Put focus back on the unemployed

Robert Reich

TEXT OF STORY

Scott Jagow: Some people in Congress are talking about a second stimulus package. I'm sure you've heard talk about that. Commentator Robert Reich says Congress should act -- just not now.


Robert Reich: When even the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board says Congress should pass a stimulus package, we know we're in trouble. The last stimulus of tax rebates stimulated lots of people to pay off some of their debts, which hardly stimulated the economy at all.

The coming stimulus package could be even more nonsensical. It would be voted on by a lame-duck Congress, many of whose members will want to reward campaign donors with juicy pieces of pork. Other lawmakers will see it as their last opportunity to include their pet project or tax perk, and some won't be accountable because they'll be out of office in a few weeks anyway. In other words, it'll be less pf a stimulus than a Christmas Tree.

Instead of this, Congress should do just one thing when it returns right after Election Day: Extend unemployment benefits.

So far this year, nearly a million jobs have been lost in the private sector. The official unemployment rate is 6.1 percent. But the Labor Department's most comprehensive measure -- which includes people who want to work but have stopped looking, and those working part-time who want full-time jobs -- is 11.0 percent, its highest rate in 14 years.

More than 1 in every 5 people out of work have been looking for six months or more. And many are running out of unemployment benefits. The National Employment Law Project estimates that nearly 800,000 will run out this month, and another 350,000 by December. That means they won't be able to pay their bills, including their mortgages. Already this year, almost half of mortgage delinquencies have been caused by homeowners' lacking income or employment.

America needs a comprehensive stimulus package, but it should be voted on by the next Congress under a new administration. And it should be part of a broader jobs strategy that would include rebuilding the nation's crumbling infrastructure, funding alternative sources of energy and creating tax incentives for businesses that generate new jobs.

For now, focus on the unemployed.

Jagow: Robert Reich teaches public policy at the University of California Berkeley.

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