Sunday, April 27, 2003

JOBLESSNESS AS HOLIDAY. Mr. Downs pointed me to an article from today's NYT, "Jobless and Hopeless, Many Quit the Labor Force," by Monica Davey with David Leonhardt:

PITTSBURGH, April 26 — Worn down by job searches that have stretched on for
months, demoralized by disappointing offers or outright rejections, some
unemployed people have simply stopped the search.

As the nation enters a third year of difficult economic times, these
unemployed — from factory workers to investment bankers — have dropped out
of the labor force and entered the invisible ranks of people not counted in
the unemployment rate...

"There aren't any jobs, just not any," Mr. Jacobs said. "I had been waiting
it out. I thought there was a strong possibility that I'd get recalled to
the plant, or I'd get something else, anything that paid at least $10 an
hour. But it turns out there is nothing. It's a dead-end street"...

Over the last two years, the portion of Americans in the labor force — those
who are either working or actively looking for work — has fallen 0.9
percentage points to 66.2 percent, the largest drop in almost 40 years.

The story isn't a total downer. (Who'd read it if it were? Only those who hate America!) Some of the folks interviewed by the Times have responded to the job dearth by going back to school or starting their own businesses ("Still, Mr. Guido said he was pleased to be back in school, learning about
things he cares about, and relieved to be on campus, far away from the
struggle to find a job...").

I can imagine a lot of readers will look at that and say, "See? Joblessness isn't so bad. You can always get your Ph.D., or become an entrepreneur, with the 50 grand you have stashed in your sock drawer."

But what if you don't have any capital for these kinds of activities, and can't get any? What if you actually, like, need a job? I know these days we all like to think of ourselves as economic superheroes, swimming in options -- look at all the financial services companies who advertise in prime time to that demographically desirable group of Americans that can afford to play around with their money (while the high-interest, last-chance moneylenders advertise late at night, when the economically stressed citizens are insomniacally flipping through the channels).

Still, the need to keep food on the table -- and creditors from seizing your car -- is a present, crushing reality for millions of people. With the stock bubble burst, the job market imploding, and the rate-cutting increasingly desperate and laughable, how many people are actually out there anymore that can say, "Ah, well, no jobs this year -- guess I'll study Engineering"?

From what I've seen and experienced over the past few years, we've got a growing number of people who, with all the will in the world, can't make ends meet, and a shrinking but still considerable number of people who are blocking this fact out -- because who wants to worry about the joblessness bogey-man coming after them?

Human nature being what it is, I suspect this latter group will go denying the problem, until the other group gets big enough to wake them up with a few electoral thunderclaps.

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