Light at the End of the Unemployment Line? (May 21st)

5-21-09, 10:09 am

Action taken under President Obama's economic recovery act has saved or created 150,000 jobs since late February, the White House Task Force on Working Families reported earlier this month. The task force added that in the next 100 days, some 600,000 jobs will be created or saved due to recovery act projects and programs.

Many projects targeted for recovery act funds are yet to be started and much of the funding as been made available but still hasn't arrived at its destination. Simply put, the greatest impact of the recovery act is yet to come. Earlier this month the Department of Transportation estimated that most construction projects will get into full swing by the summer.

In April, the unemployment figures showed signs of improvement. While the Department of Labor reported a loss of 539,000 jobs that months and a jump in the unemployment rate to 8.9 percent, the numbers were the best since last September and shy of economists' predictions. Almost 6 million jobs have been lost since the recession began in December 2007.

But do the latest data from the Department of Labor suggest that the dismal unemployment situation has yet turned a corner?

According to Department of Labor statistics released today, May 21st, initial jobless claims for unemployment benefits for the week ending May 16th decreased over the previous week by 12,000 to 631,000. This means that 631,000 newly laid-off people filed for unemployment benefits during that week. This week's numbers put the moving four-week average up by about 3,500, the DOL reported.

Put into perspective, the four-week moving average at this time last year, the sixth month of the current recession, stood at 325,000.

Fewer layoffs in construction, trade, manufacturing and service industries helped decrease jobless claims in California, Wisconsin, Kansas and Oklahoma, according to information provided by those states to the Department of Labor.

Meanwhile, layoffs in the auto industry hammered Michigan, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio.

State and local governments are anxious to launch new infrastructure projects and pay down budget shortfalls with federal economic stimulus money. New projects on roads, bridges, railways and airports slated for the next few weeks and months, along with new financing for public schools, community health centers, environmental clean-up projects and federal parks and buildings renovations is expected to create or save thousands of jobs.

The worsening jobs picture prompted the AFL-CIO last month 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 recent 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.