Job picture is bleak for U.S. workers

September 1, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
As we observe Labor Day, economists at UC Berkeley say workers are having a difficult time riding out high fuel and food prices. A look at why the economic turbulence is not going away soon.

Fourty-three-year-old Porfirio Diaz has been a truck driver for 22 years. It has allowed him to care for his wife and three children. His oldest, Itzel, is a promising artist and hopes to go to Cal next fall.

However, Diaz believes today's economy is dimming his hopes for the future.

"For me, the American dream became a nightmare right now," said Diaz.

His townhouse in Alameda is in foreclosure -- the result of a drop in income. Diaz says rising fuel costs and elimination of pay while waiting for cargo has caused his weekly pay to drop $600.

"He is a reasonable example of what's really happening to very hard workers here in the United States," said U.C. Berkeley labor economist Sylvia Allegretto, Ph.D

Allegretto is an economist at the Center for Labor Research and Education at U.C. Berkeley. She says the economy has hit what she calls a "rough patch." That puts workers in jeopardy.

"We are shedding jobs consistently for every month in 2008, and I don't see that turning around anytime soon," said Allegretto.

The U.S. economy has lost 463,000 jobs so far this year. California has lost over 54,000 jobs, putting the state's unemployment rate at a 12-year high of 7.3 percent. The biggest job losses in California have been in construction, manufacturing and financial services.

Dr. Allegretto points out these job losses end the state's six years of economic expansion since the last recession in 2001.

"The bad news is that it looks like the best is behind us because although we're not in an official recession, we are certainly in a jobs recession," said Allegretto.

This could impact the availability of health care as unemployment rises. It is projected that a 1 percent increase in the jobless rate adds 150,000 to the uninsured rolls.

And that doesn't count people like truck driver Porfirio Diaz. Even though he is working, he dropped health coverage for his family to save $700 a month.

The UC Labor Center expects the troubled job picture to continue into next year, extending an already established pattern of job losses every month this year.


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