by The Opportunity Agenda, Thu Aug 25, 2011 at 11:55:42 AM EDT
The U.S. unemployment rate remains dangerously high, and in some communities, rivals the rates of the Great Depression. Clearly, there is a jobs crisis in this country. While the temptation for those who are employed might be to be thankful and exhort one another “not to rock the boat,” there is a plethora of reasons why that would be a Very Bad Idea. Ok, the thankful part is probably a good idea.
On the other hand, the boat needs to be rocked. At least a little. On both sides of the partisan divide, talking heads are beginning to posture. “I stand for job creation.” says one. “No – I stand against all job-killing legislation.” boasts another. “I’m pivoting to focus on jobs.” “I will work tirelessly to focus on what the American people need – jobs.” If we could create jobs out of hot air, the unemployment rate would be 0.0 percent.
People want and need jobs. Good jobs - that offer a living wage, necessary benefits, and the ability to conceive of a future beyond where you are today. An essential element of the American Dream is a belief in the ability that hard work should be rewarded. But what happens when large groups of our fellow Americans are encountering some of the longest-term and most intractable unemployment seen in decades? It’s not a problem only for the unemployed, although the point can be made that even if the effects were only felt by the unemployed, it would still be a problem that each of us would be responsible for. However, even in an argument based entirely on self-interest, the current unemployment rates cannot stand.
First, people out of work, unable to find work, and losing hope of finding work, are not spending money. People out of work are losing their homes. People depleting their savings are unable to plan for their children’s education. Thus, your neighbor’s unemployment may: 1) lower consumer confidence; 2) lower the value of real estate in your neighborhood; and 3) decrease the number of students attending college and/or raise the number of students competing for increasingly limited financial aid. These are relatively simple examples. There are more nuanced arguments to be made – for example, here, here, or here.
The solution seems simple. Invest in jobs. After all, it’s become a widely accepted truism that our infrastructure is crumbling. Pay our unemployed to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. In the words of Aziz Ansari, “Jay-Z has vodka he makes. Jay-Z signs the tab, money goes back into his own pocket!” We need planners, construction workers, architects, clerical workers, lawyers, accountants, and numerous other job titles. They need work. Again, there are more nuanced arguments to be made – for example, here, here, or here. It may be complicated to figure out how to actually implement and maximize our investment in our future. But it’s not just necessary. It’s imperative.