A man is not an orange

Felix Salmon digs out some interesting data from David Leonhardt’s most recent column, finding that (a) only 13.2% of the population was unemployed at some point in 2008 and (b) real wages are actually increasing for those who are unemployed, which is unusual for a recession. Item (a) is troubling, because it means that people who were unemployed during 2008 tended to be unemployed for a long period of time; that is, rather than there being a large number of people, each of whom was unemployed for a short period of time, there was a smaller group of people, each of whom was unemployed for a longer period of time, on average.

People who are unemployed for long periods of time run the risk of becoming, in effect, unemployable for one reason or another. Quite simply, our system is not set up to handle a large unemployable class. As Felix Salmon puts it:

The problem is that persistent unemployment at or around 10% is unacceptable in the U.S., especially with the social safety net being much weaker here than it is in Europe. Leonhardt is right that Euro-style safety nets aren’t particularly innovative, but they do at least keep people housed and clothed and fed and living outside poverty — reasonable expectations for anybody to have, I think, in the richest country in the world. If David Leonhardt can’t think of any bright ideas for solving the persistent-unemployment problem, then the chances are such solutions aren’t going to magically appear. Which means we need to help the long-term unemployed, rather than simply ignore and forget about them.

When people write “cheer up, the recession will just makes us less materialistic” or “everybody will find work once the economy turns around”, they’re simply wrong. In this recession, there are people who have fallen and can’t get up. If we have any decency as a society, we’ll at least think about how to give them a hand.






56 replies
  1. 1
    srv says:

    Rand Paul has a solution… Kidnapping and smokin dope:

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/201.....l_magazine

    Wow.

  2. 2
    Amanda in the South Bay says:

    Well, isn’t the fact of the matter that HR departments routinely throw the resumes of the long term unemployed in the shredder without even looking at them? How about (no snark, all business here) we look at kicking the ass of HR personnel across the country who clearly are fucking over the long term unemployed cause they are too lazy to look through resumes and give clearly qualified people a chance?

    Amanda, +2

  3. 3
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    Boehner is.

  4. 4
    joe from Lowell says:

    Real wages are increasing for people who are unemployed?

    That IS unusual!

  5. 5
    Amanda in the South Bay says:

    @Amanda in the South Bay:

    Even better, all undergrad HR majors and MBA students have to work for a half year as cashiers at a grocery store, the other half on food stamps and unemployment.

  6. 6
    Adam Lang says:

    If we have any decency as a society, we’ll at least think about how to give them a hand.

    This is what we call ‘Vacuously True‘.

  7. 7
    Cat Lady says:

    John Boehner would disagree with you (and Arthur Miller). A man can not only be orange, he can be orange and kick you while you’re down, cuz Americans who can’t be employed aren’t RealMurricans. QED.

  8. 8
    MikeJ says:

    @srv: Why does nobody every kidnap me and force me to smoke dope. Please. Somebody twist my arm.

  9. 9
    Mike in NC says:

    If we have any decency as a society, we’ll at least think about how to give them a hand.

    Repeal the Death Tax, bomb Iran, and impeach the Kenyan!

  10. 10
    calling all toasters says:

    If we have any decency as a society

    Well, we don’t.

  11. 11
    beltane says:

    There is nothing I can think of that would make Americans less materialistic, especially since American Christianity promotes an especially aggressive form of materialism. It looks to me like this recession has just been another excuse to force an unfunded early retirement on the Baby Boomers.

  12. 12
    KDP says:

    I have a friend, an IT guy in Maryland, who was laid off after the dotcom bust. He has still not found steady employment.

    He’s been subsisting on odd jobs, his retirement savings, and the help of friends for 10 years.

    It doesn’t help that he was in his early 50s when laid off. Our generation is less likely to find new employment, in part, because employers seem to prefer the young, cheap new blood. Right or wrong, there is a perception that the middle-aged are stuck in their ways, less flexible, less adaptable.

    At 55, I dread the thought of being laid off. Too young for Medicare or early retirement, but old enough that an employer may perceive me as less valuable than a younger person.

    Middle class, middle-aged and out of work in our culture is not a good place to be.

  13. 13
    Epicurus says:

    That’s a real big “if” in your last sentence. I hope I’m simply being overly cynical, but the Rethugs have done a pretty good job of hardening hearts against those in need. Course, when it’s the next-door neighbor, the brother-in-law or the wife, most people will break down. I hope….

  14. 14

    there are people who have fallen and can’t get up

    Oh, Mercy.

