WBEZ | Economy http://www.wbez.org/news/economy Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Political wills battle contributes to budget impasse in Illinois http://www.wbez.org/news/political-wills-battle-contributes-budget-impasse-illinois-112800 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/AP_963329869976.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Illinois is entering its fourth month without a budget. While there&#39;s a fight over ideology, it has also become a battle of wills &mdash; pitting the Republican governor against the state House speaker.</p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;</div><p>&mdash;&nbsp;<em><a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/09/02/436820852/battle-of-political-wills-contributes-to-budget-impasse-in-illinois" target="_blank">NPR News</a></em></p></p> Wed, 02 Sep 2015 09:03:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/political-wills-battle-contributes-budget-impasse-illinois-112800 White House explores ways to do business with Cuba http://www.wbez.org/news/white-house-explores-ways-do-business-cuba-112755 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/gettyimages-483711172_wide-dab18d4d4e6ce1cfa38f290f818727773a1fa941-s800-c85.jpg" alt="" /><p><div>The Obama administration is considering ways to further ease travel and restrictions on Cuba. There is still an embargo in place and it would take an act of Congress to lift that.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The president, however, does have ways to make it easier for Americans to go to Havana or to sell goods there. A lot has changed already since the White House announced its new approach last year.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Washington, D.C. lawyer Robert Muse managed to get a U.S. government license to start ferry services to Cuba. He describes the process this way:</div><div>&quot;As Ernest Hemingway wrote about going bankrupt, it happened both slowly and then suddenly. I had applied for the license several years ago and it just sat there in a kind of policy void.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Once President Obama announced an opening with Cuba late last year, everything changed. &quot;Out of the blue,&quot; Muse says, &quot;suddenly the license was granted.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>That doesn&#39;t mean this is a done deal. Cuba still has to agree to allow ferries to bring people and goods from Miami. But at least on the U.S. side, he says, it is getting easier to get licenses, especially for sales to Cuba&#39;s small, but emerging private sector.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;That could be anything from a pizza oven to restaurant lighting to napkins and chairs. Anything you could think of. So the authority exists,&quot; Muse says.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>He&#39;d like to see the Obama administration go further to boost trade. So would Sarah Stephens of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, who has taken U.S. lawmakers and others to Cuba for many years.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;One thing that we are seeing is that many of these companies, U.S. companies that are going down to learn what they can about the market and Cuban priorities are coming back and applying for licenses and getting them,&quot; Stephens says.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>She&#39;s asked the Treasury Department to change the regulations for travel too to make it easier for individuals to go &mdash; as long as they are on educational, cultural, religious or family visits, as required by U.S. law.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;If individuals are going to Cuba, the money they are spending is going directly into the hands of individual Cubans and that&#39;s really the goal,&quot; Stephens says.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Not so says Frank Calzon of the Center for a Free Cuba.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;The folks who travel to Cuba today are subsidizing the Cuban military and the security forces because the Cuban travel industry is completely controlled by the Cuban military. That&#39;s a fact,&quot; he says.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Despite warmer relations with the U.S., he says Cuban authorities still routinely round up and beat up dissidents. He argues that having more Americans going to Cuba or doing business there won&#39;t improve things for average Cubans.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;The contrary happens,&quot; Calzon says. American corporations that are in Cuba become lobbyists of the Cuban dictatorship because they are afraid of what the Cuban government can do to their investment.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Calzon argues that President Obama has already gone too far to undermine an embargo that was put in place by Congress.