February 14, 2013

By Sam Hananel Associated Press

 

President Barack Obama's call to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour and boost it annually to keep pace with inflation is already getting a trial run. Ten states make similar cost-of-living adjustments, including Washington state, where workers earn at least $9.19 an hour, the highest minimum in the country.

In all, 19 states and the District of Columbia have minimum wages set above the federal rate of $7.25, a disparity Obama highlighted in his State of the Union address as he seeks to help the nation's lowest paid workers.

Obama's proposal is renewing the age-old debate between advocates who claim boosting the minimum wage pumps more money into the economy, helping to create new jobs, and business groups that complain it would unfairly burden employers and curb demand for new workers.

And it faces certain hurdles in Congress, as top Republicans including House Speaker John Boehner wasted little time dismissing the proposal.

More than 15 million workers earn the national minimum wage, making about $15,080 a year. That's just below the federal poverty threshold of $15,130 for a family of two.

Selling his plan to a crowd in Asheville, N.C., recently, Obama said it's time to increase the minimum wage "because if you work full-time, you shouldn't be in poverty."

Advocates say a minimum wage increase can lead to even broader economic benefits.

"These are workers who are most likely to spend virtually everything they earn, so it just pumps money back into local economies," said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group.

But William Dunkelberg, chief economist for the National Federation of Independent Business, said the increase would hit businesses hard and only hurt low-wage workers by reducing demand for their services.

"The higher the price of anything, the less that will be taken, and this includes labor," Dunkelberg said. "Raising the cost of labor raises the incentive for employers to find ways to use less labor."

Economists have long disputed the broader impact of setting a minimum wage. A major 1994 study by labor economists David Card and Alan Krueger found that a rise in New Jersey's minimum wage did not reduce employment levels in the fast food industry. Krueger now is chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Yet that study has come under fire from other economists, who argue that comparing different states over time shows that raising the minimum wage hurts job growth.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, said that a higher minimum wage would boost incomes for some poorer workers. But it would also discourage employers from hiring more of them.

"So on net, I am not sure it helps," he said.

The government first set a minimum wage during the Great Depression in 1938. It has been raised 22 times since then — the last increase went into effect in 2009 — but the value has eroded over time due to inflation.

Obama's latest plan would raise the hourly minimum to $9 by 2015 and as well as increase the minimum wage for tipped workers, which has not gone up for more than two decades.

As for states that have already set minimum wages above the federal rate, they range from $7.35 in Missouri to the high of $9.19 in Washington. In 10 of those states, the minimum wage is automatically adjusted every year to keep pace with the rising cost of living — Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

Women represent nearly two thirds of minimum wage workers, while black and Hispanic workers represent a higher share of the minimum wage work force than whites, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

The last federal minimum wage increase was signed into law by President George W. Bush, when it increased from $5.15 to $7.25 in a three-step process between 2007 and 2009.

The last recession began in the middle of that process and took an especially heavy toll on middle-wage positions, which accounted for 60 percent of jobs lost in the crushing downturn. Most of the job growth since the 2010 recovery has been in low-wage jobs. Owens, for one, contends: "There's no compelling case to be made that raising the minimum wage triggered job losses."

Doug Hall, director of the liberal Economic Policy Institute, estimates that raising the minimum wage to $9 would pump $21 billion into the economy and lead to the creation of 120,000 jobs.

But Randel Johnson, vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for labor issues, said the increase would come "on the backs of employers" who would hire fewer people and cut overtime.

"You don't put new burdens on employers when they are trying to recover in a tough recessionary time," he said.

Johnson also warned against tying wage increases to inflation.

"Employer profits are not magically indexed somehow to always go up," Johnson said. "Congress needs to look at the validity of raising the minimum wage in the context of the economic times in which it's being proposed."

That concern is expected to drive Republican opposition in Congress. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who delivered the GOP response to Obama's State of the Union address, said Wednesday that boosting the minimum wage is the wrong way to help workers increase wages.

