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.