By Frank Wessling
Here we go into the fourth summer of an economic recession in this country that seems never-ending. Millions of Americans — an estimated 15 million — can’t find jobs at all and other unknown millions are surviving hand-to-mouth with part-time work and jobs that pay less than a living wage.
Does it have to be like this? No. Our habit of all-or-nothing drama is behind much of the social and personal pain in this recession. We don’t have to dump people on the useless pile. With a better sense of common purpose and more confidence in ourselves as a reasonable, adaptable community we would share everything more equitably: both the tough times now and the prosperity as it comes.
Other people do it. Germany is an example. The worldwide business downturn has hit there, also, but with less disruption for working people and families. Rather than cutting jobs as business declined, Germans shifted to fewer hours while keeping people employed. Their unemployment benefit system recognizes such a shift and allows partial benefits to cushion the impact of a smaller paycheck.
Part of the reason this happens in Germany is the stronger labor union presence there. Employers can’t easily act arbitrarily. When a strain on business comes along, the response is worked out in negotiations allowing everyone an opportunity to retain their dignity.
No winners on one side and losers on the other. We should take a lesson.