A reader writes:
You asked, "[W]hy the Democrats are under so much electoral pressure when so many people are doing fine in this economy, indeed enjoying hefty wage increases in an era of very low inflation."
I think the answer is summarized in three words: real estate prices. Even those who are not unemployed, or who don't have stock market investments, have seen the value of their homes plummet by huge amounts in the last two years. For most of us, that's our primary savings and source of net worth. I know I've lost a huge amount of the equity in my home over the last three years, and that makes me very nervous. Even though I continue to work and earn, I'm not easeful about my position, and my own personal safety net. Until real estate prices recover at least somewhat, most people in this country, employed or not, will feel very uncertain of their economic position, and hence vulnerable to all kinds of rhetoric.
To counter Yglesias' point regarding social networks of college grads, he forgets about our families. I am a college grad myself, and yes, most of my friendships are with other college grads. However, I have many family members that are not college grads, and I hear about their plights constantly.
For instance, my sister just ended an almost two-year unemployment stretch. I've had to deal with countless phone calls from her crying and sobbing over her unemployment, thinking she was some kind of loser because she couldn't find a job. Doesn't matter how irrational that thought is; it's still there. And even though everyone in my social network and my pay has increased recently, I've had to give my sister plenty of financial and emotional support. Therefore, this recession has been very real for me.
I think the histogram you published deserves some pushback. Unemployment may be significantly lower for those with Bachelor's degrees, probably because knowledge workers and professionals were less hard hit than some other sectors such as construction and retail. There's a difference, though, between hanging onto a job and finding one, and even for those with a college education it's not easy.
I graduated two months ago from a fairly pretentious university. From my cohort, virtually everyone is either going to grad school or has taken temporary summer jobs. The summer research job I had lined up fell through at the last minute so I went straight to job hunting. It's a hard slog. Many companies have shown an interest in me, but they're swamped with candidates, many of whom have 5 to 10 years more experience than I do. There's just no way they'll take a chance on a new graduate.
It's no cause for despair that finding a job is taking a while, but if graduates of a top-drawer university have to resort to teaching summer camp or taking unpaid internships, what's in it for everyone else?