We should be alarmed by the growing and blithe use of the term “jobless recovery.” Indeed, let’s look right under the surface to see what it means:
1. Recovery of profits and stock values that disproportionately benefit the people who have suffered least or not at all during the Great Recession.
2. Return of larger salaries and bonuses for top executives.
3. A “new normal” of high jobless rates, with more despair and desperation as people use up their unemployment benefits, drain their meager savings and retirement accounts, max out their credit cards, and lose their homes.
4. Further destruction of the middle class, with a widening gap between the richest and the poorest.
Suffering, not recovery
A “jobless recovery” is about human suffering, not a healthy economy. Most who invoke this term with a straight face presumably do not imagine themselves joining the millions of unemployed. Rather, they see their jobs remaining relatively stable and their retirement accounts bouncing back from the worst of the meltdown. Too many have shelved any sense of empathy or urgency about an economy that is inflicting devastating pain on millions.
But make no mistake about it: Most of the gainfully employed are one job loss away from that very despair and desperation. And how easily we forget that in a society with a frayed safety net, the falls come fast and hard.
For the U.S., I favor three key responses:
1. Hire people and pay them a decent wage — In some sectors, corporate profits have roared back with a vengeance, yet companies aren’t hiring, and others are holding down wages and benefits for the rank-and-file. As a society, we must send a message to companies that creating good jobs at good pay is part of the privilege of doing business, especially when revenues are strong. It’s not about “capitalism” vs. “socialism” or left vs. right; it’s about how we conduct ourselves in a civil society.
2. Create a jobs program — Among other things, we need a public works program that puts people back on a payroll doing the vital work of rebuilding America’s infrastructure. We’ve got nearly 41 million people on food stamps, with unemployment levels remaining high and steady. We have roads and bridges in this country that are badly in need of repair, with safety and quality of life at stake. Let’s match the need for jobs with the need to rebuild our country.
3. Build a strong safety net — This recession is not about workers suddenly becoming lazy and unwilling to work. Countless folks are pounding the pavements and scouring the Internet in search of decent jobs. In the meantime, let’s support them through continued unemployment benefits, transitional assistance to train for vocations, and whatever help they need to secure their health care coverage.