Dismal Job Numbers Coming for June

From the Washington Post:

The recession has directly hit more than half of the nation’s working adults, pushing them into unemployment, pay cuts, reduced hours at work or part-time jobs, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

The story focuses on how the economic devastation will cause people to live more austerely and save more money, which would certainly be good.

“We’re going to see much lower consumption going forward,” said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He blames diminished spending on the drop in housing prices. “People who thought they had equity in their homes have seen it disappear,” he said.

Again, consuming less is certainly not a bad thing – except that our largely service based economy is fueled by consumer spending. If people are saving money instead of buying new stuff or going out to eat, more jobs will be lost. And speaking of job creation….

The numbers look dismal for June:

The private sector of the U.S. economy added only 13,000 jobs in June, according to ADP employment services, a disappointing number that came in below estimates and portends bad things from the government’s June jobs report due out Friday.

In May, according to ADP, the private sector added 57,000 jobs. But in June? Statistically, across a workforce as big as the United States’? Zero job growth; 13,000 new jobs is a statistically meaningless number.

It’s also a realistically meaningless number, in the face of the 22 million jobs that need to be created in order for the US to even be approaching full employment.

There is no such thing as a “jobless recovery.”


Call Your Representative Now

The House of Representatives may give an unemployment benefits extension another try as soon as today.

They may have another go at the new, stand-alone unemployment insurance benefits extension bill. They tried that one yesterday under suspension of the rules, but that requires a 2/3 vote to pass (290 votes in a full House), and they only got 261. That’s a strong showing, though, so they’re hoping to come back today with the same bill under “regular order” and pass it with a normal majority vote.

That they’ll try it at some point seems fairly certain, but with around 40,000 people per day losing their benefits and the fourth of July recess coming up, “at some point” isn’t good enough. It needs to happen today, and the Senate needs to follow up—Harry Reid has already filed for cloture on a (nearly) stand-alone extension, but as we know, things never go quickly in the Senate.

Call now to urge Congress to extend the unemployment benefits America’s jobless workers need so badly. Just enter your phone number below and when we connect you to the Capitol switchboard, ask the operator to connect you to your representative.

 Sign me up for SMS/Text Alerts

(Msg & Data Rates May Apply)


Unemployment Extension Stalls Again


With Republicans citing concerns about the growing national debt, the House rejected a bill Tuesday to extend unemployment benefits for people who have been out of work for long stretches.
Payments will continue to phase out for more than 200,000 people a week without an extension. The last extension expired at the end of May. House Democrats said more than 1 million people have already lost benefits.

Congressional Democrats have been trying for weeks to pass the extension as part of a larger tax and spending package, but the larger bill stalled in the Senate. On Tuesday, House Democrats brought up a standalone bill on unemployment benefits.

We’re accustomed to Senate bills requiring more than a majority vote to pass, but in this case the House required the same – for procedural rules this one required a two-thirds majority and fell short. So it was defeated, with 261 voting for and 155 voting against.

Good for House Democrats trying something different to get this important legislation passed, and good for them getting as many votes as they did. They need to see this one out.

Oh, and a couple reminders. Five out of six recent polls show that people care more about jobs and the economy than care about the deficit. Economists say that the way to reduce the deficit is to create jobs. Unemployment benefits help stimulate the economy. The refusal to extend unemployment benefits isn’t about what’s good for working people and it isn’t about what’s good for the economy.

Economists and Experts

Responding to a PhD economist who thinks bloggers and op-ed writers shouldn’t bother trying to explain what’s going on in the economy, Matt Yglesias does an excellent job explaining why we should try to explain exactly that:

But perhaps you’re a citizen of a liberal democracy who speaks English and tries to keep abreast of political controversies. Well you’ve probably heard politicians talking a lot about jobs and the economy. You’ve probably noticed that voters keep telling pollsters that jobs and the economy matter to them. Jobs and the economy may matter to you! You may have seen that political scientists have found that presidential re-election is closely linked to economic performance, and thus deduced that the fate of a whole range of national policy issues hinges on economic growth. Well then I bet you are probably interested in the fact that a wide range of credible experts (with PhDs, even) believe the world’s central banks could be doing more to boost employment.


