The politics of unemployment | As It Turns Out | May

We all know someone who is out of work. If you don’t, then drop by the local food banks or St. Olaf’s on St. Vincent’s utility bill aid days or the unemployment office.

The unemployed are having difficult times feeding their families and are losing their homes and vehicles. Not surprisingly, 2.8 million households received foreclosure notices last year, and even more are expected this year. These are discouraging times for many Americans whose essentials are continually being pared back.

In his April 14 New York Times op-ed column, Bob Herbert commented that, “More than 44 percent of unemployed Americans have been out of work for six months or longer, the highest rate since World War II. Perhaps more chilling is a new analysis by the Pew Economic Policy Group that found that nearly a quarter of the nation’s 15 million unemployed workers have been jobless for a year or more.”

Economists believe the recession wiped out 8.2 millions jobs. The National Bureau of Economic Research indicates the recession began in December 2007 and, according to some economists, ended last summer. These economists, however, caution that there is still a long, slow road back to where we once were.

Kitsap County’s unemployment rate fell from February’s 8.8 percent to 8.5 percent in March. The rate was at 5.8 percent in November 2008.

Washington’s unemployment rate was at 9.5 percent for March. “Nearly 348,000 people in Washington were unemployed and looking for work in March, and more than 291,000 people received unemployment benefits. Washington had 67,800 fewer jobs last month than in March 2009,” according to an Associated Press report.

The national unemployment rate is currently at 9.7 percent. Dan Peck, in March’s Atlantic, said that “for every open job in the United States, six people are actively looking for work. All of these figures understate the magnitude of the jobs crisis. The broadest measure of unemployment and underemployment (which includes people who want to work but have stopped actively searching for a job, along with those who want full-time jobs but can find only part-time work) reached 17.4 percent in October.” And the unemployment rate doesn’t take into consideration those unemployed who were self-employed.

The extension of federally funded benefits is again in the middle of a political dispute in Congress.

Republicans say the extension would add an additional $9 billion to the national debt and that Congress must find another way to finance it. They say they are not being heartless, but believe that the economy will eventually recover without anymore government stimulus.

Democrats believe that budget deficits will only be turned around if American gets back to work. They say deficits are made worse by unemployment because there is no tax revenues for the government, and it drives up the cost of public services. Democrats see no economic gain in using budget cuts to counteract unemployment benefits. Unemployment extension should be treated as emergency aid, not business as usual.

It’s also difficult for many Americans to forget that our government has placed their top spending priority on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These two wars have cost Americans more than $980,000,000,000 (just under $3 trillion) so far and that they have cost each American taxpayer personally $7,334, according to the National Priorities Project.

I’m no economist and I have no quick answers for Congress. But I do know that Americans need to be working in order to have a healthy economy. It’s time Congress started earning their money and privileges and come up with some acceptable ways to put Americans back to work.

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