Tag Archives: u.s. economy

‘A Crisis of Historic Proportions’

Unemployment moving map

The New Poor

Even as the American economy shows tentative signs of a rebound, the human toll of the recession continues to mount, with millions of Americans remaining out of work, out of savings and nearing the end of their unemployment benefits.

Economists fear that the nascent recovery will leave more people behind than in past recessions, failing to create jobs in sufficient numbers to absorb the record-setting ranks of the long-term unemployed.

Call them the new poor: people long accustomed to the comforts of middle-class life who are now relying on public assistance for the first time in their lives — potentially for years to come.

Yet the social safety net is already showing severe strains. Roughly 2.7 million jobless people will lose their unemployment check before the end of April unless Congress approves the Obama administration’s proposal to extend the payments, according to the Labor Department.

Here in Southern California, Jean Eisen has been without work since she lost her job selling beauty salon equipment more than two years ago. In the several months she has endured with neither a paycheck nor an unemployment check, she has relied on local food banks for her groceries.

She has learned to live without the prescription medications she is supposed to take for high blood pressure and cholesterol. She has become effusively religious — an unexpected turn for this onetime standup comic with X-rated material — finding in Christianity her only form of health insurance.

“I pray for healing,” says Ms. Eisen, 57. “When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got to go with what you know.”

Warm, outgoing and prone to the positive, Ms. Eisen has worked much of her life. Now, she is one of 6.3 million Americans who have been unemployed for six months or longer, the largest number since the government began keeping track in 1948. That is more than double the toll in the next-worst period, in the early 1980s.

Men have suffered the largest numbers of job losses in this recession. But Ms. Eisen has the unfortunate distinction of being among a group — women from 45 to 64 years of age — whose long-term unemployment rate has grown rapidly.

In 1983, after a deep recession, women in that range made up only 7 percent of those who had been out of work for six months or longer, according to the Labor Department. Last year, they made up 14 percent.

Twice, Ms. Eisen exhausted her unemployment benefits before her check was restored by a federal extension. Last week, her check ran out again. She and her husband now settle their bills with only his $1,595 monthly disability check. The rent on their apartment is $1,380.

“We’re looking at the very real possibility of being homeless,” she said.

Every downturn pushes some people out of the middle class before the economy resumes expanding. Most recover. Many prosper. But some economists worry that this time could be different. An unusual constellation of forces — some embedded in the modern-day economy, others unique to this wrenching recession — might make it especially difficult for those out of work to find their way back to their middle-class lives.

Labor experts say the economy needs 100,000 new jobs a month just to absorb entrants to the labor force. With more than 15 million people officially jobless, even a vigorous recovery is likely to leave an enormous number out of work for years.

Some labor experts note that severe economic downturns are generally followed by powerful expansions, suggesting that aggressive hiring will soon resume. But doubts remain about whether such hiring can last long enough to absorb anywhere close to the millions of unemployed.

A New Scarcity of Jobs

Some labor experts say the basic functioning of the American economy has changed in ways that make jobs scarce — particularly for older, less-educated people like Ms. Eisen, who has only a high school diploma.

Large companies are increasingly owned by institutional investors who crave swift profits, a feat often achieved by cutting payroll. The declining influence of unions has made it easier for employers to shift work to part-time and temporary employees. Factory work and even white-collar jobs have moved in recent years to low-cost countries in Asia and Latin America. Automation has helped manufacturing cut 5.6 million jobs since 2000 — the sort of jobs that once provided lower-skilled workers with middle-class paychecks.

“American business is about maximizing shareholder value,” said Allen Sinai, chief global economist at the research firm Decision Economics. “You basically don’t want workers. You hire less, and you try to find capital equipment to replace them.”

During periods of American economic expansion in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, the number of private-sector jobs increased about 3.5 percent a year, according to an analysis of Labor Department data by Lakshman Achuthan, managing director of the Economic Cycle Research Institute, a research firm. During expansions in the 1980s and ’90s, jobs grew just 2.4 percent annually. And during the last decade, job growth fell to 0.9 percent annually.

“The pace of job growth has been getting weaker in each expansion,” Mr. Achuthan said. “There is no indication that this pattern is about to change.”

Before 1990, it took an average of 21 months for the economy to regain the jobs shed during a recession, according to an analysis of Labor Department data by the National Employment Law Project and the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-oriented research group in Washington.

After the recessions in 1990 and in 2001, 31 and 46 months passed before employment returned to its previous peaks. The economy was growing, but companies remained conservative in their hiring.

