Opinion: The Human Disaster of Unemployment

May 14 2012

By Dean Baker and Kevin Hassett
From The New York Times

The American economy is experiencing a crisis in long-term unemployment that has enormous human and economic costs.

In 2007, before the Great Recession, people who were looking for work for more than six months — the definition of long-term unemployment — accounted for just 0.8 percent of the labor force. The recession has radically changed this picture. In 2010, the long-term unemployed accounted for 4.2 percent of the work force. That figure would be 50 percent higher if we added the people who gave up looking for work.

Long-term unemployment is experienced disproportionately by the young, the old, the less educated, and African-American and Latino workers.

Opinion: Listening to the 'hidden nation' of the unemployed

Mar 20 2012

Crosscut EditorialBy James Gregory
From CrossCut

The Great Recession has been accompanied by a great silence. We read statistics about the unemployed but don't see faces or hear voices of the jobless. This at a time when unemployment places a greater burden on families and on society than at any point since the Great Depression.

Why do we not learn their stories and see their faces in newspapers and on television? The unemployed have never been so hidden.

In the Great Depression, it took a while for unemployed workers to find their voices. People found it embarrassing and confusing to be out of work. Joblessness led to social hibernation then, as it does now.

But two to three years into the Depression the jobless were speaking out, forming organizations, seeking solutions. and demanding that politicians pay attention. In city after city, unemployed men and women became vocal and visible, reshaping elections and ultimately the American economy.

Opinon: Responding to the NY Times: Is the safety-net expanding?

Feb 15 2012

Recently, The New York Times published a front-page feature entitled Even Critics of Safety Net Increasingly Depend on It. by Binyamin Appelbaum and Robert Gebeloff.

The piece has drawn several thoughtful responses by economists, discussing the state of social programs and the ability of such programs to assist in times of need.

No, NYT, there’s been no expansion of government benefits, no ‘entitlement society’
By Lawrence Mishel, Economic Policy Institute

"I want to strongly object to one part of the story that seems to support the notion that we’re becoming an “entitlement society.” The story claims that there’s been a major “expansion of government benefits,” which it says “has become an issue in the presidential campaign.” ... Many of the facts presented in the story do not support that conclusion and the ones that do seem to support it are misleading." Read more.

What Expanded Safety Net?
By James Kwak, The Baseline Scenario

"In general, I think Binyamin Appelbaum and Robert Gebeloff’s article on how the same people oppose government handouts and take government handouts is very good. But I think their framing buys into a piece of conventional wisdom that just isn’t true." Read more.

Opinion: Unemployment Insurance Under the Knife

Jan 25 2012

By Kate Kahan and George Wentworth
From The Nation:
The Great Recession officially began four years ago December, and although we may be in the third year of recovery, for more than 13 million Americans without jobs it doesn’t much feel like a recovery. Even as the national unemployment rate inches down below 9 percent, the massive job hemorrhaging that began in 2008 has left a legacy of widespread suffering. Of the 8.7 million jobs lost since December 2007, fewer than 2.5 million have been recovered. With population growth factored in, we are 10.9 million jobs short of what we need to get the nation back to pre-recession levels, when the unemployment rate was
5 percent.
Perhaps the most striking feature of this economic catastrophe is the nation’s continuing crisis of long-term unemployment. There are 5.7 million workers who have been unemployed more than six months—an unprecedented
43 percent of all jobless workers. Even more alarming is that a third of the unemployed have been unable to find work for a year or more. The average duration of unemployment is at a record level: 40.9 weeks.

Opinion: A Proud, Angry Poor

Jan 25 2012

By Frances Fox Piven
From The Nation:
Occupy Wall Street has thrust the issue of extreme inequality into the spotlight. The movement has spread so quickly and alarmed politicians not because of its rather small encampments but because its message resonates. Most people know, or at least half-know, that our problem is growing inequality, and they also know that government is complicit in the financially driven capitalism that is in the driver’s seat. The slogan “We are the 99 percent” stresses our commonality and lays the basis for a movement ethic of democracy, inclusion and solidarity. This is a big and welcome step. After all, we need an ethic that goes beyond the incessant liberal (and union) talk of “the middle class.”
Still, the movement has to respond to the police sweeps of its encampments by becoming broader and more hard-hitting. It has to firmly include the vast number of people who have been marginalized by the rhetoric of American politics and by the realities of the American economy. In many places the homeless have joined the encampments. That is a beginning. But it’s not enough. To fully realize an ethic of inclusion, the poorest and most benighted Americans should become part of our protest movement. We need to increase their numbers at our demonstrations, and we need to undertake the protest actions that deal with their most urgent needs—including the attacks on the social safety net that hit them hardest.

Opinion: In Dr. King's America the Unemployed Deserve Simple Human Dignity

Jan 17 2012

By Rabbi Steve Gutow
From The Huffington Post:
As our Congress members return to Washington to resume the debate on helping the unemployed just weeks before that extension expires, I hope they find great inspiration from this week's holiday honoring Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
Reverend King's legacy does not belong to just one epoch. Just as the lessons of Moses have taught the generations that followed, the teachings of Martin Luther King inspire us today as they did decades ago when he delivered his holy words. The striking monument only recently unveiled on the National Mall is lined with quotes that exhort us to be driven by justice, tireless and unwavering in pursuit of a better world. They remind us that King's calls for justice were universal, including economic justice. "I have the audacity to believe," reads one inscription, "that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits."