Daily Archives: December 18, 2012

Connecticut school shooting: two US Senators call for assault weapons ban

Senators Mark Warner (Lt) and Joe Manchin Photo: GETTY IMAGES/AP

Two US Senators became the first of America’s pro-gun advocates to break ranks on Monday night as they called for a ban on assault weapons in the wake of the Sandy Hook elementary school shootings.

telegraph.co.uk | Dec 17, 2012

By Peter Foster, Washington

The two Senators – both Democrats but with “A” ratings and previous endorsements from the powerful National Rifle Association gun lobby group – both spoke out to argue publicly that the death of 20 Year 2 children was a “game-changing” moment for America’s divisive gun debate.

“Never before have we seen our babies slaughtered. It’s never happened in America that I can recall, seeing this carnage,” said Senator Joe Manchin, who in 2010 released a political advert touting his NRA endorsement and showing him with a hunting rifle ‘taking aim’ at a piece of climate change legislation.

“Anybody that’s a proud gun owner, a proud member of the NRA, they’re also proud parents, they’re proud grandparents. They understand this has changed where we go from here,” the West Virginia senator said on MSNBC.

Those thoughts were later echoed by Mark Warner, a senator for the rural, gun-loving state of Virginia, who has said gun control could no longer be a subject for partisan feuding between Republicans and Democrats.

“I believe every American has Second Amendment rights, the ability to hunt is part of our culture. I’ve had a NRA (National Rifle Association) rating of an “A” but, you know, enough is enough,” Mr Warner said on CBS News

“It is time for this kind of senseless violence to end. There won’t be one perfect law to stop a crazy person from doing evil things. But when we have close to 30,000 killings a year from all types of gun violence, even if we save a few lives, we make progress.”

The remarks could put pressure on both the NRA and Republican pro-gun legislators to accept the need for tighter gun controls, particularly on assault rifles.

But in a sign of the political difficulties that lie ahead, since the Sandy Hook shootings last Friday both the NRA and all pro-gun Republican senators and congressman have remained silent.

The NBS’s influential “Meet the Press” program said it had contacted 31 pro-gun senators last weekend, but all had declined to appear.

But as the popular outrage continues to build, advocates of tighter gun control continued yesterday moved to seize the initiative on what is being viewed as the best opportunity for more than a decade to force through tougher gun laws.

That pressure continued to build on Mr Obama who promised the bereaved parents of Newtown he would use “whatever power this office holds” to prevent a repeat of more tragedies like Sandy Hook, although without directly specifying new legislation on gun control.

Jay Carney, the White House spokesman refused to be drawn on specific measures at a briefing yesterday, but said that Mr Obama would be “moving forward” to address what he described as a “complex problem that will require a complex solution” of which gun controls formed only one part.

Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York and fierce advocate of gun control, continued urge Mr Obama to take concrete action, staging an event in New York with gun-crime victims whose moving testimonies, he said, would be sent to every member of the new Congress that opens in January.

“If this moment passes from memory without action from Washington, it will be a stain up on our nations’ commitment to protect the innocent, including our children,” he said, calling for an immediate assault weapon ban and the enforcement of existing background checking laws.

He accused Congress of putting “partisan politics” above saving lives, point out the “outrage” that the only significant piece of gun legislation passed by Congress in almost 20 years was a bill to indemnify gun manufacturers from being sued by the victims of gun crime.

Public anger over the killings was also expressed on the White House website where a petition demanding the Obama administration act against the gun lobby had attracted more than 140,000 signatures.

“Powerful lobbying groups allow the ownership of guns to reach beyond the Constitution’s intended purpose of the right to bear arms,” the petition argued, “Therefore, Congress must act on what is stated law, and face the reality that access to firearms reaches beyond what the Second Amendment intends to achieve.”

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll which was conducted after the Newtown killings also suggested public support for legislation was slowly growing, with some 54 per cent of Americans in “favour stricter gun control laws” compared with 43 per cent who do not.

