Obama's Strongest Supporters Suffering the Most in Recession, While Elites Thrive

President Obama’s strongest supporters during the presidential campaign were the young, the black and the poor -- and they are among those who are being hammered unmercifully in this long and cruel economic downturn that the financial elites are telling us is over.


If the elites are correct, if the Great Recession really is over, then these core supporters of the president are being left far, far behind -- as are blue-collar workers of every ethnic and political persuasion. Nobody wants to talk seriously about class in America, but the elites are smiling and perusing their stock portfolios while the checklist of Americans locked in depressionlike circumstances just grows and grows: construction and manufacturing workers, young men without college degrees (especially young black and Hispanic men), teenagers, and those who were already poor when the recession began.

The economic environment for all of these groups is an absolute and utter disaster.

Now we’re learning that unmarried women are among those being crushed by the epidemic of joblessness. As the Center for American Progress has noted, “The high unemployment rate of unmarried women, and particularly the 1.3 million unemployed female heads of household who are primary breadwinners for their families, is devastating to their financial circumstances and standard of living.”

Mr. Obama announced this week that he would convene a jobs summit at the White House next month to explore ways of putting Americans back to work. It remains to be seen whether the summit will yield anything substantial. But it’s fair to wonder why the president and his party have not been focused like fanatics on job creation from the first day he took office.

It was the financial elites who took the economy down, and it was ordinary working people, the longtime natural constituents of the Democratic Party, who were buried in the rubble. Mr. Obama and the Democrats have been unconscionably slow in riding to the rescue of those millions of Americans struggling with the curse of joblessness.

We’ve been hearing that there are six unemployed workers for every job opening in the U.S., but even that terrible figure is deceptive. There are 25 unemployed construction workers for every job opening in their field, and more than a dozen for every opening in the durable goods industries, according to the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston.

This was not a normal recession, and we are not on the cusp of anything like a normal recovery. The unemployment rate for black Americans is 15.7 percent. The underemployment rate for blacks in September (the latest month for which figures are available) was a gut-wrenching 23.8 percent and for Hispanics an even worse 25.1 percent. The poverty rate for black children is almost 35 percent.

Wall Street can boast about recovery all it wants, much of America remains trapped in economic hell.

It will take a monumental leadership effort by the administration and Congress to spark the kind of changes necessary to transform this wretched employment landscape. Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute has written: “By itself, the private sector is unable to create jobs in the numbers the United States needs to obtain a robust, full economic recovery.”

If that’s true, and I have long believed it to be the case, then we need to rethink our entire approach to employment. Conventional efforts to kick-start economic growth are dwarfed by the vast scale of the problem. Bold new efforts -- creative efforts -- are needed.

A recent survey for the policy institute found that one in four families had been hit by a job loss during the past year and 44 percent had suffered either the loss of a job or a reduction in wages or hours worked. Economic insecurity has spread like a debilitating virus through scores of millions of American families.

What kind of recovery are we talking about if blue-collar workers, and men and women without college degrees, and large percentages of ethnic minorities and the young and the poor are not part of it? And how can any recovery be sustained if economic insecurity is a permanent feature of even middle-class life?

The financial elites have flourished in recent decades to a great extent because they have had government on their side, with the politicians working diligently to ensure that rules, regulations and tax policies established an environment in which the elites could thrive. For ordinary Americans, it has been a different story, with jobs shipped overseas by the millions and wages remaining stagnant, with labor unions under constant assault and labor standards weakened, with the safety net shredded and the message sent out to workers everywhere: You’re on your own.

We’ll get a chance to see at President Obama’s employment summit whether anything much has changed.

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