  15. 15
    jinxtigr says:

    If we have any decency as a society, we’ll at least think about how to give them a hand.

    clap…
    clap…
    clap…

  16. 16

    @KDP: Yeah, this scares me too, and I’m only 34. It scares me because I’m still in college, just getting back in after ten years, and I already feel like I’m way behind the game. Sure, I’ve got a job that pays me somewhat above the national average (this isn’t saying much of course) but the job is not really that relevant to my skillset (IT) so it worries me that if I were to lose it, I wouldn’t be able to find good IT work because I’ve gotten too rusty or too old.

    It is a scary thought, considering my mortgage is only six months matured.

  17. 17
    Mike in NC says:

    Our nostalgia for the Depression speaks volumes about how we feel not just about the past but also about our lives today.

    The people who are nostalgic for the Great Depression are the same ones nostalgic for the Confederacy. Screw ’em all. My parents were kids during the Depression and it scarred them for life.

  18. 18
    Toast says:

    If we have any decency as a society, we’ll at least think about how to give them a hand.

    That’s one might big “If”…

  19. 19
    Emma says:

    If we have any decency as a society, we’ll at least think about how to give them a hand.

    The “if” part of the statement worries me a great deal… The majority of Americans are individually decent, but they have been conditioned by at least 40 years of propaganda to regard the society in which he lives as an constraint on his sacred individualism or as a sort of economic Highlander game…

  20. 20
    Makewi says:

    OK, I’ll bite doug. Recent numbers suggest that employers are sitting on large cash reserves instead of hiring and investing, why do you think that is?

  21. 21
    Karen in GA says:

    Last September I was laid off from my support staff position at a law firm. Nothing unusual there — law firms have been hit hard over the past couple of years, and just about every firm I’ve ever heard of was laying people off and instituting hiring freezes.

    Six months into my unemployment, an agency sent my resume to another law firm. They wanted to interview me, but first asked the agency what I’d been doing since I was laid off. Evidently, my six months out of work was something that needed to be explained.

    To a law firm.

    After I’d been laid off by another law firm.

    Even though, as I said, just about every firm I’ve ever heard of has been laying people off and instituting hiring freezes. WTF did they think I was doing? Counting my millions? Exploring the hundreds of career options available these days to someone with 15 years of law firm support staff positions on her resume?

    (Sorry. It still irks the hell out of me.)

    ETA: That was the scary thing, though — knowing that the longer I was out of work, the more likely it was that I’d get that “What have you been doing all this time?” question. And “looking for a job” doesn’t cut it. Being unemployed is, in and of itself, a strike against you when you need a job.

  22. 22
    Jager says:

    I read somewhere the 2nd largest group of unemployed (after 18-24 year old black males) are white, male, college grads between 55-64…why would that be? Its because they make the most money, have the most vacation time, have been with the company longest and have the most invested in a retirement plan. Fire them and you can negotiate the retirement, the vacation pay and the severance and hire a couple of kids to replace them for less money or don’t replace them and make some poor bastard work twice as hard to make up for the loss and the working twice as hard bastard is scared shitless he or she is next!

    This is happening in every business. Early application for Social Security is the highest its ever been since its inception.

    In my business, broadcasting, virtually all the firings have been 50 plus, highly paid men and women. The firings had nothing to do with performance on the job.

  23. 23
    Amanda in the South Bay says:

    @Karen in GA:

    You hit the nail on the head there. Many people, unfortunately, think that the unemployed are lazy bums who are just enjoying a vacation, and must not be looking for work.
    People don’t realize how long the process takes to get hired, even at dead end low paying retail jobs.

    I think also many people don’t have the experience of being unemployed/poor/underemployed/etc or if they have, its been waaaay too long ago. There are a lot of people who are enjoying their ignorant bliss about how bad the economy is.

  24. 24
    DougJ says:

    @Makewi:

    Nobama’s soshulist tax policies, right?

  25. 25
    PurpleGirl says:

    @KDP: Laid off at 57. As I’ve done freelance work in the past, I’m adding a entry about freelance work again to cover part of the time I’ve been laid off this time around (16 months or so now).

  26. 26
    Roger Moore says:

    @Makewi:

    Recent numbers suggest that employers are sitting on large cash reserves instead of hiring and investing, why do you think that is?

    Obviously, it’s because they’re so worried about inflation that they think holding cash is a good strategy. Or maybe they’re so worried that the government is going to take their wealth that they’ve decided to hold it in easily confiscated form. More likely, though, they’re fucking panicking and want a fat cash position to tide them over in case the economy tanks again.

  27. 27
    d.s. says:

    Obviously, it’s because they’re so worried about inflation that they think holding cash is a good strategy. Or maybe they’re so worried that the government is going to take their wealth that they’ve decided to hold it in easily confiscated form.

