The jobs crisis: It may not be 'breaking news,' but it's definitely 'broken news'
Of course, this isn't actually breaking news -- it's aching news -- and, before the tragic bombings in Boston, the most important story going on. But you wouldn't know that if you watched any of the Sunday shows last week.
On ABC's "This Week," we had the president's budget, Jay-Z's trip to Cuba, Ken Burns' Jackie Robinson documentary and immigration, with Sen. Marco Rubio.
On NBC's "Meet the Press," they went with the background check bill, the president's budget, Ken Burns' Jackie Robinson documentary and immigration, with Sen. Marco Rubio.
CNN's "State of the Union" went with a wild card -- North Korea -- and then the president's budget and immigration, with (how'd you guess?) Sen. Marco Rubio.
Virtually unmentioned was the economy and the long-term jobs disaster that's been enveloping the country for five years now. The only mentions jobs got were in the context of the debate over whether immigrants might take away the jobs of hard-working Americans. The plight of many millions of Americans who are actually out of work is apparently not very newsworthy. Or at least not as newsworthy as an American rapper traveling in Cuba. Or a Cuban-American traveling in Washington to all four Sunday news shows.
Yes, I know I've banged this drum before, but it is hard to believe that what the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calls the "longest, and by most measures worst economic recession since the Great Depression" doesn't warrant a mention on shows ostensibly devoted to the biggest news stories. Talk about missing the forest for the trees. Only in this case, the forest has largely been clear-cut.
But just because something is old news doesn't mean it's not still important news. Perhaps we need to come up with an alternate term to the breathless "BREAKING" tag. How about "BROKEN"? Yes, the story has already been broken, but the real story is that it's still going. And going and going. And the top BROKEN news story is clearly our still-broken economy.
As of February, there were 12 million workers officially unemployed, but only 3.9 million job openings, which means a little over three unemployed jobseekers for every open job. And of the nearly 9 million jobs lost during the recession, only about 6 million have been recovered, leaving us with nearly 3 million fewer jobs than we had at the beginning of the economic downturn. At the current rate of growth, we're not due to get back to full employment until around 2020.
For the long-term unemployed, the situation is verging on hopeless. According to The Atlantic's Matthew O'Brien, the long-term unemployment picture is "the scariest thing in the world." It's an alternate economy, he writes, that's "horribly dysfunctional" -- and comes with consequences for the entire country. "The worst possible outcome for all of us is if the long-term unemployed become unemployable," he writes. "That would permanently reduce our productive capacity."
In fact, given our lack of recovery so many years after the start of the recession, that permanent reduction might already be happening. In the last quarter of last year, our actual GDP was around $975 billion less than the potential GDP our economy has the capacity for. Nearly a trillion-dollar gap.
In that context, it's not that surprising that there are currently 46 million Americans living in poverty, more than 16 million of them children. "Yet," as HuffPost's Jennifer Bendery writes, "the issue has all but disappeared from the legislative agenda in Congress as lawmakers focus squarely on deficit reduction. Obama, too, has been largely silent on the issue, and has even proposed cutting Social Security -- a key tool for combating poverty." To Rep. Marcia Fudge, an Ohio Democrat who is also chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, it's "unfathomable" that the issue isn't "at the top of everybody's priority list." Though it's a bit more fathomable when it's not at the top, or even the bottom, of any of our Sunday news shows.
Of course we could make taking on poverty and the jobs crisis a national priority; but instead, the parameters of the ongoing economic debate -- which the media play an important role in setting -- are largely confined to how big of an austerity hit we're going to impose on ourselves. According to the CBO, the sequester and payroll tax hikes could cut growth by 1.5 percent over the course of this year. "Unless the government takes steps to boost growth, we will be seeing millions of people needlessly denied employment for over a decade," writes Dean Baker. "That should be the central focus of everyone in Washington."
Including the media.
But it's hard to imagine our jobs disaster will get the attention -- and the solutions -- it deserves if our media doesn't think it's a story worth telling. I know it's not BREAKING NEWS! but it's BROKEN NEWS to the tens of millions whose lives are still being turned upside down by it.
(Arianna Huffington is president and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Media Group. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)