Completely apart from the fact that the “science” of economics is a good deal less developed than what you see in real sciences, the fact is that economic policy is economics plus politics. For example, according to Ben Bernanke, the Fed could reduce unemployment by raising its inflation target but this would be a bad idea because it runs the risk of causing inflation expectations to become un-anchored. That’s a judgment that contains some “economics” content but it’s largely a political judgment. It’s part of his job to make those judgments, but it’s the job of citizens to question them.

We don’t all have PhD’s in economics, nor should we. The world benefits by having people with different academic training thinking about the same large-scale problems from different angles and by having people be interested in more than one thing, even if that means they aren’t highly credentialed in everything they ever pay attention to. For instance, Jared Bernstein, Vice President Biden’s economic policy advisor, doesn’t have formal training in economics, yet he’s held jobs at a think tank and under two presidential administrations doing economics. Clearly a PhD is not the be-all and end-all of understanding the economy.

Also, as Yglesias says, the world benefits by having citizens who question “experts” and fight to ensure that the government identifies the problems that plague working people and implements solutions that actually help working people. That is the essence of democracy.


Republicans Imposing Sado-Economic Austerity on U.S.

The Republican minority in the United States Senate is determined to impose severe fiscal austerity on the country, at a time when doing so is certain to create more drastic hardship and push the economy back into another deep recession.

On the irrational grounds that it’s time to pull the plug on efforts to stimulate economic growth, citing mysteriously invisible “market fears” of a non-existent “debt crisis” in the U.S., Senate Republicans have succeeded in blocking extended unemployment insurance, COBRA health insurance subsidies for unemployed workers, and fiscal aid to cash-starved states. In doing so, they have begun implementing by default the kinds of austerity measures the IMF has notoriously imposed on less-developed nations, and which countries like Germany and England are now pursuing at the expense of their own prospects for economic growth.

Never mind that it was Republican pseudo-economics and incompetence that led to the housing bust, the financial crisis and the Great Recession. Never mind that Republicans were, as a result, roundly and soundly defeated in the two most recent federal elections. With 41 votes in the Senate, Republicans can block any measure using the filibuster threat. And that’s what they’ve done with extended unemployment insurance.

As a result, an estimated 1 million long-term jobless workers have stopped receiving any unemployment compensation since Congress failed to extend the programs before Memorial Day. And they are joined by another 40,000 long-term unemployed every day.

Also at risk are continued funding for employment assistance for needy low-income families, aid to states to help with Medicaid payments, support for food stamp benefits and aid for local schools, police and firefighters. Despite the urgent need, it appears that the administration’s proposed $50 billion in fiscal aid to states and municipalities is stalled.

Employment numbers recently have been bolstered by temporary federal Census hiring. But, starting this month, many of the more than half-million Census workers will begin seeing those jobs end. With unemployment already persistently near 10 percent, hundreds of thousands of federal, state and local workers including many public school teachers will likely swell the ranks of the unemployed thanks to the Republican austerity hounds.

Nearly a month ago I wrote that we had reached ‘A Dangerous Crossroads’:

Ominous signs emerged last week that a threat to undermine an economic recovery is afoot, and that threat has particularly severe consequences for America’s 15 million unemployed.

Before voting on an already scaled-down jobs and jobless aid bill, House Democrats succumbed to pressure from conservative Blue Dogs and nervous moderates and weakened the bill further, eliminating some of its core provisions.

This is the worst possible time to start dismantling the fiscal pylons that have thus far stabilized the economy and allowed for the beginnings of a recovery. As Christina Romer, chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, has reminded us — think 1937. In response to a policy pivot that emphasized short-term deficit reduction and lower spending, the still-weak economy headed back into a second severe recession.

That the short-term deficit argument was, temporarily, accepted then is understandable. After 1932, under the New Deal, unemployment had been steadily declining for four straight years and GDP growth had been averaging 9 percent annually. That is far from the case today. Recent GDP growth of about 3 percent is less than half that needed for sustained recovery. And unemployment has not shown any sustained, measurable decline. To the contrary, we’ve had 15 million unemployed each month for nearly a full year.

