Just as it does every month one week after it announces its estimates of unemployment and related statistics, last Friday the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported its evaluation of the employment situation in the individual states and regions. As has been the case for much of the past four years, there is good news and bad in the numbers.
As Niraj Choksi at the Washington Post points out, 16 states now have unemployment rates lower than they have been in four years:
In all but two, October unemployment was at its lowest level since late 2008 or the early months of 2009. In Minnesota, unemployment hasn't been this low since January 2008. And it's been more than a decade since North Dakota saw an unemployment rate of 2.7 percent as it did in October. (The last time was August 2001.) In all, unemployment dropped from September to last month in 39 states. And only three states-Arkansas, Oklahoma and Ohio-saw nearly two-year highs.
But the situation isn't as rosy as those statistics suggest. The jobs recovery still pales in comparison to the recoveries following the 1981, 1990 and 2001 recessions, according to data from Doug Hall, director of the Economic Analysis and Research Network at the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank focused on the needs of low- and middle-income workers.
In fact, 70 months after the Great Recession began in December 2007, in only nine states is the official unemployment rate now below the five percent pre-recession average. And that only tells part of the story.
Just how slow the growth in jobs has been nationwide is reflected in the fact that in only one state-North Dakota-has job growth outpaced population growth. That is a factor of the oil production boom in the state's Bakken formation. For every other state, however- as we've reported for years-the drop in the unemployment rate is mostly due to Americans leaving the work force. As of October, the labor-force participation rate was 62.8 percent, its lowest level since March 1978.
A portion of that is demographic. The first wave of post-World War II baby boomers is retiring, although the percentage of people over 65 who have continued working-out of desire or necessity-has grown significantly since 2008. EPI estimates that about one-third of drop in the civilian work force is a consequence of such retirements. Meanwhile, labor-force participation among adults 16-24 is continuing a long time downward trend and is now nearly nine percent below its 1987 peak of 79.1 percent. But the key statistic, the most worrisome one, is that job participation of people in their prime working years-25-54 years old-remains down from its 2007 peak of 80.3 percent at 75.8 percent.
Despite the millions of private-sector jobs created since the recession was officially declared over in the summer of 2009, there continues to be a substantial jobs deficit and that has distorted the unemployment rate. Excluding retirees, EPI calculates that if those who have dropped out of the labor force or never entered it because of the weak economy had chosen to stay in, the official unemployment rate right now would be 10.8 percent, not 7.3 percent.
What these numbers point to, have pointed to for years, is the need for what many economists and activists have long sought: a multi-faceted full employment program.
Four years ago next month, President Obama held a jobs summit that was billed as a think session to kick-start employment growth. Unfortunately, partly because of the summit's agenda, which failed to focus on the big picture, and partly because even the modest proposals that emerged from it were hamstrung by naysayers in Congress, the improvements that could have been made were not. Which means the economic pain of millions of Americans was not alleviated even though the policy tools were available to do so.
And they remain so. Heading the pack are the setting forth an industrial policy like those every other developed nation and some emerging economies already have and investing in rebuilding and innovating America's crumbling infrastructure. But few of our elected representatives have come close to making such policies a priority or even mentioning them at all. What will it take to get them to show leadership in this realm?
— Alan Krueger, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers
While more work remains to be done, today's employment report provides evidence that the recovery that began in mid-2009 is gaining traction. Today's report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that private sector businesses added 246,000 jobs in February. Total non-farm payroll employment rose by 236,000 jobs last month. The economy has now added private sector jobs every month for three straight years, and a total of 6.35 million jobs have been added over that period.
The household survey showed that the unemployment rate fell from 7.9 percent in January to 7.7 percent in February, the lowest since December 2008. The labor force participation rate edged down 0.1 percentage point to 63.5 percent in February.
Last month, American businesses added another 233,000 jobs. That means that after inheriting an economy that was shedding more than 750,000 jobs a month when the President took office, we've now had two straight years of job growth. While it's certainly encouraging, we all know there's much more that needs to be done.
Penny Kardon, Director of Career Strategies for the Jewish Employment and Vocational Service (JEVS) in Philadelphia, explains the Helping Hands program as "a program for underemployed or unemployed Jewish individuals up to the age of 65. They are given intense vocational assessment, ongoing career counseling, and opportunities for us to pay for training programs. There's a free computer program, workshops, lots and lots of support with job placement, (and) it's a one-year program, it's of no cost to the participants, and it's completely funded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia."
America gained almost a quarter of a million jobs last month bringing the unemployment rate down for the fifth consecutive month. to 8.3%. According to TPM, "Analyst expectations ranged from high 100,000s to low 200,000s, so the numbers exceed expectations."
"Hourly earnings are increasing and it shows the economy is "definitively gaining traction," according to Mark Zandi, chief economy at Moody's.
I, along with other members of my synagogue, Congregation Leyv ha-Ir (Reconstructionist), was present at the founding convention of Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower, and Rebuild (POWER), held at Tindley Temple United Methodist Church, Broad and Fitzwater streets, on Sunday, 25th, 2011.
This is a coalition of religious congregations coming together to take on the critical social and economic issues in Philadelphia.
Other Jewish congregations represented at the convention were Society Hill Synagogue (Center City), Mishkan Shalom (Roxborough), Rodeph Shalom (Center City), and Kol Tzedek (West Philadelphia). Congregations from various other faith traditions-Protestant, Catholic, Muslim-took part. POWER is part of the PICO National Network of congregations dedicated to faith-based community organizing.
