Audit D.C. Notes: Ouija Boards, Older 99ers, Making Lemonade

The Washington Post picks a good moment to profile Scott Rasmussen, the pollster who’s hitting the big-time, even if the old-school polling crowd doesn’t like it.

As cash-strapped newspapers and television networks struggle to meet the growing demand for polls, Rasmussen, 54, is supplying reams of cheap, automated surveys that will measure — and maybe move — opinion, especially as primary season gives way to the November midterm elections. A co-founder of the sports network ESPN and former play-by-play broadcaster, Rasmussen is an articulate and frequent guest on Fox News and other outlets, where his nominally nonpartisan data is often cited to support Republican talking points. In October, he hired his own communications director to handle the daily deluge of press calls. He has a mini-TV studio in his office.

The piece is page-one on the Style section, and it’s got plenty of elements that come with that position, like the fact that this rising star, who some critics see as a “conjurer of Republican-friendly numbers…works above a paranormal bookstore crowded with Ouija boards and psychics on the Jersey Shore.”

It’s a good read, with nice details about Rasmussen—an ESPN co-founder!— and smart context on how the changing media landscape is changing the polling business.

—The tough, tough situation facing older unemployed workers gets much needed attention from The Washington Independent.

Quick pause, as I point out that I worked for TWI. OK, moving on.

The story has good reporting about the 99ers, who have exhausted their unemployment insurance (and get their name from the maximum number of weeks of state and federal benefits), and the many of them who are older. Check out these stats:

The unemployment rate for over-55s is at the highest level since 1948. Since the recession started, both the number of older people seeking work and the rate of unemployment for over-55s have increased more sharply than for all other demographic groups. And older workers comprise a high share of the long-term unemployed. In May, the average duration of unemployment for older job-seekers climbed to 44.2 weeks, 11 more weeks than the national average. Nearly six in ten older job-seekers have been out of work for more than six months.

There’s an interesting look at the structural reasons that unemployment is hitting older Americans this way, and at the role that plain-ole discrimination is playing in the whole thing.

Further proof that, though it can be difficult, there are still more ways to tell this long, long unemployment story.

Time magazine goes big on “The Other Financial Crisis,” the one hitting the states. While the piece doesn’t break much new ground, it’s a compelling read that brings a lot of strands together.

Almost no one — and no place — is exempt. Nearly everywhere, tax revenue plummeted as property values tanked, incomes dwindled and consumers stopped shopping. Falling prices for stocks and real estate have made mincemeat of often underfunded public pension plans. Unemployed workers have swelled the demand for welfare and Medicaid services. Governments that were frugal in the past are just squeaking by. Governments that were lavish in the good times, building their budgets on optimism and best-case scenarios, now risk being wrecked like a shantytown in an earthquake.

There are lots of nice details in here, too, like the 9-year-old in Charlotte, N.C., who found out that library branches might start closing and donated $595 in lemonade-stand earnings to help keep them open.

While the tale is sweet, the shock in Charlotte sure isn’t:

“People are asking, ‘We’re Charlotte, North Carolina. We’re big banks. How did we get like this?’ ” says county budget director Hyong Yi. The answer is rooted in that once booming economy. As Charlotte burgeoned, the county approved $1.5 billion in bonds to build a new courthouse and new schools, expand its jails, improve its parks and — irony alert — open state-of-the-art libraries. Then the recession hit. Local unemployment rose to 11.7% in January — twice what it was two years earlier. Homes and commercial real estate lost value, which dried up the county’s chief revenue source, property taxes. The result: a 5% reduction in the upcoming budget, $71 million in cuts on top of $76 million in cuts the year before. Losing nearly $150 million in two years — an eternity of lemonade stands won’t fill that hole.

Like unemployment, this is an important story, and one that demands creativity to tell it well. For clues, check out, a project of the Pew Center on the States, which has been doing a lot of good work on the beat.

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Holly Yeager is CJR's Peterson Fellow, covering fiscal and economic policy. She is based in Washington and reachable at [email protected]