Migrant Camps Flunk a Test, Clean Up Their Act

Some migrant labor camps in Western Massachusetts flunked an inspection by the state’s Department of Labor last year but have since improved, according to a new report on the underground economy.

Megan Woolhouse at the Boston Globe has the story: “A task force of labor investigators shut down two ‘farm labor camps’ in Western Massachusetts last year after finding migrant workers underpaid, overworked, and living in squalor, in part of statewide crackdown on employers that dodge wage, hours, tax, and worker safety laws.

“The actions against Chang and Sons Enterprises Inc., of Whatley … were highlighted in the annual report of the Joint Task Force on the Underground Economy to be released Wednesday. The task force of state, federal, and local officials investigated hundreds of complaints, and collected some $15 million in lost wages, taxes, and penalties in 2013 — the most since the task force was launched six years ago.

“Chang and Sons Enterprises was required to pay the workers more than $305,000 in back wages and damages as well as $10,200 in civil penalties, according to the report.

” ‘That was a particularly egregious violation,’ state Labor Secretary Rachel Kaprielian said. Sounding a warning to other businesses skirting regulations, she said: ‘When you violate these basic premises, we’ll find you and fine you.’ …

“More than 22 workers and their families were displaced when the camps were condemned and closed for failing to meet minimum health safety standards and housing code regulations. …

“The farms consequently came into immediate compliance with health, safety and housing rules, the report said, agreeing to pay back wages and damages to the migrant workers.”

More here.


Making It Work: An Innovative Approach to Job Training

Woodworking Class, Washington, D.C. - 1899 Image Source:  Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-24314

Woodworking Class, Washington, D.C. – 1899
Image Source: Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-24314

People have been talking about job training and retraining for at least 40 or 50 years. More recently, there’s been much discussion about the mismatch between job openings and workforce skills. One of the perennial criticisms of such programs has been that the training didn’t always match up with the available jobs. But a program created through new federal legislation — the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act — seems to show promise for addressing that issue.

According to an item on the NPR web site, Congress And Biden Aim For Job Training That Actually Leads To Jobs– the program “targets the long-tern unemployed and pays up to 90 percent of the employee’s salary while a company trains him or her to fill an opening” and it “encourages more apprenticeships and on-the-job training. The measure of success will no longer be just how many people sign up for help, but also how many actually get jobs.” The NPR item also features a New England success story about an engineer with 40 years of experience, who went through the program after being unemployed for eight months, and went on to become employee of the month at New Hampshire-based XMA Corp.

Also encouraging is the fact that the program had overwhelming bipartisan support and a former community college president, U.S. Representative Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, “was instrumental in writing the new law.”

Do I dare hope that we Americans are getting back to our old practical, “whatever works” roots? Let us be optimistic.

Auto-Loan Bubble Snares the Unsuspecting

Do you ever wonder what happened to all those out-of-work scam artists who made predatory loans to homebuyers before the financial meltdown beamed a light into shady corners? Did they remain out of work like so many Americans? Or could it be that some of them went into the subprime auto-loan market?

At the NY Times, Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Michael Corkery offer an exposé of the shenanigans involved in suspiciously easy credit for people buying junkers.

The reporters write about “millions of Americans with shoddy credit who are easily obtaining auto loans from used-car dealers, including some who fabricate or ignore borrowers’ abilities to repay. The loans often come with terms that take advantage of the most desperate, least financially sophisticated customers. The surge in lending and the lack of caution resemble the frenzied subprime mortgage market before its implosion set off the 2008 financial crisis.

“Auto loans to people with tarnished credit have risen more than 130 percent in the five years since the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis, with roughly one in four new auto loans last year going to borrowers considered subprime — people with credit scores at or below 640.”

Read more here.

A better option for people with bad credit is credit counseling and credit repair through reputable nonprofits like More Than Wheels. Debby Miller wrote about that approach for the Boston Fed’s Communities & Banking magazine, here.

Sadly, scammers have lots of ability to advertise, but it’s hard to get the word out about responsible auto-loan assistance on a nonprofit budget.


Fuel Education

Today a group of us in the Regional & Community Outreach department of the Boston Fed had the pleasure of meeting with Bob Hildreth, founder of Fuel Education, as well as Fuel research associate Bahar Akman Imboden and Yiming Shuang, senior manager of program operations.

Fuel Education works with low-income high school students and parents to promote a saving community, using matched savings accounts that belong to the individuals (no intermediaries). Participants break bread together, converse, and bond. The goal is to get the students going to college — and staying through to graduation.

Fuel describes its recipe for success on its website: “FUEL Education’s model is rooted in family engagement. Unlike most college access programs that center on the student or the school, we focus on helping the entire family prepare to enter higher education. Our groundbreaking curriculum, incentivized savings, and connection to community agencies require families to put skin in the game, ultimately propelling more underserved youth toward higher education and a firmer place in the American social and economic mainstream.

“Savings Circles: Workshops where we deliver our college access curriculum.

Savings Accounts:  Accounts that families open in order to save for college. Families make monthly deposits and funds are withdrawn when their students reach higher education.

