9-1-08Merced Sun-StarMerced property values among worst in nation...J.N. SBRANTI, The Modesto Beehttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/430096.htmlFour sets of housing data were released recently, all of which show how badly the Valley home market is doing.When it comes to home values for existing houses, Merced, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties are the worst in the nation, according to the government's Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight.That office's House Price Index, which tracks same-house sales prices and mortgage refinancing over time, calculated that home values dropped 34.5 percent in Merced, 31.7 percent in San Joaquin and 28.5 percent in Stanislaus during the year that ended July 31...Those who bought homes five or more years ago, however, still are doing OK. Since 2003, the federal office calculates that Stanislaus home values are up 15.2 percent, San Joaquin is up 9.5 percent and Merced is up 8.6 percent. California values rose 34.8 percent and national values rose 41.8 percent in the past five years.A new method for comparing mortgage default rates has been released by First American CoreLogic, a private firm that collects and analyzes mortgage data.In Stanislaus, 11.7 percent of mortgage loans were 90 days or more delinquent this June. The delinquent rate was 15.2 percent in Merced. Compare that to the 4.1 percent loan delinquency rate for the nation as a whole.With so many existing homes losing value or in mortgage default, the region's home building industry is suffering.New housing building permits have plummeted, according to the Construction Industry Research Board.During the first seven months of 2008, 1,278 building permits were issued in Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties...UC Merced effort helps make kids aware of collegeMentor program reaches out to parents, children in elementary school...The Modesto Beehttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/430088.htmlFourth-grader Fernando Mendoza hung out with his friends, took photos with mascot Boomer the Bobcat and made a picture frame Saturday while his father learned about admissions, financial aid and the importance of going to college.The 9-year-old and his dad, along with dozens of other families, attended the University of California at Merced's Junior Bobcat Day. Organized by the University Police Department's Mentor Program, the event seeks to inform parents and elementary school students about the higher education options available.It was Fernando Mendoza Sr.'s first time at UC Merced."It's like a field trip for my son and me," he said. "I'm learning everything. To me, it's nice to come and see the school."...Fernando Jr. attends Sheehy Elementary, which, along with Alicia Reyes Elementary, is part of the university police's mentoring program. It targets schools in south Merced's low-income neighborhoods.The program is just one example of many ways colleges reach out to communities to improve education and quality of life.UC Merced's outreach began before the campus opened in 2005, with networks reaching as far south as Fresno and as far north as Stockton...Our View: Jobless rate still too highIt's ironic that on Labor Day a growing number of Californians are unemployedhttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/177/story/430091.htmlThis year, the California Budget Project calls its annual Labor Day report "Little To Celebrate."The left-leaning think tank has assembled a fistful of doleful numbers to support the report's title.The most alarming statistic highlighted in the report is unemployment.The state's jobless rate hit 7.3 percent in July, the highest level in 12 years and the fourth-highest in the nation.It's hardly surprising that the losses have come primarily in three sectors related to the housing slump: Residential construction; specialty trades like plumbing and electrical work that feed on housing construction; and real estate...The effects of the collapse in the real estate market have spread beyond that sector to financial institutions, manufacturing, retail and even restaurants....As unemployment grows, fewer Californians can afford to eat out and restaurants feel the pinch. The ripples just keep spreading.As the state careens toward a full-blown recession, signs of distress are everywhere.CalWORKS, the state's biggest welfare program, was up by nearly 20,000 clients, or 4.4 percent, in May 2008 over May 2007...Given those trends, the most important role of policymakers this Labor Day should be to protect the safety net for those workers who've lost jobs or whose incomes have dropped.While some cuts will be necessary to close the state's $15 billion budget gap, modest targeted tax increases will also be needed to keep funds flowing to counties so that laid-off workers and their families will be able to access the basic safety net programs the state offers -- food stamps, Healthy Families and