Joblessness is not beginning to look a lot like Christmas


During my so-called "day off" Friday, I was doing the usual run of chores around the house with the TV set on, and it was MSNBC, which kept cycling around to that morning's big news on the national unemployment rate. Confirming some conservative stereotypes about the network, the anchors kept portraying the drop in the key rate from 9.0 percent to 8.6 percent as the best thing to happen to Barack Obama since Sarah Palin was introduced to Katie Couric. I remember anchor Thomas Roberts described the report as an early Christmas present for the White House.


Look (as the president himself likes to say), the only reason the rate fell so much is that so many workers have been unemployed and looking so unsuccessfuly for work that more than 300,000 of them left the labor market all together. In fact, even the news of 120,000 new jobs wasn't all that hot -- the economy needs to gain at least 150,000 or so new jobs a month just to deal with the steady growth in population; anything short of that might as well be considered a loss.

Don't they read the New York Times at MSNBC? This is what's really going on out there:

So the legions of long-term unemployed will probably be idle for significantly longer than their counterparts in past recessions, reducing their chances of eventually finding a job even when the economy becomes more robust.

“I am so worried somebody will look at me and say, ‘Oh, he’s probably lost his edge,’ ” said Tim Smyth, 51, a New York television producer who has been unable to find work since 2008, despite having two decades of experience at places like Nickelodeon and the Food Network. “I mean, I know it’s not true, but I’m afraid I might say the same thing if I were interviewing someone I didn’t know very well who’s been out of work this long.”

Mr. Smyth’s anxieties are not unfounded. New data from the Labor Department, provided to The New York Times, shows that people out of work fewer than five weeks are more than three times as likely to find a job in the coming month than people who have been out of work for over a year, with a re-employment rate of 30.7 percent versus 8.7 percent, respectively.

Does that sound like "good news" for President Obama...or for anybody? Beyond that, why is news of joblessness always synonymous with good or bad news for the president, anyway? Sure, the president deserves some blame for unemployment so being high, for not doing enough to stimulate the economy when he had a Democratic Congress in 2009-10. But so do the folks who came before him (a Republican president and a Congress that flipped from GOP to Dem control after 2006) when the bulk of the jobs were lost, and so do the current obstructionist Republicans. But really, aren't job-slashing CEOs like Lynn Elsenhans more responsible for job losses than anyone in politics, anyway?

One more thing while we're at it. The same Obama haters who crow about the bad economy and high unemployment are the same people yelling at the Occupy protesters to go home and get a job -- do people even listen to themselves? Talk to a real unemployed person, and I don't even mean Occupy folks as much as 40- and 50-something blue- and white-collars who've been without a job for a year or more. They've tried the Acme, they've tried Target, they've tried McDonald, they're applied to be a night watchman or any other job you can think of. The jobs are just not there -- which is why some folks finally took to the streets, not the other way around.

Merry Christmas, indeed.