As Fiscal Cliff Draws Nearer, There Is No Time For a Plan B

By Janis Bowdler, Director, Wealth-Building Policy Project

This New Year’s, many Americans across the country will have quite a bit weighing on their minds at a time when they are supposed to be clinking champagne glasses and making their resolutions for 2013.  In less than two weeks, our country will go over the fiscal cliff, resulting in a tax hike for millions of Americans and severe funding cuts to education, health care, and housing programs, to name a few.  That is unless Congress and the Obama administration can reach a deal on the federal budget.

For a brief moment earlier this week, it appeared that both sides were willing to compromise.

But that glimmer of hope was fleeting, and it seems negotiations are at a standstill.  Republican leadership is now pushing “Plan B,” which the House will vote on tonight at 6:00 p.m.

Simply put, “Plan B” is bad for Hispanic families.  It fails to meet NCLR’s principles for a fairer federal budget.  The plan further reduces tax liability for those at the top while pushing working families toward poverty.

The wealthiest would be the big winners should this plan pass.  Under “Plan B,” millionaires would get an estimated $50,000 tax cut, while 25 million middle class families making less than $250,000 a year would see their income taxes increase by an average of $1,000 apiece.  And,millions would lose access to the Child Tax Credit, as well as the Earned Income Tax Credit, which are valuable tools that help prevent many Latinos from falling below the poverty line.

All of this while also allowing the sequester to move forward, gutting critical investments in education, jobs, and housing.  For example, in many poor districts, where federal funding covers a substantial portion of their budgets, for every $1 million that a school district receives in federal funding, sequestration will take away $82,000.  For districts with disproportionately large Hispanic and Black populations, that loss could have devastating effects.

“Plan B” is not a viable option for Latinos or this country.  Thankfully, President Obama has already issued a veto threat.  However, that does not mean both sides should stop trying to reach an agreement.  We strongly urge House Speaker Boehner and President Obama to put America’s working and middle-class families ahead of politics.  We need a fair approach to deficit reduction where everyone pays their share.

We must end this stalemate.  Far too much is at stake for the American people.  Nobody wins if we go over the fiscal cliff, and the clock is almost up.

Now It’s Personal: Viewing the Fiscal Cliff from the Perspective of Youth

By Mario Enríquez, Líderes Associate, NCLR

The fiscal cliff has been a hot topic in recent weeks.  From the TV screen to endless posts on our newsfeeds, we can see that the fiscal cliff will not be good for anyone, especially youth.  As a young person you may ask yourself, “What is the fiscal cliff and how exactly does it affect me?”  Some might say, “Why should I care about this?”  The reason is simple:  Out of all the demographic groups in this country, young people will feel the impact of the fiscal cliff the longest, not only now but for decades to come.  Yes, many of us may not earn enough right now to potentially lose $2,000 in taxes, but we should consider how this will affect us down the road.

Failing to avert the fiscal cliff will only exacerbate the already deep hole we are digging for ourselves with our national student debt and our unemployment rate.  As a member of the Millennial Generation, I have seen my friends struggle to find a job that fits their career goals. Black and Latino youth, who are the fast-growing segments of our young people, are suffering unemployment rates of 23% and 18% respectively.”  These rates are much too high, and we cannot bear the burden of inaction from Congress.

We grew up believing in the notion of the American Dream, that if we work hard we can succeed and prosper in America.  We have aimed to achieve this dream for ourselves, for our families, and for our communities.  We know the value of hard work and are ready to join the workforce in our respective fields.  Young people across this country should not have to worry about massive student debt.  We need to start holding the Obama administration and Congress accountable to ensure that we, too, have a fair shot at pursuing the American Dream.

I ask you to think about your personal situation and what life would be like if you didn’t have opportunities to succeed.  What would that mean for you?  We are the leaders of today and tomorrow, and I know that if we stand our ground and make our voices heard, Congress will listen.  We need to start taking action not just for ourselves but also for our families who we fight for every single day.  Let’s get out there and show the power we have as rising leaders in this country!