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But Muse, the D.C. lawyer, says the president can still carve out exceptions, and should before he leaves office.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;The president can leave the U.S. embargo on Cuba like a piece of cheese that&#39;s far more holes than cheese,&quot; he adds.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The White House will only say that it &quot;continues to explore regulatory changes to provide new opportunities for American citizens and U.S. businesses.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&mdash;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2015/08/28/435416074/white-house-explores-ways-to-do-business-with-cuba?ft=nprml&amp;f=435416074" target="_blank"><em>Parallels</em></a></div></p> Fri, 28 Aug 2015 10:36:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/white-house-explores-ways-do-business-cuba-112755 Tax on sugary drinks gets pushback http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/tax-sugary-drinks-gets-pushback-112752 <p><p dir="ltr">Just weeks after Chicago Ald. George Cardenas&rsquo; proposed a penny-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks, the soda industry shot back with a battery of testimonials.</p><p dir="ltr">They came from an industry funded group called the<a href="http://illinoisbeverage.org/chicago-coalition-against-beverage-taxes-launches-opposition-to-discriminatory-beverage-tax/"> Chicago Coaltion Against Beverage Taxes</a>. And among its members is the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Omar Duque leads the chamber and says its members would be &ldquo;adversely affected by the tax&rdquo; because it would drive soda sales down.</p><p dir="ltr">But that&rsquo;s exactly why Esther Sciammerella of the Chicago Hispanic Health Coalition supports a tax.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We see the increases in obesity in children and adults in the Hispanic community, and the issue of diabetes and metabolic syndrome has become epidemic,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;So we advocate drinking water, not soda.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="The proposed tax on sugary drinks would fund obesity prevention programs, but the Chicago Coalition Against Beverage Taxes says soda taxes don't better public health. (WBEZ/Monica Eng)" src="https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/HKNfY0sCT1cBDGupbjiw643iZ_PT5_P6HVlAG1TU2CQh3aMsZruWsf9-2AmnRNTlPjR3i2vOIuZb4Id3RDqEgi3-KRaYMH-pwn76XmRpVefHSeBk3Rq3XkVG2CT99CUK1MzvMyw" style="text-align: center; font-family: Arial; font-size: 14.6666669845581px; white-space: pre-wrap; border: none; transform: rotate(0rad); height: 241px; width: 300px; float: left; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px;" title="The proposed tax on sugary drinks would fund obesity prevention programs, but the Chicago Coalition Against Beverage Taxes says soda taxes don't better public health. (WBEZ/Monica Eng)" /></p><p dir="ltr">Duque says he recognizes that Latinos suffer from high levels of sugar-related disease. &nbsp;But he doesn&rsquo;t think a local soda tax--that builds on sugar taxes already in place--would help.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Our particular opposition is specifically focused around the fact that studies show that punitive taxes around this don&rsquo;t solve the issue,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;An excise tax on sugared beverages would drive down product sales, but it would not really push the needle to reduce obesity.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">As evidence, he cites taxes on sugary beverages in Arkansas and West Virginia, which have some of the highest obesity rates in the nation. But Elissa Bassler of the Illinois Public Health Institute--which is also backing a<a href="http://iphionline.org/2015/03/heal-act-reintroduced-makes-a-splash/"> state soda tax</a> to fund Medicaid--believes the comparison is inappropriate.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The [soda] taxes in those states are much much lower and they don&rsquo;t go to fund prevention programs like the proposals in Chicago and Illinois&rsquo;,&rdquo; she said. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The proposed city soda tax would fund health programs in Chicago Public Schools. And supporters of the state tax say it could raise $600 million for Medicaid and obesity prevention each year.</p><p dir="ltr">For many, soda taxes are complicated issues in low-income minority communities. According to <a href="http://www.gallup.com/poll/163997/regular-soda-popular-young-nonwhite-low-income.aspx">2013 Gallup data,</a> whites drink sugary soda only about half as often as minorities. &nbsp;And those who make more than $75,000 a year are half as likely to drink regular soda as those who make less than $30,000 a year.</p><p dir="ltr">So Bassler concedes that the excise tax could affect the pocketbook of low-income minorities more than others.