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The battle over unemployment

As we simmer along with an unemployment rate of 9.5 percent — a number that would be higher if so many people hadn’t simply given up looking for work — the proposed solutions seem contradictory: Spend more to stimulate the economy; cut spending to reduce the deficit. Smart people on either side of that argument will tell you why they’re right. But left in the middle are hundreds of Americans whose unemployment benefits have run out, with no relief in sight from a Congress that refused to extend these benefits before going on recess.

Reuters Global Editor-at-Large Chrystia Freeland sat down with Jon Meacham to weigh the policies and politics.

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    Main Street: Findlay, Ohio
    Need to Know travels to Ohio to assess how workers are faring after the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs over the past 35 years.
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    Following the money: Tax breaks
    New CBO report echoes the findings of Need to Know's "A tale or four tax returns."
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      Certifiably employable
    Rick Karr recently visited Seattle to look at a program designed to give the unemployed the skills they need to find jobs in one of the country’s fastest-growing industries.


  • Pat in California

    Sorry for struggles that the unemployed Americans who rely on benefits are going through, the reader continued to write, “…but it gets awful irritating for those working and watching others sit back and a get a check for doing nothing!”

    ***I spent 40 hours a week jobhunting, going on interview, networking and job fairs. It is more work and less rewarding than a JOB and pays me less than 50% of a JOB.

    A reader from Tennessee who also was opposed to an unemployment extension, wrote, “The [government] is making people lazy. In most cases, you cannot live on unemployment so these people are doing something to make money. They are just being paid under the table so as not to affect their benefits.

    ***I claim every penny I make part-time but if someone just cannot make it and is doing this, what
    is their option? Be homeless and let their kids starve???

    A reader from California who has a job, wrote, “I feel for the unemployed, but 99 weeks is long enough for someone to find a new job if they are willing to take any available position while they look for something better.”

    ***Employers will not hire you if you are over-qualified because they KNOW you will leave and you are still looking. AND you cannot go on interviews if you are in a sub-standard job for yourself. Let the less qualified take these jobs. They need jobs too!

    It used to be it would take me 2 weeks to find a new job. It’s been 9 months! And I am now living with relatives who want their spare room back. They say, “Well, it’s been 9 months…” I have no money and no unemployment so where am I supposed to go???

    I will be so happy to be off the Unemployment “Benefits” merry-go-round!!!

  • Econobrowser

    Compare this witless interview to the following interviews on Bill Moyer’s Now: Simon Johnson, Jamie Galbraith, Robert Reich, ….
    How mediocre can you get?

  • chuckvw

    Why Chrystia Freeland? All the polling I’m seeing suggests that most Americans are concerned about unemployment. Freeland asserts exactly the opposite without a shred of evidence and goes completely unchallenged. She is a spokesperson for the neoliberal consensus. Always has been, which is why she makes so many appearances in the MSM. Her bread is very well buttered on that side.

    So we can expect the same level of independence from your show as we get from Wolf Blitzer, Cokie Roberts and the rest of the villagers.

    What a disappointment. God, I miss Bill Moyers.

  • Wayne

    Yes no doubt the middle class is in deep dodo and the majority do not seem to realize it.

  • Alan Moylan

    Thank you Chrystia Freedland. At last, someone has connected the dots about one of the major problems in our economy. Occasionally, we will hear someone say that a “structural” change seems to have taken place in our economy, but what that change may be is never explained. You have finally had the courage to say it out loud. Our high unemployment figures may not be temporary, because they reflect a long-term trend, which is an absolute reduction in the number of stable, well-paid, middle-class jobs. Where did the jobs go? They were automated out of existence. Automation itself is neutral, neither bad nor good. The difference depends on how it is used and on who realizes the benefits. We have had several decades of rising corporate profits, rising executive salaries, and an increase in the percentage of the economy involved in pure “finance”, that is, in financial transactions that, rather than funding the real economy, amount to little more than the placement of huge wagers at the push of a button on a computer keyboard. The promise of automation and computerization, to free the work force from boring, repetitive, and dangerous work is real. But its implementation in this country hasn’t yielded a shorter standard work week , more vacation time and other benefits, without sacrificing pay and jobs. Instead, we have been obsessed with the “synergies” that come with mergers and the so-called “productivity” that results from layoffs. What is to be done? There is very little that can be done if the current atmosphere of Tea-Party and government-hating mindsets persists, and if our elected representatives continue to spend less time seeking solutions to our problems than they do seeking money for their own re-election.

