Treasury gets gold star as the most-hated



If you have to deal with the federal government — be it the seemingly innocuous Social Security Administration or the eternally-despised Treasury Department, home to the IRS — prepare to be even more annoyed than in the past.

According to a report released Tuesday by the American Customer Satisfaction Index, our satisfaction with the federal government has hit an all-time low (at least since the company began collecting data for this index in 2007). The federal government now scores a 64.4 out of 100 in terms of satisfaction (the average across all industries is 75 out 100). This is the lowest score across the 40 different industries – including industries like airlines, cable companies and others — that the ACSI measures, with the exception of Internet service providers.

“Overall, the services of the federal government continue to deliver a level of customer satisfaction below the private sector,” the report — in which ACSI interviewed 1,772 randomly selected people — concludes.

When asked what they specifically didn’t like about the government, some Americans cited issues with the staff and customer service. Indeed, Americans are more annoyed with the government’s customer service (specifically how courteous, helpful and professional the government staff are) than they were in 2013: customer service rankings for the government plummeted 6% from a year ago — from a score of 80 to a score of 75. While this sounds bad, ACSI Director David VanAmburg says that some of it has to do to with the fact that some agencies have fewer staff members now than in the past, which makes consumers more frustrated when trying to get something accomplished in a timely manner.

Plus, Americans say that the services the government provides aren’t always easy to navigate or delivered in a timely manner – and were worse in 2014 than in years past (scores fell from 70 to 68 out of 100), as was the information provided to them by the government (scores fell from 71 to 69), which they say often lacks clarity and isn’t accessible. The only area that Americans weren’t less pleased with was, perhaps surprisingly, government websites, which while certainly not well-reviewed (72 out of 100) didn’t see a fall in ratings from last year.

While no department within the federal government scores above the national average, some departments are more hated that others — with the Treasury getting the gold star as the most-hated. VanAmburg notes that this isn’t surprising, as its public face is often the IRS, which we don’t have to tell you, isn’t very popular. That’s followed closely by the Veterans Affairs department and the Health and Human Services Department — both of which may score fairly low because there is sometimes some controversy about people’s eligibility for benefits from these organizations, which can anger consumers, he says.

But perhaps more disturbingly, customers may soon be even less satisfied with the government: “While there are exceptions to the general trend of lower customer satisfaction with government services, the challenge of maintaining high-quality service with fewer resources may affect even more services soon,” says VanAmburg says. “For example, the wait time for callers to the IRS is projected to balloon even more than it did a year ago—possibly exceeding 30 minutes.”


I lie

The media are already analyzing the new proposals President Obama is set to layout this evening in his sixth annual State of the Union address (seventh if you count his unofficial 2009 address). Here at Grabien, we’re also looking at results. Taking a look back at past SOTU promises, How many actually ever materialized?

The numbers aren’t pretty. From 2009 through 2014, we count 112 promises that to date remain unfulfilled.

We should also note that many of these promises are duplicated from one year to another. For example, every year he has pledged to pass comprehensive immigration reform, overhaul corporate taxes, reduce regulations, and close Guantanamo Bay.

The full list is below. Montage above. Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments.


1. The stimulus bill will create 3.5 million jobs over the next few years, 90 percent of which will be in the private sector.

2. Create program that will enable Americans facing foreclosure to lower their mortgage payments and save their homes.

3. Double the supply of renewable energy within the next three years.

4. The “largest ever” federal spending program on science will yield breakthroughs in energy, medicine, science, and technology.

5. Lay down 1,000s of miles of power lines to connect Americans’ homes to these new sources of energy.

6. Reduce Americans’ energy bills by “billions of dollars.”

7. Cure cancer “in our time.”

8. Use stimulus funds to spend on preventive health care, which will get federal health spending “under control.”

9. Use the savings that result from the stimulus’ reform of health-care to reduce the deficit.

10. Cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term in office.

11. Go “line by line” through the federal budget to eliminate wasteful and ineffective programs – saving $2 trillion over the next 10 years.