In ‘Pseudo-Economics Become Sado-Economics’ we warned that, without actually deciding to do so, Congress had begun to:

…reduce or eliminate portions of the unemployment safety net. Tens of millions of Americans are already sliding from the middle-class into poverty. The phony deficit hawks are doing the Republicans’ bidding. If the economy slides backward, they will blame the Democrats and attack even more jobless aid programs. I fear that, feeling their mean-spirited oats, they will soon target the added Tiers of emergency federal unemployment benefits.

In his column today in The New York Times, titled “The Third Depression”, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman writes:

We are now, I fear, in the early stages of a third depression. It will probably look more like the Long Depression [after the Panic of 1873 - ed.] than the much more severe Great Depression. But the cost — to the world economy and, above all, to the millions of lives blighted by the absence of jobs — will nonetheless be immense.

And this third depression will be primarily a failure of policy. Around the world — most recently at last weekend’s deeply discouraging G-20 meeting — governments are obsessing about inflation when the real threat is deflation, preaching the need for belt-tightening when the real problem is inadequate spending.

Krugman goes on to note how it appeared in 2008 and 2009 that we had learned the lessons of the last depression, lowered interest rates, supported the credit markets, and provided needed stimulus to at least partially offset severely depressed demand. The economic downturn would obviously depress revenues, but larger short-term deficits were rightly seen as necessary to stabilize the economy and keep it from getting much worse.

But future historians will tell us that this wasn’t the end of the third depression, just as the business upturn that began in 1933 wasn’t the end of the Great Depression. After all, unemployment — especially long-term unemployment — remains at levels that would have been considered catastrophic not long ago, and shows no sign of coming down rapidly. And both the United States and Europe are well on their way toward Japan-style deflationary traps.

In the face of this grim picture, you might have expected policy makers to realize that they haven’t yet done enough to promote recovery. But no: over the last few months there has been a stunning resurgence of hard-money and balanced-budget orthodoxy.

The Obama administration understands the dangers of premature fiscal austerity — but because Republicans and conservative Democrats in Congress won’t authorize additional aid to state governments, that austerity is coming anyway, in the form of budget cuts at the state and local levels.

Why the wrong turn in policy? The hard-liners often invoke the troubles facing Greece and other nations around the edges of Europe to justify their actions.

But there is no evidence that short-run fiscal austerity in the face of a depressed economy reassures investors. On the contrary: Greece has agreed to harsh austerity, only to find its risk spreads growing ever wider; Ireland has imposed savage cuts in public spending, only to be treated by the markets as a worse risk than Spain, which has been far more reluctant to take the hard-liners’ medicine.

So I don’t think this is really about Greece, or indeed about any realistic appreciation of the tradeoffs between deficits and jobs. It is, instead, the victory of an orthodoxy that has little to do with rational analysis, whose main tenet is that imposing suffering on other people is how you show leadership in tough times.

And who will pay the price for this triumph of orthodoxy? The answer is, tens of millions of unemployed workers, many of whom will go jobless for years, and some of whom will never work again.

A chilling thought, indeed; particularly for older workers with families — like me — who are now unemployed.

Something bothered me, though, in that next-to-last paragraph. It was the phrase “how you show leadership” that struck me as insufficiently incisive. Because, as I watched the Senate Republicans block the majority from voting to extend unemployment insurance last week, I saw them chortling and laughing and slapping one another on the back. And I thought, there’s something more going on here.

So, if I may, this once, be allowed to re-write Krugman:

“It is, instead, the victory of an orthodoxy that has little to do with rational analysis, whose main tenet is that imposing suffering on other people is how you show your superiority, and impose your authority even as the minority.

Tags: ,

Some Reactions to Republican Obstruction of Jobless Aid

Chris Bowers:

[Friday] on a press call with bloggers, in response to the impending Republican filibuster of the jobs bill, Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan said that Senate Republicans “want the economy to fail.” She additionally said that it was the most cynical political move she has ever seen, likely because Republicans stand to gain from the economic pain they will cause.