CalWORKS.This Labor Day especially, California's workers need help, not mindless pledges from anti-tax ideologues.Letter: Escrow system illogical...PEG LAWLER, President, Transcounty Title Co., Mercedhttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/180/story/430084.htmlEditor: On Sunday, Aug. 24, Merced County was highlighted on the front page of the New York Times as being the No. 1 county in the United States for foreclosures.What was not mentioned in that article was that title and escrow services for the bank-owned foreclosed properties (re-sale of the foreclosed properties) are being outsourced to escrow companies outside of Merced County.The banks are listing the foreclosed properties for sale with the local Realtors, but they are requiring them to use escrow companies in other areas of California, thus basically taking away jobs from Merced County, which is in dire need of new industry and jobs.Independent escrow companies, which are regulated by the Department of Corporations, are permitted by that department to charge much larger fees than title companies with full escrow services that are regulated by the Department of Insurance, thus local buyers are being charged two to three times more than if the escrows were handled by local title and escrow companies. ...Why then, are we not permitted to handle the escrows for our local community and real estate agents who are trying to direct business locally and are being told that they can't do so? Merced County needs new jobs, but it also needs to keep the jobs we currently have. Modesto BeeReport Card: Workers worse off on pay, employment...last updated: September 01, 2008 05:12:44 AMhttp://www.modbee.com/business/story/414301.htmlThis Labor Day finds workers in worse shape than they've been in years, according to a scorecard released Monday by Rutgers University.In its first national labor scorecard, the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations said more than 10 percent of Americans are unemployed, discouraged from seeking work or underemployed. That is a nearly 25-percent increase from one year earlier...The Rutgers labor scorecard offered other sobering findings:- About 530,000 were subject to mass layoffs in the last year, growth of nearly 5 percent, but a lower rate than five and 10 years ago.- The median weekly earnings for American workers have not grown in real terms over the last eight years.- At $6.55, the federal minimum wage is worth 40 cents less per hour, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than it was a decade ago.- While employer-assisted childcare and employee wellness programs have grown quickly over the last decade, they still cover less than one quarter of American workers.- Roughly 4 percent of the workforce wants to work full-time, but is working part time because they can't find full-time work.The scorecard, which doesn't assign grades but charts whether indicators are improving or getting worse, is based primarily on data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.Fewer Californians have jobs, but legislators not doing theirs...Editorialhttp://www.modbee.com/opinion/story/414290.htmlIt's one of those years when having a job is reason enough to celebrate Labor Day. Unfortunately, more of our neighbors won't feel like celebrating. They're out of work.Two weeks ago, the state's Economic Development Department reported that Stanislaus County's jobless rate had risen to 11.3 percent in July -- a month when unemployment usually falls. That means roughly 27,200 people who would like to be employed aren't. In San Joaquin County, it's 10.6 percent; in Merced County 12.1 percent.The California Budget Project released its annual Labor Day report last week, calling it "Little to Celebrate." Most alarming among its dismal statistics is a statewide unemployment rate of 7.6 percent: the highest in 12 years and the fourth-highest in the nationBlame the collapse of the housing market, which has hit three sectors especially hard: residential construction, specialty trades such as plumbing and electrical work, and real estate.You didn't have to be an economist to see this coming. Even as we were inflating our housing bubble, we knew the air was certain to escape. Now it has. And as it escaped, it has blown away jobs in other sectors -- banking, manufacturing, retail and even restaurants. Purchases of new cars, refrigerators and lawn mowers have declined, meaning retailers and manufacturers have laid off workers or closed their doors. As unemployment grows, fewer Californians can afford to eat out and restaurants feel the pinch.Newspapers are not immune. The Bee and its sister valley newspapers have taken cost-cutting measures including layoffs and employee buyouts...Numbers are mere details. Many of us know people whose jobs have disappeared.What should we do to help? Let those in power know we care. Demand that those left in the lurch of joblessness not be abandoned by their government. After