12. Never raise taxes “a single dime” on any family earning less than $250,000.

13. Stop the growing cost of Medicare and Social Security.

14. Make Social Security sustainable.

15. Create tax-free savings accounts for all Americans.

16. Close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.


17. Use stimulus funds to build a high-speed railway in Florida.

18. Research funds from the previous year’s stimulus will cure cancer, lead to “the cheapest solar cells.”

19. Building a new generation of nuclear energy plants.

20. Passing a climate-change law that will make clean energy profitable

21. Passing health-reform that lets Americans keep their doctors and their plans.

22. The health-reform law will reduce costs for “millions” of families and businesses

23. The health-reform law will bring down the deficit $1 trillion over the next 20 years.

24. Starting in 2011, government spending “ will be frozen for three years.”

25. Cut programs we don’t need to maintain a balanced budget.

26. Veto spending bills that don’t adhere to balanced budgeting.

27. Go through budget “line by line” to eliminate programs that we can’t afford and don’t work.

28. Create a bipartisan fiscal commission; the recommendations of which he’ll enact.

29. Restore the pay-as-you-go budgeting rules.

30. Create a website that publishes every lawmakers’ earmark requests.

31. Never give up “ trying to change the tone of our politics.”

32. Pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

33. Secure America’s borders.

34. Enforce existing immigration laws


35. More nuclear power, more natural gas, more wind and solar.

36. Pass comprehensive immigration reform.

37. Secure America’s borders.

38. Enforce existing immigration laws.

39. Reduce unemployment by increasing the number of people working on infrastructure projects – ensuring these projects are “fully paid for.”

40. Recruit private sector financing to assist these infrastructure projects.

41. Projects will be prioritized by importance, not by politics.

42. Give 85 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail within 25 years.

43. Within the next three years, enable 98 percent of Americans to receive high-speed wireless Internet.

44. Lower the corporate tax rate and eliminate loopholes.

45. Reduce business regulations restraining growth and investment.

46. Starting this year, freeze domestic spending for the next five years.

47. ObamaCare will slow rising costs of health-insurance premiums.

48. Enact medical malpractice tort reform.

49. Consolidating various federal departments to streamline federal bureaucracy and ensure it’s “more competent and more efficient.”

50. Create website that lists all federal spending.

51. Veto every bill that contains earmarks.


52. Reduce corporate income taxes.

53. Consolidate federal jobs-training programs – creating a single website that makes all information about these programs available in one place.

54. Convert federal unemployment insurance into a system that focuses on finding the unemployed jobs.

55. Enact comprehensive immigration reform.

56. Force all high schools to require students to stay in school until they graduate or turn 18.

57. Open more than 75 percent of off-shore U.S. territory to drilling.

58. Go “all out” on every type of energy.

59. Take “every possible action” to expand natural gas production.

60. Ordering “every federal agency to eliminate rules that don’t make sense.”

61. Create “financial crimes unit” to crack down on white-collar crime.

62. Work with Congress to procure power to consolidate federal bureaucracy.

63. “End the notion that political parties must be engaged in a perpetual campaign of mutual destruction.”


64. Reform Medicare and Medicaid to save as much as was proposed by the Simpson-Bowles Commission.

65. “Reduce taxpayer subsidies to prescription drug companies.”

