Back to Work

That's a disturbing chart, no matter how you slice it. It's from a recent New York Times econ blog post just how much deeper and longer the high unemployment situation has been this go round, compared to the worst of the past 35+ years.

I'll leave it to the pundits to point fingers; not surprisingly, right-wingers blame Obama and lefties say "we inherited this mess from W." I will note that this current recession has been pretty equal-opportunity in its pain distribution, at least income level wise: blue-collar industries like manufacturing and construction have taken it on the chin, but so have high-flying financial whizzes and real estate moguls.

Is life better now than it was 35+ years ago? On the one hand, much has been made of how us Gen X'ers should be bitter because we make less, in real terms, than our parents. Our 401k's are in the tank. And we're caught in between boomers and their kids, not as experienced as one bloc and not as tech-savvy as the other.

And yet, innovation in technology and health care has vastly improved our quality of life. Automation and outsourcing may have cost some of us our jobs, but it also benefits all of us in the form of more, better, and cheaper things to buy. And, to the extent that capitalism has taken hold in places like China, India, and Brazil, hundreds of millions of consumers are entering the middle-class, just in time to prop up our creaking global economy with their purchasing power. So long as education and opportunity are available to as broad a base of people as possible, life can always get better.

Yet there are signs of worry on the horizon. Will America experience Japan's "lost generation," in which the young and unemployed are unemployed for so long that they lose skills and hope? Far too many in this country and around the world are denied access to education and opportunity; past generations had decent jobs for those who were left behind, but future generations will not. I remain astounded that women are still treated as second-class citizens in many parts of the world, particularly the Middle East; such a waste of talent and brainpower and innovation. And Copenhagen signaled to me that we're addicted to cheap energy, unwilling to face up to the geopolitical, environmental, and quality of life consequences of under-pricing our natural resources.

In short, we have our work cut out for us. Let's hope we can get people back to work.
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