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Unemployment: End of the rope for people, not numbers

By: 7 May 2010 4 Comments

I hate math. I always have. Inept – and absolutely allergic to math – there are some things that are glaringly impossible to ignore, even for someone as number-dumb as I am:

  • During the recent economic downturn, 8 million people lost their jobs.
  • 290,000 jobs were added in the month of April (a supposedly “surprising” gain).
  • The national unemployment rate jumped back up to 9.9 percent.
  • 17.1 percent are underemployed.
  • In March, Arkansas’ unemployment rate was 7.8 percent (107,300 out of the 1,370,200 workforce. April numbers aren’t posted yet).

Let me translate this into language that even I can understand. First, there are 50 states in the United States of America. The number of unemployed in Arkansas is 107,300 while all the economists and politicians are whooping it up about adding 290,000 jobs. I don’t understand the excitement.

The jump back up of the national unemployment rate is believed to be “because of a significant increase in the number of people who had previously given up deciding to look for work again.” What, pray tell, does that mean exactly? How in the world can “they” possibly track who is and who is not looking for work?

All these percentages and numbers are making me dizzy and, dare I say it out loud, nauseous.

Do you remember back at the end of February, beginning of March when the media had a heyday with the fact that Congress was going on break before voting on the necessary legislation to keep in place the existing unemployment extensions? On March 2, the president signed the Temporary Extension Act of 2010, leaving the extensions in place until April 5. Lo and behold, April 5 rolled around, the extensions ended once again, only this time, no media coverage. Why not?

Well, the president signed the Continuing Extension Act into law on April 15. Call me crazy, but shouldn’t those names be reversed? Because, again no media drum-roll, these extensions cease to exist on June 2.

Let me repeat:

“On April 15, 2010, President Obama signed the Continuing Extension Act of 2010 which temporarily extends the EUC and FAC programs through June 2, 2010.”

Before you go off on a conservative rant in reaction to what is obviously a, um, worrisome point to me, think about a few more things, would you?

The amount of unemployment an individual gets per week is based on what that person earned the first 4 of the last 5 quarters. If a claim was opened today, for example, the first 4 of the last 5 quarters is all of 2009. The amount of the highest quarter is divided by 26, and that’s the amount of the weekly unemployment check. That amount is exactly half of the gross wages earned.

Forgive me for not paying closer attention, but wasn’t 2009 smack-dab in the middle of this “Great Recession?” Not many folks made a whole lot of money last year if they managed to keep the job they had or found another one if they joined the long line of unemployed. Regular unemployment runs 26 weeks at the max end, and the extensions, at their cap, maybe, just maybe, gave another 26 weeks. Here, add this up with me: 26 + 26 = 52. A year.

At the end of this month, the extension period ends. The end of the rope is now.

So think about it. The jobs added in April would put Arkansas and maybe another state back to work. That is it. All the people unemployed last year won’t have any more unemployment to draw, even if they worked at a company for 30 years prior to that company closing its doors (Maytag, Kohler, Bausch Lomb, etc.).

I hate numbers. 9.9 percent. Sales tax is almost that high, so it’s no big deal, right? Wrong. Chances are good that if 9 of your friends are employed, then you are the 1 that is unemployed.

People aren’t numbers! Every single one of that 9.9 percent that is unemployed has to live somewhere, heat a place in winter, buy groceries and put gas in the car. How else is that possible without working?

Oh. That’s right. They fall off the map and into the “homeless” category. How convenient for the number crunchers.

So, you do the math. The numbers just aren’t adding up for me. Why? Because, you and I aren’t numbers. We are people.

Sources:
New York Times: Economy Gains Impetus as US Adds 290,000 Jobs
Arkansas Department of Workforce Services: Emergency Unemployment Compensation.

About: Theresa Komor:
White County resident, freelance writer, photographer and blogger. Email her, visit her at A Bumpy Path and Out in the Back Yard for more neurotic enlightenment and visual stimulation.

4 Comments »

  • Faye Hutton said:

    The unemployment numbers track people who gave up looking for jobs by including the unemployed who are actively looking for work. The unemployed who get benefits must make so many contacts per week, so they know those people are trying to find jobs. Once the benefits cease and the unemployed no longer are getting those benefits, they will not be tracked and could be considered as not actively looking for work.
    Those not actively looking for work also include those unable to work, for example from a mental or physical disability. They get disability benefits, which also are tracked.
    Those not actively looking for work include the retired, stay-home parents, people who live with and care for the elderly or disabled, the chronically unemployable (drug addicts, alcoholics, convicted felons, and others).
    And while there are people behind the (sometimes imperfect) numbers, the numbers tell us what is going on the economy so we can be informed and perhaps even prepared. And you leave out that in some states especially hard hit by the recession, the benefits are extended an additional 26 weeks, for a total of a year and a half of unemployment benefits.
    In addition, some firms who lay off people give severance pay, pay the employees for their unearned vacation time and even give bonuses. The employees laid off from Walmart in Feb. 2009 and in March this year got severance pay of 9 months or so. Those employees, in April 2010, also got their bonuses. I know of at least two of those laid off former Walmartians, who earned about $55,000 to $60,000 annually, whose April bonuses were more than my ANNUAL SALARY and I work full-time.
    The takeaways are:
    1. You must know numbers to track the economy.
    2. You must know enough about the numbers you are tracking to question the numbers.
    3. You must know the numbers and the policies behind those numbers enough to understand the intricacies of those numbers.
    4. There are people behind those numbers and you need their stories to clarify the numbers.
    5. You cannot make assumptions about the numbers.

  • Faye Hutton said:

    And a follow up: During several months of 2009 and 2008, the economy LOST jobs each month. The excitement about adding 290,000 jobs is because it is a GAIN, not a LOSS. Employment gains are what will put paychecks in pockets, get cash registers ringing, cause freight to be shipped and manufacturers to make things. Spending is what drives the economy and to spend, you must have a job. That is why economists and pundits get exicted: The 290,000 gained jobs are a positive sign. The economy still is a mixed bag, but any gain in jobs means we are digging out of the recession and making up some of those previously lost jobs.

  • Theresa Komor said:

    Faye, thank you for your thoughtful responses.

    The numbers I gave of Arkansas’ unemployment rate include the number, 1,370,200, the number of people in the available workforce. This number does not include the disabled, retired, incarcerated, stay-at-home care-givers, etc. The numbers are already adjusted down to the people in money-earning mode. That we have such a solid available workforce is what is a draw for bringing into the state industry and commerce.

    I find that, even with the numbers clarified (thank you for that), it still remains that the end of the EUC and FAC (the $25/week stimulus added to the weekly benefit amount) is coming to an end in a few weeks, and there is no attention focused on it and no attempts to prepare for or brainstorm possible alternatives for these folks who will, very soon, have no income at all. Keep in mind that the people drawing unemployment have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, and it is a very different scenario than those chronically jobless people you mentioned. They may drop off the radar, but they do not stop needing the basics to live.

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