66. Raises taxes on the wealthiest seniors.

67. Bring down health-care costs by changing the way the federal government pays for Medicare.

68. Eliminate loopholes and deductions for the “well off.”

69. Enact comprehensive tax reform that brings down the deficit and encourages job growth.

70. Cut “red tape and speed up new oil and gas permits.”

71. Create an “energy security trust.”

72. Create a “fix it first” program that will direct the unemployed to the highest priority programs.

73. Make “high quality” preschool available to every child in America.

74. Require that aid to colleges be distributed according to the value they impart upon students.

75. Pass comprehensive immigration reform.

76. Raise the minimum wage to $9/hour.

77. Create a tax incentive for companies to hire the long-term unemployed.

78. Create a program to put people back to work by rebuilding vacant homes in rundown neighborhoods.

79. Enact new tax credits for businesses that hire and invest.

80. Eliminate the marriage penalty for low-income couples.

81. Encourage fatherhood through tax policy adjustments.

82. By the end of 2014, end the war in Afghanistan.

83. Never make promises the government can’t actually keep.

84. Keep the promises already made.


85. Lower corporate income taxes, close loopholes.

86. Use the money saved from corporate tax reform to finance new infrastructure spending.

87. Slash bureaucracy through executive orders.

88. Create an additional six “high tech manufacturing hubs” in 2014.

89. “Do more” to help entrepreneurs and small business owners.

90. Use government research funds to create entirely new industries – like vaccines that adapt to evolving bacteria, and inventing material thinner than paper but stronger than steel.

91. Pass a patent reform bill.

92. Use executive orders to cut red tape to enable factories to be built that are powered by natural gas.

93. Reform taxes so that fossil fuel companies are taxed more and “ fuels of the future” are taxed less.

94. Enact new fuel-efficiency standards for trucks.

95. Pass comprehensive immigration reform.

96. Consolidate federal jobs training programs, helping match people with skills to jobs they can fill.

97. Reform unemployment insurance to encourage Americans to return to the workforce faster.

98. Assemble a coalition to help more kids access pre-K education.

99. Pass the “Equal Pay Act” for women.

100. Raise the minimum wage to $10.10

101. Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit

102. Reform the tax code to help lower-class Americans save

103. Give every American access to “an automatic IRA on the job.”

104. Ensure Americans never have to wait more than a half hour to vote.

105. Pass legislation that will prevent mass shooting tragedies.

106. End the Afghan war by the end of 2014.

107. Reform NSA surveillance programs.

108. Close Guantanamo Bay Prison in 2014.

109. End the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

110. Ensuring the Iran will stop installing advanced centrifuges.

111. Be the “first” to call for more sanctions if Iran doesn’t abandon nuclear program.

112. Reform Veterans Affairs so that vets no longer have to deal with backlogs and instead receive the health care that they need.


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An increase of $136 billion in the month of December and $790 billion for all of 2014


It seems like it was only yesterday when we reported that, in yet another sleight of hand for the US Treasury and Social Security Administration, US debt rose by $32 billion on the last day of November sending total US debt above $18 trillion for the first time ever. As we further noted, it also meant “that total US debt has increased by 70% under Obama, from $10.625 trillion on January 21, 2009 to $18.005 trillion most recently.”

Fast forward to today when we are happy to report that according to the US Treasury, America’s debt-funded spending spree, while supposedly slowing down if looking at the declining monthly budget deficit report, never actually has.

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As of the last day of 2014, total US debt soared by $98 billion in one day (driven again by Social Security debt surging on the last day of the month to a record $5.117 trillion), and closing off 2014 with a new all time high total of $18.141 trillion in Federal debt – an increase of $136 billion in the month of December and $790 billion for all of 2014.

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Obama Will Shut Border Agency To Aid Illegals, Says Aide


Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

It’s clear where the president’s priorities are

President Barack Obama will block 2015 funding for the Department of Homeland Security if Republicans includes spending curbs on the president’s executive amnesty, says a top aide.

That amnesty action includes the award of work permits, drivers’ licenses, Social Security cards and tax rebates to at least four million illegal immigrants, despite the wage-cutting surplus of American workers in Obama’s economy.

The adviser, Dan Pfeiffer, told a Huffington Post interviewer Dec. 29 that the president would “absolutely not” sign a 2015 spending bill that would include limits on amnesty spending.

Would Obama veto the spending curbs? “Yep,” Pfeiffer said.

But Pfeiffer’s veto threat is likely superfluous, because the GOP’s top congressional leaders have gone silent on their early-December promises to curb the amnesty spending after February.

