Reich: Jobless numbers call for stimulus now

“January’s job numbers confirm our worst fears: The economy is falling off a cliff and we’re in a vicious downward cycle,” University of California, Berkeley professor and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich told reporters on a conference call a short while ago.

“People are not buying because they don’t have enough money in their wallets and paychecks … and that means businesses are laying off large numbers of Americans at a rate we haven’t seen in many, many decades.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced today that 598,000 jobs were lost in January, pushing the unemployment rate to 7.6 percent. About 3.6 million jobs have been lost since the recession began in December 2007.

Heather Boushey, a senior economist with the Center for American Progress Action Fund – which as I’ve reported seems to be the pre-eminent progressive think tank of the Obama Administration, funded in large part by East Bay millionaires Herb and Marion Sandler, and the sponsor of today’s conference call – said America hasn’t seen job losses like this since the end of World War II. There are now 11.6 million adults out of work, “a heartbreaking, staggeringly large number,” she said; those who do still have jobs are working less, posting the lowest weekly hours since the Labor Department started tabulating such figures in 1964.

More on this from Reich and others, after the jump…

Reich said an ambitious stimulus package like that which has been passed by the House and is being considered by the U.S. Senate is the only answer. The $800 billion to $900 billion range of the package “is the least we need to get the economy moving again, and it must be on the president’s desk soon,” he said. “We cannot afford more and more months like we have had over the last three. We’re digging ourselves into a deeper and deeper hole.”

Reich said he’d prefer to see that package tilted more toward government spending than toward tax cuts, as “we know from a number of studies that every dollar of government spending has a larger multiplier, in general, than every dollar of tax cuts.” Much of the money handed out to Americans as tax rebates last year went to pay down existing debt and into savings without stimulating spending, he said, and even much of what was spent went to goods produced abroad – that flat-screen TV splurge probably didn’t benefit American workers as much as additional unemployment insurance, foods stamps or aid to state budget deficits would’ve.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley was also on the call, and summed it up succinctly. “This is some pretty sobering news, and the time to act is now.”

Some Bay Area members of Congress weighed in on the new unemployment numbers, too.

From House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Martinez:

“As President Obama has urged us, now is the time to put tired politics aside and put the future of our country first. Today’s report that another 600,000 Americans lost their jobs in January is further evidence that we must work to approve the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The package will create and save 3 to 4 million jobs over the next two years by helping to rebuild America, making us more globally competitive and energy independent, and transforming our economy for long-term growth.

“Congress should act swiftly in order to tackle our nation’s many challenges. Delays will only put our economy into further jeopardy.”

From House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco:

“This morning’s startling job loss numbers show why it is imperative that the Congress act immediately to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to stem the rising tide of unemployment and get Americans back to work. The economic recovery package will create and save more than 3 million jobs and put America back on more solid economic footing.

“With a record 3.6 million American jobs lost in just the last 13 months, we cannot afford to delay legislation that will create new jobs and invest in a stronger economy for years to come. We must complete the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act next week so that the President can sign this critical legislation into law.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.