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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 73/No. 7      February 23, 2009


Click here for Militant Labor Forums

(lead article)
Labor Dept.: ‘official’ jobless rate at 7.6%
Bosses cut 3.6 million jobs in last 13 months
Getty Images/Scott Olson
Workers at Chicago job fair, January 26. Number of jobs cut over last year is highest since 1939, when records first began being kept.

A total of 11.6 million workers are officially unemployed, according to the latest U.S. Labor Department report. Employers slashed another 598,000 jobs in January—the worst monthly decline since December 1974. The official unemployment rate rose to 7.6 percent, from 7.2 percent in December.

Insisting that he will resolve the country’s worst economic crisis since the 1930s, President Barack Obama has been aggressively campaigning for passage of an $838 billion “stimulus” bill. Layoffs have been rising as factory production declined for a record fifth consecutive month in December. According to the U.S. Commerce Department, orders dropped by 3.9 percent that month.

At the same time the intensification of labor referred to as “productivity,” which is a measurement of the amount of output per hour of work, increased 3.2 percent in the final three months of 2008. This was more than double the rate announced for the third quarter.

The government also revised upward by 400,000 the number of job cuts announced for previous months in 2008. Since entering into a recession in December 2007, bosses have eliminated 3.6 million jobs—half of these in just the last three months.

In the 12-month period through January, more jobs were lost than any time since the government started compiling those figures in 1939.

Job cuts in 2008 were way above the figures for the previous three years. In 2007, 768,000 jobs were eliminated; in 2006, some 840,000 workers were laid off; and in 2005, job cuts were 884,000.

The January figures include the layoff of 207,000 workers in manufacturing jobs, 76,000 in temporary jobs, and 44,000 in transportation and warehousing. In construction, 111,000 jobs were eliminated. Since January 2007, employers have cut 1 million construction workers’ jobs. The only areas where employment rose was by 19,000 in health care, 33,000 in private education, and 6,000 government jobs.

The official unemployment rate for Blacks increased to 12.6 percent, and for Latinos it jumped to 9.7 percent.

The Labor Department does not count another 2.1 million workers who it describes as being “marginally attached to the labor force.” These individuals were not counted because “they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey,” the Bureau of Labor Statistics report states, even though they “wanted and were available for work and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months.”

The government report also does not include the 7.8 million workers wanting full-time jobs who have been forced instead into part-time work. If all these individuals are counted, the actual unemployment and underemployment rate rose to 13.9 percent, almost 5 percentage points higher than a year earlier.

For the last week in January, those filing for unemployment checks for the first time reached a 27-year high, with 626,000 filling out applications.

Seven states have already depleted funds for these payments. Government officials in another 11 states say they’ll be out of money for unemployment payments within the year, reports the National Conference of State Legislatures.  
Obama campaigns for ‘stimulus’ bill
In a speech February 10 in Fort Myers, Florida, a city that had the highest rate of foreclosures in the country last year, Obama promised that the “stimulus” plan “will save or create up to 4 million jobs over the next two years, ignite spending by business and consumers alike and make the investments necessary for lasting economic growth and prosperity.” At a White House press conference the evening before, he warned that failure to pass this package “could turn a crisis into a catastrophe.”

The Bush administration made similar claims to push through its bailout package last year. However, the February 6 Federal Reserve statistical release on consumer credit showed that far from “jump starting” the economy by buoying consumer spending, the stimulus was used by most to pay down debts. Consumer credit outstanding dropped at an annual rate of 3.1 percent in December, according to the report.

The bill contains a combination of tax reductions and funds for such items as education, health care, the military, state and local police departments, infrastructure repairs, and an extension of unemployment benefits. Protectionist measures on use of U.S. iron and steel are also part of the package.

The House passed the bill January 28. The Senate approved a differing version of the legislation February 10. Congress is now working on putting together a jointly agreed-upon version for the president to sign.

The Senate’s bill would not require companies to participate in the “E-Verify” program to obtain stimulus funds. The House bill has this provision. This program allows employers to electronically check a worker’s Social Security number to determine if he or she is eligible to work in the United States. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has filed a lawsuit against forcing companies to participate in this program.
Related articles:
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Would use office to help advance workers’ fight
Capitalist crises shatter illusions about stability
Openings to win workers to communist program
Turn bosses’ bribes against them

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