Pfeiffer used the Huffington Post’s softball interview to prod the GOP leadership toward backing away from a fight over amnesty. ”I think the Republicans know they have little to no leverage,” he said. “Are they going to shut down the Department of Homeland Security to undo our executive action? I don’t think they are going to do that.”

“There is an array of little things they can do. … I mean it is possible that insanity will prevail upon the House Republican caucus as it did last October during the [2013] shutdown,” he said.

Pfeiffer’s show of confidence is belied by polls, which show that GOP voters are strongly opposed to Obama’s immigration policies, and that most Americans oppose policies that allow companies to hire migrants in place of Americans.

For example, a large September poll by Paragon Insights showed that large slices of the Democratic coalition would be “much more likely” to vote for a GOP candidate who says that “the first goal of immigration policy needs to be getting unemployed Americans back to work — not importing more low-wage workers to replace them.” Thirty-eight percent of African-Americans, 39 percent of Democratic women, 36 percent of Latinos and roughly 47 percent of Midwesterners said they would be much more likely to support a GOP candidate who favors the employment of Americans, according to the Paragon poll.

The Republican leadership is only showing token evidence that it will respond to those voters.

For example, the GOP’s 2015 budget provided only two months of appropriations to the agency that is carrying out Obama’s amnesty. That two-month limit was offered by the leadership to conservatives to help win their support for the 2015 funding bill, which passed mid-December.

But 67 GOP legislators voted against the bill when the GOP leaders refused to include language barring the amnesty, but added a valuable favor for Wall Street.

Obama accepted the Wall Street favor, said Pfeiffer, because “you have a [funding] bill that you know Congress passes that doesn’t do anything to [Obamacare and] does nothing to immigration executive action.”

Under normal circumstances, that two-month spending limit for the agency would allow the Republican-run Congress to write a new funding bill that could block any agency amnesty spending from February to October.

But there’s nothing normal about president’s decision to ignore immigration law.

Immigrants in state of Illinois illegally to get state-funded kidney transplants

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“Immigrants in state illegally to get state-funded kidney transplants”

And we wonder why America is broke! Liberals that’s why!

By Meredith Rodriguez
Chicago Tribune

Immigrants in Illinois without legal permission can get state-paid kidney transplants
When he was diagnosed with renal disease almost two years ago, Gustavo Galvez had never heard of dialysis. Doctors told Galvez, who had been working in the United States 17 years without legal residency, that it would help his failing kidneys function and allow him to live.

“But after one month, two months, I learned, and I did not like it,” said Galvez, 35. “I did not want dialysis.”

After each treatment he felt dizzy, nauseated, tired and achy, he said. The excruciating routine depressed him, but Galvez hopes the pain will soon end.

A new state law will for the first time provide funding for kidney transplants for immigrants in Illinois without legal permission, as well as the annual medications needed to maintain the transplanted organs. With the state’s help, Galvez may finally get on a waiting list for a transplant. That has changed his outlook on his life.

“I felt that there was hope,” he said.

Since the law went into effect in October, transplant centers in Illinois have been evaluating some of the 686 immigrants here illegally in the state’s kidney dialysis program to see whether they are healthy enough to receive kidney transplants and placing some on kidney transplant waiting lists.

Those opposed to spending tax dollars on such immigrants, however, say the program will unfairly saddle legal citizens with health costs better spent on Americans. Even proponents of the program worry that such immigrants from other states may try to take advantage of Illinois’ new program, which could heavily inflate costs.

While a representative for the federal Medicaid office said it does not track related laws in other states, lobbyists, lawmakers and officials in Illinois say this is likely the first law of its kind in the country.

“I think it’s an amazing thing that the state of Illinois had the courage to do that,” said Dr. Jose Oberholzer, chief of the Division of Transplantation at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who helped lobby for the new law along with state Rep. Cynthia Soto. “It’s medically the right thing to do, ethically the right thing to do.”

