A 'jobless recovery' is none at all

BOSTON — It hurt to see  the barista behind the Starbucks’ counter.

 He’d graduated in May, a Gold Key Honor Society student in the top 10 percent of his Emerson College class.  Yet four months later, he was taking orders for non-fat, grande lattes from students with money to burn on such nonsense. Two Americas in a time of trouble.

 I’m reminded regularly that the official unemployment rate, as bad as it is, grossly understates the magnitude of this country’s recession. Talented college graduates are on hold, waiting for a real first  job. Working men and women face unpaid “furloughs,” measurable in the slow, continuing decline of “full-time” hours worked. And many who’ve managed to dodge cuts tread carefully at work.

 Often ignored in the U.S. government’s official unemployment rate,  9.8 percent in today’s new figures, are numbers that paint an even worse picture. More than a third of the 15.1 million officially unemployed haven’t worked in a half year or more. Another 9.2 million are “involuntary part-time workers,” the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. And then there’s  2.2 million not counted because though they want a job, they’ve given up looking for awhile.

 In other words, one in six American workers who want one can’t find a full-time job. And that’s the official version.

 In the chorus in which I sing, I sit next to a piano tuner. He went two months this summer without a single client.

  “I’m not in any of those statistics,” he says.

  An alumnus of Emerson’s journalism program, who just won a major reporting prize, has also just been handed his second unpaid two-week furlough of the year. A senior judge I know says pressure is growing for Massachusetts state employees to “volunteer” to work some unpaid days. These acquaintances all count among the lucky ones: the full-time employed.

Other full-time workers, of course, always live on the margin. They can’t survive any pay cut, let alone a layoff.  They work at their boss’ whims, intimidated if they don’t, or simply discarded by a system that puts bottom-line “productivity” over humanity.

 The poster children of this group are the 98 maids fired last month by Boston’s three Hyatt Hotels. The Boston Globe reports that they were tossed out of  jobs paying up to $15 an hour with health benefits so Hyatt could outsource to a Georgia company that pays its modern-day version of sharecroppers $8 an hour, no benefits.

Our governor has threatened a boycott of state business at the Hyatts. He should be sending in teams of inspectors to comb the hotels for health violations.

This is not the America I want to live in. Our government throws hundreds of billions at banks and their big bonus executives, but can’t afford a stimulus that puts average people back to work? We say we’re in a “jobless recovery,” but those without jobs don’t recover. They get angry, disillusioned.  Hungry people steal. They get sick and burden our overburdened health care system by driving up everyone else’s costs.  They lose hope.

 Cheered by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s assurances that the worst is over, most of us can choose  to ignore them. But the cost may prove more than a guilty conscience.

 Perhaps instead of traipsing off to Denmark, President Obama should have spent this week trotting out a 21st century version of the Civilian Conservation Corps — a Civilian Volunteer Corps. It could put tens of thousands forced into early retirement to work. They could care for the kids whose parents have no day care, train the unskilled for the new economy, help feed and care for the elderly, infirm and abandoned. Let’s stop dithering over health care and at least assure that those who can’t find work can go to the doctor.  And let’s stop the flow of  hundreds of billions into two unwinnable wars, reinvesting it instead in rebuilding our national economy.

 Along the way, we can rebuild something equally vital that’s been lost in this country – a national sense of community and caring, a sense of “we,” which has been stripped bare by decades of “me.”


About jerrylanson

I teach, write, coach and sing, though you're not required to listen to the latter. I'm a journalism professor at Emerson College in Boston. My third book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in November by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. You can read a sample chapter at www.jerrylanson.com. My passions are politics (generally liberal in outlook), music, mountains, golden retrievers and my grandchildren, though not in that order. Please stop by and mix it up with me. I always answer those who post.
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4 Responses to A 'jobless recovery' is none at all

  1. Nice piece, Jerry.

    An added dimension to the numbers that goes under-reported, but that you reference in your post is the true number of unemployed people in the United States. Rather than 9.8 percent for September 2009, that number — based on BLS data — is 17 percent, up from 16.8 percent last month. These numbers are posted at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t12.htm. Last year at this time, the total unemployed figure was 10.6 percent.

    A further breakdown of the 9.8 percent figure shows what groups are getting hit particularly hard: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf.

  2. libtree09 says:

    This situation makes me both shameful and furious. Everything you stated is true and my hope is waning with Obama’s cave-in as far as financial re-regulation and a job stimulus program that has zero focus. Frankly this service economy that has been touted over the last twenty years is a fraud. My wife’s last job had been referred to as temporary, she was there for 5 years, no benefits and $10 dollars an hour and one fifty cent raise at the end. She used to make twenty a hour with benefits doing the same thing.

    Our economy is beginning to resemble Mexico’s one is either a patron or a peon. Then to add insult to injury, the world economy is dependent on us buying everyone’s imports. Cheap crap. This may be a recession for egghead economists and politicians but it sure feels like there is a fog of depression in the air for all of us on the street. The only thing keeping us from being overwhelmed is FDR’s safeguards.

  3. Pingback: Jerry Lanson - News Prints – It’s time for Obama to help the economy’s real victims - True/Slant

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