    Hahaha… Makewi PWND!

  28. 28
    SIA says:

    In this recession, there are people who have fallen and can’t get up. If we have any decency as a society, we’ll at least think about how to give them a hand.

    You’ve done some fine writing here, but this is one of your best. I know a few others have already highlighted this, but I wanted to chime in too.
    This is the difference between the parties, IMHO.

  29. 29
    Makewi says:

    @DougJ:

    Oh, I was asking you. I was thinking that since you thought society should give them a hand you had an idea why companies weren’t.

  30. 30
    Makewi says:

    It’s because employers are racist. They want to keep the POTUS down.

  31. 31
    Makewi says:

    @SIA:

    Oh, since the Democrats are in charge you must mean that the difference is that they are better at pretending to care. Must be it.

  32. 32
    Napoleon says:

    I also won@KDP:

    At 55, I dread the thought of being laid off.

    I am 49 and scared to death of losing my job.

  33. 33
    WereBear says:

    @Karen in GA: Being unemployed is, in and of itself, a strike against you when you need a job.

    And that is so massively unfair; they lay people off to bump up their stock price, then blame the victim for not finding a job in that atmosphere, then use it as an excuse to disregard them.

    In the meantime, the unemployed aren’t buying anything much. I see the flaw in their plan, there.

  34. 34
    d.s. says:

    @Amanda in the South Bay: Yes. We’re such a “decent” society that the immediate assumption that people make is that 10% of the country has suddenly become a bunch of lazy slobs, and that’s why unemployment is high.

    I don’t think it’s reached the public consciousness that these days getting a minimum wage job at Wal-Mart requires being buddies with the manager, and that’s after you dumb the fuck down your resume to make sure H.R. doesn’t throw you out for being “over-qualified.”

    Most of the media is in New York or DC, where unemployment is only 8% and 6%. And they’re hanging out in Ivy League social circles where unemployment is 0%.

    Why don’t they send out an investigative reporter to try to find a job here in Southern California, where unemployment is 14%?

  35. 35
    d.s. says:

    For the first time since the Depression, we’re going to have a large mass of millions of long-term unemployed. Except this time, the country as a whole isn’t going to do shit for them.

    Except maybe lock most of them up in prison. That’s what we did for long-term unemployed black males. That’s working out fine, isn’t it?

    It’ll cost trillions to imprison 5% of the country, but hey, it’s not PORKULUS, so Republicans will agree.

  36. 36
    SIA says:

    @Makewi: By their fruits ye shall know them, asshole.

  37. 37
    BethanyAnne says:

    I was unemployed for 20 months before I found the current job. We were about a month from being losing our car and maybe being homeless. And I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I got a break, and might maybe have escaped the reaper for now. No clue how I managed it. I’m a night person, but I’ve been there early every morning. Happy to work a weekend if it helps my project. Still trying to not give off a panicky vibe.

    I used to think that I had much more control over my fate. Now I want savings and reserves – this shit is random and I need some way of being resilient. I hope Americans choose to focus on something vaguely productive instead of fucking with those who have less as a solution. Ain’t got much hope of that, tho.

  38. 38
    KDP says:

    @PurpleGirl: Good choice! I’ve been working in quality (CQA and CMQ/OE certification) and with Salesforce (Certified Developer) so I could probably get contract work in either area. Over the last 5 years, I also managed to get a BA in Human Development so at least I’m no longer out of competition through not having a degree.

    @Napoleon: Consider your skillset. As PurpleGirl noted, freelance can bring in income and your skills may be marketable.

    At this point, I can say that my company (5 of us) has been working non-stop because we’re getting a lot of subcontracting work. When I graduated in June, I was worried that I’d not know what to do with all my newfound free time. Instead, I’ve been on the road for 4 of the last 8 weeks and I go out again next week.

    I count my blessings daily.

    For anyone who is IT or business process oriented and has not already been exposed, Salesforce consulting can be a reasonably steady revenue stream. You can get a free development organization at developer.force.com, which will help you to learn the basics. The study guide and podcasts of the developer class are available for free on-line (iTunes has the Dev401 class). I offer this as a resource for additional marketable skills. The Salesforce model seems to be largely bound on outsourcing their consulting contracts to secondary sources. Hope this is helpful to anyone trying to develop options.

  39. 39
    Svensker says:

    @KDP:

    Yup. We have a couple of friends in their 50s who have been out of work for a few years, run through all their savings and assets, living off the kindness of friends and family. They are all (or were) upper middle class with college degrees, 2 of them had their own businesses that failed. They are pretty much unemployable at this point. One is babysitting, one is dog-walking, and the other may be getting a job at a photo shop for $20K/year — but he doesn’t know how he’ll be able to live on that.

