The mainstream moderate-to-liberal press is finally starting to get it: America’s high unemployment rate is having a devastating effect on individuals, their families, and their communities. It is impacting hopes, dreams, and bare survival. It is fueling a public health crisis that we largely have chosen to ignore.
While some columnists have been sounding this alarm since the beginning of the 2008 meltdown — Bob Herbert of the New York Times is a shining example — only within the last few months have their host periodicals started to put the jobs crisis front and center.
Fortunately, the emerging news coverage and commentary are sharp and insightful, reminding us that job loss is more than simply an economic event. It is the reality of blogging that few busy readers will be able to make the investment of time to dig beyond the post itself, but here are three cover/lead articles worth printing out and reading, along with a sampling of recent Herbert columns that also merit your attention:
The Great Recession may be over, but this era of high joblessness is probably just beginning. Before it ends, it will likely change the life course and character of a generation of young adults. It will leave an indelible imprint on many blue-collar men. It could cripple marriage as an institution in many communities. It may already be plunging many inner cities into a despair not seen for decades. Ultimately, it is likely to warp our politics, our culture, and the character of our society for years to come.
Much of the conventional wisdom about downsizing—like the fact that it automatically drives a company’s stock price higher, or increases profitability—turns out to be wrong. There’s substantial research into the physical and health effects of downsizing on employees—research that reinforces the seemingly hyperbolic notion that layoffs are literally killing people. There is also empirical evidence showing that labor-market flexibility isn’t necessarily so good for countries, either.
Economists fear that the nascent recovery will leave more people behind than in past recessions, failing to create jobs in sufficient numbers to absorb the record-setting ranks of the long-term unemployed.
Call them the new poor: people long accustomed to the comforts of middle-class life who are now relying on public assistance for the first time in their lives — potentially for years to come.
A Sampling of Bob Herbert
At times he has been a voice in the wilderness:
Those in the lower-income groups are in a much, much deeper hole than the general commentary on the recession would lead people to believe.
Rescuing the U.S. economy will require a commitment, and undoubtedly sacrifices, that need to start now.
Instead of getting a chance to set the world on fire, college graduates are facing a gloomy economy, unpaid internships and unemployment.
Addendum (October 2010) — This has become one of the most read posts on this blog, an unfortunate testament to how many people are searching the Internet for news commentaries on the Great Recession. With apologies for my growing devotion to the New York Times coverage of the human impact of the recession, I want to add several suggestions drawn from their work:
- Bob Herbert continues to be one of the most devoted chroniclers of the ground-level destruction of this recession and the need for strong public sector responses. His columns can be accessed here.
- The paper has been running a periodic series of extended news features under the banner “The New Poor,” which are collected here. One of the more bracing and noteworthy pieces in the series is Motoko Rich’s “For the Unemployed Over 50, Fears of Never Working Again.”
Finally, let me reiterate my recommendation above of Don Peck’s article in The Atlantic. The bleak picture it paints remains a plausible scenario.
Addendum (January 2011) — The Economist, which leans toward free-market conservatism, weighed in with a feature in its year-end issue on the crisis of long-term unemployment facing millions of Americans, “In the bleak midwinter: Poverty looms for the long-term unemployed“:
Fifteen million Americans are now unemployed, according to the most recent jobs report. The unemployment rate for November inched up to 9.8%. The grimmest numbers, however, are for the long-term unemployed…: 6.3m people, 42% of those unemployed, have been jobless for more than 26 weeks. That number does not include 2.5m people who want a job but who have not looked for a month or more, or the 9m who want full-time work but can only find part-time openings.