Senator Stabenow also said that the moderate Republicans she was negotiating with–such as Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, and Scott Brown–were negotiating in bad faith. Democrats satisfied all of their concerns, Stabenow said, but “they kept changing what the concerns were.”

Annie Lowrey with more from Senator Stabenow:

On Republican obstruction:

It’s an extremely maddening and concerning time right now, and frankly we need your help. We’re in a situation where, after spending at least eight weeks on the floor trying to pass this jobs bill, which focuses on creating jobs as well as helping people … not one Republican is willing to help us stop this Republican filibuster.

On who Republicans are helping:

When you look as well underneath they are protecting wealthy investors, corporations sending jobs overseas and big oil companies — because we have included provisions to close tax loopholes in each of those areas.

Republicans are standing with them at a time when we desperately need to keep this economic recovery going and we desperately need to help people who are hurt. In Michigan, it’s estimated that by the end of this month we’re going to have 87,400 who are going to lose help, temporary help, in their unemployment benefits, by the end of this month. That’s literally the difference between somebody keeping a roof over their head, food on the table and a little gas in the car to go look for work.

I’m frankly outraged about what has been happening.

If they can stop the recovery from occurring, if they can create as much pain as possible, people will be angry and will not vote at all or will vote against those in the majority. This is a very cynical political strategy and I sure hope it doesn’t work.


Everybody’s talking about Senator Debbie Stabenow’s aggressive words today accusing the Republicans of tanking the economy and throwing millions out of work for political gain. I don’t see why this is even slightly controversial. The GOP is a party whose mouthpieces said from the very beginning that they wanted the president to fail and that they were planning his “Waterloo.” And anyone who understood how our government works (or even understands simple logic) knew that saying that in the midst of an economic crisis translates to making people suffer. There was no other way to interpret that so it makes sense.

Mike Hall at AFL-CIO Now Blog:

Republican partisan politics won—and working families lost—again last night when Senate Republicans for the fourth time this year blocked a bill that would revive the extended unemployment insurance (UI) benefits program that is the last lifeline for millions of jobless workers.

The Republican blockade means about 250,000 unemployed workers a week lose their benefits, which averages around $300 a week, while Republican lawmakers take in a nifty $3,346.16 a week of taxpayers’ money.

Theda Skocpol at TPM Cafe:

The same old story happens again and again. Dems in the House pass reasonable legislation, and Senate Dems dicker with centrists and Republicans over “compromises,” weakening the legislation step by step over many weeks, only to find zero Republican support in the end.

The public has no idea what is going on, and just blames Democrats, who appear to be in charge in DC. Now it is happening again with vital public spending for national economy recovery — state aid, unemployment relief, and adjustments in taxes and Medicare payments. This legislation is not just important to this or that group. It matters for keeping any semblance of national economic growth going, for creating and saving hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The President, Congressional leaders, and Democrats of all stripes should be yelling day in, day out, that REPUBLICANS ARE SABOTAGING NATIONAL ECONOMIC RECOVERY. AND PREVENTING JOB GROWTH, JUST FOR POLITICAL ADVANTAGE. That should be the message all the time, led by the President.

Rachel Maddow with guest Ezra Klein:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Tags: , , , ,

Republican Sado-Economics Prevails in the Senate

The tyranny of the Republican minority in the Senate was on display again Thursday as they continued to block a vote on a bill to extend unemployment insurance, provide aid to states for Medicaid and jobs, and remove some of the gaping loopholes that let wealthy hedge fund managers and corporations avoid paying a fair share in taxes.

By a vote of 57 to 41 Republicans succeeded in blocking an actual vote on yet another revision of H.R. 4213, the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act. Forty Republicans voted “No”, as did Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE). Fifty-six Democrats voted “Yes”, and were joined this time by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT). Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and the aging Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) did not vote, although Byrd had indicated he would have voted “Yes” if his vote were needed to get to 60 votes.

Watching the vote on C-SPAN2, it appeared at the end that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) changed his vote to “No” so as to keep the bill alive, but that is not reflected in the posted roll call.

While it is not clear what happens next in the Senate, early indications are that Democrats are not giving up and that work will resume to get the bill passed.

