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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 75/No. 20      May 23, 2011


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(lead article)
Unemployment rises as
bosses hype ‘new jobs’
3 years into crisis, gov’t calls it ‘transitory’
Above: AP Photo/Tony Dejak
As capitalist crisis deepens, working people are caught between high unemployment and rising prices. Above, workers line up waiting for job fair to open in Independence, Ohio, May 3.

Despite rose-colored headlines in much of the big-business press reporting some 244,000 “new jobs” in April, the truth is that the government’s official unemployment rate went up in April to 9 percent. And the number of unemployed in just that one month grew by 205,000—roughly the population of Spokane, Washington, or Montgomery, Alabama.

Writing on the financial website MarketWatch, Heather Boushey noted that the share of workers jobless for more than six months “has hovered above 40% for 17 months—highs not seen since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking this data in 1948.”

President Barack Obama responded with his typical detachment from what the working class is facing. Speaking to Allison Transmission workers in Indianapolis May 6, he dismissed the fact that millions remain jobless and their numbers are growing, saying, “There are always going to be some ups and downs like these as we come out of a recession.” The well-paid middle-class and professional layers Obama comes from ride out these “ups and downs” just fine.

By Washington’s own figures, the number of jobs today is lower than in December 2007. Obama’s economic adviser Austan Goolsbee says working people should just tough it out and not expect an improvement in take-home pay for some time.

When you add in workers who’ve gone so long without finding a job that they’ve stopped looking for now—plus those working part time against their will—even the government’s understated numbers put unemployment at above 16 percent.  
‘Transitory’ slowdown?
Figures released April 28 show that already sluggish economic growth slowed in early 2011. And prices, especially of food and gasoline, keep climbing. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke says the slowdown is just “transitory” and inflation still “subdued.”

But the crisis is not “transitory” for millions of workers now in their third year of high unemployment, lower wages, and fewer, if any, benefits. In Ohio, once a center of industry, 15.2 percent of the population lives below the official poverty level, the highest rate in 50 years. The poverty rate is 36 percent in Youngstown and 25 percent in Columbus, the Columbus Dispatch reported. Workers in Michigan and some southern states confront worse conditions, according to the paper.

In early May, gasoline averaged close to $4 a gallon, as high as $4.25 in California. Dairy goods were up 15 percent in just the last month. Meat is up 7 percent in the last year.

As members of Congress debate how to “reduce the federal deficit”—code words for slashing social programs working people need now more than ever—Democratic and Republican politicians alike reveal how remote they are from the living conditions of U.S. workers.

“Listening to the debate in Washington, you’d think the nation was absorbed by the compelling saga of deficit reduction,” wrote Eugene Robinson in an April 25 column in the Washington Post. “You’d get the impression that in households across America, parents put their children to bed and then stay up half the night sifting through piles of think-tank reports on the kitchen table, trying to calculate whether there will be enough in the Social Security trust fund to pay benefits beyond 2037.

“And you’d be wrong. Those parents are looking at a pile of bills on the kitchen table, trying to decide which ones have to be paid now and which can slide. The question isn’t how to manage health care or retirement costs two decades from now. It’s how the family can make it to the end of the month.”  
‘Housing crisis’ continues
Over the past two years, apologists for the wealthy U.S. ruling families have trumpeted a modest turnaround in home sales and prices as light at the end of the tunnel. But home prices in April “have almost completely retreated from the gains they posted from May 2009 through June 2010,” CBS MarketWatch reported. Sales of new single-family houses have sunk to the lowest number since data was first collected in 1963.

In the Chicago area, where 10 million people live, new-home sales have plunged 90 percent. Only about 65 new houses are sold a week.

One home builder in the Chicago suburb of Richmond, Kim Meier, sold only 20 new houses all last year. Beginning this March he has sold seven. How did he do it? Everyone who buys a house gets a free car. His wife Sally jokes Meiers’s next promotion may have to be “Buy one, get one free.”

And that’s just the housing crisis of the capitalists and their real estate sellers and landlords, large and small. The true “housing crisis” is that of millions of working people seeking to find or hold onto a spacious, affordable place to live.
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