Working Minnesotans are worse off than they were seven years ago

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As President Bush delivers his final State of the Union address and Congress considers an economic stimulus package, local leaders presented a very sobering picture of the challenges facing many Minnesotans. By nearly every measure, working class people are in worse shape today than they were seven years ago, the speakers said at a roundtable discussion Monday at the state Capitol.

“President Bush has described the economy as inherently strong,” said Chris Stinson of ACORN, the leading organization working to address the foreclosure crisis. “That’s not how it looks in Minnesota neighborhoods.”

Added Donald McFarland of the advocacy group Americans United for Change: “By all accounts we are on the verge of a recession, if not already in one.”

Other speakers were Kris Jacobs, JOBS NOW Coalition; Pam Marshall, Energy Cents Coalition; and state Rep. Erin Murphy, a registered nurse.

Among the statistics they cited:

• In each of the past seven years, only 369,000 jobs were created nationally in the private sector, compared to 1.76 million jobs per year in the 1990s.

• The number of Americans in poverty rose from 31.6 million in 2001 to 36.5 million today.

• The number of Americans without health insurance grew from 38 million in 2001 to 47 million today.

• Median household income in the United States has dropped from $49,163 in 2001 to $48,023 today.

• The price of a gallon of gas has gone from $1.39 to $3.07 in the same period.

• The national debt has nearly doubled, the trade deficit has doubled and consumer debt is now over $12 trillion.

A new Harris Poll finds that 81 percent of Americans think the current state of the country is fair or poor while just 19 percent think it is excellent or good.

Minnesotans have very real reasons for feeling they are falling backwards, the speakers said.

The number of job openings in the state has fallen by 38 percent in the last six and a half years, while the number of unemployed workers has grown 64 percent, said Jacobs of JOBS NOW. “With 133,000 unemployed workers now competing for only 60,000 unfilled jobs, job seekers outnumber unfilled jobs by more than two-to-one.”

The housing crisis caused by predatory lending and the subprime mortgage debacle is putting many people on the street and draining millions of dollars from Minnesota communities, ACORN’s Stinson said. “We haven’t seen foreclosures like this since the Great Depression.”

Others may have homes, but can’t afford to heat them or keep the lights on, said Marshall of the Energy Cents Coalition. Nearly a quarter of CenterPoint Energy customers and 18 percent of Xcel Energy customers are behind on their utility payments and thousands of other Minnesotans, primarily in rural areas, are being hit hard by rising fuel oil and propane costs.

While millions lack health insurance, costs are skyrocketing for those who do, Murphy said. A national study found the annual cost of a premium for family coverage has doubled from $6,230 in 2001 to $12,106 today.

The economic recovery plan put forth by the Bush administration fails to repair the damage created by his legacy, the speakers said. They called on Congress to implement meaningful economic reform that includes a 90-day moratorium on home foreclosures, extension of unemployment benefits for the millions seeking work and more money for energy assistance programs.

They also said elected officials at all levels need to move quickly to create jobs and address rising health care costs.

“We will continue to shine a light on the legacy” of this president and his supporters, McFarland said.

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