Unemployment, Anyone?

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

I understand that the Super Bowl is today. Although it hasn’t quite been the same, it will be nice to see 25,000 folks (and 30,000 cutouts) in the stands for a sporting event that brings the nation together in a day-long party.

I also understand that the virus has sadly taken the lives of almost 500,000 Americans. Like millions of others, I am encouraged and excited that the vaccine – initially through the efforts of Operation Warp Speed – has been given to over 40 million Americans so far.

I saw the TIME article. As Jeff Charles mentioned this week, this is both a doozy of information — and not really a surprise.

I also know that Democrats still seem to have a hyper-focus on impeaching a person that is no longer in office. I see that CNN is also particularly interested in a group of Americans whose most-prominent leaders are facing legal trouble. Stories about organic food in prison and stripped committee assignments dominate the news cycles and attention spans of networks and legislators alike.

And African-Americans during Black History Month? We are not so much worried about getting diet-specific cuisine while incarcerated. We are much more likely focusing on how to prevent being inexplicably hung in jail cells after minor traffic violations (like Sandra Bland was), being shot while handcuffed (like Ariane McCree was), or being shot while intervening on behalf of an autistic man experiencing a mental health crisis (like licensed therapist Charles Kinsey was).

I know that everyone may have many other items to pay attention to, but may I ask President Biden, members of Congress, governors, and statewide lawmakers, and the mainstream media at large:

Excuse me, but is anyone really paying attention to the horrible employment numbers that came out this past Friday?

Only 49,000 jobs added for the nation in January. The numbers from December and November 2020 were both revised downward.

More people leaving the workforce – roughly 406,000, to be more detailed.

Roughly 76% of those in their “prime earning years” are in the workforce. That number was 4% higher just 16 months ago.

Couple these grim facts with the reality that millions of young people – including the most vulnerable socioeconomically in our nation prior to 2020 – are becoming increasingly detached from academia and the workforce. Without a refocus, we risk losing an American generation – or two – because of the pandemic and the aftermath of our ongoing reactions during it.

It is quite easy – and politically lazy – for those in power to double down on the same rhetoric of divisiveness, mistrust, and hyperbole that helped win elections both in 2018 and 2020. However, just as it was during the malaise of 2009 after the euphoria of Barack Obama’s meteoric rise to the presidency one year earlier, President Biden and those loyal to him through politics and policies must not fall into the lethargy of misguided legislation driven by partisan intoxication. It was important during the Great Recession. It is even more important during the COVID Crisis. Yet, it seems as though Democrats are determined to use the same playbook that likely lengthened the turmoil ten years ago.

Economic advisers, including former Obama alum Larry Summers, are warning the Biden Administration of the dangers of overplaying their economic hand with a stimulus deal that could spark inflation woes “…of a kind we have not seen in a generation…” that may “…have consequences for the dollar and financial stability….” because “…stimulus measures of the magnitude contemplated are steps into the unknown.” A quick glance into the recent past would also highlight to the Biden Administration and Democrats that overplaying the political hand could have historic consequences within a matter of months. Newly minted President Obama’s comment of “…elections have consequences…(and) I won…” to Congressional Republicans in 2009 was soon met with blowback that marred his post-partisan image permanently and wrecked his ability to govern without major pushback after 2010.

Whereas President Biden has not made a similar verbal gaffe, having Congresspeople such as AOC articulate a continued bitterness towards Republicans risks a similar result for Democrats. However, Biden’s overreach through presidential politics already has emerged through another “…not shovel ready (not) as shovel ready as we expected…” moment akin to Obama’s admission (as said here). Once the Keystone XL Pipeline and its 11,000 jobs were effectively snuffed through Biden’s efforts, it became clear: politics will be a guiding principle at a time when political leadership must eschew special interest whims.

Once again – just as it was during the Great Recession – the focus of the media and political class remains on themselves and their collective image, not on the kitchen table items that Americans are going through, regardless of geographics or demographics. Millions of students from Philadelphia to Chicago and further west are still without any form of in-person instruction, even as their collective mental health wanes as a result along with vital reading skills for the most vulnerable. The only job sector experiencing growth recently – not surprisingly – is the one involving government positions (and notably those with public sector unions driving policy). The focus of proposed legislation rests principally with keeping people afloat, not getting them back into the workforce through employment-empowering policies – much like it was from 2009-2014.

Each new president spends too much time allowing his party to focus on political opponents, partisan bitterness, and presidential predecessors, often leading to dire consequences because of the distractions. Bush likely overlooked the threat of al-Qaeda during the initial healing of the nation after the contentious 2000 election. Obama spent years blaming Bush for economic woes while allowing the AIG bonus fiasco and even signing the very Bush-era tax cuts into law that he railed against for years. Trump often was so angry about Obama and Clinton (i.e., an opponent he defeated with 306 electoral votes) that his momentum on Capitol Hill was dampened and legislative wins such as criminal justice reform and opportunity zones were overshadowed needlessly.

As a former vice president and multi-term US Senator, Joe Biden should not be falling into the same trap and he should be able to steer his political party as a long-tenured Democrat away from this pitfall. The relative silence around our economic condition permeates during the howling of impeachment, social media wars, and brokenness in government is frightening.

Just remember: just like the proverbial tree in the forest falling when no one is around, the crashing of economic dreams for a generation still will make one horrific thud that we will feel at some point without sound intervention – even when too many leaders simply won’t see the forest for the trees.