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;But we need to remember [minorities] are also disproportionately targeted by the marketers for sugary drinks,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;And those are the communities that are most impacted by the health problems attributable to excess consumption of sugary drinks.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">The Chicago Coalition Against Beverage Taxes is not the first such coalition funded by the soda industry. Similar groups crop up in most places taxes are proposed. A <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/13/nyregion/behind-soda-industrys-win-a-phalanx-of-sponsored-minority-groups.html?_r=0">2013 New York Times investigation</a> also detailed millions in soda industry funding to minority groups who would later come out vocally against soda taxes.</p><p dir="ltr">Duque says Coca-Cola is, and has been a dues-paying member of his organization for around 20 years. But he says that has nothing to do with his opposition to the tax.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We are not being paid off to be part of this,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We represent businesses in our community, that hire people and have a positive impact in the communities in which they operate and their employees live. They&rsquo;re telling us that they would be adversely affected by this tax. The more we can help these business to continue to operate and be profitable, the more of an impact we&rsquo;re going to have on our economy.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Still, Sciammerella of the Chicago Hispanic Health Coalition questions those priorities.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;What is the positive role of businesses who are not helping the health of the community?&rdquo; she asks. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m pro-health and helping people to be less sick. What good are profits if they come with the consequence of increased illness in the community?&rdquo;</p><p><br /><em>Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of the Chewing The Fat podcast. Follow her at<a href="https://twitter.com/monicaeng">@monicaeng</a>&nbsp;or write to her at meng@wbez.org</em><br /><br />&nbsp;</p></p> Thu, 27 Aug 2015 15:21:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/tax-sugary-drinks-gets-pushback-112752 Despite the drought, California farms see record sales http://www.wbez.org/sections/water/despite-drought-california-farms-see-record-sales-112741 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/gettyimages-471006602-99705b6d250521f4014e8c84f29849326d342a59-s800-c85.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>While prolonged drought has put a strain on California agriculture, most of the state&#39;s farms, it seems, aren&#39;t just surviving it: They are prospering.</p><p>The environment, though, that&#39;s another story. We&#39;ll get to that.</p><p>But first, the prosperity. According to new&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/farm-income-and-wealth-statistics/annual-cash-receipts-by-commodity.aspx#P892cc423657a499584e30a89895d0f4d_2_16iT0R0x5">figures</a>&nbsp;from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2014, the year the drought really hit, California&#39;s farmers sold $54 billion worth of crops like almonds or grapes, and animal products like milk.</p><p>That&#39;s an all-time record, up 5 percent over the previous year, and an increase of 20 percent from 2012.</p><p>If you&#39;re surprised by this, you haven&#39;t been paying close attention, says&nbsp;<a href="http://are.ucdavis.edu/en/people/faculty/daniel-sumner/#pk_campaign=short-name-redirect&amp;pk_kwd=sumner">Daniel Sumner</a>, an agricultural economist at the University of California, Davis. It&#39;s been clear for some time, he says, that California&#39;s farmers did very well last year.</p><p>There are two keys to the record-breaking revenues. The first is prices. &quot;You have all-time high prices over the whole range of crops,&quot; says Richard Howitt, another economist at UC Davis.</p><p>Second, even though farmers didn&#39;t get their normal supply of water from rivers and reservoirs, they pumped it from underground aquifers instead. According to a&nbsp;<a href="https://watershed.ucdavis.edu/files/biblio/DroughtReport_23July2014_0.pdf">report</a>&nbsp;that Sumner and Howitt co-authored last year, farmers in 2014 replaced about 75 percent of their surface water deficit by draining their groundwater reserves.</p><p>James McFarlane, who grows almonds and citrus near Fresno, is one of those farmers. He says that drought has been &quot;beyond terrible&quot; for some farmers. But for him personally? &quot;It&#39;s been a good year. We&#39;ve been able to make some money, and you have to just count your blessings and call that a good year,&quot; he says.