The Obama administration got its second straight week of bad news on the job front. Intial unemployment claims increased this week to 576,000, 26,000 higher than analysts expected, and the four-week average rose to 570,000. The increasing claims belie the notion that the job market will see any signs of recovery in the near term, and make claims of success from the stimulus package even less believable than before:
The number of first-time claims for unemployment benefits rose unexpectedly for the second straight week, a sign that jobs remain scarce even as other data show the economy is stabilizing.
The Labor Department said Thursday the number of new jobless claims rose to a seasonally adjusted 576,000 last week, from a revised figure of 561,000. Wall Street economists expected a drop to 550,000, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters.
Economists closely watch initial claims, which are considered a gauge of layoffs and an indication of companies’ willingness to hire new workers.
The figures are volatile, and had been trending down, after remaining above 600,000 for most of this year. The new report indicates that the labor market is still weak. In a healthy economy, initial claims are usually around 325,000 or below.
The problem isn’t just with the initial jobless claims. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks the average weeks of unemployment for claimants, and the news there looks especially bad. The average now stands at 25.1, up from 24.5 in June, and August will likely be higher. That number is by far the worst in the past decade; in the supposedly “jobless recovery” in 2003-4, the worst that number ever got was 20.1 weeks.
The BLS also tracks “discouraged workers,” those who have left the workforce altogether and are not seeking jobs. That number has also reached highs not seen in at least a decade, with 796,000 workers currently falling into this category. Compare that to the last recession and recovery, where that number never rose above 534,000.
Obama has a big problem. The stimulus package has utterly failed to prevent unemployment from getting above the target line of 8%. After some initial optimism about the economy, employers are once again shedding jobs and reducing costs, particularly as they see Obama’s expansive — and expensive — legislative agenda work through Congress. At the time when Obama says, “Trust me to run health care,” voters are realizing that he couldn’t get the economy right while mortgaging the Treasury. Maybe Obama should focus on fixing what he’s already broken before breaking something else.