Wanted: Jobs for 25.5 Million Americans

There’s a lot more that’s frozen in D.C. this week than the usual fallout from a blizzard. The brains of many Senate Republicans are on ice as well. The House passed a jobs bill in December, but the Senate is dawdling, and worse—threatening to pass bits and pieces, taking apart what should be a comprehensive approach to jobs and turning it into minced cabbage. Or, as Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) put it, Democrats shouldn’t advertise the package as jobs legislation

because it’s just extending a bunch of tax policy and related items that we need to do.

Only today did the Senate Finance Committee release its first take on jobs. The immediate need is for passage of unemployment insurance (UI) because it will expire for millions of workers Feb. 28, unless Congress—specifically, the Senate—takes action. COBRA also must be extended to help unemployed workers maintain health care.

The White House’s new economic report estimates the economy would create an average of 95,000 jobs a month this year, rising to 190,000 a month on average in 2011.

Yet there must be 100,000 jobs created per month, just to stay even, let alone fill the gaping hole that is the nation’s unemployment crisis. The nation needs more than 10 million jobs to get back to 5 percent unemployment, the rate we had before the recession started.

The economy lost 20,000 jobs last month, and the rate of unemployment declined to 9.7 percent, a figure the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) describes as a statistical blip, not the beginning of a trend toward full employment because the January data was based on differing surveys. As EPI economist Heidi Shierholtz describes it, this apples-to-oranges comparison means the drop in the monthly unemployment rate

can largely be attributed to the higher volatility of the much smaller household survey. Given what happened in the establishment survey, one would have expected the unemployment rate to hold steady or increase slightly in January.

The White House is forecasting the jobless rate will average 10 percent this year. But the generic jobless rate—as bad as it is—hides a lot. Here’s a look at the hardest hit in the jobs crisis.

The workers losing jobs are those who had almost no income to begin with. As Bob Herbert pointed out this week:

The highest group, with household incomes of $150,000 or more, had an unemployment rate during that quarter of 3.2 percent. The next highest, with incomes of $100,000 to $149,999, had an unemployment rate of 4 percent.

Contrast those figures with the unemployment rate of the lowest group, which had annual household incomes of $12,499 or less. The unemployment rate of that group during the fourth quarter of last year was a staggering 30.8 percent. That’s more than five points higher than the overall jobless rate at the height of the Depression.

The jobless rate of 16.5 percent for black workers is much higher than the national jobless rate of 9.7 percent. The Christian Science Monitor goes on to point out that the jobless rate is astronomically higher for black teens—43.8 percent—than for white teens, at 23.5 percent.

Long-term unemployment (those without a job for 27 weeks or longer), is off the charts. More than 40 percent of the nation’s unemployed workers are without a job for more than six months, a new record. In January, that means 6.3 million unemployed workers have been out of a job for more than six months.

The longer workers are out of a job, the harder it is for them to get one. With the massive numbers of unemployed workers, employers are more likely to hire a worker who is more recently unemployed, than one who has been out for months, skills and other factors being equal. This is why the group on the Hill needs to extend UI ASAP. According to National Employment Law Project estimates, of the nearly 1.2 million U.S. workers facing a cut off of benefits in March alone:

Richard Duncan, who works for the Tennessee AFL-CIO technical assistance program, has met many unemployed workers. The assistance program helps union workers who have been laid off (see video above).

I’ve traveled the state of Tennessee and seen an enormous number of union brothers and sisters lose their jobs. Since 2006, I’ve seen the same people. They lose their job at one facility. Then they go to another facility, then there’s an additional layoff and they lose their job again.

This downward cycle must be broken. And the ice in brain and heart, melted.

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