Alana Semuels, of the L.A. Times, provides us this sobering report:
In May, a record 46% of all jobless Americans had been out of work for more than six months. That's the highest level since the government started keeping track in 1948, and it's about double the percentage of long-term unemployed seen during the brutal recession of the early 1980s.
Jobless Americans such as Mignon Veasley-Fields of Los Angeles don't need government data to tell them that something has changed. A former administrative assistant at an L.A. charter school, she has searched fruitlessly for employment for more than two years. She's losing hope of ever working again.
"If I were 18, I'd say, 'I can bounce back.' But I'm 61," said Veasley-Fields, a dignified woman with graying, close-cropped hair. "It's really scary. It's like someone just put a pillow over your head and smothered you."
Laid off in June 2008 from her $45,000-a-year post, Veasley-Fields at first wasn't overly concerned. A college graduate, she had always enjoyed steady employment, including a long stint as a research manager at consulting firm McKinsey & Co. She crafted a crisp resume, networked through job clubs and navigated online employment sites like the seasoned researcher that she is.
But weeks stretched into months, with hundreds of unanswered job applications. California's jobless rate in July stood at 12.3%, the third-highest in the nation, behind Nevada and Michigan. Veasley-Fields' unemployment benefits have run out, her credit cards are maxed. She fears losing the tidy mid-Wilshire District bungalow where she and her 77-year-old husband are raising two granddaughters. Above all, she's stunned that a middle-class life that took decades to build could unravel so quickly. She recently visited a food bank to secure enough staples to feed the girls.
"I'm just hanging on a thread," she said.
Veasley-Fields suspects her age isn't doing her any favors. Indeed, 50.9% of unemployed workers 55 to 64 have been out of work at least 27 weeks. That's the highest percentage of long-term unemployment for any age group.
But young workers are suffering too. In August, the unemployment rate for workers 16 to 24 was 18.1%.
Research has shown that economic downturns can stunt the prospects of these new entrants to the job market for a decade or longer. Some college graduates unable to find jobs in their chosen fields are forced to trade down to lower-skilled, often temporary work. That translates into puny wages, missed opportunities and a slower climb up the career ladder.
Our elected leaders need to be told loudly and clearly, that we need jobs right now. Rebuilding infrastructure would be a great way to put many to work. Yet why stop there? The WPA hired actors, writers, photographers. A lot of public high schools would really benefit from someone coming in to teach computer graphic design, or book-keeping. In fact, the government should be motivated to directly hire people for any kind of work that can be thought of. Freezing the pay of those already in the public sector won't do much to solve our nation's economic woes. We should demand that putting millions of Americans back to work take precedence over redistributing even more wealth upwards to those few who already control most of our nation's riches. We should also work towards establishing a better work environment for all, through rebuilding unions into a force that can once again improve the lot of all working Americans. We are proud of our patience and self-reliance. Now is the time to admit that our patience is exhausted. We must also recognize we need to start working together. Imagine if all the exploited "independent" truckers chose a day to stop driving, refusing to budge until the bosses were on the phone with the Teamsters? What if that same day all the underpaid call-center folks (there's still some left in the U.S.!) were to develop laryngitis? Or all the good public-sector people who just had their pay frozen. Can't come to work today, frostbite don't you know? There's no reason legions of unemployed folks should be lonely at home. Why not join with thousands of others on the State House steps? In short, let's get real people!