Some 34 million people were hired into new and existing private-sector jobs in 2000, at the tail end of an expansion, according to Labor Department data. A year later, in the midst of recession, hiring had fallen off to 31.6 million. And as late as 2003, with the economy again growing, hiring in the private sector continued to slip, to 29.8 million.

It was a jobless recovery: Business was picking up, but it simply did not translate into more work. This time, hiring may be especially subdued, labor economists say.

Traditionally, three sectors have led the way out of recession: automobiles, home building and banking. But auto companies have been shrinking because strapped households have less buying power. Home building is limited by fears about a glut of foreclosed properties. Banking is expanding, but this seems largely a function of government support that is being withdrawn.

At the same time, the continued bite of the financial crisis has crimped the flow of money to small businesses and new ventures, which tend to be major sources of new jobs.

All of which helps explain why Ms. Eisen — who has never before struggled to find work — feels a familiar pain each time she scans job listings on her computer: There are positions in health care, most requiring experience she lacks. Office jobs demand familiarity with software she has never used. Jobs at fast food restaurants are mostly secured by young people and immigrants.

If, as Mr. Sinai expects, the economy again expands without adding many jobs, millions of people like Ms. Eisen will be dependent on an unemployment insurance already being severely tested.

“The system was ill prepared for the reality of long-term unemployment,” said Maurice Emsellem, a policy director for the National Employment Law Project. “Now, you add a severe recession, and you have created a crisis of historic proportions.”

Fewer Protections

Some poverty experts say the broader social safety net is not up to cushioning the impact of the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Social services are less extensive than during the last period of double-digit unemployment, in the early 1980s.

On average, only two-thirds of unemployed people received state-provided unemployment checks last year, according to the Labor Department. The rest either exhausted their benefits, fell short of requirements or did not apply.

“You have very large sets of people who have no social protections,” said Randy Albelda, an economist at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. “They are landing in this netherworld.”

When Ms. Eisen and her husband, Jeff, applied for food stamps, they were turned away for having too much monthly income. The cutoff was $1,570 a month — $25 less than her husband’s disability check.

Reforms in the mid-1990s imposed time limits on cash assistance for poor single mothers, a change predicated on the assumption that women would trade welfare checks for paychecks.

Yet as jobs have become harder to get, so has welfare: as of 2006, 44 states cut off anyone with a household income totaling 75 percent of the poverty level — then limited to $1,383 a month for a family of three — according to an analysis by Ms. Albelda. Full Story

‘Stimulus Two’ Being Drafted

Controversy in US over second stimulus speculation

uncle-sam-stimulus-package-22

The US economy’s deepening gloom is stoking talk of more stimulus just as a first giant infusion of spending kicks in, potentially handing President Barack Obama a tough political sell.

“We have to keep the door open to see how it goes,” House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday, before stressing Thursday that a second stimulus package was not “in the cards” for now.

But House appropriations committee chairman David Obey says he has already directed aides to start drafting another stimulus proposal, and fellow Democrat Alcee Hastings has said the idea is under active consideration among lawmakers.

Fears that the first stimulus round would prove insufficient, despite its eye-popping price tag of 787 billion dollars, were expressed by many economists before it was enacted last month.

But politically, Obama is already running into disquiet over the hefty costs of his domestic policy agenda, not just from Republicans but from fiscally conservative Democrats.

“Whatever conceivable Stimulus Two you can think of, there are clearly going to be some significant headwinds facing the administration,” said Andrew Taylor, political science professor at North Carolina State University.

“You’re admitting some sort of failure for the first package, which was only passed by the narrowest of margins in the Senate, and you’re adding to this crisis of confidence,” he said.

However, failure was not on Obama’s mind Thursday at a White House meeting with state officials charged with implementing the first stimulus, known formally as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

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Life after the Collapse

‘The collapse of America is unavoidable’

America must work on starting a new economy and not restarting the old one or it will resemble the former Soviet Union, says author and blogger Dmitry Orlov.

Laying-off America

U.S. private sector cuts 697,000 jobs in February

food

U.S. private sector job losses accelerated in February, according to a report by ADP Employer Services that suggests hefty employment declines are on the way in the government’s payrolls report due on Friday.

ADP said on Wednesday that private employers cut 697,000 jobs in February versus a revised 614,000 jobs lost in January. The January job cuts were originally reported at 522,000.

It was the biggest job loss since the report’s launch in 2001 and showed the misery of declining employment spreading broadly and evenly throughout the economy.