</p><p>McFarlane has received some irrigation water from Kings River, via the Fresno Irrigation District, but he is also pumping water from his wells. &quot;If it weren&#39;t for the wells, we couldn&#39;t have made it work,&quot; he says.</p><p>Howitt says that there are two contrasting realities in California agriculture these days. &quot;Some people just don&#39;t have the underground water. You meet these people and they really are in poor shape,&quot; he says. But where there is water, &quot;you have investors pouring money into planting these almond trees at a rate that they&#39;ve never seen before.&quot;</p><p>But this is also where the environmental damage comes in. Those underground reserves are getting depleted, wells are going dry, and in many locations, the land is sinking as water is drawn out. When this happens, it permanently reduces the soil&#39;s ability to absorb and store water in the future.</p><p>California has enacted new rules that eventually should stop farmers from pumping so much groundwater, but for now, it continues. This year, California&#39;s farmers are still pumping enough groundwater to replace about 70 percent of the shortfall in surface water, according to a new UC Davis&nbsp;<a href="https://watershed.ucdavis.edu/files/biblio/Final_Drought%20Report_08182015_Full_Report_WithAppendices.pdf">report</a>.</p><p>Such massive use of groundwater can&#39;t continue forever, and high commodity prices probably won&#39;t, either. Milk prices already have fallen, and if China stops buying so much of California&#39;s nut production, those prices may crash as well.</p><p>On the good side, though, maybe rain and snow will return, filling the reservoirs again.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&mdash; <a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/08/27/434649587/despite-the-drought-california-farms-see-record-sales?ft=nprml&amp;f=434649587" target="_blank"><em>NPR&#39;s The Salt</em></a></p></p> Thu, 27 Aug 2015 05:08:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/sections/water/despite-drought-california-farms-see-record-sales-112741 Southwest Side braces for loss of Oreos, and 600 jobs http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/southwest-side-braces-loss-oreos-and-600-jobs-112739 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/Oreos_resize1.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">Growing up in the 1950s, Jim Capraro remembers the sweet aroma of cookies that wafted through homes on the Southwest Side, one of the perks of living near the giant Nabisco plant at 73rd and Kedzie.</p><p dir="ltr">Capraro says he used to tease relatives who lived several miles away.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;My cousins who lived in the Back of the Yards lived next to the stockyards and we used to say our smells are better than your smells,&rdquo; he said.</p><p dir="ltr">Decades later Capraro got to visit the factory &mdash; then the biggest bakery in the world &mdash; and witnessed a Willy Wonka-like operation.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The top floor is a whole floor of these huge mix masters. Each one of them looks like an 18-foot swimming pool,&rdquo; Capraro said. &ldquo;The flour and sugar and chocolate all goes to the top floor and then the dough is put on conveyor belts and it&rsquo;s actually gravity that brings them down to the second floor where they&rsquo;re cut into cookie shapes.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Oreo cookies, one of Nabisco&#39;s most beloved, best-selling brands was baked there. But that will soon change.</p><p dir="ltr">Parent company Mondelez International is shipping the production of the cookie, and 600 jobs, to Mexico instead of upgrading the local facility.</p><p dir="ltr">For years, Oreos and other iconic brands like Chips Ahoy generated huge profits and provided thousands of well-paid union jobs. Many lived in the surrounding neighborhoods of Chicago Lawn, West Lawn and Marquette Park.</p><p dir="ltr">Then, more than 20 years ago parent company RJ Reynolds threatened to move those jobs out of state. By this time, Capraro led the Greater Southwest Development Corporation.</p><p dir="ltr">He remembers getting a call from Valerie Jarrett, Chicago&rsquo;s commissioner of planning and development at the time. Jarrett is now a top adviser to President Barack Obama. Back then she worked with Capraro to keep the plant on the Southwest Side by giving Nabisco $300 million in tax increment financing dollars. The TIF money helped pay for infrastructure improvements.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I justified in my own mind working to support them. One was that &lsquo;the jobs would stay here,&rsquo; I thought, forever. Turns out I may be very wrong on that,&rdquo; Capraro said.</p><p dir="ltr">This summer Nabisco&rsquo;s current parent company, Deerfield-based Mondelez International announced it was shipping 600 jobs &mdash; half the plant&rsquo;s workforce &mdash; to Mexico.</p><p dir="ltr">That could affect Michael Smith, a utility worker at the plant. He said workers often wore shirts of the snack they baked.