Sunday, June 8, 2014

Court decision on marriage equality will benefit families

AG JB Van Hollen shouldn't appeal decision, should allow couples and families to pursue happiness in the state

A federal judge has found that Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. As a result, hundreds of gay and lesbian couples across the state have shared their vows, signed on the proper lines, and sealed their fate as married couples.

Their struggles and worries have been, at least for the time being, alleviated. These couples now qualify for countless rights and privileges, including inheritance rights, hospital visitations, and tax write-offs, that so-called “traditional” marriages have enjoyed for years.

If left to stand, thousands of families could feel legitimized through these marriages, including families with adopted children, who legally only have one technical parent. State law only allows married or single individuals to adopt; domestic partnerships, therefore, only have one legal adoptive parent, even if two parents are in the household.

If one of those parents were to be injured or otherwise impaired, unable to make decisions for their children, the other same-sex spouse (who is by every definition of the word “parent” to those children) would now have the legal right to act in that manner, the same way that straight couples would be able to do. And that is how it should be.

But apparently Attorney General JB Van Hollen thinks differently. He believes that he is legally obligated to defend the state constitutional ban, even when a federal judge has shown it to be out of line with the U.S. Constitution.

He’s free to proceed how he wants -- he is the duly elected Attorney General of the Badger State, after all. But his actions would have dire consequences, especially for families with same-sex adoptive parents.

In appealing this decision, then, Van Hollen isn’t protecting any family by any stretch of the imagination -- gay and lesbian couples who marry cause no harm whatsoever to other couples in the state. But Van Hollen’s actions would have negative consequences for many families across Wisconsin.

Rather than protecting families, the ban has served as a barrier for many who have wanted to live contentedly in the state, to pursue their own versions of happiness. Allowing Judge Barbara Crabb’s decision to stand would extend a great deal of benefits to families across Wisconsin who would otherwise be unable to have them.

Instead of continuing the unfair and unlawful ban on same-sex marriages, JB Van Hollen ought to show some compassion for these families. Love is love, and denying recognition of that love, as well as the benefits that are ordinarily afforded to couples in that kind of relationship, is unequal treatment under the law, and morally unsound.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

An open letter to Wisconsin Attorney General JB Van Hollen

Van Hollen should rescind his request for a stay in the court's decision on the state's ban of same-sex marriage

Dear Sir,

You are in a very unique position this year. You have decided not to seek re-election to the office you hold. Though bittersweet, I’m sure, it affords you an opportunity that is rare in politics today: to act without electoral consequences.

That’s why I was disappointed to hear of your plans to request a stay in the legal case against the state’s ban on marriage equality. You expect the state to lose this case, and so you understandably requested that the effects of its loss be placed on hold while you plan an appeal.

Should our ban be proven unconstitutional in federal court, however, we should let that decision stand rather than appeal, for the ban has been a stain on our state's law books for as long as its been in place.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Wisconsin performed weaker under Walker's policies than during the first year of recovery

Unemployment in Wisconsin: comparing numbers, recoveries of Walker vs. Doyle

The latest data for actual jobs produced in 2013 has been released, and the news is not stellar for the Badger State.

Walker administration, perhaps embarrassed, conceals numbers

Wisconsin jobs grew by 28,006 during 2013, the slowest yearly rate of growth since the end of the recession, and the worst performing year since Gov. Scott Walker took office in 2011.

The news is apparently unwelcomed by the Walker administration. The Department of Workforce Development, in releasing the information, combined it with a different monthly jobs report, burying it well-below the headline.

Previous yearly data, a survey of 96 percent of state businesses and released quarterly, have generally been given their own press releases, including the term “Actual Jobs Data” in many of the titles. This time, however, the more positive monthly jobs report got the preferential treatment, despite the Walker administration stating in the past that these monthly estimates are less reliable.

Unemployment goes down, but is Walker responsible for it?

The Walker administration, in promoting the other jobs data, is trying to push the idea that unemployment has gone down significantly while he’s been in office, especially in the past few months. But the latest rate is a bit of a misnomer: indeed, the rate has surprisingly been dropping steadily ever since December, when the benefits for long-term unemployed workers stopped being available.

A worker is only considered unemployed if they are seeking work but not finding any, in which case the worker may qualify for unemployment insurance. But if they don’t, they aren’t counted in the unemployment estimates, which means those who were dropped from the unemployment rolls are no longer considered unemployed, even if they haven’t yet found a job.

Here’s more to consider: in the first four months of 2014, the unemployment rate dropped by 0.5 percent. But the last drop of 0.5 percent took 13 months to occur, and the 0.5 percent drop before that took 12 months. There wasn’t any huge policy shift that occurred that lowered unemployment, so we can assume the major rate drop resulted from long-term unemployment benefits being stripped from workers rather than anything Walker has done.

In all, the unemployment rate from December 2010 to December 2013 dropped by 1.5 percent, about a 0.25 drop on average every six months. In the first four months of 2014, according to preliminary estimates, Wisconsin has seen a rate drop that doubles that rate, a 0.5 percent drop.

Again, this isn’t really due to anything Gov. Walker did, but rather the fact that unemployment benefits were dropped for thousands of Wisconsin citizens.

A faster unemployment recovery under Doyle vs. Walker

If we take the evidence into consideration, it’s clear that the policies of the Walker administration aren’t responsible for this sudden rate drop, and that, over the course of his time in office, the rate has dropped too slowly. Indeed, over the past 40 months while Walker has been governor, we’ve seen the rate go down by about 2.0 points, a monthly average drop of about 0.05 percent (even counting the preliminary estimates from 2014).

Let’s compare that 0.05 percent to how Wisconsin performed in 2010 -- the last year before Walker took office. Wisconsin had an unemployment rate of 9.1 percent at the start of the year, which dropped down to 7.8 percent over the next twelve months. In other words, under former Gov. Jim Doyle the state saw a monthly average drop of almost 0.11 percent, more than double the average rate we’ve seen thus far under Walker.

The change in the number of unemployed workers was significantly better under Doyle’s last year as well. During those last twelve months, the number of unemployed workers dropped by 15 percent, more than a 1.25 percent drop per month. While the number of unemployed has dropped by 25 percent under Walker, that drop has occurred over 40 months, not twelve, and is about a 0.64 percent drop per month on average.


So let’s review, using the chart below (click the chart to make it larger):

The recovery began nationally in the summer of 2009. The first full calendar year of the recovery, from December 2009 to December 2010, was stronger, on average, than the next 40 months’ averages. As the chart points out, the recovery under Doyle was nearly twice as fast than it was under Walker in terms of lowering the number of unemployed workers, and that’s including the number of unemployed workers no longer eligible due to the federal benefits extension expiring for Walker’s numbers.

So, who really did better? The liberal governor, it’s plain to see, outperformed the supposed fiscal conservative. Those policies, it seems, had a dramatic impact on reducing the number of unemployed workers in the state, while tax breaks for corporations and trimming government services for the poor -- the policies of Gov. Scott Walker -- failed to effectively reduce unemployment numbers.

To be sure, the recovery under Jim Doyle, too, was much too slow for what Wisconsin needed. But his final year in office was the first full year of Wisconsin’s recovery. You would think, with the five-year anniversary of the recession ending coming in September, that things in the state would have improved better than they had one year into it. Yet, under Gov. Scott Walker, we’re nearly five years out but getting weaker.