In the 1930s, the jobless were big news. Now they’re invisible.
Media coverage of the unemployment problem pretty much ended on July 22, when President Obama signed a bill extending coverage to 2.5 million Americans whose benefits had been blocked by the rock-solid Republican troglodytes in the Senate.
However, the legislation didn’t help the 99ers – those whose joblessness has persisted beyond 99 weeks, the maximum number of weeks for which a recipient can receive emergency benefits. This means that the 99ers, millions of them, along with millions of other Americans who are seeking work, are effectively left out in the cold, or the scorching heat, when it comes to being able to pay the bills.
I guess this is one of the things that distinguishes a Great Depression from a run-of-the-mill small-d depression. In the 1930s, the fact that millions of people were thrown out of work for years on end was considered a national disgrace and was priority No. 1 on the Roosevelt administration’s list of problems to correct.
But now, when long-term unemployment is a more serious problem than at any time since the the ’30s, the news media is arguably blasé about the issue. And the Obama administration, despite its success in pushing an expensive economic stimulus package through Congress, has come up with no – as in zero – large-scale public works projects to get the jobless back on their feet.
Yes, a much larger percentage of the population was thrown out of work by the Great Depression than by the depression – technically, a recession – that began in December 2007. And the social safety net in today’s America is bigger and more secure than in the 1930s, when there were no emergency benefits programs for the jobless, who were very visible because they had to take to the streets to sell apples, or beg, in order to survive.
Maybe that’s what it will take to change things — millions of apple peddlers and tens of thousands of muggers. Or else an organized movement committed to getting federal legislators off their asses and working to change the benefits apparatus and the employment picture.
Michael Thornton, who writes the Rochester Unemployment Examiner in New York, posed good questions about congressional slackers in a recent post:
Why was it so easy for Congress to abandon up to four million benefits exhaustees, but they can’t abandon an unwinnable Afghan War where they just assigned another $91 billion dollars? Why was it easy for Congress to pass a $700 billion bank bailout (or $23 trillion bank backstop) that benefited corrupt banks and allowed for record Wall Street bonuses, but they can’t find $20 billion to support four million long-term unemployed US citizens who lost their job due to Wall Street malfeasance?
I guess we’ll have to wait until these legislative slackers return from their long summer vacations before we can ask these questions and regain the attention of the mainstream media. Meanwhile, those in the Philadelphia area who’ve exhausted or will soon exhaust unemployment benefits, and those who want to help exhaustees, should contact the Philadelphia Unemployment Project.
Follow-up to July 18 post: We’re still waiting to see that story about the 99ers that New York Times reporter Michael Luo said was in the works.