Folbre blogs, “Unemployment? Who Cares?”

Nancy Folbre

In her Economix blog, Nancy Folbre, UMass Amherst economics professor, examines why deficit reduction and not unemployment is dominating the public policy agenda. She offers several possible explanations including the fact that high unemployment rate is not adversely affecting overall business profits.   (New York Times, 7/11/11)

July 11, 2011
Unemployment? Who Cares?
By NANCY FOLBRE

The A.F.L.-C.I.O. and other unions keep demanding “Good jobs now!” Progressive think tanks like the Economic Policy Institute carefully monitor employment trends. Many economists, including the professionally prominent members of the Employment Policy Research Network, insist on the need for more attention to the issue. As Till von Wachter of Columbia University put it, “Unemployment is the No. 1 economic problem facing the country today.”

Some business leaders have spoken up. Last summer, Andrew Grove, the former chief executive of Intel, wrote a passionate commentaryfor Bloomberg BusinessWeek calling for a “job-centric” economy.

But this is not something the country can achieve with jobs-oblivious politicians. Why isn’t unemployment reduction front and center on the policy agenda? More specifically, why has the debate over deficit reduction shoved it aside?

First, unemployment is concentrated among the less educated, blacks and Hispanics who lack political or economic clout.

Second, high unemployment is not hurting overall business profits, which have soared to historic heights. In the 1930s, joblessness reduced the demand for consumer goods, idling many businesses as well as workers, creating economic incentives to support public job-creation efforts.

Today, our largest corporations and richest investors are well positioned to take advantage of growing demand in emerging markets far from our shores, whether in the form of increased exports or new investment opportunities.

As a small-business owner explained in a recent Wall Street Journal article, he only sells domestically and does not have the opportunity to “exploit foreign markets that are growing faster.”

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