News Day: Minnesota’s recession / New schools / Tweets from Keith / Obama and immigration

From <a href="" target="_blank">DEED's "Positively Minnesota" website.</a>Minnesota’s recession Although Minnesota is doing slightly better than the nation as a whole, the recession/depression hits us as unevenly as it hits the country. Along the western border, unemployment is lower — 4.5 percent in Moorhead and Clay County marking the lowest point. Except for Anoka County, the seven-county metro area manages to stay barely below 9 percent unemployment. The dark spots on the map are located mostly in Greater Minnesota, with four counties and a handful of cities showing unemployment at more than 12 percent. On the Range, unemployment reaches 17 percent in Virginia and 18.7 percent in Hibbing. (For county and city details, go to DEED’s “Positively Minnesota” website.)

The Star Tribune takes a look at Minnesota’s economy and reports that we are lagging behind much of the region, and that Minnesota looks more like the national average than the Midwestern average. That means a prediction of unemployment peaking at 8.9 percent in the fourth quarter, and then a painfully slow turnaround, with state economist Tom Stinson telling the Strib, “We don’t expect total employment in Minnesota to get back to pre-recession levels before 2012.”

Although sightings of recovery — just around the corner, starting in the next quarter, by the end of the year — abound among wanna-be-hopeful economists, the numbers just aren’t there yet. Every time that a hopeful forecaster looks at lower-than-expected numbers of new applications for unemployment compensation, reality slaps us in the face with continuing high overall unemployment. As Congress talks about more cash-for-clunkers, the New York Times reports that 1.5 million unemployed workers are nearing the end of even the extended period of unemployment benefits.

Tens of thousands of workers have already used up their benefits, and the numbers are expected to soar in the months to come, reaching half a million by the end of September and 1.5 million by the end of the year, according to new projections by the National Employment Law Project, a private research group.

Unemployment insurance is now a lifeline for nine million Americans, with payments averaging just over $300 per week, varying by state and work history.

While economists talk about a “jobless recovery” beginning in the next quarter, or maybe next year, I don’t think that a jobless recovery is any kind of recovery at all. Cash-for-clunkers may make auto dealers happy, but I’d rather see my tax money go to an outright public jobs program, like the old Depression-era Works Progress Administration or Civilian Conservation Corps. And as long as the jobs aren’t there, we need an extension of unemployment benefits — yes, again — to help people at least keep a roof over their heads and feed their children.

Back on the eviction list After last week’s near-reprieve, Rosemary Williams is back on the eviction list, reports MPR. The 60-year-old woman, who has lived on her South Minneapolis block for 55 years, has been through foreclosure and eviction court hearings. Last week, as the eviction order issued, a non-profit seemed to have closed the deal to buy her house and rent it back to her. This week, the deal has fallen through. GMAC Mortgage says that negotiations continue, but Williams said she has not heard from them.

Williams has become the symbol of foreclosure / eviction / homelessness issues in the Twin Cities, and supporters say they will occupy her home to prevent her eviction.

New school plans for Minneapolis Minneapolis Public Schools will allow teacher-administered schools with greater autonomy, with proposals due this fall, reports the Star Tribune. Schools that are approved would open in the 2010-11 school year. A new state law authorized the new schools, similar in some ways to charters but remaining part of the district.

And, in a separate new school development, Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center, the largest mosque in Minneapolis, is opening a private Islamic school this fall, reports MPR. The Iqra Islamic School, located in ten classrooms on the mosque’s second floor, will be the second Islamic school in Minnesota.

Tweeting Congressional travel Congress member Keith Ellison is headed for Sudan, he reports via Twitter:

Plane is taking off for Sudan. Surprised they let me in given my protest activity at the Embassy. Investigating the humanitarian situation.

How does Darfur trip help MN? 1) MN has Sudanese folks 2) many in MN are globally aware, 3) conflict tends to spread, 4) US aid goes there.

National/World News

Obama and immigration While his campaign promises sounded different from the Bush administration hard line on immigration, the Obama administration’s performance has stayed pretty close to the Bush line, reports the New York Times:

The administration recently undertook audits of employee paperwork at hundreds of businesses, expanded a program to verify worker immigration status that has been widely criticized as flawed, bolstered a program of cooperation between federal and local law enforcement agencies, and rejected proposals for legally binding rules governing conditions in immigration detention centers.

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said stricter immigration enforcement will pave the way for immigration reform — later. The administration has backed off from the massive workplace raids favored by the Bush administration, but it has pushed hard for universal adoption of the error-plagued E-Verify program by employers. E-Verify is supposed to tell employers whether a prospective hire is eligible to work, but a .3 percent error rate is projected to mean false denials for more than 19,000 people in the first half of 2009.

In limited areas, the Obama administration has made policy changes. It has reversed a Bush policy that opposed refugee status for victims of domestic violence. Closer to home, DHS recently agreed to reopen the asylum case of three MN teens who fled gang violence in El Salvador.

War Reports

Iraq An armed, extreme Shiite group, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous, has agreed to lay down its weapons, according to NPR. The group may participate in next year’s legislative elections.

Sudan BBC reports on a new outbreak of violence in southern Sudan:

At least 185 people – mostly women and children – have been killed in ethnic violence in South Sudan, officials say.

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