all, while they were working they were paying taxes.Now they need help finding new jobs, getting new training, or even just making ends meet. That reality makes the pledge by almost every Republican in the Legislature to "oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes" especially cruel.While some cuts will be necessary to close the state's $15 billion budget gap, modest targeted tax increases will be needed... CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Lowering drinking age not the way to go...Editorial...8-31-08http://www.modbee.com/2219/story/412126.htmlReprinted from the Aug. 27 Chicago Tribune:A group of 120 college presidents is pushing to lower the drinking age to 18, in an effort to curb binge drinking on campus.They've got an impressive name, the Amethyst Initiative, named after the ancient Greek words that mean "not intoxicated." These college leaders hope that a lower drinking age will encourage more responsible drinking. They also think it will cut the excessive, furtive, forbidden thrill of drinking - "pregaming," in kidspeak - before a frat party or other public appearance. But we think these top academics forgot their Econ 101. Legalizing something generally invites more indulgence, not less.Yes, binge drinking is widespread, entrenched and pernicious.And that is surely frustrating for college officials. But their strategy reeks of surrender.Kids under age 21 don't drink because it's illegal. And they won't stop drinking if it is legal...Those college presidents are right to be alarmed about underage drinking on campus. But we'd rather see them pouring their energies into making sure that authorities enforce local laws against serving or selling to minors. And making sure that residence hall advisers are riding herd, not looking the other way. And pioneering new campaigns to convince college kids that they risk their health, and their lives, with heavy drinking.Lowering the drinking age would transfer responsibility - and in some cases legal liability - from colleges and their presidents to the immature shoulders of 18-year-olds.That would be lethal and unwise.Fresno BeeDon't lower drinking age...Elizabeth Echeveste, Thomas Ngo and Mackee MasonElizabeth Echeveste, 22, a psychology major, and Thomas Ngo, 21, a health science major, are both co-chairs of the Alcohol Safety Council Student Sub-Committee; Mackee Mason, 22, a mass communication and journalism major, is president of Associated Studenhttp://www.fresnobee.com/opinion/wo/story/834197.htmlEditor's note: Three Fresno State students came together to discuss the Amethyst Initiative, a petition that currently has 128 university presidents' signatures to lower the legal drinking age from 21 to 18. Here are their thoughts:At what age should young people be allowed to drink alcohol? It's a question we've given considerable thought to, but it's not an easy one to answer.Some people argue that since 18-year-olds are legally adults, can serve in the military and get married, they are mature enough to make the decision about drinking. But America still has not decided when we are adults. There are three different ages for various rights: 18 for voting, 21 for drinking and 25 to supervise a minor driving a vehicle. Why do we have these ages? They seem arbitrary. There are some 18-year-olds who are not mature enough to vote, smoke or fight in a war, and there are others who would be responsible.The discussion should initially focus on when a person is considered to be an adult. Just lowering the drinking age doesn't address the issue of whether 18-year-olds are mature enough to make this decision.The Amethyst Initiative claims that the age of 21 is not working and that a culture of binge-drinking has developed. We haven't seen evidence that lowering the drinking age will alleviate abuse of alcohol. The discussion should really focus on increasing education about moderation and safe behaviors when consuming alcohol.As three college students who are concerned about unsafe drinking habits, here's our advice: -- Parents need to talk to their children about alcohol, just as they need to talk to them about sex. It is a responsibility. Alcohol education needs to start at a younger age...-- Alcohol safety education should teach young people about alcohol's effects. We should not look at these topics as taboo but an opportunity for open discussion...People make poor decisions when they are intoxicated. Adding more people -- younger people -- to make these bad decisions doesn't seem like the right idea in solving issues of misuse. We believe that if the legal age for drinking is lowered to 18 it will mostly likely create more problems than it will solve.It doesn't seem to make sense to add more people to the already existing problem. More minors -- including high school seniors who are 18 -- would have increased access to alcohol. It is a scary thought that there could be more young people consuming alcohol and making bad decisions.