Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The biggest story we're not reading

While we've all been busy debating health care, we may be missing a different--and bigger--problem, according to Bob Herbert:

Some 247,000 jobs were lost in July, a number that under ordinary circumstances would send a shudder through the country. It was the smallest monthly loss of jobs since last summer. And for that reason, it was seen as a hopeful sign. The official monthly unemployment rate ticked down from 9.5 percent to 9.4 percent.

But behind the official numbers is a scary story that illustrates the single biggest challenge facing the United States today. The American economy does not seem able to provide enough jobs — and nowhere near enough good jobs — to maintain the standard of living that most Americans have come to expect.

The country has lost a crippling 6.7 million jobs since the Great Recession began in December 2007. No one is predicting a recovery in the foreseeable future powerful enough to replace the millions of jobs that have vanished in this historic downturn.

Analysts at the Economic Policy Institute noted that the economy has fewer jobs now than it had in 2000, “even though the labor force has grown by around 12 million workers since then.” [...]

This should be the biggest story in the United States. When joblessness reaches these kinds of extremes, it doesn’t just damage individual families; it corrodes entire communities, fosters a sense of hopelessness and leads to disorder.

During a Republican Administration, I suspect, jobless numbers like these would be banner headlines. But instead, the media trumpeted the slight decrease in the numbers for July as a sign of hope, as Herbert says, instead of recognizing the catastrophe they represent.

Most of us know at least one person or family who has lost a job since this recession began, and who is either still unemployed or has accepted low-paying work outside of his or her skill area just to be able to pay the bills. At our parish we've begun to pray regularly at the Prayers of the Faithful for those who are losing or have lost their jobs, and for families devastated by such losses.

Yet the MSM seems unusually shy about discussing all these lost jobs and their impact. There seems to be, instead, a rush to paint a rosy picture of the economy, or to repeat solemnly the president's nonsensical notion that we'll improve the economy vastly when we fix health care. Unless people who've lost their manufacturing or information tech or similar jobs can suddenly become doctors or bureaucrats, though, it's hard to see how health care reform will help.

Is this, as Bob Herbert says at the end of the piece, "...the nation’s biggest problem and should be its No. 1 priority."? Or is the economy about to come roaring back, "fixed" by health care reform, stimulus plan spending, cash for clunkers--oh, wait, that one's been canceled--well, you get the idea?

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