At 15 Million, Unemployment Numbers Look Bleak

Guest Commentary

Volume CIII, No. 7/8July, 2003

This commentary first appeared on the Web site of the AFL-CIO.

The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics April jobs report confirmed what millions of U.S. workers know all-too well: The nation’s job crisis is bleak and getting bleaker.

Some 8.8 million jobless workers are counted in the official U.S. unemployment rate of 6 percent, up from 5.8 percent in March, according to the May 2 report.

Even the dismal 6 percent unemployment rate is worse than it looks. In addition to the 8.8 million, another 1.4 million jobless Americans looked for jobs in the past year but now are so discouraged they have not looked recently. Added to these 10.2 million jobless workers are an additional 4.8 million who are involuntarily working part-time because their hours were cut or they have been unable to find full-time employment. They bring the total number of unemployed and underemployed to some 15 million.

The American economy lost a net 48,000 jobs in April, but the beleaguered manufacturing sector shed 95,000 positions. The economy now has lost more than 2.6 million private-sector jobs – nearly 100,000 jobs per month – since President George W. Bush took office.

The number of job-seeking Americans out of work for six months or more has reached 1.9 million – which matches the highest figure in a decade and includes almost 22 percent of all the unemployed.

More than a million long-term unemployed are nearing the end of their unemployment insurance, with the May 31 expiration of the Temporary Extended Unemployment Compensation (TEUC).

Extending unemployment insurance is a top priority for working families. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) has sponsored the Economic Security Act of 2003 (S923), while Reps. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) have introduced the Unemployment Benefits Extension Act (HR1652). Both bills would continue the emergency program for six months. The bills also would increase benefits to 26 weeks (with more time for workers in states with especially high unemployment), cover the million-plus workers who have exhausted extended benefits without being able to find work and expand unemployment insurance coverage for low-wage and part-time workers.

“Extending the emergency unemployment insurance program throws a vital lifeline to jobless workers and benefits the entire country by pumping $1.73 into the economy for every dollar spent on benefits,” says AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney. “By contrast, a dollar spent on cutting dividends taxes for the wealthy that President Bush wants pumps only 9 cents into the economy.”

Earlier this year, Bush proposed a $726 billion tax cut, which would primarily benefit millionaire taxpayers. Faced with opposition in the House and Senate, Bush now is pushing for $550 billion.

“When the economy is staggering, Congress and the president should act immediately to extend emergency unemployment insurance, an economic stimulus that’s nearly 2,000 times more effective than the dividends tax break and that’s fully paid for by the resources in the unemployment insurance trust fund,” says Sweeney.

Urge your senators and House representatives to vote for S923 and HR1652. The Capitol switchboard phone number is (202) 224-3121.