Cost savings of transplant

The cost savings ultimately persuaded legislators and the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services to support the law, according to the department’s director, Julie Hamos, and Dr. Arvind Goyal, who oversees the department’s Medicaid program.

After federal bills passed in the 1980s that barred the use of federal money for immigrants in the country illegally, except during emergency care, such immigrants in the United States with kidney failure could receive dialysis only when complications sent them to the emergency room. The practice is outrageously expensive and causes other health problems, Oberholzer said.

“In Illinois … they said, ‘That doesn’t make sense. If you have kidney failure, that is a constant emergency,'” Oberholzer said.

Illinois is one of several states that designated dialysis as an emergency treatment, Oberholzer said. Yet because the same states did not allow immigrants in the country illegally to be placed on organ donor waiting lists or conduct the roughly $100,000 procedure to transplant kidneys offered by their loved ones, the state invariably committed to offering dialysis — estimated at about $60,000 per year in Illinois — for the rest of such a patient’s life.

“The statistics are compelling,” said Kevin Cmunt, president and CEO of Gift of Hope, the organization that coordinates organ and tissue donations in the northern three-quarters of Illinois and northwest Indiana. “Life expectancy on dialysis is not great, and quality of life is just awful.”

A transplant pays for itself in reduced cost for dialysis in about 21/2 years, officials who support the law said. The state will also pay $10,000 to $20,000 per year for generic anti-rejection medication as long as patients remain state residents, Goyal said.

Hunger strikes and roundtables

A few years ago, people without Social Security numbers who sought transplants were quickly discharged from hospitals, according to Kim Ziyavo, a deacon at Our Lady of Guadalupe Anglican Catholic Mission in Chicago. Although there is no provision barring them, hospitals said immigrants in the country illegally without access to insurance or Medicaid likely did not have the money to properly care for the scarce resource.

“We can get the kidney in. That’s not the point,” said Yolanda Becker, director of the kidney and pancreas program at the University of Chicago Medical Center. “The point is, how do you keep the kidney?”

Those in need of a transplant were told they had to first prove they had $80,000 in their bank account, enough to cover a few years of anti-rejection medication needed to keep the kidney functioning for several years, activists at Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission said.

Hunger strikes and marches followed. The Rev. Jose Landaverde of Our Lady of Guadalupe Anglican Catholic Mission, a longtime activist, was part of those protests.

“It was very radical at the time,” Landaverde said of the campaign he and other activists started five years ago. “The fight for transplants was not an easy one.”

The protests gained media attention with weekslong hunger strikes outside the city’s major hospitals. Protesters marched from Little Village to UIC and then to Northwestern. They conducted a funeral march for one woman who had died after not receiving a liver transplant.

There were also success stories, like that of Jorge Mariscal, of Melrose Park, who was diagnosed with kidney failure at age 16 while a junior at West Leyden High School in Northlake. Mariscal waited eight years while on dialysis for a kidney transplant.

Doctors told him his chance for a transplant in the United States was low and suggested he go back to Mexico, a prospect he never considered, he said, as he has lived virtually his entire life in the United States. Instead he raised thousands of dollars from family and friends, and his mother joined a hunger strike. In 2012, Loyola University Medical Center agreed to transplant a kidney donated by his mom.

“I immediately felt a difference in my body,” Mariscal said. “People who saw me said my color changed. They said I actually looked alive.”

Eventually, Landaverde said, administrators at major hospitals in Chicago, including Rush, Northwestern and Christ, began meeting with activists and doctors at roundtables to discuss ways they could facilitate transplants for people without insurance, including creating a nonprofit pharmaceutical company.

None of that happened, Landaverde said, but behind the scenes, doctors and legislators were also working, placing a provision in a larger Medicaid bill that passed this year.

“I think this was a unique situation in which the legislators, the community and the physician advocates for this group of people came together and were able to forge an unusual piece of legislation,” said Dr. David Ansell, chief medical officer of Rush University Medical Center and a vocal advocate of the measure.

