Unemployment Up, and the House Responds Bizarrely

The bad news just came out from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as reported by AFP, “US sheds 524,000 jobs; unemployment hits 7.2%”:

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The US economy shed 524,000 jobs in December, sending the unemployment rate to 7.2 percent, according to official data published Friday.

The recession-ravaged economy lost 2.6 million jobs over the course of 2008, the most since 1945, the Labor Department said. Of those, 1.9 million were lost in the past four months.

The jobless rate, which is calculated on a separate household survey, climbed to 7.2 percent from 6.8 percent a month earlier, hitting the highest level since January 1993, the report showed.

And what is on the floor agenda of the U.S. House of Representatives today? Two measures that will raise the costs of hiring new employees: H.R. 11, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and H.R. 12, the Paycheck Fairness Act. The measures will not worsen unemployment, but they will certainly discourage employers from doing anything to reduce joblessness.

Very short versions: The Ledbetter Act removes statutes of limitations on filing wage complaints, and the Paycheck Fairness Act expands the grounds on which disgruntled employees can sue for gender discrimination under the Equal Pay Act. Advocates sell the bills as “restoring fairness” to the workplace, even though employment discrimination is already against the law.

They’ve done a remarkable job of keeping their fingerprints off the measures, but the major beneficiaries of the legislation are the trial lawyers, who will file many more lawsuits in the hopes of a big payoff or, more likely, a big-enough settlement from a company that finds it problematic to fight a lawsuit through the courts. Meanwhile, disgruntled employees will find it easier to tie their employers into knots.

No doubt there will be sincere unhappiness as well as political anguish expressed on the floor today about the unemployment rate (and anguish is a fair response). But then House members will give speeches about malicious employers and terrible treatment of employees.

We wish someone were frank enough to say: “Today, in the face of this horrible unemployment rate, I strongly support these bills to raise the marginal costs of labor. Each new hire will now bring with it greater legal liability and add costs to a company’s operations. In a time of severe recession, I believe this is the right thing to do, but, ahem, mostly for political reasons.”

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