NY Times columnist Bob Herbert is speaking now. Here’s what he wrote this morning:
It’s impossible to overstate the threat that this crisis of unemployment poses to the well-being of the United States. With so many people out of work and so much of the rest of the population deeply in debt, where is the spending going to come from to power a true economic recovery? The deficit hawks are forecasting Armageddon, but how is anyone going to get a handle on the federal deficits if we don’t get millions of people back to work and paying taxes?
Some inner-city neighborhoods, where joblessness is off the charts, are becoming islands of despair. Rural communities and rust belt cities and towns are experiencing their own economic nightmares.
There is no plan that I can see to get us out of this fix. Drastic cuts in government spending would only compound the crisis. State and local governments, for example, are shedding workers as we speak.
Policy makers have acted as if they are unaware of the magnitude of this crisis. They have behaved as though somehow, through some economic magic perhaps, or the power of prayer, this ocean of joblessness will just disappear. That’s a pipe dream.
Even if we somehow experienced a sudden, extraordinary surge in job growth (which no one is expecting), it would take a very long time just to get back to the level of employment that we had when the recession started in late-2007.
Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute, addressed this. “In the boom of the late-1990s,” she said, “the fastest year of employment growth was 2.6 percent, in 1998. If, in the event we have that extremely strong level of growth from here on out, we would still not get down to pre-recession unemployment rates until January 2015.”
For all the money that has been spent so far, the Obama administration and Congress have not made the kinds of investments that would put large numbers of Americans back to work and lead to robust economic growth. What is needed are the same things that have been needed all along: a vast program of infrastructure repair and renewal; an enormous national investment in clean energy aimed at transforming the way we develop and use energy in this country; and a transformation of the public schools to guarantee every child a first-rate education in a first-rate facility.
This would be a staggeringly expensive and difficult undertaking and would entail a great deal of shared sacrifice. (It would also require an end to our insane waste of resources on mindless and endless warfare.) The benefits over the long term would be enormous.
Bold and effective leadership would have put us on this road to a sustainable future. Instead, we’re approaching a dead end.