Jobs Emergency

President Obama needs to act on behalf of those Americans losing hope that they’ll ever find meaningful employment

It’s nice to know that those who can afford to fly won’t have those long lines much longer. The Republicans did what they always can be counted on to do — act in an unprincipled way. And Democrats? They did what Democrats too often do when faced with a wave of venality. They caved.

President Obama? It remains to be seen how he will spin this bit of “interest group liberalism.” My guess? He’ll put a best face on what amounts to a political sandbag job — the airport move, in fact, cements sequestration even more. I expect him to take his cue from the general who said, “Retreat?! No, we’re just advancing in another direction.”

While the traveling folks are getting what they want — shorter lines at the airport — down in the trenches of sequestration, a different story unfolds:

  • The highly successful career woman takes a few years off to spend time with her infant children; desirous of reentering the workplace, she sends out more than 120 applications. Nothing.
  • The bright young woman, highly qualified, two years ESL teaching in Japan, a Master’s Degree, sends out more than 50 applications for teaching positions. Nothing.
  • The young man applies for nine civil service jobs, scores the highest on every test. Nothing. (Apparently too many less qualified workers bumping into lower paying slots.)
  • Recent and unemployed college graduates continue to move home at alarming rates. Upward of 30 percent of them at last count.
  • Students, already burdened by debt, hope to find unpaid internships — positions that only a few years back were actually paying jobs.

While this story of a lost generation is being written, corporate America continues to stash away mountains of cash, no doubt while figuring out ever more creative ways to move jobs overseas.

And our president, standing there on the sidelines? Oh, he has much to say about saving seniors (the most well-cared-for demographic group in America), and he also has much to say about science and technology education, but he says nothing to encourage the “unemployable” unemployed. For all these people, sequestration has further dashed their already fragile hopes.

We seem to have taken Calvinism to the absurd extreme — if you’re out of work, that must say something about your character. (You know, God isn’t shedding his grace on you for a reason.) And if you came of age after the crash of 2008? Well, this is just the way it’s going to be.

In reality, we deal here not with character but with a terrible recession having been made worse by sequestration. America could be losing an entire generation of young people, while diminishing the lives of millions who have been victimized by the failed management of our economy.

What needs to be done?

For starters, four governmental moves fairly leap out: First, discrimination against the unemployed needs to be made illegal — no more “unemployed need not apply.” (Remember “Irish Need Not Apply”? We’re seeing a version of that same obscenity.)

Second, there needs to be some direct aid for the under-30 set. I refer to paid internships, perhaps public-private partnering in ways that eventually turn those internships into jobs and career paths. And employers need some help with incentives to hire and retain. Forget the debt for a time, as Paul Krugman has argued — job creation looms far more important.

In case you missed the news, the American Society of Civil Engineers gives our infrastructure a grade of D+. So the third move is that we must tackle rebuilding America, and all the jobs that will create. Today, from our airports to highways to bridges to public buildings and even to our national parks, we’re approaching Third World status.

Finally, the president must take direct aim at sequestration — the doleful legacy of this most doleful Congress.

To accomplish any of this, Barack Obama must get on board. He might begin by recognizing the problems in a public way. How about calling attention to the truth about the reported unemployment numbers? The stated figure of 7 percent does not tell the whole story. Then, following a dose of honesty, how about proposing some solutions and making an issue out of the good proposals that haven’t gone anywhere, like past jobs bills?

Given the speed at which the government fixed the airport delay problems, we know it can be done. The question, then, comes down to just this: Is there enough political will?

Frankly, one cannot be optimistic. Not with a Congress that confuses austerity for wisdom, nor with a preoccupied and seemingly disengaged president.

The “unemployable” unemployed and the younger generation are America’s forgotten — the self-inflicted hole in our political-economic donut. It’s a place where mindless ideology, a lack of imagination and pure venality form a hole from which enlightened governance can’t escape. 

Music Finds a Way: The Spokane Symphony @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Jan. 10
  • or

About The Author

Robert Herold

Robert Herold is a retired professor of public administration and political science at both Eastern Washington University and Gonzaga University. Robert Herold's collection of Inlander columns dating back to 1995, Robert's Rules, is available at Auntie's.