    What’s going to happen to these folks?

  40. 40
    mclaren says:

    DougJ’s language offers a classic example of the wrong way liberals frame these issues.

    This isn’t about decency. It’s not about being humane. It has nothing to do with helping people.

    The basic issue here is that a large block of long-term unemployed people impoverishes our society as a whole. Everybody sees their standard of living drop if you have a large group of people who can’t find work.

    It happens this way: a big group of people who can’t find work are essentially an underclass. When the size of the underclass increases, this hurts society as a whole in many ways. It hurts economically because it takes a bite out of the middle class and reducing overall aggregate demand, and if you know anything about economics you know that dropping aggregate demand means that our society as a whole gets poorer. Less aggregate demands means a lower velocity of circulation, less people buying goods and services, less market for imports, a drop in the standard of living across the board.

    Second: a large block of permanently unemployed people means more crime, more social pathologies like alcoholismn and wife-beating and suicide and people going postal and becoming snipers and shooting anything that moves from the top of the Texas tower.

    Third, the longer people stay unemployed the harder it gets for them to transition back into the work force. And with recessions getting more frequency and deeper, this means that the number of people who permanently unemployed keeps ratcheting steadily up with each jobless recovery. 9%, 10%, 12%, 15%, pretty soon there comes a tipping point and the economy as a whole no longer works. You need a large enough middle class to buy things to sustain an advanced economy. Get rid of the middle class and you wind up with something like Mexico or Chile under Pinochet. Mexico City has vending machines that dispense clean air. It’s not a great environment even for the wealthy elite of Mexico.

    Fourth, a big block of permanent underclass chewed out of the former middle class means a fiscal black hole for cities and towns. These people who are permanently unemployed lose their homes, their cars, their bank accounts, they lose everything. So who pays property taxes? Who pays sales taxes? Who pays parking fines? Where does the money to run the ciies and towns come from? The money needed to pay for basic infrastructure and essential services drops drastically, setting off a vicious cycle. Towns shut down their libraries, but the remaining people who are on the edge of poverty and need the library internet to apply for jobs online can’t anymore so they fall off the edge into poverty. Less revenue for the town, more shutdowns: bus lines close so people without cars can no longer commute to work and they lose their jobs too. More revenue drops, more service cuts…it just keeps getting worse and worse.

    This liberal framing notion of “let’s all be kind to the unemployed” is dumb. We need to point out that everyone becomes impoverished if we don’t do something about big blocks of long term unemployed people in our society. The roads fall apart, the busses stop running, the libraries close, the symphony halls and community arts centers shut down, less money for scientific R&D means slower economic growth and innovation moving offshore, lower education levels in America means manufacturers bypass America because our workers don’t have the basic skill, importers start to bypass America because it’s no longer a vibrant market, the standard of living drops all across the board for everyone. For billlionaires as well as the middle class. Billionaires have to drive on the same roads we do. If the roads fall apart and their limousine busts and axle, that’s bas for them just as
    long term unemployment is bad for the middle class.

    A decaying and collapsing America means rich people get blown up in the Corcorde because airlines that operate in America do such a rotten shoddy job of maintaining airplanes in their desperate quest to save a buck. Making another million by squeezing middle class workers doesn’t get you anywhere if you get blown up in a fireball at the end of the runway in your luxury jet.

  41. 41
    El Cid says:

    In Cuba after the USSR dissolved and aid was ended, particularly petrochemical subsidies, Castro called it the “Special Period.”

    They began growing gardens everywhere, in backyards, roofs, parking lots, etc.

    Maybe we should call this “The Special Period” and call up Havana for lessons.

  42. 42
    Comrade Kevin says:

    More of the awesomeness of this country: The company I used to work for laid off thousands of people last year. They were making healthy profits at the time. They just decided that the work those people were doing should be sent to India. They told the laid-off people to look for other jobs in the company, but every time you applied for one of them, you were told “we’re not allowed to hire people from your division”.

  43. 43
    El Cid says:

    @Comrade Kevin:

    every time you applied for one of them, you were told “we’re not allowed to hire people from your division”

    And yet you obviously don’t appreciate their explanation that they were “not allowed”.

  44. 44
    d.s. says:

    This liberal framing notion of “let’s all be kind to the unemployed” is dumb. We need to point out that everyone becomes impoverished if we don’t do something about big blocks of long term unemployed people in our society.

