Have you heard the one about the recession being over?
New data out today show 539,000 workers lost their jobs in April and the nation’s unemployment rate worsened to 8.9 percent, from 8.5 percent in March, according to the Labor Department. Jobs lost in April were spread across nearly all major private-sector industries. Jobs lost include 149,000 in manufacturing; 110,000 in the construction industry; 122,000 in professional and business services; and 47,000 in the services industry.
Even more worrisome, the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) increased by 498,000 to 3.7 million over the month and has risen by 2.4 million since the start of the recession in December 2007.
The official unemployment rate is bad. But the real unemployment rate is far worse. If those who are underemployed or who want a job but have given up looking are counted, the U.S. unemployment rate stands at 15.8 percent—more than 25 million Americans.
So it looks like the pundits who claim this Bush-instigated recession and the jobless bleed it created is over haven’t talked with the millions of unemployed U.S. workers.
Jobless workers like Laura in California, who was laid off in November 2007 after 30 years in the newspaper industry and has not been able to find employment since. Laura, 55, invested all her life savings in her house, which is now valued at half of what she paid for it. Affording health care is out of the question—no matter how sick she is.
We may be dying, but are truly afraid of seeking ridiculously expensive health care. Health care must become more affordable in order to save our health and our lives.
Laura is among thousands who have taken our 2009 Health Care for America Survey and like all too many who are telling us their experiences with the nation’s crumbling health care system, losing a job has resulted in a multiplying series of disasters.
Yet according to the mainstream media, the recession is over and we can all pop the champagne corks. Except for a few details: Like the fact that unemployed workers are not finding jobs. In March, nearly one of every four unemployed workers had been unemployed for more than six months, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).
Just to keep up with the population growth, EPI says the nation must add approximately 127,000 jobs every month—and the economy now is more than 7 million jobs below what is needed to maintain pre-recession employment levels. There are four jobless workers for every job opening.
In March 2009, 45.6 percent of all workers collecting state unemployment insurance reached the end of their maximum 26 weeks of benefits without finding work. That is the highest exhaustion rate on record, dating back to 1972 when the data were first reported, according to the National Employment Law Project (NELP).
Nearly 400,000 workers in 13 states are eligible for extended unemployment insurance (UI) benefits under a program in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act if states enact legislation adopting that provision, NELP notes. The extended benefits program, a permanent Department of Labor program, allows unemployed workers to collect 13 to 20 weeks of extended unemployment benefits in states with high unemployment after they exhaust their regular state benefits. The program is typically funded half by states and half by the federal government.
As AFL-CIO President John Sweeney has said, President Obama’s budget “is an important first step that includes a serious down payment on national health care reform, investments in growing green jobs and addressing climate change, essential funding for education and other programs that are crucial for working families.”
But we also must make broad-based economic changes to have sustained economic growth and an economy that works for everyone. We must deal with our country’s unsustainable trade deficit. We must reform our financial regulatory system to provide more transparency and government oversight and regulation. And we must pass the Employee Free Choice Act so workers can win the freedom to form unions and bargain collectively with their employers for fair wages, security and benefits.
Quoting a 2009 MetLife study, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert lays out this chilling data:
With the erosion of social and corporate safety nets, tightening credit and declining home equity, most Americans have little financial cushioning to survive a job loss. Without a steady paycheck, 50 percent of Americans say they could not meet their financial obligations for more than a month—and, of that, a disturbing 28 percent couldn’t support themselves for more than two weeks of unemployment.
Yet, as Herbert notes:
The importance of employment to the everyday life and long-term health of the nation is too often given short shrift.
Because if the economy works for Wall Street, it must work for everyone.