A country looks for work on Labor Day

This Labor Day, what this country really needs are some jobs.

Economists – whose very profession the NY Times’ prolific Paul Krugman (right) is now questioning — keep saying that the recession likely ended this summer, although we won’t know until we get a few months out and can take a look back at the numbers. But it doesn’t really matter when economists and data tell us that the recession is over. It matters when people start working again.

 A “Shaken, Traumatized People”

Rutgers University’s John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development today released the results of a comprehensive national survey of 1,200 Americans who have been unemployed and job-seeking in the last year. The results were unsurprising but sad: the survey “portrays a shaken, traumatized people coping with serious financial and psychological effects from an economic downturn of epic proportion,” the report concluded. The Heldrich Center survey was conducted by custom research firm Knowledge Networks from Aug. 6-12, 2009.

According to the press release, “two-thirds of respondents say they are depressed, over half have borrowed money from friends or relatives, and a quarter have skipped mortgage or rent payments. Just 15% of the jobless received any severance, and virtually none were offered retraining. Three in four unemployed workers say the economic situation has had a major impact on them and their family.

Only 40% of the currently unemployed received unemployment insurance to help them weather the economic crisis and 83% of those who did receive aid are concerned that their benefits will run out before they find a job. Underscoring another important debate, only half of the jobless have health benefits.

More than half of the jobless think the changes in the economy will be fundamental and lasting, and when the unemployed are asked when the economy will recover, only 20% believe it will do so in the next year.”

“Losing the  ability to provide is killing me”

 The survey also collected some heart-breaking quotes from participants:

 “The lack of income and loss of health benefits hurts greatly, but losing the ability to provide for my wife and myself is killing me emotionally.”

 “I am not married, my parents have passed away, so am quite scared of what will happen if I do not land a job within the next couple months…The thing I identified with the most — my work —has left me feeling lost.”

 “My age (59) leaves me feeling worthless, veryold, and isolated from the workforce — with little chance of finding employment.”

 “When I went to a job fair, the [state] had canceled it because there were no companies hiring! This is a depression, not a recession.”

What’s more, once these people do finally get employed again, they are going to have deep financial holes to dig themselves out of, likely prolonging this economic downturn even longer.

Record number of Americans on food stamps

Considering that information, it’s not surprising that more than 35 million Americans received food stamps in June. That’s up 22% from June 2008 and a new record, according to Reuters. The program, the average benefit for which is $133.12 per person, helps cover food costs for one in nine Americans.

Other reports came out today with some other indications of how the economy’s doing. It sounds like we’ve left the freefall part of this recession – widely acknowledged to be the worst since the Great Depression – and are now entering the stagnant part.

Joblessness remains staggeringly high

To that end, new jobless claims fell 4,000 from the prior week, with 570,000 people applying for unemployment last week, according to the Labor Department. Still, that’s more than the 560,000 economists expected and much more than the 325,000 who file for unemployment for the first time in any given week in a healthy economy. The Labor Department will come out with our unemployment percentage tomorrow — it’s expected to jump to 9.5%, up from July’s 9.4%.

Consumer spending accounts for  70% of our economy, and if people don’t have jobs – or are making less, not getting raises or finding that their assets are worth much less than they once were – they don’t head to the mall and drop $500 for no good reason.

Bottom line: until jobs come back, the economy will remain in this slump.

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.