Saturday, September 03, 2011

Jobless crisis: its catastrophic impact on the whole country

Persistent high unemployment in the United States is having a “catastrophic” long-term impact on the entire country. In other words, the negative impact is not limited to workers who are currently unemployed (14,000,000 men and women), but is also affecting the rest of the population, even those with jobs.

The grim facts about the nation’s job crisis are detailed in a new briefing paper, “Sustained, High Joblessness Causes Lasting Damage to Wages, Benefits, Income, and Wealth,” just released by the Economic Policy Institute.

Current discussion of unemployment and the need for job creation “vastly understate both the damage done…and the extent of the population affected,” say the authors of the paper, Lawrence Mishel and Heidi Shierholz.

They debunk the claim that the problem is just “structural” – that employers can’t find the workers with the skills needed in the current economy. “It is not that this country is lacking the right workers; it is lacking work,” they write, and supply the supporting data illustrating “a profound lack of demand for workers, not that employers can’t find the people they need.”

Among the evidence they present on the pain of the crisis:

 The share of children with an unemployed or underemployed parent has doubled in three years – from 6,400,000 in 2007 to 13,000,000 in 2010).
 The monthly jobless rate puts one month’s unemployed workers in the foreground. In the background are the unemployed the other months. For the workforce overall, almost one in three workers were unemployed or underemployed at some point in 2009.
 For more than a year, the share of the unemployed who have been without a job for over six months has hovered around 45%.
 All education categories – college-educated workers included – have seen their unemployment rates roughly double over the last four years.
 Forecasters do not expect export growth sufficient enough to substantially reduce unemployment in the next few years. The Congressional Budget Office expects the unemployment rate to be over 8% well into 2014.

In their concluding paragraphs, Mishel and Shierholz briefly supplement their factual analysis with judgments. The persistence of high unemployment, they write, “is unacceptable in a modern, developed economy, and the means to address it are no mystery: stimulate demand which will create jobs.”

They list the programs that Congress could adopt to rejuvenate the labor market. Some of them are: repair and upgrade the nation’s 100,000 public school buildings; additional spending on transportation infrastructure, and fiscal relief to the states.
But they recognize a huge obstacle: the debt ceiling agreement of August 2011, which “all but rules out deficit-financed stimulus of an appropriate magnitude.” Renegotiate or repeal it, they advise.

“All of these policies,” they write in their final paragraph, “are in our power to accomplish as the world’s largest economy. We can make the choice to pursue them and deflate the high unemployment that will otherwise scar the country and its workers for a generation.”

Will we make the right choice? I fear that we won’t, and one reason is the negative role of some powerful Catholics in Congress. A new campaign has the potential to become a movement that could bring people’s attitudes and actions more in line with Catholic principles. See my blog posting of September 1 on the St. Francis Pledge to Care for God’s Creation.

For information about this campaign, see the Website of the Catholic Climate Covenant at

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