  • cynthia henry

    i have applied for every job that comes along. even the jobs that pay less then my unemployment. but, at 50 years old, the jobs are going to the younger people or to the people that already have jobs. i’ve been told that employers don’t want to hire the people on unemployment because they are in debt and will probably steal. what a crock of crap. i can’t even get a job at a fast food place because i’m 50. i have a perfect attendance record for the last 3 years and a great resume but none of that counts. i also have to ride a public bus to get to interviews but now that i have no income coming in, i can no longer afford the 130 dollars for a month bus pass which means that i can no longer get to job interviews. believe, i want to work. i don’t like living on handouts. i have worked for the last 25 years and supported this country. now that i need help, my party, the republicans are saying to me, drop dead and shove it up your ass and blaming us for the national debt. i will no longer vote in the country. it’s all bs

  • Wayne

    Yes, no doubt the middle class is close to death.

  • J Mygatt

    I was left speechless listening to Chrystia Freeland’s comments on the high unemployment of the middle class and her suggestion that the need for the middle class and the jobs that they fill may be disappearing. She stated a statistic that 75% of the gross increase in income that has occurred during the past ten years went to the top 1% of the workforce. I have no quarrel with the statistic but I certainly strenuously disagree with her conclusion. To suggest that the rate and amount of increase in the income of the very rich has exceeded that of the modestly comfortable because there is less and less need (and therefore fewer and fewer jobs) for the “average” middle class, middle income employee is short sighted if not outright blind.
    A more likely cause is that money breeds power, and power corruption, and many of those who have the money wield the power in ways that increase their power and income at the expense of others. Money influences if not outright purchases power in the US Congress by influencing legislatures to pass or change legislation in a way that benefits the industry or the company of their contributors. Money influences the decisions of state and federal agencies who are charged with enforcing regulations that may negatively impact certain industries, as publically disclosed in the recent investigation of the Federal Agency responsible for overseeing the safety of BP offshore drilling procedures. Money (which is power) prevents unions from forming (think the coal industry among others) and thereby undermines the demands of the blue collar and middle class employee,
    The end result is that the system is stacked against the middle class and for the wealthy.
    Income statistics over the past ten or so years clearly show that while our economy grew and the income of the those at the top exploded, middle class buying power actually declined, i.e., while their salary may have grown slightly, the amount of goods and services it bought actually was less than what their income ten years ago bought.
    Certainly there are many jobs that have been automated or out-sourced overseas. But you can’t outsource hospitals, doctors, surgeons, nurses, care for the elderly; you can’t out source lawyers, judges, and the judicial system, you can’t outsource transportation systems, highways, airports, trains and buses, nor sports, nor entertainment and recreation nor urban services such as gas stations, grocery stores, laundrys, flower shops. Most importantly, you can’t out source the creativity, resourcefulness, and originality of the energetic American with an idea for making something better than it has been.
    It is, has been, and will continue to be America’s strength that it provides the environment and the opportunity for the young, the creative, the energetic, the original to create new gadgets, new companies, new concepts, new software, new applications, new ways of doing things and there will always be the need for middle class, hardworking, educated, principled workers to make those ideas, those companies, that software work. CEO’s don’t get where they are because they do it all themselves, they get there because they have a bunch of people working for them. There will always be the financial “geniuses” that manipulate the market, con the public, or create some kind of obscure financial diddling that makes them billionares while leaving the public to pick up the piecdes when the scheme falls apart. We experienced that at the end of the Bush administration and now all of us are paying the price. That is hardly a recipe for continuing growth and success.
    Middle class jobs are hard to find because the industry’s that hire the middle class are hurting and are reluctant to hire until they are certain that there is a demand for their products…and the demand for their products is down because the workers are unemployed and are short of money.lA viscious circle which the Federal government is trying to overcome by infusing money into the systgem…but that’s another story.

