The Blog of the Frances Perkins Center

Archive for February, 2010|Monthly archive page

Help extend unemployment insurance for millions of Americans

In Legislation Today on February 9, 2010 at 9:23 am

Unemployment Insurance is one of the programs that Frances Perkins fought for. BanksterUSA is asking people to call their senators tomorrow to extend Unemployment Insurance benefits.

Here’s their press release:


A National Day of Action on Unemployment Insurance, February 10th

This week will be a critical one for millions of Americans on Unemployment Insurance (UI). Although job loss is slowing, the economy is still not producing any new jobs and UI benefits will end for one million Americans on February 28th if Congress does not take immediate action. Four million more Americans will lose the benefits in the months that follow. The impact will be devastating on families and communities, as foreclosures driven by unemployment accelerate and as small businesses lose billions in revenue from paying customers. That’s because every $1 of unemployment insurance benefits that is spent results in $1.69 in economic stimulus in the community

Wednesday, February 10th will be a National Day of Action to Save the UI program. Tell Congress to extend UI benefits until the end of 2010. You can sent a note to your member of Congress at BanksterUSA. Alternatively, if you click on this link for Jobs4AmericaNow and input your phone number, you will be called at that number and connected to one of your Senators. Thanks for lending a helping hand!


Bankster is a project of the nonpartisan Center for Media and Democracy.

Sometimes sarcasm says it best…

In Legislation Today, Political world on February 9, 2010 at 8:07 am
Congressman Paul Ryan

Congressman Paul Ryan

Michael Lind, in today’s Salon article, The GOP’s bad old ideas, rightly skewers the suggestions of Congressman Paul Ryan, the Republican’s leader on the House Budget Committee, regarding Social Security:

In domestic policy, Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, recently unveiled an alternative budget that would deal with the long-term deficit problem (about half of which was caused by Bush’s and the Republican Congress’s wars and tax cuts) by privatizing Social Security and turning Medicare into a voucher system.

As Michael Myers’ Doctor Evil might say: …….R….r……r…..right.

That’s what Americans are demanding, Rep. Ryan. Millions of Americans are not content to have lost much or all of their 401K and other private retirement savings in the stock market in the last decade, with nothing but Social Security remaining to rescue them in their retirement years. No, Americans are angry because they weren’t allowed to lose all of their Social Security money, as well, in the stock market. Clearly they are angry because Wall Street brokers aren’t able to rake in commissions from middle-class and working-class retirees by flipping stocks bought with diverted Social Security funds. The bailouts to Wall Street were not enough. We need to give the rent-seeking bankers the vast funds of Social Security as well and let them charge us fees for “managing” it with the legendary expertise we all know and admire.

I hope Ryan isn’t previewing the Republicans’ position on Social Security reform. I can’t believe this stand would be good for their party. I know it wouldn’t be good for the country.

Kirstin Downey says, “Statistics mask real economic pain”

In Political world on February 6, 2010 at 4:52 pm

Were you cheered by the reported drop in the jobless rate yesterday? In, Frances Perkins Center board member Kirstin Downey reflected on the drop of 0.3 percent. While you should read the entire article, let me share a few highlights:

But the fact is that private-sector employment actually looks worse than durinig the Great Depression. If you compare the numbers with 1933, more than a third of U.S. workers are jobless today. And government officials don’t seem willing to face the situation.

In 1933, 25% of the working population meant 12.8 million people were out of work in a workforce of about 51 million. That included senior citizens, because only about 10% of older people had pensions in those years before Social Security.

Now, the federal government says we have an estimated 14.8 million unemployed, out of a work force of about 154 million. But that number is artificially lower than in the Great Depression because 33 million senior citizens are on Social Security — and not seeking jobs as they were then. An additional 7.4 million adults receive disability payments under Social Security, and some would also have been seeking work in 1933.

But that’s not all. We have a far larger standing military than in 1933 — about 1 percent of the work force, or 1.4 million men and women.

Another 1.6 million people are in jails and prisons, a near-record amount, and again a larger percentage of able-bodied U.S. residents than in 1933. They are excluded from the statistics today.

In other words, 43.4 million people are paid for government employment in the military, or supported through government programs. If added to the jobless numbers, it equals about 58 million people.

She goes on to discuss the fact that economic conditions are worsening for a large number of people. “On Thursday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 480,000 additional people filed for unemployment insurance last week. That’s 10.4 million people now on unemployment, up from 7.2 million in December 2008.”

