Even before the Great Recession hit in 2007, America was suffering an erosion of employment, as millions of U.S. jobs were sent overseas and high-tech advances enabled corporations to downsize. Business Week calls 1999-2009 "The Lost Decade for Jobs."
Now, in the wake of the crash caused by Wall Street manipulators, America suffers a "national jobs emergency," says Princeton economist Alan Blinder, former Federal Reserve vice chairman.
Columbia University sociologist Herbert Gans says modern capitalism has learned how "to eliminate as many jobs as it creates -- or more jobs than it creates." It does so through "continued outsourcing of jobs to low-wage countries" and by "continuing computerization and mechanization of manufacturing and of services not requiring hands-on human contact."
In a treatise titled "The Age of the Superfluous Worker," Dr. Gans says about 15 percent of the U.S. work force currently is jobless, "not including the invisible discouraged workers the government cannot even find to count."
In olden times, when new technology threw multitudes out of work, he says, many cast-off people soon died of poverty diseases, or went to colonies, or were put into armies as cannon fodder. But those times have faded, and now America is left with a massive segment of idled people. Dr. Gans warned:
"A society that has permanently expelled a significant proportion of its members from the work force would soon deteriorate into an unbelievably angry country, with intense and continuing conflict between the have-jobs and the have-nones. America could become a very sick society."
Meanwhile, a new report titled "Race Against the Machine" by MIT economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee says computers and the Internet have helped streamline many businesses, so that fewer workers are needed.
"Advances in productivity have generated a huge amount of wealth in the United States over the last three decades," a Los Angeles Times analysis of the MIT study said, "but those gains have been reaped by those at the top of the income ladder ... . As workers are replaced by technology, corporations are holding onto a greater share of the earnings."
President Obama is pushing a job-creating bill in Congress, but Republicans seem determined to kill it. We wish it were possible for Democrats in Washington to launch massive federal public works programs, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal did during the Great Depression.
In 1933, FDR's Civil Works Administration put 4.2 million jobless men to work on public projects within six months. Then the Civilian Conservation Corps added a half-million more to build public parks and forests. Then the Public Works Administration continued the rescue. Finally, the Works Progress Administration hired 8.5 million to build roads, bridges, schools, airports, sewer systems and the like.The New Deal saved millions of American families and restored the U.S. economy. It would be a blessing if Democrats on Capitol Hill could overcome GOP resistance and create similar mass-employment operations to ease the nation's current crisis.