October 2, 2009 Volume 110 Number 19

Economic indicators point to continued hard times

Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke may have pronounced the recession over Sept. 15, but hard times continue, according to economic indicators released in September.

Unemployment continued its rise, to 9.7 percent nationally for August. Washington’s rate was 9.2 percent, while Oregon’s was 12.2 percent, tying California for fourth-highest unemployment in the nation. The rates are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and are seasonally adjusted. The statistic doesn’t count workers who have stopped looking for work or are working part time but want to work more.

As of August, over 235,000 Oregonians were considered unemployed according to the BLS survey, and as of Sept. 12, the Oregon Employment Department reported 164,278 were collecting unemployment insurance benefits. Of those getting benefits, 70,873 had been on the rolls longer than six months. Because of special state and federal extensions, a worker can currently get up to 79 weeks of unemployment benefits, but by mid-September, 500 Oregonians a week were exhausting even that, having not found work since early 2008.

Oregon unemployment benefits range from $143 to $507 a week, and average $313 a week. On that amount, workers are lucky to make rent or a mortgage payment. Insurance becomes unaffordable.

Union Machinist Victor Pierce was laid off from Freightliner in February after 15 years at the truck-making plant. By August, he could no longer afford the $800-a-month “COBRA” premium payments to continue health insurance for his family … not on an unemployment benefit of just over $500 a week.

“I can’t afford to buy my son clothes for school this year,” Pierce said. “I can’t afford to get my car fixed. I’m taking the bus to get around.”

At least prices overall aren’t rising — the Consumer Price Index (CPI) has actually fallen 1.5 percent in the last year, from August 2008 to August 2009.Of course, that means workers earning minimum wage in Oregon and Washington will get no raise Jan. 1. This will be the first time that has happened since voters approved laws in both states adjusting the minimum wage annually to keep up with the cost of living. [When the CPI falls, the minimum wage stays the same.]

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