Why High Unemployment Actually Destroys the Fabric of American Life
The Declaration of Independence was the first founding document in the history of the world to specifically mention happiness.
As Thomas Jefferson's famous words read, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
For hundreds of years, we've stood by the idea that through hard work and perseverance, and given the right opportunities, anyone can be happy in America and achieve the American Dream.
But today, the American Dream is on life support, and happiness is more elusive than ever before.
As Arthur C. Brooks points out in The New York Times, according to new research, one of the major variables under our control when it comes to overall happiness is happiness at work.
And a 2012 study by researchers at Stanford University found that being happy is nearly impossible if someone is unemployed, and money aside, unemployment increases the rates of divorce and suicide.
In fact, being employed is so important to Americans that, according to the University of Chicago's General Social Survey, three-quarters of Americans wouldn't quit their jobs even if they suddenly had a financial windfall.
Of course, to be happy at work means you have to have a job, and right now, 10.9 million Americans don't have a job.
FDR once said that, "Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort."
But that "joy of achievement" has been wiped out by 32 years of Reaganomics, decades of insane trade policies that have shipped millions of good-paying American jobs overseas, crippling austerity measures, and a general unwillingness by the government to be considered the employer of last resort.
According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), when NAFTA was signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1994, it was supposed to create 200,000 new jobs.
But instead, as of 2010, thanks to growing trade deficits with Mexico, NAFTA has helped to eliminate over 680,000 American jobs.
In 2010, when President Obama signed onto the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, the Obama Administration promised that the agreement would create and support at least 70,000 American jobs.
But, as EPI points out, in 2011, the U.S. trade deficit with South Korea increased by over $5 billion dollars, costing the U.S. more than 40,000 jobs.
Meanwhile, as so-called free trade agreements are wiping out American jobs in the private sector, austerity is slashing jobs in the public sector.
Since June of 2009, thanks to Republican-fueled austerity measures, 740,000 Americans have lost their jobs in the public sector.
And what's keeping many of these Americans unemployed are Conservatives in Washington who refuse to acknowledge that when capitalism fails, the government should be the employer of last resort.
Back in 1944, FDR released his so-called "Economic Bill of Rights," and one of those rights was the, "right to a useful and remunerative job."
But Conservatives in Washington don't see it FDR's way, and instead love a phony argument over the size of government.
From job-killing trade policies and devastating austerity measures, to the government's refusal to be the employer of last resort, America has lost millions of jobs, and happiness has become an unattainable dream for far too many.
There's no way we can be a happy nation again without getting those jobs back, and making sure that all Americans have an equal shot at a good job.
It's time to close the book on Reaganomics, toss austerity aside, keep good jobs in America, and make our government the employer of last resort by creating the modern equivalent of the WPA and the CCC.
Only then will Americans really have the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
This article first appeared on TruthOut.