Even as the American economy shows tentative signs of a rebound, the human toll of the recession continues to mount, with millions of Americans remaining out of work, out of savings and nearing the end of their unemployment benefits. 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.
The lost decade for the economy
The U.S. economy has expanded at a healthy clip for most of the last 70 years, but by a wide range of measures, it stagnated in the first decade of the new millennium. Job growth was essentially zero, as modest job creation from 2003 to 2007 wasn't enough to make up for two recessions in the decade. Rises in the nation's economic output, as measured by gross domestic product, was weak. And household net worth, when adjusted for inflation, fell as stock prices stagnated, home prices declined in the second half of the decade and consumer debt skyrocketed.
Henny Penny is exhausted. She's been running around like a chicken with her head cut off, trying to make the Big Guys see what's coming. The sky is not only falling, great chunks of it are already on the ground. The Big Guys in charge have no use for small pullets bringing bad news. From where they sit, everything looks fine. Life is good. Nothing a well-positioned tax break couldn't fix. And besides, the depression never happened, and the recession is over, so stuff a sock in it. (But all you little people still collecting paychecks? Don't forget to pay your taxes by April 15.)
I'm remembering a time not so long ago when we built things and made things and anyone who wanted a job could find one, but for years now we've been hemorrhaging jobs like Niagara flows water. The unemployment numbers are drooping, not because so many people are back to work now, but because so few people are still collecting unemployment benefits. Many millions of people without jobs aren't being counted anymore. For millions of people who used to be employed, job seeking is a fruitless game, and they've quit playing. That's not to say they're not still out there--by the millions.
This from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for January, 2010:
In January, the number of persons unemployed due to job loss decreased by
378,000 to 9.3 million. Nearly all of this decline occurred among permanent job losers.
The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks and over)
continued to trend up in January, reaching 6.3 million. Since the start of
the recession in December 2007, the number of long-term unemployed has risen
by 5.0 million.
In January, the civilian labor force participation rate was little changed at
64.7 percent. The employment-population ratio rose from 58.2 to 58.4 percent.
The number of persons who worked part time for economic reasons (sometimes
referred to as involuntary part-time workers) fell from 9.2 to 8.3 million
in January. These individuals were working part time because their hours had
been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job.
About 2.5 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force in
January, an increase of 409,000 from a year earlier. (The data are not
seasonally adjusted.) These individuals were not in the labor force, wanted
and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior
12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched
for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey.
Among the marginally attached, there were 1.1 million discouraged workers in
January, up from 734,000 a year earlier. (The data are not seasonally adjusted.)
Discouraged workers are persons not currently looking for work because they
believe no jobs are available for them.
So let's multiply one person without a job by 9.3 million. (Because we surely wouldn't want to waste our time thinking about just one miserable person.) Okay, now we have 9.3 million people collecting unemployment checks. But let's say six million of them have a partner and a couple of kids. Now we're talking about 24 million people trying to survive on that one check. (Unless both partners are, you know, unemployed.) Then add all those other people noted above in the BLS report and multiply them by the numbers in their families, and. . .
We're talking real numbers.
So my first solution (because I don't have a real job and I've had time to think about this) was to encourage the unemployed and underemployed to take on two part-time jobs. The unemployment numbers would plummet, our work force would be productive, and we wouldn't look like such ninnies to the rest of the world.
My plan would have everybody working for less, but working, which is the main thing--and all of those jobs just waiting to be filled would be filled. (Because everybody knows if you really want a job in this country you can find one.) Health care bennies would have to go, but let's face it--they were on their way out, anyway.
So that was my original plan. That was yesterday. Today I had the brainstorm of all brainstorms, and I am hyped! Get this: We export our unemployed to the countries that provide us with our goods! China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Bangladesh, Viet Nam, Hong Kong, Swaziland (Swaziland??). . . They have factories over in those places. Our workers need jobs. Voila!
My God, it's brilliant. No more fuss about unions or OSHA or health insurance. No more worrying about where or how all those people are going to live. Send the workers AND the jobs overseas. No more jobs anywhere in America! (except--see below*.)
What a relief. You don't know how I've been worrying about this. Something just hasn't been right for a long time now. It's true I have a few details to work out, but then I'll be sending it on to congress ASAP. Remember, you read it here first. And--it would help me a lot if you stood by me when the Republicans try to take credit for it.
So here it is:
Since only the wealthiest one percent of the population would still be living in America, they could do away with the Constitution and, in fact, the entire government, and run everything from their gated communities, with CEOs and Boards of Directors and, if need be, hefty under-the-table bribes. They would need massive assistance from *hired help, of course, but that could be worked out, too. The help would live outside the gates in company housing, arriving in buses at their scheduled time to mow the sweeping lawns and polish the frosted titanium faucets and pick the nits out of the privileged heads of the gated children. (Their own children would be laboring overseas, too, so no need for baby-sitters. Or, come to think of it, public schools! Man, this is getting better all the time.)
The help would receive paltry but steady paychecks which would go toward their rent, and they would, of course, owe their souls to the company store. There would be company doctors and company hospitals, paid for by deducting health expenses from their pay, but services would be basic so if they became really sick, they would die.
But here's the good thing: There would be no slums, no welfare, no food banks, no jails, no prisons. The poor (which by this time is nearly everybody) would be working in the factories overseas and the common criminal element* would be shipped off to Effincommies Archipelago, a previously uncharted chain of desert islands surrounded by sharks and patrolled by pirates, where they would finally be productive, turning out Marni shearling vests and Brioni leather bomber jackets and over-the-knee Christian Louboutin boots, working v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y in order to keep that shortage thing going so the prices would stay at dazzle level. (The *rich criminal element, if you were wondering, would be forgiven by an Almighty God of their choosing.)
I'm already seeing a few problems with my plan, but once the rich get wind of it all the kinks will be worked out to their advantage. I'm thinking--who's going to be here to buy the cheap stuff? The stuff our former American workers are over there making? Never mind how K-Mart and WalMart and Target and Macys and Nordstroms and Saks are going to feel about it. How is China going to feel about it?
And who decides on the lucky few who would be left to help the helpless rich? Who wouldn't want a job like that? So I thought about a TV show, an "American Idle", where three or four judges would call in likely candidates, insult them in brutally clever ways, and take so long pretending they weren't going to hire them, the lucky few would promise to work for even less.
If that didn't work, it could be done by holding a lottery, I suppose. It is, after all, the American way. We have a penchant for deciding everything by whim or by chance.
So what do you think? But before you answer, remember that the best government is no government, and my plan, so far, is the only one that effectively addresses that. And don't worry about me (and I won't worry about you). I have relatives in Canada and if I can get there before the other DPs I'll have a place to stay.