Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its latest jobs report, and in large part, the report is disappointing. Analysts had predicted growth in the neighborhood of 530,000 jobs in May, but according to BLS, 431,000 jobs were created, just 41,000 of which were in the private sector. The rest of the job growth is temporary employment due to the 2010 Census.
One of the more depressing statistics included in the report is the persistence of long-term unemployment. Since March, the percentage of unemployed workers who have been jobless for more than 27 weeks has climbed from 44 to 46 percent (increasing from 6.5 to 6.7 million workers). More than one million people have been out of work for two years. The average duration of unemployment is 34 weeks, two months longer than the traditional length of unemployment benefits (26 weeks). As the Washington Independent’s Annie Lowrey put it, “crisis is the appropriate word.”
And yet, the Senate adjourned for the Memorial Day recess last week without passing an extension of jobless benefits, meaning that 1.2 million households will see their benefits end unexpectedly. The House managed to pass an extension through November, but dropped an extension of COBRA benefits, which help laid off workers purchase health insurance.
Consumers make up about 70 percent of our economy. So, as Paul Krugman noted, “as these families are forced to slash spending, they will endanger the jobs of many more. And that’s just the beginning. More and more, conventional wisdom says that the responsible thing is to make the unemployed suffer. And while the benefits from inflicting pain are an illusion, the pain itself will be all too real.”
In addition, deficit hysteria is preventing further job creation efforts from being taken seriously by lawmakers. This is evidenced by a spokesman for Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) telling National Journal yesterday that “its time to demonstrate that we’re serious about cutting the deficit.” “It’s not just Blue Dogs anymore,” he said. Rep. Baron Hill (D-IN) voted against the jobless benefits extension, saying “last year, I held my nose. But the economy is starting to get on its feet again.”
When the Senate returns next week, it needs to reinstate jobless benefits as fast as possible. Aid to state and local governments, which shed 22,000 jobs last month, would also be helpful. But it seems more and more like lawmakers are going to allow high unemployment to linger on, leaving millions of workers without a safety net or a good chance of finding employment quickly.
Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) said in a statement today:
If we can afford wars, tax cuts and bank bailouts, then we can certainly afford to maintain programs for workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own…We must not abandon these workers and their families.