Light at the End of the Unemployment Line? (July 23)


7-23-09, 11:05 am

A disappointing unemployment report earlier this month that saw the loss of 467,000 jobs in the month of June and a rise in the unemployment rate to 9.5 percent, has caused predictions of a nearing economic turnaround to fall flat in recent months. Despite positive signs in housing and manufacturing activity, poor jobs number remain the 'lagging economic indicator.'

Glimmers of economic hope were overshadowed, however, by this month's new jobless numbers. According to Department of Labor statistics released today, July 23rd, 6.22 million people received unemployment benefits during the week ending July 11th, a decline of 88,000 over the previous week. Over the previous month, the average weekly numbers have fallen by more than 130,000.

DOL also reported that initial jobless claims for unemployment benefits for the week ending July 18th increased over the previous week by 30,000 to 554,000. This means that 554,000 newly laid-off people applied for unemployment benefits during that week. This week's numbers put the moving four-week average down by more than 19,000, the DOL reported.

Put into perspective, in November 2007, the month prior to the official beginning of the recession, the weekly average of new jobless claims stood at just over 325,000.

According to the DOL figures released July 2nd, the unemployment rate rose a point to 9.5 percent in the month of June, higher than economists have predicted. The bright spot, if it could be called such, was that the loss of 467,000 jobs in that month is well below the average monthly decline over the previous seven months. For the growing number of unemployed, however, there is little consolation.

The total number of unemployed workers jumped to 14.7 million in the month of June, a rise of upwards of 7 million since the beginning of the recession in December 2007. (Federal data revealed recently that the number of long-term unemployed workers has grown substantially over the course of the recession.)

Accurately sensing a growing anxiety among Americans that an economic turnaround hasn't been swift enough, the Obama administration this month made a strong push to speed up economic stimulus projects. Some administration officials have signaled the need for a second stimulus package.

While the President's recovery act passed last February has worked as expected, experts state, the hole in the economy has been far larger than predicted. Labor movement leaders reportedly have begun lobbying for a second economic package that will focus directly on filling the massive jobs deficit.

This week, in an effort to reduce expectations about a swift economic turnaround, the President warned that unemployment will continue to grow over the next few months, but noted that without the stimulus package, millions of more jobs would have been lost. He also indicated that the recovery package would take two years to fully implement.

The worsening jobs picture prompted the AFL-CIO to launch a new Web site, Unemployment Lifeline, designed to help unemployed workers find the resources they need to survive in the recession. The site provides information on local aid for unemployment compensation benefits, child care, medical care, utility assistance and more. It also links workers to political action on such issues as passing the Employee Free Choice Act, universal health care reform and more.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney called for sweeping action in a press statement. 'We also must make broad-based economic changes to have sustained economic growth and an economy that works for everyone,' he stated. 'We must deal with our country’s unsustainable trade deficit. We must reform our financial regulatory system to provide more transparency and government oversight and regulation. And we must pass the Employee Free Choice Act so workers can win the freedom to form unions and bargain collectively with their employers for fair wages, security and benefits.'

Change to Win spokesperson Greg Denier explained that a real economic stimulus package for working families would include three things: a minimum wage indexed to inflation, a major overhaul of the health system, and passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. “The problem in the economy today is that productivity and profitability increased while paychecks shrank,' he said. 'We need to expand paychecks in order to expand the purchasing power of American workers.”