and asked her, “What exactly didn’t you like about Walker’s speech on Wednesday?”

Here was her response:

In going over in my mind why I was upset by Gov. Walker’s speech, I realized that I was upset at two levels. I was frustrated with the picture he was painting up there in the Assembly chambers of a basically recovered, almost fairytale Wisconsin, just three weeks after 24,000 long-term unemployed Wisconsin workers had their Unemployment Insurance benefits cut off by the feds. That means families with children facing eviction and becoming homeless in this weather, going without food and medicine. And how does anyone look for a job without a car? At some point there needs to be a car ride to an interview, and if there’s no money for gas, that becomes difficult.

I think that most people don’t buy it. Even Wednesday’s Fox News poll shows that the majority of Americans do not feel that the recession is over. And the county-by-county breakdown of where LTU workers live shows that local economies all over the state will feel the punch of these lost benefits.

Instead of announcing that the State of Wisconsin would be picking up the tab for these benefits to keep people in their homes with food to eat, I heard a State of the State message that offers help mainly to people who are already working and/or own property. But the final trigger for me was hearing the governor go the way of the sorry state of North Carolina, which slashed UI benefits, now claims its unemployment rates are way down (the implicit and suspect message being that people have found jobs), and turned away millions of federal benefit dollars from the struggling NC economy.

Gov. Walker made the same claim in his speech about unemployment rates decreasing here (same subliminal message). I find that absolutely inexcusable, especially because Wisconsin has so tightened up its own UI eligibility criteria and now a good chunk fewer people are even qualified to receive benefits in the first place.

It is estimated that one-third of all unemployed workers (that is, the ones now on the UI rolls who are being counted) are long-term unemployed, meaning over half a year. These are often people who have worked really hard all their lives and without extended benefits and now face absolute poverty.

Below are some numbers about UI benefits and the potential for increased poverty in Wisconsin:

Re: Wisconsin kids with a long-term unemployed parent:

Last year almost 44,000 Wisconsin kids had a parent unemployed more than six months (called “long-term unemployed,” or LTU).

They were 43% of all kids who had a parent unemployed for any length of time last year.

By contrast, in 2007, only about 15,000 kids had an LTU parent.

(http://blog.metrotrends.org/2014/01/unemployment-benefits-lifeline-long-term-unemployed-families)

Workers who are long-term unemployed (LTU — generally defined as unemployed six months or longer):

After Christmas 2013, 23,700 long-term unemployed workers across Wisconsin were cut off from their federal Extended Unemployment benefits. They had already used up their allotted 26 weeks of state benefits, and had been expecting another 28 weeks maximum of federal extended benefits to pay for rent, food, medicine, etc., during their continued work searches.

41,800 additional workers will use up their state-funded 26 weeks at some point between Jan. 1 and July 1, 2014. Unless Congress acts to extend the benefits, they will then be denied extended federal unemployment benefits.

So, a total of 65,500 jobless Wisconsin workers will lose access to benefits between Dec. 31 and July 1, 2014.

In context, that is about as many people as live in the city of Eau Claire.

(Continued)

 

Currently, 36% of all jobless workers have been unemployed at least six months, the highest rate since 1980, when rates went as high as 26%.

The average unemployed worker has been searching for a job for 36 weeks, and often much longer for older workers and those in communities with high unemployment. These figures don’t include the many “discouraged” workers who have stopped looking for work and dropped out of the workforce.

(http://www.wisconsinbudgetproject.org/content/uploads/2013/11/Thousands-of-jobless-Wisconsin-workers-face-termination-of-unemployment-benefits.pdf)

By the end of 2014, about 99,0000 unemployed workers in Wisconsin will lose benefits.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there are now almost three unemployed workers for every job opening.

(See more at: http://www.wisconsinbudgetproject.org/top-ten-things-to-know-about-the-expiring-federal-unemployment-benefits)

While of course the largest chunk of LTU workers is in Milwaukee, plenty of LTU workers live in Republican districts: counties such as Manitowoc, Sheboygan, Fond du Lac, Marathon, and Eau Claire all have large concentrations of long-term unemployed workers, and those local economies will lose millions of UI dollars that these folks would have spent on groceries, rent, and gas.

Unemployment benefits lifted 38,000 people out of poverty in Wisconsin last year, including 9,000 children.

(http://www.wisconsinbudgetproject.org/end-of-federal-unemployment-benefits-would-harm-wisconsin-economy)

Thanks, Rep. Sinicki. Glad to have you out there bare-knuckle fighting on behalf of Wisconsin’s unemployed. Keep it up.

No, he’s a sex offender … with a record

Okay, far be it from me to take Scott Walker’s side on anything, but this headline from USA Today is a bit out of bounds: “Wis. Gov. Walker hails sex offender in speech.”

One hundred percent accurate, yes. But misleading. Fair is fair.

First, the background. In his State of the State address on Wednesday, Walker singled out for special recognition a man named Christopher Barber, who just happens to be a registered sex offender. The 32-year-old Two Rivers man recently went back to work as a seasonal employee at Ariens Co. in Brillion before joining the ranks of the full-time employed. It’s a pretty standard political tactic to prop up ordinary individuals to illustrate the supposed success of one’s policies, but in this case it appears to have backfired.

Despite what the USA Today headline implied, Walker wasn’t hailing Barber because he was a sex offender. He hailed him because the governor apparently hires dangerously incompetent buffoons who still have Ask Jeeves bookmarked on their Netscape Web browsers.

Seriously, highlighting the story of a sex offender is the kind of thing you’d do if you’ve only created one job. It’s kind of like when a movie studio publishes a review excerpt from Larry King on all its promotional materials. You only shove your hand that far into the nut jar if you’ve got almost nothing left but Brazils.

I know Walker’s been a pretty substandard job creator overall, but I’m fairly certain he’s created more than one job.

Come on, Scott. Try harder next time. You know, like as hard as you’d try if you were hiring a babysitter or tracking WEDC loans.

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