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Oh, Right, the Jobs Crisis | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Oh, Right, the Jobs Crisis


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.

This is a point that the AFL-CIO makes: “Today’s young workers are part of the largest generation to enter the workforce since the baby boomers. People born between the late 1970s and 2000 also make up the most diverse and technologically savvy generation in America’s history. But they suffer the nation’s highest unemployment—about twice the national average—and the fewest job opportunities in today’s economy.”

This is a point that the National Council of La Raza has made as it has advocated for immigration reform while at the same time campaigning against sequestration cuts that have been especially hard on job-training and job-placement programs in high-unemployment neighborhoods. “Reducing the deficit should not increase the ranks of the unemployed. The automatic cuts that started in March are projected to reduce job creation by 750,000 this year according to the Congressional Budget Office,” explains the council. “This is bad news for Latinos, who still face a 9.6% unemployment rate in 2013. The deficit will decline naturally as the economy improves and more people get jobs, resume paying taxes, and reduce their need for safety-net programs. If further deficit reduction is needed, this should occur when unemployment is low, not beforehand.”

This is a point that US Senator Bernie Sanders made after corporations started cutting deals with regard to visa and travel programs that were advantageous to them, as part of the wrangling over the immigration reform legislation.

Sanders, a steady supporter of immigrant rights, wanted to assure that attention was also paid to the needs of unemployed youth in the United States. He did so by getting Senate leaders to agree to add a provision to the immigration reform legislation that would provide $1.5 billion over two years for states and local communities to help find jobs for more than 400,000 jobs for 16- to 24-year-old.

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“At a time when real unemployment is close to 14 percent and even higher among young people and minorities, it is absolutely imperative that we create millions of decent-paying jobs in our country,” says Sanders. “The establishment of a youth employment program for 400,000 young people is a good step forward but in the months to come we must do even more.”

It is possible to do more.

Congress has to deal with a wide range of issues. It should never be an either/or circumstance. The calculus when it comes to job creation should be and/and. The federal government has tremendous resources and tremendous capacity to stimulate job growth. And it ought to focus especially on the communities and regions where deindustrialization and the Bush-Cheney financial meltdown have created unemployment levels that are too high—especially for young Americans.

John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney are the authors of Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America (Nation Books). Center for Media and Democracy executive director Lisa Graves says: “The billionaires are buying our media and our elections. They’re spinning our democracy into a dollarocracy. John Nichols and Bob McChesney expose the culprits who steered America into the quagmire of big money and provide us with the tools to free ourselves and our republic from the corporate kleptocrats.”

While many Americans are struggling to find work, those with jobs are struggling for better wages and working conditions—yesterday, BART workers in San Francisco went on strike after contract negotiations stalled.

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