The number in favour of new controls represented a 3 per cent increase from the last time the survey was taken in May this year, but it still falls well short of the consistent 63-67pc support for tougher controls that persisted through the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Related Information

Assault Rifles Are Not Heavily Used in Crimes

Looking at the broader picture of all gun use in crime, it becomes clear that “assault weapons” are a minor part of the problem. Police gun seizure data from around the nation finds that “assault weapons” account for less than 2% of guns seized by the police; more typically, they account for less than 1%

Facebook post says the U.S. is No. 1 in gun violence. Is it?


politifact.com | Jul 21, 2012

A reader sent us this Facebook post on gun violence in the United States. Is it accurate?

A reader sent us this Facebook post on gun violence in the United States. Is it accurate?

In the wake of the mass shooting in Aurora, Colo., Americans took to social media to express their views on guns and violence.
A reader sent us one Facebook post about the extent of gun violence in the United States. It said, “USA is #1 in gun violence. Nearly 100,000 people get shot every year. That’s 270 people a day and 87 dead because of gun violence every day.”

In this item, we’ll look at the first part of that claim — that the “USA is #1 in gun violence.”

Gun crime continues to decrease, despite increase in gun sales

International comparisons are always tricky, because there are differences from country to country in the definitions being used as well as the reliability and timeliness of the data. The most comprehensive international comparisons we found were published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Because of limited comparable data, we are defining gun violence as gun homicides.

Let’s look at a few statistics:

Annual homicides from firearms

According to the U.N. figures, the U.S. had 9,146 homicides by firearm in 2009. That year, Colombia and Venezuela both exceeded the U.S. total, with 12,808 and 11,115 firearm deaths, respectively. Three other nations topped the U.S. amount in the most recent year for which data is available: Brazil (34,678 in 2008), Mexico (11,309 in 2010) and Thailand (20,032 in 2000).

So the U.S. ranks high in this category, but not first. Even using the higher U.S. homicide figure of 11,493 in 2010 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cited here), the U.S. still doesn’t rank first internationally.

Annual homicide rate for firearms

Because the U.S. is so big, it’s better to compare the frequency of firearm homicides per capita, usually expressed as firearm homicides per 100,000 in national population.

According to the U.N., the U.S. had 3.0 firearm homicides per 100,000 in population in 2009. But there were 14 other nations that had higher rates in 2009, primarily in Latin America and the Caribbean: Honduras (57.6), Jamaica (47.2), St. Kitts and Nevis (44.4), Venezuela (39.0), Guatemala (38.5), Colombia (28.1), Trinidad & Tobago (27.3), Panama (19.3), Dominican Republic (16.9), Bahamas (15.4), Belize (15.4), Mexico (7.9), Paraguay (7.3) and Nicaragua (5.9). Three other nations had higher rates in 2008: El Salvador (39.9), Brazil (18.1) and Ecuador (12.7).

So the U.S. doesn’t rank no. 1 when firearm homicides are adjusted for population.

Where the U.S. does rank high in firearm violence

The main area where the U.S. exceeds the firearm violence of other nations is in comparison to other affluent nations. Using the U.N. data, European nations — even former eastern bloc countries — typically have rates well below 1 per 100,000, or far less than one-third the frequency seen in the U.S. The pattern is similar in other advanced industrialized nations, such as Canada, Taiwan, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

One study published in 2011 confirms this finding. The study, published in the Journal of Trauma — Injury Infection & Critical Care, found that firearm homicide rates were 19.5 times higher in the U.S. than in 23 other “high income” countries studied, using 2003 data. Rates for other types of gun deaths were also higher in the U.S., but by somewhat smaller margins: 5.8 times higher for firearm suicides (even though overall suicide rates were 30 percent lower in the U.S.) and 5.2 times higher for unintentional firearm deaths.

Our ruling

The Facebook post says the “USA is #1 in gun violence.” That’s only true if you compare the U.S. with other affluent nations on a per capita basis.

But widening the comparison to all nations, not just the richest ones, there are at least 17 other countries with higher per capita rates of gun homicides, most of them with rates astronomically higher than the U.S. rate.

And measured by raw gun homicides, the U.S. doesn’t rank first — at least two and possibly as many as five countries have had more gun homicides in recent years than the U.S. did. On balance, we rate this claim Half True.

