Reports from the Economic Front

a blog by Marty Hart-Landsberg

Unemployment–Making Sense Of The Numbers

The April (U-3) unemployment rate hit 8.9%.  That means some 13.7 million people are now officially unemployed; 27.2% have been out of work for more than six months (a record high).  The more comprehensive (U-6) unemployment rate reached 15.8%.  That is a lot of people and a lot of suffering.

Despite the gloomy numbers, analysts keep telling us that things are getting better.  As the New York Times put it: “the deterioration [in the unemployment rate] was slightly milder than expected, buoying hopes that better days are approaching.”

Before getting out the credit cards remember that most of these analysts denied the existence of a housing bubble and once it broke have consistently downplayed the seriousness of the resulting crisis.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the current unemployment numbers, those “milder than expected” ones.  As Dean Baker explains,

The economy lost another 539,000 jobs in April, down from an average of 680,000 over the prior five months. . . . When making comparisons with prior months, it is important to remember that there has been a consistent pattern of sharp upward revisions to job loss numbers in subsequent reports. The number of jobs lost in February and in March was revised up by 66,000 in this report. On average, the initially reported job loss for the last five months has been revised upward by 86,200 in subsequent reports. If the April job loss is subsequently revised upward by a comparable number, then the rate of job decline, apart from the census workers, will be the same as the average for the prior five months.

You may be wondering about Baker’s reference to census workers in the quote above.  Well, one of the main reason that these numbers look better is that the federal government added 66,000 jobs in April, mostly because of the upcoming 2010 census.

In sum, we are far from out of the woods.  And in the meantime our safety net is anything but adequate.  Only 36% of the unemployed are receiving unemployment benefits and as the percentage of long term unemployed grows this coverage problem will grow worse.

Not surprisingly, as the Daily Kos reports:

For the fourth time in five months, enrollment in the food stamp program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, exceeded the previous record. The government reported Thursday that 32.55 million people received food stamps at the latest count. The average monthly benefit is $112.82 per person.

This is not the time for patience.  Economic recovery is going to require more aggressive action to create well-paying, secure, union jobs that are designed to produce the goods and services we need.

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