By Frank Wessling
The unemployment rate in this country is around 17 percent when the count includes people working part time because full-time jobs aren’t available, along with others so discouraged that they have stopped looking for work.
This represents suffering, loss and a sickly decline in the optimism that has made this country a robust engine of progress. We should not tolerate it.
We do tolerate it because our politics is sick, allowing the economy to run sick. While today’s unemployment is bad enough to invite comparison with that of the Great Depression, policies intended to put people to work are shot down simply for partisan spite and to protect a taxing structure that favors the well-off. The injustice is obvious and shameful. In contrast, Germany, facing a situation similar to ours, used government investment to keep people employed while the economy works through this crisis.
Talk about deficits and the national debt is used to prevent our government from acting firmly in the same way on behalf of our working people. We forget that the Great Depression was finally overcome by that great government spending spree known as World War II, when the national debt reached 120 percent of Gross Domestic Product. The war itself was tragic, but as an economic engine it was a giant productivity machine that spread benefits widely and with lasting impact. That scary debt level? It was down to 33 percent in 1980, before an anti-government, anti-tax mood gained influence and pushed it back up above 60 percent, thanks to Reagan-era tax cuts favoring high earners.
But partisan wrangling and blaming won’t help needy workers and their families. We need to make them the focus. We need to give job retention and growth a war-like sense of priority. We need to act again like a real community, with a social compact that clearly spreads the burdens along with the benefits of our national life.