150,000 ‘non-farm’ private sector jobs were added in October, a better than expected number. And new claims for unemployment fell 24,000 last week to 435,000. Consumers seem a bit more optimistic with the consumer sentiment index rising to a 5-month high of 69.3 and retail sales rising 1.2% in October. So, it’s all good, right? The recession is over and economy is surely recovering. It’s enough to make an unemployed mom of four to start feeling positive about her hopes of finding a job!
It did until I compared the number of new jobs in October with the number of my unemployed and under employed competitors for those jobs. Nearly 15 million Americans are out of work, and another 9 million are under-employed. And I’m one of those poor stiffs who fall into that category known as the long-term unemployed. NPR is highlighting this sorry group of 6 million in a series this week and in the first two stories they have focused on the ‘loss of human capital’ and have glumly forecast the atrophy and erosion of the unemployed workers’ skills. Thanks guys – you make it sound like we aren’t worth rehiring if we are out of work for 6 months.
To be fair, it isn’t just NPR that is sounding this storyline – other news outlets frequently use words like obsolete when talking about the long-term unemployed. The New York Times calls the outlook for the long-term unemployed bleak and an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that employers are openly shunning job seekers out of work for more than 6 months. Yep, stating right up front in the ad – don’t apply if you haven’t worked in 2009!
But we have more to worry about – namely unemployment benefits. The extended unemployment benefits that were first put in place in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) will expire at the end of November. Benefits for the newly unemployed will revert to the 26 weeks most states allowed before ARRA and the rest of us, no job in sight, will be enjoying our holidays at the soup kitchens and homeless shelters. The National Employment Law Project says two million people will stop getting benefit checks by December 30th if the program is not renewed.
Before you protest that extending the benefits will just further burden the country with an increasing deficit consider this note from the Examiner.com:
The progressive Economic Policy Institute estimates that reauthorizing the benefits for a full year would cost $65
billion – about the same cost as extending the Bush tax cuts to the wealthiest 2% of Americans for the same time period. EPI also projects that extending unemployment benefits would create more than 700,000 jobs.
As an article in the Center for American Progress website states, “Unemployment benefits kept 3.3 million people out of poverty in 2009, and they enable those out of work to keep putting food on the table and pay their bills.” And that shopping and bill paying helps the economy in its shaky progress on the road to recovery. Economists estimate that the economy grows by $1.61 for every dollar spent on unemployment benefits because recipients typically spend all of their benefit payments quickly.
The optimism brought about by the October job numbers feels more like panic now. California’s unemployment rate is 12.4%. There’s been no response from any of the applications I’ve sent in for positions in my field and the ads in the local paper are mostly for part-time or holiday help, wages in the $8 to $10 range, nights and weekend hours required. Regardless applicants are flooding these employers with resumes.
I’ve put in a volunteer application for the local Scholastic Book Fair in December – 8 hours of work will earn me $80 worth of books – Christmas presents for the kids. Even this job is competitive – the small print at the bottom of the applications warns that not everyone who applies to be a volunteer will be selected. For the kids’ sake I hope they pick me.
If you’d like to learn more about the unemployment benefits and the looming expiration, please visit Unemployedworkers.org and read the blog post Out in the Cold for the Holidays.