A+ R A-

News Wire

Somalia's Prime Minister Lashes out at Failed Relief Efforts for Drought Victims

E-mail Print PDF

Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

Following a quick tour of the camps for drought-displaced people, Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali snapped when viewing the starving, dying population of mostly women and children.

“[Aid agencies] get money claiming they will help Somalia, yet the people who arrived at Mogadishu were dying of hunger and that is absolutely unacceptable,” he said grimly.

Nearly 170,000 Somalis have fled to already crowded refugee camps in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia since January, according to U.N. figures recently released. In Kenya, about 1,300 Somalis are arriving daily; an average of 1,700 are entering Ethiopia.

Complicating the survival strategies, the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has issued rules barring the spending of U.S. government money on projects if it might “materially benefit” a listed terror organization, including Al Shabab, an Islamist group linked to Al Qaeda that controls most of southern Somalia, the area worst hit by the current Horn of Africa drought.

Since the Treasury rules came into force in 2009, U.S. aid to Somalia – once the largest share of all world donors – plummeted by 88 percent, from $237 million in 2008 to $20 million in 2011.

"Aid is not flowing to where people are. It is flowing to certain centers and people have to walk sometimes days to get there and unfortunately not everyone makes it," said U.S. based Horn of Africa expert J. Peter Pham.

As thousands of Somalis walk days and sometimes weeks to reach the refugee complex known as Dadaab, young, lifeless bodies lay abandoned by their parents on the sandy paths which have been called "the roads of death."

In other cases parents perish during the journey, leaving children in the wilderness, alone.

The U.N. says it plans to start airlifting emergency rations into parts of drought-stricken Somalia this week.

Is Social Security a 'Ponzi Scheme'?

E-mail Print PDF

By William Reed, NNPA Columnist –

“Social Security is indeed a Ponzi scheme” Texas Governor Rick Perry, November 2010.

Social Security is one of Americans’ most important safety-nets.

The current Social Security program is a mainstay for women. Women are 52 percent of all adult beneficiaries, including retirees, the disabled, and the survivors of deceased workers. Twenty-five million adult women receive Social Security checks every month.

Social Security may be the chief support for adult American women, but there are warnings that Social Security is in danger. Texas Governor Rick Perry says Social Security is “bankrupt” and likens the program Social to a Ponzi scheme that is a “safety net” young 20-somethings are “not ever going to see.”

There is also reason for Auntie to have some angst about the stability of Social Security. Social Security is actually a social insurance program that is officially called the federal “Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance” (OASDI). It is primarily funded through dedicated payroll taxes called Federal Insurance Contributions Act tax (FICA). For the moment, Social Security is solvent, and will be until 2037. Social Security currently has “$2.6 trillion in reserves. During 2009, total benefits of $686 billion were paid out versus income (taxes and interest) of $807 billion that produced a $121 billion annual surplus. In 2011, 156 million people paid into the program as 53 million received benefits - a ratio of 2.94 workers per beneficiary.

Social Security’s main problem is that long-term revenues are smaller than promised benefits. Starting in 2015 program expenses are expected to exceed cash revenues. The aging of Baby-boomers has resulted in a lower ratio of paying workers to retirees, as have continuing low birth rates and increasing life expectancies. The government has borrowed and spent the accumulated surplus funds - the Social Security Trust Fund. The Trust Fund consists of the savings of worker contributions and associated interest, to be used towards future earned benefit payments. Funds are held in U.S. Treasury bonds and securities. The funds borrowed from worker contributions are part of the total national debt of $14.3 trillion as of March 2011. The U.S. Government has perpetuated a Ponzi scheme by looting the Social Security Trust Fund. By 2015, the government is expected to have borrowed nearly $3.25 trillion from the Social Security Trust Fund.

