Jobless rates: Better? Worse? Depends on who you ask

Staff Report

If you had hoped the political spinning of economic news and business behavior would end after this month’s votes were counted, you may want to think again.

The federal jobless rate ticked up in October, to 7.9 percent. The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that in the week ending Nov. 10, seasonally adjusted initial unemployment claims totaled 439,000, an increase of 78,000 from the previous week.

Unadjusted, the number was 466,348, an increase of 104,548 from the previous week and well up from 363,016 initial claims in the comparable week in 2011.

So unemployment is still going up, right?

On the other hand, the Labor Department says the total number of people claiming benefits for the week ending Oct. 27 was 4,977,808, a decrease of 100,423 from the previous week. And that’s down from 6,773,260 persons claiming benefits in all programs in the comparable week in 2011.

So unemployment is dropping, right?

It all depends on who you ask.

Some blamed the surge in jobless claims on damage from Superstorm Sandy. But others argue that while some of the new claims, especially in New Jersey, were indeed caused by Sandy, these were offset by a decline in claims filed in New York. And the highest numbers of new filings came from Pennsylvania and Ohio, where thousands more were recently laid off in the construction, manufacturing and automobile sectors in actions unrelated to the storm.

As for the real number of unemployed, when discouraged workers who’ve given up on finding a job are counted? That’s still about 15 percent nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Meantime, if the coming “fiscal cliff” were likely to cause a big jump in unemployment, we’d know it by now, because the so-called WARN Act requires major employers to send out a 60-day notice to their employees if layoffs are judged likely, right?
In fact, the heads of major defense contractors Lockheed Martin, EADS North America, Pratt & Whitney and Williams-Pyro testified before the House Armed Services Committee earlier this fall that they were bound by law to give employees 60 days notice if their jobs were going to be terminated as a result of sequestration cuts scheduled for Jan. 2, but the White House was pressuring them into refraining from sending out those notices on Nov. 2 – which would have been four days before the presidential elections.

President Obama last week again vowed to veto any bill extending the Bush-era tax cuts for all Americans, as proposed by House Republicans, because he favors raising income taxes on the country’s upper-income households. Which means if America does go over the fiscal cliff on Jan. 2, the president will accept personal responsibility, rather than blame it all on inflexible Republicans, right?

Perhaps we need to go back and review that part about “You may want to think again.”
A version of this editorial appeared Nov. 20 in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

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