Friday, March 23, 2012

Are our school children eating pink slime?

“Pink slime” is the nickname for waste meat – connective tissue and other beef trimmings – that is ground up, treated with ammonium hydroxide and put into hamburgers.

It’s also known, more euphemistically, as “lean finely textured beef.”

This is what it looks like:
This product has been going into American hamburgers, and schools, for years. Now many grocery stores and  restaurants are declaring that they aren’t using it.

Washington state school districts – and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Schools (OSPI) – are tackling this issue quickly and decisively.

They’re busy asking suppliers of school lunches about where they get their beef, and whether any of the beef going into our schools contains pink slime.

OSPI spokesman Nate Olson told the Associated Press that his office “is not aware” of any schools in the state using such meat, and that one of the state’s biggest providers, Kings Command, wrote to say it doesn’t use it, either.

The biggest district in the state, Seattle School District, also reported that it doesn’t use beef containing pink slime.

As this new story shows, local school districts are investigating their suppliers to find answers.
Some, like the La Connor School District, actually go so far as to own their own cows, making sure their students get fresh, local beef that the school knows is safe and healthy.

To read this post in Spanish, click here.

The rhodie hits the road

Thanks to bipartisan support in the Legislature, the Washington state flower – the coast rhododendron – should soon be strutting its stuff from Neah Bay to Anatone, from Metaline Falls to Ilwaco.  Substitute House Bill 2299 adds a state flower license plate (as well as a 4-H license plate) to the authorized lineup of special plates, effective Jan 1. Proceeds from the $40 fee for the plate will benefit the Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens on Whidbey Island and similar rhodie-centric organizations.

The coast rhododendron (Rhodeodendron macrophyllum) was chosen as the state flower by the women of Washington in a statewide election in 1892 – before women won the right to vote in real elections – for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. It beat out the clover with 53 percent of the 15,000 ballots cast. It took another 57 years for the Legislature to designate the rhodie officially.

To read more about Washington’s state flower, click here.

To read this post in Spanish, click here.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

New report: Jobs Now would boost state’s economy

An independent economic group says the proposed House-Senate jobs plan (House Bill 2793) would jump-start the economy in Washington state.
Here’s part of what the Economic Opportunity Institute said:
“Passing the Jobs Bonds package should be a top priority for Washington’s Legislature during the special session. Rebuilding school facilities, retrofitting for energy efficiency, improving water quality, and cleaning up the environment will immediately create badly needed jobs across the state – and build the foundation for a healthier, more sustainable economy in the future.”
You can read the entire report by clicking here with your mouse.

Because the charts they use are interesting, we’re showing two of them.
As you can see from the first chart, Washington state’s economy hit bottom during the Great Recession and is now recovering.

However, the construction industry got hit hardest of all, and the recovery hasn’t happened for them yet. Take a look at the second chart.

To put folks in hard hats back to work, the Economic Opportunity Institute suggests that lawmakers pass the jobs bill:
Tackling additional infrastructure improvements now will put people back to work not only in construction, but across sectors in all parts of the state. Workers newly employed on funded projects will turn around and spend more – on car repair, eating out, health care, home improvement, and other services.
A coalition of labor and business is supporting the jobs bill, which has also received recent support from newspapers around the state, including The Everett Herald (which said it was a “smart plan for now and the future”), The Spokesman-Review (it “should be a high priority”) and The Tacoma News Tribune (“ingenuous job creation in hard times”).

While the exact legislation may change depending on final budget negotiations, you can read more about the idea in an op-ed by Reps. Hans Dunshee and Mike Sells published in The Everett Herald: Jobs today, jobs tomorrow.

To read this post in Spanish, click here.

State unemployment rate is the lowest in three years

A bit more good news about Washington’s economy – we added about 4,200 new jobs last month, according to the state’s Employment Security Department.

Industries with the most job growth in February were leisure & hospitality, which added 2,500 jobs; construction, up 1,900 jobs; retail trade, up 1,700; transportation, warehousing & utilities, up 1,500; and professional & business services, which added 1,100 jobs.

Some sectors lost jobs, too: government, down 1,400; manufacturing, down 900; other services, down 800; financial activities, down 700; and information, down 500.

Even with those losses, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped to 8.2 percent in February, down from a revised rate of 8.4 percent in January. That’s the lowest unemployment rate since January 2009, when it was 7.7 percent.

Since the low point in the recession, the state has regained about 90,900 jobs.

An estimated 288,000 people (seasonally adjusted) in Washington were unemployed and looking for work in February, and about 197,000 claimed unemployment benefits. As of March 17, 76,103 workers in Washington had run out of all unemployment benefits.

Here is more information on the latest numbers and/or for help finding a job.

Charts: WA Employment Security Department
To read this blog post in Spanish, please click here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

So how is the Affordable Care Act working out for you?

After its first two years, the Affordable Care Act is working out very well for many, many Washingtonians.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said in a press release that “by far the most popular benefit of health reform that we hear about is the ability for parents to keep their adult kids on their health plans – especially in today’s economy.”  Indeed, so far more than 52,000 young adults up to age 26 have stayed on their parents’ health plans.  

But lots of consumers are seeing other very significant benefits:  

Prescription drugs for seniors
62,660 seniors received a $250 rebate to help cover the cost of their prescription drugs and 60,209 seniors received a 50 percent discount on their covered brand-name prescription drugs, which resulted in an average savings of $598 per person, which all added up to a whopping $35,999,334 in savings in our state! 

Preventive services
653,723 people received free preventive services or a free annual wellness visit with their doctor. And 1,239,000 Washingtonians with private health insurance gained preventive service coverage with no cost-sharing. 

