The latest unemployment rates are nothing short of stunning. The overall rate, 7.6 percent is alarming enough. The fact that unemployment claims have topped 600,000 last week is even more challenging.
And then, the fact that the African American unemployment rate is 12.9 percent is startling. This means that more than one in 8 African Americans is officially out of work.
And that's just officially. The unofficial numbers look even worse – they top 20 percent, and include part time people looking for full time jobs, and also people who just aren't looking anymore.
The data are daunting enough, but the microeconomics of this will bring tears to your eyes. I got an email from a woman who told me that, after losing her job in November, she is now being evicted from her home.
She wrote because she said, "maybe you have some answers."
What can I tell her? She joins millions in the loss of home, the search for work. In the middle of her letter, she notes that she is in her mid-50s, and fears starting over.
Her comment hit me in my gut. Now multiply that up to the millions, the 3 million who lost jobs last year, and the many who will not find jobs this year.
The Senate is fiddling while Rome burns. They are asking if a stimulus package is necessary. I want to know why they thought a bank bailout made sense. If they take longer to do a stimulus package than they did for a bailout that will let us all know that banks take a priority over people.
I guess we already knew that, though. We knew that people could use taxpayer money for bonuses and for remodeled offices while other folks cannot keep their homes, much less remodel them. What is wrong with the Republicans who ought to, at least, give our new president the opportunity to have one bite at the policy apple?
Sen. John McCain has appeared almost shrill in his opposition to the Obama stimulus package. So much for the purported bipartisanship. Bipartisanship isn't getting the Obama administration anywhere. They just need to claim their identity, their positions, their focus, and let the Republicans offer all the opposition they want to.
I would ask our legislators to walk just a mile in the shoes of those who are jobless. If White folk had the Black unemployment rate, 12.9 percent, we would be talking depression, and rapidly pumping money into people's hands. It is, somehow, acceptable that African American people are unemployed in high numbers.
There has not been a peep from key legislators about the reasons this is extraordinarily acceptable. I was on a plane a few days ago loitering outside the restroom trying to stretch my legs. A sister and I struck up a conversation about nothing in particular, just the challenges of riding four hours on a fully crowded plane.
Then she told me that she was flying from Los Angeles to Atlanta on a standby pass provided by her daughter-in-law, moving because she had lost her job and just about everything else she had.
She was gracious, sanguine, and spoke about the many others who she worked with who lost just as much, if not more. And she thanked God for the richness of the life she has had until now.
"I helped put three children through school," she told me. "I have been very happy. I lost things when I lost my home, and I don't know what I will do now. But my daughter will take me in, and I have time to decide how to regroup."
I loved her energy and her focus. How will our country regroup, though, when our legislators are piddling and fiddling while our labor market unravels and our nation burns?
Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro North Carolina.