The Truth About Jobs That No One Wants To Tell You

Unemployment will almost certainly in double-digits next year — and may remain there for some time. And for every person who shows up as unemployed in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ household survey, you can bet there’s another either too discouraged to look for work or working part time who’d rather have a full-time job or else taking home less pay than before (I’m in the last category, now that the University of California has instituted pay cuts). And there’s yet another person who’s more fearful that he or she will be next to lose a job.

In other words, ten percent unemployment really means twenty percent underemployment or anxious employment. All of which translates directly into late payments on mortgages, credit cards, auto and student loans, and loss of health insurance. It also means sleeplessness for tens of millions of Americans. And, of course, fewer purchases (more on this in a moment).

Unemployment of this magnitude and duration also translates into ugly politics, because fear and anxiety are fertile grounds for demagogues weilding the politics of resentment against immigrants, blacks, the poor, government leaders, business leaders, Jews, and other easy targets. It’s already started. Next year is a mid-term election. Be prepared for worse.

So why is unemployment and underemployment so high, and why is it likely to remain high for some time? Because, as noted, people who are worried about their jobs or have no jobs, and who are also trying to get out from under a pile of debt, are not going do a lot of shopping. And businesses that don’t have customers aren’t going do a lot of new investing. And foreign nations also suffering high unemployment aren’t going to buy a lot of our goods and services.

And without customers, companies won’t hire. They’ll cut payrolls instead.

Which brings us to the obvious question: Who’s going to buy the stuff we make or the services we provide, and therefore bring jobs back? There’s only one buyer left: The government.

Let me say this as clearly and forcefully as I can: The federal government should be spending even more than it already is on roads and bridges and schools and parks and everything else we need. It should make up for cutbacks at the state level, and then some. This is the only way to put Americans back to work. We did it during the Depression. It was called the WPA.

Yes, I know. Our government is already deep in debt. But let me tell you something: When one out of six Americans is unemployed or underemployed, this is no time to worry about the debt.

When I was a small boy my father told me that I and my kids and my grand-kids would be paying down the debt created by Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Depression and World War II. I didn’t even know what a debt was, but it kept me up at night.

My father was right about a lot of things, but he was wrong about this. America paid down FDR’s debt in the 1950s, when Americans went back to work, when the economy was growing again, and when our incomes grew, too. We paid taxes, and in a few years that FDR debt had shrunk to almost nothing.

You see? The most important thing right now is getting the jobs back, and getting the economy growing again.

People who now obsess about government debt have it backwards. The problem isn’t the debt. The problem is just the opposite. It’s that at a time like this, when consumers and businesses and exports can’t do it, government has to spend more to get Americans back to work and recharge the economy. Then – after people are working and the economy is growing – we can pay down that debt.

But if government doesn’t spend more right now and get Americans back to work, we could be out of work for years. And the debt will be with us even longer. And politics could get much uglier.

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About Robert Reich 547 Articles

Robert Reich is the nation's 22nd Secretary of Labor and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

He has served as labor secretary in the Clinton administration, as an assistant to the solicitor general in the Ford administration and as head of the Federal Trade Commission's policy planning staff during the Carter administration.

He has written eleven books, including The Work of Nations, which has been translated into 22 languages; the best-sellers The Future of Success and Locked in the Cabinet, and his most recent book, Supercapitalism. His articles have appeared in the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. Mr. Reich is co-founding editor of The American Prospect magazine. His weekly commentaries on public radio’s "Marketplace" are heard by nearly five million people.

In 2003, Mr. Reich was awarded the prestigious Vaclev Havel Foundation Prize, by the former Czech president, for his pioneering work in economic and social thought. In 2005, his play, Public Exposure, broke box office records at its world premiere on Cape Cod.

Mr. Reich has been a member of the faculties of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and of Brandeis University. He received his B.A. from Dartmouth College, his M.A. from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and his J.D. from Yale Law School.

