Attendees line up for an interview with a prospective employer at a job fair in Washington, August 6, 2009. (REUTERS/Jason Reed)
There’s a great deal of talk these days about how the US economy is improving. And there is certainly a great deal of attention being paid to the reported preparation of the Federal Reserve Board to ease up on the “easy money” policies implemented after George Bush steered the economy into an economic meltdown. But Jared Bernstein, the former chief economist and economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden who is now a senior fellow with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, warns that “they’re doing so too soon.”
Bernstein titled a recent article on the economy “Don’t give up on the jobs crisis yet!”
The United States still has an official unemployment rate of 7.6 percent. But the real unemployment rate—if people who are underemployed and people who have given up on the search for work are included—is roughly double that. And for some groups of Americans, the numbers are dramatically higher: African Americans aged 16 to 24 experienced an unemployment rate of 28.2 percent in May. Latinos in that same age group had an unemployment rate of 16.6 percent. In general, young people are having a hard time finding jobs, and that is especially true in urban centers that have been hard hit by long-term deindustrialization that’s linked not just to an absent industrial policy but also to wrongheaded “free-trade” agreements such as NAFTA and the extension of permanent most-favored-nation trading status to China.
These are crisis numbers. The research that in the 1970s formed the basis for the Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act—the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act—argued that, to maintain a sound economy and society, unemployment rates should not go above 3 percent for persons aged 20 and over, or above 4 percent for persons aged 16 or over.
The United States is nowhere near that goal. And this means that the jobs crisis should be a front-and-center concern of official Washington.
There is no need to neglect vital debates about voting rights, marriage equality, immigration reform, Syria, Egypt and a host of other pressing concerns. But it is vital that members of Congress pay serious attention to the jobs crisis that is so real and so overwhelming for so many young Americans.