As we know, the United States has a giant long-term unemployment problem. Rather than using the full force of the federal government, President Obama is turning to corporate CEOs to solve the problem. Granted, Republicans in Congress have repeatedly rebuffed the long-term jobless, painting them as layabouts who don't want to work, and that's not the president's fault. But is corporate America really ready to help?
The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reports that the number of Americans who have not been able to find jobs in six months or more remains at record levels across the country. That is not just a tragedy for them, it's a tragedy for all of us, and a completely unnecessary one.
EPI's research reveals that in 28 states, plus the District of Columbia, more than a third of the unemployed have been without jobs for six months or more. Nearly half of the jobless haven't had work in six months or more in New Jersey (46.6 percent), the District of Columbia (46.6 percent), and Florida (46.2 percent). Check out the interactive map.
The longer you're out of a job, the harder it becomes to land a new one. Companies aren't eager to hire you, assuming that your skills have deterioriated or that there's something wrong with you. Long-term joblessness is agony for anyone, but it's especially tragic to see America's young people descend into mental illness and other health problems because they can't get work. Some of these young people may be scarred for life. Older workers are especially vulnerable, and scientists are finding links between long-term unemployment and diseases like cancer.
President Obama mentioned the problem in his latest State of the Union address, and is calling on big business to help out. On Friday, CEOs from Apple, Walmart, Boeing, and other megacorporations will visit the White house to discuss what they are prepared to do.
Is relying on the goodwill of businesses that routinely cheat taxpayers, pay ridiculous salaries to executives, and maniuplate stock prices in order to enrich executives through stock buybacks instead of using their resources to train, hire or pay workers more really going to do the trick?
Apple, for example, is sitting on top of an enormous pile of cash, but the bulk of its workers make around $25,000 per year. In 2012, the New York Times ran an extensive look at the company's underpaid retail workers. "Worldwide, its stores sold $16 billion in merchandise," stated the report, "but most of Apple’s employees enjoyed little of that wealth." In 2013, Apple's retail workers sued the company over unpaid wages and overtime. CEO Tim Cook has recently distinguished himself by attempting to block the investigation of a federally appointed anti-trust lawyer. And that's just Apple.
Let's not even get started on Walmart, notorious for wage theft and low wages, or Boeing, which beats down its workers with threats and union strong-arming and has become a posterchild for freeloading off both state and federal taxpayers.
These are the guys Obama is asking to help the unemployed?
Ever since the pernicious notion of "maximizing shareholder value" took over business schools in the 1980s, corporations no longer even pretend their goals and the goals of society are in alignment. Often they are at odds, and corporate America's war on the American worker is a national disgrace.
When businesses can't get the job done of hiring American workers, the government is supposed to step in. We learned how important this is, and how beneficial to the economy, during the Great Depression. Federal programs created millions of jobs and helped lift the country's economy and prevented the vast waste of human capital we have experienced in the aftermath of the Great Recession.
But the lessons of the New Deal have not penetrated Washington, where even in the face of a shrinking deficit, austerity hawks still insist on cutting more government jobs and blocking any attempts to invest in our most precious asset—our hard-working citizens.
Compounding the plight of the jobless, Congress foolishly allowed benefits for long-term unemployed workers to expire last month for 1.5 million people. Another 2 million will exhaust their benefits by the end of 2014. Unemployed workers will now lose any support after only six months, the maximum duration of unemployment insurance benefits in most states.
So Obama turns to America's CEOs and asks them, please, not to discriminate against the long-term unemployed.
In the face of a national emergency, that's not going to cut it.