"I don't think a minimum wage works," Rubio said on "CBS This Morning. "I want people to make more than $9 dollars an hour. The problem is, you can't mandate that."

Boehner, the House speaker, told reporters Wednesday: "When you raise the price of employment, guess what happens? You get less of it."

The White House is pointing to companies such as Costco, Wal-Mart and Stride Rite that have supported past increases in the minimum wage, saying high wages help build a strong work force and lower turnover helps improve profitability over the long run.

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February 07, 2013

The M.W. Illustrious Scottish Knights Grand Supreme Council under the leadership of M.W. Grandmaster Hon. David Henry 33rd (giving honor to his M.W. Grand Master Hon. Van A. Hibler 33rd) presented the Della Smith Queen Sheba Legacy Award to Wilma Smith Kiel. Grand High Priest Brandon Kiel 33rd, Deputy Grandmaster Kevin Briley 33rd, and Illustrious Assemblyman Mike Davis (ret.) 33rd, were also in attendance to present this award. 

Wilma Kiel has served as Executive Director at the nationally accredited HIC preschool for over 35 years in South Los Angeles. During her tenure Wilma Kiel co- founded the South Central Training and Research Consortium in 1989.  An organization designed to provide early childhood personnel with research based training to promote innovative curriculums and enhance the structural rigidity of programs to ensure longevity.

The M.W. Illustrious Scottish Knights Grand Supreme Council understands their obligation to building a better society. Supporting early childhood education is just as important as ensuring that a temple is built on a solid foundation. The Grand Supreme Council will continue to recognize those individuals who are making a difference in their community and hold elected officials and ministers accountable for the communities that they represent.

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January 31, 2013

By Bashir Adigun Associated Press

 

A man who formerly helped oversee Nigeria's police pension program pleaded guilty Monday January 28 to stealing $145 million, but walked out of court a free man after agreeing to a plea bargain that saw him pay only a fraction of it back.

The plea deal given to John Yakubu Yusufu and read out in court sparked immediate anger across Nigeria, a nation where many feel government officials pilfer pension funds and oil revenue without any fear of prosecution. Yusufu will pay only a $14,000 fine, forfeit some properties and pay about $2 million in restitution, something that the nation's top anti-corruption agency immediately criticized.

Justice Mohammed Talba, who agreed to the plea deal in a Federal High Court, sentenced Yusufu to serve two years in prison. However, Talba said Yusufu could pay the fine and the restitution, which also includes turning over 32 properties he allegedly purchased with the stolen money.

In asking for the plea deal, Yusufu's defense lawyer, Theodore Bala Maiyakim, said his client had a serious heart condition.

"He has saved the time of my Lord and being a first offender, with no previous record of conviction, I urge the court to temper justice with mercy and sentence him with least possible terms," Maiyakim asked, according to an account provided by Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

Prosecutor Rotimi Jacobs, however, called for Yusufu to serve prison time to "send out the message that the era of stealing public funds with impunity is gone."

Under the three charges filed against Yusuf, he could have served a maximum of six years in prison. Six others allegedly involved in the scam have pleaded not guilty.

Wilson Uwujaren, a spokesman for the anti-corruption agency which sought the prosecutions, said the commission's officials strenuously objected to the sentence in court, as money stolen in the scam remains unaccounted for.

"The commission will study the ruling and respond appropriately," Uwujaren said in a statement.

Oil money provides about 80 percent of Nigeria's government funding, which trickles down to states that have budgets greater than those of surrounding nations. But the corruption that pervades the nation often sees that money go into political leaders' pockets rather than toward government services. There also have been a series of recent scandals in Nigeria over pensions being stolen by government officials.

Transparency International's recent world rankings placed Nigeria 139th out of 174 countries when it comes to perceived corruption.

