Wednesday, October 21, 2009

 Mr. President, I rise today to address the devastating jobs crisis hitting my home state of Oregon.

Last Monday we got new job numbers and on the surface it was good news.  The rate of unemployment dropped from 12.2% to 11.5%.  Of course, we would all expect that this is because there were more jobs.  Well, as it turns out, that is not the case.  Oregon lost 10,300 jobs in September.  The unemployment rate dropped simply because in the face of so much unemployment, many Oregonians are giving up in their search for a job.  A year ago 121,000 Oregonians were unemployed.  This September, 211,000 Oregonians were out of work.

Jobs are hard to find in my home state right now.  The reasons for this are many.  We’re an export state that has seen our trading partners hit hard with their own economic problems.  Countries like South Korea, whose G.D.P. year over year dropped up to 20%.  Mexican penalty tariffs have hit Oregon’s agricultural sector, our fruit and our Christmas trees particularly hard.  And one of our main industries, the timber industry which produces dimensional lumber for the construction all across this great United States, has been wiped out by the collapse of construction in housing sectors of our economy.

Allow me to zero in on the county where I was born, Douglas County.  In September, Douglas County had a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 16.1%.  One out of every six adults was out of a job.  Now, Douglas County is a big timber county and there’s just no market for dimensional lumber right now. 

The recovery package has helped some by creating jobs, preventing wildfires in choked and overgrown second-growth forests, but that’s not enough.  We need the housing market to turn around and we need to diversify Douglas County’s economic base by investing in clean energy technology that will turn biomass from the forests into renewable fuels.

We’re hard at work on both fronts attempting to stabilize housing and crafting new clean energy legislation.  But in the meantime, workers in Douglas County are hurting.  There are not enough jobs.  It is a crisis for the Douglas County families. And in a crisis, we help our neighbors.  And one of the best ways we can help our neighbors and friends in Douglas County and other counties throughout Oregon, other counties throughout the United States of America, is to pass an extension of unemployment benefits.

Let me be clear.  Oregonians want jobs.  That’s our first and best answer.  If there are jobs out there, citizens will line up to get them.  But when there are no jobs, we need to help.  And the extension of unemployment benefits is such help.  It would extend benefits for 14 weeks for all states and 20 weeks for high unemployment states like the State of Oregon.

It is paid for through extending a fee employers are already paying.  So it puts no additional pressure on business, but provides a critical safety net to our out-of-work Americans.

Before I close, I want to add one point.  This bill will help these families and workers get by, but it will also help our economy as a whole by putting money into the hands of those who need it most.  Unemployment benefits rapidly turn into bags of groceries, new and second-hand school clothes and needed home repairs.  All of that has a big impact on small businesses in Douglas County, in small towns like Roseburg, the Sutherland and Myrtle Creek.  And that’s why economists say that extending unemployment insurance is about the best job creating step the federal government could take.  

Now, I understand that some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are objecting to consideration of a bill.  They don’t want that bill to come to this floor.  I think we need to look more closely at this issue.  A bill like extending unemployment benefits to assist in shoring up the financial foundations of our working families while they are still searching for those jobs — that is essential.  And we need to have, not partisan pot shots, but real help for working families.

Mr. President, I appreciate that some members of this chamber may come from states that are doing quite well right now.  There may be some states in America that aren’t in the middle of a job crisis.  But far too many of our states are like Oregon where families need assistance.  And the delay of providing an extension of unemployment benefits will cause real pain to families in those states and slow down the effort for our economy as a whole to recover.  I urge my colleagues to join in supporting the working families of Douglas County, the working families of Oregon, the working families of the United States of America and support job creation by supporting this extension of unemployment benefits.