Employment has risen from its low point, but it has grown no faster than the adult population. And the plight of the unemployed continues to worsen: more than six million Americans have been out of work for six months or longer, and more than four million have been jobless for more than a year.
It would be nice if someone in Washington actually cared.
It’s not as if our political class is feeling complacent. On the contrary, D.C. economic discourse is saturated with fear: fear of a debt crisis, of runaway inflation, of a disastrous plunge in the dollar. Scare stories are very much on politicians’ minds.
Yet none of these scare stories reflect anything that is actually happening, or is likely to happen. And while the threats are imaginary, fear of these imaginary threats has real consequences: an absence of any action to deal with the real crisis, the suffering now being experienced by millions of jobless Americans and their families.
It really is remarkable to watch the leading liberal economic voice in the New York Times sound more and more and more like Atrios. Like Atrios, Krugman makes clear that the real threat to the economy isn’t the deficit in the future or inflation appearing some day, but joblessness and a weak economy now.
Which brings me back to the destructive effect of focusing on invisible monsters. For the clear and present danger to the American economy isn’t what some people imagine might happen one of these days, it’s what is actually happening now.
Unemployment isn’t just blighting the lives of millions, it’s undermining America’s future. The longer this goes on, the more workers will find it impossible ever to return to employment, the more young people will find their prospects destroyed because they can’t find a decent starting job. It may not create excited chatter on cable TV, but the unemployment crisis is real, and it’s eating away at our society.
The top priority for policy makers has to be reducing unemployment. Ezra Klein notes that, “In the last year, unemployment rate has fallen by 8% and Fortune 500 profits have increased by 81%.” So the economy is working for someone, but the corporations are not reinvesting their record profits into job creation, otherwise we’d see more of a drop than from 9.8% unemployed to 9% unemployed. But decision-makers in Washington are more cared about cutting corporate tax rates and ensuring high corporate profits than actually helping the other 98% of Americans hurting by the slow economy, let alone the 9% of Americans who are unemployed. As Krugman says, nobody in Washington actually cares.