    The problem is that if the basic message of “let’s help people in dire need” doesn’t resonate, a more complicated “we’re actually all in this together, so helping people in need will indirectly benefit you” message certainly is not going to resonate. You have to have a basic level of compassion for either message to resonate.

    How America deals with the long-term unemployed is a big moral test. Perhaps because a lot of the unemployed are white, we’ll actually do something, but from what we’ve seen from the last 40 years of politics, the smart bet is that we’ll just demonize the victims and insist they’re just slackers who don’t want to do hard work, and if any of them start any trouble we’re just ramp of criminal penalties until they’re conveniently behind bars.

  45. 45
    ornery curmudgeon says:

    As a liberal I have no idea why words have been put in my mouth about expecting people to be compassionate with fellow citizens. I agree we are interconnected:

    It is your concern when your neighbor’s wall is on fire. – Roman poet Horace ~ca 8 BC

    Written around the time of the first Roman Emperor, Augustus, the beginning of the end for Rome.

  46. 46
  47. 47
    Starfish says:

    How has this thread gone on so long without anyone mentioning John Boehner?

  48. 48
    Jay Schiavone says:

    Forget decency, the welfare system which conservatives so hate was started to reduce the persistent inconvenience of having to step over the frozen corpses of the unemployable as one went to work. People grew weary of dealing with crippled orphans begging in the streets. Almost no one remains today to remember life during the Great Depression. The conservatives have been waiting for that generation to die in order to re-implement the policies of the Gilded Age. I hope their grandchildren enjoy sorting coal at the slag heap.

  49. 49
    Frank Chow says:

    David Leonhardt has had the same job since 1999. Must be nice…

  50. 50
    Shinobi says:

    GRRRRR “first fired, last hired.”

    My boyfriend has been unemployed for almost three years now, they laid him off right before the recession started when jobs were starting to get scarce. He hasn’t qualified for unemployment for a loooooong time.

    He looks for jobs every day, but at this point I’m sure no one even looks at his resume once they realize how long it has been.

    It is oh so frustrating, not to mention the frustration of dealing with family members who think he’s just being a lazy jerk and not looking. I don’t know what exactly they expect him to do, he’s overqualified for a lot of stupid crap jobs, but underqualified for a lot of low level jobs, and he’s just stuck.

    My only hope is that now that more and more people are unemployed the stigma against long term unemployment will start to reduce. Though I frankly am afraid he’ll never get a job again.

  51. 51
    Steeplejack says:

    @Starfish:

    Dude, uh, see comment #3. Yeah, the thread went six whole minutes before someone mentioned Boehner.

  52. 52
    drkrick says:

    Get rid of the middle class and you wind up with something like Mexico or Chile under Pinochet.

    Go over to Reason Online and you’ll find a whole lot of folks who think Chile under Pinochet is the model we should all aspire to.

  53. 53
    mclaren says:

    Something wrong with Felix Salmon’s alleged “data” that supposedly shows wages for the employed going up.

    U.S. job growth has been weak the last few years, and real wages are falling at the fastest rate in 14 years.

    Source: The Big Squeeze, Newsweek international edition, Richard Ernsberger, Jr.

    I’m getting tired of this phony bullshit “data” conservatives pull out of their asses to “prove” the opposite of observed reality. It’s usually not data at all, but creative accounting ginned up by intellectual-whore far-right foundations using rigged numbers to lie with statistics.

  54. 54
    Ruckus says:

    If we have any decency as a society, we’ll at least think about how to give them a hand.

    Was going to say that it seems about 27% of this society doesn’t seem to have any decency.

    Thought about how much of this society was for the Iraq war and see no decency there.

    Hear what a good percentage of our political class and media say and see no decency there.

    Have to say that I hear much decency on a day to day basis so all is not lost. But these people are like me, mostly powerless.

    So overall I’d say not a lot of decency showing in this country. It’s there, just not where it counts and is needed.

  55. 55
    Ben Bursae says:

    @Epicurus: Numerous economic studies have shown that the wealthier Americans become in general, the more charitable they are. People like feeling good about themselves when they help others out. And conservatives, libertarians, whoever you mean by “Rethugs”, all tend to be just as charitable, if not moreso, than Democrats. We just like to be charitable with our own money, rather than with other people’s money (which really isn’t charity at all).

  56. 56
    Ben Bursae says:

    @Emma: Our “sacred individualism” doesn’t dictate that we will not be charitable to our fellow human beings in need. There are many of us who cherish our individualism, freedom, and liberty who freely and readily contribute to the relief of those in distress. The sticking point here, however, is that our “sacred individualism” really gets to the virtue of donating to charity freely, rather than being “charitable” at the point of a gun.

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