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Quick Hit
by Ellyn Fortino
2:07pm
Tue May 19

Experts: Higher Education Reinvestments Needed In Illinois & Nationwide

Illinois, and nearly every other U.S. state, is spending less today on higher education than when the Great Recession started, according to new research from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).

CBPP's report, issued last week, details how state-level cuts to higher education funding over recent years have been a key cause of "steep tuition increases that threaten to put college out of reach for more students." The center's research comes at a time when Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has proposed deep cuts to higher education as part of his 2016 budget plan. 

"College-educated workers are essential to our nation's economic success," CBPP policy analyst and report co-author Michael Mitchell said in a statement. "States must reinvest in their colleges and universities now to build the workforce they need to compete in decades to come."

Quick Hit
by Ellyn Fortino
6:24pm
Mon May 18

Study: Illinois Union Membership Down 97,000 Workers Over Past Decade

Organized labor's power and effectiveness is still significant in Illinois despite unions having 97,000 fewer members in the state than a decade ago, local economic and labor experts argue in a new report.

"The labor movement's presence is still keenly felt in Illinois," said Frank Manzo with the Illinois Economic Policy Institute, which jointly released the "State of the Unions 2015" report with researchers at the University of Illinois and the University of Chicago. 

"Unions continue to increase incomes across the state and advance a strong, middle-class economy," he added.

Quick Hit
by La Risa Lynch
7:13pm
Wed May 13

Chuy Garcia: Grassroots Movement Must Shift Focus On State’s Financial Woes

Former Chicago mayoral candidate Jesus "Chuy" Garcia urged those attending a teach-in on the state's budget to use the grassroots momentum gained from the city's hotly-contested mayoral race as a means to combat austerity measures that could adversely impact vulnerable communities.

The Cook County Commissioner forced Mayor Rahm Emanuel into a historic runoff when Emanuel failed to get the votes needed to secure an outright win in February's municipal election. Garcia lost to Emanuel in the April run by 12.4 percentage points.

Garcia spoke at the teach-in held at the McKinley Park Branch Library, 1915 W. 35th St. The McKinley Park Progressive Alliance hosted the event.

"This mayoral election was one of the most contested in recent history ... and one that has created space for community groups to be active in and for different movements to amply their voices and exert some influence and power," Garcia said.

Quick Hit
by Ellyn Fortino
5:26pm
Wed May 13

Mental Health Advocates Rally Against Rauner's Proposed Budget Cuts (VIDEO)

Carrying signs reading, "Mental wellness is a human right," a few hundred Illinoisans took to the Thompson Center Wednesday afternoon to rally against Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's proposed budget cuts to mental health services and other crucial programs.

At the event, spearheaded by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Chicago, speaker after speaker denounced Rauner's 2016 budget plan, which seeks to slash funding for the mental health division of the Illinois Department of Human Services by 15 percent. That works out to be a proposed cut of $82 million.

Cash-strapped Illinois faces a $6 billion budget deficit in the 2016 fiscal year, beginning July 1. To plug that hole, Rauner wants to significantly cut funding from a range of budgetary items, including $1.5 billion from Medicaid.

Quick Hit
by Ellyn Fortino
12:38pm
Tue May 12

Currency Manipulation Key Issue In Heated Debate Over TPP, 'Fast-Track' Trade Bill

As debate over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal rages on, a growing number of lawmakers and economic experts are troubled by the massive trade agreement's lack of strong rules against currency manipulation by foreign member countries. Calls for currency manipulation prohibitions in the TPP also come amid heated deliberation over legislation that would give President Barack Obama "fast-track" trade authority.

Currency manipulation involves a country artificially suppressing the value of its currency, usually relative to the U.S. dollar, to reduce the price of its exports, essentially giving itself a leg up over competitors. This practice is a key cause of the continuing U.S. trade deficit and has displaced between 1 million and 5 million American jobs.