Pulling the Plug on Job Training Undermines Our Global Competitiveness

By Catherine Singley, Senior Policy Analyst, Economic and Employment Policy Project, NCLR

Plenty of economists have warned about the negative effects that the so-called “fiscal cliff” would have on jobs. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that if Congress fails to act before the New Year, then employment losses will total 1.6 million jobs by the end of 2013 thanks to the expiration of the payroll tax cut, emergency unemployment insurance, and other measures.  Automatic cuts to federal programs, from education to health care to housing, would result in another 1.3 million jobs lost.  With our recovery still in its infancy, the last thing our country can afford is to willfully increase the ranks of the unemployed.  Latinos, who still face an unemployment rate of 10%, are rightfully anxious about how Congress is approaching these weighty decisions on taxes and the federal budget.

The fate of Latino workers is not just a Latino concern—it is an American concern.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 30% of the U.S. workforce will be Latino by 2050.  It is in our national interest to ensure that Latinos are able to fully participate in and contribute to our economic prosperity.

Labor force projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2018 and 2050
Source: Labor force projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2018 and 2050.

Yet the “fiscal cliff” also poses significant threats to Hispanics who are striving to reach their full potential as workers, taxpayers, and consumers.  Beyond the specter of fewer jobs, the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration would also devastate our country’s public workforce development system.  Under the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), federal grants give states the resources to educate and train adults, young people who are no longer in school, and workers transitioning out of dying industries.  The need for intensive adult education and vocational training is especially urgent in Latino communities.  By 2018—when Latinos will represent 18% of the American workforce—only 10% of U.S. jobs will be open to workers with less than a high school degree.  Yet today this is the maximum educational attainment of one-third of the Hispanic workforce.  WIA state grants currently serve 153,917 Latino adults and 38,351 Latino youth (about one-third of all youth served).  Cutting WIA funding would widen the education and skills gap that Latinos already face and threaten America’s future competitiveness in the global economy.

For more information about the stakes for Latinos in the federal budget debate, visit www.nclr.org/federalbudget.

Latinos Are Watching How Elected Officials Respond to the Fiscal Cliff

By Janis Bowdler, Director, Wealth-Building Policy Project

NCLR hosted a national call today for leaders from the NCLR Affiliate Network, the NCLR Action Network, members of the press, and others engaged with the Hispanic community for a discussion on how to address the country’s budget challenges with a balanced approach that protects vulnerable families.  We were joined by Rep. Xavier Becerra (D–CA); Jason Furman, Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and Principal Deputy Director of the National Economic Council; and Julie Rodriguez, Associate Director of Latino Affairs and Immigration for the White House Office of Public Engagement.  In case you missed it, the call was recorded and is available at www.nclr.org/federalbudget.

According to the exit polls, more than 12 million Latinos cast their vote last month.  Like all Americans, Latino voters went to the polls with the economy on their minds.  The Hispanic community has spoken, and they overwhelmingly favor a fair, balanced, and shared approach to deficit reduction.  More than 700 people signed up for today’s call, which shows that our community’s deep civic participation is continuing.  Hispanic voters are watching carefully to see how federal policymakers address the so-called fiscal cliff in ongoing debates on the federal budget.

NCLR Affiliates on the call wanted to know if lawmakers and the Obama administration will raise taxes on working families or gut critical investments in students and workers.  For example, Dixon Slingerland, Executive Director of the Youth Policy Institute in Los Angeles, raised the issue of unemployment among Latino youth, which is over 20 percent nationwide.  He stressed the importance of providing services for Latino disconnected youth who are interested in returning to school or finding work.  Dixon made a strong case for policymakers to shift their focus to a major jobs package to address the persistent unemployment crisis.