  • Jerome Potts

    It says here : “Please note that the WNET editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.” …and you didn’t edit out this “And that is controlled by Jews” ? (by NLF). Oh wait it was posted today (Saturday), so y’all are pbbly off during the week-end, and will take care of it upon your return on Monday. But then, why haven’t several of my other comments appeared yet ? My short ones show up immediately, whereas the longer ones do not : i figured that your computer is programmed to put the longer comments aside, to be evaluated by a person for acceptance. NLF’s posting is longish, split in several paragraphs, and J Mygatt’s is even longer, and both are showing already. What’s the secret ?

  • Lauren Feeney

    Hi Jerome,

    The offending comment has been removed. Thanks for pointing it out, and sorry for the delay. -eds

  • Susan Wilke

    If we lose our middle class we lose our democracy. It is the global class elite that allowed for the exportation of good paying manufacturing jobs to Mexico and China. We have lost a third of these jobs. Not every body can be a white collar proffesional; manufacturing jobs keep people employed,keep us out of a trade deficent and increase the internal wealth of the country. You can not do this with a proffesional class or by low paying retail jobs at Walmart.

    Ms. Freeman says that working stiffs like us want less government, she is mistaken. The Tea Party movement she thinks we gravitate toward is sponsored by large corporations to distract us from the fact that corporations want deregulation to advance their agendas and take more control over our government. These include getting rid of laws to protect workers rights to form unions, for worker pay and workplace safety. We have had to live with deregulation and the loss of worker rights since the 1980′s when Reagan took office and the roll back of the proggessive income tax on the wealthy. Restore the progressive income tax on the rich that included taxing between 75 to 90 percent of their yearly comes. People like Bill and Milinda Gates who don’t pay taxes could still live high on the hog if they paid that amount to the government if this were brought to make this a more egalitarion society.

    Ms. Freeman interview did not direct these issues, we need Now back on the air not wshy washy neo-liberalism.

  • Feather

    “Certainly there are many jobs that have been automated or out-sourced overseas. But you can’t outsource hospitals, doctors, surgeons, nurses, care for the elderly; you can’t out source lawyers, judges, and the judicial system, you can’t outsource transportation systems, highways, airports, trains and buses, nor sports, nor entertainment and recreation nor urban services such as gas stations, grocery stores, laundrys, flower shops. Most importantly, you can’t out source the creativity, resourcefulness, and originality of the energetic American with an idea for making something better than it has been…”
    From what I know in my life experience and even from economics studies, many of the assumptions in this statement that there are plenty of available living wage jobs out there just waiting to be “had” does not make sense. Whether a Republican or a Democrat, or a Neo liberal or a purple pumpkin, America is no longer a manufacturing giant and for years that fired our economic growth. Let’s see.. Steel industry, gone, Rubbermaid..Mexico, Levi’s are made in Mexico, the textile industry of the south- mostly gone. Glass industry, also mostly history. Automotive, whether you think they deserved to all be laid off or not, thousands and thousands were. (please don’t rant in blogs about the deserved-not deserved argument, it is tedious to read – it is done). Decent paying computer jobs – outsourced in the thousands-even India is outsourcing those to cheaper labor countries now, your families x-rays are being read at night online from other countries. Can a bus driver, (do we even have a large enough mass transit system in the U.S to drag them in this?), a grocery store worker, a laundromat, or working at a gas station counter really stimulate the economy much? I’ll go ask the cashier at our local flower shop when she bought her last new car. Care for the elderly? Most people that work to take care of those relatives we stash away make low wages. The government says we need to produce more engineers, but I know plenty of unemployed engineers who are both new graduates and experienced workers. Incredibly low pay for pilots has come to light recently due to safety concerns resulting from airline crashes. Doctors, nurses and hospitals, oh what a can of worms there. 37,000 lay offs in the pharmaceutical industry. Everyone isn’t cut out to be a doctor or a nurse, but we have many getting into those areas now because they are some of the few lucrative jobs out there. Many of those manufacturing jobs employed workers who spent money, not only in stores but at the eye doctor and dentist, and they didn’t put off that gall bladder surgery. They went to movies, ate at restaurants, bought weekend toys. Paid to have their lawn cut, and someone to clean their house. Cutting spending, or stimulating spending are both going to end up with people pointing at each other for blame, but in reality the US has changed. No president or congressman of either party can wave a magic wand and manifest jobs out of nowhere. Big companies want to make things overseas with cheap labor, lack of labor laws, and no pesty environmental laws to hinder them. As stated above we have robots now, and computers that enable one person to do the work of many years ago. Many point to various political parties for our problems. My personal opinion is most of it was a result of the unending quest for a lower price. Business stock holders want huge profits. When people keep getting their wages lowered, or outsourced for cheap labor who is left to buy “stuff”? We all need to work together to get out of this and not divide further into media driven finger pointing,
    I listened to Ms. Freeman and thought, exactly! Someone said it out loud. Less jobs. Now the part I do agree with.. Americans have the creativity and determination to do something about it, but they have to quit spend so much time fighting and figure out how to work together to clean up the mess.

