Man saws off own foot to continue receiving unemployment benefits

The circular saw used by Url. (Daily Mail)

(YAHOO NEWS)   It sounds like the plot of a boring “Saw” film, but it’s apparently all too real.

An unemployed Austrian man cut off his own foot with a mitre saw so he could continue receiving jobless benefits.

Hans Url, a 56-year-old from Mitterlabill, then took the foot and cooked it in the oven so doctors could not reattach it.

“The planning was meticulous,” Franz Fasching, a police spokesman, told the Daily Mail. “[Url] waited until his wife and his adult son had left the house and he was alone. He then switched it on and sliced off his left foot above the ankle—throwing it in the fire so it would not be possible to reattach it before he called emergency services.”

He “then made his way to the garage where he called emergency services and waited for them to arrive.”

Url was airlifted to a hospital in Graz, where he was put in an artificial coma so doctors could stabilize him.

“The foot was too badly burned to reattach,” a hospital spokesman said. “All we could do was seal the wound. He had lost a lot of blood—he almost died on the way to hospital.”

According to the Austrian Times, Url had complained before the incident that he was too sick to work and “didn’t like the work he was offered.”

The kicker: According to the paper, being footless does not necessarily qualify Url for unemployment compensation.

“He will be assessed once he is out of hospital, and we will see what work we can find for him,” Hermann Gössinger, a spokesman for the employment benefits office, said.


Florida Considers Forcing Jobless to Volunteer for Unemployment Checks

(FOXNEWS)   With more than 1.1 million people out of work in Florida, one state lawmaker wants to make them volunteer in order to collect unemployment benefits.

Republican State Rep. Kathleen Passidomo has introduced a bill that would require the jobless to volunteer at a nonprofit for at least four hours each week.

In this Sept. 2, 2010 photo, job seeker Jose Jaramillo , of Hialeah, works the computer as he looks for employment at the South Florida Workforce office in Hialeah Gardens, Fla. (AP)

“This may be a way to energize people to find a job,” Passidomo told FoxNews.com. She said the idea came from her 87-year-old father, a retired physician who volunteers at a senior health clinic. He noticed that when there’s an opening at the clinic, volunteers are the first to be hired, she said.

“So my thought was this is an opportunity – a win-win for everyone,” she said. It gets the unemployed “out of the house, gets them involved in a community project. So this would be a way for the unemployed people to give back. And what that could do is create a relationship. A lot of executive directors at nonprofits are knowledgeable about what’s going on.”

The bill isn’t far off from what Gov. Rick Scott proposed when his transition team issued a report in December on overhauling the state’s unemployment system that is awash in more than $2 billion of red ink. Florida’s unemployment rate hit 12 percent in December, above the national average of 9 percent.

Scott’s team, which said in the report that the unemployed “put little effort into finding a job,” proposed that after 12 weeks, the jobless should start community service to keep collecting unemployment checks.

But not everyone thinks Passidomo’s proposal is a good idea.

“It looks to me to be inconsistent with federal unemployment law,” said George Wentworth, a senior staff attorney with the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for the unemployed.

Wentworth said that while it’s a “positive thing” for the unemployed to volunteer, it cannot be mandated.

“The unemployment insurance program is just that, an insurance program,” he said. “If you earned wages sufficient enough to qualify for a weekly benefit after losing your job through no fault of your own, they system is set up so you don’t have to go through additional requirements that are unrelated to the fact of your unemployment.”

Wentworth explained that if the Labor Department finds that states are out of compliance with federal law, they could lose their tax credits for employers and money to run the benefits system. The maximum tax credit for employers who face a 6.2 percent federal unemployment tax (FUTA) on the first $7,000 paid to each employee is 5.4 percent. Put another way, employers in Florida would no longer be able to pay a 0.8 percent FUTA if the state passed an unemployment law regarded as inconsistent with federal law.

Florida isn’t the first state to consider forcing the unemployed to volunteer for jobless benefits. Last year, a similar proposal failed to get through the Hawaii legislature. In Virginia, Ginger Mumpower, a Democratic candidate for state representative, also proposed forcing the unemployed to work for free in return for benefits. Mumpower lost to Republican Greg Habeeb in a special election last month.

State Rep. Mack Bernard, the top Democrat on the Economic Development & Tourism subcommittee, where the Passidomo’s bill currently resides, said he believes her proposal would “put an additional burden on people who are struggling.”

“I don’t think that’s proper,” he told FoxNews.com.