Cynthia F. Figueroa, President and CEO of Congreso de Latinos Unidos, based in Philadelphia, pointed out that poverty and inequality have risen greatly over the last four years in our nation’s urban centers.  Parents are working multiple part-time jobs or low-paying full-time jobs to make ends meet.  In this economy, the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit have been lifelines to Latino families and children.  She pressed the White House to stand firm and not sacrifice these potent antipoverty tools.  Figueroa also highlighted the importance of investing in kids and maintaining important funding for education programs that our youth need.

Olivia Mendoza, Executive Director of the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy & Research Organization in Denver, shared that one in four Latinos in Colorado and two-fifths of children statewide rely on Medicaid for vital health coverage.  It is no secret that Medicaid is a prime target for cuts.  She asked how the White House would protect the gains won through the Affordable Care Act.

Finally, Stephen Torsell, Executive Director of Homes on the Hill in Columbus, Ohio, called attention to the ongoing fight against foreclosures and vacant and abandoned properties in his state.  He asked how the administration aims to preserve funding for vital housing and financial coaching services such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Housing Counseling Program, which has been to be one of the most effective ways of preventing unnecessary foreclosures.

NCLR appreciates the time that the White House staff took to respond to these questions and others by leaders serving Hispanic families.  We hope the administration and Congress take notice of the issues put on the table by those closest to the community.

Latinos sent President Obama back to the White House because of his commitment to fighting for working families.  The fiscal cliff is his first opportunity to act on those campaign promises.  We all agree that something must be done to lower the federal deficit.  However, it is wrong to ask working families to sacrifice education, health care, and their children’s well-being to give tax breaks to people and corporations that do not need them.  Smart investments in education, jobs, and housing will help hardworking families move up the economic ladder—and that will benefit us all.  This is our vision of a fair economy where prosperity is shared by everyone and the most vulnerable among us are protected.

Latino Unemployment Drops While Fatalities Rise in 2011

By Ricky Garza, Communications Department, NCLR

For the first time in almost four years, national unemployment dropped below 8% to 7.8% in September. Although this is good news for all Americans, the outlook for Hispanic workers is much more mixed.

While the news is mostly good, our new Monthly Latino Employment Report also highlights workplace fatalities on the rise along with the falling Hispanic unemployment rate. Latino unemployment dropped below 10% for the first time since December 2008 (when it was 9.4%), though it remained about two percentage points higher than the national average. This represents an unfortunate trend for Latinos—disproportionate unemployment and participation in high-risk jobs. Despite this troubling reality, the Latino workforce participation rate, which measures how many people of working age are employed or looking for work, remained one of the highest of all ethnic demographics at 66.2%. A review of this data implies that Latinos are one of the hardest working groups of all Americans, and provides a compelling refutation of the negative stereotypes depicting our community as lazy and uninterested in working.

Many Hispanic workers participate in dangerous high-risk sectors such as landscaping, meat-packing, and poultry processing. In 2011, 729 Hispanics lost their lives, an increase from 707 people in 2010. In landscaping, Latinos represented almost half of all workers at 43.7%, and 167 lost their lives in 2011. Many of these deaths reflect the risky work environment facing often poorer foreign-born Hispanic workers, which alone comprised 69% of all Latino deaths.

While the slow recovery and new job growth explains some of these higher fatality numbers, workplace conditions for these Latinos may be worsening. Although all American job fatalities decreased from 2010 to 2011, Latino fatalities increased.

Hardworking and resilient Latino workers should not have to put their lives on the line by working in dangerous and potentially fatal conditions on a daily basis. They deserve stronger protections from employers and relevant government agencies. The federal Office on Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a small budget and relies on only about seven inspectors for every one million U.S. workers. Their budget should be preserved and NCLR encourages OSHA to find new ways to increase reporting of dangerous conditions and to enforce simple but lifesaving workplace regulations to prevent death from heat exhaustion and falls.

Although the employment outlook is cautiously optimistic for all Americans, Latinos still face special challenges and bigger hurdles to finding a job and staying safe in the workplace. There remains much work to be done.

You can read the full Monthly Latino Employment Report here.