Friday Rant: Unhappy Holidays — 15.1 Million People Are Unemployed and Seeking Work in the U.S.

This is less of a rant and more of a reality check. Yesterday was the first day of Hanukkah with Christmas just three weeks away. Projections for an approximate 2.5% increase in retail sales this season appear on target, auto sales are up and of course that's all good news. But for the 15.1 million people looking for work -- many of whom having exhausted their unemployment benefits -- this is an especially unhappy time of year. Let's also remember that most of them have spouses and families so we can conservatively double the number of those impacted at minimum.

The U.S. Department of Labor released statistics today that indicate "The number of unemployed persons was 15.1 million in November. The unemployment rate edged up to 9.8 percent; it was 9.6 percent in each of the prior 3 months. Among the unemployed, the number of job losers and persons who completed temporary jobs rose by 390,000 to 9.5 million in November. The number of long-term un-employed (those jobless for 27 weeks and over) was little changed at 6.3 million and accounted for 41.9 percent of the unemployed." These numbers represent tremendous malaise but do not tell the entire story. In addition "The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers) was little changed over the month at 9.0 million. These individuals were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job." Uncounted in these figures are "about 2.5 million persons [who] were marginally attached to the labor force in November, up from 2.3 million a year earlier ... These individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months [but]were not counted as un-employed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the [USDL] survey."

So a more accurate number of the nations unemployed is 17.3 million, severely impacting at least 34.6 million Americans. According to yesterday's Huffington Post "Forty million people benefited from extended unemployment benefits programs put in place to fight the recession that started in December 2007 ...[and] Fourteen million people laid off through no fault of their own received benefits under the Emergency Unemployment Compensation and Extended Benefits programs that Congress allowed to lapse this week ... the White House Council of Economic Advisors estimates that an additional 26 million people living in their households benefited indirectly."

I'll spare you the debate over whether unemployment compensation extends the period of time that unemployed people remain out of work, but I believe it's a fair assumption that the majority of these 17.3 million unfortunate Americans would be working if there were jobs for them to perform. Huffington goes on to claim that "The Labor Department estimates that two million people who've been out of work for longer than six months will lose their benefits by the end of December [and] within a week, 800,000 jobless workers face a hard cutoff from EB."

We likely all know someone -- and their families -- who comprise these statistics. Be grateful if you're not among them and consider extending invitations to your holiday celebrations. Many community organizations have established fund, toy and food drives specifically for unemployed people and their families. I can't think of a better place to allocate a portion of our holiday budgets of time and dollars.

William Busch

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