Tag Archives: Unemployment

The New Precariat and Electoral Politics

During the Presidential campaign, Americans have heard endless discussions about unemployment. But neither candidate has said much, at least not directly, about precarious employment or about the new precariat – that growing group (some would even say the growing class) of workers in temporary, part-time, and/or contingent work that often doesn’t pay a living wage.

Who is the precariat? According to Guy Standing, the author of The Precariat: the New Dangerous Class, all of us could be.  For now, the precariat involves largely women, the young, the disabled, retirees forced back to work, former prisoners, and migrants. It also includes large numbers of formerly middle-class professionals, skilled and semi-skilled people who have been displaced by economic change. While each of these groups has gotten some attention, Standing argues that as a group, the precariat is still “a class in the making,” united by an overwhelming sense of insecurity and vulnerability.

The growth of the precariat has its roots in globalization and technological change, which flooded flexible labor markets and advanced international divisions of labor.  These conditions coincided with changes in government regulation, corporate restructuring, reduced access to and distribution of social programs, and the creation of coercive social policies such as workfare, mass incarceration, and means testing.

Historically, precarious employment was associated with the informal economy.  But with economic changes in the last several decades, informality has moved beyond traditional practices of black market exchanges or services such as day care or tutoring. As workers have been displaced from the formal economy, many are turning to consulting, internships, and subcontracting to find contingent and intermittent work. In general, more and more people are involved in unregulated work characterized by irregular employment, short job ladders, substandard wages and working conditions, and increased stigmatization. During the current economic crisis, with declining standards of living and loss of public assistance, the new precariat – like the old precariat — survives by working longer hours, holding multiple jobs, and when possible relying on the kindness and generosity of friends and family.

While the growth of the precariat creates real social and economic challenges for workers in the informal economy, in places like Youngstown, where the cost of living is low, some mostly younger adults are making a virtue of the situation. As cultural anthropologist Hannah Woodroofe has argued, Youngstown is becoming home to increasing numbers of highly individualistic, anti-materialistic, entrepreneurial adults with episodic employment in largely deregulated work environments. While some define themselves as entrepreneurs, many also see their rejection of materialism as providing a measure of freedom and dignity that challenged capitalist and “older parental” values surrounding work.

Their economic conditions are anemic and often do not reflect their education and experience (many have college and even graduate degrees). They don’t earn much and have little savings, health care, or pension benefits. Their work experiences and the difficulties they’ve had in finding jobs in the formal economy have reduced their expectations about the future.  They have internalized their economic insecurity, and their personal lives tend to mirror their work lives, with contingent and episodic relationships and living situations. Many embrace sustainability and green values, starting urban farms or homesteading in abandoned houses.  Others are part of a contingent creative class, doing freelance work in the arts, web development, and education, but because of the precarity of their work, they don’t make the kinds of stabilizing contributions to the local economy that Richard Florida predicted.  Some just want to be left alone, comfortable with their inexpensive lifestyles.

Just how big is the new precariat? It’s difficult to measure, but the Federal Reserve Board of Cleveland suggests that the ‘Great Recession’ has resulted in increases in self-employment, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 35 million people work part time.  While the data on how many people have precarious employment is far from definitive, the precariat clearly seems to be large and growing.

That suggests that the new precariat could have a significant impact on the election. Most of them don’t believe that the government or other institutions can do much to ameliorate their situation.  Many consider themselves to be small business people. As Arun Gupta and Michelle Fawcett have suggested, “Republicans have turned small business into a catch-all group the way ‘working class’ once served that function for the left.” That suggests that the precariat may be persuaded by campaign rhetoric about taxes and economic development.  On the other hand, many see themselves as anti-capitalist, committed to green values and social justice. So will they vote like those who share their educational backgrounds, who are more likely to be politically independent and have socially progressive leanings, thus revealing themselves to be the fallen faction of the middle class?  Or do they, like much of the old white working class, vote on the basis of economic aspiration?  Or does the precariat now include so many Americans, from diverse backgrounds and in varied situations, that their political views can’t be easily predicted?  In 2012 in states like Ohio, the new precariat could determine the presidential election and America’s future.

John Russo, Center for Working-Class Studies

Welcome to the Informal Economy

It’s graduation season, and while commencement speakers encourage graduates to work hard and pursue their dreams, most new grads are worried about finding a decent job.  All their professors can suggest is that students use internships to gain valuable work experience and be prepared to have five jobs by the time they are 35.