It's estimated that between $200 billion and $500 billion of the U.S. trade deficit is due to currency manipulation by foreign countries, according to research from the Washington, D.C.-based Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Quick Hit
by Ellyn Fortino
1:41pm
Fri May 8

Report: Despite Walmart's Pay Hike, Employee Wages Will Still Cost Taxpayers Money

Even though Walmart has moved to increase employee wages, new data shows that the company's workers will still cost U.S. taxpayers a pretty penny to make up for the dismal earnings they bring home from working for the retail giant.

Last year, Americans for Tax Fairness issued a report stating that U.S. taxpayers pick up a $6.2 billion tab annually to cover public aid expenses for Walmart workers earning low wages.

That report came months before Walmart announced in February that 500,000 of its full- and part-time U.S. workers would be getting a wage hike. The hourly minimum wage for Walmart employees went up to $9 in April and will increase to $10 by February 2016.

In light of Walmart's new wage policy, Americans for Tax Fairness re-examined the taxpayer subsidy issue.

"Even after Walmart's planned wage increases are fully implemented, large taxpayer subsidies will still be required to compensate for Walmart's low wages," the group concludes in its newest report.

Quick Hit
by Ellyn Fortino
1:39pm
Thu May 7

College Grads Face Bleak Wage Landscape, A Breakdown Of Illinois Jobless Rates By Race

The average hourly wage for young female college graduates was a mere $16.56 in March -- just 1.2 percent higher than what was earned by the same demographic at the end of 1989, according to new data released by the Economic Policy Institute.

That's just one of the takeaways from EPI's analysis of wage trends for college and high school graduates, ranging from December of 1989 to March of 2015.

The wage figures -- issued ahead of Friday's jobs report for April -- provide a "glimpse at the future for the graduating class of 2015" and are part of a larger forthcoming EPI report on recent young graduates and the U.S. job market they face.

Quick Hit
by Ellyn Fortino
5:21pm
Tue May 5

Chicago Mental Health Community Demands Answers Over C4's Imminent Closure (VIDEO)

Following the abrupt news last month that Community Counseling Centers of Chicago (C4) expects to shut down at the end of May, clients and staff from the major mental health service provider want answers about the organization's imminent closure.

C4 clients, staffers and their supporters from Arise Chicago, SEIU* Local 73 and other groups rallied Tuesday afternoon outside C4's facility at 4740 N. Clark St. They were there to demand "four C's for C4: compensation, clients' rights, communication and commitment," explained C4 staff therapist Max Beshers.

C4 -- which serves more than 10,000 patients annually and has some 300 employees -- expects to close May 31 as a result of problems stemming from a new billing and electronic health records system required as part of the Affordable Care Act, according to C4 President and CEO Eileen Durkin.

C4 employees, organizing as the C4 Workers' Committee, say they have been kept in the dark about the institution's problems. 

"We, as workers, were never told this was happening, so there was no way for us to know or prepare. We were just given short notice that C4 was going to be closing," said C4 staff therapist Cynthia Cruz. "We don't have any type of transition plan yet. We don't know what to tell our clients, and our clients also have a right to know what's happening for them next."

Quick Hit
by Ellyn Fortino
3:07pm
Mon May 4

Illinois Transportation Advocates: Rauner Budget Could Mean Major Fare Hikes, Service Cuts (VIDEO)

Illinois public transportation advocates are calling attention to the potentially "devastating" effects Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's 2016 budget proposal could have on train and bus services across the state.

Spearheaded by the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, the coalition of advocates has launched a new campaign called "Grow Illinois Transit" to raise awareness about Rauner's proposed budget cuts to Amtrak, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Metra, Pace and downstate bus services. Other organizations involved with the coalition include the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308, the Illinois Environmental Council, Illinois PIRG and the Sierra Club's Illinois chapter.

Under Rauner's budget plan for the 2016 fiscal year, which beings July 1, the CTA, Metra and Pace could see their collective funding slashed by over $160 million. Amtrak faces a $16 million cut, which represents a 40 percent reduction in funding.

Speaking at a Chicago press conference Monday afternoon, transit advocates said Rauner's fiscal plan could result in significant fare hikes as well as bus and train services being reduced or eliminated altogether. 

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