Before the vote we noted it had been 23 days since Congress let the federal extended unemployment insurance programs lapse. Now it’s 27 days — with no end in sight. An estimated 40,000 long-term jobless workers a day are now joining the nearly 1 million who have already had their unemployment insurance benefits stop completely.

It’s not like there isn’t a consensus in the Senate in favor of the bill. Democrats have a clear majority to pass the bill. What they don’t have is the 60 votes needed to end the Republican-led filibuster and allow a simple up or down majority vote on the bill. That is the tyranny of the Republican minority, and it is not only threatening the lives and livelihoods of tens of millions of Americans, it also threatens to drive the economy as a whole back into an even deeper and longer-term recession.

While it is infuriating, it is also instructive to review what has transpired in the course of the effort to pass this bill.

Beginning last December, the effort was initiated, through this bill, to extend unemployment and other Recovery Act programs through the end of 2010, to help provide some underpinning to a recovery and strengthen supports for struggling families and those seeking new employment. Republicans continuously blocked those efforts, forcing lengthy legislative battles to simply extend the programs for temporary one-month and two-month periods.

With the last of those stopgap measures set to expire this June 2nd, Democrats presented a new version of the extension bill. They presented more paid-for provisions by including measures to eliminate many tax-avoidance schemes and loopholes that give tax breaks to wealth investment managers, to corporations that ship jobs overseas and to big oil companies.

Republicans said “No” and blocked the bill from coming to a vote.
Readers can reference all of our recent coverage through the tag here, but I’ll try to summarize.

All along, Democrats have sought the votes to pass the bill by reducing its scale and scope and granting concessions on some aspects of the tax loophole provisions. They agreed to reduce the unemployment extension by a month, from the end of December to the end of November.

In the House, they stripped out all of the critically-needed aid to state Medicaid programs as well as the federal COBRA insurance subsidy for eligible unemployment workers.

The Senate has tried to restore those provisions, first by including the state Medicaid support, and offering an amendment to restore COBRA. Republicans continued to block that version. Democrats then agreed to modify some of the tax loophole provisions to protect more of the income of wealthy hedge fund and other investment managers — hoping to attract some Republican support. That didn’t work either.

Democrats then eliminated the provision that adds $25 a week to all state and federal unemployment insurance benefits. Republicans still said “No.”

Then, in the latest version of the bill, Democrats cut the aid to states by nearly half, and reduced future food stamp benefits by more than $9 billion. Currently, more than 40 million Americans rely on the food stamp program to help feed their families.

But, as Thursday’s vote proved, all of that was not enough. Maine’s two Republican Senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, still voted to block the bill. So did Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown and Ohio’s George Voinovich, and every other Republican.

What is clear is that the Republicans want to protect the wealthy and the powerful special interests. And they do not care if it inflicts pain on average Americans, working families and the unemployed. Worse, it appears that, having driven the economy into the deepest recession since the Great Depression, they are now intent on knocking the legs out from under any recovery and sending the economy careening back into an ever-deeper recession.

And they want to then blame it on President Obama and the Democrats.

With Senate Republicans, it’s sado-economics meets sado-politics.

Tags: , , ,

Updates on Foreclosures

The number of people falling behind on their mortgages is decreasing, but the number of homes being seized by the banks is increasing:

Bank repossessions hit a record monthly high in May, according to RealtyTrac, the online marketer of foreclosed properties. Lenders took back 93,777 properties, up 1% from the previous month’s record and 44% from the same period a year earlier.

Foreclosure filings, meanwhile, fell by 3% from a month earlier and edged up less than 1% from May 2009. One in every 400 homes received a foreclosure notice last month.


Nevada, Arizona and Florida once again top the state foreclosure rates in May, though the pace is moderating.

One in every 79 homes in Nevada received a foreclosure filing last month, down nearly 12% from April and 16% from a year ago. The state’s foreclosure rate is five times the national average.

Fewer foreclosures, but more property being seized by banks.