Here’s the reality, grads: things are worse than you fear.  When you’re 35, you could still be looking for a good job. You’ll have a family to support, your salary could well be lower than you expect, and you’ll receive little or no pension contributions or health care benefits. Taken together, episodic work with little opportunity for advancement and poor wages and benefits reflect the characteristics of work life once found largely in the informal economy but now becoming all too common in the formal economy.

According to UNESCO, the informal economy involves the largely unregulated exchange of goods and services and is characterized by intermittent employment, short job ladders, and substandard wages and working conditions.  Historically, the informal economy has referred primarily to workers paid under the table, like many nannies or home health care aides, itinerant workers, and those involved in black market exchanges. But increasingly, the conditions of the informal economy are being experienced in the formal economy, though they are generally ignored or hidden by such glossy terms as consulting, internships, subcontracting, and privatization.

The economic crisis is pushing more people into the informal economy. USA Today reported that in 2010 only 45.4% of Americans and 66.8% of men had jobs. Both statistics are among the lowest on record, and now the United States has a lower share of prime age men in the work force than any other G-7 nation. According to David Brooks, writing in the New York Times, this is the result of early retirements, work disability, the decline of manufacturing jobs, and poor job fits in the new economy. Regardless of the reasons, the number of unemployed and underemployed people, who are most likely to participate in the informal economy, is growing in every sector and profession as the recession/regional depression continues. Many of those who do not have jobs are finding ways to support themselves, at least minimally, within the informal economy.  They have no choice.

At the same time, employers are taking advantage of desperate, young, less expensive workers, often hired on a temporary or contract basis, who are displacing older professional and non-professional workers or simply allowing companies to avoid committing to permanent hires.

As companies resist hiring full-time workers, and as young workers clamor for any possible job opportunity, internships have become increasingly significant in American business, and informal economy conditions apply to many internships.  According to the Economic Policy Institute, 1 to 2 million people today work as interns in the United States, and most are either unpaid and poorly-paid. In his book, Intern Nation, Ross Perlin reports that internships usually don’t conform to labor regulations, contribute to socio-economic inequalities, and rarely provide a useful job ladder – conditions that are typical in the informal economy. Offering college credit in lieu of an hourly wage does not necessarily mean that employers are free to ignore wage and hour restrictions. The U.S. Department of Labor has begun to take note of these problems and plans to increase regulation of unpaid internships nationwide.

Another growing category of informal workers is home-based caregivers. While some work through employment agencies, home-based employment is largely unregulated and dominated by non-white and female workers who earn low wages and no benefits. As more families need help caring for young children, disabled family members, and aging parents, demand for home-based care services has grown. Personal home and health care employment now exceeds 3 million and is projected to be the largest sector of new job growth between 2008 and 2018, with 1.1 million new jobs.  In the last decade, these workers have won union organizing and bargaining rights, but Steve Early reports that there is bi-partisan support among many current governors to rescind executive orders or pursue legislation undermining these workers’ attempts to improve their working conditions.  As a result, their wages will decline, their working conditions worsen, and they will sink even deeper into the informal economy.

So what is to be done? A number of labor and social justice organizations have formed the Excluded Workers Congress with goal of organizing workers in the informal economy, connecting them with grassroots movements, and developing strategic responses to informalization. They aim to challenge discrimination in the current labor market, build support for ongoing campaigns to improve working conditions, expand labor rights for excluded workers, and advocate for policies that support all workers’ right to organize.

Acorn International’s founder Wade Rathke suggests that there is no quick fix for the informal economy.  Rather than offering programs to retrain informal workers to enter the shrinking formal economy, he argues, we should “embrace the informal economy and engage in survival strategies that provide sustainable livelihoods and community redevelopment.” With short timelines and low investment, communities could organize  “localized informal workshops, training, production, marketing, and sales that can provide dignified, remunerative work for millions.” The work would range from home repair and rehab to food and bio-diesel production to recycling and technical repair services. He also advocates social networking to facilitate the sharing of job information, dispatch, and distribution and micro-lending adapted to broader social and community purposes. Put differently, he thinks the solution to the problems of the informal economy lies in changing the conditions of the work, not the workers.  Rathke wants to make work in the informal economy legal and formalized.

