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Job losses signal change for the worse

By Betsey Piette

All the campaign slogans for “change” can’t hide the reality of a U.S. economy rapidly spiraling toward a recession that neither McCain nor Obama can stop. Workers were still sweeping up the confetti at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center after the Republican convention when the latest U.S. Department of Labor unemployment report sent the stock market plummeting.

According to the report released Sept. 5, the official U.S. unemployment rate jumped to 6.1 percent in August with employers shedding jobs for the eighth consecutive month, while revised numbers for earlier months showed even greater losses.

Over 84,000 workers lost their jobs in August. These job losses occurred across broad sectors of the U.S. economy, from manufacturing to retail and construction. Automakers and auto parts suppliers alone cut 38,000 jobs.

Economists predict things will likely worsen. Ken Goldstein, an economist with the Conference Board, which reports on consumer confidence, said, “We’ve seen declines every month, all year long ... but the declines have started to intensify, and will continue through the end of the year, very likely into the first months of 2009.”

Economic Policy Institute economists Jared Bernstein and Heidi Shierholz say the jobless figures clearly show “the engine of job growth is not merely stalled, it is solidly operating in reverse, and the job market’s deterioration in August suggests these problems are deepening.” Bank of America economist Peter Kretzmer noted, “The rapid rise in unemployment points to a U.S. recession.” (McClatchy)

The Labor Department reports that over 2.2 million people have been added to jobless rolls over the past 12 months, with a total of 9.4 million U.S. workers unemployed as of Aug. 31, 2008. The number of long-term unemployed—those workers jobless for 27 weeks or more—rose by 589,000 over the last 12 months.

But government figures don’t tell the whole story. Labor Department statistics count involuntary part-time jobs as full-time work. The new report excludes farmworkers and undocumented-immigrant labor and at least 1.6 million “discouraged workers” who have given up looking for jobs that no longer exist. It excludes 2.3 million prisoners, many who toil in slave labor conditions for pennies a day.

The 6.1 percent unemployment figure represents a national average, but for Latin@ and African-American workers, jobless rates are officially in double digits. In August, unemployment for Black workers reached 10.6 percent, with over a half million more workers unable to find work than a year ago. This increase is almost exclusively due to job losses among Black women.

The reported unemployment rate for Latin@ workers reached 8 percent in August. A large number of Latin@ workers were employed in the construction industry, hard hit by the collapse of the housing market.

The number of all single mothers who are unemployed but receive no welfare assistance has grown to over 33 percent. Many women with children have stopped looking for work, unable to afford child care or transportation costs due to low-paying jobs.

Youth unemployment has risen by an alarming 555,000 individuals over the past three months, according to the Labor Department. Even official statistics—which deliberately understate U.S. job losses—can’t hide the miserable fact that youth in the U.S. are losing their jobs at an unprecedented rate. Washington, D.C., New York City, Detroit and Chicago all have youth jobless rates over 80 percent.

While jobless rates for youth have consistently been the highest, the latest job losses have mainly impacted adults 25 years and older. The unemployment rate for college graduates rose to 2.7 percent. For adults with less than a high school diploma, the jobless rate jumped to 9.6 percent, the highest increase since May 1996.

A change is coming indeed, though not because of the empty promises of campaigning capitalist politicians. Record high unemployment, coupled with the housing and foreclosure crisis along with rising prices of food, fuel and other consumer goods, is bound to ignite a firestorm of rebellion among the working class.