Upper West Side Story

When Bob Herbert resigned from the New York Times a few weeks ago Americans lost their best newsman. But Bob’s back on the beat and he hasn’t lost a step. He’s the only one who realizes that unemployment is the underlying cause of all our nation’s ills, and while Bob has been trying to call our attention to this cancer, everyone else with a voice has been sweeping the dirt under the rug.

“The Jobs Emergency and America in Crisis”, is how he titled today’s story.

“It was eerie,” he writes. “My wife went into a CVS Pharmacy on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on Memorial Day and there was no one behind the bank of registers near the front of the store. When it came time to pay for her purchases, a woman directed her to a self-service register near the front door. My wife scanned and bagged the purchases herself, each step guided by a computerized, affect-less woman’s voice, similar to the voice in a GPS device. Customers paying cash could insert bills into a slot like the ones on a vending machine. Change (including coins) and a receipt were promptly issued. At the end of the transaction, the computerized voice said, ‘Thank you for shopping CVS.’

“Welcome to the increasingly soulless world of rapidly shrinking employment opportunities in the U.S. We’ve been pretending for too long that something approaching normalcy is just around the corner, another era of good jobs at good wages, ready to embrace us like an old friend. Any day now the middle class will be reconstituted. The American Dream will be taken off life support.

“Get over it. It is long past time to recognize that we are in the midst of a howling, long-term employment crisis that needs to be treated, as F.D.R. once said, ‘as we would treat the emergency of a war.’ I went into the CVS store a few days after Memorial Day to see what it was like on a non-holiday morning. There was still no one behind the registers. There were also very few customers. An employee working on the floor said the store planned to staff its regular registers only during the busiest hours. He added, with an embarrassed, somewhat ironic smile, ‘This is the future.’

“If it is, it’s a horrifying one. On the Friday after Memorial Day the government released its unemployment statistics for May and they were abysmal. I wondered why anyone was surprised. Working families are tapped out, broken by more than 30 years of anti-worker initiatives and policies that led us from one toxic bubble to another, and ultimately to the worst economic collapse since the 1930s.

“How hard is it to understand that a consumer society cannot flourish when the consumers have been crushed?

“Twenty-five million Americans were unable to find full-time work in May. Nearly 14 million were officially classified as jobless. Millions more are outside the labor force and not being counted at all. We are surrounded by the evidence of a searing national tragedy. The crippling affliction of joblessness has become a way of life for millions.

“The average length of unemployment is a devastating 40 weeks, the longest since 1948, which was the first year such records were kept. Unemployed workers 55 and older are gripped with the very real fear that they may never work again.

“Policymakers in Washington are behaving as if none of this is going on. President Obama referred to May’s execrable jobs numbers as a bump in the road. Republicans and Democrats alike are counseling austerity, which is like weakening the water pressure of firefighters trying to contain a conflagration. America’s leaders seem to have lost sight of the fundamental importance of employment – not just to the personal well-being of individuals and families, but as an absolutely crucial component of a healthy economy.

“Here’s a one-two punch to consider: the college graduating class of 2011 has the highest average student debt load in history and is facing the worst employment market on record for graduates with a four-year degree. Young men and women are coming out of college and, increasingly, moving back home with mom and dad. Many are taking unpaid internships, doing volunteer work or otherwise biding their time in the hope that the employment landscape improves. Those who have jobs are often underemployed. Fewer than half of recent college graduates are working in jobs that require a college degree.

“For young people with less than a college degree, forget about it. Fewer than half have any jobs at all. Many are outside the labor force, not even bothering to look for the jobs that are not there.

“What we have on our hands is a catastrophe. The economy has proved incapable of generating enough jobs for those who want and desperately need to work. The few jobs that are being created are mostly low-paying and part-time, with few or no benefits.

“What is bizarre is the extent to which politicians have turned their backs on this issue, yammering incessantly (and ineffectively) about budget-cutting and fiscal responsibility while doing nothing, absolutely nothing, about jobs.

“We’re in a different era now – an era of declining living standards and a much bleaker future than Americans had become accustomed to. We know what needs to be done: Men and women should be put to work building the nation’s infrastructure. The education system needs to be revamped in ways that produce additional millions of students who are well-trained, creative and capable of critical thinking at a very high level. Green energies need to be developed on a massive scale. And so on.

“But there is no chance, given the embarrassingly dysfunctional political environment in Washington, that any of the bold steps needed to erase the job crisis and brighten the nation’s future will be taken. The politicians have abdicated their responsibility, thus insuring that the long, dark night of the American economy will continue.”-

[This “long, dark night” won’t just linger. It will come to in an apocalyptic end unless 50 million jobs can be created.,and that can only be done by revitalizing our shipyards and building the patented container ships we’ve been describing. Make-work infrastructure projects just won’t cut it.]