Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Our Biggest Problem (What? Only One??)

Your morning dose of reality as seen through the eyes of Bob Herbert, op-ed columnist for the New York Times.
Some 247,000 jobs were lost in July, a number that under ordinary circumstances would send a shudder through the country. It was the smallest monthly loss of jobs since last summer. And for that reason, it was seen as a hopeful sign. The official monthly unemployment rate ticked down from 9.5 percent to 9.4 percent.

But behind the official numbers is a scary story that illustrates the single biggest challenge facing the United States today. The American economy does not seem able to provide enough jobs — and nowhere near enough good jobs — to maintain the standard of living that most Americans have come to expect.

I've already come to terms with the fact that our standard of living is as unsustainable as our current health care system. But that doesn't have to translate into a tragedy. Some of us, perhaps most of us, are going to need to make adjustments in our "American Dream."

But what is really shocking about the current unemployment situation is the impact on younger Americans and especially minorities (well, that part isn't shocking at all; it's the status quo, just on a larger scale).
Only 65 of every 100 men aged 20 through 24 years old were working on any given day in the first six months of this year. In the age group 25 through 34 years old, traditionally a prime age range for getting married and starting a family, just 81 of 100 men were employed.

For male teenagers, the numbers were disastrous: only 28 of every 100 males were employed in the 16- through 19-year-old age group. For minority teenagers, forget about it. The numbers are beyond scary; they’re catastrophic.

This should be the biggest story in the United States. When joblessness reaches these kinds of extremes, it doesn’t just damage individual families; it corrodes entire communities, fosters a sense of hopelessness and leads to disorder.

And I can't help but wonder how involved these age groups are in the critical health care debate. I fear the entire dialogue is being driven by those baby-boomers who have been paying attention and have seen the rampant inflation in the health care sector, and have experienced the costs first-hand, and the baby-boomers on the right who are having their fears stoked by various media figures and right-wing fringe elements throwing up the socialist red scare all over again.

America's youth need to be paying attention and getting involved now. Health care needs for those in their 20s may seem to be a low-priority (perhaps a couple of rungs below the crisis of Twitter being hacked) right now, but this is an opportunity to influence the debate and help shape a system on which they will depend in another 15 years or so.

I know, I know. I'm dreaming again. That is about as likely as Dennis Kucinich winning the 2012 Democratic nomination.

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