Most certainly, Rathke’s ideas may seem out of the box in advanced economies that often look for quick fixes. But as we in Youngstown know from more than 30 years experience, large-scale, structural economic problems don’t have easy solutions. On the other hand, the solutions Rathke advocates have helped alleviate poverty in developing nations. They may offer a more sustainable model of economic recovery, one that acknowledges significant structural and social changes.

That doesn’t offer much immediate hope for this spring’s graduating class or those being displaced within the formal economy.  The jobs outlook remains bleak.  But their long-term prospects might be better if, instead of normalizing the poor working conditions of the informal economy, we organized to ensure decent wages, reliable pensions, good health care, and greater opportunities for workers across the spectrum.

John Russo, Center for Working-Class Studies

What Workers Really Need This Labor Day

For some, Labor Day marks the end of summer, one of the few remaining days to have a cook-out, and the time of year when public-school children return to school from summer vacation. For others, Labor Day is when retailers sell items at summer clearance prices and, before “winter white” clothing became fashionable, the last day to wear white shoes.  But, officially, Labor Day honors the contributions of working men and women to the growth and prosperity of our nation. This Labor Day, we should be especially proud of the dedication and hard work of American workers who are expected to do more with less as organizations continue to eliminate jobs and lay off workers.

  • According to a labor market survey by the Society for Human Resources Management , job market conditions have improved since last year, but large-scale hiring has yet to occur.  About one-third of the surveyed human resources professionals in public-and-private sector expressed some level of pessimism about job growth in America during the second quarter of 2010. They reported that companies were increasing the workloads of their current staff rather than hiring new workers and predicted that 73% of hourly service workers and manual laborers would be affected by layoffs planned for the second quarter of 2010.  The good news is that fewer of these workers were laid off than had been predicted (about 59% versus the predicted 73%). The bad news is that job growth has been miniscule.  Staffing levels at most companies remain flat, and most economists expect the national unemployment rate to remain near 10% throughout  2010.
  • In a different survey, 93% of workers who performed additional work on the job said they had not been paid for the additional work they performed. Two serious implications of this report are that workers perceive that employers are exploiting them, and many workers are suffering from a level of work overload that puts their health and safety (and that of consumers) at risk.
  • Research also indicates that the working class continues to be more vulnerable to job loss and wage theft than higher-income groups. While even senior executives may be found in unemployment lines these days (see Ulrich Beck’s The Brave New World of Work), research indicates that manual laborers and low-waged service workers are most likely to be found in unemployment lines.  Not surprisingly, 6 out of 10 Americans feel less secure about their jobs compared to a year ago.
  • Wage growth is at a stand-still.  In fact, earnings have actually decreased for many workers who have managed to keep their jobs or find new jobs during the current Great Recession.  A recent report by the Economic Policy Institute indicates that the annual household income of the typical working family has declined by more than $2,000, despite the increased productivity of American workers.  Additionally, income and wealth inequality has increased over the last decade, according to the EPI report.  Between 2000 and 2007, more than half of the income increases went to the wealthiest 1% of U.S. households.

The collapse in wage growth, tremendous income and wealth inequality, and dramatic job loss has meant that the typical American worker now lives a lower standard of living, which may extend well into the future.  Confronted with such grim facts, who needs a rainstorm (or a Hurricane Earl) to feel uneasy this Labor Day weekend?

With mid-term elections in November, rain or shine, public officials are likely to keep their scheduled Labor Day appearances.  We should demand that candidates answer a few key questions:

  • What are you doing to create new jobs? How about an increased investment in job restoration and job creation? How about re-opening closed schools and rehiring downsized teachers? Any plans to re-open closed libraries, restore library hours, and return laid-off library personnel to work?  Wouldn’t schools and libraries that are adequately staffed and funded be needed to produce those 8 million more college graduates that the Obama administration says we need in order to compete successfully in the global economy in 2020? Where are those “green jobs” you promised American workers during your last political campaign?
  • What are you doing to institute livable wages?  What about an increase in the minimum wage? Both these things would decrease the number of working poor in America, don’t you think?   What incentives have you given employers to provide child care assistance, especially to low-waged, single mothers? You talked about making the world safe for democracy.  Could you add making the workplace safe for workers to the national agenda?

What workers really need this Labor Day are straightforward answers to these questions.  Instead of lip service about the importance of their concerns, our leaders should pursue more genuine efforts to resolve the serious issues many face.

