- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 3, 2009

Jose Hurey, 39, is trying to move from refinishing chairs to cooking good food.

More importantly, he’s been trying for a year to move from jobless to gainful unemployment after being laid off by a furniture company.

“Me personally, I’m just ready to work,” the father of two from Alexandria said Wednesday while visiting his counselor at the Arlington Employment Center. “Everything is tight right now.”

The country is full of Jose Hureys - willing, able … and totally out of luck.

That’s why President Obama is convening a “jobs summit” Thursday.

Nearly three times as many Americans have lost their jobs in this recession as in the 1981-82 downturn, formerly considered to be the worst since the Great Depression.

Total employment plummeted 3.1 percent (2.8 million jobs) during that Reagan-era recession, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In today’s economy, employment has collapsed 5.9 percent (8.1 million jobs) since December 2007.

The current jobless rate of 10.2 percent is still below the postwar peak of 10.8 percent in 1982, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.

“Both the decline in jobs and the increase in the unemployment rate have been more severe than in any other recession since World War II,” Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke told the Economic Club of New York in a speech last month.

Private-sector payrolls have plunged more than 7 percent since December 2007. The collapse has been so steep that private companies employed 2 million fewer workers in October than 10 years earlier.

It is another one for the record books - the worst drop in private-sector employment since the 1925-35 period, according to research by Charles McMillion, chief economist of MBG Information Services.

Even at the bottom of the 1981-82 recession, private employment was 10 million workers, or 18 percent, higher than a decade earlier.

This recession has hit men especially hard. With the male-dominated industries of manufacturing and construction shedding 2.1 million and 1.6 million jobs, respectively, the unemployment rate for men 20 and older, such as Mr. Hurey, has soared from 4.4 percent to 10.7 percent. The jobless rate for women in that age group has risen from 4.3 percent to 8.7 percent.

“I’ve got a fiancee and two kids,” Mr. Hurey said. “Seeing her having to hold down the house is real rough because I was used to helping provide for my family.”

The Federal Reserve Bank’s Beige Book Report, released Wednesday, spoke of “further layoffs, sluggish hiring and high levels of unemployment in most … districts.”

Yet today’s double-digit jobless rate considerably understates the recession’s toll on workers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles a broader measure of unemployment and underemployment. It includes unemployed workers looking for jobs and jobless workers too discouraged to look for work and part-time workers who want full-time employment.

That measure reached 17.5 percent in October, likely another record, analysts say.

The dismal jobless figures would be even worse if the labor force weren’t shrinking, analysts say.

The labor force, which includes employed workers and jobless who have looked for work during the previous four weeks, tends to grow about 1.2 percent per year along with population growth, which includes immigration.

Even in the early 1980s recession, the labor force grew at a healthy clip.

During the past year, however, the labor force fell 0.6 percent, or by more than 900,000 - the first decline since 1962.

“If the labor force was growing at a normal 1.2 percent annual rate, the unemployment rate would now be over 12 percent,” Mr. McMillion of MBG Information Services said. The decline is rooted partly in the rise in long-term unemployment, he said.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, more than a third of today’s 15.7 million unemployed Americans have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer. That’s a postwar record, and it will be rising for some time, economists warn.

Economists expect the labor market to remain weak for years to come. Moody’s Economy.com projects the unemployment rate will average 10.6 percent during next year’s fourth quarter. Wells Fargo is forecasting a 10.8 percent jobless rate during that period.

The Federal Reserve doesn’t expect unemployment to fall below 8.4 percent in the next two years. That’s a different story from the 1980s, when the jobless rate had fallen from 10.8 percent in November 1982 to 7.2 percent two years later, helping President Reagan capture 49 states in his re-election campaign.

The story is not lost on some of today’s elected representatives.

On the eve of the White House jobs summit, some of Mr. Obama’s top advisers were signaling that the get-together could provide a boost to efforts by congressional Democrats to provide more federal aid to spur employers to begin hiring.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said this week that lawmakers are looking at a number of steps to ease the plight of those out of work and to create jobs, including expanded unemployment aid and a 1930s-style public works program.

But Republicans have roundly criticized what they call a “second stimulus” package, on top of the unprecedented $787 billion recovery bill that Mr. Obama pushed through Congress a month after taking office - with little GOP backing.

Christina Romer, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said in an interview Wednesday that Mr. Obama was open to many of the job-boosting measures under discussion in Congress, including new subsidies for small businesses and more spending on public infrastructure projects.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, challenged the White House to adopt Republican ideas that wouldn’t require more government spending to create jobs, such as freezing tax increases and rejecting new regulations on business.

Mr. Cantor made his call a day ahead of Mr. Obama’s jobs forum, which the White House hopes will show it is trying to combat high unemployment. The White House defended its guest list for the forum, which excludes free-market economists and the self-proclaimed voices of big and small business.

“I think it’s pretty clear to say that chambers of commerce throughout this country and small-business owners throughout this country will be represented,” said press secretary Robert Gibbs, pointing to the inclusion of companies such as FedEx and Google rather than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Federation of Independent Business.

But Republicans’ House leader, Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, announced a competing summit stacked with conservative economists, saying it will provide the forum Mr. Obama is denying to their point of view.

Mr. Cantor said Mr. Obama could draw bipartisan support with moves such as stopping tax hikes and new regulations. He also suggested approving pending free-trade agreements, freezing domestic discretionary spending and allowing for more domestic energy exploration.

“I know there are philosophical differences between the parties, but surely we can agree on a few common-sense things to help get America back to work,” Mr. Cantor said in a speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Mr. Gibbs said the White House is open to listening.

“If anybody has got ideas, I think folks would be happy to look at them, and I’m sure people will,” he said.

Joseph Crouch, 60, of Arlington, was looking for ideas Wednesday at the Arlington Employment Center.

“I came here to get some help,” he said. “I think that it’s so hard in the job market, especially for ex-offenders. Plus I’m old.”

Kara Rowland contributed to this report.