BREAKING! This just in: the economy is terrible and the country is suffering its worst jobs crisis since the Depression... developing...
Of course, this isn't actually breaking news -- it's aching news -- and, before the tragic bombings in Boston, the most important story going on. But you wouldn't know that if you watched any of the Sunday shows last week.
On CBS' Face the Nation, the topics were the background check bill and immigration, with Senator Marco Rubio.
On ABC's This Week we had the president's budget, Jay-Z's trip to Cuba, Ken Burns' Jackie Robinson documentary and immigration, with Senator Marco Rubio.
On NBC's Meet the Press, they went with the background check bill, the president's budget, Ken Burns' Jackie Robinson documentary, and immigration, with Senator Marco Rubio.
CNN's State of the Union went with a wild card -- North Korea -- and then the president's budget and immigration, with... (how'd you guess?) Senator Marco Rubio.
Virtually unmentioned was the economy and the long-term jobs disaster that's been enveloping the country for five years now. The only mentions jobs got were in the context of the debate over whether immigrants might take away the jobs of hard-working Americans. The plight of many millions of Americans who are actually out of work is apparently not very newsworthy. Or at least not as newsworthy as an American rapper traveling in Cuba. Or a Cuban-American traveling in Washington to all four Sunday news shows.
Yes, I know I've banged this drum before, but it is hard to believe that what the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calls the "longest, and by most measures worst economic recession since the Great Depression" doesn't warrant a mention on shows ostensibly devoted to the biggest news stories. Talk about missing the forest for the trees. Only in this case, the forest has largely been clear-cut.
But just because something is old news doesn't mean it's not still important news. Perhaps we need to come up with an alternate term to the breathless "BREAKING" tag. How about "BROKEN"? Yes, the story has already been broken, but the real story is that it's still going. And going and going. And the top "BROKEN" news story is clearly our still-broken economy. Here's some supporting evidence:
Only 88,000 new jobs were produced last month, and the only reason the unemployment rate ticked down to a still-alarming 7.6 percent is because so many people left the work force altogether, which sent the labor force participation rate down to 63.3 percent, the lowest point since 1979. If we were to include in the calculations those who have given up looking for work, the unemployment rate would actually be 9.8 percent.
As of February, there were 12 million workers officially unemployed, but only 3.9 million job openings, which means a little over three unemployed job seekers for every open job. And of the nearly nine million jobs lost during the recession, only about six million have been recovered, leaving us with nearly three million fewer jobs than we had at the beginning of the economic downturn. At the current rate of growth, we're not due to get back to full employment until around 2020.
And even for those who have found jobs, it's still a "BROKEN" story. As Jed Graham of Investor's Business Daily writes, "As bad as the current job recovery has been -- and it's by far the weakest since World War II -- the recovery in wages has been far worse."
Graham notes that in the last recession, in 2001, the wage recession lasted only two and half years, much less than the four-year jobs recession that accompanied it. In that recession, at the point where we are now, relative to the start of our current recession, wages were up 8 percent over their previous high. But not this time. Graham cites a study last year that found that low-wage jobs made up 21 percent of this recession's losses but a whopping 58 percent of the recovered jobs. Which is one reason why real annual median household income continues to fall, most recently to just over $45,000 -- down from around $51,144 in 2010.
As Brad Plumer put it, "America's middle-class jobs have been decimated since 2007, replaced largely by low-wage jobs." And this is a "BROKEN" news story that keeps on breaking. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, when middle class workers lose their jobs and find new ones at lower wages, over the next 25 years they'll earn an average of 11 percent less than workers who kept their jobs. And since our so-called recovery started, almost 40 percent of new jobs have come in low-wage areas like food service, retail and clerical jobs.
For the long-term unemployed, the situation is verging on hopeless. According to The Atlantic's Matthew O'Brien, the long-term unemployment picture is "the scariest thing in the world." It's an alternate economy, he writes, that's "horribly dysfunctional" -- and comes with consequences for the entire country. "The worst possible outcome for all of us is if the long-term unemployed become unemployable," he writes. "That would permanently reduce our productive capacity."
In fact, given our lack of recovery so many years after the start of the recession, that permanent reduction might already be happening. In the last quarter of last year, our actual GDP was around $975 billion less than the potential GDP our economy has the capacity for. Nearly a trillion dollar gap.
In that context it's not that surprising that there are currently 46 million Americans living in poverty, over 16 million of them children. "Yet," as HuffPost's Jennifer Bendery writes, "the issue has all but disappeared from the legislative agenda in Congress as lawmakers focus squarely on deficit reduction. Obama, too, has been largely silent on the issue, and has even proposed cutting Social Security -- a key tool for combating poverty." To Rep. Marcia Fudge, an Ohio Democrat who is also chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, it's "unfathomable" that the issue isn't "at the top of everybody's priority list." Though it's a bit more fathomable when it's not at the top, or even the bottom, of any of our Sunday news shows.
Of course we could make taking on poverty and the jobs crisis a national priority; but instead, the parameters of the ongoing economic debate -- which the media play an important role in setting -- are largely confined to how big of an austerity hit we're going to impose on ourselves. According to the CBO, the sequester and payroll tax hikes could cut growth by 1.5 percent over the course of this year. "Unless the government takes steps to boost growth, we will be seeing millions of people needlessly denied employment for over a decade," writes Dean Baker. "That should be the central focus of everyone in Washington."
Including the media.
But it's hard to imagine our jobs disaster will get the attention -- and the solutions -- it deserves if our media doesn't think it's a story worth telling. I know it's not "BREAKING NEWS!" but it's "BROKEN NEWS" to the tens of millions whose lives are still being turned upside down by it.