Weekly Audit: The Unemployment Epidemic

By Zach Carter, Media Consortium Blogger

On Friday, we learned that the U.S. unemployment rate officially broke 10% for the first time since the early Reagan years. This is about as bad as it gets for a modern, developed economy. No economic force takes a heavier toll on a society than rampant joblessness, and few personal setbacks take a deeper psychological toll than being out of a job for months on end. If Congress and President Obama don't do something to create jobs fast, both are going to pay a hefty political price when next year's mid-term elections roll around.

So how bad is it? In October, the economy shed 190,000 jobs and the unemployment rate jumped from 9.8% to 10.2%. That percentage is the most optimistic reading of the labor market in Friday's report. If you take people who want full-time jobs but are settling for part-time work, then add those who have simply given up on finding a job, the rate is a massive 17.5%.

The problem is not that either Obama or Congress have failed to act on the problem, but rather that they have not done enough. When Congress was moving on Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus package back in February, we were shedding upwards of 700,000 jobs a month. So the stimulus package has worked--it's probably helped keep unemployment from jumping to 12% or 13%. But this is cold comfort to the nation's 15.7 million unemployed, 5.6 million of whom have been out of a job for more than six months.

As Robert Reich notes for Salon, Obama's economic advisers dramatically underestimated how bad things would get when they crafted the stimulus package. As a result, the package was too small and unemployment has remained high. Obama needs to go back to Congress and demand more economic relief funding. Republicans will continue to whine about government spending to excuse their obstructionism, of course, and conservative Democrats will probably start sweating, too--Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) helped cut back the original stimulus bill in February to help boost his "centrist" credentials. This of course had nothing to do with economics or policy. Government spending is what saves the economy in a recession. In a downturn as severe as this one, it takes a lot of spending to turn things around.

But as Reich notes, Nelson and his cohorts will have a lot more to worry about in the 2010 elections if the economy doesn't actually improve over the next year. And few economists think it will. The Congressional Budget Office, which is run by a conservative economist named Douglas Elmendorf, projects an average unemployment rate of over 10% in 2010. That's worse than this year. Democrats from swing districts need to support economic relief packages. Continued economic malaise will severely hurt them at the polls.

Congress finally took some action on joblessness on Thursday, voting to extend unemployment benefits for an additional 14 weeks. If we want the economy to recover, we need people to spend money, but if people aren't working, they don't have any money to spend. So the government cuts people checks to help them get by and stimulate a demand for goods and services. Even most conservative economists thinks this is a good idea.

But as Kevin Drum notes for Mother Jones, the soundness of the policy did nothing to prevent Republicans from fighting the effort to extend benefits tooth-and-nail. The bill had to overcome three--that's right, three--filibusters in the Senate from Republicans, who held up the bill for weeks for no apparent reason. In a blog post for The Washington Monthly, Steve Benen explains the economic cost of this obstructionism: In the weeks of delay, 200,000 people looking for work stopped receiving benefits.

But extending unemployment benefits will not solve our economic woes. The total program is just $2.4 billion, a drop in the bucket compared to the trillions of dollars the government put up to salvage Wall Street. $2.4 billion is not enough to reverse the unemployment trend. Cutting the checks certainly helps, but as Matthew Rothschild emphasizes for The Progressive, we need an economic policy that actually puts people back to work. We've known for months that the stimulus was too small and watched the labor market continue to deteriorate. We need more than tweaks at the economic margins, we need a robust job creation plan.

As Stephen Franklin notes for Working In These Times, we already know that the recession has created a significant jump in the nation's poverty rate. According to official government statistics, the rate climbed from 12.5% to 13.2% in 2008, the largest increase since 1991. But the National Academy of Science thinks the government statistics are misleading, as they account for rising costs associated with medical care, transportation, child care and different regional living standards, as Franklin notes. Taking these factors into account, the National Academy of Sciences calculates the actual poverty rate to be 15.8%. That's an additional 7 million people living in poverty, for a total of over 47 million. That's more than the entire population of the New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia metropolitan areas combined. What's worse, we don't have poverty statistics for this year, when the most severe economic damage was been dealt.

