July 10, 2011

A REDISTRIBUTION PROBLEM, NOT AN EMPLOYMENT PROBLEM:

Somehow, the Unemployed Became Invisible (CATHERINE RAMPELL, 7/09/11, NY Times)

Word came Friday from the Labor Department that, despite all the optimistic talk of an economic recovery, unemployment is going up, not down. The jobless rate rose to 9.2 percent in June.

What gives? And where, if anywhere, is the outrage?

The United States is in the grips of its gravest jobs crisis since Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the White House. Lose your job, and it will take roughly nine months to find a new one. That is off the charts. Many Americans have simply given up.

But unless you’re one of those unhappy 14 million, you might not even notice the problem. The budget deficit, not jobs, has been dominating the conversation in Washington. Unlike the hard-pressed in, say, Greece or Spain, the jobless in America seem, well, subdued. The old fire has gone out.

In some ways, this boils down to math, both economic and political. Yes, 9.2 percent of the American work force is unemployed — but 90.8 percent of it is working.


That comes perilously close to an insight, but the important number is that 58% of the work force (Americans over 16) is employed, a number above historic norms.

It's pretty hard to gin up a revolution when things are better than normal.

Now, there is an interesting question suggested by the fact that the current employment rate is below the levels we saw from the mid-80s until 2008 and by the fact that the reduction in the employment rate has been accompanied by a massive increase in productivity, such that none of those unemployed are missed: should our economic policy be concerned with finding people with productive employment? Or are jobs merely the vehicle via which we want to redistribute wealth to the unproductive, since we find it repulsive to do so via direct government channels?


Posted by at July 10, 2011 8:40 AM
  

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