Today’s unemployment report from the Labor Department is another in a string of disappointments for the unemployed. It shows that the U.S. economy created only 113,000 jobs – well below most economists’ expectations – with the unemployment rate at 6.6 percent.
It underscores the corrupt morality and intellectual bankruptcy of Thursday’s Republican filibuster of emergency unemployment benefits, in which all but four Republicans voted to block consideration of a measure that met the key Republican demand of a fully paid-for three-month extension. It is also the continuing bitter fruit of a broader campaign of obstruction of measures we need to grow the economy and put people back to work.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics report said that 3.6 million people have been out of work for more than 26 weeks, and it is these people who either have been or will be affected by the Republican filibuster. Since authorization for this program expired on December 28, 1.7 million people have lost their benefits.
One of them is Michael Chasey, a 33-year-old Ocean Township, N.J., resident who was among the first to lose long-term jobless benefits in December. Until the recession hit and he was laid off, he worked at a central New Jersey newspaper. He managed to get a succession of short-term, low-wage jobs, but not in the past year.
Now, with no weekly unemployment check and with no other source of income, he said, “I have no gas money. No insurance on my car… I can’t get around right now.” Nor can he make child support payments for a 28-month-old daughter, or financially help his mother as she gets her dialysis treatments, he said.
The unemployment rate in his county is almost 8 percent. “There are a lot of us in the same boat,” Chasey said. Members of Congress who refused to support renewing long-term unemployment benefits “are turning their backs on a lot of people.”
The unemployment report shows that it continues to be a harsh job market across the board. But it is noteworthy that this report showed a net loss of 29,000 jobs, spread across federal, state and local governments. Because of our destructive focus on budget deficits at the expense of growth, public sector job cuts continue to dilute the meager impact of private job growth.
Meanwhile, Chasey said that three more months of benefits might be enough to sustain him until the spring, when he thinks more job opportunities will open up. His simple message to Congress: “Extend unemployment benefits so that I can go out and find a job.”
(You can tell the Senate that you agree. Use our click-to-call tool to tell the Senate to extend emergency unemployment benefits now.)
Shockingly, but sadly not surprisingly, some of the Republicans who voted to block consideration of these jobless benefits continued mouthing the insulting line that continuing to extend a lifeline to these job seekers would do nothing more than encourage sloth. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., sneered after Thursday’s vote that creating jobs won’t be achieved “by Washington turning a temporary federal benefit into another welfare program.”
Making that statement requires a lot of gumption, considering that Inhofe and his conservative colleagues have stood in the way of just about every action that would accelerate economic growth and more quickly repair the damage done by Wall Street recklessness and failed right-wing economic policies.
Thanks to Tea-Party control of the House and Republican filibusters in the Senate, the nation has gone through three years of slow growth. Republicans forced a focus on lowering the budget deficit, including a mindless, across-the-board federal spending sequester, when what unemployed people needed was more spending by the federal government on projects and programs that would create the demand that the private sector could then grow to fulfill.
The consequence, Economic Policy Institute economist Heidi Shierholz wrote earlier this week, is that the labor market gap caused by the Great Recession – the difference between today’s job picture and where we would have been had it not been for the Wall Street crash – is now at about 7.8 million jobs.
At the rate we’re going, it would take more than four years to close that gap. The Congressional Budget Office this week projected that the nation’s gross domestic product will grow at about 3 percent a year for the next three years. That’s better than what we’ve done in the recent past, but at that rate “the economy will continue to have considerable unused labor and capital resources (or “slack”) for the next few years.” We must do better.
Tragically, conservatives in Congress would rather play political games or call the unemployed names than to address this jobless emergency. But that should not stop us, and allies in Congress, from continuing to tell the truth of what we should and must do to move the country to full employment. If this Congress cannot even bring itself to extend to people who have been pounding the pavement for months looking for work $300 or so a week so they can buy meals, pay rent and have transportation to get to job interviews – much less authorize additional infrastructure spending or aid to offset state and municipal-level layoffs – then the American public needs to understand the imperative of moving the obstructionists in Congress out of the way.