"POWER is on!" proclaimed Father Tom Higgins, pastor of Holy Innocents Roman Catholic Church, at the start of the program. Higgins introduced the Reverend Lillian Smith, Senior Pastor of Tindley Temple, who said, "It is only fitting that the founding convention is being held here. Tindley Temple has had a long time love for the people of the community, providing meals for the hungry since the Depression, and still proving meals on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; proving a place for (homeless) people to sleep on the pews; providing space in members' homes when people had to come" to find a better job. These are the positive religious traditions, of care for one's fellow human being, that has motivated the organizing of POWER.
The Reverend Michael Cane, Pastor of Old First Reformed United Church of Christ, said "People from our church come from across the city and beyond, but every week in Olde City where we're located, neighbors line up for a bag of groceries, and for not so new but clean clothes. Every week, twenty-five to thirty men find shelter in our church, since 1984, when Mayor (Wilson) Goode asked religious institutions to open their doors. Twenty-seven years-that's too long.
"It's easy to worry there's too much to do," continued Cane. "When I read a paper, or when I ride my bike in our city's least advantaged neighborhoods, I wonder, 'Lord, how can we turn this around? How can we make our city Your city?'...But looking out on you all tonight, I'm not worried anymore...I'm no longer doubting. Look around POWER, and see the strength, and the dignity, the wisdom, and the beauty, the spirit and the hope making this place particularly sacred tonight."
Opening prayers were performed Father Joe Watson, pastor of St William's Roman Catholic Church; Abdul-Halim Hassan, of Masjidullah, Inc.; Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herman, of Congregation Kol-Tzedek; and the Reverend Ernie Flores, of 2nd Baptist Church of Germantown.
The Reverend Mark Tyler, of Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, shared a faith reflection, based on the Book of Nehemiah; "The walls of Jerusalem have been broken down," he said, "and the city gates were burned up." For generations, said Tyler, the wall "had been broken for so long they thought that broken was normal, and they never knew that life could be better with walls that were not broken.
"Because the walls were broken down," said Tyler, "the school system was vacant. Because the walls were broken down, violent crime was at an all-time high. Because the walls were broken down, flash mobs roamed the streets. Because the walls were broken down, even if you could get out of the 'hood, violence and crime still found your doorstep no matter where you lived. Because the walls were broken down, employment was hard to find, because businesses don't invest in cities with broken down walls. Because the walls were broken down, drugs were sold in broad daylight...people just threw their trash in the street...nobody felt safe at night. Because the wall was broken down, seniors couldn't sit on their stoops and children couldn't walk to school without the fear of being shot. The wall was broken down, and people were living with the air of hopelessness all around them."
Tyler told the audience his vision of what the members of POWER could do for the city: "After coming together, their careful research and listening campaign revealed there was a brokenness in the city. They discovered that what kept most people up at night was the wall that was broken down...This developed a shared vision, regardless of zip code, that they needed a city with a better wall to protect themselves. Built on the principle that people of faith, working together, can change the world, POWER began to rebuild the broken-down wall because the people had a mind to work."
The Reverend Robin Hynicka, Pastor of Arch Street United Methodist Church,
spoke of Jesus of Nazareth's parable of the mustard seed: "His object lesson on the tiny mustard seed growing into a mighty tree applies to all of us here today. The one central truth the parable teaches is how the beloved community would develop from the smallest of beginnings into something that will be greater than anyone would imagine from the outset. From a quiet one-on-one conversation with a handful of clergy that began early in February 2009...the seed was planted. In less than one year, the sponsoring committee that now has over forty congregational leaders was formed."
Hynicka spoke of the POWER platform, with its five main areas of concern: public safety, health care, housing, education, and jobs. "These are the systems we will seek to change," he added, "over the next five years to better strengthen Philadelphia's neighborhoods and to better support families." Research teams, added Hynicka, looked into programs for people to access jobs, education, affordable housing, health care, and public safety.
Rabbi Eli Freedman, of Congregation Rodeph Shalom, stated that POWER's first issue campaign "will focus on strengthening jobs and educational opportunities in our city, Philadelphia." The three main goals, Freedman added, are "literacy, job training, pathways to access jobs, and making sure there's a living wage job for every resident of Philadelphia.
"Philadelphia," added Freedman, "has a rich and proud history as a working-class community... Decades ago, working-class families, rode low-skill, fair-pay manufacturing jobs into the middle class Many families were able to buy homes, educate their children, and build a foundation of economic security. And then the world changed, through globalization, white flight to the suburbs, and the decline of unions, glowing inequality of pay between workers and executives, those low skill, fair-pay manufacturing jobs seemed to vanish all of a sudden. And we're still reeling from the shock. Today there are few pathways to economic opportunity for low-skill workers in our city, and many have been shut out of the labor market." The unemployment rate in Philadelphia, said Freedman, is almost eleven percent; and is double in African-American and Hispanic communities.
Kathleen Elmasry, a resident of South Philadelphia and a member of Saint Rita's Roman Catholic Church, said, "Right now, you are looking at the face of the unemployed. I am educated, motivated, and I have thirty-four years experience as an orthopedic medical assistant. Despite a spotless employment history, with perfect attendance, I am unemployed. During an approved leave of absence to care for my mother while she was dying, my position was eliminated... The office manager annihilated the entire staff, and we were replaced by others at a lower pay grade. I have been unemployed for sixteen months, and I manage to apply for no less than twenty to twenty-five jobs per week. In over sixteen months, I have I have responded to at least twelve hundred jobs...I did not have one interview or returned phone call.
"What I've discovered," added Elmasry, "Is that potential employers are not willing to consider hiring anyone who is collecting unemployment. That has placed us, the unemployed, in a serious but ridiculous catch-22, the unemployed remain unemployed because no one will hire us, and the longer we remain unemployed, the more remote (for employment) our chances become simply because of the duration of our unemployment. When I was employed, I was earning forty-one thousand dollars a year, and paying in the city wage tax. This past sixteen months of unemployment, I have not paid anything to the city."
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