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  xThursday, July 03, 2003

i'm glad i'm not in there any more


Holy cats: Unemployment Rate Surges to 9-Year High
By LEIGH STROPE
The Associated Press

The nation's unemployment rate shot up to 6.4 percent in June, the highest level in more than nine years, in an economic slump that has cost nearly a million jobs in the last three months [Emphasis added].

Businesses slashed 30,000 jobs just last month, with cuts heavily concentrated on factory assembly lines, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

The 0.3 percentage point increase from May's 6.1 percent rate was the largest month-to-month rise since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. That surprised analysts who predicted a smaller rise, to 6.2 percent. The last time the overall rate was higher was in March 1994.

While recent economic indicators point to an economy struggling toward recovery, the latest report demonstrated that America's job market was still very much in a state of recession last month.

Since March, unemployment has increased by 913,000. Two million people were unemployed for 27 weeks or more last month, an increase of 410,000 since the start of the year.

Another factor behind the increase in the overall civilian unemployment rate was the increase in the number of people seeking work in June. Optimism about an economy rebound led over 600,000 people to resume their search for work.

Because the government calculates the overall unemployment rate based on a survey of American households, and because the lackluster economy wasn't producing enough jobs to accommodate an increasing number of job-seekers, that rate increased significantly.

Manufacturing led in payroll cuts last month, with 56,000 jobs lost. Since July 2000, the nation's factories have cut 2.6 million jobs.

That sector has been the weakest link in the economy's ability to get back to full speed. Slack demand at home and abroad and competition from a flood of imports have throttled back production.

Construction jobs helped offset manufacturing losses somewhat last month, with the fourth straight gain in hiring. Construction has added 101,000 jobs since February, reflecting strength in residential building.

The mortgage boom, stoked by record low rates, has been the bright spot in the dismal economy. People are buying new homes and refinancing their old mortgages. The extra cash from refinancing combined with solid home-value appreciation have kept consumer spending afloat.

Other hiring gains last month were in health care, leisure and hospitality and temporary employment services.

In a separate report, new claims for jobless benefits rose last week to 430,000, an increase of a seasonally adjusted 21,000 from the previous week's revised 409,000 claims.

The more stable, four-week moving average of claims, which smooths out weekly fluctuations, dropped to 425,000. That was the lowest level since April 5.

CNN/Money story with graphic here.

The new-claims figure had been trending downward over the last few weeks, so I halfway expected it to dip a bit below the 400,000 mark that traditionally indicates a weak job market. No such luck.

Let's also not forget that, even if the increase is due in part to more active job seekers, that isn't necessarilty good news. Increased competition for jobs can allow potential employers to be less generous with pay, benefits, and even raises for current employees. Job seekers may settle for a lower-paying job than they previously held. These are pocketbook issues that directly affect the vast majority of Americans not expected to benefit from Bush's policy of redistributing income to the rich.

Of course, with an upward trend in productivity (Definition: Working longer hours for the same pay), corporate profits seem to be stabalizing, and the stock market seems to be finding its feet. While an optimistic market is certainly better than the alternative, it's vital to remember that the Dow Jones and NASDAQ do not equal the US economy. Indeed, it's vital for Democrats to remind the public in the coming year that while Wall Street seems to be doing okay, average Americans are not. When Bush's handlers try to make him appear "concerned" over the economy in the next year, Democrats should retort that he darn well ought to be concerned, but that he isn't nearly as concerned as the American families struggling to pay their bills or find a job. And they need to emphasize the jobs lost under Bush's watch, and -- even if the unemployment rate levels off -- hold Bush accountable for any jobless recovery. In a demand-side recession, there's no incentive at all to increase output when supply capacity exceeds demand, and no amount of supply-side windfalls will change that.

And why not? Bush's economic policies were never intended to benefit anything other than his wealthy corporate cronies. He has no choice but to use deceptive rhetoric to gain support; Democrats need to call Bush out when the rhetoric fails to meet the reality. (Shouldn't the boost from the President's first round of tax cuts have kicked in by now?) Even Reagan promised "trickle down" economics: Sure, our policies favor the rich, but eventually you'll get yours.

Bush, by contrast, implies that average Americans benefit directly from his policies; that's the only way he can sell them. But they don't, and were never intended to. Shine a light on that, my friends, shine a light.

Almost a million jobs gone in three months. Amazing.

For further reading, Wampum has been keeping excellent watch on the economic numbers. Brad De Long is also a must-read.

Update: I may not be among the unemployed any more, but blogger Ted Barlow has taken my place. Sincere best wishes for good luck in the job hunt, Ted!





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