For people of color, the foreclosure rate is even higher:

Of borrowers who took out mortgages between 2005 and 2008, some 8% of both African-American and Latino borrowers have lost their homes to foreclosure, compared to 4.5% of non-Hispanic whites, according to a study by the Center for Responsible Lending, released Friday.

The racial and ethnic disparities continued even after controlling for income differences. The center’s research shows that African-American and Latino borrowers were about 30% more likely to get higher rate subprime loans than white borrowers with similar risk characteristics.

Of the total pool of homeowners, 17% of Latinos have lost their homes to foreclosure or are at imminent risk of losing their homes, while 11% of African-Americans are in that position. By comparison, 7% of non-Hispanic whites have lost their homes or are about to.

In other words, the risky, higher cost mortgages and loans were heavily marketed to people of color. Truly shameful. The property values of African American and Latino communities will be hard hit by this.

How many of us have seen promos for the Extreme Makeover reality show and thought, “I wish they’d come fix my house?” A cautionary tale; when something looks too good to be true, it almost always is, as a family in California is finding out:

Five years ago, the Wofford family’s home received a new house on ABC’s “Extreme Makeover” show. But now the family’s Encinitas home may be weeks away from foreclosure.


“A lot of people think when you get the house you get the mortgage. Well, you don’t,” said Wofford.

He failed several times to modify the loan with IndyMac, and he even hired an attorney, Mike Curran. “Providing documents, and providing documents again and again and again, and they still don’t have a modification at this point,” said Curran.

I hope it works out for them. What a terrible thing, to lose your wife, get a new home for you and your 8 kids, only to have it yanked away from you by the same banks that helped to destroy the economy.

Tags: ,

Interesting Things Around the Internet

  • The President and CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce is concerned that oil executives and Wall Street bankers are being treated badly by Congress. Let’s all shed a tear for the millionaires ruining our economy, shall we?
  • Joan McCarter is following the ins and outs of Wall Street reform negotiations between the House and Senate. As she says, big issues are at stake. Really big. Huge.
  • And about that financial reform, car dealers may be exempted from oversight, freeing them up to scam members of the military, among others.
  • About those public sector workers again…California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is preparing to slash state workers down to minimum wage if the state legislature doesn’t give him the budget he wants. (h/t Balloon Juice)
  • Possible excuses for inaction on the jobs crisis.
  • Digby on The Bestest Healthcare In The Whole Wide World.

23 Days Since Congress Let Unemployment Benefits Lapse

An estimated 40,000 long-term jobless workers a day have had their federal unemployment insurance payments stop since Congress allowed the program to lapse over Memorial Day weekend. Of the 6.8 million Americans who have been out of work for six months or more, the number who have lost their benefits is now approaching 1 million.

Yet another version of the bill to extend these benefits may come up for votes in the Senate today or tomorrow. Every Republican Senator and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) have thus far continuously blocked the bill.

Reuters is reporting that while Democrats have offered a series of changes and concessions in an effort to gain at least two Republican votes, the outcome is still in doubt:

In an effort to break a stalemate over a package of unemployment aid and business tax breaks, Senate Democrats on Wednesday offered a compromise that would pare proposed aid to cash-strapped states.

Democrats had hope the changes to the legislation, which also would increase taxes on investment fund managers, would attract some Republicans support, but Senate aides said that appears doubtful. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is pushing for a vote on the legislation by the end of the week.

In an effort to trim the cost, the new version pares down proposed Medicaid aid to states struggling to balance their budgets. States are pushing Congress to extend beyond the December expiration date the extra funds for the Medicaid healthcare program for the poor that were included in the stimulus plan passed last year. The program takes up an average 20 percent of state budgets.

Time is running out for lawmakers. Most states begin their fiscal year next week, and many banked on an extension of the Medicaid boost when drafting their budgets.

The extra Medicaid funding would decline to 3.2 percent in the first three months of 2011 and to 1.2 percent through June. A draft floated on Tuesday had a phase-down to 5.3 percent and then 3.2 percent.

Senate Democratic leaders are trying to get support from a recalcitrant group of Republicans including Maine’s two Republican Senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, who appear to be getting a lot of calls from constituents, as well as Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) and Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA). Sixty votes are needed to overcome the Republican-led filibuster.

