I went through a brief period of watching movies set in working-class British communities– or rather, places that were working-class, and were communities, before the hollowing-out of manufacturing destroyed them. I found them depressing and somewhat incomprehensible; unfortunately, Michael Hirsh has a long, depressing article in the National Journal about the "trend toward long-term unemployment in America" that suggests that those movies are a preview of our future as well:
[In] communities laid low by the housing bubble and bust, the phenomenon can feed on itself and create a vicious cycle of disappearing jobs, declining incomes, higher foreclosures, and more layoffs…. [Cities with high structural unemployment] are the neglected collateral damage of the transformational changes made possible by unfettered free markets, globalization, and information technology. Most of the shocks were predictable, and many were predicted. U.S. policymakers, however, even more than their counterparts in other advanced countries, consistently underestimated the enduring effects those shocks would have on working families and failed to build in protec-tive buffers.
Along the way, “long-term unemployed” has increasingly become a synonym for “unwanted.” As industries die, skills atrophy, and ambition fades, especially among older workers. In a new era of jobless growth, fiscal austerity, and the relentless drive for productivity, employers get pickier about whom they hire. Workers who don’t retrain quickly at a high enough level or those who are stuck with an underwater mortgage and can’t move right away for a job opportunity quickly become long-term unemployed.
U.S. companies have grown so brazen about avoiding the long-term unemployed that many place ads for only “currently employed” applicants….
Washington, dominated by a free-market consensus ever since President Reagan’s era, has ignored that 30-year pattern. Partly as a result, reams of data show that America’s middle class has been shrinking. Among the few who has long second-guessed the Washington mind-set is Frank Levy, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who coauthored a much-cited 2007 paper concluding that labor began losing the fight to capital in the late 1970s.
“I’m not sure how much better we could have done in preserving the middle class,” he says. “But I know that, with a few exceptions like the earned income tax credit, we didn’t really try.”
Awesome. Thanks, guys who wear ties with busts of Adam Smith on them.