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January 31, 2013

On Tuesday at its meeting, the Board of Supervisors authorized a second $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the outstanding suspect responsible for the July 4, 2012 shooting that took the life of 14-year-old Unique Russell and injured 12-year-old Rekell Reeves and 25-year-old Freddy Pickett. 

The shooting occurred in front of a home on the 1300 block of West 97th Street located in the unincorporated area of West Athens. Unique, Rekell, and Pickett were watching fireworks with friends and neighbors when witnesses saw two suspects open fire into the crowd.

Unique was transported to Harbor–UCLA Medical Center where she died from her injuries. Rekell and Pickett suffered non- life threatening gunshot wounds to their legs and were subsequently released.

On the heels of the shooting, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas authorized a $10,000 reward motion that was unanimously approved by the Board in October. Last month, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s arrested Michael Staton, a 19-year- old Compton resident and alleged gang member, in connection with the shooting of Unique.

According to Los Angeles County homicide detectives, Ridley-Thomas’ $10,000 reward motion was instrumental in obtaining information from the public.

In an effort to arrest the second suspect, Ridley-Thomas authored a motion to increase the current reward by an additional $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the outstanding suspect. As a result of the Board’s approval, the reward now stands at $10,000 for the conviction of each suspect for a total reward amount of $20,000.

“Thanks to members of the community who spoke up, one suspect is behind bars and off the streets,” said Ridley-Thomas. “We are calling on the community to once again come forward to help bring justice to the friends and family members who have lost their loved one in this senseless crime.”

Anyone with information is urged to contact Sergeant Perry or Detective Sloan of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau (323) 890-5500 or Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-8477.

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January 31, 2013

By Kam Williams

Contributing Writer

 

The Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr., founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, is one of America’s foremost civil rights, religious and political figures. Over the past forty years, he has played a pivotal role in virtually every movement for empowerment, peace, civil rights, gender equality, and economic and social justice.

On August 9, 2000, President Bill Clinton awarded Reverend Jackson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. He is known for bringing people together on common ground across lines of race, culture, class, gender and belief.

Born on October 8, 1941 in Greenville, South Carolina, Jesse Jackson graduated from the public schools in Greenville and then enrolled in the University of Illinois on a football scholarship. He later transferred to North Carolina A&T State University and graduated in 1964. He began his theological studies at Chicago Theological Seminary but deferred his studies when he began working full-time in the Civil Rights Movement with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Reverend Jackson married his college sweetheart Jacqueline Lavinia Brown in 1963. They have five children: Santita Jackson, former Congressman Jesse L. Jackson, Jr., Jonathan Luther Jackson, Yusef DuBois Jackson, Esq., and Jacqueline Lavinia Jackson, Jr.

LAWT: What plans do you have for this year’s economic summit?

JJ: First, to gather people to discuss the new economic agenda. We just got through the political agenda with the inauguration of President Obama. Now, we have to deal with the economic agenda. No access to capital, needing more access to technology, etcetera. We want to call the banks to invest in America. In 2009 we had 600 black dealerships, today we have 200. We have lost TV and radio stations. We must re-strategize.

LAWT: Given that we now have an African-American president and black billionaires, is this a post-racial society?

JJ: We don’t have a lot of black billionaires, actually. We are not in a post racial society. We are a multi-racial society and substantially racist. We still need to access jobs and contracts — all those level playing fields are very much needed.

LAWT: What would you say is the No. 1 economic issue African-Americans are facing today?

JJ: Access to a jobs. Next, the recovery of houses lost when the banks targeted our homes and businesses that move our future forward.

LAWT: Do you see Wall Street as being at odds with Main Street, or can the 1 percent be a part of the solution for the woes of the 99 percent? 

JJ: The 1 percent have received their needs through greed and lack of regulations — too few have too much and more have none. It’s too unequal and unbalanced. The middle class is sinking. A dormant few are at the bottom.

LAWT: Thanks again for the time, Reverend Jackson, and best of luck with the Economic Summit.

JJ: Thanks.

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