A Separate Entrance for Poor People?

New York City:  Two Christmases, Rich and Poor (1873) Image Source:  Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-121662

New York City: Two Christmases, Rich and Poor (1873)
Image Source: Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-121662

In exchange for a tax break, developers of a luxury high-rise in New York have set aside 20 percent of of the building’s units for low- and middle-income residents, but … there’s always a but, isn’t there? … the affordable units are all grouped together and there’s a separate entrance. People have taken to calling it “the poor door.” You can read about it on the NPR web site: New York Skyscraper’s Separate “Poor Door” Called A “Disgrace”.

What do you think?
a) Good idea?
b) Bad idea?
c) Do I have to have an opinion?

Connecticut’s Reserves Before the Great Recession

States’ rainy-day funds are garnering new attention. The Pew Charitable Trusts, for one, is studying the topic.

The Connecticut Mirror writes, “Connecticut was far from the only state whose fiscal reserves weren’t enough to withstand The Great Recession, according to a new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

“The new study recommends several steps to help states better prepare for economic downturns — including proposals Connecticut’s legislature has resisted in the past.

” ‘Over the past decade, dramatic swings in revenue have become more common for state governments,’ Pew staff write in a report titled Building State Rainy Day Funds. ‘Shifts in personal income patterns — particularly from traditional wages and salaries to investment income — made income tax collections harder to predict.’

“According to the study, all 50 states had a combined $60 billion in emergency reserves set aside by the summer of 2008, just before the last recession began. But within a year they faced a combined shortfall of $117 billion. …

“State Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo, one of Connecticut’s most vocal advocates for budget reform, said the report highlights a problem that has become increasingly problematic for the state with each successive recession. …

“Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the legislature closed that deficit in 2011 with labor concessions and more than $1.8 billion in tax hikes.

” ‘Before the governor took office, Connecticut’s Rainy Day Fund was empty,’ said Gian-Carl Casa, spokesman for Malloy’s budget agency. ‘Every penny had been spent. Under Governor Malloy we have made deposits into the Rainy Day Fund for three consecutive years and it has grown to nearly $400 million. ‘ ” This story originally appeared at CTMirror.org, the website of The Connecticut Mirror.

Read more at Pew.


Tool Ranks Colleges by Bang for the Buck

A friend of a friend created an interesting college-assessment tool, and I thought I would share it. It helps students and families evaluate colleges on the basis of future income and other parameters. Interesting that Babson, a college for entrepreneurs, ranks higher than Harvard. A college that teaches skills for marine careers is also high up. And MIT.

The NY Times has the story. Kevin Carey writes, “For a long time, U.S. News & World Report had a monopoly on the college rankings game. Every August, the magazine would announce that, once again, Harvard was America’s best college, or Princeton, or, to shake things up, a tie between Harvard and Princeton.

“But in recent years, there has been a profusion of rankings competitors, each with a different perspective on what ‘best colleges’ really means. …

“On Monday, Money magazine took its shot, releasing a new best colleges list focused on, unsurprisingly, money. While some elements of the rankings are familiar, the list is distinguished by the depth of its attention to a pair of questions on the minds of many students and parents. First, how much money will I actually have to pay — and, probably, borrow — to earn a diploma? Second, how much money will my diploma be worth in the job market when the time comes to pay my loans back?” More here.

The tool was created for Money magazine. Read their article here and try out the new rating system.



Maine Debates R&D Bonding

For some observers in Maine, it’s a conundrum that pro-business Gov. Paul LePage “vetoed a $20 million bond for research and development” and three other bonds in May.

John Richardson and Jessica Hall write at the Portland Press Herald, “LePage said he personally opposes the four borrowing measures, which would total more than $75 million and provide funding for sewer and clean-water projects, economic development, higher education, and roads and bridges.

“Even if those bonds are approved by voters in November, LePage said, he will delay spending the money until the state lowers its debt load. …

“John O’Dea, chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of Maine, said the state’s businesses are not well capitalized compared with businesses in other states.

“ ‘A lack of investment in Maine businesses is one reason why Maine’s rate of growth is expected to be about a third lower than the rest of the nation as a whole over the next few years,’ he said.

“The Maine Center for Economic Policy said it has been an advocate for a ‘robust’ bond package and called the veto unfortunate.” More here.

Photo: Wells, Maine

Wells, Maine

Scam Victims Are Susceptible to Revictimization

Susan Antilla has an interesting story at the NY Times about scammers preying on the very people you would expect to be “twice shy”: people who have been scammed before. It turns out that those who have been scammed are often the sort of people most likely to be bamboozled all over again.

Antilla writes, “Financial criminals go to great lengths to hunt down and size up their prey, buying lists of investment seminar attendees, mailing out postcards and spamming investors with email and phone calls. But to the con man, nothing can top the ‘sucker list.’

“ ‘It’s pretty well known in the fraud world that the best list to get is the list of people who have already been taken,’ said Doug Shadel, an expert on fraud schemes and the elderly at AARP in Seattle. …

“More than 8,000 complaints were lodged with the National Consumers League last year, with victims reporting everything from phishing scams to ‘sweetheart swindles’ in which con artists nurture an online relationship and persuade victims to send them money.

“Among non-Internet scams, though, the fastest growing frauds were those in which investors who already had been victimized were singled out again, according to Fraud.org, a project run by the consumers league.”

Sad to think that there are people who prey on the unsophisticated and the elderly. Every family has stories. My cousin had to hide the mail when her elderly mother began sending money to flaky sweepstakes contests. My aunt was upset. “I’m just trying to help my family win something,” she protested.

My mother-in-law was befriended by a neighbor who gave her small gifts (I recall a decorative lampshade) and later asked to “borrow” $3,000. My husband was never able to get back that “loan.”

The NY Times article has a whole range of cautions. Read it here.

Photo: Library of Congress

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.