The right timing

State Rep. Soto, D-Chicago, put off Oberholzer and his boss, Enrico Benedetti, head of the University of Illinois at Chicago Department of Surgery, for several years, she said, saying the political climate for such a bill was not right. After assessing a couple of recent laws passed in favor of immigrants in the country illegally, she said, the timing was right.

“It was long-overdue,” Soto said.

Aiding their cause was legislation passed last year in Illinois that allowed immigrants here illegally to get driver’s licenses. About 45 percent of such immigrants who signed up for driver’s licenses have also agreed to be organ donors, Ansell said.

“The Hispanic community as a whole is obviously a very important and growing part of our constituency,” Gift of Hope’s Cmunt said. “We’ve been supporters to finding ways to make access to transplants fair, and (Soto’s) bill is certainly one of those things.”

Soto said the Illinois law passed without debate or controversy. But the issue of providing transplants has not been universally welcomed across the country.

“Obviously if someone is in a life-threatening situation, you have to provide the care no matter what,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for enforcement of immigration laws and reductions in immigration levels. “But people do have the option of having this surgery done back in their home countries. We have finite resources here to deal with all the medical needs. … It’s perfectly reasonable to say we are going to place the interests of American citizens ahead of citizens of other countries who are here in violation of our laws.”

About 200 to 300 of the immigrants here illegally on the state’s kidney dialysis program will be suitable for a transplant, Oberholzer estimated. A handful will get transplants this year, he said, and an additional 20 or so next year.

A study at the University of Illinois estimated conservatively that at least half of them could receive a living donor kidney transplant without affecting the organ pool for U.S. citizens and legal residents, Oberholzer said. The other half will be added to a waiting list, he said, that in this region is about five to seven years.

A Catch-22

There is concern among even supporters of the new law, however, that immigrants from other states who are in the country illegally will move to Illinois to take advantage of it.

Landaverde said he has heard of a handful of people who moved to Illinois so they might eventually receive transplants. While some may object to that practice, Landaverde believes there’s a greater responsibility to treat those in need.

“People in Illinois will get upset, but there has to be a conscience also,” he said. “Every human being — we should deserve to be treated with dignity.”

Other supporters of the bill contended that if more people move to Illinois to take advantage of its program, it could spell long-term trouble.

“We support that law. … But we don’t want to be abused by people around the country who will see Illinois as a magnet for these kind of procedures,” Hamos said. “We’ve already alerted the General Assembly members who are promoting this, as well as the transplant advocates, that it’s very important to monitor this because at some point the General Assembly may want to revisit this.”

Aside from a strict residency requirement to get the transplant, Hamos said, pharmacies will not be allowed to mail anti-rejection medication. The Department of Healthcare and Family Services will monitor not only how each patient fared after the transplant but how much of an expense it was compared with what dialysis would cost.

The key, Cmunt said, will be watching the number of patients on emergency dialysis in the state.

Hospital payments

If handled responsibly, the program will be a money-saver, according to Oberholzer. But either way, hospitals may see it as a financial burden, particularly because payment from the state will be made in one bundle, he said.

The state will pay $60,000 to $70,000 for each transplant, the same as it pays for citizens enrolled under Medicaid, Goyal said. Unlike for citizens, however, ancillary services such as donor costs, surgeon and provider fees, evaluations and tests will be paid for in one lump sum of $15,000.

“It’s like, well, what if something happens? If there’s a complication?” said Becker University of Chicago Medical Center.

Hospitals would have to eat extra costs, Oberholzer said.

Becker said she is cautiously optimistic that the new law will allow the state to do something good for immigrants here illegally but pointed out that the issue of fairness in doling out organs extends beyond the immigrant community. She said she has been working with legislators to find ways to help citizens who have difficulty getting insurance and paying for anti-rejection medications.

Advocates of the law believe that if carried out properly, Illinois’ solution for a complicated medical issue will be a model for the country.

