For the first time in more than a quarter century, unemployment in the United States has reached double digits.
That’s bad economic news for America, which has now been shedding jobs for 22 consecutive months.
That’s bad social news for the Americans who are out of work, for their families and for their communities, especially when we consider data that tells us 35 percent of jobless men and women have been looking for work for more than six months.
And that’s bad political news for President Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress, who continue to make the mistake of treating unemployment as an afterthought rather than the most serious issue facing the nation.
Now that the United States has an official double-digit unemployment rate, the Obama administration and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate need to adjust approaches in order to make job creation their primary focus.
To do otherwise is to risk political disaster in 2010.
That may sound like an overarching statement.
But the president and his allies face an overarching challenge.
Not since 1983, when Ronald Reagan was in his first term, has the jobless rate gone over 10 percent. And in 1983, the unemployment rate was on a downward trajectory, while in 2009 it is rising.
Indeed, unemployment is rising faster than Obama aides, key members of Congress or top economists anticipated. Many had held out hope that the rate of increase would be slowed sufficiently to keep the official figure in single digits — thus avoiding the psychological wallop that that comes with the headline that say “one in 10 Americans are out of work.”
With the release of federal figures for the month of October, however, official unemployment now stands at 10.2 percent.
The official figure does not include millions of Americans who have given up looking for work in the midst of the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression, and millions more who are underemployed. Factoring in those numbers, the real unemployment rate is closer to 17.5 percent.
But the official figure is bad enough.
When the federal government acknowledges the “one-in-10” reality, people get scared, and rightly so.
Modeling by social scientists confirms what we instinctually know: As unemployment rises, the reality gets closer to home and even those who are employed start to fret.
The fretting can have a serious impact on the economy.