Listen Up, Tom DeLay: Nine Jobseekers For Every Job

Isaiah J. Poole

Former House Republican Leader Tom DeLay appeared to be dancing with the stars in his head Sunday when he said on CNN that “there is an argument to be made” that an extension unemployment benefits, such as the one that conservative Republican Sen. Jim Bunning infamously blocked a little more than a week ago, “keeps people from going and finding jobs.” Today, the Labor Department released new data that shows how high in the stars DeLay and his fellow conservatives are.

The bottom line: For every job, there’s an average of nearly nine job seekers.

That statistic is based on a Bureau of Labor Statistics report today that there were 2.72 million jobs available at the end of January. That comes in the wake of Friday’s jobs report that said that during February, there were 14.87 million unemployed workers and another 8.7 million part-time workers who actually wanted full-time work. If you only count the fully unemployed, as the Economic Policy Institute does in its analysis, the ratio would still be 5.5 job seekers for every job opening.

DeLay, you will recall, was echoing a statement a few days ago from Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., who also said that unemployment compensation “was a disincentive to seek new work.” And today, The Washington Post published an article in which unspecified “critics” are said to be concerned “that the Depression-era program created as a temporary bridge for laid-off workers is turning into an expensive entitlement.”

The obvious answer today to the person who argues that extended unemployment benefits are a disincentive to seek work is, “What work?” The Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary that the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes each month shows the gap between job demand and job availability.

While the report shows that job prospects are beginning to improve, the job market is still very bad. That’s borne out by the fact that in January the 4.1 million people who left their jobs that month (“separations”) was once again higher than the 4 million people who were newly hired. Calculated Risk today notes: “Separations have declined sharply from early 2009, but hiring has barely picked up. Quits … are at near the low too. Usually “quits” are employees who have already found a new job (as opposed to layoffs and other discharges). The low turnover rate is another indicator of a weak labor market.”

Meanwhile, The Post quotes James Sherk, a labor economist at the Heritage Foundation, as fretting that the repeated extensions of unemployment benefits means that “it is no longer an unemployment insurance program but a welfare program.”

If conservatives are really concerned about ending this “welfare” program, they would encourage the Senate to take meaningful steps to put people to work. One opportunity is a proposal that Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., has said he plans to introduce this week (video, note comments at 13:30) that could create or save up to 1 million public service jobs, many of them in urban areas with high unemployment. That proposal currently has no Senate backers, but it is precisely the kind of bold jobs initiative that we need the Senate to embrace if we are going to make a serious dent in unemployment. Extensions, like the one the Senate will have a procedural vote on today, are fine. But, despite the rhetoric from the right, jobless workers don’t want meager unemployment checks. And they can’t wait for trickle-down tax cuts for the wealthy that may never actually trickle down to them. They want real jobs, right now.

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