“I think everybody is looking for a solution to these problems,” Cmunt said. “I think if we can be successful and reduce our dialysis rolls and get these people back to work, then other states will say, ‘Wow, that totally makes sense. That would be great for the country.'”

Tribune reporter Annie Sweeney contributed.


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Millions shut out of job market

By Richard Webner Fri, Dec 12, 2014 @ 3:19 pm | updated Sat, Dec 13, 2014 @ 10:04 am

After losing her job as a secretary at Stein Mart in 2009, Alicia Bird looked for similar positions at companies like CSX and Baptist Medical Center. But she didn’t have any luck.
So she lowered her ambitions, applying to Publix, Winn-Dixie and Wal-Mart. Still, no offers, except a job cleaning bathrooms at Save-A-Lot, which her husband wouldn’t let her take.

As her unemployment stretched into months and years, she felt depressed, confused and angry, even with the support she got from her church and her dozens of nieces and nephews. Finally, she gave up.

“Why is it that after five years of looking, nobody wants me?” said Bird, of Jacksonville, who is 63. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

In the past 15 years, millions of Americans have left the workforce, causing the labor force participation rate — the share of American adults who either have a job or are looking for one — to fall from 67.1 percent in 2000 to 62.8 percent in November, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some, like Bird, left out of frustration from not being able to find a job. Others left for personal reasons, including millions of Baby Boomers entering retirement.

The participation rate has been sliding since hitting a peak in the late ‘90s, when a flush economy sent businesses scrambling for workers. The decline steepened during the recession and the sluggish recovery. In a harsh job market, many Americans gave up their job searches after months or years of frustration, deciding instead to go to school, stay at home with their children or retire early.

“I’m not the type to get discouraged rapidly,” said Mac Hines, of Jacksonville, a former truck parts salesman who recently retired rather than continue his five-year job search. “I’m educated enough to do arithmetic. I know if it’s a waste of gas, why bother.”

The economy is improving — the unemployment rate has split nearly in half since the recession, and more jobs have been created so far in 2014 than in any year since 1999. But the labor force participation rate has remained stubbornly low. January’s rate of 62.5 percent was the lowest since April 1978.

In Florida, the participation rate has been lower than the national rate for decades, largely due to the state’s relatively old population, said Paul Mason, a professor at the Coggin College of Business at the University of North Florida.

Since 2007, Florida’s rate has dropped more sharply than the national rate, from 64.2 percent to 60.2 percent. The brutal impact of the housing crash might have driven Florida’s steep decline during those years, Mason said.

The shrinking portion of Americans in the labor force will have wide implications for the economy, experts say. A smaller labor force means slower economic growth and fewer contributors to programs like Social Security and Medicaid.

“When you have fewer people in the economy but you still need to feed everybody, clothe everybody, it gets harder and harder,” said Tara Sinclair, an associate professor of economics at George Washington University. “We’ve been talking about it for a long time, thinking about it for a long time, and it’s finally come, but I don’t think we’re prepared for it.”


The years before the housing crisis hit in 2007 were a time of optimism for Robert, of Jacksonville, who asked that his last name not be used out of concern it would hurt his family’s social standing. He owned a home inspection business in North Carolina, but it collapsed along with the housing market. He and his wife moved to Jacksonville, where she found an office job.

Over the next four years, Robert sent about a hundred resumes and registered with several employment websites. He got a few temporary jobs, helping with the 2010 U.S. Census and the clean-up after Tropical Storm Fay, but nothing permanent. Meanwhile, he struggled with loneliness, boredom and frustration. His lack of work threatened his sense of self-worth.

“They say that you’re more than your job, but in reality most people are their jobs,” Robert said. “It diminishes your whole picture of who you are.”

Finally, in 2010, he decided to stop looking and collect Social Security benefits early, even though that took a bite out of his monthly check.

During the recession, the number of workers like Robert who left the labor force out of discouragement skyrocketed — from 369,000 in 2007 to to 1.2 million in 2010, according to BLS data.

