There’s a title I bet you never expected to see over my byline, did ya? But the advent of President Obama’s highly touted “jobs summit” seems like an excellent time to open a discussion which I believe is long overdue. As with many of these big ticket items, I’m afraid I have some observations which won’t sit well with partisans on either side of the political divide, but they should be brought out in the open for consideration.
Plenty of people are already weighing in on the President’s proposed, high level meetings. They are being called a sham in some corners while being hailed as an important step by others who say that the White House is doing what it has to do, but may need to do more. But what most of us don’t seem to recognize is that the president’s actual ability to directly and immediately affect the unemployment rate – for good or for ill – is very limited, and has decreased exponentially in the past thirty years.
True, government policy in areas such as taxes on business, offered incentives and rebates can have a long term effect. And before you break out the pitchforks and torches, it’s true that the government can dump taxpayer dollars directly into “make work” project to created a limited number of short term jobs. But overall, it’s the giant beast of the American economy and business environment itself which determines employment. And that definitely swings elections.
Andrew Malcolm has helpfully pointed out that more people are registering Republican these days and less as Democrats, largely on the back of the unemployment numbers. When you factor in not only those who are “officially unemployed” with citizens who are under-employed or have simply given up looking, nearly one in five Americans have taken the hit. But we would be simple minded indeed if we took this as a sign that people are suddenly falling in love with the GOP’s plans for America. The fact is, people who are out of work blame whichever party is currently holding the reigns for the hob nailed boot pressing down on the throat of their potential prosperity. Right now that’s Obama and the Democrats, and the numbers show. I assure you, if the GOP seized total power in the next two cycles and the numbers didn’t improve, they would become the villains very quickly.
But back to the original point, employment always relies on an environment where business hire people. (Duh.) Yes, the economy is in a slump which affects lending, investment capital, insurance, overhead costs and everything else. But those are convenient scapegoats which allow us to forget that businesses are also far less inclined to hire people “for the good of the nation” than they were several decades ago. We are, as has been repeatedly pointed out, a nation which increasingly fails to make things. And businesses are now inclined to see employees as more of a nuisance or necessary evil than an integral part of the company’s success. Jobs are shipped out of the country in every industry which can manage it. Cost cutting measures which increase the bottom line and boost the dollars going into the pockets of executives, board members and major shareholders generally start with seeing how many workers can be cut out of the equation. Workers are expensive, messy and can cause problems. Widgets do not.
This is going to slow any recovery. The value of hard work has declined and the value of workers is taken for granted in an environment where so many are scrambling for any job they can lay their hands on. The economy may recover to a certain extent, and I certainly hope it does. But the overall trend is downhill. The “happy days” of the fifties, when men returned home from the war to take up good paying jobs in factories is gone. And it’s not coming back. A nation which chooses to let the rest of the world make the things we use while we focus on handing pieces of paper back and forth between each other will not strengthen. It will weaken.
Can the Obama administration help the jobs numbers? Perhaps. But the benefit will probably happen long after a terrible political price has been paid. And it won’t be a magic bullet to return us to happy days of yore. The national business climate has changed, and when it comes to getting more workers off the dole and into good paying, long term careers, it’s looking more and more like an ice age.