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We proudly wore that shirt because we represented a company that said you produce a product that&rsquo;s televised, that&rsquo;s on the radio and kids and adults alike across the country love,&rdquo; Smith said.</p><p dir="ltr">Fellow worker Sabrina Pope is known as the Oreo queen. She&rsquo;s a processor at Nabisco who earns more than $26 an hour. The 35-year veteran originally had only planned to stay for three.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The pay was good. I was raising a son at the time and it was the American Dream that I had security there. I had security,&rdquo; Pope said. &ldquo;Right now, I don&rsquo;t even know what my future&rsquo;s going to bring because I&rsquo;m not old enough to retire. I got the years to retire but I just don&rsquo;t have the age to do it.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">The city said it wanted to work with Mondelez to keep the jobs here and discussed various incentives, but the company never took officials up on it.</p><p dir="ltr">Mondelez officials said its upgraded facility in Salinas, Mexico will open in the middle of next year. The jobs in Chicago will be phased out and Oreos will be made at other U.S. sites. Company officials said the Nabisco plant won&rsquo;t shut down entirely.</p><p dir="ltr">But Jim Capraro worries about the future of an area that already has a higher unemployment rate than the city&rsquo;s average.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It was places like Nabisco and the companies around it that gave me hope that we could offer alternatives to the underground economy that exists on the South Side of the city to young people who need to live, who need to work,&rdquo; he said.</p><p dir="ltr">Capraro points to another big plant that used to be on the Southwest Side. More than a decade ago the Kraft-owned Kool-Aid factory closed its doors.</p><p dir="ltr">Hundreds of jobs were lost and never came back.</p><p dir="ltr"><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/nmoore-0" target="_blank">Natalie Moore</a>&nbsp;is WBEZ&rsquo;s South Side Bureau reporter.<a href="mailto:mailto:nmoore@wbez.org">nmoore@wbez.org</a>.&nbsp;You can follow Natalie on&nbsp;<a href="https://plus.google.com//104033432051539426343" target="_blank">Google+</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/natalieymoore" target="_blank">Twitter</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 26 Aug 2015 16:30:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/southwest-side-braces-loss-oreos-and-600-jobs-112739 Don't blame 'evil hipsters.' Broader forces caused gentrification. http://www.wbez.org/programs/takeaway/2015-08-26/dont-blame-evil-hipsters-broader-forces-caused-gentrification-112727 <p><p>Benjamin Grant is urban design policy director at&nbsp;<a href="http://www.spur.org/" target="_blank">SPUR</a>, a leading US&nbsp;civic planning organization. It&#39;s part of his job description to understand the intricacies and complications of gentrification &mdash; a word that gets thrown around by real estate agents as a selling point, and by displaced people as a pejorative term.</p><p>&ldquo;Gentrification is sort of an imprecise term that takes in a lot of different phenomena,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;But broadly speaking, it&rsquo;s a bunch of related processes by which a wealthier, typically whiter, group of people start to move into an urban neighborhood that has historically been a working-class neighborhood or a neighborhood of color in many cases. Prices start to go up, and it&rsquo;s a process that has a lot of different actors and a lot of different forces shaping it, but we give the term gentrification to that process.&rdquo;</p><p>Grant says that it&rsquo;s important to separate the idea of gentrification from the idea of displacement. The latter, he argues, is the inherent problem facing changing urban communities.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s not intrinsically the case that the benefits of investment that come to urban neighborhoods exclude the residents that live there,&rdquo; Grant says. &ldquo;I think in some cases, and with some types of investments, that&rsquo;s true. For example, a high-end restaurant or an exclusive condo built in one of these neighborhoods is certainly not something that&rsquo;s going to be available to the lower-income people that have historically lived there.&rdquo;</p><p>However, Grant says new waves of investment in urban neighborhoods can bring improvements to public safety, to public parks and area schools &mdash; features that benefit a community more broadly. But beyond investment, he argues government can play a role.</p><p>&ldquo;There are a lot of different layers where policy can act,&rdquo; Grant says. &ldquo;Probably the most immediate actor in that space are city planning and economic development departments &mdash; city governments control zoning, regulations about inclusionary housing, and the ability to provide affordable housing that&rsquo;s financed by market rate housing as a way to leverage some of that investment to benefit a broader swath of people.