To fix Social Security and other entitlement programs Congress and the Obama administration are going to have to go beyond the mundane and employ new and sounder practices and policies. Changes are certainly needed to keep Social Security working to reach the goals it was established to meet. Either benefits will need to be curtailed or the government will need to kick in funding. Between 2015 and 2037, Social Security has the legal authority to draw amounts from other government tax sources besides the payroll tax. However, this will liquidate the Trust Fund, which by 2037 experts it to be “officially exhausted”.

By dollars paid, the U.S. Social Security program is the largest government program in the world and the single greatest expenditure in the federal treasury and is currently keeps roughly 40 percent of Americans age 65 or older out of poverty. Like Auntie, nearly two in every five African Americans expect Social Security to be a major source of income during their retirement. African Americans who were low-wage workers receive back more benefits in relation to past earnings than do high-wage earners. In 2009, among African Americans receiving Social Security, 29 percent of elderly married couples and 56 percent of unmarried elderly persons relied on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income. In 2010, Social Security’s total income was $781.1 billion and expenditures were $712.5 billion.

America’s government is broke and Social Security is evolving into more of a “feather bed” than safety net. For Social Security to be relied upon and more relevant, we will have to require much more in legislation and practices from government officials. Stop staying stuck on stupid, remember: When government increases its debt limit, it’s still a debt Americans have to pay.

William Reed is available for speaking/seminar projects via BaileyGroup.org.

America's Racial Wealth Gap Grows to the Largest on Record

E-mail Print PDF

White American Wealth 20 Times That of Blacks

By Charlene Crowell, NNPA Columnist –

In the 25 years since the federal government began publishing demographic data on wealth, the worst disparities emerged for 2009. A newly-released analysis by the Pew Research Center found that the median wealth of white households is 20 times that of Blacks, and 18 times that of Latinos – a gap that nearly doubled in size for these same three racial groups more than 20 years ago.

Further, when Pew compared wealth gaps for 2005 to those of 2009, the clear conclusion was that the combination of the housing market bubble and the subsequent recession were the underlying causes for these record disparities. In 2005, just before the housing bubble burst, white median net worth was $134,992. Comparable figures for Latinos and Blacks were respectively $18, 359 and $12,124.

By 2009, all three groups lost wealth; but Black median net worth was less than half of that recorded for 2005: $5,677; Latinos families were only slightly better at $6,325. Yet for white households, the median net worth decreased to $113,149.

According to Pew, household wealth is determined by subtracting all debts owed from the accumulated sum of all assets, including real estate, cars, savings and checking accounts, retirement accounts, stocks, etc.

Since the report was released, much of the extensive news coverage has omitted a key finding. From 2005 to 2009 the number of families with either zero or negative worth grew dramatically as well. For Black families, the percentage grew from 29 percent to 35 percent; for Latino families, the negative wealth grew from 23 percent to 31 percent. Yet for white families, negative wealth went from 11 percent to15 percent.

More plainly stated, African-Americans are becoming poorer at a faster rate than any other race or ethnic group in the country. Our forefathers may have worn the shackles of slavery. But this generation is wearing shackles of a different kind: poverty and debt.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), America’s Black unemployment level is double that of white America. After comparing unemployment data to that of Core Logic, a private research firm, among the nation’s top states for underwater mortgages – states with homeowners owing more than their house is now worth – the top five of those states also have the nation’s highest unemployment: Nevada (12.4 percent), California (11.8 percent), Florida (10.6 percent), and Michigan (10.5 percent).

If these trends are allowed to continue, America’s ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ will move even further towards the two separate Americas first warned by the Kerner Commission Report in the 1960s. Named for then-Illinois’ Governor Otto Kerner, the report told a tale of two Americas were emerging– one Black and the other white. In 2011, the divide is not just about race but wealth as well.

All of America should feel uncomfortable about the growing concentration of poverty in Black and brown communities, who together represent 28 percent of the nation’s population.

It is time for leaders – public and private – to stand up and insist that our nation create new and sustainable jobs with incomes that lift this country’s poor into self-sufficiency and hopefully one day – sustainable prosperity.

