Monday, March 14, 2011

Cremation Trend Costing Jobs in NYC

A growing trend for individuals to choose cremation of their remains instead of burial is causing financial strains at cemeteries in New York City. Also, the Republican effort to cut billions of dollars from Head Start should scare residents of our great city.

Cremation Burns Cemetery Revenues

New York City residents appear to have shifted their final resting place desires sharply in favor of cremation and sharply away from burial over the last two and one-half decades. With burials far more costly and labor-intensive than cremation, cemeteries are facing revenue reductions and looking to reduce headcount to avoid deficits.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the current cost of a grave is more than ten times the cost of cremation. To compare costs fully, one would need to add the cost of opening the grave and the cost of the burial itself, perhaps doubling the total cost of the burial as compared to the cremation and creating a 20 to one cost differential. The costs represent revenues to the cemetery, and those revenues provide jobs for cemetery workers.

The same Wall Street Journal article suggests that New York City cemeteries have seen their ratios go from seven to one in favor of burials over cremations to a ratio of two to one in favor of cremations in twenty five years. The financial impact of that shift is now starting to impact the employment at our city's cemeteries.

In February, cemetery workers and their union protested proposed cuts at the famous Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. Woodlawn had suggested that it would seek massive lay offs and significant wage reductions. The proposed changes are shocking and may be designed to pressure the union and its members to agree to lesser cuts, but the shifting cremation versus burial ratios create a smaller revenue pie with which to employ cemetery workers.

Because cemeteries are non-profit institutions, there are no owners or shareholders to create wealth from creating profitable revenue. Cemeteries have Board of Directors that work to promote the longevity of those cemeteries and guide them to meet their mission of providing a place for the dead to be remembered and for loved ones to visit to remember and mourn. Boards across our city may seek to reduce their employee headcount figures to avoid having expenses that exceed their revenues, and the reduced headcount will further challenge our city's troubled economy.

Republican Cuts Aimed at Head Start

The Federal Head Start program is once again under attack from Republicans.

President Obama attacked the Republican Party last week for proposing major cuts in Head Start while failing to tackle the largest areas of spending. The Republican Party has been aggressive in defending subsidies for major energy companies and tax breaks for the highest earners in or society, but the dollars spent educating young children are under attack.

Many studies have shown Head Start to be one of the most effective uses of Federal dollars. Participants gain substantial long-term benefits.

Here in New York City, where only 28% of African American males graduate from high school, Head Start is absolutely crucial to efforts to reverse the collapse of the public school system in our city. Sadly, across New York State, only 25% of African American males graduate from high school.

The horrifying failure of the New York City public school system creates a pipeline of young people to fill our jails and prisons. Head Start puts children on a path that steers them away for prison and toward academic success as well as economic opportunity. Therefore, all of us in NYC should be standing up with President Obama to defend the Head Start program and to ensure that the children of New York City are not successfully targeted by the Republican Party as they seek to shift Federal resources away from neighborhoods and communities and toward to pockets of the highest earners and the wealthiest families in our country.

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