Obama’s Unemployment Problem

Reports are starting to appear suggesting that laid-off or underemployed Americans, and the long-term unemployed, are losing patience with the Obama administration’s and Congress’ economic stimulus plan, which thus far has not done anything to arrest the growth of unemployment, now at close to 20 percent of the US workforce, at least as unemployment used to honestly be counted in the 1970s and early 1980s.

While millions of jobs have been lost since the beginning of this year alone, the number of jobs that have been created as a result of the Obama administration’s signature $780-billion stimulus spending package is under 150,000—a far cry from the 3.5 million that were promised when the bill was being put before Congress.

There has been a lot of hype from Washington sources, dutifully reported with little analysis or criticism in the corporate media, suggesting that the recession is bottoming out. One example was a report last week that the number of people receiving unemployment had, for the first time in six months, dropped slightly. Unmentioned was the hard reality that the reason for this drop was that many laid-off workers are now reaching the end of their 26 weeks of unemployment benefits in states that do not offer any extended benefits program. On inspection, that is hardly good news.

There is also a mantra, trotted out regularly by administration officials, that unemployment figures are a “lagging indicator,” and thus are no indication that the recession is continuing to worsen. The problem with this sleight-of-hand is that unemployment itself, when it is rising rapidly as it has been now for a year, is a cause of deepening recession. When one in five workers is unemployed or unwillingly underemployed, that represents not only a huge drop in consumer demand for everything from basic necessities to luxuries, but also a huge dark cloud of anxiety that hangs over most of the rest of the public, leading everyone to cut back on their spending, thus dragging down the economy further.

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