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Why Congress Doesn't Care About the Unemployed

March 3, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The Nation’s Chris Hayes offers a good explanation for why most members of Congress don’t seem particularly concerned abut the high rates of unemployment we’ve been seeing and will probably continue to see for several years:

This disconnect between the jobs crisis in the country and the blithe dismissal thereof in Washington is the most incomprehensible aspect of the political moment. But I think there are two numbers that go a long way toward explaining it.

The first is 4.2. That’s the percentage of Americans with a four-year college degree who are unemployed. It’s less than half the official unemployment rate of 9 percent for the labor force as a whole and one-fourth the underemployment rate (which counts those who have given up looking for work or are working part time but want full-time work) of 16.1 percent. So while the overall economy continues to suffer through the worst labor market since the Great Depression, the elite centers of power have recovered. For those of us fortunate enough to have graduated from college—and to have escaped foreclosure or an underwater mortgage—normalcy has returned.

The other number is 5.7 percent. That’s the unemployment rate for the Washington/Arlington/Alexandria metro area and just so happens to be lowest among large metropolitan areas in the entire country. In 2010 the DC metro area added 57,000 jobs, more than any in the nation, and now boasts the hottest market for commercial office space. In other words: DC is booming. You can see it in the restaurants opening all over North West, the high prices that condos fetch in the real estate market and the general placid sense of bourgeois comfort that suffuses the affluent upper- and upper-middle-class pockets of the region.

What these two numbers add up to is a governing elite that is profoundly alienated from the lived experiences of the millions of Americans who are barely surviving the ravages of the Great Recession. As much as the pernicious influence of big money and the plutocrats’ pseudo-obsession with budget deficits, it is this social distance between decision-makers and citizens that explains the almost surreal detachment of the current Washington political conversation from the economic realities working-class, middle-class and poor people face.

Indeed, only 3 bills related to unemployment have been introduced so far this session, and none of them have advanced in the legislative process. Meanwhile, House Republicans held a meeting this morning to mark-up doomed legislation to restrict access to abortion services. And the Senate for their part has spent most of their time this session debating a bill to modernize the air traffic control system (S. 223).

It’s not that nobody in Congress cares. Some do. During the continuing resolution debate in the House Rep. Barbara Lee [D, CA-9] pushed for a vote on an amendment version of her H.R. 589, which would provide relief to the folks who have been hit hardest by the jobs crisis, but it was blocked by Republicans. Other non-germane amendments on things like defunding Planned Parenthood and undoing net neutrality rules were allowed a vote, however.

Since the unemployment rate began ticking up before the financial crisis hit, Congress as a whole hasn’t really engaged in any serious thinking about how to help the situation. They’ve been stuck in the same spot, having essentially the same debate over and over. For example, years later, not a single committee has even talked about taxing the financial companies that crashed the economy in order to provide relief and training for the people whose jobs they destroyed. In the insulated D.C. bubble, it’s the financial companies’ security that needs to be nurtured. They can’t see that they’re healthy and in fact bigger than they were when they were first declared “too big to fail.” In their day-to-day existence filled with finance-industry lobbyists and job-secure D.C.‘errs, it’s the corporations who are suffering, not the people.

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Displaying 1-30 of 57 total comments.

  • pjmerc 03/03/2011 11:43am
    Because all they care about is how much money they’ll get from their special interest groups. Everyone should read Matt Taibbi’s “The Great Derangement” to see how the government really works. Once reading that book, you’ll see why so many people aren’t just angry, they’re enraged, and Congress just doesn’t have a clue, nor do they want one. We don’t have a government by or for the people. We have a government that is closed to any idea of service to those who struggle just to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads. There are no consequences for illegal activities that these people take part in on a daily basis. And if you think that voting for the other party is the answer, don’t kid yourself. It’s just a different bunch of greedy hands held out. Maybe we need an “Egypt” here.
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    JamesBlack 02/12/2012 6:28am

    It is astonishing and weird that the congress has taken no interest in the unemployment within the country. If this keeps going on then it wont be too late before our country starts to crumble into its own demise.

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  • misscalicious 03/04/2011 1:38am

    THE MAJORITY OF PEOPLE ON UNEMPLOYMENT WERE LAID OFF JOBS THEY WERE WORKING ON!!! No one opted to exchange a paycheck for an EDD check!! This is not a lavish life style that anyone would choose. It is easy to say GET A JOB, which most likely will pay you wages that barely sustain a life style below the POVERTY LINE. In the meantime, you stuggle to hold on to EVERYTHING YOU WORKED FOR . . . and you cannot afford to pay for medical benefits. SINCE employers view anyone laid off for 99 weeks as slackers, and employers have no desire to hire baby boomers, your chances are very slim of finding work.

  • misscalicious 03/04/2011 1:51am


  • craines 03/04/2011 3:23am

    When you add this to how the states are trying to balance there budgets … it almost looks like this is an blunting attack on working people. Just look at the facts …. the new congress has done nothing …

    Now the Union’s are the “Have’s” in this country, were going right down the toilet, fast. The only reason the unemployment number went down is because of the 99er’s are falling off every week. There is still no work . . . Now they’re attacking the prevailing wage the “Davis Bacon Act”.

    Donny please check into this … if they can over turn this, it will be
    devastating. This is the next big story in all this.


  • DeborahJBrown 03/04/2011 3:36am

    Congress is all about ILLUSIONS… they know millions remain unemployed but DO NOT CARE. They intentionally provide information to the media that NEW unemployment claims have slowed and rationalize it as a sign of improvement. It’s not a sign of anything except that most of the employees were let go a long time ago and many businesses are operating with a skeleton crew so there are fewer people left to lay off and still stay in business. The truth would be to report how many jobs have been restored or created… but then TRUTH is a foreign word to Congress.

  • poolplayer 03/05/2011 5:03pm

    Trying to deter us from this with deficit and union matters. What they are not saying with this is,soon there are going to be a bunch of layoffs for government employees. We will get to hear from them soon! I think it’s time to lay off some politicians so they can really feel what it’s like. I bet they would have a change of heart then!

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  • blackychikiz15 03/07/2011 6:46am

    this is bulll crapp the goverment dont care about the unemployed.. screww themn

  • blackychikiz15 03/07/2011 6:51am

    republicans gotta support h.r 589 if they dont please god for give them. but karma is a b1tch

  • sontagkc1 03/07/2011 6:39pm

    WE need Jobs and HEALTHCARE for the unemployed… want to know what is really going on in the job market… Wages are dropping… the manufacturing base is gone.. Healthcare is nearly impossible to get and who can afford it on unemployment anyway? Employers instead of making you wait 1 month to 90 days for insurance benefits are making new employees wait up to a year for benefits.
    Many Small employers are not carrying benefits at all and now say so in the job ads. When they do offer it sometimes it is Employee only basic policy and don’t offer family policy options any more.
    If you are one of the zillions of Middle aged laid off workers (the primary laid off base is between 40-65) you need those benefits the most and that is exactly why you aren’t getting hired.

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