So you think things are bad now ….

Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of...

Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

The cover story of this month’s Atlantic paints a truly bleak picture of the American landscape in the years if not decades ahead.  Here’s how the magazine’s deputy managing editor, Don Peck, describes what’s likely coming in his article, “How a new jobless era will transform America.”

If it persists much longer, this era of high joblessness will likely change the life course and character of a generation of young adults—and quite possibly those of the children behind them as well. It will leave an indelible imprint on many blue-collar white men—and on white culture. It could change the nature of modern marriage, and also cripple marriage as an institution in many communities. It may already be plunging many inner cities into a kind of despair and dysfunction not seen for decades. Ultimately, it is likely to warp our politics, our culture, and the character of our society for years.

So what’s the good news?  Well, it’s hard to find much in this piece.  Even as unemployment held steady at 9.7 percent in February, Peck points to some pretty disturbing statistics underlying joblessness.

  • A recent survey found that 44 percent of families had at least one member who lost a job, had hours reduced or took a pay cut in the last year.
  • As of November, one in seven mortgages were delinquent, up from one in 10 a year earlier.
  • Late last year, the average duration of unemployment surpassed six months for the first time since the government began tracking such things in 1948.

Peck says  that nothing is going to get better soon, either. It would take the creation of 10 million jobs, he says, to bring unemployment down to 5 percent. That, he continues, is highly unlikely to happen. Instead, he quotes one study suggesting unemployment could remain at about 8 percent four years from now.

And joblessness isn’t the only scary part. Peck provides evidence that the current crop of college students and recent graduates likely will fall well behind and stay behind the career salary curve of those graduating in good times. Blue collar communities could be devastated. And evidence suggests the cracks in families already are beginning to show.  Writes Peck:

Last March, the National Domestic Violence Hotline received almost half again as many calls as it had one year earlier; as was the case in the Depression, unemployed men are vastly more likely to beat their wives or children.

If I’ve left you utterly depressed, there may be one sliver of a silver lining. This was, after all, the magazine that a bit over a decade ago ran a cover article predicting the Dow might reach 36,000. Hmm.  Let’s hope this article is merely overcompensating for all that wide-eyed optimism.

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 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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3 Responses to So you think things are bad now ….

  1. Caitlin Kelly says:

    How can it not alter the landscape? We have been living through a time of terrible income inequality. I am surprised how little public protest and violence has erupted. I wonder if it ever will.

    • Jerry Lanson says:

      I think there’s been a strange bifurcation of our society for at least the last decade. We’ve been at war, but the media never show the violence and the society as a whole is damn near oblivious. Yet military families have lost loved ones and had their lives turned upside down. Now the same divide is evident on the economy. Those among the nearly 20 percent who are underemployed or unemployed feel the economy’s impact every day. Nearly 1 in 6 Americans can’t afford to eat right. That’s mind boggling in this country. But you’d never know it talking to the majority, which is largely untouched. I’m not saying uncaring, just untouched. That, of course, doesn’t answer the question of why that 1 in 6 isn’t protesting, just as it raised the question of why those against the wars have been silent or why those who’ve seen their standard of living dissolve are silent. All energy in this country seems to have shifted to the Tea Partiers.

  2. libtree09 says:

    Even the rich have fallen into the hole of Wonderland…investors allow the heads of companies to take more in bonuses than the reported profits of the company. So they allow these guys take money right out of their pockets without any questions or protest.

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