FAIRY TALES ABOUT THE JOBLESS
                          By Dick Meister

THAT'S SOME ELECTION-YEAR fairy tale weıre hearing from President Bush and
his Republican buddies in Congress. You know, the one about how the economy
is recovering rapidly under their brilliant leadership.

Try telling that to the millions of Americans who badly need jobs but arenıt
finding them despite months and months of searching, or the millions of
others whoıve finally given up the search as hopeless.

Many of the workers have used up the 26 weeks of state-financed unemployment
insurance benefits that had sustained them while theyıve searched. But they
had hoped to get another six months help through a temporary federal program
originally enacted during the economic downturn that followed the attacks of
Sept. 11, 2001.

Congress twice renewed the program, but leaders of the Republican majority
allowed it to expire last December and have since rejected repeated attempts
by Democrats and Republicans from economically depressed states to renew it.

And why? Thatıs sadly obvious: Renewing the program would mean acknowledging
that unemployment is a serious problem and thus contradicting the bogus GOP
claims of new economic health brought about by tax cuts. That just wouldnıt
do in an election year, and too bad Congressı failure to act denies aid to
some of the countryıs poorest and most needy citizens.

The figures that belie the Republicansı claims are staggering. The latest
federal reports show that well over eight million people are actively
seeking jobs and that several million others who also want and need jobs
have given up looking.  The actual unemployment rate is probably around 10
percent, or close to double the official rate, in part because those whoıve
quit trying to find work arenıt counted in setting the rate.

Donıt forget, either, the five million part-time workers who are trying to
find full-time jobs.

Nearly one-fourth of the jobless have been out of work for more than six
months. Thatıs about two million workers -- 46 percent more than the number
that had been unemployed that long just a year ago. It isnıt much better for
todayıs other jobless workers. Theyıve averaged five months without work.
Itıs been 20 years since workers have had to wait so long for jobs.

The number of those whoıve been jobless more than six months and thus have
lost their eligibility for unemployment benefits continues to swell ­ by
760,000 in just the few months since Congress refused to extend the
temporary benefit program. More than 1.2 million others are expected to also
lose benefits by mid year.

Some economists, particularly those of the Republican persuasion, say the
situation will improve. But the number of long-term unemployed workers would
remain at extraordinarily high levels even if the most optimistic ­ or even
most partisan ­ predictions for job growth came true.

Although it appears that a majority of House and Senate members may now see
the need to provide benefits to the workers, it seems certain that the
Republican leaders in both chambers will keep proposals for doing that
bottled up in committee. At least until after the election in November, of
course.
 
But though the GOP wonıt admit to the severity of the jobless problem and
continues to insist that tax cuts for the partyıs wealthy backers is the
answer to any problems there might be, Democratic candidates are sure to
make the pressing need for extended unemployment benefits an issue. As well
they should.

The benefits not only would help millions of unemployed Americans escape
poverty. Theyıd  also help boost the general economy by putting money into
the hands of people who would immediately spend it ­ for food, housing and
other basic necessities.

Thatıs exactly what happened during the recession of the early 1990s, when
Congress extended the benefit payout period on five different occasions.

That is not a fairy tale.

Copyright İ 2004 Dick Meister, a San Francisco-based freelance columnist who
has covered labor issues for four decades as a reporter, editor and
commentator. (dickmeistersf@earthlink.net, www.dickmeister.com).


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