Workers are facing tough economic prospects around the world. Writing for The Nation, Kristina Rizga details Latvia's economic turmoil. Just like the US, overexcited bankers in Latvia inflated a massive real estate bubble that took down the entire economy when it burst. But with the bubble burst, much of the country is now out of a job and stuck with a mortgage worth far less than what they paid for it. It's almost exactly the same story we've seen at home.

No domestic economic problem is more pressing than our epic levels of unemployment. We need another round of stimulus to get people working again. If not, we'll see the same public unrest here as in Eastern Europe.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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Yepsen not one to bank on given his '04 prediction

Steve Benen is incorrect about David Yepsen predicting Kerry's surge in the Iowa 2004 caucus. This is what Yepsen predicted the day of the Iowa caucus: He predicted that Dean would win!

Organization will be key to victory (DAVID YEPSEN, 01/19/2004, Des Moines Register)

If organization is as important as caucus lore tells us it is, Howard Dean should win the Iowa caucuses tonight. Driven by youthful energy and anti-war activism not seen since the Vietnam War, Dean has assembled what his organizers claim is the best get-out-the-vote operation ever built in the state.

They are probably correct. As the campaign draws to a close today, the important story isn't the candidates and their hoopla. It's their organizations and their boring grunt work on the streets and telephones of Iowa.

Given that recent polls of the race show the contest has tightened, Dean hopes his operation provides him with the political firewall he needs to protect himself against the late surges by John Kerry and John Edwards. A Dean win in Iowa tonight would be devastating to the early front-runner here, Dick Gephardt.

It was the day of the caucus, and Yepsen still thought Dean was gonna win? LOL, I wish he were right! I was about as hardcore a Deaniac as they came, and thought that Dean would win even as late as the Sunday before the caucuses. But when I saw that we were doomed in the Monday polls for second choice, even I realized our chances were not looking good.


So regarding the status of Edwards, I wouldn't listen to either the "dean" of the Iowa press, or the Obama's camp spin, for that matter:

The objectives of Obama's team are straightforward: to make Iowa (and the rest of the contest) a two-person race between their guy and Hillary. In Plouffe's telling, Edwards is fading fast in Iowa. And a key Obama supporter there, the former state party chairman Gordon Fischer, gave an interview last week disparaging the turnout of Edwards supporters at the big-deal Jefferson-Jackson Dinner on November 10, arguing that Obama was well poised to pick up Edwards's voters, whom he described as "up for grabs."

Methinks they doth protest too much. Indeed, the fact that Plouffe and Fischer are posturing this way suggests that the Obama forces continue to fear the prospect of being trumped by Edwards in Iowa. And with good reason. So far Obama has spent some $5 million on advertising in the state, and Clinton's total is more than $3 million, whereas as of two weeks ago, Edwards had spent just $20,000. And yet the race remains a statistical three-way dead heat.

More to the point, because of the bizarro nature of the caucuses--the participants must go out, on a frigid night, for a multi-hour ordeal of public declarations of support and multiple rounds of voting--the contest in Iowa is a slog-it-out ground war, in which organization and get-out-the-vote efforts are paramount. And here all sides concede privately that Edwards's team, which has been in place essentially for five years, is the class of the field. When I ask Edwards if he's concerned about signs of slippage in Iowa, he literally laughs in my face. "We have 99 county chairs and about 75 percent of the precincts covered with precinct chairs," he says. "I know how to run a caucus campaign in Iowa--and so do the people who work for me."

Not that I am going to believe straight-up what Edwards says about his status in Iowa either; but when you look at the internals of the two latest polls, and they both show Edwards either leading or within a percentage point of the lead among those whom actually have caucused, the claim seems rather weak.