&rdquo;</p><p>In addition to city governments, Grant says regional, state, and federal governments can fight displacement through tax credit financing for affordable housing, and directing expenditures for large infrastructure projects so public money can flow to areas that benefit large swaths of people.</p><p>Still, newcomers to urban areas &mdash; people dubbed &ldquo;yuppies&rdquo; or &ldquo;evil hipsters&rdquo; &mdash; are often accused of ignoring&nbsp;broader communities in favor of their own interests.</p><p>&ldquo;I think that narrative and that set of terms is unfortunate,&rdquo; Grant says. &ldquo;The gentrification process that we see in many cities around the country, it&rsquo;s not something that one group of people is doing to another group of people &mdash; it is a process that is emerging from thousands of individual decisions.&rdquo;</p><p>Grant adds that the narrative of &ldquo;heroes&rdquo; and &ldquo;villains&rdquo; can distort the larger problems facing urban communities around the country.</p><p>&ldquo;We need to understand that in many cities we have a serious housing crisis &mdash; a shortage that is a result of us not providing adequate housing, particularly in the kind of urban, walkable, amenity-rich neighborhoods that people increasingly want to live in,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s important to note that this broader process is a side effect of a very positive change in American cities where, after 85 years of abandoning our cities, people want to live in cities again.&rdquo;</p><p>According the the US&nbsp;Census Bureau, more Americans are living in cities &mdash; almost 200 million in 2013, a 14 percent increase over 2000 &mdash; something Grant considers a positive trend.</p><p>&ldquo;That&rsquo;s good news for the planet, that&rsquo;s good news for our democracy, I believe, in terms of public space and people living together instead of in isolated houses behind two car garages,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;There are a lot of positive aspects to the American desire to live in cities again. But there are also very real consequences for people that stuck it out or were stuck during the period when we abandoned our cities and let them decline. We need to keep in perspective that this is somewhat a creature of a big picture urban and economic phenomena in this country.&rdquo;</p><p><em>&mdash;<a href="http://www.thetakeaway.org/story/it-gentrification-or-revitalization/" target="_blank">The Takeaway</a></em></p></p> Wed, 26 Aug 2015 10:15:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/takeaway/2015-08-26/dont-blame-evil-hipsters-broader-forces-caused-gentrification-112727 New law limits bail profits Cook County can take from poor http://www.wbez.org/news/new-law-limits-bail-profits-cook-county-can-take-poor-112725 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/cook county jail.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>A new Illinois law is going to cost Cook County $5 million in revenue each year. That&rsquo;s according to Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown&rsquo;s office. But the local politician who pushed the law says those profits were being taken out of the pockets of the poorest residents in the county.</p><p>The law caps processing fees for posting bond at $100.</p><p>Here&rsquo;s how it works: After someone is arrested a judge will often set bail. If the defendant puts up a certain amount of money they can be released from jail until trial. Currently Cook County charges a 10 percent processing fee for this service, so if someone has to post a $5,000 bond, the county keeps $500 dollars of that whether the defendant was found guilty or not.</p><blockquote><p><strong>Related:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/innocent-defendants-still-have-pay-court-fees-cook-county-97311">Innocent defendants still have to pay court fees to Cook County</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>&ldquo;The county should not be using bond being posted by non-convicted individuals as a revenue source. It&rsquo;s a tax on poor black and brown people primarily,&rdquo; said Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey.</p><p>Fritchey pushed the $100 cap through the state legislature, which creates the statutes that control Circuit Court Clerk offices statewide.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s one thing to talk about reforming the criminal justice system,&rdquo; Fritchey said. &ldquo;This was a substantive step towards doing that. Now granted there are a lot more to go, but one step at a time.&rsquo;</p><p>He says he&rsquo;d like to push a future law that would refund 100 percent of the bond posted by people who are found not guilty or whose cases are dropped or dismissed.