Political Animal


April 22, 2013 2:56 PM More Pain For Economic Victims

By Ed Kilgore

Paul Krugman’s latest column discusses the alarmingly large ranks of the long-term unemployed:

Five years after the crisis, unemployment remains elevated, with almost 12 million Americans out of work. But what’s really striking is the huge number of long-term unemployed, with 4.6 million unemployed more than six months and more than three million who have been jobless for a year or more. Oh, and these numbers don’t count those who have given up looking for work because there are no jobs to be found.

Don’t count on the numbers falling rapidly, even if the economy gains momentum, because the long-term unemployed are getting blackballed by employers:

One piece of evidence comes from the relationship between job openings and unemployment. Normally these two numbers move inversely: the more job openings, the fewer Americans out of work. And this traditional relationship remains true if we look at short-term unemployment. But as William Dickens and Rand Ghayad of Northeastern University recently showed, the relationship has broken down for the long-term unemployed: a rising number of job openings doesn’t seem to do much to reduce their numbers. It’s as if employers don’t even bother looking at anyone who has been out of work for a long time.
To test this hypothesis, Mr. Ghayad then did an experiment, sending out resumes describing the qualifications and employment history of 4,800 fictitious workers. Who got called back? The answer was that workers who reported having been unemployed for six months or more got very few callbacks, even when all their other qualifications were better than those of workers who did attract employer interest.
So we are indeed creating a permanent class of jobless Americans.

Being an economist, Krugman mostly addresses this as an economic phenomenon (the long-term unemployed don’t have much purchasing power), but acknowledges this trend is also “ruining many lives.” It’s another reminder that a sort of “punish the victims” mentality has sunk deep roots in the national psychology in the wake of the Great Recession. It was bad enough when millions of people with underground mortgages were being widely blamed for lacking foresight about their own economic calamities and allegedly expecting “bail-outs” from the consequences of their irresponsible behavior. Now we are talking about millions more (some of them, of course, possibly the same people) who may well descend into the underclass for the rest of their lives because they haven’t held a job lately.

At some point, if this status produces anti-social behavior, I’m sure a lot of comfortably situated people will share some additional self-righeousness with these folk, and find it in their hearts to support even more public expenditures for incarcerating them than anyone proposed for helping them get back into the mainstream economy. But I guess this way of looking at it just confirms I’m one of those ninny-faced liberals who identifies with perpetrators rather than victims.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Peter C on April 22, 2013 3:18 PM:

    This high level of persistent unemployment is also really horrible for new graduates who will emerge from college with record high student debt and horrible job prospects.

  • c u n d gulag on April 22, 2013 3:22 PM:

    Yup, I'm one of those unemployed.

    And I see no hope.

    If I don't get SSDI soon, and after my mother passes away, then I might consider planning on getting caught pulling-off a crime serious enough to put me in jail for the rest of my life.
    No, I don't want to hurt anyone.

    "Three-hot's-and-a-cot" sure sounds better than begging for change at the busy intersection near the overpass, which will be my new "home" - or will be, as long as I can defend it.
    Because one thing will be 'fer sure' - there will be a lot of competition for a prime spot like an overpass near a busy intersection.

  • Josef K on April 22, 2013 3:29 PM:

    Speaking purely as a municipal Civil Servant with a working wife and three children, I live in constant fear of getting downsized. Constant, burning, mind-numbing fear. The sort that can easily be turned to out-of-control panic and rage should the worst ever occur.

    The fact there haven't been more bombings, shootings, and general mayhem is either a testament to our society's eternal optimism...or our society's complete dis-integration as a community.

  • John Robert BEHRMAN on April 22, 2013 3:34 PM:

    I am sure that the US economy has "recovered" in the narrow sense of enriching large contributors to both political parties, to indemnifying or even immunizing those "too big to jail", and to "holding harmless" any real or fictive "person" as may possess government charters, contracts, licenses, and other "property" that is a government concession in need of a reputable lobby.

    Indeed, our privileged elite of wealthy individuals and their various factors, tenders, consultants, and, of course, lawyers are given even more judicial protection and prosecutorial indulgence than even the Marathon bombers, not to mention having the "convenience and necessity of the government" being "set aside" in deference to their many charitable endeavors and support for aspiring politicians.

    I am so glad we have extended "diligence" and "due process" to every aspect of government and suspended the exercise of reason and judgment in favor of plutocracy, sycophancy, and humbug.

    Finally, as "cringing liberals" we are "thinking about the children", instead of acting as adults with a sense of justice as well as mercy.

  • iyoumeweus on April 22, 2013 4:14 PM:

    I have been reading “DESPERATE SONS” by Les Standiford. On pages 163-4, I found this nugget! “At the same time, responding to charges of critics that nonimportation agreement only perpetuated the sour economy, the town assembly set about a public works project that would provide employment for out-of-work tradesmen and ‘the poor’. Soon the committee announced what might be termed the first American public welfare project, the building of three new ships that would put the citizenry back to work.“ This occurred several weeks after the Boston Massacre, the committee included: Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Joseph Warren and other prominent Boston Sons of Liberty. It seems that our founding father understood the importance of using tax dollars to stimulate the economy, and did not believe in austerity programs. They understood taxation with representation as well as the importance of JOBS and the relationship between jobs employment and consumption prosperity. They have shown the way with taxation through representation.

  • schtick on April 22, 2013 4:50 PM:

    The teapubs and their followers are lucky they have the internet to hide behind because if they were so foolish as to utter any kind of 47% always living off the government or government moochers or welfare queens to the faces of the people they call that, they'd be a lot more murders in the streets. Especially since the rich were getting richer while everyone else was losing everything. And still are.

  • gdb on April 22, 2013 6:06 PM:

    And there is no Dem politician advocating real Progressive solutions...Most pundits and Dems automatically consider them "politically impossible"... And certainly will be impossible if not advocated.

    I'd bet a considerable amount that a mainstream Dem advocating a strong stimulus now (shovel ready projects, even CCC/WPA type jobs for 12-24 months) and universal health care would garner much more support than any pundit (and most Dems) would predict. Would Peter C, cund, and most others reject outright if a Brian Schweitzer or some other non-wild-eyed Dem advocating real Progressive solutions to problems of out time. Are you all really saying that only Repubs really give enough of a !@#$^&*( to speak in non milk-toast terms?
    If so, you deserve the milktoiast solutions you've been getting-- and stop bitchin'.

  • JoyfulA on April 22, 2013 6:23 PM:

    I'd prefer a wild-eyed Dem.

    Then again, my Republican mother wanted to know why the government didn't restart CCC and WPA in 2009: "Some people complained in the Depression that some workers were goofing off or weren't doing anything important. But at least, those workers had a reason to get up and going every day; they kept good habits for when there would be other jobs. And they could take what they earned and buy food and pay rent for their families, not have to beg or take handouts."

  • RepubAnon on April 22, 2013 10:54 PM:

    Of course, the problem with prisons is that they cost more per jailed person than the other alternatives - and we get nothing in return but hardened criminals

  • Dazed and confused on April 23, 2013 8:25 AM:

    Dear Ed,

    You are usually much more careful than this,

    "Being an economist, Krugman mostly addresses this as an economic phenomenon (the long-term unemployed don’t have much purchasing power), but acknowledges this trend is also “ruining many lives.”"

    As a regular reader of Krugman, you well know that he writes about the "economic phenomenon" because of his overriding concern of the human impact - much more than mere acknowledgment.

  • John Brown on April 23, 2013 1:29 PM:

    I've never heard of "underground mortgages" before. Underwater, yes.