Unemployment data send mixed signals; jobs, benefits bills trudge through Congress as some Republicans break ranks

March 10th, 2010 by Mike Hinshaw

The big news Feb. 25, as The Washington Post put it, was that the Senate easily passed a $15 billion jobs bill. Some outlets were even calling it a “bipartisan” bill, given that 13 Repubs joined 57 Dems to pass the measure 70-28.

Just shows to go ya–how some pols will vote differently, once the threat of a filibuster is removed (as we discussed here and in Part I of  a two-part piece on the “stealth filibuster”). In fact, the jobs bill might have been scuttled–or “shelved”–had not newly-seated Scott Brown (R-MA) and four other Republican Senators voted against a filibuster on Feb. 23: even with those five votes, the filibuster was avoided by only two votes, clearing that hurdle 62-30 (60 votes are required).

Filibuster affects voting strategy

Yet, when the jobs measure itself came to a vote, eight more Republicans crossed the aisle, which sent it back to the House, where a much larger jobs measure had passed in December.  Also from The Washington Post: “The House voted 217 to 201 to approve a $15 billion measure that would give tax breaks to companies for hiring new employees. Six Republicans joined the vast majority of Democrats in supporting the bill, which also includes a one-year reauthorization of the law governing federal highway funding, as well as an expansion of the Build America Bonds program and a provision allowing companies to write off equipment purchases.”

Unfortunately, the measure (which still must clear the Senate again, due to House revisions) is not expected to have a major impact on unemployment and almost certainly will not help consumers who right-now-today are staring at foreclosure or bankruptcy.

‘Stop calling this a jobs bill’

Among the pols who voiced disappointment by the 10-fold reduction, a shared sentiment immediately following the Senate vote seemed to be to drop the euphemism “jobs bill” –that is, to simply concede that it’s a tax-credit bill that might indirectly spur businesses to hire people who have been out of work more than 60 days.

For example, quoted in the “Political Blotter” at ContraCostaTimes.com, Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) said, ““When presented with a powerful opportunity to create jobs and address the growing unemployment rates among the chronically unemployed, the Senate responded with a whimper. A ‘go slow’, piecemeal approach will do little to address our nation’s need for employment.

“It is critical that policy solutions include not only small business relief but worker training, the use of existing federal programs and targeted job creation to those communities with the highest rates and longest history of unemployment. Until the needs of the chronically unemployed are met, we implore leadership to stop calling this ‘the jobs bill.’ ”

Despite her confusing syntax, we get Ms. Lee’s point: seems like a “jobs bill” should, in fact, create jobs.

Although some tiny gains are trickling, the national jobs picture remains grim.

Job losses, job gains

One Wall Street Journal blog is reporting “a sign the job market is inching toward recovery [because] 31 states added jobs in the first month of the year.”

Using Labor Department data regarding  the official unemployment rate, the piece continues: “In January, the overall U.S. unemployment rate fell to 9.7% from 10% a month earlier, while the nation’s economy shed 26,000 jobs. The job losses continued in February amid strong weather effects, but the jobless rate remained at 9.7%.” (By the way, that blog also has jobless rates for each state.)

But remember, the “official rate” is not the real rate, which includes those who have given up looking for work as well as those who can’t find full time work. That rate, the “total unemployment” rate, peaked at 17.4 per cent in October 2009. Sometimes referred to as the “U-6″ category, this rate is important for two reasons. First, of course, it shows the number of U.S. unemployed is actually closer to 20 per cent than it is to 10 per cent. Why the media continues to buy in to the Labor Department’s lower number–the “U-3 category, now at 9.7 per cent and holding–is simply confounding.

Second, the U-6 category is telling in that gains in the  U-3 category should parallel gains in the U-6–but that isn’t happening. As pointed out in another WSJ blog: “The U.S. jobless rate was unchanged at 9.7% in February, following a decline the previous month, but the government’s broader measure of unemployment ticked up 0.3 percentage point to 16.8%.”

So what’s that mean? Well, here’s the conclusion from that piece: “A U-6 figure that converges toward the official rate could indicate improving confidence in the labor market and the overall economy. This month pushes convergence even further away.”

Unemployment extension passes ‘no debate” hurdle in Senate

the Senate. A larger measure, described today in The  Washington Post, moved forward when eight Repubs joined 58 Dems to limit debate: “The bill includes one-year extensions of unemployment insurance and COBRA health benefits, as well as money to help states pay for Medicaid and private pension funds that have taken a big hit during the recession.”
According to the Post, how the House is expected to act on the larger measure is not known.

*************************************************************************

If you are overwhelmed by debt, filing for bankruptcy protection may be your most pragmatic alternative. If you are facing foreclosure of your home (sometimes referred to as your “primary residence,” as opposed to a second home, or “vacation home”),  bankruptcy protection may be your best route to saving the home. If you are struggling with medical bills, you may be in a special category for setting debt aside, and if you have problems with credit-card debt, please know the laws have changed recently. For bankruptcy basics, please see:

Principles of bankruptcy

Basics of bankruptcy

Introduction to Chapter 7

Introduction to Chapter 13