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Robert Reich: Why Washington Isn’t Doing Squat About Jobs and Wages

June 7, 2011

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Washington doesn’t want to admit the economy recovery has stalled, so it’s time for the unemployed to speak up.

By **Robert Reich**

By arrangement with RobertReich.Org.

Robert Reich.JPGThe silence is deafening. While the rest of the nation is heading back toward a double dip, Washington continues to obsess about future budget deficits. Why?

Republicans don’t want to do anything about jobs and wages. They’re so intent on unseating Obama they’d like the economy to remain in the dumps through Election Day. They also see the lousy economy as an opportunity to sell Americans their big lie that government spending is the culprit—and jobs will return if spending is cut and government shrinks.

Democrats, meanwhile, don’t want to admit the recovery has stalled.  They worry such talk will further undermine consumer confidence or spook the bond market. They don’t want to head into the election year sounding downbeat. And they don’t think they have the votes for anything that will have much effect before Election Day anyway. 

But there’s a third reason for Washington’s inaction. It’s not being talked about—which is itself evidence of the problem.

The unemployed are politically invisible. They don’t make major campaign donations. They don’t lobby Congress. There’s no National Association of Unemployed People.

Employers with a pick of applicants see no reason to hire someone without a track record, particularly those without much education.

Their ranks are filled with women who had been public employees, single mothers, minorities, young people trying to enter the labor force, and middle-aged men who have been out of work for longer than six months. You couldn’t find a collection of people with less political clout.

Women who had been teachers, public health professionals and social workers have been hit hard. These jobs continue to be slashed by state and local governments. Public schools alone accounted for nearly 40 percent of the nation’s total public sector job losses in the last year. From March 2010 to March 2011, women lost 214,000 public sector jobs, compared with a loss of 115,000 public jobs by men.

Unmarried mothers are having a particularly difficult time getting back jobs because their work was heavily concentrated in the retail, restaurant and hotel sectors. Many of these jobs disappeared when consumers reduced their discretionary spending, and they won’t come back in force until consumers start spending more again.

According to a new report by the California Budget Project, the recession erased more than half the jobs single mothers in California had gained from 1992 to 2002. The result has been a drop in the share of unmarried mothers in jobs, from 69.2 percent in 2007 to 58.8 percent in 2010. Unmarried mothers who still have jobs are working fewer hours per week than before.

Blacks also continue to be hard hit. Their unemployment rate here in California reached 20 percent this past March, up 5 percent from a year ago. That’s more than double their rate before the downturn. Some of this is because of the comparatively low education levels of many blacks, and their weak connections to the labor market. Some is due to employer discrimination. Blacks were among the last hired before the recession and therefore among the first to be let go in the downturn. That means they’ll be among the last hired as the economy recovers.

Many young people who have never been in the job market are unable to land a first job.

Employers with a pick of applicants see no reason to hire someone without a track record, particularly those without much education. Unemployment among high school dropouts is hovering around 30 percent. Even recent college graduates are having a much harder time than usual finding a job. Many are settling for jobs that don’t ordinarily require college degrees, which pushes those with less education even further back in the line.

Older workers who have lost their jobs are at the greatest risk of continued unemployment. Employers assume they aren’t as qualified or reliable as those who are younger and have been working more recently. According to research by the Urban Institute, once you’re laid off, your chance of finding another job within a year is 36 percent if you’re under the age of 34. But your odds drop the older you get. If you’re jobless and in your 50s, your chance of landing another job within the year is only 24 percent. Over 62, you’ve got only an 18-percent chance.

What do these jobless have in common? They lack the political connections and organizations to get the ears of politicians, and demand policies to spur job growth.

Copyright 2011 Robert Reich

________________________________________________________________________

By arrangement with RobertReich.Org.

Robert B. Reich is Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written eleven books (including his most recent, Supercapitalism, which is now out in paperback). Mr. Reich is co-founding editor of The American Prospect magazine. His weekly commentaries on public radio’s Marketplace are heard by nearly five million people.

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