often, media reports and commentaries about the rising
tide of unemployment - especially amongst young people
- in other parts of the world are accompanied by warning
of dire consequences if the trend continues. Images
of major social protests and even acts of violence
are evoked. Take, for instance, Europe.
The highest youth jobless rates on the continent are
reported to be 50.5 percent in Spain,
51 percent in Greece
and over 30 percent in Ireland,
Sometimes this situation is described
as a ticking time bomb, sometimes not. In Greece where
“young bear the harshest burden of the economic crisis,”
wrote Randall Fuller in the New York Times last
week, “they do so with a mix of denial, frantic exuberance
and a debilitating sense of the absurd.”
We repeat figures as if this
were the natural order of things
As I read those words, I sat back
and wondered what could be said of the response in
the African American communities where jobless rates
for young people have been just as high for decades.
The seasonally adjusted jobless rate
for African Americans between 16 and 19 years old
now stands at 35.5 percent, up from about 27 percent
when the crisis began five years ago. What’s more,
the youth jobless rate in some inner city communities
is about 50 percent and has been for some time.
Economist Dean Baker points out that
“By demographic group, the worst story is among black
men and black teens. The former has an EPOP [employment-to-population
ratio] that is 6.5 percentage points below its pre-recession
level. Black teens have an EPOP of 15.5 percent, down
9.0 percentage points from the 2006 level. The EPOP
for black women is down 3.7 percentage points from
its pre-recession level, but has risen 3.2 percentage
points from lows hit last summer.”
We repeat figures such as these regularly,
and often perfunctorily, as if this were the natural
order of things. The alarm bells being set off over
the number of young people out of work in Europe
should remind us it is not.
Living at home with one’s parents
because they cannot afford live elsewhere - or living
in the streets - is nothing new for millions of African
American and Latino youth.
Lay off austerity, which is
only exacerbating the problem, and act now to stimulate
“The recent developments are indeed
a disaster and you might also call the situation a
political scandal,” writes Henning Meyer in Social
Europe Journal May 22. “How is it possible that
more than one in five young people in Europe
have no job and so many more are working in precarious
circumstances?” How often is such a question raised
“We cannot afford a lost generation
in Europe,” concluded Meyer.
“We must tackle and solve the problem now!”
Meanwhile, here in the U.S., the richest and most
powerful nation on the planet, the prospects for a
solution remain remote.
“Everyone is talking jobs but saying
nothing,” wrote Robert Borosage,
president of the Institute for America’s
Future, recently. “The inadequate recovery is sputtering
and no one is doing anything.” “In the phony war on
unemployment, no one has picked up a gun. We’re going
through the motions, waiting for the misery to ratchet
up, the cities to blow and corporate profits to tank
before getting serious.”
“But if Republicans have nothing
to say about jobs, neither do Democrats,” continued
Borosage. “They are terrified
by polls that say voters are concerned about deficits.
So every jobs program has to be ‘paid for’ - and,
almost by definition, small. Obama issues a ‘to do list’ for Congress that even his aides have
a hard time pretending to be excited about.”
However, the President does have
a job plan. It’s hardly up to the challenge facing
us but it’s a start. The problem is, after presenting
it a few months ago, it dropped pretty much out of
sight. Last week he brought it up again at a press
briefing and in the process, created a muddle. It’s
one thing to blame the Republicans for refusing to
act on the jobs crisis (what else is new?) and another
to inform the nation of the seriousness of the situation
and rally the people for action, something he and
the Administration appear loathe to do.
The question is not simply whether
or not new jobs are being produced. In a capitalist
economy jobs are constantly being created, sometimes
in large numbers. The question is whether enough are
coming on line to meet the population increase and
make up for the positions lost due to things like
technological innovation or the effects of globalization.
If not, there will be more people without jobs. When
the President says that the policies being pursued
by his Republican opponents would only increase the
discrepancy, he has a point. And yes, the situation
in Europe exerts a somewhat negative effect on the economic prospects here.
But to say, as he did last week, that “the private
sector is doing fine” at creating jobs is just plain
The President later appeared to backtrack
somewhat, saying, “I think if you look at what I said
this morning, what I’ve been saying consistently over
the last year, we’ve actually seen some good momentum
in the private sector.” “There’s been 4.3 million
jobs created, 800,000 this year alone, record corporate
profits.” He added: “And so that has not been the
biggest drag on the economy.” It causes one to wonder
just who is advising the President these days and
why he continues to avoid the advice of the “Keynesians”
who have left the White House inner circle or those
who were never invited in.
There will never be a better
time for the ‘internal improvements’ that we need
But it’s going to take more than
the President’s current plan to really meet the jobs
crisis. Proposals for meaningful action do exist.
For one thing, as Borosage
notes, current low interest rates “offer the U.S. a remarkable opportunity to rebuild the country.
There will never be a better time for the ‘internal
improvements’ that we need to make - rebuilding roads,
bridges, mass transit, sewers, fast trains, airports,
retrofitting public buildings, building up renewable
energy and more.”
Liberal economists like Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman have been
calling for such a step for years now, but to no avail.
The International Labor Organization
says almost 75 million, or 12.6% of the young people
across the globe were jobless lasts year, an increase
of over than 4 million since the current economic
crisis began. Dr. Ekkehard
Ernst, head of the ILO’s
Employment Trends Unit, has called upon governments
to lay off austerity, which is only exacerbating the
problem, and act now to stimulate their economies.
“What is quite obvious with youth unemployment rates
of over 50 per cent in these countries is the first
thing that needs to be done is get jobs back … and
that can only be done if you stimulate the economy,
for instance through infrastructure programs, which
are very job rich,” he said.
The group Our Time - Standing Up
for Young Americans is circulating an online petition
addressed to President Obama and Governor Romney that
“Our country needs nurses, teachers, disaster relief, park
restoration, infrastructure repair, and more. Yet
1 in 2 young Americans are currently jobless or underemployed.
“A generation is a terrible thing to waste. Pledge to create
one million new public service positions by expanding
programs such as AmeriCorps, CitiYear,
Habitat for Humanity, Teach for America, and others
so we can rebuild our country now.”
“The only question is how deep the
crisis must go and how crippling the pain must be
before action is taken,” says Borosage.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member
Carl Bloice is a writer
in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of
the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and
Socialism and formerly worked for
a healthcare union. Click here to contact Mr. Bloice.