It looks like we may never know how many workers were jobless in September. Because of the government shutdown, the Labor Department statisticians have been unable to complete their surveys or publish their findings. Experts say this could have serious wide-ranging consequences, including complicating the Federal Reserve’s deliberations on whether or when to start tapering down its effort to keep the economy moving through its “quantitative easing” bond-buying practice.
But we do know this much: at this point in time there are 11.3 million people in the country unable to earn a living – more or less. At the end of 1995 that number was 7.4 million. The official unemployment rate is a something less than precise figure but it does give some indication of where thing are going. Eight years ago it was 5.6 million; now it’s 7.3 million. Or at least it was in August.
Millions of our friends, relatives and neighbors are living precarious lives of want and insecurity due to unemployment or underemployment. We are still faced with a jobs crisis, even if few in Washington seem to want to own up to it.
Joblessness among African Americans went from 12.6 percent in July to 13.0 percent in August and the number of black people 16 years of age or older gainfully employed who held jobs dropped from 16,318,000 in July to 16,108,000 in August, a drop from 61.4 percent in July to 60.8 percent – the lowest in 20 years. That’s was the lowest that rate has been since July 1982. In January 2009, the participation rate was 63.3 percent.
Nearly half of young African Americans seeking work cannot find any. Black teen joblessness stood at 41.6 percent in August, a figure that, if it pertained to the population as a whole, or even to young people as a whole, would be recognized as a crisis of the first order. A year ago the figure was 36 percent. Hispanic youth unemployment was 28.4 percent in August, a slight decrease from July but about where it was this time last year.
It is ironic and distressing that these days these alarming statistics are being cited more by rightwing Republicans than by public figures on the left side of the political aisle. They’re trying to sell the picture as an illustration of the failure of Obama Administration policies. It’s rank hypocrisy, of course. As BET.com Senior National Correspondent Jonathan Hicks points out, “… the Republican-led House of Representatives, in its current makeup, seem to have but one significant agenda: to oppose tooth and nail any initiative, bill or idea that springs from the Obama administration.”
On August 29, the McClatchy newspapers reported that “For the fourth consecutive summer, teen employment has stayed anchored around record lows, prompting experts to fear that a generation of youth is likely to be economically stunted with lower earnings and opportunities in years ahead.
“I think there is this myth out there that there is some silver lining for young people, that they are going on to college. . . . You don’t see an increase in enrollment rates over and above the long-term trend. You can’t see a Great Recession blip,” Economic Policy Institute economist Heidi Scheirholz told McClatchy. “They are not in school. There’s been a huge spike in the not-in-school, not employed. It’s just a huge missed opportunity.”
As the employment situation has worsened for many, and the duration of joblessness increased for millions, instead of the government moving to ameliorate the situation and lessen the suffering, it has moved to make matters worse. As a result of the disreputable “sequester” an 8 percent reduction in federal unemployment benefits is slated for 2014.
Of those unemployed at the moment, 4.3 million have been without work 27 weeks or longer. That’s 2.8 percent of the nation’s total workforce.
As of September 30, 2013, there have been close to 1,179,700 unemployed workers in California who have run out of all available benefits.
Under the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program jobless workers are now eligible for federal and state jobless benefits. However, there are currently no plans in place to continue extended unemployment benefits into 2014. Legislation providing for an unemployment extension will also need to be passed by Congress.
All of this could be avoided with legislative action but there seems be little likelihood that the current Tea Party strangled Congress will do anything that might relieved the economic pressure on the nation’s working people.
The Council of Economic Advisers has estimated that the economy could generate nearly 500,000 fewer jobs through 2014 if federally funded unemployment insurance benefits aren't extended. “Right now, the extra weeks of unemployment insurance benefits come to an end at the end of this year and not only do unemployed workers need the money, but the economy needs the boost from them spending it,” says Chad Stone, chief economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
“The U.S. economy is weak and in danger of foundering,” wrote Roger Hickey co-director of the Campaign for America's Future last week. “The government shutdown is harming the still-fragile recovery. And now we are flying blind — because the shutdown has shut down the production of the official numbers and statistics that government and business and labor need to figure out what our public policy — and private investment policy ought to be.”
Hickey continued, “Since we are all flying blind, we can only rely on the trends for previous months. And that trend has not been good. Month after month, a disappointing number of private sector jobs have been created, but cuts to public sector spending have meant that public payrolls and jobs have been reduced. The result: not enough job creation to fill the huge ‘jobs gap’ created during the deep recession — or even to create good opportunities for new entrants into the labor force.”
As Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future said last week, “Instead of continuing its failed austerity-lite policies, Congress should be moving to a jobs agenda, making the investments we cannot avoid – in rebuilding our decrepit infrastructure, putting teachers and police back to work, and in renewable energy and energy efficiency – that will help put people back to work. With the Federal Reserve likely to begin cutting back its boost to the economy, the Congress should step in to boost jobs and growth, not continue to cut them.”
“The fact is this economy has not recovered from the Great Recession. It still is in dire need of jobs and greater growth,” Borosage said. “With the Federal Reserve likely to begin cutting back its boost to the economy, the Congress should step in to boost jobs and growth, not continue to cut them.”
That could happen. But don’t hold our breath. Right now the rightwingers have the government tied up in knots. They have created a Constitutional crisis by asserting the right of a minority to dictate public policy and in doing so, to advance the interests of the one percent as opposed to the rest of us. Meanwhile, the plight of those with no way to earn a living rates only an occasional blip on the country’s political radar screen. If this continues to be the case the consequences will be grave indeed.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union. Bloice is one of the moderators of Portside. Other Carl Bloice writing can be found at leftmargin.wordpress.com.