This is horrible news of course and it indicates both just how bad things really are and how bad they are surely going to get. The official Government figure of 8.1% means in reality that the actual national unemployment rate is much closer to an economic Depression level of 16% (a much more realistic figure which includes the millions of people who have in fact stopped looking for nonexistent work but haven't been counted because they are no longer on the statistical roll of those still officially looking for employment). Unless and until we all seriously begin to politically demand as citizens that corporate America, Wall Street, the media, the courts, and the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government address our primary social needs nothing fundamental will change. However, if we organize, educate, and mobilize people on a local, state, and national level, actively support the President's new budget and general economic program (while simultaneously holding him and his administration fully accountable and responsible in the process as we also continue to demand even more comprehensively progressive programs and legislation from Congress), then we will have made the kind of major grassroots intervention that is necessary for real change to happen in this country.
Needless to say our actual political and ideological independence and integrity is created and sustained by an ongoing committment that critically goes far beyond the given status quo in our political, economic, and cultural institutions. But words alone won't do it and passively or cynically watching the arrogant, wealthy elites in government, media, corporate, and the financial sector play their usual corrupt games won't cut it either. There's very serious work to be done by all of us...
Continuing Job Losses May Signal Broad Economic Shift
By PETER S. GOODMAN and JACK HEALY
March 6, 2009
New York Times
Another 651,000 jobs disappeared from the American economy in February, the government reported Friday, as the unemployment rate soared to 8.1 percent — its highest level since 1983.
More than 4.4 million Americans have lost their jobs since the recession started in December 2007.
The latest grim scorecard of contraction in the American workplace largely destroyed what hopes remained for an economic recovery in the first half of this year, and added to a growing sense that 2009 is probably a lost cause.
Most economists now assume that the American fortunes will not improve before near the end of the year, as the Obama administration’s $787 billion emergency spending program begins to wash through the economy.
“The current pace of decline is breathtaking,” said Robert Barbera, chief economist at the research and trading firm ITG. “We are now falling at a near record rate in the postwar period and there’s been no change in the violent downward trajectory.”
Indeed, the monthly snapshot of the national employment picture worsened an already abysmal picture as the government revised upward the number of jobs lost in December and January. The economy has now lost at least 650,000 jobs for three consecutive months, the worst decline in percentage terms over that length of time since 1975.
Since the recession began, the economy has eliminated roughly 4.4 million jobs, and more than half of those positions — some 2.6 million — disappeared in the last four months.
The acceleration has convinced some economists that, far from an ordinary downturn after which jobs will return, the contraction under way reflects a fundamental restructuring of the American economy. In crucial industries — particularly manufacturing, financial services and retail — many companies have opted to abandon whole areas of business.
“These jobs aren’t coming back,” said John E. Silvia, chief economist at Wachovia in Charlotte. “A lot of production either isn’t going to happen at all, or it’s going to happen somewhere other than the United States. There are going to be fewer stores, fewer factories, fewer financial services operations. Firms are making strategic decisions that they don’t want to be in their businesses.”
For American policy makers, such a reality poses fundamental challenges to the traditional response to hard times. For decades, the government has reacted to economic downturns by handing out temporary unemployment insurance checks, relying upon the resumption of economic growth to deliver needed jobs. This time, argues Mr. Silvia, the government needs to put a much greater emphasis on retraining workers for careers in other industries.
In the auto industry, for example annual American car sales have dropped from some 17 million a year a few years ago to 9 million now. Even if sales increase to 10 or 12 million, that still leaves a lot of unneeded factories.
“That’s a lot of workers that are not coming back,” Mr. Silvia said. “That’s a lot of steel, a lot of rubber, a lot of suppliers that are not coming back. It’s really challenging to us as a society.”
President Obama responded to the figures by declaring that “this country has never responded to a crisis by sitting on the sidelines and hoping for the best” and asserting that government has a huge role to play in bringing out the best in the American people.
