The Reality Behind the Jobless Stats and Politics of
By Carl Bloice - BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board
June 9, 2011
We're beginning to get a look at what happens when the
subject of unemployment comes up at the White House. It
ain't reassuring. Jared Bernstein, formerly chief
economic adviser to Vice President Biden, who left the
Administration last month says he "frequently" argued
for forceful action to combat joblessness within the
corridors of power. BC Question: What will it take to
bring Obama home?However, "There will be no WPA-type
programs in our near future. There was no appetite for
them in the Obama admin in the midst of the worst
recession since the Great Depression and there's a lot
less now. The reasons for that are interesting and I'll
speak to them another day. But it ain't happening."
In his blog post May 29, Bernstein mildly and
respectfully and took economist Paul Krugman to task
for constantly writing about what the government
"should" do as opposed to what it can. The reason
Washington can't do more? It's not in the cards
politically. The Republicans are in the ascendency, he
says and, "Yes, it's true that leaders must stand up to
such views and do what's right for the economy.damn the
torpedoes and all that. But those of us espousing such
actions must respect, or at least acknowledge, that
those torpedoes are not pointed at us." Under such
circumstances "there's no point in even contemplating
Krugman had also proposed "a serious program of
mortgage modification, reducing the debts of troubled
homeowners." Forget about it said Bernstein who also
had cautionary words for the editorial writers at the
New York Times for arguing for such action. That ain't
happening either, he said.
Obviously in response, Krugman wrote last week, "In
pointing out that we could be doing much more about
unemployment, I recognize, of course, the political
obstacles to actually pursuing any of the policies that
might work. In the United States, in particular, any
effort to tackle unemployment will run into a stone
wall of Republican opposition. Yet that's not a reason
to stop talking about the issue. In fact, looking back
at my own writings over the past year or so, it's clear
that I too have sinned: political realism is all very
well, but I have said far too little about what we
really should be doing to deal with our most important
"As I see it, policy makers are sinking into a
condition of learned helplessness on the jobs issue:
the more they fail to do anything about the problem,
the more they convince themselves that there's nothing
they could do. And those of us who know better should
be doing all we can to break that vicious circle."
In a May 30 column, Krugman wrote that his mention of a
WPA-type program was aimed "at the broader discourse,
as well as the closed-door-off-the-record stuff I've
been hearing from men in suits. Really bad analysis is
posing as wisdom, and it needs to be called out."
Bernstein is right about the determination of the
opposition to serious job creation action. Stan
Anderson, chair of the Chamber of Commerce's Campaign
for Free Enterprise, said in a letter to the Times.
"Instead of making more government, such as creating
Works Progress Administration-type programs, as Mr.
Krugman suggests, we'd like to make government better
so that creative free enterprise ideas can flourish in
America again." That's about as ideologically callus as
you can get.
"The president is going to be running for reelection in
an economy that's still too weak," Bernstein
acknowledged a few days later, after the May employment
statistics were released. "It is improving and is in a
far better place than it was when he got there but
still is not adequately lifting the living standards of
the broad middle class."
Of course, while you might not sense it the way the
major media tells the story, the important victim in
this situation is not the President's re-election
prospect; it's the jobless. Their plight would be just
as serious regardless of who was running.
'What do those who are jobless have in common?" asks
economist Robert Reich. "They lack the political
connections and organizations that would otherwise
demand policies to spur job growth. There's no National
Assn. of Unemployed People with a platoon of Washington
lobbyists and a war chest of potential campaign
contributions to get the attention of politicians."
(Unlike the very well-to-do folks currently
orchestrating the "deficit reduction" campaign.)
"As a result, too many are likely to remain unemployed
for months if not years. That's bad news, not only for
them but for America," says Reich.
"Republican lawmakers have responded to renewed signs
of weakness with a jobs plan that prescribes more of
the same `fixes' that Republicans always recommend no
matter the problem: mainly high-end tax cuts,
deregulation, more domestic oil drilling and federal
spending cuts," wrote Reich. "The White House has
offered sounder ideas, including job retraining, plans
to boost educational achievement and tax increases to
help cover needed spending. But its economic team is
mainly focused on negotiations to raise the debt limit,
presumably parrying Republican demands for deep
spending cuts that could weaken the economy further
while still reaching an agreement on the necessary
"The grim numbers tell an unavoidable truth: The
economy is not growing nearly fast enough to dent
unemployment. Unfortunately, no one in Washington is
pushing policies to promote stronger growth now.'
