Quite often, media reports and commentaries about the rising tide of unemployment – especially amongst young people – in other parts of the world are accompanied by warning of dire consequences if the trend continues. Images of major social protests and even acts of violence are evoked. Take, for instance, Europe. The highest youth jobless rates on the
continent are reported to be 50.5 percent in Spain, 51 percent in Greece and over 30 percent in Ireland, Italy, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Portugal.
Sometimes this situation is described as a ticking time bomb, sometimes not. In Greece where "young bear the harshest burden of the economic crisis," wrote Randall Fuller in the New York Times last week, "they do so with a mix of denial, frantic exuberance and a debilitating sense of the absurd."
We repeat figures as if this were the natural order of things.
As I read those words, I sat back and wondered what could be said of the response in the African American communities where jobless rates for young people have been just as high
The seasonally adjusted jobless rate for African Americans between 16 and 19 years old now stands at 35.5 percent, up from about 27 percent when the crisis began five years ago.
What's more, the youth jobless rate in some inner city communities is about 50 percent and has been for some time.
Economist Dean Baker points out that "By demographic group, the worst story is among black men and black teens. The former has an EPOP [employment-to-population ratio] that is 6.5 percentage points below its pre-recession level. Black teens have an EPOP of 15.5 percent, down 9.0 percentage points from the 2006 level. The EPOP for black women is down 3.7 percentage points from its pre-recession level, but has risen 3.2 percentage points from lows hit last summer."
We repeat figures such as these regularly, and often perfunctorily, as if this were the natural order of things. The alarm bells being set off over the number of young
people out of work in Europe should remind us it is not.
Living at home with one's parents because they cannot afford live elsewhere – or living in the streets – is nothing new for millions of African American and Latino youth.
Lay off austerity, which is only exacerbating the problem, and act now to stimulate their economies
"The recent developments are indeed a disaster and you might also call the situation a political scandal," writes Henning Meyer in Social Europe Journal May 22. "How is it possible
that more than one in five young people in Europe have no job and so many more are working in precarious circumstances?" How often is such a question raised around here?
"We cannot afford a lost generation in Europe," concluded Meyer. "We must tackle and solve the problem now!"
Meanwhile, here in the U.S., the richest and most powerful nation on the planet, the prospects for a solution remain remote.
"Everyone is talking jobs but saying nothing," wrote Robert Borosage, president of the Institute for America's Future, recently. "The inadequate recovery is sputtering and no one
is doing anything." "In the phony war on unemployment, no one has picked up a gun. We're going through the motions, waiting for the misery to ratchet up, the cities to blow and
corporate profits to tank before getting serious."
"But if Republicans have nothing to say about jobs, neither do Democrats," continued Borosage. "They are terrified by polls that say voters are concerned about deficits. So every
jobs program has to be `paid for' – and, almost by definition, small. Obama issues a `to do list' for Congress that even his aides have a hard time pretending to be excited about."
However, the President does have a job plan. It's hardly up to the challenge facing us but it's a start. The problem is, after presenting it a few months ago, it dropped pretty much
out of sight. Last week he brought it up again at a press briefing and in the process, created a muddle. It's one thing to blame the Republicans for refusing to act on the jobs crisis (what else is new?) and another to inform the nation of the seriousness of the situation and rally the people for action, something he and the Administration appear loathe to do.
The question is not simply whether or not new jobs are being produced. In a capitalist economy jobs are constantly being created, sometimes in large numbers. The question is whether enough are coming on line to meet the population increase and make up for the positions lost due to things like technological innovation or the effects of globalization. If
not, there will be more people without jobs. When the President says that the policies being pursued by his Republican opponents would only increase the discrepancy, he has a point. And yes, the situation in Europe exerts a somewhat negative effect on the economic prospects here. But to say, as he did last week, that "the private sector is doing fine" at creating jobs is just plain wrong.
The President later appeared to backtrack somewhat, saying, "I think if you look at what I said this morning, what I've been saying consistently over the last year, we've actually
seen some good momentum in the private sector." "There's been 4.3 million jobs created, 800,000 this year alone, record corporate profits." He added: "And so that has not been the biggest drag on the economy." It causes one to wonder just who is advising the President these days and why he continues to avoid the advice of the "Keynesians" who have left the White House inner circle or those who were never invited in.
There will never be a better time for the `internal improvements' that we need to make.
But it's going to take more than the President's current plan to really meet the jobs crisis. Proposals for meaningful action do exist. For one thing, as Borosage notes, current low interest rates "offer the U.S. a remarkable opportunity to rebuild the country. There will
never be a better time for the `internal improvements' that we need to make – rebuilding roads, bridges, mass transit, sewers, fast trains, airports, retrofitting public buildings, building up renewable energy and more."
Liberal economists like Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman have been calling for such a step for years now, but to no avail.
The International Labor Organization says almost 75 million, or 12.6% of the young people across the globe were jobless last year, an increase of over than 4 million since the current economic crisis began. Dr. Ekkehard Ernst, head of the ILO's Employment Trends Unit, has called upon governments to lay off austerity, which is only exacerbating the problem, and act now to stimulate their economies. "What is quite obvious with youth unemployment rates of over 50 per cent in these countries is the first thing that needs to be done is get jobs back. And that can only be done if you stimulate the economy, for instance through infrastructure programs, which are very job rich," he said.
The group Our Time – Standing Up for Young Americans is circulating an online petition addressed to President Obama and Governor Romney that reads:
"Our country needs nurses, teachers, disaster relief, park restoration, infrastructure repair, and more. Yet 1 in 2 young Americans are currently jobless or underemployed.
"A generation is a terrible thing to waste. Pledge to create one million new public service positions by expanding programs such as AmeriCorps, CitiYear, Habitat for Humanity,
Teach for America, and others so we can rebuild our country now."
"The only question is how deep the crisis must go and how crippling the pain must be before action is taken," says Borosage.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence
for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union. Carl is one of the moderators of Portside.