  • Payam Minoofar

    I was shocked by the fact that Jon Meacham omitted the costs of the two active military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan from this discussion. This interview centered about whether the government should spend more money to stimulate the economy and to help the unemployed, or if it should focus on deficit reduction. If we have to talk about deficit reduction, it is mandatory that we ask whether the $1 trillion spent so far in Iraq and Afghanistan will ever produce enough economic activity in the US to merit the outlay of another $1 trillion over the next decade. $2 trillion will be spent on military campaigns with no defined end and no stated purpose. Yet, we are worried about a pittance of some billions of dollars to keep workers primed and ready to go to work again.

    This is a shameful omission on the part of Need to Know. This omission also demonstrates that the program lacks the courage to ask tough questions, and that it tackles big bullies (like BP) whose mocking in simply in vogue, merited or not.

    Obviously, the “ideas” people at the Aspen “ideas” summit also lack the courage to acknowledge the $2 trillion elephant in the room. What a farce.

  • Betty Ann Lee

    Globalization for some industries is needed in the economy, even beneficial. But globalization in medicine has shortchanged care, making people expendable at the end of life, when care is needed most or as Dr. K suggested “we need to rethink our medical directives and ethics”.
    Stating that “machines read test in radiology” shows your lack of education in this field. Radiologists use machines to process films and store data but reading is still very much subjective, requiring a minimum of 2 trained professionals to read and agree on the data in the films before the test results can be released to medical care staff. To reduce people significance in the work they do by people making judgments in areas where they obviously have no experience much less training is the problem in the USA today. In the medical field many of the middle class jobs that once were held by American University trained people are being staffed by foreign trained employees who in some cases only get on the job training while on the floor working and caring for a regular workload of patients, because they will work cheaper. My father always said, “CHEAPER IS NOT ALWAYS BETTER”. People should get paid for the effort and experience and talent they possess. Any corporation can survive the boss going on vacation for an extended period of time, but take an experienced person out of the work force who is in an institution who is staffed at minimal levels and within a week care decreases to dangerous levels. Trained workers in any field should be getting a share of the profits for what they contribute. If that takes being paid per piece as at Lincoln Electric, then so be it. But corporations who feel stock holders and owners or CEOs are the only driving force in business are going to find their business collapse. Look at BP, workers
    have complained for years to deaf ears. If people who work in factories, oil refineries or hospitals are listened to, the institution grows and care is given that “accidents” don’t occur.
    I have lost two dear people this year to missteps (accidents) in their care due to inexperience or lack of dedicated staff. Hopefully, Ms. Freeland will never suffer this fate, but if this country continues squeezing out the middle class to make more profits for the “top 1%” it is likely that she, being a member of that middle class will suffer this fate. The fate I speak of is being discarded when she can no longer produce.
    MY SUGGESTION: ALL IN BUSINESS AND GOVERNMENT GET A PERCENTAGE OF THE PROFITS. According to their contribution to the production of the industry, the profits would be divided. Each component taking a cut in salary when the product they produced does not live up to
    producing a profit. I wonder if this rule applied how many in government would be pulling any salary now based on the bills they passed on their watch in congress or how many news reporters would be around when it was proven that they did not check their news stories before reporting them as fact. Also, salaries of elected officials should be tied to the actual taxes collected in their state or the salary of the mean middle class income, giving incentive for these politicians to truly represent the people in their state.
    Contempt for the middle class is easy, but remember we are the people who buy newspapers to read on the train to work, buy cable TV and computers for our homes and cars to get around the neighborhood to shop. When we are out of work, we can’t buy and I have given up the printed works two years ago, cable and computers will be next. If I can not find work in my field in the USA in the next year, I plan to look for work in other countries who are in need of dedicated medical employees. I worked 30 years in Blood Banks and am now retraining in Nursing. I have watched many trained in other countries come to to USA for better pay and benefits. I never thought I would have to leave the USA to get a job.

