May 19, 2010
By: Wendi Lederman
Last month’s extension of February 2009’s Recovery and Reinvestment Act, not only bailed 400,000 Americans out of losing unemployment benefits, it subsidized health care to unemployed workers, postponed cuts to Medicare, secured funding for small business loans, and allotted enough money to the Transportation Department to retain 20,000 jobs. April saw 290,000 new jobs on the books, and the number of unemployment claims has gone down four weeks in a row. The unemployment rate for May is 9.5 percent, down from April’s 9.7, but still, notably higher than the 8.6 rate of one year prior. March reported over 1600 claims of mass layoffs for over 150,800 individuals. Today, 15,000,000 Americans are unemployed.
Unemployed Americans remain out of work for a record average span of thirty weeks. States are experimenting with new programs to help restrain the snowball effect that leads to financial ruin. The Georgia Works Program allows people to collect weekly benefits, plus child care and a stipend for travel to on-the-job training, which usually lasts six weeks. States most acutely impaired by unemployment are Michigan, Nevada, Rhode Island, California, Florida and South Carolina. While, Nebraska, Vermont, Kansas, and The Dakotas appear to bare the least of the burden.
Occupational sectors with the greatest losses to their workforce include: specialized maintenance and repair, transportation, legal, sciences and engineering, fishing, forestry, and agriculture, also art, design, media, entertainment, and sports. Most of these professions are of the highest paying, but employ the least amount of people. The employment sectors with the highest numbers for 2009 were in customer service, food preparation and service, retail, administration, as well as elementary school teachers. These sectors have held on to many workers, and they are all valuable, but low paying jobs. The Employee Services industry is made up mostly of temporary labor and services. Often placed laborers help with stock and material moving for warehouses and storage, warehouse clubs and supercenters, or grocery related wholesalers. The Employee Services industry now counts as the largest fraction of the American workforce, earning wages far below what was the national mean.
The Employee Services sector in the Gulf Regions will soon carry a much larger portion of America’s working class, as crews assemble in battling the tremendous oil spill. In removing existing oil, and efforts in preventing and preparing for more oil reaching the coasts, many hands are needed. Ecologists, biologists, analysts, researchers, chemical engineers, and student assistants are being called upon by companies who anticipate radical gains. BP picked PEC Premier to handle all training coordination for the entire Gulf Region. PEC is working with training providers in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. Agencies like the Louisiana Workforce Commission are taking applications and providing resources for all parties interested in clean-up work. Those certified in specialized safety such as HAZMAT and HAZWOPER can make $40 an hour.
Impacts on the summer’s coming tourist season are unforeseeable. A study done in 1979 on coastal parks in Texas after an oil spill indicated no drastic declines in visitation; curious spectators came to see an oil spill. Presently, as oil creeps onto Pensacola Beach, hotels face cancellations and ominous speculations over Memorial Weekend. On May 2, as a safety measure, fishing was banned in federal waters for 10 days between Pensacola Bay and the Mississippi River. As boats sit docked, and seafood restaurants serve chicken, Obama proposes the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Legislative Package. This would promise assistance if the spill gets worse, or if those liable are deficient to pay timely and fair claims. The bill also creates unemployment insurance for those unemployed resulting from the spill.
The Huffington Post recently equated that generations who have been working since the 1980’s, “Only experience long periods of prosperity punctuated by just two very brief downturns.” Noting, not only does prolonged unemployment erode skills and talent, but expectations for quality of life. Adapting to this new American standard, “…many people now just aiming for financial security as their American Dream.” Eight million jobs have been lost in less than two and a half years. The consumer-fed economy is growing thinner, leaving nothing for the government to tax, though still, the government must supplement much needed finance to the producers and consumers. When it takes massive devastation to provide hope, silver-lining rhetoric becomes white noise. Yet, pessimism solves nothing either. The numbers reported this quarter have risen and analysts predict, undoubtedly, this upward trend of new employment will steadily continue.