Given how high unemployment is, there are surprisingly few people who have experienced unemployment in the last couple of years. This is the flip side of the historically high average length of the unemployment: joblessness is concentrated among a subset of the population, rather than affecting a larger group of people for shorter periods of time.I'm left wondering if one of the reasons that Congress and the White House seem relatively disinterested in attacking unemployment is the result of their polling - that, as people are more concerned about what's happening to themselves and their families, the most likely donors and voters aren't significantly deterred by unemployment statistics from either voting or from supporting the party of their historic choice - and perhaps those groups have priorities that are at odds with lowering unemployment.
One set of numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics makes the case. In 1982, the unemployment rate averaged between 9 and 10 percent — and fully 22 percent of the labor force experienced unemployment at some point during the year. In 2009 (the most recent year of data), the unemployment rate also averaged between 9 and 10 percent, but only (or maybe “only”) 16.4 percent of the labor force experienced unemployment at some point during the year.
The Republican priority, as usual, is to lower taxes for the wealthy. High unemployment statistics seem like a win-win for them, as the public appears to believe that cutting government spending will decrease unemployment and they can happily demagogue the issue while serving the wealthy. The Democrats are almost as beholden to wealthy interests, aren't going to win over the Tea Partiers who get ginned up by Republican rhetoric and, sad to say, have a working class base that comes in no small part from areas of the country that have been experiencing 9+% unemployment rates for well over two years, and appear to be taking the path of least resistance.