  • shoopnyc

    I thought her analysis was good, and truthful. She was just laying out the facts of recent years. She was not there to offer solutions.

    She did miss the mark when, in talking about the deficit fear, not admitting that the media have been the nasty pushers of that meme, hence the new fear of the “D”.

    And the biased questioning in the NBC\WSJ Poll hasn’t helped. Jesus did say that it would go down like this though.

  • Shahid Raki

    I saw Ms Freeland on “Need to Know” and would like say that she and so many others speak of the “middle class” and never address the fact that many who were in the middle class are now in the lower class because they have lost their jobs and have been without a job for more than one year. How would you classify someone who who had a good job, has not worked regularly for more than one year except for temporary jobs, and whose last regular job was a part time position and was paid under $13.00 per hour? I would classify that individual as lower class. There are jobs available, just not as many of the former high paying low skilled positions

  • Alan

    This is not intended as a criticism of Ms. Freeland or your hosts, but rather a questioning of the practice of journalists interviewing journalists (with the possible exception of, say, of an interview of Mr. Martin Wolf). Your viewers are now being feted to explorations of another journalist’s interpretations and summaries, and it seems a touch light. Sure, lots of networks do it, it works on a budget, but the downside is that it makes for thin gruel.

    Picking up on what was said by one of your commenters, I for one miss the day when Moyers featured extended interviews with opinion leaders, such as Reich, Galbraith, et al. How about inviting, for example, Dean Baker, Brad DeLong, Greg Makiw, Bruce Bartlett, Roubini, and economists or thought leaders lesser known to the public to provide their outlooks. This is a golden opportunity to innovate and provide substance. Please don’t become an echo chamber of the press club. These are fine jounalists, but your viewers want to hear from thought leaders.

  • Mike

    If unemployment makes people lazy explain Denmark.

    Denmark had an unemployment rate if I remember correctly of 4.1% in May (it might have been 4.6%, google it). Despite their unemployment insurance paying up to 95% of previous salary, up to four years.

    I’m not saying necessarily that our unemployment should be that generous, but currently it’s anything but…

  • Ethan Fein

    Ms. Freeland’s analogy to the five golden tickets (or whatever) likens our predicament to a lottery. The maldistribution of wealth in the United States is the result of national fiscal and monetary policies and is not some kind of “act of God” over which we have no control. Referring to a previous comment, I imagine the interviews of Galbraith, Reich, and others showed more sophistication. Ms. Freeland lack of depth in exploring causes and effects is upsetting.

  • Alan Clenney

    Your show is poorly done reguardless of the high standards set by Bill Moyers. I wish you luck in inproving – Try another news team.