Since 2010, the number of discouraged workers has been on a shaky decline. So far this year, the number of Americans who have left the labor force out of discouragement has dropped from 837,000 to 762,000.

In some ways, things have become more difficult for the long-term unemployed as the economy has improved, said Candace Moody, who has worked at the CareerSource Northeast Florida employment agency for 17 years. They face more of a stigma, she said. During the worst of the recession, being unemployed for a long time wasn’t uncommon, but today, large gaps in applicants’ resumes stand out more.

“They start getting depressed, and it starts to show,” Moody said. “That can make it more difficult when they get into an interview situation.”

Many unemployed diminish their aspirations, looking for jobs with lower salaries than what they made before, Moody said. Employers then won’t hire them because of worries that they’ll leave the jobs when other opportunities arise.


In historical terms, the recent decline in the participation rate is an anomaly. The percentage of Americans in the labor force was rising for most of the last century. In large part, that was due to a surge of women seeking careers: Since 1948, the percentage of women in the labor force has risen from 32.7 percent to 57.2 percent, according to BLS data.

The swollen Baby Boomer generation also raised the participation rate when it entered the workforce in the ‘60s and ‘70s, experts say. Forty years later, Baby Boomers are retiring. That’s responsible for about a third of the recent decline, said Jesse Rothstein, an associate professor of public policy and economics at the University of California, Berkeley.

Another factor in the decline is the shrinking share of young people in the workforce.

In the past 30 years, the percentage of 16- to 24-year-olds in the workforce has declined from 67.7 percent to 55 percent. That’s because young people are more likely to go to college these days, Sinclair said. They’re also less likely to take part-time jobs while they’re in college, opting instead to beef up their resumes with activities and internships.

Even while many retire, Baby Boomers help keep the participation rate up by staying in the workforce longer than previous generations. In 2013, 64.4 percent of 55- to 64-year-olds were in the labor force, up from 54.2 percent in 1984.

Some Baby Boomers are sticking around to repair the damage that the recession did to their bank accounts, Rothstein said. They also tend to be passionate about their careers.

That’s the case for Jacqueline Furlow, 67, who retired from her 49-year career in human resources in February. She enjoys having more free time, which allows her to take a leisurely walk every morning, a pleasure she used to limit to weekends. But she misses the stimulation and socialization of work. In a year or so, after she’s relaxed a bit, she plans to look for a part-time job.

“When you work for so long, for so many years, you reach a point that once you retire, you’re like, ‘What do I do now?’” said Furlow, of the west side. “I just think the mind becomes a little stale when you don’t exercise it.”


Economists debate how much of the participation rate’s decline is due to the poor economy, and how much to demographic changes, Sinclair said. The amount caused by the recession is important: If the poor economy has caused the labor force to shrink, that means that the labor force could expand again when the economy improves.

For now, the economic recovery is luring some workers back into the labor force, offsetting the decline caused by retiring Baby Boomers. That’s helped send the labor force participation rate on a slow climb so far this year. Since January, the rate has risen slightly, from 62.5 percent to 62.8 percent.

But that trend might not last.

In a report on the labor market released in August, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the glut of discouraged workers will “largely disappear” over the next few years as the economy improves. But demographic trends will cause an overall decline by about half a percent by 2017, the report predicted. Next year could be a tipping point, Sinclair said, when the Baby Boomer stampede causes the labor force participation rate to resume its decline.

For his part, Robert still hopes he’ll work again. While he isn’t actively looking for a job, he’s heartened by signs of recovery in the economy. He might step back into the labor force soon.

He and his wife have had to cut back on food and entertainment, and their retirement plans have taken a hit. But unemployment has brought some benefits. It’s taught him to appreciate things more, he said.

“My attitude toward a lot of things has changed — toward people who collect food stamps and people who are unemployed,” he said. “When you’re on the other side, you get a lot of empathy for what’s going on.”