Behind Martha distraction lurks dismal news
By Bob Herbert: March 9,
The Bush crowd couldn't have been more pleased
with the timing of the Martha Stewart verdict on Friday afternoon.
big news heading into the weekend was almost guaranteed to be the awful jobs
report released by the Labor Department on Friday morning. The White House
needed a world-class distraction, and the Stewart jury, eager to wrap things up
before the weekend, obliged. It strolled in, as if on cue, with a verdict of
guilty on all counts. Distractions don't get much bigger.
Department report was as grim as faces on a bread line. Despite all the
president's promises, the economy added just 21,000 jobs last month. No jobs
were added by the private sector. The 21,000 additional jobs were all government
The report also showed that job growth in December and January
was worse than previously believed. The January tally was revised from 112,000
to 97,000. The December count dropped from 16,000 to a pathetic 8,000.
A number of demographic groups are getting absolutely hammered. A new study by
Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern
University, found historic lows in the reported labor force participation of 16-
to 19-year-olds. According to the study, "The estimated 36.8 percent employment
rate for the nation's teens was the lowest ever recorded since 1948."
A more ominous finding was that over the past three calendar years the number of
people aged 16 to 24 who are both out of work and out of school increased from
4.8 million to 5.6 million, with males accounting for the bulk of the
The Economic Policy Institute and the National Employment
Law Project, in a joint analysis of newly released data, reported a disturbing
increase in long-term joblessness. Unemployment lasting half a year or longer
grew to 22.1 percent of all unemployment in 2003. That was an increase from 18.3
percent in 2002, and the highest rate since 1983.
Among those having a
particularly hard time finding work according to the report, are job seekers
with college degrees and people 45 and older.
"The new data," said
Sylvia Allegretto, one of the authors of the report, "show us an economy that is
just not generating enough high--quality jobs to get highly educated and highly
experienced workers back to work."
The nation is in an employment
crisis and the end is not in sight. The Bush administration has no plan, other
than a continued ludicrous reliance on additional tax cuts. The White House
continued to say on Friday that making the president's tax cuts permanent would
be an important step toward solving the employment problem.
happening in some sectors of the black community is catastrophic. The Community
Service Society studied employment conditions among black men in New York City.
Using the employment-population ratio, which is the proportion of the working
age population with a job, it found – incredibly - that nearly one of
every two black men between the ages of 16 and 64 was not working last
In the current environment, even apparent good news can have its
troubling aspects. An article in The Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago
indicated that Latino workers have been doing well, taking a "disproportionate
share" of new jobs, especially in the construction and service sectors, since
the economy began its recovery.
The article referred to a demand for
young, male Latino workers.
It then went on to say: "Typical of them
is Jorge Alberto, a 22-year-old Guatemalan, who doesn't speak English, didn't
complete high school and had never held a job - until he slipped across the
border into California from Mexico last year. In Los Angeles, 'I found a job
almost immediately' he says, pushing a cart through the muddy lot where he and
five other Hispanic men are laying the foundation for a house."
Workers are facing these bleak employment conditions in a so-called recovery.
What happens if we slip into another recession?
A favorite metaphor
associated with an expanding U.S. economy is, "A rising tide lifts all
Right now, a lot of the boats have leaks, and they are taking
on water fast.
Bob Herbert is a columnist with The New York Times.
Copyright 2004 New York Times News Service. E-mail: