WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Bill Knight - November 12

Macomb, IL – The U.S. jobless rate is 10.2% and well over 15 million Americans are unemployed, working part-time when they'd prefer full-time jobs, or so discouraged that they've stopped looking for work: a 26-year high. Job furloughs and outright layoffs continue, small businesses are struggling to survive, states and local communities are slashing services, and every 13 seconds someone's home is foreclosed by a lender.

So, finally, a tiny measure of bipartisanship emerged last week, leading to Congress passing a second stimulus bill, which President Obama signed on Friday. No Senator opposed the bill, which passed 98-0.

However, in the House, 12 Republicans inexplicably resisted the need to act on behalf of working people and opposed extending unemployment benefits to the hardest hit in our nation.

The $24 billion law gives 14 more weeks of benefits to all those who've exhausted their benefits or will by the end of the year - some 2 million of us. For states where the unemployment rate is worse - such as Illinois, which has a statewide rate of 10.5% - an additional six weeks' worth of benefits are included.

The law also extends tax incentives to prospective homebuyers, both the $8,000 credit for first-time buyers and a $6,500 credit for homeowners who buy a new home after living in their current residence for five years, and includes some tax cuts for small businesses.

As lousy as the jobs picture is nationwide, it's worse here and there in downstate Illinois, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security, which listed September rates that show the damage around us: Henry County 8.6%, Knox 10.3%, McDonough 7.7%, Peoria 11.6%, Tazewell 11.3%, and Warren 8.0%.

Still reeling from the effects first felt before the 2008 election, the economy is so bad that even Congressman Aaron Schock, the Republican representing much of the area, supported the proposal, which passed by an overwhelming 403-12 vote.

After all, 16 states have run out of money for unemployment insurance, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, requiring states to borrow $11.7 billion from the federal government.

"Those statistics represent people," writes Rick Wade, unemployed for six months after losing his job in Pekin. "I am among many hardworking Americans currently unable to exercise our skills and experience in a meaningful, financially viable way. Critics of the extension have jobs some of which are taxpayer supported. They get paid to tell you that Socialism is bad, 'm-kay?'"

Socialism-schmocialism, says Laura Tyson, the former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers and the National Economic Council who's now with the University of California/Berkeley's Haas School of Business. Writing in Business Week magazine, she says, "For the millions of unemployed and underemployed Americans, joblessness means much more than lost income. It means losses in health care, pensions, job experience and skills, and, of course, lost homes.

She adds, "It also means dashed hopes for young Americans now trying to enter the workforce. Faced with massive unemployment during the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt made putting people to work his primary task. That should be Job One today, too."

Wade personalizes the situation.

"Becoming unemployed means a lot more than figuring out what to do with 40 suddenly empty hours a week," he says. "It means figuring out how to eat, pay the bills, and keep the lights on. It means possibly uprooting your family, leaving loved ones and friends, schools and familiar neighborhoods to follow the work. Taking a gamble that it will pay off."

Maybe elected officials - maybe even Republicans kowtowing to Right-wing extremism - will share the gamble now.

There should be common ground we can stand on together - before it collapses into a sinkhole out of which we'll be unable to climb.