He also the bill would impose additional burdens on the government by forcing it to track who did and didn’t volunteer.

“We need to limit our intrusion on the people who are the most vulnerable,” he said.

Passidomo acknowledged that her proposal could be flawed.

“The only issue that I think could be a real problem is unfortunately, we have a $4 million shortfall in our budget so adding another program that has a cost association might now work – at least not this year,” she said.

But she added, “Even if it doesn’t go anywhere, I’m glad people are thinking creatively about how we can foster economic growth.”

The Jobless Effect: Is the Real Unemployment Rate 16.5%, 22%, or. . .?

(DAILY FINANCE)   Raghavan Mayur, president at TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, follows unemployment data closely. So, when his survey for May revealed that 28% of the 1,000-odd households surveyed reported that at least one member was looking for a full-time job, he was flummoxed.

“Our numbers are always very accurate, so I was surprised at the discrepancy with the government’s numbers,” says Mayur, whose firm owns the TIPP polling unit, a polling partner for Investors’ Business Daily and Christian Science Monitor. After all, the headline number shows the U.S. unemployment rate today is 9.5%, with a total of 14.6 million jobless people.

However, Mayur’s polls continued to find much worse figures. The June poll turned up 27.8% of households with at least one member who’s unemployed and looking for a job, while the latest poll conducted in the second week of July showed 28.6% in that situation. That translates to an unemployment rate of over 22%, says Mayur, who has started questioning the accuracy of the Labor Department’s jobless numbers.

Even Austan Goolsbee Has Been Skeptical

Mayur isn’t alone in harboring such doubts, nor is he the first to wonder about inaccuracies. For years, many economists have pointed to evidence that the government data undercounts the unemployed. Economist Helen Ginsburg, co-founder of advocacy group National Jobs For All Coalition, and John Williams of the newsletter Shadow Government Statistics have been questioning these numbers for years.

In fact, Austan Goolsbee, who is now part of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, wrote in a 2003 New York Times piece titled “The Unemployment Myth,” that the government had “cooked the books” by not correctly counting all the people it should, thereby keeping the unemployment rate artificially low. At the time, Goolsbee was a professor at the University of Chicago. When asked whether Goolsbee still believes the government undercounts unemployment, a White House spokeswoman said Goolsbee wasn’t available to comment.

Such undercounting of unemployment can be an enormously dangerous exercise today. It could lead to some lawmakers underestimate the gravity of the labor market’s problems and base their policymaking on a far-less-grim picture than actually exists. Economically, and socially, that would make a bad situation much worse for America.

“The implications of such undercounting is that policymakers aren’t going to be thinking as big as they should be,” says Ginsburg, also a professor emeritus of economics at Brooklyn College. “It also means that [consumer] demand is not going to be there, because the income from people who are employed isn’t going to be there.”

Indeed, it will add additional stress to an already strained economy. Businesses that might start ramping up after seeing the jobless number drop could set themselves up for disappointment when customers don’t appear or orders don’t flow in.

College Grads Serving Fries

Plus, having a job today is quite different from what it was just a few years ago: Many Americans have had their hours cut and are working for less pay. A Pew Research survey found more than half of all adults in the labor force had either lost a job or suffered a reduction in income because of the recession.

Ginsburg says the biggest source of undercounting comes from people who can’t find a full-time job that they’re qualified to do, for instance recent college graduates who take part-time jobs at fast-food joints or retail stores. Today, the Labor Department estimates that 8.6 million people are in this category.

The federal government counts such people as employed. However, polls show that these folks actually consider themselves “unemployed” and “looking for a job,” and probably accounted for a large chunk of TechnoMetrica’s respondents.

Jobless Workers Who Disappear

Another major source of undercounting is the unemployed who’ve given up looking for jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics headline number counts as unemployed only people who have actively looked for a job in the previous four weeks. About 2.6 million people had pursued jobs in the past 12 months but, discouraged by the lack of opportunity, had stopped looking altogether.

“Isn’t it interesting that if you stopped looking for a job, you evaporate as a jobless person and are just not counted,” says Gerald Celente, director of Trends Research Institute in Kingston, N.Y. Celente believes this kind of undercounting has suited the government politically. “It’s what government does: Downplay disasters and amplify success.”

According to the Pew Research Center, a large number of people are out of jobs for a longer period during this economic downturn. The typical unemployed worker today has been out of work for nearly six months. That’s almost double the previous post-World War II peak for this measure, which was 12.3 weeks in 1982-83.

