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The last place to cut

A letter to the editor we received from Shawn Bailey Sr. of the Delaware Valley Job Corps in Callicoon, NY a few weeks ago alerted us to the fact that the local center, as part of the national Job Corps, is being subjected to increasingly sharp budget constraints. Funding for the national Job Corps, which comes from the U.S. Department of Labor, has been cut by $153 million between 2003 and 2008. Meanwhile, operating expenses skyrocket: the cost of fuel and heating alone at the local center has gone up by $177,000 in the past year.

The cutbacks at Job Corps are a matter of concern for the whole community for a couple of reasons. To begin with, the center is one of Sullivan County’s top employers. It is listed on the Town of Delaware’s website as one of the town’s two biggest employers. Cutbacks there could sooner or later translate into fewer local jobs, not to mention a reduction in the consumption of local goods and services.

But beyond that, the Job Corps is related to the employment picture in a broader sense: its mission is to train people to become productive and employable members of society. To cut back funding for such an organization at this particular point in history borders on the absurd.

Recent surveys show as much as two-thirds of the population now name the economy as their primary consideration in this year’s election campaign. Consumer confidence is at multi-year lows, while anxiety about globalization and job outsourcing dominate the political discussion in many states. Candidates of all stripes give plenty of lip-service to the idea that Americans need more training to stay competitive in the global economy—then politicians and bureaucrats in Washington slash appropriations to organizations like Job Corps, designed to help do just that.

Some might argue that, although there is plenty wrong with the economy, employment has held up comparatively well. But we believe that the national employment numbers, like a lot of other economic statistics coming out of Washington, are highly suspect.

For years now, for instance, the unemployment rate has excluded discouraged workers, people who would love to have a job but have been so unsuccessful in finding one for so long that they have given up looking. Author Kevin Phillips in his recent book, “Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism,” details the way in which a series of administrations, Democratic as well as Republican, have fudged the economic data to make things look better than they really are. He says that if we were using the same methodology for unemployment used 25 years ago, the current unemployment rate would be between nine and 12 percent.

The so-called birth/death model also causes serious distortions. This model is used to adjust the payroll numbers to account for new jobs in firms that have just opened and have not started to report numbers, minus jobs lost in businesses that have recently closed. Analysts were surprised and pleased when April’s payroll data showed that only about 20,000 jobs had been lost during the month. However, the loss was that small only because the birth/death model added a hefty 267,000 new jobs to the total on a net basis, including 45,000 in construction and 8,000 in finance—two sectors that, back here on planet earth, are imploding. In fact, the birth/death model has been systematically adding jobs in construction for more than a year in the middle of the deepest housing slump since the Depression. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, incidentally, will not disclose the methodology by which it arrives at these estimates. We don’t blame them.

We’re not sure whether there’s deliberate hanky-panky in the use of the birth/death model, or whether it’s just old-fashioned incompetence. Either way, it’s high time that Washington recognized that spending on job training is an investment in the future and that programs like the Job Corps are one of the last places to cut funding. We hope the incoming President and Congress are willing to look the facts about American jobs honestly in the face, and allocate money accordingly. If they’re looking for a place to save money, they might consider expenditures like the multi-billion-dollar contract awarded a couple of weeks ago to war profiteer KBR, despite its having been found to have defrauded the public of billions of dollars by the GAO. Cut off corporate thieves like that and we could afford to fully fund Job Corps and similar job programs for many years to come.

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Dr. Punnybone

Lost Out

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It’s all about who has the deeper pockets

To the editor:

If anyone thought that getting money from the gas drilling companies was going to be a cakewalk, those notions were quickly dispelled at last Wednesday’s supposed informational meeting at the middle school in Honesdale. By and large, the speakers, with the exception of representatives from the Damascus Citizens and Catskill Mountainkeeper, rolled out seemingly simple solutions to dealing with any problems encountered with the drillers. We heard from a National Park Service hydrologist about how large storage tanks at well sights could be painted in pleasing shades of green to make them disappear. The same expert likened the extensive list of chemical ingredients in fracking fluid to a secret recipe like “a recipe for apple pie,” while a member of the audience with the list of those chemicals was quickly shut down from speaking them because he wasn’t on the list of presenters.