In his February 20, 2010, article “Millions of Unemployed Face Years Without Jobs,” The New York Times’ Peter S. Goodman paints a dour portrait of what he calls “the new poor” — “people long accustomed to the comforts of middle-class life who are now relying on public assistance for the first time in their lives — potentially for years to come.”
With little good news for the millions of Americans who remain out of work, out of savings and at the end of their unemployment benefits, Goodman points to holes in America’s social safety net, built for short-term gaps between jobs, further strained in an unprecedented economic environment where work may be scarce for years, even as the American economy shows signs of a rebound.
“Every downturn pushes some people out of the middle class before the economy resumes expanding. Most recover. Many prosper. But some economists worry that this time could be different. An unusual constellation of forces — some embedded in the modern-day economy, others unique to this wrenching recession — might make it especially difficult for those out of work to find their way back to their middle-class lives.
Labor experts say the economy needs 100,000 new jobs a month just to absorb entrants to the labor force. With more than 15 million people officially jobless, even a vigorous recovery is likely to leave an enormous number out of work for years.
Some labor experts note that severe economic downturns are generally followed by powerful expansions, suggesting that aggressive hiring will soon resume. But doubts remain about whether such hiring can last long enough to absorb anywhere close to the millions of unemployed.”
Goodman cites a confluence of unfortunate financial factors—products of both our modern economy paired with the recent recession—as the reason it is now so challenging for the unemployed to “find their way back to their middle-class lives.”
First, there’s a scarcity of jobs. Fewer unions to protect full and temporary employees, the export of formerly American factory and white-collar jobs to overseas competitors, and an upsurge of innovation and automation, have all contributed to a smaller U.S. job pool for millions looking for work.
“Additionally, America has fewer protections for its beleaguered workforce. “Some poverty experts say the broader social safety net is not up to cushioning the impact of the worst downturn since the Great Depression,” writes Goodman. “Social services are less extensive than during the last period of double-digit unemployment, in the early 1980s.”
And then there are the millions of American households, that, due to the employment meltdown, have gone from two incomes, to none. Languishing in a “desert of joblessness,” many families, previously able to simply bounce back after a job loss, pay cut, or disability—are now finding themselves using food banks, charitable giving, and facing homelessness.
While recent reports of the nation’s financial future remain nothing short of bleak, the good news remains that through bankruptcy laws, Americans facing unemployment can take their future into their own hands, stop drowning in health care, consumer and mortgage debt, and begin on the road to a more viable financial future.
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