By Don Brunell
It is a classic case of “good news, bad news.”
The good news is that, as Thanksgiving approaches, there are hopeful signs that our economy, investments and 401k retirement funds are starting to rebound. Heading into a day when we traditionally give thanks for our blessings, people do not appear in as much of a panic over job losses as they did a year ago. However, many still worry about running out of money, losing their homes or simply finding a job.
The country’s mood is more subdued this year. Last year, employers were shedding jobs, financial markets were collapsing, credit dried up, consumers zipped shut their wallets, and even General Motors and Chrysler were on the verge of bankruptcy.
The bad news is our nation continues to shed jobs.
Washington, although somewhat slow heading into the recession, saw state revenues plummet and our unemployment rate has doubled in two years, standing at 9.3 percent.
Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor reported national unemployment hit 10.2 percent in October. However, in Clark County across the Columbia River from Portland, unemployment hit 13.7 percent. In neighboring Oregon, unemployment stabilized at 11.7 percent, a drop from a high of 12.2 percent.
In addition to layoffs in the private sector, state and local governments are reducing employment because tax collections are down. A local government maintenance supervisor summarized it best. “When the private sector is losing money, businesses can’t pay their taxes so by Thanksgiving I have to hand out 10 pink slips. I’ve agonized over it and prayed I wouldn’t have to lay people off. Unfortunately that is reality today.”
While economists see unemployment stabilizing, there is some disturbing news. Increasingly, evidence points to an increase in the number of people who have quit searching for work.
“What appears to be happening is that many job hunters – retirees and nonworking spouses who dusted off resumes as the financial sector imploded and stocks plunged – are leaving the hunt. Their disappearance from the ranks of the officially unemployed lowers the jobless rate,” said David Cooke, an Oregon labor economist.
David Gergen, former editor of U.S. News and World Report, told business leaders at the Association of Washington Business Policy Summit in September that economists in our nation’s capital are starting to believe the number of jobs won’t return to their pre-recession levels.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is so concerned about jobs that it launched a $100 million Campaign for Free Enterprise. The chamber’s chief economist, Marty Regalia, points out that America has lost seven million jobs since the recession began, more than half of those this year.
“America needs to create one million jobs or more each year just to keep pace with our growing population,” Regalia stated.
Regalia’s figures show another troubling sign. “We also have a number of people who are underemployed, working part-time jobs that should be full time. So when you add it all up, we have to create 20 million jobs in the next 10 years.”
As we sit around the dinner table counting our blessings this year, we need to say a prayer for our family members, friends and neighbors who are out of work. We ought to go the extra step and invite them to dinner or put a food basket together for them.
Then, after we polish off the pumpkin pie and put the plates in the dishwasher, we need to sit down and write a letter to the president and our elected officials to tell them it’s the economy – work full time to fix it.
Don Brunell is the president of the Association of Washington Business.