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Taken For Granted: Declaring war on joblessness

July 22, 2011|By Pat Grant

No longer restricted to the homeless, dumpster diving is becoming a national sport. It’s now a middle-class athletic event.

Last week, while sitting in my car, I noticed a nicely coiffed young woman, neatly attired in jeans, approach a dumpster, remove the lid and hop in. Twenty minutes later, having rummaged through the refuse, she emerged, flashed a smile and said, “How’s this for a life. I’m now reduced to diving into dumpsters and garbage cans.”

There was no apparent embarrassment on her part; she seemed reconciled to what she had to do to make ends meet. Observing all this from the comfort of my Lexus while my wife was shopping and doing her utmost to increase a department store’s quarterly stockholder’s dividend, I was the one somewhat embarrassed, feeling like a voyeur. So I refrained from asking her several questions that came to mind.

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What the politicians and economists so casually refer to as the “economic downturn” is, to this young woman and millions of other Americans, a desperate struggle for survival.

It is estimated that 14 million people currently are unemployed and 3 million are underemployed or no longer looking for work. The Great Depression of the 1930s put 15 million to 20 million Americans out of work and while the relative percentage of the current work force that is unemployed (9.2%) is considerably less than in the 1930s (25%), the absolute number of individuals suffering is frighteningly close to the depression level of mass misery.

And what are our elected representatives in Washington debating? It sure isn’t a comprehensive job-creation plan. Instead, they are focused on debt reduction. Don’t get me wrong, the size of the debt and the future cost of servicing it is a big problem.

But it is a long-term problem that needs to be addressed over time, with substantial cost cuts and revenue enhancement. These decisions should be based on a careful assessment of the complex alternatives and potential consequences of tax code reform, the feasibility of defense spending reductions and how to fund and restructure entitlement programs.

I believe unemployment to be the critical national concern. It has lingered too long without additional governmental action. Common sense tells us that it will only get worse if immediate and severe cuts in government spending occur.

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