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Bush Urges Unemployed to Be Patriotic, Stay Unemployed

(Update) Washington, D.C. ( — A bleak jobless claims report released Thursday put the number of out of work Americans at its highest level in 19 years, but government economists quickly pointed to a potential silver lining: with more time to shop during the day, the growing legions of unemployed should now be able to boost retail sales.

unemployed shopper
"I could literally spend all day at the mall now," says unemployed air-conditioning repairman Josh Kroglin of Ithaca, N.Y.

"Just finding the time to shop has always been one of the biggest dilemmas facing the gainfully employed, at least for me," said Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill. "But today, more people are out of work than at any time since 1982, meaning that more people will now have the free time to go out and buy electronics, housewares, and other consumer goods during the all-important holiday season."

While weekly jobless claims had fallen during the previous month, Thursday's report surprised experts, when 488,000 new claims were filed, putting the number of unemployed Americans just above 4 million. As a result, the U.S. unemployment rate is expected to rise from 5.4 percent to as high as 5.7 percent. For retailers, the new data could not have come at a better time.

"Holiday sales account for a quarter of our annual revenue, so we really need any boost that rising unemployment can give us," said Wal-Mart chief executive Lee Scott, Jr.

Most unemployed consumers, however, angrily insisted they were in no condition to boost anyone's sales. "Gee, I'm sorry, but I'm just not going to have the time to help the economy this year," said Melissa McCoy, 27, recently laid off by General Motors. "In case you couldn't figure it out, I lost my income along with my job."

But economists disagreed.

"No, I've calculated it, and people like Melissa will have plenty of time," said White House economic adviser Glenn Hubbard. "Even in you factor in the hours she will be standing in line for unemployment benefits and pounding the pavement looking for another job, I figure she will have at least 40 percent more free time to spend at the cash register."

"Theoretically, she should be able to get her Christmas shopping done early," he added. "Unless she finds a job in the next week or so."

In Washington, President Bush is not taking any chances. During his weekly radio address on Saturday, he urged America's unemployed to do their "patriotic duty" and not to seek full-time work until January.

E-tailers, however, were decidedly lukewarm toward the President's initiative. With more people in less of a rush, they worry that a primary advantage of online shopping — time-savings — will be lost. To regain the advantage, recently unveiled a more involved alternative to its patented 1-Click Shopping system.

"It's called '100-Click Shopping,'" said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. "It takes about 300 minutes to buy a single item, allowing you to fill those endless hours of ennui with economically stimulating holiday consumerism."


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