Unemployment is up. Joblessness has increased for African Americans. Black women are being hit especially hard. The question now is whether the people running the country really care? And if they do, why are they avoiding the subject?
According to the figures released last week by the Department of Labor, the economy added 244,000 jobs in March. Analysts used terms like "surprisingly strong," "better than expected" and "somewhat positive" to describe the statistic. On the other hand, economist Robert Reich described the number as "chicken feed," noting that, "We'd need 300,000 a month, every month for the next five years, simply to get unemployment back under 6 percent." Economic Policy Institute economist, Heidi Shierholz, concurs: "At April's job growth rate, it would take until the fall of 2016 to get back to the pre-recession unemployment rate."
Nothing now in the cards suggests that is about to happen.
The Labor Department also reported that the country's unemployment rate rose to 9.0 percent from 8.8 percent, after falling for four consecutive months. The number of unemployed persons stood at 13.7 million in April. The percent of working-age Americans actually working is stuck at 64.2 percent
Here's the real skinny on the street.
States and local governments are still shedding jobs, reported the New York Times May 6. "High school graduates under age 25 have had a jobless rate of nearly 22 percent in the past year. For young college graduates, the rate has been 9.6 percent, about the same as high school graduates over age 25. For black workers, unemployment was 16.1 percent in April, far higher than that of white workers. College-educated blacks are also more likely to be unemployed than their white peers. Among the jobless, 43.4 percent have been out of work for more than six months."
The jobless rate for African-American women rose to 13.4 percent last month from 12.5 in April. Unemployment for African-American men rose to 17.0 percent in April from 16.8 percent in March. Unemployment among Hispanic women rose increased from 11 percent in March, to 11.4 percent in April. Joblessness among Hispanic men declined from 11.1 in March, to 10.3 percent.
"Despite modest gains in job growth, today's report is a reminder that millions of American women and their families are still searching for work," said National Women's Law Center (NWLC) Co-President Nancy Duff Campbell told Minority News.
Nearly half a million people have lost their jobs since last summer. It is estimated that if those who have ceased looking for regular work and recent school leavers unable to find their first job are counted, the real jobless rate would be 15.7 percent rather than 9.8 percent, says Shierholz.
That private sector accounted for 268,000 of the new jobs was described as "sharply better" than the 200,000 predicted by some analysts. Big surprise. According to Bloomberg News, McDonald's hired 62,000 new workers in April after receiving over one million applications.
"While the April report appears somewhat positive, it does raise questions about the strength of the labor market going forward," says economist Dean Baker. "Employment growth for the month benefited from one- time factors that will not be repeated. With a decline in temporary employment and little change in the average workweek, there seems to be little pent-up demand for labor. A 242,000 job increase in short-term unemployment, coupled with a big jump in weekly unemployment claims, provides additional cause for concern." The day before the Labor Department's April report, it was announced that new claims for state jobless benefits increased 43,000 to 474,000, the steepest rise in eight months.
Meanwhile, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka observes, "While working families face increased economic pressure, U.S. corporations are raking in record profits. Figures released yesterday show that in 2010, the 500 largest U.S. corporations saw their profits rise by 81 percent – the third largest gain in the history of the Fortune 500. This could not be a clearer reminder that for a handful of Americans, times have never been better, while for most of our country, joblessness and economic insecurity are becoming the new normal."
Trumka says Congress should be taking every necessary step to create good jobs now to address economic inequality and insecurity, including investing in infrastructure and job creation, insisting that corporations and the super-wealthy pay their fair share of taxes and improving rather than cutting the social safety net of Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.
"Instead we see state and national politicians doing everything they can to destroy jobs, heighten economic insecurity, and transfer more of our country's wealth to the richest Americans. The House Republican budget proposal would cost about 900,000 jobs in 2012, 1.3 million jobs by 2013, and 1.7 million or more jobs by 2014. It would constitute the single largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in U.S. history."
But as others have noted, neither major party can escape responsibility for a lack of alarm and action.
Economist Robert Reich writes, "And the percent of working-age Americans actually working – 64.2 percent – hasn't improved. It's almost as low as it was in the depths of the recession. 13.7 million people remain out of work."