Every day it becomes more and more clear that the Republican refusal to allow a vote to restore the extended unemployment insurance programs has little to do with their oft-repeated but disingenuous “deficit” concerns.

From today’s editorial in the Washington Post:

THE LONG-TERM unemployment rate is at a record level. So is the federal deficit. Both of these are serious concerns. But it is possible — in theory, anyway — for Congress to be both compassionate and prudent. In the short term, lawmakers should resolve the logjam that has allowed federal benefits to lapse for more than 900,000 unemployed.

More than 40 percent of the unemployed have been without work for six months. More alarming, nearly one-fourth have been jobless for a year or longer, according to calculations by the Pew Fiscal Analysis Initiative. Generally, states pay for the first 26 weeks of unemployment benefits; in periods of high unemployment, the federal government steps in to cover additional weeks. During the current recession, benefits can last up to 99 weeks.

On June 1, that emergency federal program expired, and the Senate has been unable to muster the 60 votes needed to reinstate it, as part of a package that would also include extending some expiring tax cuts and providing extra Medicaid money to cash-strapped states. Without congressional action, more than 2 million of the unemployed will have lost benefits by July 10, some after just 26 weeks.

Part of what’s holding up Senate action is a dispute over whether lawmakers have gone too far — too far! — in closing tax loopholes for the wealthy to help pay for the package. One involves “carried interest,” the mechanism that investment bankers and venture capitalists use to pay lower tax rates on their income from doing deals. Doing away with this tax dodge would have raised $24 billion over 10 years; that has now been whittled down to $13 billion. The same is happening with an effort to close the so-called John Edwards loophole, under which small partnerships such as law firms avoid paying Medicare payroll taxes by casting their income as profits rather than salary. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), a key potential vote, has called this provision “a poison pill.”

Amazingly, while senators work to keep these loopholes open, they are trying to trim the final cost of the package by cutting close to $8 billion in future food stamp benefits. What kind of priorities does this choice reflect?

This morning the AP reports that the continued weakness in the labor market is now even more of a concern in light of a drop in durable goods orders:

The Labor Department said initial claims for unemployment benefits fell to a seasonally adjusted 457,000 last week. That’s slightly better than the 460,000 forecast by economists polled by Thomson Reuters.

However, initial jobless claims are still above levels that would signal employers are ramping up hiring. Claims have remained high in recent months, calling into question whether a strong, sustained recovery can occur without significant job growth.

A second report showed orders for durable goods fell last month for the first time in six months. Orders for big-ticket goods fell 1.1 percent in May, slightly better than the 1.3 percent drop predicted.

Five of six recent national polls show that Americans are far more concerned about jobs and the economic recovery than they are about the budget deficit. FiveThirtyEight reports (via Ben Somberg):

A Pew Research / National Journal poll from early June asked “Which of the following national economic issues worries you most?” Number one was “job situation” with 41%. “Federal budget deficit” got 23%.

An NBC / Wall Street Journal poll from early May asked “Please tell me which one of these items you think should be the top priority for the federal government.” Sure enough, “job creation and economic growth” won with 35%. “The deficit and government spending” got 20%.

A Fox News poll also in early May got even more dramatic results. “Economy and jobs” topped the priority list with 47%, while “deficit, spending” garnered only 15%.

A CBS / NYT poll in early April found 27% prioritizing “jobs”, 27% the “economy” and 5% prioritizing “budget deficit/national debt.”

In the USA Today / Gallup poll from late May . . . participants were asked “How serious a threat to the future well-being of the United States do you consider each of the following.” For “federal government debt”, 40% said extremely serious, 39% very serious, and 15% somewhat serious. For “unemployment”, 33% said extremely serious, 50% said very serious, and 15% said somewhat serious.

a newer Gallup poll, from a week ago, asking “What do you think is the most important problem facing the country today?” finds the economy and jobs on top. “Economy in general” gets 28%, “Unemployment/Jobs” gets 21%, and “Federal budget deficit” gets 7%.

Twenty-three days and counting. When will the Senate get its wake-up call? Call toll-free 888-254-5087.

Tags: , , ,