Jobs Disappearing – Bush-McCain in Denial

15 million. That, according to data complied by the Department of Labor, is the approximate number of full-time jobs needed to put unemployed, underemployed, and discouraged workers back to work in the U.S.

May saw the biggest jump in the unemployment rate in decades, from 5% to 5.5%. According to analysis by the labor-oriented Economic Policy Institute, the total number of private sector jobs lost in 2008 so far is about 411,000 (only slightly offset by a small growth in public sector jobs).

The percentage of long-term unemployed, or people who have been out of work for more than six months and who have lost, as a result, their unemployment compensation benefits, grew by .5%, from 17.8% to 18.3% as well.

Underemployed workers, or workers who are in part-time jobs but need or want full-time work, shot up to 9.7% from 8.3% last year at this time.

A disturbing problem that bodes poorly for the unemployment situation, is that the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates say that the economy added only 500,000 new job positions in May, but 860,000 people were added to the ranks of the unemployed. The total number of people added to the ranks of the unemployed since last May is 1.6 million.

The situation seems to be far worse than the 2001 recession. The number of people claiming unemployment insurance is slightly over 3 million, 500,000 more than in March 2001. (Ironically, it is the same as May 2004.)

Jobs shrank by a net of 49,000 in May and this is the fifth month in a row to have done so. Shrinking state and local budgets will likely add to the problem as layoffs and cuts in services, without a massive intervention on the federal level, are in the offing.

The trends that have seen the ranks of the unemployed and underemployed swell over the past year have contributed to a severe economic crisis. As of April 2008, according to the Department of Labor more than 5.2 million people were classified as 'underemployed'; more than 1.4 million were listed as 'discouraged'; and more than 7.6 million were unemployed.

A total of 14.26 million need full-time work now. And because about 140,000 new jobs need to be created each month to cover new workers entering the labor market, the problem will only grow without intervention.

As a practical first step to easing the financial difficulties faced by working families with unemployed or underemployed members, labor is calling for an extension of unemployment benefits for the more than 3.5 million workers who are set to lose their unemployment insurance benefits this year.

Urging action, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said, “Our economy is in free fall. Gas prices are four dollars. Millions of homes are going into foreclosure. There are now more than two jobless workers searching for every available job.'

“It would provide desperately needed help to them and it is a proven way to give the economy the boost that is equally needed,' Sweeney added.

George W. Bush and John McCain have opposed extending unemployment compensation benefits, and McCain insisted June 6th that the 'fundamentals of the economy are sound.' Which fundamentals those were, he wouldn't say, though he earlier admitted that he lacks expertise on economic issues.

Bush previously insisted that the unemployment problem isn't bad enough to warrant an extension of benefits, with White House spokesperson Tony Fratto insisting that benefits have never been extended with the unemployment rate so low. And McCain has most recently claimed that talk of recession is a liberal media conspiracy to undermine his campaign.

'Quick action is needed' countered Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute in a recent statement, 'especially for the million and a half Americans who have been seeking work for more than six months without success. Their hopes are even dimmer today, and forecasts for the months ahead offer no relief.'

Even some on Wall Street are acknowledging the crisis. The New York Times recently quoted Robert Barbera, chief economist at the research and trading firm ITG, as saying, “It’s unambiguously ugly.'

'The House of Representatives should join the Senate, which voted three-to-one to extend benefits, and pass an extension,' Christine L. Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project.

'And the president should abandon his veto threat and approve this modest extension of benefits that the nation can afford and jobless workers and their families so desperately need,' she added.

Jeremy Funk of Americans United for Change expressed the hope that members of Bush's party could put their constituents before their loyalty to Bush and pass an unemployment benefits extension bill. 'Extending unemployment benefits is one of the most cost-effective and fastest-acting ways to help stimulate an economic recovery because the money is spent quickly; every $1 spent generates $1.73 in new economic demand, according to the Congressional Budget Office,' he said.