Connecticut school shooting: Barack Obama backs ban on assault weapons


Barack Obama threw his political weight behind the campaign to reinstate a ban on assault weapons in a move that would be the most significant tightening of US gun laws in almost two decades.

telegraph.co.uk | Dec 18, 2012

By Peter Foster, Washington

Mr Obama’s decision to publicly support new legislation being proposed by a senior Democrat senator came two days after he called for unspecified “change” at a memorial service for the 20 child victims of the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, USA.

The White House spokesman, Jay Carney, said the president was “actively supportive” of the legislation being proposed by Senator Dianne Feinstein that would ban weapons like the Bushmaster .223 that coroners said had claimed the majority of the young victims’ lives.

He added that Mr Obama would also support addressing the problem of the so-called “gun show loophole”, which enables buyers at gun shows to avoid background-checks, as well as curbs on ammunition clips larger than 10 rounds.

“He is actively supportive of, for example, Senator Feinstein’s stated intent to revive a piece of legislation that would reinstate the assault weapons ban,” Mr Carney said, “He supports – and would support legislation that addresses the problem of the so-called gun show loophole.” Mr Obama was also said to be “heartened” that three staunchly pro-gun Democrat senators with A-ratings from the powerful National Rifle Association gun lobby – Harry Reid, Joe Manchin and Mark Warner – had come out in support of an assault weapon ban.

The news that Mr Obama was unequivocally supporting the reinstatement of Bill Clinton’s 1994 assault weapons – which was allowed to lapse in 2004 – is a major political boost for advocates of stricter gun control, but it does not guarantee the measure will pass Republican-controlled of Congress.

The Republican party is heavily influenced by the powerful National Rifle Association and garners much of its base support in southern states and rural areas that are traditional staunchly pro-gun.

The NRA has remained silent since the Sandy Hook shootings, refusing all media requests for comment and suspending its social media operations, but in a sign of the fight that lies ahead yesterday indicated that it was preparing to “push back” against any new controls.

“If we’re going to talk about the Second Amendment, then let’s also talk about Hollywood, and the video games that teach young kids how to shoot heads,” a source close to the NRA told Fox News, “If you really want to stop incidents like this, passing one more law is not going to do a damn thing. Columbine happened when? In 1999. Smack in the middle of the original assault-weapons ban.” The preparations for an aggressive pushback come as Congressional Republicans began showing some signs of accepting the need for action after Newtown, in the light of growing public anger.

That public mood was reflected in a new poll for CBS News released yesterday that found support for stricter laws at 57 per cent, a ten-year high.

After a weekly closed-door meeting, it was reported that several republican Congressmen were open, at least, to a debate on the gun issue, so long as it was comprehensive, taking in mental health policies and other social phenomena.

“Put guns on the table, also put video games on the table, put mental health on the table,” said Jack Kingston, a 10-term Republican congressman for the pro-gun southern state of Georgia who has a long history of endorsements from the NRA.

In one move that was also viewed as significant, Charles Grassley, the Republican senator for Iowa and senior republican on the Judiciary Committee that would probably be the starting point for any new legislation, suggested that a blue ribbon commission of “all stakeholders” be convened.

Some Republican analysts have warned that the party cannot afford to be pigeonholed as dogmatic on the gun issue, if it wants to broaden its electoral appeal following November’s election defeat to Mr Obama’s more progressive, liberal coalition.

Joe Scarborough, a former Florida Republican congressman and prominent cable news host, said the party would ‘lose’ if it did not heed the public’s increasingly angry public mood that has seen a petition on the White House website attract a record 180,000 signatures.

“Do they want to be seen as the party of Glocks? The party of Bushmasters? The party of combat-style, military weapons? Rapid-fire magazine clips?” he asked, “If they want to go around and debate that for the next four years, good luck.”

Families of the victims and survivors of recent gun massacres yesterday gathered for a rally in front of Congress demanding new gun laws, in a bid to keep pressure on Republicans and not allow the anger to fade, as it has following other recent mass-shootings.

Among them was Andri Nikitctyuk [CORR], whose own son survived the Newtown massacre only after a teacher pulled him out of the hallway and into a classroom. “If we could rewind the reality and prevent what happened I would give anything to do it,” he said.

