Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Unemployment Tragedy

I am not a huge fan of the Atlantic's Megan McArdle, but her article on the plight of the long-term unemployed is quite compelling. She was unemployed for a long period years ago and recounts the terrible toll it took on her life and her economic prospects. She was one of the lucky few who eventually found a rewarding career. But many of the long-term unemployed in America are not likely to be so fortunate, especially those in their 40s and 50s. Research suggests that the long-term unemployed suffer increased illness, along with significantly lower standards of living for the remainder of their lives.

This is a tragedy.

The millions of Americans who have been out of work for six months or more during the recent recession and its aftermath are out of work due to no fault of their own. The collapse of the financial system sent the global economy into a tailspin; at the peak of the recession the economy was shedding 3/4 of a million jobs a month. Today's jobless are capable of working and want to work, but because of depressed demand businesses don't want to hire them. And with the government shedding hundreds of thousands of jobs the situation in the public sector is even worse.

President Obama and the Democrats have provided the jobless with unemployment benefits for the past 2+ years, but they are about to run out (the Republicans have fought against providing the jobless with any benefits and routinely cast them as lazy and undeserving). With the economy barely producing any jobs at all their prospects continue to look bleak, and they will likely continue to suffer the toll of prolonged joblessness.

With the Congress and traditional media obsessed with long-term deficits, it appears that new assistance for the unemployed or new stimulus measures are a near impossibility. The Democrats, and particularly President Obama, share a tremendous amount of blame for the absurd situation we find ourselves in, because they have failed to draw attention to the plight of the millions of Americans who still can't find work.

Since the first day of Obama's presidency the Republican Party has not acted in good faith for the betterment of the American people; the GOP cares only about moneyed interests and catering to its extremist theocratic base. A strong leader doesn't simply accept the limits imposed on him by those who want to destroy him, and whose electoral victory is premised on the failure of the economy.

With the historic Democratic majorities Obama enjoyed for the first two years of his presidency he was able to pass excellent legislation that is and will continue to benefit ordinary Americans. For this he must be applauded and given credit. But his failure to fight for additional measures to boost the economy and help the jobless is by far his biggest failure. He should be using the bully pulpit that only the President has to express moral indignation at the Republicans for blocking additional stimulus measures. He should propose direct jobs programs for the unemployed that put them back to work right now building roads, bridges, and trails for our national parks.

There are those who argue that this is bad politics because the Republicans will likely block these programs and the President will then look weak and ineffectual. I disagree. A strong leader doesn't accept the status quo, but changes it through the force of their rhetoric, persistence, and moral suasion. I find it hard to imagine that if week after week Obama called on Republicans to finally honor their pledge to focus on jobs, that nothing would come of it. And even if this were true, what could be a better political message to carry into 2012 then Obama making the case for a greater focus on jobs and the Republicans rebuffing him at every turn?

Jason Scorse

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