The economy added 162,000 jobs last month -- 48,000 of them temporary ones for the U.S. Census. The growth wasn't enough to give President Obama what he's most hoping for, a drop in the overall unemployment rate. That remained at 9.7 percent, and you can see more signs in the government report that we're in this for the long, long haul.
People have begun returning to the workforce instead of sitting the whole thing out. That's why there can be more jobs than the month before and yet the unemployment rate remains the same. The so-called shadow unemployment rate, which includes everyone who wants a job even if they've given up looking, rose for the third straight month to 16.9 percent. Back in December, the shadow rate hit 17.3 percent. Things are getting better, but we're still in record bad territory.
Obama's got to find the right response to long-term unemployment. The worst of the layoffs may be behind us, but the consequences of getting laid off stretch far into the future. The average job search now takes 31.2 weeks -- a miserable run of more than seven months that's enough to send many families into ruin. Of all unemployed workers, 44.1 percent of them have been out of luck for at least 27 weeks.
That's why the jobs bill passed this month puts so much emphasis on hiring sidelined workers. And that's the scenario in which Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) blocked the extension of unemployment benefits and left for the Easter recess.
Before the break, Coburn released a statement in which he chastised Democrats for not accepting his proposal to cut spending elsewhere in order to afford the $9 billion extension. "The American people and the rest of the world understand that our debt and deficits are as much of an emergency as our unemployment rate," Coburn wrote.
Not really. The debt and the deficits matter, but in a long-term way. The unemployment rate is putting people on the street now. Unless those families stay whole and return to the economy as tax-paying workers, we won't have the revenue to cut the debt and deficits. It's as though Dr. Coburn, as he likes to refer to himself, were refusing to treat a heart attack because the drugs might one day cause cancer.