Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Unemployment and Jobs: The Intellectual Dishonesty of the Political Right Exposed for All to See

Above: WPA workers raising a flagpole at Baltimore National Cemetery. New Deal policymakers did not play political games with the unemployed, as the political right does today. They saw a jobs crisis during the Great Depression so they hired unemployed Americans who wanted to work. That's why Ronald Reagan wrote, "The WPA was one of the most productive elements of FDR's alphabet soup of agencies because it put people to work building roads, bridges, and other gave men and women a chance to make some money along with the satisfaction of knowing they earned it" (from his autobiography, Ronald Reagan: An American Life). Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.

House Republicans will not allow extended unemployment benefits to continue. The reason? Well, Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), argued that Democrat proposals to extend unemployment benefits have not include measures to increase private sector job growth and that "The American people are still asking, 'Where are the jobs?'"  

However, U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), just weeks before, said that the unemployment problem is rooted in that fact that inner-city men are lazy and don't want to work: "We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work. There is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with."

This is the same intellectual dishonesty that has played out over the past 6 years. When Republicans scold President Obama and the Democrats, they say "You're ruining the economy! Where are the jobs??" But when Republicans turn to scold the unemployed, they say "You're lazy! There's plenty of jobs out there! Get off the couch!"

White House economic adviser Gene Sperling recently pointed out that there is only one job opening for every three unemployed people, which PolitiFact confirmed. But we know that the situation is even darker for the jobless because they are discriminated against by employers. Hence, they not only have to face competition amongst each other, but they also have to face discriminatory competition against workers who already have jobs and are merely looking to switch jobs. Indeed, the employment situation today is quite often a game of musical chairs, where those without jobs always end up standing and those with jobs always find a new chair. And to pour salt into the wound, the jobless workers who are left standing have to deal with a merciless barrage of insults and insinuations of laziness from right-wing politicians, pundits, and Internet comment-makers. Imagine what it must feel like to send out hundreds of resumes, be ignored by employers, and then be called a "parasite," "taker," "moocher," and "lazy-good-for-nothing." (I know what it feels like because I've been there.)

The worst thing of all, of course, is that millions of American voters have no problem with the intellectual dishonesty coming from the political right. They are also not bothered by the cruelty that the political right has shown towards the unemployed. Indeed, millions of voters stand ready to hand over our entire Congress to right-wing politicians--so that (a) unemployed workers will continue to be insulted, discriminated against, and cut off from public assistance, and (b) super-wealthy Americans can receive more tax breaks and more wealth.....even though they're already enjoying historically low tax rates and a historically high share of our nation's wealth (while not creating good middle-class jobs).

As we continue to move away from New Deal policies & principles (and instead embrace policies & principles that enrich the already-rich) the middle-class deteriorates and the super-wealthy gobble up more and more of our nation's prosperity (see graph here). And millions of voters--by continuing to elect intellectually dishonest right-wing politicians--are essentially saying "more, more, more." Is it any wonder that socio-economic mobility in the United States "is among the lowest of major industrialized economies"? And is it any wonder that unemployment is a factor in suicide and that the suicide rate in the United States has soared?

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