Financial incentives: Savings bonuses and other incentives that encourage families to save and to stay involved.” More about Fuel here.

The guests were kind enough to be impressed with what we are doing at the Fed, in particular the financial capabilities group’s work with matched savings at Bunker Hill Community College and other community colleges, plus the outreach Anthony Poore has spearheaded to encourage Children’s Savings Accounts in five of the six New England states in our district.

We were impressed with Fuel, too.


Connecticut Labor Story

What’s going on with the Connecticut job market? At the Norwich Bulletin, John Barry says that the state is improving, but the local market is lagging.

“A rosy June jobs report for the state released last week paints a more negative picture for southeastern Connecticut. The state Department of Labor reported on Thursday that while Connecticut employers added 1,700 jobs in June, there were 100 jobs lost in the Norwich-New London labor market in the same period.

“The region was one of two in the state to have job losses between May and June, according to the department. The other was the Hartford area, where 2,500 jobs were lost.

“ ‘A 100-job loss over a month isn’t that significant,’ said Charles Joo, a Labor Department researcher. ‘The job losses have slowed down quite a bit, I would say.’ …

“ ‘They say when recessions happen, Eastern Connecticut is the last to enter and last to get out,’ said Sheri Cote, vice president of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut.

“ ‘I do know that things are definitely healthier here than they have been in the past,’ Cote said. She said she based her observation on increased numbers of businesses joining the chamber and reports that chamber members are experiencing greater demand. …

“In May, it was reported that starting in early June, Foxwoods would close the Rainmaker Casino, one of six at its complex, during the week, causing an unspecified number of job losses.

“Dale Wolbrink, publicity director at the casino, said she didn’t know how many jobs have been lost at the casino in recent months or if there are plans for future layoffs. About 7,300 workers are employed there now, she said. …

“New London had the highest jobless rate in the area, at 8.8 percent. Norwich, which has the largest labor force and most residents working, was second, with 7.8 percent out of work. Lyme’s rate of 4.3 percent was the lowest in the region.

Check out Barry’s report at the Norwich Bulletin, here.



Employment Improves in MA, CT, and RI

Well, the New England economy is definitely improving.

Rhode Island, which has had the highest unemployment in the United States at different times over the past six years, is now at 7.9 percent. Not great but moving in the right direction. Connecticut added jobs for the fifth straight month in June. And unemployment in Massachusetts is only 5.5 percent. (That is still not good for the 5.5 percent or the people who quit looking. Perhaps some of the latter will start looking again.)

The Globe’s Megan Woolhouse has the Massachusetts story here. The Connecticut jobs report is here. As for Rhode Island, WPRO says “Rhode Island’s unemployment rate dropped to 7.9 percent in June, but the state shed several hundred jobs.

“The state Department of Labor and Training reported Thursday that the unemployment rate fell three-tenths of 1 point from May to its lowest level since July 2008.

” ‘Our job gains are the highest since 1992, the decrease in the number of unemployed, the increase in the number of employed Rhode Islanders and also the increase in our labor force over this period are the best since 1976,’ said Charles Fogarty, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training.

“The number of jobs in Rhode Island was down by 400 from revised May estimates to 477,100. Overall, the state has added 5,900 jobs in the first half of the year. …

“The U.S. unemployment rate for June was 6.1 percent.” More on Rhode Island.


State Helps College Dropouts Finish for Free

Do you get the e-newsletter on government innovations from the Ash Center? I really recommend it. The staff scans news from around the country (even the world) to bring readers the latest ideas to improve government. (Sign up for free here.)

A recent idea they describe comes from Connecticut. “In an effort to further prepare its workforce, Connecticut will offer free college courses to residents who left college before receiving their degrees. Under the ‘Go Back to Get Ahead’ program, individuals who qualify can take up to three, three-credit courses at one of the state’s colleges or universities at no charge. The program will be available for a limited time and is on a first-come, first-served basis. It is estimated that 65,000 persons could potentially qualify for the program.”

The Hartford Courant editorializes: “A new state program, Go Back to Get Ahead, offers a second chance for many people who, for one reason or another, started to get a college education but haven’t completed it. It’s an innovative way to tackle the often-overlooked problem of college dropouts. …

“The Go Back program lets returning students take one three-credit course per semester free of charge at any of the 17 schools in the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities system.

“The program is open not only to students who started earning associate’s or bachelor’s degrees and did not finish, but to those who completed associate’s degrees and now want to go for the bachelor’s. As long as the student enrolls in any college in the ConnSCU system and has not taken college courses in the past 18 months, he or she is eligible.

“Go Back to Get Ahead, proposed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state Board of Regents President Gregory W. Gray, will cost $20 million over two years, according to the state Office of Fiscal Analysis. That’s a burden for the already financially struggling state college system, but it will be mitigated by the fact that students in the program must also take courses they pay for.” More here.

My only question: Why wouldn’t someone who can’t afford college become a dropout in order to take advantage of the program? Am I missing something?