The unemployment rate rose to 8.1 percent last month as the economy lost 651,000 jobs (and estimates for previous months were revised significantly upward) with no prospect for improvement in sight. The story leads all the papers. The Washington Post takes a government angle: The stimulus efforts are looking increasingly feeble, and the scope of the problem gets larger and larger. The New York Times takes a bigger view of the economy, proposing that we are in the midst of a “wrenching restructuring of the American economy,” in which jobs that are disappearing won’t come back. The Los Angeles Times looks at the psychological impact the downturn is having on younger workers: “This is something that will redefine a generation,” one economist told the paper.
It’s so bad, this is the Wall Street Journal’s attempt at a positive spin: Because the revised figures for December are worse than February’s, “Some economists said the pace of job losses may be stabilizing, albeit at a high level.”
Jobs being lost now may be lost forever, especially in manufacturing, retail, and financial services, the NYT writes. “Firms are making strategic decisions that they don’t want to be in their businesses,” one economist tells the paper. This means the government needs to be working to retrain workers for other industries—the stimulus spending bill signed last month contains $4.5 billion in job training money, but that is only a start, another economist said. “We have to seriously look at fundamentally rebuilding the economy,” he said. “You’ve got to use this moment to retrain for jobs.” The paper, unfortunately, doesn’t identify what the future growth industries might be, except to note that the health care sector was one of the few that actually gained jobs in February.
Given that the economic stimulus bill was billed at saving or creating 3.5 million jobs, and the total number of jobs lost since December 2007 is 4.4 million and rising, some economists quoted in the Post story suggest we may need another stimulus package before long. “It’s not going to be enough, folks,” one said, and the International Monetary Fund told governments around the world to get more involved in boosting their economies. However, the paper doesn’t quote any stimulus skeptics.
In other economy news, even people with jobs are spending less, further dragging the economy down, the Journal reports. The Post fronts a feature on job fairs, and the NYT has a feature on how annual winter flower shows across the country are being canceled for financial reasons.
Everyone notes, and the NYT, Post, and LAT front, news that President Obama will reverse the restrictions on federal funding for stem cell research that former President Bush had instituted. All the papers pay a little lip service to opponents of the research (Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council is quoted in the Post, NYT, and Journal) but focus on the potential benefits. The LAT has the best reporting on what the move will mean for scientists studying stem cells and the headaches that the Bush-era restrictions caused.
Politically, the end of the restrictions was one of Obama’s campaign pledges and so was expected. The formal announcement on Monday will be confident, the Post says: “In contrast to the low-key way in which Obama has reversed other Bush legacies related to culture-war issues, the White House has invited scientists, advocates and members of Congress to a public ceremony for the signing. Obama will also announce ‘a broader effort to restore scientific integrity,’ ” an administration official told the paper.
Both the Post and LAT happen to have front-page features on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The Post story focuses on his work in the Senate and how much more comfortable he is working under a Democratic president than being the public face of the opposition, as he was under Bush. The LAT piece is datelined from Nevada and highlights the efforts Republicans nationwide are taking to get him out of office when he comes up for election in 2010, a campaign comparable to the one that got his predecessor Tom Daschle voted out in South Dakota in 2004.
Also in the papers: South Koreans who were unlucky enough to be shipped by their Japanese occupiers in World War II to, of all places, Hiroshima have sued Japan for reparations, the LAT writes. Hollywood and Bollywood are cooperating more and more, the Post reports. The LAT has a good profile of the Iranian-American freelance journalist who has been in prison in Iran for more than a month; she was apparently arrested after buying a bottle of wine. (She is scheduled to be released soon.) And two police officers convicted of being “assassins and spies” for the Mafia are still getting their police pensions, the NYT reports.
Metaphor overload: Everyone stuffs news of the meeting between Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, and Clinton’s botched gag gift of a “reset button” that, because of two missing letters, instead said “overcharge” in Russian. Says the NYT: “State Department officials professed not to know who was responsible for the error. But Mrs. Clinton was accompanied by several diplomats and White House officials who had lived in Russia and speak Russian—any of whom conceivably could have caught it.”