I’ve spent a chunk of summer vacation visiting old friends here [in Yamhill, Oregon], and I can’t help feeling that national politicians and national journalists alike have dropped the ball on jobs. Some 25 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed — that’s more than 16 percent of the work force — but jobs haven’t been nearly high enough on the national agenda.
When Americans are polled about the issue they care most about, the answer by a two-to-one margin is jobs. The Boston Globe found that during President Obama’s Twitter “town hall” last month, the issue that the public most wanted to ask about was, by far, jobs. Yet during the previous two weeks of White House news briefings, reporters were far more likely to ask about political warfare with Republicans.
(I’m an offender, too: I asked President Obama a question at the Twitter town hall, and it was a gotcha query about his negotiations with Republicans. I’m sorry that I missed the chance to push him on the issue that Americans care most about.)
A study by National Journal in May found something similar: newspaper articles about “unemployment” apparently fell over the last two years, while references to the “deficit” soared.
When I’m back on the family farm in Yamhill, our very closest neighbor is one of those 25 million. Terry Maggard worked on a crew detecting underground gas, electrical or cable lines, and after 15 years on the job he was earning $20 an hour. Then at the outset of the recession in late 2008 his employer fired him and the other old-timers, and hired younger workers — who earned only $9 or $10 an hour.
Terry has been knocking on doors everywhere, including at McDonald’s, but nobody wants a 56-year-old man. “The only call I got in two years was one asking if I could be a French chef,” he recalled, laughing. “I said ‘Oui.’ ”
How is “did we drop the ball on unemployment?” even a QUESTION???