Indeed, if all of the truly unemployed were counted, the rate would be significantly higher. The BLS, in a data point titled “U-6,” says it counted the total unemployment rate in June at 16.5%.

Misreading Americans’ Anxiety

However, John Williams, founder of Shadow Government Statistics, says when accounting for the long-term unemployed, the jobless rate runs up to as much as 22% currently. Williams’s newsletter, which analyzes flaws in government economic data, points out that such a rate isn’t that far from the 25% it hit during the Great Depression.

Both Celente and Ginsburg believe lawmakers’ not-dire-enough view of unemployment is one reason why they didn’t extend federal unemployment benefits. Of course, party politics is another deterrent. Ginsburg says the Administration’s decision to tackle the health care reform over unemployment reflects its lack of priority.

By taking his eye off one of the most fundamental issues affecting the country, President Obama has seen his popularity sink. The most recent Public Policy Polling survey says 45% of voters approve of the job he’s doing, while 52% disapprove — the first time Obama’s disapproval ratings have exceeded 50% in this survey.

It’s obvious that Americans view unemployment more urgently than either lawmakers or the president. And if pollsters like Mayur or economists like Ginsburg and Williams are right, it will take longer to fix this hole because it’s already bigger than Washington thinks.

20 million-plus collect unemployment checks in ’09

(AP)    A record 20 million-plus people collected unemployment benefits at some point in 2009, a year that ended with the jobless rate at 10 percent.

As the pace of layoffs slows, the number of new applicants visiting unemployment offices has been on the decline in recent months. But limited hiring means the ranks of the long-term unemployed continues to grow, with more than 5.8 million people out of work for more than six months.

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The number of new claims for jobless benefits dropped last week to 432,000, the Labor Department said Thursday, down sharply from its late March peak of 674,000. The decline signals that the economy could begin adding a small number of jobs in January, several economists said.

Still, hiring is unlikely to be strong enough to quickly bring down the unemployment rate, which fell from 10.2 percent in October to 10 percent in November. December’s rate will be announced Jan. 8.

Companies will remain cautious about adding staff until they are confident the economic recovery is sustainable – something they remain unsure about as consumers and businesses keep a lid on spending, and as the government begins to wind down various stimulus programs.

The Federal Reserve and private economists expect joblessness to stay above 9 percent through the end of 2010.

The slow pace of hiring will force Congress and the Obama administration in 2010 to spend as much as $70 billion to extend jobless aid for the long-term unemployed, or else let benefits – which were extended several times in 2009 – expire for millions of people.

“Fewer people are getting fired, but nobody is finding a job,” said Dan Greenhaus, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak.

Thursday’s report illustrates the two different trends: first-time jobless claims are falling as layoffs ease, but the total number of people collecting unemployment checks is still rising.

More than 10.1 million people collected jobless benefits in the week of Dec. 12, the latest data available. That’s up by about 200,000 compared with the previous week.

That figure includes 5.3 million people receiving the 26 weeks of aid customarily provided by the states, and 4.8 million people that have shifted to the extended benefit programs enacted by Congress over the past two years and paid for by the federal government. Unemployment insurance averages about $300 per week.

But the extensions are set to expire in February. That could mean as many as 1 million people would run out of unemployment aid in March, according to the National Employment Law Project, a nonprofit group.

The total number of people who at one point collected benefits in 2009 – roughly 20.7 million – is also a record. A larger proportion of the unemployed received jobless benefits in the last steep recession in 1981-82, but the work force has grown by about one-third since then.

Fifteen million Americans are out of work, an increase of 3.8 million since the start of 2009. There are six unemployed people, on average, for each available job. And the so-called underemployment rate, counting part-time workers who want full-time jobs and laid-off workers who have given up their job hunt, stands at 17.2 percent.

Budget-strapped state governments will struggle with higher spending on unemployment insurance in 2010. States are required to set aside money in a trust fund to pay jobless benefits, but 25 have already run through their funds and have borrowed $26 billion from the federal government.

The Labor Department has projected that 40 states may need to borrow as much as $90 billion by 2012.

Thirty-five states have already increased the unemployment insurance taxes they levy on employers for 2010, according to the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. Some are also cutting benefits as they try to reduce the size of budget shortfalls that are expected to reach $180 billion in the coming fiscal year.

The drain on federal and state finances could force Congress to consider raising the federal unemployment insurance tax, which is currently 0.8 percent on the first $7,000 of wages, or making other changes.


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