He was joined by the parents of victims of the cinema massacre in Aurora, Colorado, earlier this year as well as families of those who died at Virginia Tech in 2007 and Columbine in 1999. The rally was organised by the Brady Campaign, the pro-gun control group named after Ronald Reagan’s press secretary who was shot during a 1981 assassination attempt.

Russia Sends Warships Toward Syria for Possible Evacuation of Russian citizens

nytimes.com | Dec 18, 2012


MOSCOW — Russia sent warships to the eastern Mediterranean Sea on Tuesday, the Defense Ministry announced, in what appeared to be preparation for a possible evacuation of Russian citizens from Syria.

 Russian officials began formulating plans during the summer for an evacuation, but have delayed making public announcements, analysts say, to avoid signaling a loss of confidence in President Bashar al-Assad, a longtime strategic ally. Moscow staunchly opposes international intervention in Syria and has blocked United Nations Security Council resolutions meant to force Mr. Assad from power. Officials said on Tuesday that Russia’s position had not changed.

However, Moscow has signaled in recent days that it sees Mr. Assad’s forces losing ground, and that it is beginning to prepare for a chaotic transition period. One immediate concern is the large number of Russian citizens scattered across Syria, as a result of decades of intermarriage and longstanding economic ties.

Late on Monday, Russian diplomats said that two Russian citizens had been kidnapped by an armed group. The two Russians — evidently workers in a privately owned steel factory — were seized as they traveled on a road between Homs and Tartus and were held for ransom. An Italian citizen, Mario Belluomo, was abducted along with them.

Then on Tuesday, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that a flotilla of five ships — a destroyer, a tugboat, a tanker and two large landing vessels — were being sent from Baltiysk, a port in the Baltic Sea, to relieve ships that have been in waters near Syria for months. A second group was sent from Severomorsk, on the Kola Bay in northwestern Russia. At typical cruising speeds for such vessels, both groups would arrive on station around the beginning of January.

A naval official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Interfax news service that the ships were “on their way to the coast of Syria for possible participation in the evacuation of Russian citizens” to a Russian port on the Black Sea. The official said that the mission had been planned swiftly but under conditions of total secrecy, and that the timeline for the ships’ return to port “depends on the development of the situation in Syria.”

Aleksandr I. Shumilin, a regional analyst and a foreign correspondent, said Russian leaders had avoided taking steps toward evacuation until now, to avoid signaling that Moscow intended to abandon Mr. Assad, but that they also risked public anger if Russians became targets of violence in Syria.

“It appears that some break has taken place, but whether that means a change of policy, or a modification of policy, that’s hard to say,” said Mr. Shumilin, who is head of the Middle East conflict analysis center at the Russian Academy of Science’s Institute for Canada and the United States. “The decision-makers are now concentrating on humanitarian questions, the protection of Russian citizens.”

Iran, Syria’s last ally in its region, appeared to remain firmly committed to Mr. Assad. On Tuesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahianof Iran told reporters in Moscow, “The Syrian Army and the state machine are working smoothly.”

A planned visit by the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to Ankara, the capital of Turkey, was suddenly canceled on Monday amid tensions between Iran and Turkey over NATO’s decision to deploy Patriot antimissile batteries on the Turkish border with Syria.

Iranian leaders, politicians and Revolutionary Guard commanders have all denounced the NATO decision, made on Dec. 4, to send six batteries of American, German and Dutch Patriot systems staffed by about 1,000 soldiers to Turkey to intercept any Scud missiles that may be launched toward Turkey by the embattled Syrian government. Iran fears that NATO will use the batteries, which can also be used against aircraft, to set up a no-fly zone and create a rebel safe haven in northern Syria.

Iran’s top general, Hassan Firouzabadi, said at a meeting of senior commanders on Saturday that the deployment was part of a Western plan to start a “world war,” and that Iran’s own ambitious missile program was the real target.

“They signify concerns over Iran’s missiles and the presence of Russia for defending Syria,” he said. “The sensible people in America, Turkey and Europe must prevent this situation from getting out of control.”

The mobile Patriot systems could technically be used to intercept Iranian as well as Syrian missiles. They are effective against missiles at a range of about 12 miles, and against aircraft up to 100 miles.

