Make jobs, make schools green - Washington lawmakers think it's a win-win

Olympia- The  House passed its first bill of the session this week --  a measure that would ask voters to decide whether to create jobs by using $860 million in bonds in order to make schools more energy efficient.

JenniferThe bill “catalyzes probably about 2.5 billion dollars in work, which gives you 38,000 jobs, and will account in $190 million dollars in savings to the taxpayer every single year,” explained Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, the bills' creator and primary sponsor. If approved by the Senate, the measure, House Bill 2561, would need voter approval in November.

The bill would allow schools and universities to compete for $860 million in grants in order to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings. The state will provide the money by selling bonds with a lifespan of 20 years at a cost of around 1.5 billion, which includes principle and interest. Dunshee projects that the cost of the bonds will be recouped by way of job creation, tax revenue, and reduced energy costs.

But with Washington's unemployment rate up to 9.5 percent in December and the state facing enormous budget cuts, the choice for some lawmakers boils down to creating jobs or saving money, while the energy efficiency of the schools lies somewhere in between.

“We need jobs now!”exclaimed an impassioned Rep. Kathy Haigh, D- Shelton, to her colleagues during the House floor debate.

But Rep.

Obama's people make the case that fighting climate change = jobs

Our good friends at grist.org commissioned this story today. Hope you like it:

By Robert McClure

SEATTLE—You could tell by the way Obama administration officials pep-talked a roomful of clean-energy businesspeople today that the White House realizes it hasn’t convinced Americans that “tackling climate change = ending the recession.”

rm iwest mugAgain and again EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Energy Undersecretary Kristina Johnson pounded on the jobs issue at a pre-Copenhagen climate talks event designed to showcase how energy efficiency, the smart grid and renewable energy can boost employment rates.

“We’re hearing a whole host of reasons today to support American clean energy. There are national security reasons. There are environmental reasons, and there are public-health reasons,” Jackson said. “But perhaps the most compelling reason at this moment and in this place is the economy.”

The very setting of the clean energy forum fairly screamed “JOBS!” It was a nearly-finished “innovation center” that is leasing space for startups, built by McKinstry Co. beside the firm’s south Seattle offices. McKinstry is all about energy efficiency in buildings (which is where something like a third to two-fifths of our energy use occurs, depending on how you’re counting).

And, get this: Even as the recession roared ahead into high gear earlier this year, McKinstry announced plans to hire 500 people.

That can happen more, Jackson said.

Man In A Van captures stories of the recession, reminds us of what we're thankful for

There was the Detroit hotel and restaurant owner who tried to kill himself.

Then there was the Maryland political analyst who lost her $760,000 home to foreclosure. Aaron Heideman found her living in a Toyota Camry.

And who could forget the guy running a food bank in Georgia who said he was going into debt at the rate of $1,000 a month to help his neighbors?

Those are just three of the hundreds of stories Aaron Heideman, aka The Man In A Van, collected on a cross-country odyssey to hear from Americans, in their own words, how their lives have been affected by the recession.

“How has the recession affected you?” A sign atop his van asks.

“Tell me your story,” beckons the van’s side.

Laid off from his job at a paint store in southern Oregon, Heideman decided he would do a conceptual art project, driving his pencil-yellow Dodge van through California, Nevada, Colorado, Texas, Florida, up the Eastern Seaboard and through New England to Grand Rapids, Mich.

[caption id="attachment_6365" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Heideman outside a Wallingford laundromat"]Heideman outside a Wallingford laundromat[/caption]

That’s where he entered himself in the annual ArtPrize competition in September, hoping to win the $250,000 prize.

He didn’t. So he recently moved to Seattle, where he went to art school and lived for some years. That’s where I caught up with him.

A South Florida news reporter who met Heideman in the summer described him as “not-surprisingly scruffy” because the bearded, sandal-clad artist was living in his van. This week the clean-shaven 29-year-old was dressed in a light-blue button-down shirt, neatly pressed grey slacks and shiny black shoes. He’s job hunting.

Carol Smith's picture

Old computers screwing up Arizona unemployment claims

Arizona's aging government computer systems are making life miserable for the legions of newly unemployed. Chad Graham of the Arizona Republic reports on a series of missteps that has left the Department of Economic Security unable to handle claims for tens of thousands of unemployed workers at the height of the country's worst recession in recent memory.  Before the recession, the department typically processed about 30,000 claims a week. Now it handles nearly 150,000, Graham reports. And not well. Long waits and errors are so common that many Arizonans are being pushed to the brink of financial desperation and collapse by the very department that is supposed to prevent it.

Summer job program for youth gets mixed reviews

In an interesting twist on how unemployment is plaguing the West, the Associated Press took a look how the Obama administration's economic stimulus program has affected a younger demographic: teenagers.

As more laid-off professionals seek work, the low-wage job market has grown atypically slanted towards adults, writes AP's Garance Burke from Fresno, Calif.

The Obama administration set up a $1.2 billion federal summer job program for those ages 14 to 24 living below the poverty line, but AP results show it didn't really achieve much -- despite what the administration has said. Almost one-quarter of all enrolled teens didn't receive jobs, and in California, fewer than half the participants got work. It also didn't seem to tamp down youth unemployment rates, which reached peaks in July not seen since the Great Depression, with Oregon bearing some of the highest teen unemployment figures.

Some say bureaucratic holdups, missing paperwork or snags in eligibility rules are to blame for the program's shortfall. Said Rachel Gragg of the Workforce Alliance, a job training fund advocatcy group:

Things are still totally chaotic with this program... In many communities they will tell you that they are still struggling to understand where the money is and where it is coming from.

One problem may reside in misconceptions of program's mission: that participants be "workforce ready," not actually employed. It's a term states get to define, and measure, for themselves.

The Government Accountability Office, Congress's non-partisan auditing arm, said administration plans to measure the program's success are faulty and "may reveal little about what the program achieved."

-- Natasha Walker

Homelessness up in Denver; total in Oregon includes thousands of kids

Ben Bernanke says it looks like we're out of the recession, but the facts on the ground in the West say something different:

  • In Oregon, the population of homeless people who are children numbers more than 18,000, The Oregonian's Betsy Hammond writes. The numbers are highest out in the countryside (where, as InvestigateWest's Rita Hibbard noted earlier today, it's also hard to find medical care because of a shortage of doctors.) The 14 percent increase in homeless kids this year stems from foreclosures and job losses, of course.
  • In Denver, the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless just released a report showing that in a seven-county area centered on Denver, more than 11,000 homeless people were counted using a new census technique. Forty-four percent were homeless for the first time, Catherine Tsai reports for the AP.

    While the new counting method makes comparisons to previous years perilous, consider this: The count was done on Jan. 27. So in the dead of winter, in a really cold place, this country was unable to find homes for thousands of its citizens.

So while the official economists' definition of a recession may no longer apply, there's still a whole lot of pain out there, Mr. Bernanke. We can see it from the Pacific coast to the crest of the Rockies.

Man in a van tells the nation's recession stories

Brookings: Western suburbs hit hardest by recession

 A new report by the D.C.-based Brookings Institution finds that for the year ending in May of 2009, the West -- and particularly its suburbs -- were hardest hit by the recession:

The West outpaced all other regions in terms of growth in the unemployed population in the year ending in May 2009, and experienced the greatest increases in suburban unemployment rates, at 4.2 percentage points. Meanwhile, both the West and the Midwest experienced the greatest increases in city unemployment rates, at 4.4 percentage points .

The actual rates are pretty darn high in some places: 15 to 18 percent in California's Central Valley, for example, and 12 percent in Riverside-San Bernardino in Southern California.