Sunday, February 07, 2010

It's More Complicated Than That

Atrios writes,
This chart provides the explanation for why the unemployment crisis does not get the policy response it requires.
The chart breaks down unemployment by educational achievement, showing that job losses and recovery from those losses soften for each level of education achieved, and that the recession has been difficult to those with no college education, not much better for those with some college education but no degree, and brutal to those without a high school diploma.

On one hand you could argue that if the picture were reversed - if college grads and postgrads were experiencing 12 - 14% unemployment while high school dropouts were experiencing 6% unemployment - that we would have a financial industry scale bail-out of the entire economy to try to "fix" things. But you know what? If such an employment picture emerged, it would indicate that our economic system was in a state of collapse. In our society it's far from a surprise that higher educational achievement correlates with greater employment opportunity, even (perhaps especially) during financial downturns.

But there's another side to things. A big part of the reason that the lower end of the job market is suffering is that our society is no longer particularly good at creating low-end jobs. Sure, during the housing boom there were jobs - but they're not coming back any time soon. Atrios has complained about various government policies being intended to "reinflate" the housing bubble; I suspect he was right. But beyond investment in major infrastructure projects, there's little that can be done to create construction jobs. Political and practical constraints make it pretty much impossible to create a massive, federally financed public works program that could directly employ people until the economy "recovers" to the point that they can reasonably find private employment.

It's easy to say that the government could do more, or that it would do more if our society were turned upside-down. But please fill me in, having ruled out a reinflated housing bubble, what concrete proposal could realistically end the employment crisis the lowest-skilled workers?

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