Light at the End of the Unemployment Line? (June 18th)

Accurately sensing a growing anxiety among Americans that an economic turnaround hasn't been swift enough, the Obama administration last week made a strong push to announce the speed up of economic stimulus projects. On the heels of the news that the US economy shed another 345,000 jobs in May, adding to the nearly 6 million jobs lost since the beginning of the recession in December 2007, President Obama said that the next phase of the economic stimulus package will create 600,000 jobs in the next couple of months.

According to the DOL figures released June 5, the unemployment rate jumped five-tenths of a point to 9.4 percent in the month of May, slightly higher than economists predicted. The bright spot, however, was that the 345,000 jobs lost in that months is only about half the average monthly decline over the previous six months.

Still the number of unemployed workers jumped by 787,000 to 14.5 million in the month of May, a rise of 7 million since the beginning of the recession in December 2007.

The latest data from the Department of Labor released this week suggested new positive signs, but the dismal unemployment situation has not yet turned the corner.

According to Department of Labor statistics released today, June 18th, initial jobless claims for unemployment benefits for the week ending June 13th increased over the previous week by 3,000 to 608,000. This means that 608,000 newly laid-off people filed for unemployment benefits during that week. This week's numbers put the moving four-week average down by about 7,000, the DOL reported.

The DOL also reported that 6.69 million people received unemployment benefits during the week ending May 30th, a decrease of 148,000 over the previous week. Over the previous month, that number had grown slightly.

Higher layoffs in construction, auto and manufacturing raised jobless claims in Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, California, New York, Illinois, North Carolina and Michigan, according to information provided by those states to the Department of Labor.

By comparison, 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.

The worsening jobs picture prompted the AFL-CIO to launch a new Web site designed to help unemployed workers find the resources they need to survive in the recession. The Unemployment Lifeline, as the site is called, 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.'

Economists warn that data from an indicator such as a weekly jobless claim report should be taken with a grain a salt. Such reports are often revised, are only a snapshot of a given moment and so far indicate little, if any, improvement in the jobs situation in this country.

Estimates of jobless claims also do not reflect the number of jobs created in a given period that may offset those numbers. Initial unemployment claims remain alarmingly high.