Labor Day weekend began with a familiar whimper: The economy created exactly zero jobs in August. There’s not much labor to celebrate this year—but then again, that’s been the case for at least three years now. And in many black neighborhoods, it’s been the case since the 2001 recession. So here we are. Another monthly jobs report and another round of numbingly dismal forecasts.
Perhaps most maddening, however, is the way in which officialdom—from politicos to the fourth estate—greets this monthly ritual of entirely predictable disappointment. Consistently, observers ask one of two questions: how has Wall Street reacted and what will it mean for the political fates of the president. And consistently, I imagine everybody else responding with the same question I shout at the radio/TV/website: Who gives a fuck?! Aren’t we well past the point where the horserace updates of stock trades and political campaigns are the most consequential news about this recession?
No, we’re sadly not. And that’s the problem. Officialdom continues to think, talk and most importantly act like this is a crisis of theories. What’s sound economic policy look like? How can politicians communicate with independent voters? Do investors have confidence in the economy? All of that is, at this point, entirely meaningless.
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This crisis is about scraping together rent this month and putting gas in your car this week and feeding your kids tonight—let alone being able to take them to the amusement park or to visit grandma down South on a holiday weekend, so it feels like you’re living for something other than the damn grind. For the 14 million people who are out of work and haven’t yet given up the ghost, it’s about the frantic hustle to find something, anything that will let you avoid walking away from your home and moving your kids to a new school. For the 6 million people who’ve been out of work for more than six months, it’s about keeping a stiff jaw while you endure the humiliation of second and third interviews for a crappy job you’ll never get because human resources wisdom now says you’re damaged goods. For a growing number of largely black neighborhoods with Depression level unemployment and mass foreclosures, it’s about resignation with the fact that you’ve been strip mined and left to rot by the investors and politicians who everybody seems to think face the toughest choices in this recession.
The president will give a big speech after the holiday. He’s good at that, typically. In any case, the chattering class will no doubt tell us how well or poorly he’s done at boosting his approval ratings. The business press will inform us whether he’s calmed or heightened the nerves of the precious financial sector—the same industry that created the problem to begin with, of course. And then officialdom will return to fussing over the national debt and the tone in Washington and whether investors are making or losing money this week. Meanwhile, millions of people mired in a daily fight for survival will wonder, What about me? Doesn’t anyone care about the fact that I’m about to fall off the cliff? The answer is sadly simple: No.