"Employment has risen from its low point, but it has grown no faster than the adult population," writes economist Paul Krugman. "And the plight of the unemployed continues to worsen: more than six million Americans have been out of work for six months or longer, and more than four million have been jobless for more than a year.
"It would be nice if someone in Washington actually cared."
"Why isn't Washington paying attention to what most Americans need in the here-and-now economy?" asks Reich. "Because the White House and congressional Democrats don't dare admit how bad the economy continues to be for so many people. They're holding their breath, hoping the recovery catches fire next year before Election Day.
"Republicans don't dare admit how bad the economy is because they don't want to increase public spending or strengthen safety nets. And their patrons on Wall Street don't want to modify mortgages. Republicans would rather Americans believe their big lie that taming the deficit will create jobs and restore the economy."
"So we're paying a heavy price for Washington's obsession with phantom menaces," says Krugman. "By looking for trouble in all the wrong places, our political class is preventing us from dealing with the real crisis: the millions of American men and women who can't find work."
President Obama's approval rate for handling the economy is at its lowest point and that of Congress is even lower, which should indicate a disconnect between the complacency in Washington and what the people on Main Streets are experiencing or seeing around them. "The fixation on the federal deficit has silenced talk of more fiscal stimulus," the Times said editorially. "But more aid to states could help stanch job loss. Programs that create public-works jobs could be tailored to groups with high unemployment, and job re- training could focus on the long-term unemployed."
"The sound of one hand clapping is what you hear when policy makers wave those kinds of ideas away."
"The economy still needs help and, specifically, a sustained focus on jobs and income. Instead, policy makers are gearing up for deep spending cuts, ignoring the damage they are likely to cause," the Times said editorially on May Day. "Last quarter, cutbacks by governments at all levels took a chunk out of overall growth. If cuts of similar or greater magnitude become the norm, the slow economic pace of the first quarter also could very well become the norm. It's nice to believe slowing growth is transitory. But as long as spending, jobs and incomes are at risk and policy priorities are skewed, it's hard to believe in a turnaround."
I am not suggesting here that the federal deficit is not a problem but as many able economists have pointed out, big steps to expand the economy, put people back to work, increase both exports and domestic spending – along with some progressive tax increases – would go a long way toward reining it in.
It's not like nobody in official Washington cares about the jobs situation or is sitting mute in the face of the crisis. For months now members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), organized labor and state and local advocacy groups around the country have raised the alarm and tried to get a message to the White House. But these voices and these efforts have gone relatively unreported by th e major mass media – the Times included – caught up as they are in deficit mania.
"It's critical that policy makers focus on strategies to increase job opportunities instead of promoting deep budget cuts that could unravel the slow and fragile recovery," said Campbell, the Women's Law Caucus' Co- President.
"For the 16th straight month, we have seen growth in private sector jobs – last month being the strongest for job growth since February 2006," reads a statement by CBC chair Emanuel Cleaver, II. Nevertheless, the overall unemployment rate increased by .2 percent and unemployment in the African American community has increased by .6 percent to a painful 16.1 percent. The fact still remains that millions are still out of work, which is particularly challenging, given the fact that increasingly higher gas prices are putting a strain on every American family.
"After four months of controlling the House, the Republican Leadership has not considered or introduced one single jobs bill. Instead they continue to cut funding to critical programs that directly and negatively impact our country's most vulnerable communities, costing hundreds of thousands of jobs. I am fearful that reckless spending cuts will severely undermine and prevent recovery for every American community. The CBC remains committed to responsibly reducing the deficit, while safeguarding the progress that we have made in the job market by investing in our future. Investing in our communities goes hand in hand with full economic recovery. No investment, no recovery."
One could reasonably ask members of Congress and the Administration why there is no "National Commission on Economic Growth and Employment." Or, why there is no "gang" of six politicians working their tails off to come up with a solution to the nation's jobs crisis. Instead we have a concerted campaign, abetted by a pliant media, to maneuver the country into accepting schemes that will actually slow down growth, reducing the number of jobs available in the public sector and increase the precariousness of workers in their retirement years.
And, some might ask why big companies and banks can be rescued while the powers-that-be act as if they have abandoned the jobless as the politicians embark on a frenzy of "deficit reduction."