Monday, June 4, 2012

The growing crisis of unemployment in America

I was shopping with my girls in a local big-box store this weekend; one of the girls needed some new summer t-shirts and so on, and when you live in a climate in which you wear short-sleeved knit shirts nine to ten months out of the year, you quickly get over the idea that buying "nicer" tees will save money in the long run. It doesn't. They just cost more up front--money we don't have to waste--and by the time they've been washed and worn for nine or ten months, the shirts I've spent more money on look just as faded as the ones we picked up at big-box stores (and that's not counting the damage Smidge, our auxiliary back-up cat, does to knit fabrics with his back claws anytime he doesn't feel like being picked up and held--which, for the record, is any time he's picked up and held. But he's cute. So we pick him up anyway. But I digress).

Smidge, destroyer of knit fabrics, is worried that he's about to be picked up and held.

Anyway, as we were selecting a couple of colors from the tee-shirt shelf, I overheard a woman who appeared to be in her late forties or early fifties talking to her friend. I was not trying to hear; the woman was speaking rather loudly. But her conversation interested me nonetheless.

She was telling her friend that after several trips to the doctor, her doctor told her she had anxiety, and asked her why she was so stressed lately. Because, the woman told her doctor, I'm about to lose my job. We're being laid off. And I've worked there for twelve years, and I'm single, so I have to find work to support myself.

As her friend made supportive comments, we finished up our shirt selections and left. But I kept thinking about the woman--I couldn't get her words, and the anguish in her voice, out of my mind.

There are just so many people in this situation right now. There are those who have been unemployed so long that they've given up hope of finding work. There are those who used to have decent, career-level jobs who have had to settle for underemployment at entry-level jobs with few to no benefits; there are young adults who can't get those entry-level jobs because those jobs are being filled by people with ten or twenty years' career experience.

Some people think that because the media isn't focusing on the jobs news, that things aren't actually all that bad. The American news media may be ignoring the growing crisis of unemployment in America, but foreign media seems to have the stats--consider this article which lists six reasons why America's jobs are in a terrible state:

1. The headline rate

The US economy added 69,000 jobs in May. The figure is awful all on its own. To cope with demographic shifts, the US needs to add more than 100,000 jobs a month just to hold steady. Three years into a "recovery", adding 69,000 jobs a month is truly depressing.

Between December and February, the economy added an average of 252,000 jobs each month. March (150,000) and April (115,000) numbers were not great, but OK. Until now...

2. Downward revisions

Perhaps the most depressing figures in May's jobs report actually belong to April. April's far from sparkly 115,000-strong jobs growth has now been revised down to 77,000. March's figures were cut from 154,000 to 143,000. In short, the present is weaker than expected and the past was worse than we thought.

3. Long-term unemployment

There are now 5.4 million people in the US who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more, up from 5.1 million in April. The median duration of unemployment increased to 20.1 weeks from 19.4 weeks.

As we reported here, long-term unemployment is devastating for the people it affects, reducing not only their chances of finding work but their health and the future prospects of their children.

Read the other three reasons here.

While our media talking heads act as though the Right Sort of people care only about whether or not Bill and Steve will finally be able to have their long-desired fairytale wedding in any state they'd like sometime this year, the real story of the real pain out there is being buried. But the people behind those awful unemployment numbers, the people out of work or barely scraping by on salaries too small to support families and pay debts, the people who can't find jobs and can't afford training and education for new careers as their old jobs are relentlessly outsourced or given away to H-1B workers, the college students drowning in student loans and unable to find jobs that pay much more than minimum wage, the people who have downsized and consolidated and simplified and belt-tightened as much as they can and are being told to do even more with even less--they're very real, and they are starting to express the sort of anguished despair I overheard from the woman in the store this weekend.

The growing crisis of unemployment in America is the story nobody wants to talk about--nobody except those swept up in that crisis. And I have a feeling they're about to start shouting too loudly to be ignored.


John Henry Lamming said...

This is precisely why I have so much sympathy for the Occupy folks, despite the constant attempts to denigrate and demonize them. There is something wrong, and these people seem to be the only loud voice saying so.

Anonymous said...

Erin, thanks for bringing this to our attention.

Many years ago (mid-sixties) as a senior at UND I took a course called Business Cycles.

Business cycles are part of our capitalist economy, and have been for many years. Times are good: people are buying, unemployment is heading downward. Manufacturers sense this and start to increase production of cars, appliances and other manufactured goods and services.

But after awhile, demand starts to cool. Rather quickly, car manufacturers realize there are too many cars on the dealers' lots and they cut production, resulting in lay-offs. It's a domino effect.

This recession is the worst I have seen since I started my business career way back in 1966. And, of course, it's been made worse by the collapse of the real-estate bubble.

I would also say this: No, the present recession is not the fault of George W Bush or Barack Obama. And Mitt Romney is not going to pull us out of this recession either! Absent, say, a huge public works program funded by the federal government (which certainly is not going to happen), I think we just have to live live with a high unemployment rate!

As the presidential race heats up we will hear Mitt tell us how he can and will create jobs./Bern

You know, I just don't believe that to be true!