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It's time to do something about jobs

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

I get e-mails from Sen. Kennedy's office almost every day I should note I hardly every hear from the junior senator and the following are excerpts from remarks he prepared last week about the nation's unemployment rate and economic meltdown:

Mr. President, tomorrow the Department of Labor publishes the April job numbers. We don't know what the numbers will show, but it's very likely there will be more bad news in an economy that is worsening daily for American families.

That means more job losses, on top of the 230,000 jobs lost already in the first three months of this year. In the past year, we've seen more than a million workers join the ranks of the unemployed a clear sign of a recession with no indication that the problem is easing.

Those out of work find themselves competing for a shrinking number of jobs. We have 7.8 million unemployed workers today, and only 3.9 million job openings two workers for every job. Millions of Americans are left competing for too few jobs.

These losses are occurring in every sector of the economy. No one is immune. Increasingly, many of the jobless are well-educated, middle-class workers with years of experience. And recent veterans are also having a hard time finding work 11.2 percent of young male veterans serving after September 2001 are unemployed, and nearly 22,000 new veterans are now collecting unemployment benefits.

Women are being hit particularly hard. In the past year, the unemployment rate for adult women workers has gone up more rapidly than for men. Women's wages fell six times faster than men's wages last year. The problem is especially acute because women have far fewer savings than men to fall back on in hard economic times, and have much greater difficulty surviving a job loss or other economic hardship.

Chantell Anderson is a 34-year-old mother in Frederick, Maryland, with years of experience in accounting. She's a good worker at her last job, she received two raises in less than a year. But two weeks after her last raise, she was laid off, in September 2007. Since then, she has found it impossible to find even temporary work.

She's doing everything she can sending out 20 applications a day, seven days a week, knocking on doors. Yet she only gets a few calls back from potential employers, mostly to say that she's overqualified, or that there are just too many applicants. Even the temp agencies don't have any work for her.

Last month, her unemployment benefits ran out. Her husband is still working, but it's not enough. They bought a home two years ago with a 20 percent down payment and a fixed rate mortgage. But now that her unemployment benefits have run out and she still hasn't been able to find work, the family is struggling to make their payments and fear they'll lose their home to foreclosure.

It's a story being repeated in millions of families across the country today. Citizens across the board are feeling the pressure. Recent Gallup polls show that 87 percent of Americans think the economy is getting worse, and a record high 55 percent are worried they won't be able to maintain their standard of living...

The first thing we need to do is extend unemployment compensation for Americans who have lost their jobs. In each recent recession, we have provided additional unemployment benefits, so that a pink slip won't have to mean a family's financial ruin. Extending unemployment benefits can help families stay afloat during this difficult time. It also puts money into the hands of those who are most likely to spend it and boost the economy. Each dollar spent on unemployment benefits leads to $1.64 of economic stimulus; it's one of the most cost-effective stimulus measures we can take.

Some say that it's too soon to act, since the unemployment rate is still low. But unemployment is rising quickly. Many states from coast to coast are seeing unemployment soar California, Alaska, Michigan, Rhode Island and Mississippi all have unemployment rates above six percent. Other states are close behind. The average time it takes an out-of-work American to find a new job is longer than at any time in the past 30 years when Congress first acted to extend unemployment benefits...

We also need to increase other kinds of immediate aid, such as food stamps, to help low-income families keep up with the rising price of groceries. Food prices are climbing the fastest in 17 years, and food stamps obviously aren't enough to last a month. We need to improve these benefits, so families don't go hungry...

We should grant emergency federal aid to the states now, just as we have in past recessions, so that Medicaid and other needed services will be there for those who desperately need them. The last thing we should be doing is cutting back on these vital services in such hard times.

It's also essential to make key investments in the nation's future. By funding infrastructure projects that are ready to begin today such as school, road and bridge repairs we'll be creating thousands of new jobs and delivering a $1.59 boost to the economy for every dollar we spend.

Investments in training programs will help the unemployed gain the skills required for the jobs our economy needs. Yet the Bush Administration has been reducing job training funds for years. In Massachusetts, we now have 21 workers on the waiting list for every available job training slot 21 workers. That's unacceptable.

It certainly is, Senator, but what is also unacceptable is the fact that so much of our current economic woes could have been prevented if this country had kept protections in place for American goods; had followed the lead of Pres. Jimmy Carter in creating a new energy self-sufficient country; and if we had taken steps to stem the flow of jobs sent overseas by greedy corporations that has wrecked the American middle class.

This column represents the opinions of its author. Send your comments online to or to 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, Mass. 01028.