Charlene Crowell is the Center for Responsible Lending’s communications manager for state policy and outreach. She can be reached at: Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org

The Black Middle-Class Remains Unemployed

E-mail Print PDF

By Wendell Hutson, Special to the NNPA from The Chicago Crusader –

Not since the Great Depression has the U.S. economy been so bad that millions of people have been out of work for two years or more. And even though the economy is showing some improvement, economists have forecasted a long recovery and noted that the Black middle-class remains one of the core groups still unable to find employment. Moleska Smith is among the long-term unemployed. Before she lost her $90,000 a year marketing job at a Chicago bank in 2009 she said life was good for her.

She was able to pay her mortgage on time for her south suburban home, monthly tuition payments to her daughter’s private high school were paid on time and she was able to travel and build up her emergency fund for the unexpected. That has all changed now that she has exhausted her 99-weeks of unemployment benefits. “Never in a million years did I think I would be unemployed this long. I am determined to find new employment regardless of how long it takes,” Smith told the Crusader. “God has been good to me. He makes sure all my needs are met.” An alumnus of Columbia College, Smith said one reason why it has taken her so long to find new employment within her industry is because of outsourcing and downsizing that continues to take place at companies big and small.

“Marketing is a tough industry to stay in because a lot of employers are farming out their marketing needs to save money,” explained Smith. “It is cheaper to pay an outside agency than to pay an employee a salary, health benefits and taxes.” For now, Smith said she plans to continue working as a self-employed marketing consultant. “I have had to re-invent myself and sit down to evaluate if marketing is still a feasible career. While I love working in the marketing industry, I love it more when I can pay my bills on time.”

Age is what Charles Porter cited as his reason for being unemployed for over two years. “While employers are not saying it, age also works against the unemployed and contributes to why so many people have exhausted their unemployment benefits and still remain jobless,” Porter, 56, a former electrical engineer, said.

Porter now works for temporary agencies to support his family. “One temp agency told me I should consider dying my hair to improve my chances of getting hired,” he said. “I guess no one wants to hire a grandfather.” Illinois’ unemployment rate for June matched the national rate of 9.2 percent and has been equal to or below the national rate for nine consecutive months, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security. And Illinois has also reported declines in 15 of the past 17 months but has added thousands of manufacturing and construction jobs. “Illinois has added more than 10,000 manufacturing jobs and nearly 9,000 jobs in the construction sector over this time last year, including strong growth over the past month,” said Jay Rowell, director of the IDES. “While uneven movements are an expected part of an economic recovery, Illinois is building on the steady progress that has been made.” Education is often seen as a plus for anyone looking for a job but Deshawna Olgesby, 36, said it could also serve as a deterrent when applying for entry-level jobs.

“I have a bachelor’s in communications and a master’s in counseling and when I go to apply for entry-level jobs at department stores and fast-food restaurants I am always turned down,” she said. “Managers have told me when applying that I was over qualified and they feared I would leave within a year.” For the past seven years, Olgesby had worked as a family counselor for a West Side non-profit organization but due to a dip in state funding she was laid off and has not found a new job. Greg Rivara, a spokesman for IDES, said candidates should improve their interviewing skills so they can better explain to employers why they should take a chance on hiring them.

“This has to also be conveyed in cover letters too. I don’t want to tell a person to take off their education on their resume but that’s also a possibility if they think it is hindering their search,” he said. And unlike Smith and Porter, who collected unemployment benefits for nearly two years, thanks to Congress extending benefits, Rivara said that cushion is no longer available. “If someone had applied for benefits in June they would not be eligible to receive an extension after their standard 26 weeks of state benefits expire. They would have had to apply for benefits in May or before to be eligible,” Rivara said. “All federal extensions expire January 2012.” Unemployment compensation is funded by unemployment insurance, which is paid for by employers and not taxpayers, according to Rivara. And the maximum payment someone could receive is $531 a week, depending on such things as their marital status, earnings while employed and dependents, such as a child or unemployed spouse.

