by Zach Carter, TMC MediaWire Blogger
Another stunning reminder of the U.S. economy’s dire condition arrived last Thursday. The nation shed a total of 467,000 jobs in June according to the Department of Labor. That’s 35% more than it lost in May. Despite talk about "green shoots" from Wall Street, a meaningful recovery with full employment and rising incomes is a very long way off. It’s time to start pushing another round of economic stimulus to help those searching for jobs get back on their feet, according to several independent media outlets.
The situation is grim, but not hopeless, as Ruth Coniff notes for The Progressive. The stimulus package Obama signed in mid-February was a good start, but it was designed to tackle a much less drastic economic downturn. Looking at the current slate of unemployment figures, Coniff reaches a clear conclusion: "The situation calls for a big new round of government stimulus spending," she writes. And she’s right.
Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly offers a great, if depressing, translation of the unemployment data. Economists expected job losses to come in at 365,000, but were off by over 27%. June’s payroll declines pushed the unemployment rate to 9.5%, the highest level in 26 years. That would be bad enough on its own. But if you include people who’ve been out of a job for more than a year and the number of people who are working part-time jobs but want to be working full-time, the total number of unemployed climbs makes a whopping 16.5%. That’s the worst figure of its kind on record. If these figures don’t serve as a reality check for policymakers, nothing will.
In a blog post for The American Prospect, Tim Fernholz explains that the ever-rising unemployment rate is worse than it seems, because so many policies are based on rosier economic expectations. Remember the stress tests the government conducted to figure out how much more money banks would need to operate? The unemployment rate has now exceeded the worst-case scenario contemplated by those tests, meaning that banks are going to be strapped for cash for a long time. And cash-strapped banks don’t make loans. They sit on their money and wait for things to get better.
Banks have behaved very badly over the past decade, but they’re an important part of the recovery mechanism. Lending can get productive businesses off the ground and help existing enterprises meet payrolls and buy supplies. Indeed, the size of President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package relied very heavily on a healthy financial sector actively lending money out into the economy. We’re watching a destructive feedback loop play out: the financial implosion has created massive job losses, and those job losses have made banks reluctant to lend, which forces businesses to lay off more people.
Some major long-term policy trends are playing out in the unemployment numbers, as Leo Hindery Jr. and Leo W. Gerard note for The Nation. The U.S. economy’s manufacturing base was hardest-hit, and has shed 13% of its workforce since the recession began. But we don’t make very much stuff in the U.S. anymore. The manufacturing sector has declined steadily over several administrations, and now represents just 11.5% of our total economy. Unfortunately, there is a limit to the number of service-sector jobs you can create or save when manufacturing is in a death-spiral.
And while Germany, Japan, South Korea and China all work to preserve their manufacturing operations,Hindrey and Gerard argue that the Obama administration hasn’t learned its lesson. The U.S. is fighting bank bailouts, which is deepening a global imbalance that leaves our economy vulnerable. Sure, we bailed out GM and Chrysler, but the bailout money has been devoted to shutting down dozens of factories and outsourcing jobs to other countries, as Mike Fritz and Harry Hanbury demonstrate in a video spot for American News Project. We have to make a dedicated public commitment to making useful stuff. Green energy and infrastructure are the right place to start.
But what do all these dire statistics and structural imbalances actually mean for ordinary people? AlterNet’s Rachel Neumann profiles Luz Guerra, a 52-year-old unemployed mother of a college student. Guerra left her last job to care for a sick family member and started looking for work in 2008. She has over 30 years of experience as an organizer and adult educator, covering topics from multicultural awareness to popular economics. These are skills that have a lot of social value that could help a lot of people in the current economy, if anyone were hiring. After months of searching in every sector from non-profits to retail, the 52-year old is running out of financial rope. She’s been surviving by racking up tremendous credit card debt and selling off her possessions, one by one. Now she faces foreclosure and the prospect of losing her health insurance coverage. This is what unemployment means. It’s not a lazy life for ne’er do wells. It’s a constant process of searching and interviewing, where even hard-working, accomplished people struggle to make ends meet as a result of enormous structural forces beyond their control.
We can’t just sit back and hope the programs the Obama administration has enacted will work. Air America carries a piece by prominent economist Dean Baker, who explains that the economic stimulus package has already doled out most of its support. Even though much of the government spending hasn’t taken place yet, the majority of the stimulus was composed to lower taxes and expanded benefits. This is as good as the first round is going to get.
If we’re serious about fixing the economy, we need to roll out a second stimulus package to promote plenty of manufacturing jobs and bring work to our workers.
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