The United States economy is shedding jobs the same way faster than a grooming dog sheds fleas. Payroll employment has been dropping for nine months in a row with 159,000 fewer jobs on the books in September than in the month before.
So far this year, payrolls are down 760,000, and 969,000 in the private sector. The unemployment rate has held steady at 6.1 percent for the past two months, but it is up 1.4 points during the past year. Nearly 10 million people are "officially" unemployed, which means they are officially looking for work. These numbers do not include those who have dropped out of the labor force, in other words people with jobs who have just stopped looking.
It also doesn't include people who are underemployed, or working at jobs that they are overqualified for. The Bureau of Labor Statistics develops several rates of "labor utilization," including one that includes people who work part time because they can't find full time work, and those "marginally attached."
With such a measure the unemployment rate would double to 11 percent. And, surprise, surprise, African American workers are doing much worse than other workers in the labor force. While the unemployment rate was 5.4 percent for Whites, it was 11.4 percent for African Americans.
If the White unemployment rate were 11.4 percent, someone other than a humble columnist would be asking about a bailout for the unemployed. But because we are simply looking at a Black unemployment rate, there has been little discussion about what to do about excessive unemployment. According to the Economic Policy Institute (www.epi.org) all of the gains African Americans made in the 1990s were wiped out by job losses in the last several years. The report, written by Algernon Austin, suggests that African American workers have been among the hardest hit by our economic downturn. There's nothing for Black folks, but plenty for banks.
We saw our Congress rush to action to provide a bailout for financial markets. It was said that it was an emergency, that we had no choice, that the $850 (up from $700) billion bailout was a matter of life and death for the nation's economy. Ask the person who has been unemployed for the last six months how they feel about life and death. Some of these folks have exhausted their unemployment insurance. Some have lost their homes and their families.
One in five unemployed people have been unemployed for at least six months, the highest share of long-term unemployment in three years. Yet these people have been virtually ignored by policymakers. Furthermore, the number of people who are involuntarily part time, or who would rather work full time, has skyrocketed.
The number grew by 300,000 in September, and by 1.6 million in the past year. Six million people who hold part time jobs want and need full time jobs, the largest number in fifteen years. Again, we keep hearing about markets, but the focus is on every market except the labor market.
Just about every sector of the economy is experiencing job losses, from factory jobs, to service jobs, to jobs in the financial services industry. Only in health care and government services to jobs continue to grow. There is barely a safe haven for those who are losing their jobs. The economic policy institute cites one piece of legislation as providing possibilities for those at the bottom.
The Emergency Unemployment Compensation program extends jobless benefits an extra 13 weeks. That provision has run out and can be renewed by Congress. That's the least a group of bailout-focused lawmakers can do for ordinary people who also need a hand. Realistically, though, lawmakers aren't likely to do much more. They are rushing home to get involved in a close election, and leaving the employment mess until after November or, more likely, after January.
Yet if trends continue as they have, we will have lost at least a million jobs this year, and we will have experienced an indifferent congress that can be whipped into fearful bailout submission by Treasury Secretary Paulson. Who speaks for workers? And will working people get a bailout?
When your Congressional representative comes home to campaign, ask what they will do for workers. It's a fair question to raise as our economy continues to spiral out of control.
Dr. Julianne Malveaux is president of Bennett College for Women. She is also on the board of directors of the Economic Policy Institute. She can be reache at [email protected].