“I know that throughout our history we have met every great challenge with bold action and big ideas,” he told police academy graduates in Columbus, Ohio, on Friday. “That’s what’s fueled a shared and lasting prosperity.”
Mr. Obama cited the unemployment figures as further evidence that those who opposed “the very notion that government has a role in ending the cycle of job loss at the heart of this recession” are on the wrong side of history. (The president’s stimulus package was approved by the House with no support from minority Republicans, whose leader, Representative John A. Boehner, is from Ohio.)
In February, another 168,000 manufacturing jobs were eliminated, bringing losses over the last year to 1.2 million. In Michigan, where the troubles of the auto industry have been particularly traumatic, the unemployment rate is at 10.6 percent, the highest of any state.
“The people who do what I do in the Detroit area are a dime a dozen,” said Kim Allgeyer, 46, a machine toolmaker in Westland, Mich., who was laid off in January from a company that makes manufacturing assembly lines for the Detroit automakers. Since then, he has failed to find another full-time job, subsisting on day labor and one weeklong stint for contractors. He is thinking of moving to Louisiana or Mississippi to seek work as a shipbuilder.
“Who’s going to put me to work?” he asked. “Where’s the work at? It’s just a great big black hole.”
Much the same can be said for financial services, which gave up another 44,000 jobs in February. During the housing boom, banks hired tens of thousands of well-compensated traders, analysts and marketers to sell mortgage-backed securities and other exotic flavors of investments. That industry is unlikely to return to anything close to its former shape.
Retailers are shuttering stores as the era of easy money fueled by rising house prices and abundant credit gives way to a new period in which millions of households are being forced to confine their spending to their paychecks, limiting their trips to the mall. The economy lost 39,500 retail jobs in February, and has eliminated more than 500,000 in the last year.
The United States has been neglecting job training programs for decades, argues Andrew Stettner, deputy director of the National Employment Law Project in New York. In current dollars, the nation devoted the equivalent of $20 billion a year on job training in 1979, while spending only $6 billion last year.
The stimulus spending bill includes $4.5 billion in additional monies for job training. But under current programs, many of those eligible for training are given vouchers that cover only a semester or two at community colleges, while careers in growth industries like biotechnology and health care typically require two-year degree programs.
“We have to seriously look at fundamentally rebuilding the economy,” Mr. Stettner said. “You’ve got to use this moment to retrain for jobs.”
Friday’s report reinforced the degree to which the economy is being assailed at once by panic in the financial system, falling household spending power and plunging real estate prices, with growing numbers of companies resorting to wholesale layoffs after months of merely declining to hire.
“There’s been no place to hide,” said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial in Pittsburgh. “Everybody in every industry has lost jobs or is feeling insecure about whether they’re going to keep their jobs or how their company’s going to do."
Some economists suggested the substantial increase in layoffs reflected the anxiety that has gripped the financial system since last fall when major Wall Street institutions failed, notably the giant investment bank Lehman Brothers. Borrowing costs have spiked for American companies, making even healthy businesses reluctant to expand and hire. Perhaps even more decisive, the collapse last fall has left many companies spooked.
“There was a huge increase in uncertainty and a huge hit to confidence which caused a large rethinking among businesses,” said Ethan Harris, co-head of United States economics research. “That caused a big downshift in employment.”
In similar crises, like the stock market crash of 1987 and the near collapse of the enormous hedge fund Long Term Capital Management in 1998, dysfunction continued to grip markets for about six months, Mr. Harris said, suggesting that this episode may be nearing its end.
But history also shows that when fear lifts, the economy returns not to normalcy but to wherever it was when the crisis began, Mr. Harris said. That means that even if order is restored to the financial system, the economy will still be staring at a recession.
And order cannot be restored, many economists say, until the Obama administration creates and executes a credible plan to remove the bad loans choking the balance sheets of financial institutions.
“The 800-pound gorilla is whether we face up to the bad loans in the financial system,” said Alan Levenson, chief economist at the trading firm T. Rowe Price in Baltimore.
David Stout contributed reporting.