    The heartless comments for the unemployed are typicial in Texas. I am in the home constructon business and have been fourced to lay off 3/4 of my staff a year ago. Only one has found a new job and for 35% less than I paid him – The construction business is really down, please support the needed extention of benefits.

  • winter

    Heres the reason for unemployment. An economy can’t endure wages that don’t keep pace with inflation for the greatest mass of consumers. Corporate is not in the business of providing jobs except as a necessary evil or as they’d put it cost of doing business, and not in the business of providing a wage any better they have to to retain the employee. They are in the business of lobbying for subsidies for themselves and shipping jobs overseas so their assetts can continue to grow along with bonuses at the top — they also are not in the business of patriotism.
    Think “One World Government” is the bugaboo? What about one world multi national corporations?
    Somehow they get a pass always reasoning something to the effect of, its how business is done; leanest and meanest wins. So much resource is hoarded at the top that, for the average American worker who makes it possible, on who’s back people become millionaires, that somehow it just should finally be easier for us all …but that would be socialism, to spread the wealth and make things easier someday for even middle class folks to prosper. If noone has discretionary income enough to buy anything because it didn’t trickle down to them then demand has to suffer and the cycle is perpetuated. Check the corporate coffers, thats where the deficit is siphoned to and comes to rest, certainly not the taxpayers treasury.

  • Nikki

    I am a American who has worked for over 30 years. I was laid off last March. I look for a job faithfully. I am considered a 99er. I need a Teir V.

  • mc

    Americans should change the way they think about the Economy, Education, and Employment.

    There is no point in shifting the blame on others or on the outsourcing. Outsourcing has little to do.
    We should not forget that it is we, the Americans, who wanted outsourcing (on the cost cutting). When you call any bank customer service representative or AOL rep or tech support at any time, you end up talking to someone in a foreign country. American Income Taxes are prepared outside. Call Centers are located outside. American movie graphics are done outside. What do we do here? Sell movie tickets and parking tickets to Universal City and Disneyland? We don’t manufacture anything here. Most of the goods and services come from China, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico. It is sad that most of the movies are taken (outside US) either in Canada or Mexico and comes to Hollywood for screening into theaters here. We use animated cartoons, not the real actors/actresses and use these actors for dubbing voice. Some months ago, 60 minutes CBS showed a news magazine on American jobs.

    America is run by Big Corporations, no doubt. All we do is talk about the big corporation and corporate culture using high-sounding words but what did we really do here? Visit any bank branches at any time, we see ten to 15 Teller Cash Counters but we hardly see 2 or 3 tellers at any one time. The remaining 12 or 13 Teller counters are a waste of resources. We live in an information Super highway. Many transactions are handled online. Who would go to the bank or Post Office?

    We must really take a hard look at what we have now and how we can make it better.

  • mc

    65 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, US seeks Nuclear-free world – VOA News

    Whatever said and done, Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing ended the World War II. After the war
    US formed United Nations Organization. That is history. But we should not forget that Japan developed so fast within a decade and became the strongest in the world economy.
    But where are we today? We have become so dependent on other countries for basic consumer goods and services that we are unable to produce anything in this country. School Children are so poor in English and Mathematics that they cannot count or write. Many Americans are struggling and have no jobs but are depending on welfare, food stamps, and unemployment insurance checks. That is horrible. This is not the America we dream about.

    Americans should think.

  • mc

    It is not the outsourcing that caused the problems in the first place.

    It is true that we can’t outsource hospitals, doctors, nurses, care for the elderly, etc. but why are the hospitals in this country CLOSED?
    Why are our Healthcare Costs so high? We must think about it.

    Basically nothing is manufactured in this country. We have become so dependent on China, Japan, and Korea for consumer goods and services that we are not able to produce a single commodity in this country.

    I don’t see any creativity here when most of the Hollywood movies are produced in Canada and Mexico. American banks use Call Centers for customer service and you end up talking to someone in a foreign country

    Americans are happy if they can get basic Hamburger from McDonalds.