They Say the Economy is Improving – Is It True?

A U.S. Department of Labor announcement released yesterday reports that initial unemployment claims, meaning the people who are filing for unemployment for the first time, have decreased since this time last year.  According to the report, initial claims in the week of February 26 totaled 351,076, a decrease of just over 30,000 from the week before and a big difference from the number of claims in the same week in 2010, which totaled 471,256.  This is good – it means that the rate of layoffs has slowed a bit.

But nationally, there are still more than 13 million people who are unemployed by official count, and more than 2.2 million unemployed in California.  And these are just the folks that are registered and collecting benefits.  These numbers do not account for the millions of people who are not working but do not qualify for benefits, or who are underpaid and overqualified for the part time jobs they took because they needed to support their families.

According to economists, we are in slow recovery from the recession, as measured by the rate of growth of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  According to an economic snapshot released on February 28 by the Center for American Progress, this growth was largely thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), which injected urgently needed investments into the economy to avoid immediate collapse.  ARRA also supported new and innovative investments in clean energy and green job training programs like those at Rising Sun.  But ARRA funds will phase out this year – is the economy ready to pick up the slack?

Even while the big picture shows the economy is in recovery, it will be a while before the average American feels it.  While 1.2 million jobs have been added to the economy since January 2010, state and city governments continue to lay of tens of thousands of workers to cope with budget deficits.  And while the overall unemployment rate is slowly inching down (9% in January 2011), unemployment remains high for African-Americans (15.7%), Latinos (11.9%), youth (25.7%), and those without a high school diploma (14.2%).  And family economic self-sufficiency continues to suffer – poverty is still on the rise, income levels continue to drop, and foreclosures continue to move forward.

That things are slowly getting better is good – even we at Rising Sun are starting to notice a difference in the number of employers in our network that are hiring for new positions.  But the folks most impacted by the recession will feel those impacts the longest, which means that we need to focus our attention on helping these families get by.  We must continue to support basic services and subsidies that ensure access to food, housing, health care, education, mental health and other social services for for all, and especially the most vulnerable.  We must continue to support training and job readiness programs that help adults with barriers to employment bridge into economic self-sufficiency.  And we must continue to invest in sustainable economic development initiatives to create jobs that are available and accessible to those who need them most.

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