Denise Narcisse, Center for Working-Class Studies

Rethinking Work and Non-Work in the Recession

For over the last 18 months, the Center for Working-Class Studies has been publishing the “De Facto Unemployment Rate” (DFUR).  The DFUR includes all those who are officially unemployed, those looking for work, the underemployed, disabled or in early retirement, and those receiving government work subsides.  It also estimates those who are in prison or have joined the military because they can’t find work in the private sector. The most recent analysis estimates that the DFUR continues to hover around 30%.

At first, the DFUR did not receive much attention, perhaps because it differs from the typically reported unemployment rate.  But in the last six months, it has been featured in the Manufacturing and Technology News and the Wall Street Journal. More important, the idea of understanding unemployment in broader terms has gained more acceptance as the media has begun to use the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s (BLS) alternative measures of labor underutilization.

In terms of actual job growth, the most recent study by the BLS indicates that almost all employment growth in last six months is due to government jobs, specifically jobs with the U.S. Census. While some have argued that the recession may be over, the lack of private sector job growth indicates that we may be on the brink of another jobless recovery. If the U.S. is to avoid falling back into recession, we must continue to extend unemployment benefits and/or craft another stimulus package.

Yet recent bills to create additional jobs and extend unemployment benefits have met with resistance, and even when such benefits exist, many states make it difficult for those who are out of work to receive any benefits. For example, some states limit benefits for part-timers and those who leave a job for medical reasons or due to the lack of available childcare. A recent study by Economic Policy Institute indicates that less than 67% of the long-term unemployed are receiving benefits.  If unemployment benefits had not been extended, only 35% would have been covered.

The high, persistent unemployment rate suggests a long and very slow economic recovery, and we may, in fact, be entering a “jobless era,” as Don Peck wrote in The Atlantic in March.  But having a job in the current economy doesn’t necessarily protect workers in this recession.  As Jamie Smith Hopkins reported in last week’s Baltimore Sun, 13 percent of employers cut salaries last year, and for many of those workers, their earnings levels may never recover.

But the problems go beyond earnings.  Not only do many workers feel anxiety about keeping their jobs, the quality of work is declining.  The effects of the recession are being exacerbated by changes in the labor market and organization practices based in economic globalization. Trade liberalization, deregulation, privatization, and reduced welfare programs have led to social and economic insecurity, income inequality, weaker unions, reductions in public sector services, and geographical shifts that have resulted in downsizing, restructuring, irregular work hours, electronic monitoring, and the intensification of work.  In turn, these changes have increased job demands, work hours, job insecurity, and control while reducing rewards and social supports making work more precarious.  All of this not only contributes to unemployment in the U.S., it also contributes to work-related stress for those who are still working, as Paul Landsbergis of the Center for Social Epidemiology argued in a recent presentation at the How Class Works Conference.

Increasing levels of job-related stress threaten the health of those who are employed. Landsbergis suggested that while the dramatic deaths and illnesses associated with the “accidents” at the Massy coal mine and BP’s off-shore oil rig get national attention, the insidious influence of job stress increases cardiovascular disease, sickness absence, and acute injuries.  Psychological and musculoskeletal disorders remain under reported, especially among the working class.

Taken together, the DFUR and the impact of economic change on the workplace remind us of the widespread effects of global and national economic trends. We need to think about both the effects of unemployment and the relationship between current economic policies, work practices, individuals, and health in the modern economy. Globalization doesn’t have to cause unemployment or undermine the quality of work.  Government, business, and labor leaders should not wait for an economic recovery to reconsider the impact of globalization on both work and non-work.  Any future economic recovery will be more stable and effective if it not only creates new jobs but also places value on what the International Labor Organization calls decent work for all working people.

John Russo, Center for Working-Class Studies

The House is on Fire

A few weeks ago, Charlie Rose facilitated a discussion about the perils of the U.S. national debt among a thoughtful, articulate group of one politician, two businessmen, and two economists.  Except for a brief discussion of the bond market, I was able to understand the various points of view about how menacing the projected growth of the debt is and the various things we might do about it.  Though tilted toward business-class conservatism, Nobel economist Paul Krugman ably presented a progressive view, and I found the conservatives thoughtful and sensible.

I came away from this discussion among what Rose likes to call “the smart people” convinced that we must address our ballooning debt sometime in the next decade or so.  I also came away wondering why the smart people are not devoting similar attention to the President’s budget projections that unemployment will remain around 10% (using the official rate) the rest of this year and not drop by much after that.  It strikes me that this is like carefully discussing cracks in the foundation while the house is on fire.

