, Salem, MA


February 22, 2014

Watson: Extending jobless benefits will boost national economy

The great Wall Street meltdown of 2007 and 2008 had many terrible consequences. There were millions of home foreclosures; billions lost in retirement accounts; the bankruptcy or shutdown of thousands of banks, companies and small businesses; the shock to and duress on our society and our democracy; and the human suffering under all that trauma.

Certainly, one of the worst legacies of the meltdown remains with us today, and that is the extraordinarily high level of unemployment across — not uniformly — the country. Somewhere between 7 million and 9 million jobs were lost in the immediate aftermath of the crisis. In early 2010, at our lowest moment, something like 25 million people were either out of work or “underemployed” — meaning they needed substantially more hours or had taken enormous pay cuts.

Today, almost six years after the cataclysm, many lost jobs have not come back, and many will never come back. Depending upon how we define “unemployed,” we now have roughly 10 million people out of work. The reality is far worse. Another 3 million may have become so discouraged by their unrewarded efforts at job-hunting that they have dropped out of the labor force entirely — these people are not included in the officially unemployed statistic.

Then, there are another 7 million to 8 million who are currently employed but they may be working part time — when they want full-time work — or they may be receiving such low wages that they still depend upon various government assistance programs (and private sector initiatives) to survive economically. Many part-time workers, or poorly paid full-time workers, still have to obtain assistance from Medicaid, food stamps (SNAP), welfare, housing programs, private shelters and private food pantries.

Currently, and steadily, the country appears to be recovering — albeit somewhat tentatively. Approximately 6 million jobs have been restored or newly created since the meltdown. But with a total of about 21 million under- or unemployed or dropped-out adults and teens (over 18), the nation needs at least that many full- or part-time jobs to get everybody back to work. How fast is that going to happen?

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