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Hiring slows in the U.S. as millions face losing unemployment benefits

The latest jobs report released by the Department of Labor Friday estimates the economy has not yet replaced about 10 millions jobs lost last spring, with many Americans now close to losing their unemployment benefits. Wendy Edelberg, director of the Hamilton Project and a former chief economist for the Congressional Budget Office, joins Amna Nawaz to discuss the country's economic outlook.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    In normal times, the monthly jobs report that came out today would not look so bad. but these are not normal times. Today's report is weaker than many had hoped for, especially because of the deep financial hole that millions of Americans fell into after getting laid off early in the pandemic.

    And, as Amna Nawaz tells us, this comes as a crucial deadline and financial lifeline, are they are expiring soon.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, for many Americans, the bottom fell out earlier this year. The Department of Labor estimates the economy has not yet replaced about 10 million jobs lost during last spring's economic plunge.

    And according to today's jobs report, 44 percent of those unemployed say this is a permanent job loss, not a temporary layoff that ends as the economy reopens. On top of all that, the safety net for millions provided by an extension of federal benefits expires soon.

    Wendy Edelberg studies all of this closely. She's director of The Hamilton Project, and a former chief economist for the Congressional Budget Office.

    She joins me now.

    Wendy, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    Let me ask you now about those November numbers. It's the fifth straight month of slowing in hiring. Millions are already in pain. As we just mentioned there, we're just a few weeks away from millions more losing the extension of the unemployment benefits, when the extension expires after Christmas, 12 million people there about to lose the benefits.

    What does all of this say to you now, Wendy, about where we are in this recovery?

  • Wendy Edelberg:

    Well, you have highlighted some of the really important reasons that we should be alarmed by this morning's report.

    We saw that the net gain in employment was 245,000. That might sound like a lot, but given the decline in unemployment that we have seen since February of 10 million jobs, it would take years for the labor market to fully recover.

    And you're absolutely right. Millions of unemployed people stand ready to lose their benefits abruptly the day after Christmas, and millions more in the following weeks, if the federal government doesn't take action and if state governments don't take action.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    When you look back at the recovery as it's unfolded so far, I want ask you about that economic stimulus bill and the funds that went out.

    Those extension — that extension of benefits was part of that. What role did that economic stimulus from the congressional CARES Act this year, what role did that play in spurring any of the recovery so far?

  • Wendy Edelberg:

    We have a huge amount of evidence showing us that the fiscal support in the CARES Act was instrumental in getting us to this point in the economic recovery.

    We saw that, for many of the unemployed households, they were able to sustain their spending in a way that was absolutely due to the fiscal support from the CARES Act. And then the corollary to that is that we know that with a withdrawal of that support at the end of this month, that is going to have dire consequences for consumer spending and the recovery, to say nothing for being a source of extraordinary pain for those unemployed households.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Wendy, when you look, big picture, at the jobs numbers over this entire year so far, I want to put up a graph and take a look at it, because you can see very clearly this plummet back in April.

    There was a spring surge of cases of COVID and, of course, the closures that associated with it. You see those numbers, though, creeping back up, and then, of course, slowing again recently.

    But, Wendy, we should note we are in another surge. There are now record cases, record deaths. Experts say the worst is still ahead. As the pandemic gets worse, if there are more closures, what are you worried could happen? Could that graph dip back down again?

  • Wendy Edelberg:

    The resurgence of the virus as the months have turned colder is not particularly a surprise.

    Economists have been baking into their forecasts a slowdown of economic growth. Frankly, since March, we knew this was coming. And we have, at the same time, been calling for more fiscal support for this economy since the summer.

    And what I worry about is that, without fiscal support, the shortfalling GDP in 2021 relative to what we should have seen in a pre-pandemic path will be probably around $1 trillion, and then even about half that again in 2022.

    So, without more fiscal support, we're looking for a slow, painful, protracted recovery.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Wendy, in just the few seconds we have left, there's a lot of concern about additional stimulus money fueling the already very high national debt that is now soaring to unprecedented levels.

    What do you say to those concerns?

  • Wendy Edelberg:

    We can absolutely afford more fiscal support. First of all, we're in an economy with vast resources.

    Second of all, interest rates are at historic lows. Financing this debt would be completely and entirely affordable. Third of all, it's completely appropriate for us to borrow from our future selves to ease the extraordinary pain that millions of people are suffering right now.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Extraordinary pain, indeed, and more ahead if there's not more help.

    That is Wendy Edelberg, director of The Hamilton Project, joining us tonight.

    Thank you for your time.

  • Wendy Edelberg:

    Thank you.

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