</p><p>Fritchey says he&rsquo;s also not convinced it&rsquo;s going to cost the county the $5 million estimated by Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown.</p><p>&ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s very realistic that it will cost the county a couple of million dollars a year,<br />but to the extent that that is the price of doing things the morally and economically smart way, that&rsquo;s fine by me,&rdquo; he said.</p></p> Tue, 25 Aug 2015 17:14:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/new-law-limits-bail-profits-cook-county-can-take-poor-112725 Comptroller: Illinois on pace to rack up $5B deficit http://www.wbez.org/news/comptroller-illinois-pace-rack-5b-deficit-112723 <p><p>SPRINGFIELD, Ill. &mdash;&nbsp;Illinois&nbsp;Comptroller Leslie Munger&#39;s office says required payments by the state are putting it on pace to rack up a $5 billion deficit.</p><p>Munger&#39;s office said Tuesday it doesn&#39;t have enough money to write timely checks to service providers even on court-ordered payments.</p><p>The comptroller writes&nbsp;Illinois&#39; checks but has been hamstrung because Gov. Bruce Rauner and lawmakers are deadlocked on a budget.</p><p>Munger spokesman Rich Carter says the Republican is managing the cash shortage and paying nonprofits first.</p><p>One consent decree involves 10,000 developmentally disabled residents who live in community homes or larger facilities. A federal judge ordered a payment by Aug. 21 but the state couldn&#39;t pay it all.</p><p>Barry Taylor of Equip for Equality represents some of the groups. He says they&#39;re evaluating legal options.</p></p> Tue, 25 Aug 2015 14:01:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/comptroller-illinois-pace-rack-5b-deficit-112723 'Zombie' homes give Chicago operators an opportunity http://www.wbez.org/news/zombie-homes-give-chicago-operators-opportunity-112722 <p><p dir="ltr">In early July, Chicago police officers arrested four men for taking over 14 vacant foreclosed homes &mdash; living in some and renting out the rest &mdash; mostly in prosperous neighborhoods. Seven years after the housing market crashed, there are still enough vacant homes to provide opportunities for this kind of creativity.</p><p dir="ltr">Eight of the houses were in Beverly Hills and Morgan Park&mdash; South Side Chicago neighborhoods that look like suburbs, complete with big brick houses, winding streets and a vigilant neighborhood group, the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.bapa.org/" target="_blank">Beverly Area Planning Association</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">One of the homes sits a block and a half from the group&rsquo;s office, on a street the association&rsquo;s executive director, Margot Holland, describes as &ldquo;beautiful,&rdquo; lined with trees and spacious houses.</p><p dir="ltr">The taken-over house fits right in. The white-brick split-level is obviously well cared for, with tidy landscaping and a sign in front indicating that a security system is in place. &ldquo;Yeah, it definitely doesn&rsquo;t look suspicious,&rdquo; Holland says.</p><p dir="ltr">So, how does a tidy home on a beautiful block end up ripe for the picking?</p><p dir="ltr">For help in understanding the context and in sorting through the public records, I turned to Rob Rose, director of the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.cookcountylandbank.org/" target="_blank">Cook County Land Bank Authority</a>. Created in 2013 to help clear a backlog of vacant foreclosed properties, the land bank focuses on a collection of 23,000 tax-delinquent parcels.</p><p dir="ltr">Asked how long it might take him to dispose of all 23,000, Rose has a ready answer: &ldquo;The rest of my life.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">His answer is based on a simple calculation. Rose thinks that clearing 500 properties a year &mdash; by finding new buyers or recommending targeted demolition &mdash; would be a pretty good pace for his small office. At age 44, that would keep him in the job until he&rsquo;s 90.</p><p dir="ltr">However, as a public records search on the taken-over homes shows, there are far more than 23,000 vacant properties.</p><p dir="ltr">None of the eight properties in Beverly and Morgan Park are on Rose&rsquo;s lists, because the property taxes are still being paid, presumably by the lender, as a hedge against forfeiting the parcel in a tax auction.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;This is the most difficult type of property to get to, because there&rsquo;s no immediate red flags,&rdquo; Rose says.</p><p dir="ltr">For the split-level, records show foreclosure started three years ago, but the lender hasn&rsquo;t taken title. That&rsquo;s about average in Illinois, which has more protections for homeowners than many states.