Rising unemployment figures fuel labor's discontent with Reagan
The jump in the US unemployment rate in September to 7.5 percent has added new and highly combustible fuel to the bonfires of protest organized labor is setting across the country in a broadening attack on President Reagan's economic policies.
With millions of union members increasingly worried about jobs, unions are making a full-employment program and an end to tight money policies the basis for what they call "phase 2" of their attack on the administration and its supporters in Congress -- a follow-up on the "solidarity day" protest against Reagan social policies in September.
A day after the President told a televised press conference that his economic program will create 13 million new jobs over the next several years, the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released a monthly report that showed a 0.3 percent rise from the August 7.2 jobless rate. The increase meant that 7,966,000 Americans were out of work and seeking jobs, 309,000 more than in the month before.
At the same time the bureau reported 1.1 million others were too discouraged to continue looking for jobs, and that the total number of those working dropped to 98,270,000 in September, a decline of 675,000 in a total civilian labor force of 106.2 million.
Organized labor's economists place the number of jobless at between 10 million and 11 million, setting a much higher number for those who would like to work but are too discouraged to look for jobs.
Dr. Janet L. Norwood, director of BLS, said the marked rise in the number unemployed and the drop in employment indicates that "at best, the economy is very flat." The BLS analysis of its figures blames spreading layoffs, particularly in construction and public employment, for the jump in the jobless rate. Dr. Norwood said the layoffs were most noticeable in industries sensitive to high interest rates.
According to the BLS:
* Black joblessness has failed to show any improvement over the past year. The rate for blacks, including adults and teen-agers, was 16.3 percent in September. The rate for black teen-agers, 37.5 percent, is much higher than that for any other labor force group.
* Another 20,000 construction workers lost jobs in September. Building trades employment now has declined by 165,000 since April, a deteriorating job situation that organized labor blames on high interest rates.
* Budget cutting caused a decline of 145,000 jobs in state and local employment last month, with schoolteachers particularly hard hit.
* The decline of 675,000 in total employment occurred almost entirely among white workers, particularly among adult women being nudged out of jobs.
Rep. Henry S. Reuss (D) of Wisconsin, chairman of the congressional Joint Economic Committee, said in Washington that the latest BLS report is "very bad news, very disturbing.
However, the potential for such a rise has been obvious for some time in spreading layoffs as major employers in diversified industries slowed production , shut down some plants, and announced large reductions in work forces. Many business economists look for even deeper employment cuts and a jobless rate of 8 percent by year's end with unemployment at about that level well into 1982.
These projection are also being made by organized labor. Lane Kirkland, president of AFL-CIO, blames the latest rise in unemployment on the Reagan administration's monetarist policy designed, he says, to "put the country through a wringer in order to lower economic activity.