There’s another impeding crisis that Floridians overlooked whilst engrossed in the fervor of a Mayan-predicted Armageddon--namely, the fiscal cliff.
Without a solution, tax rates will rise across the board as $110 billion in spending cuts are imposed and million people lose their long-term unemployment benefits. Economists have warned that this could bepowerful enough to push the country back into recession.
President Obama wants to extend unemployment benefits, add provisions to stop the expansion of thealternative minimum tax, and renew the Bush-era tax cuts for Americans with incomes higher than $250,000,while House speaker, John A. Boehner wants the extension to include households with income of $1 million.
While President Obama urged Congress to negotiate an agreement on Thursday, many Haitians polled throughoutSouth Florida are pondering the effects it will have on their unemployment compensation, food stamps,income taxes, and other forms of government assistance.
“I’m modestly optimistic that a bill will be achieved,” said Obama in a speech given to the press hoursafter meeting with Congress about the fiscal cliff.
South Florida’s Haitian-Americans, like Emanuela Joseph are anxiously awaiting the verdict to Obama’s bill. Joseph, a resident of Ft. Myers and a manager at Jimmy John’s restaurant, is concerned with how the fiscalcliff will affect her income tax return and paycheck.
“It will affect me because I'm one of those families that earn under $250,000 so I'm considered middleclass,” she said. “But really it's just a title considering after my expenses it doesn't reflect that.”
A single mother who doesn’t receive any government assistance, Joseph is already contemplating how she’llhave to cut her budget in order to afford daycare and groceries. “I won't be able to afford childcare whichI barely can afford now,” she stressed. “As far as groceries, my children and I will have to go on a Ramen Noodles diet,” she joked. “And as far as car insurance is concerned, I'll just have to drive without any, which is a hazard.”
Albeit said in humor, her comments alluded to the realities of South Florida’s defunct middle class. Many families are barely covering their expenses succumbing to foreclosures and loss of adequate health insurance. Florida’s foreclosures for November were 29,612 properties, the second highest in the nation.
“Not that I'm sitting around waiting for a hand-out but I believe if I'm putting in effort to upgrade myself and family, than the government should acknowledge that and meet me half way by continuing our tax breaks,” said Joseph. “We working people can't afford [a tax increase] unless they're going to increase our pay or supply better job opportunities.”
The president’s speech addressed Joseph’s concerns. "If an agreement isn’t reached in time between Senator Reid and Senator McConnell, then I will urge Senator Reid to bring to the floor a basic package for an up-or-down vote,” said Obama. He continued, “One that protects the middle class from an income tax hike, extends the vital lifeline of unemployment insurance to two million Americans looking for a job, and lays the groundwork for future cooperation on more economic growth and deficit reduction."
According to financial experts, allowing the economy to jump off the fiscal cliff will have an adverse effect on job growth, freezing America's already stagnant job market. They're forecasting uncertainty in other economic indicators like health care costs and consumer spending--that's already revealed consumers are spending less compared to years past.
With Florida holding an unemployment rate of 7.8%--higher than the nation's 7.7%--and its average weeks of unemployment being 49.4 weeks, the fiscal cliff is a source of contention for Haitians and Haitian-Americans.
760,000 people are jobless in Florida, and 17.1% of those figures are blacks, the state’s largest unemployed demographic. Within that cluster 44.1% of people between the ages of 16-24 years old are unemployed with 10.7% male and 9.2% female.
9,300 government positions were cut that are typically retained for college graduates leaving 12.2% of collegiates who've graduated or completed college courses unemployed and staving off student loan debt collectors.
While construction jobs--a staple amongst Haitian workers with little to none educational background--have vanished. Construction declined by 3,900 jobs of annual wage of $40,877, losing more jobs in the recent economic downturn than any other industry. Since 2006 the industry has suffered a loss of 691,900 contributing to Florida’s astronomical foreclosure rate. Lawmakers were warned that the House might be in session through Jan. 2, the day the 112th Congress disbands. And once the 113th Congress convened the day after—wiping out any unfinished work of the past two years— the newly appointed 113th Congress would resolve the fiscal cliff, a theory many political pundits have speculated as the outcome if Congress vetoes the bill. “The American people are waiting for the ball to drop,” Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said Thursday, “but it’s not going to be a good drop.”
“The only way America goes over the cliff is if the Republican leaders in the House and the Senate decide to push us by blocking passage of bills to extend tax cuts or the middle class,” said the White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer. “It’s a question of their willingness to put country before party.”
Lauderhill resident Ronald Apollon is skeptical of the House passing such a pro-middle class bill. “Honestly, I don’t think [Obama] has the power to get the bill passed by Congress; I don’t see many Republicans passing his bill,” he said. A graduate of American Intercontinental University with a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Science, Apollon knows first-hand about the importance of extending unemployment benefits as his mother and older sister receives it. “It’s just absurd,” he said of the working conditions imposed on the struggling middle class workforce. “Without government assistance you’re basically working just to work from pay check to pay check. After buying groceries, paying rent, medical bills and other utilities, it’s very difficult to make ends meet, ”he explained.
To win approval in the Republican-controlled House, Obama will need a rare bipartisan vote with at least 26 Republicans joining all 191 Democrats.
“I have to be very honest,” said Reid. “I don’t know timewise how it can happen now.”
The statistics for this article were obtained from the press release, Florida’s November Employment Figures,courtesy of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.