Senator Bernie Sanders. (Artwork: The Vermont Guardian)
As the Bush administration sputters to an end, the official unemployment rate rose from 6.1 to 6.5 percent in October, and the number of unemployed persons increased by 603,000 to 10.1 million - for a total of 10.1 million unemployed - a 14 year high. In the last year alone of the Bush administration, unemployment has increased by 2.8 million, and the unemployment rate has risen by 1.7 percentage points. The news is deeply disheartening.
And these figures are conservative. They do not include workers who want a full-time job but are working part time or workers who have given up looking for work completely. The number of involuntary part-time workers rose by 645,000 last month, to 6.7 million. The figures do not include another half million workers so discouraged they have stopped looking for work. If we total these numbers, the unemployment and underemployment figures are very stark: almost 17 million Americans are jobless or unable to find the full-time employment they want.
These are very difficult times for Vermonters and Americans throughout this country. Consumer confidence is at an all-time low; while the foreclosure rate is at an all-time high. More than 100,000 Americans filed for bankruptcy just last month. Many of those fortunate enough to have a job are seeing their wages go down, while prices have been going up. Recent declines in the stock market are shattering the retirement dreams of many older Americans and forcing many more to delay their retirement plans for years to come (you can read testimonials here).
Since Bush has been president, nearly six million Americans have slipped out of the middle class and into poverty; over seven million Americans have lost their health insurance; more than 4 million Americans have lost their pensions, and median income for working-age Americans has gone down by over $2,000.
In these very difficult economic conditions, doing nothing is not an option.
When the Senate reconvenes on November 17th, I intend to fight for an economic recovery program that is significant enough in size and scope to respond to the major economic crisis this country now faces.
If we can commit more than $1 trillion to rescue bankers and insurance companies from their reckless and irresponsible behavior, we certainly should be investing in millions of good-paying jobs that rebuild our nation and improve its economy.
In my view, the size of this economic recovery plan should be, at a minimum, $300 billion.
This economic recovery package should first improve our crumbling infrastructure by improving our roads, bridges and public transportation. We need to bring our water and sewer systems into the 21st century. We need to make certain that high-quality Internet service is available in every community in America. Not only are these investments desperately needed, every billion dollars that we put into these initiatives will create up to 47,000 new jobs.
We also need to make a major financial commitment to energy efficiency and sustainable energy. With a major investment, we can stop importing foreign oil in 10 years, produce all of our electricity from sustainable energy within a decade, and substantially cut greenhouse gas emissions. We can also make the United States the world leader in the construction of solar, wind, bio-fuel and geothermal facilities for energy production, as well as create a significant number of jobs by making our homes, offices, schools and factories far more energy efficient.
In these harsh economic times, we should also make sure that, at the very least, all Americans have access to primary health care and dental care, which we can do by substantially increasing funding for the highly-effective community health center program. We should extend unemployment benefits, so that more than 1 million Americans do not run out of their benefits by the end of this year. We should assure that no one in America, in these hard times, goes hungry or homeless.
Finally, with towns and states like Vermont facing deep deficits, we must make a major, immediate financial commitment to states and municipalities. Their crisis will only grow worse as homes are foreclosed, as incomes decline, and as fees on sales of homes and motor vehicles diminish. For too long, unfunded federal mandates have drained the budgets of states and communities. The strength and vitality of our communities must be restored.