Walt Whitman famously observed to a friend in 1863 that “the real war will never get in the books.” Whitman knew what he was talking about, so the proposition can’t be discounted. But in the case of the Civil War, if the real war hasn’t gotten into the books, it’s not for lack of trying. Louis Masur even made a good book out of Whitman’s challenge.
The mainstream media are so desperate to portray economic trends in optimistic terms that a lot of our current malaise is left unexplored. I think this is especially the case with respect to unemployment. The scope of the suffering created by large-scale long-term unemployment has somehow failed to register. The real unemployment will never get in the books, so to speak, at least so long as a Democrat is president and an election is looming.
Consider Professor Edward Lazear’s take on the recent employment data: “[T]he increase in job growth that occurred over the past two years results from a decline in the number of layoffs, not from increased hiring. In February 2009, a month during which the labor market lost more than 700,000 jobs, employers hired four million workers. In March 2011, employers hired four million workers. The number of hires is the same today as it was when we were shedding jobs at record rates. ” Professor Lazear may not be the only observer to publicize this salient fact, but if not, he is damn near close to it.
Lazear also notes: “The combination of low hiring and a large stock of unemployed workers, now 13.7 million, means that the competition for jobs is fierce. Because there are now many more unemployed workers, and because hiring is only about 70% of 2006 levels, a worker is about one-third as likely to find a job today as he or she was in 2006. It is no wonder that workers do not feel that the labor market has recovered.” Looking for a job in the current environment is hard work.
Why is the hiring picture so unsatisfactory? One can make the necessary inferences from Lazear’s prescription: “low taxes on capital investment, avoidance of excessively burdensome regulation, and open markets here and abroad. We must create a climate in which investment is profitable, productivity is rising, and employers find it profitable to increase their hiring rate.”
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