How Many Jobs Do We Need for the Recession to Go Away?

jobs spelled out on buildingAbout 151,000 jobs were created in October, and 95,000 the month before. If you got one of them, good for you. And if you didn't, well, you're in good company. How many jobs will it take for the recession to go away? According to the Brookings Institution, a whole lot more than those two numbers. Try these stats on for size:

If there were 208,000 jobs created a month (that's the average monthly rate for the best year of job creation this decade, according to Brookings), it would take 11.5 years to reach the pre-recession employment levels. If 321,000 jobs were created each month (the average monthly rate for the best year of job creation in the 1990s), it would still take almost five years.

These aren't even necessarily good jobs. These are any jobs -- flipping burgers, bagging groceries, greeting Walmart shoppers.Want more depressing news? Most of the unemployed have been out of work for a good long while. And the longer they stay jobless, the more their job skills depreciate, their job networks become exhausted and they increasingly suffer depression. The longer a worker stays unemployed, the less likely he or she is to find a new job and the more likely it is that if they find a job, it will be a lower-paying one. Their life expectancy is shortened by a year to a year-and-a-half, and research shows that their children will also be hurt and earn less when they become adults and enter the labor force.

You know what else has been made clear? That you -- the guy with the job -- basically don't really care. Oh, you care in the abstract sense, but you don't want the mess on your plate. Reducing the deficit has become your warrior cry as you step over the bodies of your fallen former pod-mates. Admit it, it was a big ho-hum for you to read that two million people will lose their unemployment checks just in times for the holidays because Congress, for the third time, didn't extend the love.

We realize that funding jobless benefits is more complicated than, say, extending tax breaks to the rich, but still, couldn't the Scrooges have come up with just a bit more dough to carry the unemployed through the holidays?

Part of the lack of empathy comes from the fact that the super-rich appear to be doing just fine, thanks to taxpayer generosity. It's the unemployed and under-employed who are slipping into the abyss. During the Great Depression, there was at least some equality of suffering. This time around, "It's a Tale of Two Cities," writes Les Leopold, author of The Looting of America.

Says Leopold, "Our Wall Street billionaires easily weathered the financial storm that they themselves created. It's as if nothing had happened." And he adds, "That's in stark contrast with the fact that more than 29 million Americans are without work or have been forced into part-time jobs."

Where are the progressives, Leopold asks? A good question. Most liberal advocacy groups act as if the economy hadn't crashed at all. Where are the environmentalists, the women's movement, the health care and education advocates? Don't they see ways to create the 22 million new jobs we need to get back to pre-recessionary employment levels?

What would a massive jobs creation program look like if these folks were paying attention? It might put an aide in every public school class in America; fire up a small army to install solar panels and weatherize every home; give every senior who wants one a free flu shot, free diabetes screening, free cholesterol tests.

One of Leopold's ideas is to fund free higher education in every public university, which would trigger a hiring and construction boom on campuses in every state. Before you reject it as preposterous, remember that this was basically the purpose of the GI Bill of Rights, which avoided a massive unemployment crisis after World War II. Instead of coming home from war and looking for a job, the soldiers went to school. Congressional studies say the GI Bill returned $7 in economic growth for every dollar invested. Anyone think Obama's pothole-repair program is doing that?
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