News Day: Unemployment / Bad news for bus riders / Nick speaks! / Pigs flying? / Viking stadium / Outrage of the day / Wonk alert / more

Unemployment up even more than expected national unemployment figures jumped to 8.1%, even more than expected, rising half a percent in the last month, with the economy shedding 651,000 jobs. Rates for blacks (13.4 percent) and Hispanics (10.9 percent) continue higher than the average, while the jobless rate for teen-agers continues at a whopping 21.6 percent.

As I pointed out last month, the 8.1 percent figure is just the tip of the iceberg, counting the 12.5 unemployed persons who are actively looking for work. If you include people who are employed part-time because they can’t find full-time work, discouraged workers (who have given up looking for work), and workers who are “marginally attached” to the labor market (available and have looked for work recently), then the unemployment percentage rises to 16 percent, seasonally adjusted to 14.8 percent. (This is the “U-6” number on the official federal report.)

Bad news for bus riders Metro Transit faces a $62.3 million deficit for the next biennium, reports Scott Russell in the TC Daily Planet and that’s bad news for people like Sarah Sevcik.

Sarah Sevcik works as an employment developer with Lifetrack Resources. In one year, she helped nearly 100 clients get work. Of those, one third were unable to take their jobs because they didn’t have a car or because public transit didn’t go to the job. In one case, a St. Paul woman couldn’t take a hotel housekeeping job because the earliest Saturday bus did not get her to work on time.

Either fare hikes or service cuts would only make matters worse for transit-dependent metro residents. Sevcik and other witnesses told their stories in a hearing attended by about 100 people (but only three legislators). Over at the Strib, Bob Von Sternberg reports that the stimulus package should send $94 million to MN for transit.

Nick Coleman speaks out After being forced out of the Strib, Nick Coleman spoke to Cathy Wurzer on MPR, lamenting the passing of principled journalism. Coleman recalled that “the nuns on West Seventh and Randolph” that writing “is supposed to make a difference” and that newspapers are supposed to make a difference. He said there are forces at work that say newspapers are not supposed to make much of a difference, which may make him something of a dinosaur these days. His departure leaves the Strib, and all of us, poorer. (And the Strib can’t get much poorer than it is today.)

If you’d rather read than listen, David Brauer transcribed the interview

Hizzoner, the governor? Both R.T. Rybak in Minneapolis and Chris Coleman in St. Paul are considering runs for governor, even as they embark on re-election campaigns, Tim Nelson reports on MPR. One sign: a ramped-up mayoral re-election campaign by Coleman, who faces virtually no opposition.

We’re stars! Energy stars, at least – as the EPA ranks Minneapolis/St. Paul as the 8th best Energy Star city. Writing in the PiPress, Leslie Brooks Suzukamo credits Cub Foods, noting that 21 of the 102 Twin Cities Energy Star buildings are Cub Foods stores. And that’s not even counting the Phalen area store in St. Paul, opened too late for this count. Along with the new Seward Co-op, the Phalen Cub is one of the greenest buildings in the Twin Cities.

When pigs fly “That’s when many folks thought Southwest Airlines would start serving the Twin Cities,” reports Martin Moylan on MPR, but Southwest starts flying Twin Cities to Chicago on Sunday, pushing fares down. Lower fares are just the beginning, reports Workday Minnesota:

The upbeat outlook of Local 556 President Thom McDaniel and fellow TWU members Donna Keith and Crystal Rains was in sharp contrast to the tense situation facing Northwest Airlines workers, who have faced years of difficult bargaining, givebacks and strikes, followed by the carrier’s declaration of bankruptcy and merger to become part of Delta Airlines. [84 percent of Southwest’s employees are represented by unions.]

McDaniel, Keith and Rains touted the fact that Southwest is one of the few carriers still offering free drinks, peanuts and pillows – and no charge for the first bag of checked luggage. Many Southwest flight attendants also are known to serenade fliers when they provide the safety instructions.

Outrage of the day Two prominent human rights activists were assassinated in Kenya. Oscar Kamau Kingara, “an outspoken critic of the government’s alleged practice of extra-judicial killings,” was assassinated near the official residence of the Kenyan president a week after a UN report called for the resignation of the attorney general and the nation’s top cop for “failing to address police impunity.” Kingara’s Oscar Foundation Free Legal Aid Clinic charged last year that 8,040 young Kenyans have been executed or tortured to death since 2002. BBC also offers background on Kenyan government.

Mostly for wonks You know who you are. You actually read news articles all the way to the end, you love Paul Krugman, and you wish that you understood what the hell “counter-parties to AIG” are. I should say – we know who we are. I don’t have the counter-parties answer, but here are a few other must-read articles for the weekend: Politico reports that House Financial Services Committee Chair wants criminal as well as civil investigations of “the culprits in the financial crisis.” Go, Barney! Baseline Scenario warns that confusion during the crisis makes tunneling (“borderline legal/illegal smuggling of value out of businesses”) and outright looting easier. Over at TPM, Josh Marshall and the TPM muckraker offer an explanation of counter parties, how they are profiting from the AIG bailout, and who they might be.

Meanwhile, Krugman warns that the Obama administration needs to pay attention to President Obama’s warning to Congress on the cost of inaction, noting that, “among people I talk to there’s a growing sense of frustration, even panic, over Mr. Obama’s failure to match his words with deeds. The reality is that when it comes to dealing with the banks, the Obama administration is dithering. ”

Shameless plugMy blog post, An Immodest Proposal for financing the Vikings stadium.

MN Job Watch Minneapolis and St. Paul have lower unemployment rates than greater MN, according to DEED data, available here. A few nuggets from the report, gathered by David Brauer in his Daily Glean:

The employment champs were non-metro college towns Marshall (4.5 percent unemployment) and Moorhead (4.7 percent). The other end of the spectrum: Brainerd (21 percent!), Bemidji (17.5 percent) and Grand Rapids (16.4 percent).

Can’t spend it fast enough That’s the somewhat unusual problem for MN’s home weatherization program, reports Jason Hoppin in the PiPress. Federal stimulus money includes an estimated $135 million to weatherize low-income homes in MN, but there aren’t enough qualified workers to do the energy audits.

The problem is, the program previously received just $10 million annually, enough for 3,500 to 4,000 Minnesota homes every year. That number now is expected to zoom to 35,000.

The money has to be spent within two years, but some small businesses say they can’t afford to expand to meet the demand. To qualify for Minnesota’s weatherization program, a family of four can earn no more than $41,000 a year. For information on getting a home weatherized, here’s where to look in Ramsey and Washington counties, or in Scott, Carver and Dakota counties, or in Minneapolis, or in the rest of Hennepin County, or for the list of statewide providers.

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