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Jobs Don’t Live Here Anymore


The unemployment data is due tomorrow, and it’s likely to be bad, with an expected 300,000 to 320,000 jobs lost in July, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and others. That’s a big problem. But unfortunately, when it comes to getting the nation back to work, tomorrow’s unemployment rate isn’t the biggest problem we face.

What’s really troubling is long-term unemployment.

EPI economists see the economic stimulus as alleviating the jobs crisis created under Bush. In fact, the economic recovery program already has saved or created some 750,000 jobs. Plus, says John Irons, EPI director of research and policy, the gross domestic product (GDP) report last week showing GDP shrunk far less in the second quarter of this year (-1 percent) than the first quarter (-6.4 percent). That means

we’re beginning to see the fingerprints of the economic recovery package.

Yet millions of America’s workers—the largest number of workers for the longest period out of any of the previous recessions—have been without jobs for more than six months. They are the long-term unemployed. And their prospects don’t look so good. There are now 5.7 workers looking for every one job available. By comparison, at the start of the recession, there were 1.7 unemployed workers per job opening, less than a third of the current figure.

The more than 4.7 million long-term unemployed workers, says EPI economist Heidi Sheirholz, represent

enormous numbers. Job seekers are simply not able to find work in this labor market.

And worse:

We’re looking at a really long period when long-term unemployment will continue to rise.

Many of these long-term unemployed are not casualties of the decline in manufacturing jobs. On the contrary, says Sheirholz:

Workers older and more educated are less likely to be unemployed but once they are unemployed they stay longer. They are a big contributing factor to the long-term unemployment.

These figures, and tomorrow’s jobs report, make it critical for Congress to extend unemployment insurance (UI). That’s a no-brainer, says Irons. By the end of September, another 500,000 workers will exhaust their unemployment insurance.

Next, we need another round of economic recovery action. At its recent meeting, the AFL-CIO Executive Council called for a second round of recovery, specifically urging Congress to:

  • Extend unemployment benefits immediately, by at least seven weeks, to help the hundreds of thousands of workers who would otherwise exhaust their benefits in the near term.
  • Increase food stamp spending as needed to help families cope with the downturn.
  • Increase aid to state and local governments.
  • Bolster the financial stability of independent government agencies such as the U.S. Postal Service.
  • Increase spending for needed infrastructure and clean energy projects, even for those projects with a time horizon longer than two years.

(Full statement here.)

Ultimately, we need government policies that fuel the continued growth of jobs that pay enough to support those who work at them—and their families. One step toward this is creating a national industrial policy to guide our nation’s economic future. Industrial policy isn’t just about manufacturing jobs. Because when the United States loses manufacturing jobs, it loses the research and development that goes with it. As Dave Johnson writes, at the Campaign for America’s Future:

The phrase "industrial policy" sounds so Walter Mondale, 1970s, smokestacks and brick factory old-fashioned.

So, how do we make "industrial policy" sound sexy enough to get the attention afforded to the teabaggers—or, at least, enough attention to make it clear it matters?

I’ll be on a panel next week at Netroots Nation discussing this very issue: Bloggers and Blue-Collar Workers Unite—You Have Nothing to Lose But Wall Street Domination. So let me know your ideas and I’ll pack them up and take them with me.

Tula Connell

Tula Connell