Comparing today to the 1930s, she points out that:

The big difference now is that despair is masked. Social Security and the expansions of unemployment insurance mean that people are able to keep the wolf from the door. The bread lines of the 1930s are food banks.

We can all thank Frances Perkins and her New Deal colleagues for the programs that are keeping so many of us from outright destitution. But she cautions that “the American people are so angry at their leaders. They know that many of the government statistics are often just statistical sleight-of-hand.” Her article shows just how dire the crisis is–it’s truly as bad as it feels to us.

[Kirstin Downey, a former economics reporter at The Washington Post, is the author of “The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life and Legacy of Frances Perkins, Social Security, Unemployment Compensation and the Minimum Wage,” out this month as an Anchor trade paperback.]

Imperfect healthcare bill compared to 1935 Social Security Act

In Legislation Today, New Deal Legislation on February 3, 2010 at 2:54 pm

In a blog post today at the New Yorker, Henrik Hertzberg pointed to a Politico article by Bruce Schulman, “House should grit teeth, pass Senate bill” in which Schulman describes how far short of its original goals the 1935 Social Security Act fell, yet how influential its impact since then has been.

Of course, the final product scaled down all FDR’s original ambitions. It excluded agriculture, domestics and small shops with fewer than 10 workers — a decision ensuring that African-Americans, large numbers of whom toiled as farm workers and domestics, would be without protection. It took three decades of gradual expansion before Social Security covered every worker — a long, hard slog.


By the time the last compromise was made, Perkins expressed the disillusionment of many reformers. The thing,” she lamented, had been “chiseled down to a conservative pattern.”

Even with the compromises present at its creation, FDR, Perkins remembered, considered Social Security “the cornerstone” of his legacy. President Barack Obama and the Congress might well remember that model.
Thanks to Bruce Schulman for putting political compromise–particularly as it relates to major reform efforts–into perspective, and thanks to Henrik Hertzberg for bringing Schulman’s article to our attention.

Remarks and Stories from January 14th Event

In Biography, Events on February 3, 2010 at 10:02 am
Remarks after the reception on January 14th

Please click on the image to open the video. Then look for the "play" arrow to start the video.

This video includes remarks made after the reception and before the showing of the film at our Jan. 14th event in New York City. Speakers are Christopher Breiseth, friend of Frances Perkins, former president of the Roosevelt Institute, and advisor to the Frances Perkins Center; Brian Kennedy, friend of Frances Perkins and Chris Breiseth; Tomlin Perkins Coggeshall, chair of the board of the Frances Perkins Center; Barbara Burt, executive director of the Frances Perkins Center; Ruth Acker, president of the Women’s City Club of New York; Rob Shetterly, artist and creator of a new portrait of Frances Perkins; and Karenna Gore Schiff and Catherine Corman, discussing their film, Lighting the Way: Frances Perkins.

Panel Discussion from Jan. 14: “Strengthening Social Security in the 21st Century”

In Events, Legislation Today on February 3, 2010 at 9:49 am
Panel 2: Strengthening Social Security in the 21st Century

Please click on the image to open the video. Then look for the "play" arrow to start the video.

From our January 14th event in New York City, the 2nd panel and wrap-up comments.

“Strengthening Social Security in the 21st Century”
Moderator: Professor Susan Feiner of the University of Southern Maine and member of the Frances Perkins Center board.

Panelists: Nancy Altman, author of The Battle for Social Security; Dr. Maya Rockeymoore, CEO of the Global Policy Solutions and co-editor of Strengthening Community: Social Insurance in a Diverse America; and Professor Eric Kingson from Syracuse University, and co-editor of Social Security in the 21st Century.

Closing comments are by Dr. Lynn Parramore of the Roosevelt Institute and editor of New Deal 2.0.

Panel Discussion from Jan. 14: “The Birth of Social Security and the Transformation of America”

In Biography, Events, Legislation on February 3, 2010 at 9:30 am
Panel 1: The Birth of Social Security and the Transformation of America

Please click on the image to play the video. Look for the arrow in the lower left corner to start the video.

The 1st panel from our January 14th event in New York City, “The Birth of Social Security and the Transformation of America”

Moderator: Dr. Christopher Breiseth, former president of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute and current member of the Advisory Committee of the Frances Perkins Center

Panelists: Kirstin Downey, author of The Woman Behind the New Deal and board member at the Frances Perkins Center; Adam Cohen of the New York Times and author of Nothing to Fear; and Larry DeWitt, public historian at the Social Security Administration and principal editor of Social Security: A Documentary History.