The service sector, which often resists the grip of recession longer than other areas, accounted for more than half of the total losses, reflecting the rapid deterioration of the economy in recent months.

“None really escaped the sword here,” Joel Prakken, chairman of Macroeconomic Advisers, whose firm jointly developed the ADP report, said about the service sector.

Economists had expected 610,000 private-sector job cuts in February, according to the median of 23 forecasts in a Reuters poll.

The forecasts in the poll ranged widely from a drop of 730,000 to losses of 500,000.

Still, on Wall Street, stock futures held onto earlier gains. Government bonds, which generally benefit from weak economic data, extended their losses.

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Layoff Daily – See who is laying workers off and who is hiring.

Selling Sperm and Eggs to Pay the Bills

As US economy tanks, no limits to make ends meet

Americans are selling everything from the hair on their heads to what’s coursing though their veins to make ends meet, as the US economy continues to tank.

Websites offering advice on selling plasma, sperm, or locks of hair have seen huge upticks in traffic, as have the individuals and businesses that will buy the highly personal items which are now being used by desperate Americans for their own personal bail-out.

“I’m having problems paying rent, food, car insurance, bills. Ten, 20 or 40 dollars is a little help I’m glad to accept. I wouldn’t have thought I would go this low… but I’m trapped,” a woman named only as Emily said in a message sent to Phil Maher, founder of the bloodbanker.com website.

Maher has seen traffic to bloodbanker.com increase more than 50 percent in the past three months, he said.

“Single moms have written to me saying they never thought about donating plasma but just got laid off. So they’ve been going to a clinic, giving plasma and getting their 25 dollars a time,” Maher told AFP.

Another site run by 32-year-old Maher, spermbanker.com, has seen a whopping 80-percent rise in traffic.

Giving plasma twice a week could bring in about 240 dollars a month and “help pay the heating bill”, while giving sperm can be much more lucrative, said Maher.

“You can donate every two to three days, twice to three times a week if you’re lucky. So three times a week, 100 dollars per donation, with a year’s commitment. It can get really interesting,” Maher said.

The number of women who have applied to become egg donors has also risen, in spite of the fact that the process is more invasive and uncomfortable than sperm donation.

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Gold and Scotch

John Williams ShadowStats.com “Go long Scotch!”

Trillions of Dollars Down a Black Hole

Obama, like Bush, is Throwing Public Money into a Black Hole
by Prof. Rodrigue Tremblay

“The [financial] crisis was not a failure of the free market system and the answer is not to try to reinvent that system. …Government intervention is not a cure-all.” President George W. Bush, Thursday November 13, 2008

“There is no cause to worry. The high tide of prosperity will continue.” Andrew W. Mellon, Hoover’s Secretary of the Treasury. September 1929

“While the crash only took place six months ago, I am convinced we have now passed the worst and with continued unity of effort we shall rapidly recover. There is one certainty of the future of a people of the resources, intelligence and character of the people of the United States – that is, prosperity.” President Herbert Hoover, May 1, 1930

Tuesday, February 10, may be the date when the U.S. economy officially entered into an economic depression. This was when President Obama’s Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, announced that the Obama administration was about to expand Bush’s Secretary Paulson’s $700-billion plan to rescue large U.S. banks from insolvency, euphemistically called the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP). The purpose now, as it was previously, is to use public capital, loans and guarantees to remove toxic financial assets from private banks’ balance sheets and to transfer them to the Government and/or to willing private investors (hedge funds, private equity firms and other investors). One must keep in mind that Mr. Paulson and Mr. Geithner were the principal architects of last October’s original plan. This was then, and it is now, a plan designed primarily to use hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to prevent banks from declaring bankruptcy, while in fact doing little to accomplish its presumed primary objective of getting banks to resume normal lending. Such a cure has failed in the past and is likely to fail now. Saving insolvent banks is not the same as fixing them and making them viable.

Indeed, when Mr. Geithner announced on Tuesday, February 10, that he was expanding the Paulson plan to make it a $1.5 trillion bailout plan, financial markets saw it as simply rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic, and they sold off. I believe the markets are right and the Obama-Geithner plan only makes the Bush-Paulsen plan worse. Both are misguided and do little to address the root cause of the financial crisis, which is a mountain of unsustainable bad debts that was allowed to expand recklessly over the last ten years, and which is now crumbling down, dragging the entire economy down with it.

Rodrigue Tremblay is professor emeritus of economics at the University of Montreal

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