Another aspect to the long-term unemployed especially for Blacks, who have traditionally worked white-collar jobs, such as secretaries or office managers, is the ability to transition into new industries. Manufacturing and construction, which are considered blue-collar jobs, have dominated the job growth in Illinois the past two years, according to IDES records. And transitioning into one of these jobs is not an easy thing to do, said Antonio Wheeler, 46, who knows first-hand. For 12 years he worked as an office manager for a real estate company. He was laid off in 2007 and has yet to find new employment. “I was paid to manage 10 employees and perform clerical duties in the office,” he said. “Now I find most of the job leads I discover are for blue collar jobs.” Wheeler, who is single with no children, still maintains a one bedroom apartment in the North Lawndale community on the West Side and still drives his 2008 Ford Explorer despite not making any monthly payments since last year.

“You don’t want to know how I am making it,’ he added. “Let’s just say that I am doing what is required to survive.”

CRL Research: Bank Payday Loans Lead to Long-term Indebtedness

E-mail Print PDF

By Charlene Crowell –

(NNPA) As the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau begins operations, the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) is releasing new findings on the growth and effects of a new short-term and high-cost loan product. Big Bank Payday Loans, a new CRL research brief, details how mainstream banks have entered the triple-digit interest rate payday loan market with a product that on average virtually guarantees repayment within 10 days. Yet for consumers, these loans lead to 175 days of indebtedness for the average borrower – twice as long as the maximum length of time the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has advised.

With many banks allowing up to half of a customer’s monthly direct deposit income, or up to $750, an average 44 percent of a bank payday customer’s next deposit is used to repay bank payday loans. For older borrowers already living on fixed incomes, the average bank payday loan repayment from a Social Security check was 43 percent. Senior customers are also 2.6 times more likely to have used a bank payday loan than bank customers as a whole.

Even without bank payday loans, more than 13 million older adults are considered economically insecure, living on $21,800 per year or less. One-fifth of older households have annual incomes below $50,000 but report spending more than 40 percent of their income on debt payments.

Senior women whose lower lifetime earnings result in diminished pension benefits are at acute financial risk – as are African-American seniors with on average only one-sixth of the wealth of older whites.

Although state and federal laws protect Social Security benefits from garnishment by debt collectors or payday lending to military families, problems still persist. For example, if a bank acts as its own debt collector, or a military family takes out back-to-back loans, the door to long-term indebtedness for both borrowers still opens.

The irony to these lending abuses are occurring against a financial backdrop of nearly $6 trillion in lost American household wealth since 2006, an unemployment rate hovering north of nine percent, and nearly half of Americans currently lacking the financial capacity to cope with an unforeseen but costly emergency.

Add to those troubling statistics, a $10 fee for every $100 borrowed and automatic repayment to the banks with an opportunity to add more fees if accounts become overdrawn and people of all ages just become poorer with payday loans. Youthful vigor might enable younger borrowers to take a second or temporary job to end the payday debt trap. But as a country do we want our young people growing up to believe that 400 percent loan interest is the best that they can expect?

Or what’s an older person to do? Do we really want to become a country that allows lenders to tarnish what ought to be golden years for older Americans?

Now that a federal consumer watchdog agency – the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is available to work with state officials to end financial abuse, a lot of work awaits. In the meantime, CRL is calling for federal regulators to:

Use immediate supervisory and enforcement authority to stop the banks it supervises from making payday loans; Impose a moratorium on payday loans offered by banks under its supervision while data collection on the impact of this product on consumers is further refined – particularly its impact on communities of color; and Limit high-cost, short-term single payment loans to 90 days’ indebtedness or six loans per year – whichever is less.

We’ll soon see if anyone is listening.

Charlene Crowell is the Center for Responsible Lending’s communications manager for state policy and outreach. She can be reached at: Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

Page 253 of 372

BVN National News Wire