It’s not that the panelists were indifferent to unemployment.  Continuing high unemployment is one of the major contributors to our growing national debt.  When people are out of work, they don’t pay income taxes, reducing government revenues, and they don’t pay Social Security and Medicare taxes, bringing those entitlement programs’ long-term fiscal problems at us sooner rather than later.  Likewise, nobody in this group, not even the guy from the often shrilly conservative Peterson Institute, spoke against the need to increase social-safety-net spending such as unemployment insurance and food stamps in order to reduce some of the suffering among the unemployed.

But while not indifferent to unemployment, they conveyed no sense of emergency.  They didn’t seem to realize that the house is actually on fire and even if the fire is not spreading as dramatically as it was last year at this time, letting it smolder indefinitely will eventually destroy the house, even if it doesn’t reignite and burn the house to the ground.

This is why a recent story in The Atlantic, “How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America,” is so important.  Though much of the information and analysis in the article will not be new to readers of Working-Class Perspectives, it reaches the right audience: Charlie Rose’s “smart people.”  The author, deputy managing editor Don Peck, is a certifiably smart person himself who writes in a clear, compelling but relatively understated way.  The article has already gained a lot of attention among leading opinion-makers and, therefore, has a shot at generating a sense of urgency about what Peck very convincingly shows is “a slow motion social catastrophe.”

Peck is not predicting a second dip to the Great Recession.  He simply accepts White House projections of persistently high joblessness as the economy keeps “recovering.” Rather, he explains what social science investigation over the past half-century shows about the devastating long-term consequences of such sustained unemployment – its impact on individuals (even after they go back to work), on families, communities, and the nation as a whole, even the majority of those who stay employed through it all:

The Great Recession may be over, but this era of high joblessness is probably just  beginning.  Before it ends, it will likely change the life course and character of a generation of young adults. It will leave an indelible imprint on many blue-collar men. It could cripple marriage as an institution in many communities. It may already be plunging many inner cities into a despair not seen for decades.   Ultimately, it is likely to warp our politics, our culture, and the character of our society for years to come.

The article is all the more effective, in my view, because it does not lay out its own or report others’ strategies for reducing unemployment.  Instead, Peck focuses on convincing us of the depth, extent, and urgency of the problem.  It’s like a 9-1-1 call reporting “the house is on fire,” and urging us, in Peck’s concluding words, “to do everything in our power to stop it now, before it gets even worse.”

The American labor movement has been making that 9-1-1 call to the White House for several months now, and not getting through.  Unions in coalition with the Center for Community Change and the National Urban League are backing variations of “A Five-Point Plan to Stem the U.S. Jobs Crisis”.   The plan would create (or save) more than 4 million jobs.  Though it would add $400 billion to the federal government deficit this year, it would be paid for over the next 10 years by a small (1/2 of 1%) tax on stock trades and other financial instruments — a tax initially proposed more than a decade ago to discourage speculative investment of the sort that led to the financial meltdown in 2008.  In other words, the tax is probably a good idea anyway, would be paid only by investors, and it would allow job creation now to reduce the national debt in the long run. Economists from the AFL-CIO and its rival Change to Win met with White House economists to advocate for this program about the same time as Don Peck’s article appeared.  The response, I’m told, was “politely dismissive.”

As a Chicagoan who roots for our home-town heroes, I’ve been especially forgiving of Barack Obama.  Most of his critics seem to me to underestimate the level of difficulty Obama has faced given the character, severity, and timing of the Great Recession, the anti-functional rules of the U.S. Senate, the complexity of health care economics, and many other things.  But it is not difficult for a U.S. President to prioritize a house on fire over a crack in the foundation.  Part of the President’s job is to set the agenda for what gets public attention.  By establishing a bi-partisan commission to address the national debt while presenting a budget that basically says double-digit unemployment is acceptable for the next couple years, the President is making errors of both mind and heart.  It also seems like really dumb politics.   Pick up the phone, Barack, the house is on fire.

Jack Metzgar, Chicago Center for Working-Class Studies

The De Facto Unemployment Rate: 25.12%.

