Tag Archives: unemployment insurance

Recession Over? Some Americans Haven’t Gotten the Memo

In case you missed the news, the recession ended in 2009. Some members on a panel of economists are now disputing that fact, to the surprise from politicians and mainstream media who long ago declared the greatest economic crisis of our time dead and gone, and are merely bickering over precisely when it dropped off the twig: Was it in mid-2009? Before then? After? 

Of course, some people just refuse to get with the program, insisting that with a national unemployment rate hovering around 10 percent , the recession isn’t really over. And that for older people dependent on deep-sixed 401ks, it most likely will never be over. People who are unemployed and on food stamps don’t think it’s over. People underemployed and still looking for more work are not receiving any trickledown. And for those lucky enough to have been receiving unemployment insurance, who now find it running out and still can’t find a job, things don’t seem to have materially improved. 

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Washington,D.C.-based think tank with a liberal bent, recently released a report that offers a different slant on this subject: 

The long-term unemployment rate — the percentage of people in the work force who have been out of work for over half a year and are still looking for a job — reached an unprecedented 4.3 percent of the labor force in March (see the chart). Yet Congress has allowed the Recovery Act measures that provide additional weeks of unemployment benefits and subsidized COBRA health insurance coverage for unemployed workers to lapse. Opponents’ arguments that these measures should not be extended unless they are paid for with cuts in other spending do not withstand scrutiny. Meanwhile, delay imposes unnecessary hardship on the long-term unemployed and weakens the economic recovery. 

Although there are growing signs that the economy is in the early stages of a recovery, unemployment remains very high, and the economy is not running on all cylinders. Demand for goods and services remains far below what the economy is capable of producing, and the rate of job creation anticipated over the next several months will represent only a small start toward restoring the 8.2 million jobs lost since the recession started. (That loss essentially erased all of the jobs created between 2003 and 2007 in the economic recovery that followed the previous recession.) 

Sam Smith over at prorev.com calls attention to another factor reported by Air Force Times

Disturbing new statistics from the Labor Department show that one in three veterans under age 24 is unemployed – and that the unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans has jumped to 14.7 percent, half again as high as the national employment rate of 9.7 percent.The March unemployment rate of 30.2 percent for veterans aged 18 to 24 is a big jump from February’s figure of 21.7 percent, although it may be partly the result of a small sample used by the Labor Department in determining unemployment, said Justin Brown, a labor expert for Veterans of Foreign Wars. 

Then, there’s this from Black Agenda Report:

Official labor statistics show Black unemployment rose to 16.5 percent in March, up from 15.8 percent the month before, while white joblessness remained steady at 8.8 percent. At least a score of major Black population centers now register official unemployment levels nearing 25 percent, comparable to the depths of the Great Depression – and it took World War Two to pull the economy out of that pit.

With 5.5 job seekers for every actual job opening, according to the latest data, employers can discriminate in favor of whites to their hearts’ content, while continuing to lower wages and working conditions. It’s easy to casually fire Black people and even easier not to hire them. We will soon find out if a statistical “point of no return” in unemployment levels exists, from which communities cannot recover absent extraordinary assistance by a caring government.

Obama’s Lifeline: For a Change, Government Spending That Actually Helps the People Who Need It Most

Republicans took to the Sunday morning news shows to express their “concern” about parts of the stimulus package presented by the Obama administration last week. House Minority Leader John Boehner declared that he would vote no “if it’s the plan I see today”–a pretty idle threat, since even if he takes his entire party with him, the Democrats still have nearly an 80-vote margin. In the Senate, however, two Republican votes are needed to create a filibuster-proof majority, which might at least slow the package down and could force some compromises.

There’s good reason for the Republican resistance. While it makes numerous concessions to favored conservative approaches–lots of public-private partnerships that will allow the private sector to cash in, tax cuts for businesses and the middle class, and no immediate end to the Bush tax cuts (which will expire on their own in 2010)-the $820 billion stimulus package also includes some dramatic increases in support for the nation’s social welfare programs.

With this package, Obama begins the process of reversing cutbacks initiated by Reagan and carried forward by the two Bushes, with some help from Clinton’s welfare “reform.” There may still be plenty of holes, but with this plan, the new government confirms that has some responsibility for providing a safety net for its poor and disabled, its children and elderly. To see the magnitude of the shift, it is only necessary to glance at the last budget drawn up by President Bush, for fiscal year 2009: In the midst of the growing recession, it had yet more cuts to the social welfare system, reducing already inadequate health and feeding programs for the most vulnerable Americans.

Here are some of Obama’s initiatives–not quite the New Deal, but quite a new deal compared to what we’ve grown used to over the past 30 years:

  • As unemployment grows, more and more people lose their health insurance and turn to Medicaid. State budgets already are in desperate straits, and can’t possibly shoulder this added burden. Obama would pump federal money into state Medicaid budgets as well into the program providing for health insurance for children.
  • In addition, Obama wants to shore up existing health insurance coverage for people losing jobs by extending COBRA and underwriting part of its cost through tax rebates. COBRA is a program that enables people losing their jobs to continue their health insurance if they pay for it. Obama wants the federal government to partially subsidize these payments, and also gives some low-income unemployed people access to Medicaid.
  • The president’s plan proposes to extend unemployment benefits through December 2009 and increase weekly unemployment insurance benefits by $25.
  • The stimulus package would incresasing food stamp benefits for the 30 million people now in the program, and provide support for food banks, school lunch programs, and the WIC program that provides for mothers and infants.
  • Obama’s plan would give 7.5 million blind, disabled, and aged Americans an immediate $450 by increasing-on a temporary basis–Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.