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EMPLOYMENT….The latest on the employment front:

The total number of U.S. workers filing claims for jobless benefits lasting more than one week has soared to a record high, a government report showed, a sign of the severe toll the deepening recession is taking on the unemployed.

….The U.S. has lost jobs in each of the last 12 months, and employers slashed payrolls at a rate of about half a million per month in the final four months of 2008. This month’s claims figures point to another drop of that magnitude when January data are released next week.

Indeed, the hemorrhaging of jobs shows no sign of abating.

The stimulus bill making its way through Congress right now obviously isn’t perfect. What is? But all the evidence suggests that employment levels are going to remain anemic for another couple of years at least, which means that spending stimulus will remain effective through FY2011 at a minimum. And since virtually all of the spending in the current bill gets disbursed before then, this means it’s all reasonably well targeted.

Still, isn’t the bill just a hodgepodge of unrelated spending? Sure. What else could it be? There’s no way to spend $800 billion on infrastructure over the next two years, so most of the money has to be spent on other stuff. But so what? Employing clerks or crossing guards or home care workers counts every bit as much as employing backhoe operators or engineers. Spending money on contraceptives does as much for the economy as spending money on rebar. An unemployment check gets spent on food the same way a paycheck does.

In an ideal world there’s stuff about this bill that all of us would change. Overall, though, what we have isn’t bad, and the real world being what it is, I’d give it a B or a B+. So it deserves to pass, and quickly. But once that’s done, it’s going to be time to start talking seriously about what happens after that. Our economy is way out of kilter, and has been for a while, and President Obama needs to let us know what he thinks needs to be done about that. Pass the bill, then let’s talk.

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