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Dismal employment report to start the new year

By Masao Suzuki

San José, CA – on Friday, January 8 the U.S. Department of Labor released its monthly report on the state of the job market. While mainstream economists expected economic growth to continue to slow with only 50,000 new jobs, down from a gain of 330,000 jobs in November, the reality was much worse. In December, 140,000 jobs were lost, the first month of losses since the dark days of April. The year ended with 9.8 million fewer jobs than before the recession began, a record high going back to 1939, and almost twice as bad as the previous recession year of 2009. President Trump became the first president since Republican Herbert Hoover set to leave office with a net job loss.

Hardest hit in December were restaurants and bars, which shed over 370,000 jobs as fear of the rising COVID-19 pandemic, government restrictions and colder weather slammed the sector. State and local government budget cuts also put another 51,000 workers out of their jobs. Local and state governments combined have laid off almost 1.4 million workers this past year, hit hard by the recession and the lack of federal government aid.

While the official unemployment rate stayed the same as in November at 6.7%, this number doesn’t count the millions of workers, mainly women, who have been forced to give up on looking for work and thus are not counted as unemployed. The percentage of jobless workers who are long-term unemployed continued to rise, to almost 40% of the total.

The job situation is likely to worsen in the January report. The survey for the report will be carried out next week, January 11 to 16. Just this past week two new records were made in the United States. On Wednesday, January 6 more than 4000 people died of the COVID-19, and then today there were more than 300,000 new cases in just one day. With the pandemic even worse than when the December survey was taken in mid-December, the job situation is also likely to get work.

But while this latest surge in the wake of the holidays was expected to peak by the end of the month, two recent developments threaten make this bad situation even worse. The vaccine rollout has transformed the Trump administration’s “operation warp-speed” into a vaccination snail’s pace. This is not simply a case of the Trump administration’s incompetence – which it is – but a problem with the decentralized, profit-guided U.S. health care system that has gutted public health starting with the Reagan administration in the 1980s. One deep-blue, well-to-do California County estimated that it would finish the first phase of vaccinating health care workers and institutionalized seniors by the end of February. Given that this is about 7% of the population, it would take 20 months, or until August 2022, to protect 70% of the population that could be enough to crush the virus.

Another problem is the potential spread of a new variant of the virus. Despite more stringent restrictions in Britain than in much of the United States, cases are rising even faster there as the new variant is estimated to be 60-70% more infectious. After a first round of “don’t worry, mutations happen all the time,” it is now coming out that the U.S. is behind most other countries in being able to even test for the new variant, which is spreading in the country from coast to coast.

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