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Daren Blomquist, vice president of the real-estate analytics company&nbsp;<a href="http://www.realtytrac.com/" target="_blank">RealtyTrac</a>, that delay means a foreclosed home in Illinois is more likely to be abandoned. &ldquo;The longer it&rsquo;s in that process, the better the chance that the homeowner is just leaving the property.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Nationally, RealtyTrac counts about 127 thousand of these&nbsp;<a href="http://www.realtytrac.com/news/tag/zombie-foreclosures/" target="_blank">&ldquo;zombie properties&rdquo; stuck in foreclosure indefinitely</a>. &ldquo;When you consider that at any given time, there&rsquo;s probably a couple million homes for sale, this isn&rsquo;t an overwhelming number of properties,&rdquo; Blomquist says. &ldquo;Compared to overall inventory nationally, it really is a drop in the bucket. I think this really is a neighborhood issue.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">But even in a nice neighborhood, a few zombies here and there can provide an opening for creative operators.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>&mdash; <a href="http://www.marketplace.org/topics/economy/zombie-homes-give-chicago-operators-opportunity">via Marketplace</a></em></p></p> Tue, 25 Aug 2015 12:03:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/zombie-homes-give-chicago-operators-opportunity-112722 The Life And Death Of The Summer Job http://www.wbez.org/news/life-and-death-summer-job-112604 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/empty-wallet-final-web_slide-e6cbc124ad2fed52d0bfc86a10e8bd8ca4b15ed5-s800-c85.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Summertime means summer jobs for many college students. But a summer job just doesn&#39;t have the purchasing power it used to, especially when you compare it with the cost of college.</p><p>Let&#39;s take the example of a working-class student at a four-year public university who&#39;s getting no help from Mom and Dad. In 1981-82, the average&nbsp;<a href="https://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/tuition-and-fee-and-room-and-board-charges-over-time-1973-74-through-2013-14-selected-years">full cost to attend</a>&nbsp;was $2,870. That&#39;s for tuition, fees and room and board.</p><p>The maximum Pell Grant award back then for free tuition help from the government was $1,800. That leaves our hypothetical student on the hook for just about $1,000. Add in a little pocket money, too &mdash; say $35 a week. That makes an extra $1,820 for the year on top of the $1,000 tuition shortfall.</p><p>Now, $3.35 an hour was the minimum wage back then. So, to make $2,820 meant working 842 hours. That&#39;s 16 hours a week year-round &mdash; a decent part-time job. It&#39;s also about nine hours a day for three straight months &mdash; a full-time, seven-day-a-week summer job. Or, more likely, a combination of both. In short: not impossible. Far from it.</p><p>For today&#39;s public university student, the numbers have all changed in the wrong direction.</p><p>Here&#39;s what we calculated based on last year&#39;s numbers.</p><blockquote><div><p>&quot;The minimum wage has also gone up more slowly than the cost of college. It&#39;s $7.25 an hour. At that rate, a student would have to work 1,771 hours to get by. That&#39;s 34 hours a week, every week of the year. To cover today&#39;s costs with just a summer job, a student would have to lose a little sleep, working almost 20 hours a day for three straight months. And that would still leave no money for books, travel home, pizza or a trip to the movies.&quot;</p></div></blockquote><p>This year, based on the new full cost of attendance, things are even worse.</p><p>In 2014-2015, the school year just ended, the total of tuition, fees and room and board for in-state students at four-year public universities&nbsp;<a href="http://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/tuition-fees-room-board-time">was $18,943</a>. The maximum Pell Grant didn&#39;t keep pace with that:&nbsp;<a href="http://trends.collegeboard.org/student-aid/figures-tables/federal-pell-grant-awards-current-and-constant-dollars-over-time">It was $5,730</a>. That left our hypothetical student on the hook for $13,313.</p><p>A student would now have to work 35 hours a week, every week of the year, to get by. To cover today&#39;s costs with a low-skilled, minimum wage summer job? Over 90 days, a student would need to work 20.24 hours a day.</p><p>Plus side: if you&#39;re working that much, you don&#39;t need to pay rent because you&#39;re hardly sleeping.</p><p>There&#39;s also this: Research shows that when college students work&nbsp;<a href="http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/06/08/work#sthash.p0fjaNPG.dpbs">more than 20 hours a week</a>&nbsp;their studies suffer. If they&#39;re working full time, many will take longer to finish ... and end up paying even more.</p><p>No wonder students are borrowing so much these days.</p><div>&nbsp;</div></p> Sun, 09 Aug 2015 22:39:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/life-and-death-summer-job-112604