After reading reports and studies about what ails us, and they are plentiful, I admit to unconsciously asking myself what the right’s response will be. It’s a rather perverse tendency, to be sure, wondering what Fox News or any number of conservatives will say about rising inequality, climate change, and so on. So, why does this go on inside my brain?
Upon some reflection I believe that I have an answer: conservatives matter.
I don’t mean this in a good way. On the contrary, conservatives have nothing of value to contribute. But they can and do block most every initiative designed to address the many problems that confront us.
Take for example this piece in the Washington Post. Matt O’Brien writes about the long-term unemployed. Those of us to the left of center are no doubt concerned for their well-being and would like government to do something about it. If you’re on the right, however, you tend to blame the victims, suggesting that they lack requisite skills and are too lazy to acquire them. O’Brien, citing research, reports that being unemployed for months on end is all about bad luck. He writes:
Today, there are still almost 3.5 million people who have been out of work for six months or longer and are looking for work. There isn’t a more urgent crisis, and there are three things you should keep in mind about it.
- As former CEA Chair Alan Krueger found, the long-term unemployed aren’t much different from the short-term unemployed. They’re a little older and more of them are African-Americans, but they’re just about as educated and work in the same industries as everyone else who’s trying to find a job.
- The long-term unemployed have a hard time getting companies to even look at their job applications, let alone hire them. Rand Ghayad, a labor economist at Northeastern University, has tested this: he sent out thousands of fictitious resumés that were basically identical except for how long they said they’d been unemployed and what field they’d been in before. The results? Employers preferred people without any relevant experience but who’d been unemployed less than six months to people with experience who’d been unemployed longer than that. In other words, how long you’d been out of work trumped all else.
- There’s never been this much long-term unemployment before, at least not since they started keeping records in 1948. Right now, 35 percent of all unemployed people have been out of work for at least six months. That’s actually down from the all-time high of 48 percent in 2010, but it’s still well above the pre-Great Recession one of 28 percent in 1983.
We’ve come to expect Republicans to coddle the wealthy (and, to be fair, too many Democrats do the same). They will champion the elites, calling them, above all, “job creators.” If they’re so good at creating jobs, why aren’t there any? Why don’t they hire the millions who have been out of work more than half a year?
I can only imagine how desperate people have become, those who lost their jobs in the Great Recession through no fault of their own, struggled valiantly to land another, only to be rejected time and time again. If they owned a house, it’s probably under water or foreclosed by now. They’ve depleted their savings and exhausted their unemployment benefits.
Over the last ten years, which I’ve spent in downtown Everett, Wash., I see an increasing number of homeless people. At first they were both sparse and reserved. Now there are more, and they seem deliberately conspicuous. I suspect that they are part of a new urban culture that may have become permanent.
At some point in their lives they held a job. They may have even been “normal,” with a family, a house, and a future. If so, they’ve surely given up trying to regain what was lost. As in some foreign countries, they are now “undesirables.” Certainly no employer wants them.
Back in JFK’s administration an oft-repeated phrase captured the prevailing attitude: a rising tide lifts all boats. Among those boats, of course, are the long-term unemployed and the homeless. But today’s tide is hardly rising, and that’s the problem.
Economists know how to fix that problem. Politicians, however, will have none of it. They’re too busy making nice with their wealthy benefactors.
By the way, I do hope to drop that tic eventually. It’s far too ugly.