Do Jobs Matter More than Deficits?

A new survey says one in four Americans has been affected by job loss. Liberal pundits claim this is the root of American anger.

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Things may be looking up on Wall Street, but millions of Americans have yet to experience a recovery, and jobs are their main source of anxiety. A new survey by the Economic Policy Institute finds that one in four American households was affected by a job loss in the past year; 81 percent of Americans say Obama hasn't done enough to combat unemployment. And the unemployment rate is widely expected to keep rising. This has led a number of (mostly left-leaning) wonks and political pundits to argue that Americans' anger at the government derives not from big deficits but from a lack of jobs. Four different conclusions about the EPI's findings:

  • 'Americans Don't Know the Government is Helping Them,' Matthew Yglesias argues at Think Progress. "The public's belief that the federal government hasn't been stepping in to help them out is simply mistaken." Yglesias says the White House has worked behind the scenes to help jobless Americans get back to work, but the public just hasn't noticed it.
For example, every single employed person in the United States of America received a tax cut as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. But as I've noted previously the eager beavers in the White House got their hands on some behavioral economics research which indicated that the tax cut would be a more effective stimulus measure if it was implemented in a way deliberately designed to obscure the fact that it was happening from people. And mission accomplished!
  • 'Americans Know it's Unfair,' Ezra Klein writes at The Washington Post. Banks got bailouts, but consumers didn't. "The economic logic behind preserving the financial sector was bulletproof. But the electorate is not composed of economists. And all they know is that the banks got a lot of money, and this is the worst recession in memory." Americans, "get what is actually happening," and "don't think it's fair." 
  • Most Unemployed Americans Don't Live in Washington, The Economist says. The writer's friends have been rehired since the economy began to recover, but Americans who live in areas with structural unemployment will fare much worse: "Structural unemployment--due to the secular decline of particular industries or the skill-eroding effects of long-term unemployment--will be the difficult problem to resolve. And structural unemployment is considerably more geographically concentrated." The recession's impact will be felt most strongly outside of Washington. "The patterns are clear: manufacturing areas in the Midwest, southern Piedmont, and inland California, where the collapse of the housing industry was particularly severe, are the loci of structural unemployment pain."
  • Americans Aren't Worried About the Deficit. They're Worried About Their Job, Kevin Drum writes at Mother Jones. "The deficit is a pretty abstract thing, and "hyperactive government" doesn't necessarily mean healthcare and the stimulus bill." Drum says, "People are pretty strongly convinced that the finance industry has gotten huge amounts of help from Obama and Congress, while ordinary people have gotten squat." He says the White House should focus on unemployment. "If you want to be a popular president, you'd better be able to demonstrate some job growth. End of story."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.