Iran has repeatedly threatened to fire missiles at Israel if its nuclear installations come under attack.

On Tuesday, Iran’s defense minister, Ahmad Vahidi, said Israel was the winner in the Syrian conflict, because it was witnessing the destruction of an enemy — the Assad government — while the Syrian people were being “manipulated” by “terrorists.”

Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, urged Iran to use its political clout with Damascus to end the violence in Syria, instead of making statements about the Patriot systems.

“Turkey and NATO have stressed over and over again that this system is solely for defensive purposes,” Mr. Davutoglu told reporters. “Turkey has the right to do what it wants in order to protect its territory. It is time for Iran to give a clear message to the Syrian regime.”

Young, Unemployed and Living on the Street

Looking at youg adult homelessness
Young and Homeless: The Times’s Susan Saulny reports from Seattle where she talks with young adults who are struggling with homelessness as a result of the recession.

nytimes.com | Dec 18, 2012


SEATTLE — Duane Taylor was studying the humanities in community college and living in his own place when he lost his job in a round of layoffs. Then he found, and lost, a second job. And a third.

Now, with what he calls “lowered standards” and a tenuous new position at a Jack in the Box restaurant, Mr. Taylor, 24, does not make enough to rent an apartment or share one. He sleeps on a mat in a homeless shelter, except when his sister lets him crash on her couch.

“At any time I could lose my job, my security,” said Mr. Taylor, explaining how he was always the last hired and the first fired. “I’d like to be able to support myself. That’s my only goal.”

Across the country, tens of thousands of underemployed and jobless young people, many with college credits or work histories, are struggling to house themselves in the wake of the recession, which has left workers between the ages of 18 and 24 with the highest unemployment rate of all adults.

Those who can move back home with their parents — the so-called boomerang set — are the lucky ones. But that is not an option for those whose families have been hit hard by the economy, including Mr. Taylor, whose mother is barely scraping by while working in a laundromat. Without a stable home address, they are an elusive group that mostly couch surfs or sleeps hidden away in cars or other private places, hoping to avoid the lasting stigma of public homelessness during what they hope will be a temporary predicament.

These young adults are the new face of a national homeless population, one that poverty experts and case workers say is growing. Yet the problem is mostly invisible. Most cities and states, focusing on homeless families, have not made special efforts to identify young adults, who tend to shy away from ordinary shelters out of fear of being victimized by an older, chronically homeless population. The unemployment rate and the number of young adults who cannot afford college “point to the fact there is a dramatic increase in homelessness” in that age group, said Barbara Poppe, the executive director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.

The Obama administration has begun an initiative with nine communities, most of them big cities, to seek out those between 18 and 24 who are without a consistent home address. New York, Houston, Los Angeles, Cleveland and Boston are among the cities included in the effort.

“One of our first approaches is getting a more confident estimate,” said Ms. Poppe, whose agency is coordinating the initiative.

Those who provide services to the poor in many cities say the economic recovery has not relieved the problem. “Years ago, you didn’t see what looked like people of college age sitting and waiting to talk to a crisis worker because they are homeless on the street,” said Andrae Bailey, the executive director of the Community Food and Outreach Center, one of the largest charitable organizations in Florida. “Now that’s a normal thing.”

Los Angeles first attempted a count of young adults living on the street in 2011. It found 3,600, but the city had shelter capacity for only 17 percent of them.

“The rest are left to their own devices,” said Michael Arnold, the executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. “And when you start adding in those who are couch surfing and staying with friends, that number increases exponentially.”

Boston also attempted counts in 2010 and 2011. The homeless young adult population seeking shelter grew 3 percentage points to 12 percent of the 6,000 homeless people served over that period.

“It’s a significant enough jump to know that it’s also just the tip of the iceberg,” said Jim Greene, director of emergency shelters for the Boston Public Health Commission.

In Washington, D.C., Lance Fuller, a 26-year-old with a degree in journalism, spent the end of last month packing up a one-bedroom apartment he can no longer afford after being laid off. Mr. Fuller said he had been unable to keep a job for more than eight months since graduating from the University of Florida in 2010.