"The silence is deafening," writes Reich. "While the
rest of the nation is heading back toward a double dip,
Washington continues to obsess about future budget
"Republicans don't want to do anything about jobs and
wages," says Reich. "They're so intent on unseating
Obama they'd like the economy to remain in the dumps
through Election Day. They also see the lousy economy
as an opportunity to sell Americans their big lie that
government spending is the culprit - and jobs will
return if spending is cut and government shrinks.
Would the Republicans actually impede any effort to
create jobs hoping the unemployment rate will remain
high until the Presidential election? (Oh, you cynic)
It's clear that at least some of them would. Consider
the advice the party received last week from the
rightwingers at Human Events. Erick Erickson, managing
editor at redstate.com, a CNN contributor described
credited by some with being one of the right's
important political operatives, told the group's online
readers he thinks Obama can be beat because joblessness
will still be up there next year and the White House
"has no real solutions to fix the economy."
"Reporters keep asking Republicans what they will do to
create jobs,' says Erickson. "The answer should be
obvious. `Nothing!' In fact, I think Americans are
finally starting to embrace that answer. But when the
unemployment rate is so high and inflation is on the
rise and the take home pay of Americans brings home
less and less, yes, I think the President is beatable."
It doesn't take much reading between the lines to
decipher that message.
"The only tiny possible chink of light" in the May jobs
stats "is that these numbers are so bad that they might
persuade bickering politicians on Capitol Hill to stop
playing stupid games with the debt ceiling and start
concentrating on important matters," writes Felix
Salmon, a financial journalist and Reuters blogger.
"Oh, who am I kidding: we're in election season now.
Nothing is going to happen, in terms of remotely
important legislation, until 2013, for risk that Obama
might be able to take credit for it."
As I said, our principle concern here must not be the
2012 Presidential election but the condition of the
almost 12milion people who want to work and can find no
employment. Keep in mind that the 16.2 percent
unemployment rate amongst African Americas is almost
double the overall rate. The unemployment rate for
black males went from 17 percent in April to 17.5
percent in May - the highest for any group
The May unemployment rate for whites remained 8.0
percent while the Hispanic rate was 11.9 percent, up
from 11.8 percent. The rate of underemployment
(including the unemployed, marginally attached and
those working part-time for economic reasons) was 15.9
percent up from 15.7 percent.
The ranks of long-term unemployed (jobless for 27 weeks
or more) increased to 6.2 million, up from 5.8 million
or 45.1 percent of all unemployed. These women and men
represent 4.0 percent of the labor force. The highest
percentage for any post-war period was 26.0 percent.
A delegation of Congressional Democrats met with the
President last week and the jobless rate was discussed.
However, according to informed sources, the question of
the long-term jobless and the "99ers" who have
exhausted their unemployment benefits, which had been
raised an at earlier White House confab with the
Congressional Black Caucus, never came up.
"I think right now with great intentionality we need to
concentrate on black unemployment. If any group in
America had a particular problem - let's say for
example that suburban women were unemployed at a high
level - we'd be involved in Washington and we'd bring
the greatest economists that God has placed on the
planet and we would struggle with ways to reduce that
number," Congressional Black Caucus Chair Emanuel
Cleaver told the House of Representatives the other
day. "The figures confirm this is a persistent problem
that will not go away if this is not addressed."
"Millions are still out of work and families are still
struggling to make ends meet. After five months of
controlling the House, the Republican Leadership
continues to prevent critical jobs legislation from
being considered and passed," said Cleaver.
Another subject nobody in Washing seems to be too
concerned about is that facing young people just
entering the job market who are finding it impossible
to secure their first job. Remember, they don't have
unemployment benefits. People with college degrees are
finding it increasingly hard to secure employment; many
are settling for low paid positions that would
otherwise have gone to less educated job seekers. This
only compounds the calamity facing African Americans.
Black teenage unemployment has risen from 30.4 percent
to 40.7 percent over the past year.
The policy response to the crisis "was and remains
vastly inadequate," wrote Krugman June 2. "Those who
refuse to learn from history are condemned to repeat
it; we did, and we are. What we're experiencing may not
be a full replay of the Great Depression, but that's
little consolation for the millions of American
families suffering from a slump that just goes on and
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member Carl Bloice
is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National
Coordinating Committee of the Committees of
Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly
worked for a healthcare union
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