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Weekly Pulse: On Health Care Repeal, House GOP Full of Sound and Fury

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

House Republicans will hold a symbolic vote to overturn health care reform on January 12. The bill, which would repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and set the nation’s health care laws back to the way they were last March, has no chance of becoming law. The GOP controls the House, but Democrats control the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that the Senate Democrats will block the bill.

Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones reports that the 2-page House bill carries no price tag. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the ACA would save $143 billion dollars over the next decade. The GOP repeal bill contains no alternative plan. So, repealing the ACA would be tantamount to adding $143 billion to the deficit. So much for fiscal responsibility.

Why are the Republicans rushing to vote on a doomed bill without even bothering to hold hearings, or formulate a counter-proposal for the Congressional Budget Office to score? Kevin Drum of Mother Jones hazards a guess:

[Speaker John] Boehner [(R-OH)] knows two things: (a) he has to schedule a repeal vote because the tea partiers will go into open revolt if he doesn’t, and (b) it’s a dead letter with nothing more than symbolic value. So he’s scheduling a quick vote with no hearings and no CBO scoring just so he can say he’s done it, after which he can move on to other business he actually cares about.

An opportunity?

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly argues that all this political theater around repealing the Affordable Care Act is an opportunity for Democrats to remind the public about all the popular aspects of the bill that the GOP is trying to strip away.

Last weekend several key provisions of the ACA took effect, including help for middle income seniors who are running up against the prescription drug “donut hole.” Until last Saturday, their drugs were covered up to a relatively low threshold, then they were on their own until they spent enough on prescriptions for the catastrophic coverage to kick in again. Those seniors will be reluctant to give up their brand new 50% discount on drugs in the donut hole.

Another crack at turning eggs into persons

A Colorado ballot initiative to bestow full human rights on fertilized ova was resoundingly defeated for the second time in the last midterm elections. Attempts to reclassify fertilized ova as people are an attempt to ban abortion, stem cell research, and some forms of birth control. Patrick Caldwell of the American Independent reports that new egg-as-person campaigns are stirring in other states where activists hope to take advantage of new Republican majorities.

Personhood USA, the group behind the failed Colorado ballot initiatives, claims that there is “action” (of some description) on personhood legislation in 30 states. Caldwell says Florida may be the next battleground. Personhood USA needs 676,000 signatures to get their proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot. Right now, they have zero, but they promise a “big push” in 2011.

Ronald McDonald = Joe the Camel

In AlterNet, Kelle Louaillier calls for more regulation of fast food industry advertising to children. New research shows that children are being exposed to significantly more fast food ads than they were just a few years ago. Other studies demonstrate that children give higher marks to food products when they are paired with a cartoon character. Louaillier writes of her organization’s campaign to prevent fast food companies from using cartoons to market fast food to kids:

For our part, my organization launched a campaign in March to convince McDonald’s to retire Ronald McDonald, its iconic advertising character, and the suite of predatory marketing practices of which the clown is at the heart. A study we commissioned by Lake Research Partners found that more than half of those polled say they “favor stopping corporations from using cartoons and other children’s characters to sell harmful products to children.”

Local elected officials are joining the cause, too. Los Angeles recently voted to make permanent a ban on the construction of new fast food restaurants in parts of the city. San Francisco has limited toy giveaway promotions to children’s meals that meet basic health criteria. The idea is spreading to other cities.

2011 trendspotting: Baby food

The hot new snack trend for 2011 is mush, as Bonnie Azab Powell reports in Grist. In an attempt to burnish its portfolio of “healthier” snack options for kids Tropicana (a PepsiCo company) is introducing a new line of pureed fruit and vegetable slurries. The products, sold under the brand name Tropolis, feature ground up fruits and veggies, vitamin C, and fiber in a portable plastic pouch. These “drinkified snacks” or “snackified drinks” will be priced at $2.49 to $3.49 for a four-pack, making them more expensive than fresh fruit.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

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