Health Care is Important, But Don't Forget the Unemployed

Last Updated Feb 23, 2010 12:20 AM EST

The release last Thursday of initial weekly claims for unemployment insurance showing 473,000 claims, an increase of 31,000 over the 442,000 claims the previous week, hasn't received nearly enough attention. Claims have been essentially moving sideways for several weeks now, and they are still far above the break even point at approximately 400,000 claims per week. The economy will continue losing jobs so long as initial claims stay above 400,000 per week.

Here are weekly claims since 1967:

Ui1


To give a clearer picture of recent movements in the series, here are weekly claims since 2000:

Ui2


Claims will be released on Thursday of this week, and I'll be keeping a closer eye on them than usual. If they continue to move sideways, it's time to worry.

I'd be less worried if it looked like a meaningful job creation package was about to emerge from Congress, but the proposals under discussion don't do nearly enough, and what little that has been proposed isn't happening as fast as needed. The legislation should be in place place already, not still under discussion. And while it's good that health care reform is coming back onto the front burner, that means that a job creation bill is unlikely to be the main priority for Congress in the near future. Unless Congress can learn to walk and chew gum at the same time, which it's unlikely to do, a side effect of the renewed attention to health care reform may be less job creation and higher unemployment.

Update: Maybe they were listening. If this bill does eventually pass, it will still be far, far short of what is needed, and much later than needed, but it's something. A meager something, but something nonetheless.

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