- Associated Press - Monday, February 2, 2015

McCook Daily Gazette. Jan. 30, 2015.

Rural residents find many ways to make a living

It’s not surprising that a lot of people in rural Nebraska are farmers or have farm related jobs, but the self-employment trend is increasing, according to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s latest Nebraska Rural Poll.

It’s a glass-half-full, glass-half-empty sort of situation.

On the one hand, people are finding a lot of different ways to make money in small towns. On the other, people are being forced to piece together a lot of different ways to make a living.

Latest data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis indicates self-employment is the fastest growing segment in rural counties - and while the last recession didn’t cost Nebraska that many jobs, it did accelerate the growth in the number of people who work for themselves.

Three-fourths of rural households had at least one person with a full-time job, but 43 percent got part of their income from self-employment.

Fifty eight percent of respondents who live in or near towns of under 500 had at least one self-employed person and, not surprisingly, 61 percent have a farm or ranch, 48 percent have a farm-related business and 11 percent provide a contract service to another company.

The number of jobs increases with the reliance on self-employment - four in 10 employed Rural Nebraska households have multiple job-holding members, and of people in small towns, 500 to 999 people, that increases to 51 percent.

Ninety percent of rural Nebraskans say they rely on self-employment for basic needs, 28 percent say they are overqualified for their job and 18 percent of employed rural Nebraska housesholds have at least one member who telecommutes for at least one job - only one of the ways technology has opened opportunities for anyone living anywhere.

Of course, economic development efforts in rural Nebraska should continue to work to attract large employers such as factories and processing plants, but we should also do everything we can to make it easier for the self-employed to make a living.

That includes making sure broadband Internet service is available, roads, transportation, mail service and other basic needs are met. That also means making sure bureaucratic red tape, especially new health insurance burdens, doesn’t get in the way of responsible entrepreneurs.

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Lincoln Journal Star. Jan. 31, 2015.

Poor students challenge schools

The Nebraska Legislature tries to equalize educational opportunities with a state aid formula that in part takes into account poverty levels in school districts.

The job is getting bigger all the time.

For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families, according to the Southern Education Foundation. In Nebraska, 44 percent of students were from low-income households, according to the foundation.

The finding should not come as a complete surprise. Various analyses have shown a growing gap between the richest Americans and the rest of the country.

In fact, this week a report from the Children’s Defense Fund said that 14.7 million children in the United States are in low-income households, and 6.5 million of those children are in households were income is in the bottom half below the poverty line.

The organization said that of the countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, America’s rank in relative child poverty is better only than Romania.

Both organizations are advocates for children, but the research, based on federal data, seems trustworthy.

“We’ve all known this was the trend, that we would get to a majority, but it’s here sooner rather than later,” Michael A. Rebell, of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College at Columbia University, told the Washington Post. “A lot of people at the top are doing much better, but the people at the bottom are not doing better at all. Those are the people who have the most children and send their children to public school.”

Some help may come from Washington. There’s new bipartisan support for updating the No Child Left Behind Act. Leaders as disparate as Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, chair of the Senate Education Committee, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have voiced support for providing more federal dollars for schools. Duncan wants to add $1 billion to the $14.4 billion it spends on low-income students.

Given the partisan dysfunction in the nation’s capital, the agreement may be superficial. The two apparently have fundamental disagreements as to how the funds should be sent to the states.

Even if the two parties find common ground at the national level, the real work of teaching poor students must be done at the state and local level.

One of the most effective tools for equalizing educational opportunities is through early childhood education.

Nebraska has made some early steps to provide those sorts of programs. Two years ago, the Buffett Early Childhood Institute was established at the University of Nebraska with a $100 million endowment. In 2006, voters approved a $40 million endowment for early childhood initiatives.

If America is to continue to be the land of equal opportunity and to compete internationally, giving its growing number of poor children, a good education is key.

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The Grand Island Independent. Jan. 29, 2015.

Extending bar hours hurts public safety

“It’s just scary.”

That statement was an accurate description of a bill before the Legislature that would allow bars to stay open and serve alcohol 24 hours a day.

Reggie Bollinger of Lincoln, a recovering alcoholic, made that statement at a hearing for LB330 held by the Government Affairs Committee last week.

“Nebraska’s liquor laws are pretty liberal as they are,” Bollinger added.

He is right. Nebraska now allows bars to stay open until 1 a.m. Communities can vote to extend that time to 2 a.m. So far, 123 communities, including Omaha and Lincoln, and Douglas and Sarpy counties have approved extended hours, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

As far as having no “last call,” Nebraska would be joining New Orleans, Las Vegas, Atlantic City and Miami’s entertainment district.

A majority of Nebraskans would clearly not want to join the “party never ends” crowd for many obvious reasons.

First is safety. Police forces now can be on the alert for drunk drivers near closing time. If there was no closing time, that alert time would extend throughout the night.

Lincoln City Councilman Roy Christensen testified that police departments would be strained during hours when manpower is lowest. The State Patrol estimated that to handle the extra hours of operation it would need $1.3 million more a year for 12 additional troopers.

The highest cost, however, would come in damaged lives. Drunk driving accidents would undoubtedly go up, leaving more lives lost and more people injured by people drinking and driving.

Allowing longer drinking hours would also lead to more drinking, increasing the number of people facing alcoholism and the incidents of binge drinking.

Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill said he introduced the bill because business owners should be able to determine their hours of operation.

“I believe the marketplace should dictate when a business can close,” he said.

The senator said most bars would chose not to remain open 24 hours a day because of the added cost. However, some may want the option for holidays such as New Year’s Eve or special events such as after concerts or Nebraska football games.

Larson is wrong. Not everything, particularly public safety, should be determined by the marketplace.

Closing hours for serving alcohol are not an undue burden on businesses. Instead the law serves an important public safety purpose.

The Government Affairs Committee, which is chaired by Larson, should kill the bill.

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Omaha World-Herald. Feb. 2, 2015.

There’s progress on child welfare, but more needed

Each year the Nebraska Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee is briefed on the state’s child welfare system. The program aims to help children in severely stressed family situations, in many cases involving abuse or neglect.

For years the legislative hearings were discouraging occasions, given the scale of the problems. A particular concern was that Nebraska was removing a far higher percentage of children from the home than just about any other state. The state’s abrupt attempt to privatize the system in 2009 only created more problems and turmoil.

A recent legislative committee hearing provided a welcome contrast.

An array of challenges remain, witnesses made clear, but the system has made notable progress away from past chaos and toward greater stability and professionalism.

Positives, as reported by the Nebraska inspector general for child welfare, include “improving statistics relating to reporting requirements, frequency of meeting with children and parents, filing case plans and conducting team meetings.”

Documentation for the roughly 3,000 boys and girls in out-of-home care is greatly improved, the report said, and caseworkers “are increasingly and reliably in the right place at the right time doing the appropriate tasks.”

Still, as described by the inspector general and the Nebraska Foster Care Review Office, there is room for further improvement on many fronts.

Some examples: Involving families in decision-making. Contacting and including the noncustodial parent in the process. Reducing the time that children spend in out-of-home care. Improving trust and coordination among agencies.

Nebraskans can be relieved that their child welfare system is achieving progress, but there is still far to go.


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