Ever since the early 1980s, residents of the Youngstown area have always been skeptical of government’s official unemployment rate. In 1982, the official unemployment rate hit 24.9% but declined to around 12% in early 1984. The Ohio governor and city officials praised the dramatic decline, but local residents knew that rate failed to account for workers who had given up looking for work, were working part-time, or had been forced into early retirement. In a report commission by the State of Ohio, the YSU Urban Studies program found that “real” unemployment rate was over 18 percent or about 1.5 times higher than the official rate.

Given the “shock” over the most recent unemployment numbers, it is worthwhile to take another look at the figures in light of Youngstown’s experience. But first we need some definitions of various categories of unemployed people, based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics and a comparative study done by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.  Attention class!

Officially unemployed- Persons who worked less than one hour during the nationally determined reference period (one week), looked for work during this period, and were available for work during this period.

Marginally attached workers – Persons not in the labor force who want and are available for work and who have looked for a job sometime in prior 12 months (or since the end of their last job if they held one within the past 12 months), but were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the four weeks preceding the survey.

Discouraged workers – Persons not is labor force who are available for a job and who have looked for work sometime in the past 12 months (or since the end of their last job if they held one within the past 12 months)

Underemployed -Persons who would like to work full time but are not able to do so for economic reasons such as unavailability of full-time work or reduced demand for hours by current employer

Excess disability – Persons who are excluded from labor force because of sick leave or early retirement

Government programs – Persons receiving government subsidized or government provided programs. For example, low wage workers receiving Earned Income Tax Credits

Prison and jail populations – Persons not in labor force because of incarceration.

Now using these definitions and information for the current employment reports, we can begin to make estimates of the “de-facto” unemployment rate.

The official unemployment rate in December was 7.2%, an increase of .4% from the preceding month and a 2.4% increase since the National Bureau of Economic Research officially designated start of the recession in December of 2007. (These academic economists could not decide that we were in a recession until last month). To this we can add individuals who are marginally attached to the workforce (1.2%), discouraged (.4%), or who are underemployed (5.2%). The latter figure is of particular concern as some companies reduce workers’ hours in order to avoid layoffs. This was borne out in the current employment report where the average hours worked declined to 33.3 hours.  The next step for struggling employers will be layoffs. Anyway, if you’re keeping track, our de-facto unemployment rate is up to 14%.

From here it gets statistically more difficult. But using the approach taken in the Center for Economic and Policy Research study, we can estimate that 6% of the potential labor force consists of people who have been forced to retire or are on sick leave, and those whose work is being subsidized by the Federal Government is at 4%. Both of these are conservative figures given the high levels of plant and office closings and buyouts in the past year.  Together, they add another 10% to the de-facto unemployment rate

Finally, prison reform advocates have long suggested that incarceration levels are a direct response to economic conditions. This is especially important in a country that has such high rates of incarceration; according to a 2003 British study, the US has the highest incarceration rate in the world.  If we count incarcerated people among the unemployed, that adds another 1.48% to our de-facto unemployment rate for a total of 25.12%

12/08
Unemployed 11,1087.2%
MarginallyAttached 1.908(1.2%)
Discouraged 642(.04%)
Underemployed 8038(5.2%)
Excess disability* Est.(6.0%)
Government Programs* Est.(4.0%)
Subtotal 23.64%
Prison Population 2.300(1.48%)
Total 25.12%

So what does all this mean? It is what “Main Street” not “Wall Street” has been saying for a long time. The economy is bad, real bad, and it’s getting worse for working families. It is particularly difficult for those who have given up looking for work because they have been left behind by economic change and technology, working-class people whose only hope for the future is in jobs with short job ladders and poor pay. Not only have they been forgotten, but they have erased from official unemployment reports.

To make matters worse, over the last 20 years, business and economic reporters and/or commentators have been, at best, Pollyannaish and at worse flaks and con men when comes about talking about the real situation for working- and middle-class Americans. The media has only recently begun to reassess the economic situation as journalists and pundits have tried to make sense of the mortgage crisis, financial failures and scandals, widespread layoffs and the growing economic crisis.

We count on policy makers and the press to provide accurate information to help us understand and address the economic crisis.  The more we know, the better prepared we can be, as individuals and as a society, to respond effectively.  This is especially true in light of the recent debate over whether we are in a recession (mild or severe) or on the brink of regional and/or a national economic depression.

Youngstown’s unemployment rate still among the highest in the nation after 25 years, and now the whole country has begun to know what Youngstown has known for a long time.

John Russo