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South Boston police lieutenant charged with embezzlement

South Boston Police Lieutenant Tiffaney Bratton has been charged with felony embezzlement in connection with alleged theft from the police station's evidence room and inventory.

MCPS covid guidance clarified

Determining when individuals are exposed, and when they should be sent home

Mixed bag for Mecklenburg County students on SOL results

Dropoff less severe than Virginia as a whole

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Cunningham takes tournament, district POY honors

He and teammate Jack Morgan make first team, Long, Newton on second team

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Spring surprises

SoVaNow.com / May 12, 2021
The April jobs report came out last week and surprised on the downside by showing the U.S. economy created 266,000 jobs — ordinarily a pretty good monthly number, but not so much when everyone is looking for a giant bounceback from the pandemic-driven disaster of the past year. (Some economists predicted the Bureau of Labor Statistics could report up to 1 million jobs added in a single month.)

From this clunker of a report, one should conclude .... what exactly?

Hard to know. April was one month’s data — and unemployment numbers are notoriously noisy. It’s generally best to wait a decent amount of time, as opposed to a single month, before trying to discern what’s really going on.

That hasn’t kept the usual suspects from offering up their usual snap conclusions, which are often proven wrong. The American economy is a complex animal, and never has it been more difficult to suss out what is truly driving trends (a booming stock market, supply chain disruptions, a red-hot real estate market, etc.) than it is now.

Why this is is simple: the pandemic. We’re only now emerging from the worst public health emergency in a century, and this was never going to be a smooth affair. While I know everyone is flat tired of hearing about COVID-19, that doesn’t mean it has gone away.

The snap judgment in some quarters on the hiring bust (or blip, more likely) is that the emergency, $300 weekly unemployment insurance benefit enacted in March by Congress and the Biden Administration has made it unnecessarily difficult on businesses that are trying to find help. And in dire need of help many of these employers are: I talk to a lot of local business owners in my daily dealings, and I don’t doubt that their labor shortages are real. Perhaps nowhere is this more true than in the restaurant business, which is trying to ramp up after a positively crushing experience with COVID-19 in 2020.

Capital News Service, a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture, puts its students to work reporting on news out of Capitol Square and around the state (and the students do a fine job of it.) CNS published an informative piece this week that doesn’t delve much into the subject of unemployment insurance, but it does lay out the scope of the damage to the restaurant business — 60,000 jobs lost in the accommodation and food services industry from March 2020 to March 2021, 17 percent of all restaurant jobs in Virginia. One nugget buried in all the data — which stands to reason would especially pertain to the leisure and hospitality industry — is that women are returning to the active labor force much more slowly than men.

This information alone kinda blasts a hole in the notion, widely held among employers, that the problem is too many millennial bros sitting around their apartments playing video games and drawing unemployment checks rather than getting off their duffs and looking for a job. That some of this may be happening — something like this always happens — tells us nothing about the role of enhanced unemployment benefits in keeping the country afloat during a pandemic and unprecedented economic collapse. In fact, the facts suggest the cause of the disappointing April jobs reports lies in many different places. Consider this: people can’t draw unemployment benefits if they aren’t actively looking for work. (If they were laid off and their employer calls them back to work, they risk giving up their benefits if they refuse to return). Do people cheat the system? Some do, of course. But they run a terrible risk of having to pay back the benefits if caught, and there’s considerable evidence to suggest that non-compliance levels are a lot less than the popular imagination holds.

Fun fact: about 3.7 million people in the U.S. are currently drawing unemployment checks. More than 10 million people lost their jobs in 2020. You do the math and tell me how too many people are drawing too much in UI benefits to be bothered with going back to work.

The fact that so many women have been reluctant to rejoin the active labor force suggests that we have some ways to go before settling into a new, forward-looking normal. Low female workforce participation is most likely caused by identifiable problems — trouble finding child care, having the kids at home instead of in school, and (sorry to have to keep pointing this out) hesitation about going back to work when the virus is still hanging around.

People can (and will) ride their ideological hobbyhorses in trying to make more out the jobs report that it truly warrants, but one thing is undeniable: Until we get past COVID-19, there will continue to be disruptions and setbacks that make life unnecessarily miserable for many, many people — maybe you. When people truly feel comfortable sidling up to the bar or puffing on the treadmill next to complete strangers at the YMCA, that’s when we’ll know America is back.

Two magic words to make it happen:

Get ...

Vaccinated.

***

South Hill Town Hall and various adjuncts are certainly doing their part to keep the headlines rolling with recent fights that have drawn in members of Town Council. Last week it was complaints of harassment and other inappropriate behavior by town officials, aimed at members of the South Hill Volunteer Fire Department, and this week it’s a fight over the Colonial Theatre, a truly excellent asset for South Hill that has long been led by former mayor Earl Horne.

I was in the audience more than a decade ago when the curtain came up for an opening night dedication show at the Colonial Theatre, where Hizzoner showed off his comedy chops in a funny little sketch with Security Sam. (If the character’s name doesn’t ring a bell, Security Sam was a cross between Barney Fife and Buddy Hackett, basically. You sorta had to be there.) A good time was had by all, and the Colonial has continued to be a gem of South Hill ever since.

Concerning the current brouhaha, it’s difficult to render much of an opinion as there’s so much we don’t know yet — Sun reporter Susan Kyte sat through a four-and-a-half-hour-plus Council meeting and you can read her account on the front page. The only thing I’ll say at his point is that it’s hard to fathom Horne’s insistence that Town Council not be allowed to inspect the finances of the organization, private though it may be, when the Town of South Hill helped pay for the Colonial facility and continues to fund its operations. (“Town of South Hill” is shorthand for the taxpayers who bear the cost of a meals and lodging tax that Council enacted in 2008 to fund building renovations. With the debt service long settled, the tax is now used to help support the Colonial’s operations).

One line from Horne’s presentation at the South Hill Council meeting Monday night — he spoke to members for around an hour — does cry out for comment: Talking about the impact of the pandemic on the performing arts center, Horne coughed up the term “China Project” to refer to the virus. Look, I know this is a widely held notion, that China is responsible for unleashing COVID-19 on the world, and for all I know Horne’s apparent belief that the Chinese government did so intentionally is also widely held. But it’s also a disgraceful thing for the former mayor to have said.

Time was, it was generally expected that people would first marshal overwhelming, irrefutable evidence before accusing a nation of genocide; now all that seems to be required is having OANN on one’s nightly lineup of cable news stations. This isn’t about fretting over China’s tender feelings; it’s instead about the inevitable blowback on proud and patriotic Americans of Asian descent, who deserve a lot better than having to withstand the slanders of small-town ex-mayors. Just this week, an Atlanta-area prosecutor said she plans to seek the death penalty under Georgia’s hate crimes statute for the man accused of killing eight people in a March shooting spree, four of them of Asian descent. Bigotry is a deadly thing in the wrong hands, and otherwise good people who voice such sentiments play a role, however infinitesimal, in creating an environment that encourages hate-fueled acts. At the very least, Horne’s comment was beneath the dignity of his former office.

The mayor was a lot funnier back in the day when he was content to clown around with Security Sam.

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