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As if it hasn’t already done enough, the Great Recession has effectively ruined the first Friday of every month.  Why?  This is the day each month that the U.S. Department of Labor releases the nation’s unemployment rate.  And it probably doesn’t require much explanation that for the past two years, the first Friday has rarely brought good news.

The current national unemployment rate is 9.6 percent.  Put into context, this is supposed to be relatively good news, considering that coming into 2010, the figure had been hovering at or around 10 percent.**  And if we think of the unemployment rate as following the same rules as a game of miniature golf – we are always trying to shoot for a lower number – then, sure, it can be said 9.6 percent is on the right track.  We are on the right track except that we have been stalled at 9.6 percent unemployment for some time now.  And we are on the right track except for the projections that estimate unemployment to stay above 9 percent for most of 2011.

Our nation’s unemployment crisis is improving at a snail’s pace.  Had I in fact been playing miniature golf with the same results over the past two years, I would have long given up the game by now, probably with a snapping of the tiny golf club over my knee for dramatic effect.

But it is not a game and we cannot give up.  These monthly statistics are not just a series of numbers – they are real people out of work.  They are your neighbors, your friends, and sometimes your own family.  And at least one-third of them are parents. A new report by First Focus Campaign for Children has found that the current 9.6 percent national unemployment rate translates into a 10.6 percent national rate of children with unemployed parents.  That is the equivalent of 7.9 million children – more than 1 in 10 – across the country living in a family where at least one parent is out of work.

This is the message Congress needs to hear as they begin their last legislative session of the year.  The current federal unemployment insurance program is due to expire on November 30, 2010.  Our Senators and Representatives should be thinking about what it means for our nation when close to 11 percent of our children have at least one parent who can’t find work?  And they should be thinking about what effect the loss of a parent’s work and income will have on these 7.9 million children.

Despite record high levels of unemployment across the country, the debate over unemployment benefits has been a politically charged one over the last year. But this time around, Congress needs to know that unemployment benefits kept 3.3 million families (over 1 million children) from falling into poverty in 2009 alone.  And they need to know that if Congressional action is not taken within the next couple of weeks to continue the program, over 1 million workers per month will be cut off from federal unemployment insurance benefits.  Considering that one-third of America’s unemployed workers are parents, it is clear that the loss of this economic lifeline will have severe consequences for their children and families.

While our nation’s leaders continue to search for an effective path to a full recovery, they must also recognize the impact the economy is having on our young people.  Congress needs to take action now on what the numbers have been telling us all along.  The first Friday of the month will be here again soon.

**Though if you want extra-depressing context, the unemployment rates in October 2008 and 2007 were 6.6% and 4.7%, respectively.

Megan Curran is the Senior Director for Family Economics at First Focus, a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families a priority in federal policy and budget decisions.  She can be reached at and don’t forget to follow First Focus on Facebook or Twitter.

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