“Thankfully, I have a girlfriend who is willing to let me stay with her until I get back on my feet again,” said Mr. Fuller, who writes a blog, Voices of a Lost Generation. “It’s really hard for people in my generation not to feel completely defeated by this economy.”

Mr. Taylor, the fast-food worker in Seattle, said he felt lucky when he could find a coveted space at Roots, a shelter for young adults in a church basement. Such shelters are rare.

For generations, services for the homeless were directed to two groups: dependent children and older people. There was scant attention focused on what experts now call “transitional age youth” — young adults whose needs are distinct.

“I see them coming back day after day, more defeated, more tired out, wondering, ‘When will it be my turn?’ ” said Kristine Cunningham, executive director of Roots. “And it’s heartbreaking. This is the age when you want to show the world you have value.”

They need more than just clean clothes and shelter to move into a secure adulthood, experts say. “They want a way out,” said Ms. Poppe, whose agency is also gathering evidence on what kinds of programs and outreach work best. “They want an opportunity to develop skills so they are marketable in the long term.”

“A more individualized approach seems to work,” she added.

United Nations Presents Grim Prognosis on World Economy

nytimes.com | Dec 18, 2012


World economic growth has weakened substantially this year and faces the confluence of a triple threat — the fiscal cliff in the United States, a worsening European debt crisis and a sharp slowdown in China, the United Nations said in a year-end report released on Tuesday. The worst case, the report said, could be a new global recession that mires many countries in a cycle of austerity and unemployment for years.

The principal author of the report, Robert Vos, director of the Development Policy and Analysis Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said the trends meant it could take until at least 2017 just to recoup the jobs lost in the United States and Europe since the 2008-2009 global recession.

He forecast the pace of world growth for 2013 at 2.4 percent, “a significant downgrade” from the United Nations midyear forecast of 3.1 percent. He said the 2012 growth rate was 2.2 percent, weaker than the midyear forecast of 2.5 percent.

“I’m afraid this time around we’re not very optimistic about how things are moving,” Mr. Vos told a news conference at the United Nations headquarters.

“A worsening of the euro area crisis, the ‘fiscal cliff’ in the United States and a hard landing in China could cause a new global recession,” Mr. Vos said in the report, titled “World Economic Situation and Prospects 2013.” He said the forecast pace of growth “will be far from sufficient to overcome the continued jobs crisis that many countries are still facing.”

The report’s proposals to avoid that outcome — more government programs that focus on job growth, fiscal coordination and aid to developing countries — are not likely to be widely embraced by policy makers in the United States and Europe, where the major preoccupation is on budget cuts and spending discipline. Still, the report provides one of the most complete assessments of the world’s economic trends and reflects what United Nations experts view as the most pressing areas of concern.

Shamshad Akhtar, assistant secretary general for economic development, who introduced Mr. Vos’s report, began by reciting a litany of maladies, including record unemployment in Europe, a decline in global trade, volatility in the international flows of capital and low food stocks in many poorer countries that have made prices in those countries unpredictable. “Even minor supply shocks may cause new prices hikes and shortages,” she said.

While she and Mr. Vos acknowledged the news reports on progress in the debt-reduction negotiations between the White House and Congressional Republicans to avoid dire automatic year-end spending cuts, the so-called fiscal cliff, they erred on the side of assuming the worst. Both said the international economic shock of such spending cuts would reverberate quickly, further weakening economies elsewhere.

“Even if we don’t get to the fiscal cliff, what’s on the table now is not too far from what would happen if the United States goes over the cliff. That is reason for some concern,” Mr. Vos said.

He criticized the focus in developed countries on austerity, budget cutting and a reduction in aid to the developing world. “Fiscal austerity in donor countries is not only detrimental to their own economic recovery, but certainly should not come at the expense of the development efforts of the poorest nations,” he wrote in a summary of the report.

Unlike the economic crisis four years ago, when China helped to cushion the impact with enormous doses of stimulus spending, there is no single savior this time. If China’s growth rate of 7.5 percent this year slows to 5 percent or less in coming years, Mr. Vos said, “that would have major global ramifications.”

He said growth rates in 2012 fell sharply in nearly every part of the world except Africa, where economies grew in the 5 percent to 6 percent range, helped in part by strength in oil-exporting countries, spending on basic infrastructure improvements like roads and expanding ties with Asian economies.