No more lifetime limits on health benefits
2,427,000 Washington residents can breathe easier since they no longer face lifetime caps on their health benefits 

New options for folks with pre-existing conditions
As of the end of 2011, 708 previously uninsured Washingtonians who were locked out of the coverage system because of a pre-existing condition are now insured. To learn more about the plan go here. 

Kreidler said that if the opponents of health reform succeed in overturning the new law, “what will they say to the nearly one million people in Washington without health insurance who get up every day hoping they don’t have a medical emergency? –The Affordable Care Act is not perfect, but it moves us in the right direction and is the only meaningful health reform that’s passed in decades.” 

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.

Small businesses play big role in WA

Washington state is known for world-leading companies like Boeing, Microsoft and Starbucks – but it’s also home to 532,162 small businesses, which employ more than half of our state’s workforce.

Those are the latest numbers coming out of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Most small businesses are quite small, with the majority – 389,308 – being one-person shops, such as self-employed plumbers or lawyers.

The SBA says self-employment is a new trend in our state, and that “Female self-employment fared the best compared with other demographic groups during the decade.”
Small businesses employed 1.3 million workers out of a total private sector employment of about 2.3 million.
To wade in all sorts of economic data, click here for our state’s two-page profile.

The SBA numbers also provide a snapshot of Washington’s economy as a whole, breaking down the total number of jobs – in businesses big or small – by industry, with the exception of farms. (Why not farms? Nobody knows. It’s an economist thing.)

Here are the biggest sectors by number of total workers:
Health care & social assistance
Retail trade
Hotels & restaurants
Professional, scientific, & technical services
Wholesale trade

Pretty safe guess that “Manufacturing” includes airplanes and that a good chunk of those workers in “Information” are employed in the Silicon Forest east of Seattle.
Our state has traditionally been a great place for businesses of all sorts. We are Number 1 in Exports per Capita, Number 2 in the New Economy Index 2010, Number 3 in the Bureau of Business Research’s 2011 State Entrepreneurship Index, and Number 2 in Money Rates; Best States to Make A Living 2011.

Not too shabby.

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Watchdog group gives Washington B- for corruption risk

You can find examples of corruption in nearly every aspect of our society - private sector, nonprofits, and college sports. Scandals like the ones involving former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and lobbyist Jack Abramoff show that governments are also susceptible to corruption.

These stories of corruption are the exceptions. The vast majority of businesses, nonprofits, sports organizations, and governments operate on the up and up serving their customers and constituencies. Many of them avoid exposure to corruption by instituting practices that deter corrupt activities before they have a chance to spread.
According to the Center for Public Integrity, Washington ranks third among all states for having laws, rules, and practices in place for an open, transparent, and less corruptible government.

The CPI released the State Integrity Investigation yesterday judging states on issues such public access to information, political financing, and ethics enforcement. Washington received an overall grade of B- ranking third behind New Jersey (B+) and Connecticut (B).

According to the report, our state received high marks for our redistricting process, lobbyist disclosure requirements, and internal auditing.

Among some of the many elements Washington has in place to contribute to an open and transparent government are:
While the report is critical of all states for none of them receiving an overall “A” grade, it recognizes Washington for having a progressive model that could be used by other states. You can read more about the project and Washington’s rankings here.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Successful kindergarten readiness pilot going statewide by 2014

Gov. Gregoire signs WaKIDS bill
A valuable kindergarten assessment process that began as a pilot project two years ago will be administered to every incoming kindergartener in the state by 2014.  Today, the governor signed House Bill 2586, sponsored by Rep. Ruth Kagi, which moves up the statewide implementation schedule by three years.

The assessment, called WaKIDS, helps ensure that children get the best possible start in kindergarten.  It is an inventory of each child's developing skills - including social and emotional, physical, cognitive, and linguistic skills.  Parental involvement is a big part of the process, which creates a full support network of teachers and family members for each student.

This year, WaKIDS was used in 500 classrooms around the state, helping 11,000 entering kindergarteners be better prepared to succeed in school.  Statewide implementation will enable about 70,000 kindergarteners to be assessed each year, and the earlier start date is a result of Washington receiving a federal Race to the Top Early Learning grant.

A handout about WaKIDS can be found here.

A press release from Rep. Kagi when the bill passed the full legislature earlier this month can be found here.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Good graduation news for Washington

The graduation rate in our state is on the rise, according to a Johns Hopkins University study. Back in 2002, Washington’s on-time graduation rate stood at 72.2 percent. By 2011, that number had risen to 75 percent. Also worth mentioning: the number of schools graduating less than 60 percent of students decreased by 17 percent.

Study after study shows us that an educated populous is vital to economic growth and stabilization, and the financial ramifications of dropping out are felt almost immediately. The Alliance for Excellent Education reports that in 2005 the average annual income for a high school graduate was $26,933. The annual income for a high school dropout was at an average of $17,299. It doesn’t take an expert to tell you that the extra 9,000 bucks a year adds up pretty quickly.
Photo credit: Electron

In Olympia we’ve been working hard to raise graduation rates. Just last year the legislature approved the Pay for Actual Student Success (PASS) Act. The bill promotes the use of existing, proven dropout prevention strategies and stipulates that a portion of the payment is reserved until successful reduction of the dropout rate has been measurably achieved. The PASS Act marked the first time a pay-for-outcomes element has been used in Washington’s high schools.  

Upon the bill’s passage, prime-sponsor Rep. Tim Probst said that “Left unchecked the state budget will almost certainly cause our high school dropout rate to go up. That’s unacceptable to me. I think it’s a state fiscal imperative, a moral imperative and an economic imperative to get our graduation rates up.”

To read this story in Spanish, click here.