A drop in the unemployment bucket

The U.S. unemployment rate is stuck just under 10%, and Congress isn't doing much to fix that.

By Jim J. Jubak Feb 24, 2010 2:34PM

Jim JubakAccording to forecasts by the Federal Reserve, U.S. unemployment will linger at a horrendous 9.5% at the end of the year. That's just about where unemployment stands now, at 9.7%.

So, I certainly understand why lawmakers will want to hear from Fed chairman Ben Bernanke on the issue when he testifies in front of Congress this week.

And I'm sure that some member of Congress will ask Bernanke what the Fed intends to do about unemployment. I'm betting that Bernanke won't blow his top at the question, but I sure wish he would.

An honest response would run along the lines of:

“What are we going to do about unemployment? Hey, what are you going to do about unemployment? Do you think the bill that the Senate just passed -- the one you're all so busy praising as a rebirth of responsible bipartisanship -- is anything other than a bad joke on the American people? Fifteen billion in a Social Security payroll tax holiday to companies that hire workers that have been jobless for at least 60 days? That's your solution for a $14.3-trillion economy where the Great Recession put eight million people out of work? I thought the House bill at $154 billion was too small. But $15 billion?”

Bernanke could say that and more. The $15 billion bill would give companies a $1,000-per-worker bonus if a new hire stays for a year. But it would not extend the current COBRA health insurance subsidy for workers who have lost their health insurance when they lost their jobs. (That program is due to expire on Sunday.)

It would not extend unemployment benefits for millions of workers facing an end to their benefits because they've been unemployed for too long. It would not give any aid to states that are about to lay off tens of thousands of workers because of state budget shortfalls. And it won't provide a significant amount of money to infrastructure projects.

The estimates I've seen from economists say that, at best, the Senate bill might create 200,000 to 250,000 jobs. (For my take on the economy and the stock market over the next year, see this post).

OK, if you think the federal government shouldn't be in the business of jobs creation or is supposed to stay on the sidelines in what amounts to an economic crisis for millions of unemployed and their families, just say so. And reap the reward from voters who agree with your position or take the heat.

But please don't pretend you think government should be doing this job when you're doing everything you can to make sure that the part of government you belong to is doing just about nothing. There's enough blame to spread around both parties. 

After all, if almost all Republicans voted against the $15 billion Senate bill, the larger House effort just squeaked through a chamber dominated by Democrats.

At the time of this writing, Jim Jubak did not own shares of any company mentioned in this post.

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