Nonetheless, he said, Africa remains plagued by armed conflicts and other “numerous challenges,” and the strong growth rates will not hasten the end of the continent’s widespread poverty.

For Spaniards, Having a Job No Longer Guarantees a Paycheck

Working but Waiting: The Times’s Suzanne Daley reports on struggling Spanish workers who have avoided losing their jobs but often face weeks or months without paychecks.

nytimes.com | Dec 16, 2012


VALENCIA, Spain — Over the past two years, Ana María Molina Cuevas, 36, has worked five shifts a week in a ceramics factory on the outskirts of this city, hand-rolling paint onto tiles. But at the end of the month, she often went unpaid.

 Still, she kept showing up, trying to keep her frustration under control. If she quit, she reasoned, she might never get her money. And besides, where was she going to find another job? Last month, she was down to about $130 in her bank account with a mortgage payment due.

“On the days you get paid,” she said at home with her disabled husband and young daughter, “it is like the sun has risen three times. It is a day of joy.”

Mrs. Molina, who is owed about $13,000 by the factory, is hardly alone. Being paid for the work you do is no longer something that can be counted on in Spain, as this country struggles through its fourth year of an economic crisis.

With the regional and municipal governments deeply in debt, even workers like bus drivers and health care attendants, dependent on government financing for their salaries, are not always paid.

But few workers in this situation believe they have any choice but to stick it out, and none wanted to name their employers, to protect both the companies and their jobs. They try to manage their lives with occasional checks and partial payments on random dates — never sure whether they will get what they are owed in the end. Spain’s unemployment rate is the highest in the euro zone at more than 25 percent, and despite the government’s labor reforms, the rate has continued to rise month after month.

“Before the crisis, a worker might let one month go by, and then move on to another job,” said José Francisco Perez, a lawyer who represents unpaid workers in the Valencia area. “Now that just isn’t an option. People now have nowhere to go, and they are scared. They are afraid even to complain.”

No one is keeping track of workers like Mrs. Molina. But one indication of their number can be seen in the courts, which have become jammed with people trying to get back pay from a government insurance fund, aimed at giving workers something when a company does not pay them.

In Valencia, Spain’s third-largest city, the unemployment rate is 28.1 percent and the courts are so overwhelmed that processing claims, which used to take three to six months, now takes three to four years.

Since the start of the crisis in 2008, the insurance fund has paid nearly a million workers nationally back pay or severance. In 2007, it paid 70,000 workers. It is on track to pay more than 250,000 this year, and experts say the figures would be much higher if not for the logjam in the courts.

Often the unpaid workers, like Mrs. Molina, whose company is now in bankruptcy proceedings, hope their labor will keep a struggling operation afloat over the long run. Unemployment benefits last only two years, they point out, and they wonder what they would do after that. But in the meantime, they cannot even claim unemployment benefits. And no amount of budgeting can cover no payment at all.

Beatriz Morales García, 31, said she could not remember the last time she went shopping for herself. A few years ago, she and her husband, Daniel Chiva, 34, thought that they had settled into a comfortable life, he as a bus driver and she as a therapist in a rehabilitation center for people with mental disabilities. His job is financed by the City of Valencia, and hers by the regional government of Valencia.

They never expected any big money. But it seemed reasonable to expect a reliable salary, to take on a mortgage and think about children. In the past year, however, both of them have had trouble being paid. She is owed 6,000 euros, nearly $8,000. They have cut back on everything they can think of. They have given up their landline and their Internet connection. They no long park their car in a garage or pay for extra health insurance coverage. Mr. Chiva even forgoes the coffee he used to drink in a cafe before his night shifts. Still, the anxiety is constant.

“There are nights when we cannot sleep,” he said. “Moments when you talk out loud to yourself in the street. It has been terrible, terrible.”

Mrs. Morales said it was particularly hard to watch other mothers in the park with their children while she must leave her own toddler to go to work, unsure she will ever get paid.

“We are working eight hours, and we’re suffering more than people who are not working,” she said.

The couple’s pay has been so irregular that they are having a hard time even keeping track of how much they are owed, because small payments show up sporadically in their account.

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