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Joblessness hits new high
Economic slump still taking a toll

By Alan Maass | June 13, 2003 | Page 2

THE U.S. unemployment rate rose again in May to 6.1 percent, the highest level in close to a decade and a new peak for joblessness during the current economic slump.

Politicians and economic pundits have been discovering silver linings that supposedly indicate a recovery on the way "in the second half of the year"--something that they've promised before. But the new jobs report from the Labor Department doesn't contain much evidence to back up this optimism.

The overall jobless rate remains relatively low compared to past recessions because of the way unemployment is counted--leaving out both "discouraged workers" who have given up on finding a job, and those who are forced to take part-time work because they can't find a full-time position. The true unemployment rate would be well over 10 percent if the government counted these workers.

More telling are some of the facts hidden behind the overall statistics. Once again, the manufacturing sector led the way in shedding jobs, recording the 34th straight monthly drop in employment. And all told, 2.5 million jobs have been lost since February 2001--marking the longest sustained period without job growth since the Great Depression.

Another sign of the determination of companies to force fewer workers to work harder is that the average workweek for rank-and-file employees, which stands at 33.7 hours, is at the lowest level since the government began keeping records in 1964. In other words, employers are forcing fewer workers to produce more at a faster pace.

Wall Street has seen an increase in stock prices over recent months--another sign, say commentators, that the economy is turning around. But working people are getting hit hard by the slump.

For example, the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas, headquartered in Austin, reports that requests for help increased by almost 50 percent last year--and that the food bank caseload shot up an additional 25 percent in just the first three months of this year.

Meanwhile, in the Detroit suburb of Southfield, workers at Forgotten Harvest, the supplier to many area food banks, celebrated a 50 percent increase in donations from restaurants, hotels and stores during the past year. "But virtually all of it was needed by our current clients and the people they are feeding," executive director Susan Goodell told Washington Post columnist David Broder.

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