Visit: Robert Reich

9 Comments on The Truth About Jobs That No One Wants To Tell You

  1. I think the “early adoption” of 21st energy and health care reform is capable of putting the job market on a solid ground. As a major driver, IT industry stalled and stranded in a game industry for the lack of 21st energy policy over the stretch of two wars needs to evolve into the all but indefinite energy, medical, and academic industry where the investors are eagerly waiting for policy-makers to act now, which I guess is why the far-reaching and long overdue health care and 21st energy bill have come into focus.

  2. “Let me say this as clearly and forcefully as I can: The federal government should be spending even more than it already is on roads and bridges and schools and parks and everything else we need. It should make up for cutbacks at the state level, and then some. This is the only way to put Americans back to work. We did it during the Depression. It was called the WPA.”

    Yes, the last time we tried these policies of deficit spending and tremendous debt we ended up with a Great Depression. Cheer it on RR! Cheer it on!

    America desperately needs new pundits.

  3. the reality is the WPA and similar programs did little to get the economy out of the depression…it was only the government spending connected to the buildup prior to WWII — unemployment didn’t go below 14% until 1941

  4. Wow, that’s one way to look at it I suppose, but then again, opinions are like ……… and everybody has one. The problem with the idea Robert brings up here is that he seems to think that we live in some sort of society that looks back at post defecit spending and then goes back and reduces the tax liabilities to its citizens. Never does this ever happen, its the way America and Americans behave. You grow into your income…. Savings levels being lower than 0% for Americans and shipping all of our labor overseas would make Richard’s dad pretty sick. Its dispicable what we have become and how little we care about things like American jobs and companies and the likes of Mr and Mrs. Jones working at the GM plant for the last 30 years. One thing your dad did have right was that he gave a crap about our nations debt load and the well being of future generations of Americans. I’m sure he also did things like buy American, and work for an American company and was proud that he could support his entire family on one income because our dollar was cared for by its citizens, and politicians didn’t go unchecked in their rabid abuse of power, and things like Glass Steagal Act existed so that we didn’t have too much power granted to either Wall St. or the Banking cartels. Yeah, he was a real fool. Thank GOD your generation will soon be passing away in massive numbers and we can pick up the hospital bills and figure out the Social Security mess you and your other idiot pundits have put us into, but don’t worry, live your life like you always have, sweep it under the rug and my generation will pick up the mess. You’re an idiot and your father was right, and America needs a whole lot more people like him again. Only when we start giving a crap about ourselves and our country and treating each other like human beings will we ever have a chance to escape this wretched mess. And last but not least, he was of the last generation that actually realized his Government worked for him and not the other way around. Your biggest fear is that this will surely amount to “ugly politics”…………You’re an absolute fool.

  5. Mr. Reich is right. But the bigger question is what the American economy will/should look like in 5 years. Is the idea that we return to buying Chinese stuff and selling each other lattes and dicey financial instruments? Or could we go back to the 1950s and actually make stuff?

    • Pam (above) seems not to understand that Manufacturing within the US grew 270% from 1980 to 2007. This is a common error, and happens mostly because computerization and robotics have eliminated two thirds of the jobs even with a great amount of growth. It is exactly parallel to the way that, before the Civil War, Ninety percent of all workers were on farms.

  6. The problem with the premise that we will recover like we did after WWII is that we were the only country that had its industrial base intact after the war. Everyone else’s was wiped out. In fact we helped rebuild the rest of the world’s industrial base. This time around that is not the case. What jobs are going to be available? Mr. Reich is wrong I fear, but what I fear most is the political leaders in Washington that are likely to buy this bad idea.

  7. Problem with a new WPA, is that construction today is capital not labor intensive. Should we purposely reduce productivity and park machinery and have labor substitute for it? Hardly. This is why New Deal jobs programs wont work.

  8. This public employee has it backwards. Bring our troops home. LOWER government debt, lower taxes. and get rid of government regulation and corporatism which discourages competition. That would give investors something to invest in, which creates jobs, which encourages more investing, which creates more jobs. This country has done well because of the absence of government up until now. We used to make stuff in this country. Now we just print money and fight over it. The problem isn’t that there are too many rich people. The problem is that there isn’t enough opportunity to create new rich people and encourage people to innovate and create. We need to stop feeding on ourselves like this author would have you do.

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