Downturn’s over,
Factories throb;
How come I
Don’t have a job?

You may not be familiar with the National Bureau of Economic Research. Who is? Regardless, it’s the official determiner of when we are in a recession and when we are not. Right now, we are not. According to the bureau, the Great Recession ended back in June, 2009. Who knew? I thought unemployment was still around 9.5 percent.

Well, actually it is, but unemployment isn’t one of the official measures of recession. That definition is more involved with Gross Domestic Product, banking stuff, and productivity. In fact you’ll be pleased to learn the Great Recession only lasted 18 months.

This bizarre definition of the economy allows President Barack Obama and Wall Street to say, “OK, no sweat. It’s over. All we have to do now is find jobs.” No one is fooled. But as memories fade, the history books will show the Bush/Obama recession only lasted a year and a half. Maybe those guys weren’t so bad after all. How about a Nobel Prize?

Well, unfortunately Bush was that bad. He weakened the oversight of everything, allowing corporate excesses and suicidal trade agreements to plunge us deep into the economic depths. Obama wisely responded with a stimulus package that desperately needs a booster to keep us out of the economic crevasse. Republicans in Congress don’t care about the crevasse. Most struggling citizens who fall into it wouldn’t vote for them anyway. What the GOP cares about is power. Making Obama fail economically is the way to get it back, crevasse or no.

Obama meanwhile, perhaps under a demonic spell, insists on pursuing Bush trade pacts with Colombia and Korea. More jobs down the hole, never to return. Business surely gets the drift that today’s unemployment will be with us for the long haul. As testament, my own city is watching a new enterprise prepare to open up in the center of downtown…a Dollar Store.

Long-term unemployment also unleashes another pernicious disaster on America’s bizarre economic system. Lost health insurance. No job, no coverage. Thus we are enduring a speedy growth of folks without protection, as well as a speedy growth in Medicaid enrollment for those who are truly down and out. This added expense further impoverishes state governments.

You might ask, “What is the Federal Reserve doing about all this?” As tradition requires, the Fed has lowered interest rates to near zero, and as expected, corporations are borrowing large amounts of the Fed’s cash. And why not, since it’s nearly free? Unfortunately those companies aren’t investing that cash in jobs, They are ‘ just hoarding it, or looking for good deals to buy up other companies, maybe based abroad. Rich individuals follow suit.

This economic perversity has helped speed up that long-term trend of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, with many who used to be middle class sliding into the second camp. Free trade is sending jobs overseas and technology is replacing jobs altogether. Simultaneously, savvy employers are using the job shortage to drive down wages, weaken or eliminate health plans, and crush unions. No wonder the Republican Party has been flooded with corporate money this year. The United States has become an employers’ paradise.

That may mean ample profits, but it’s all still suicidal. As we slink into that still open crevasse,, sales will fall so far that even clever companies can’t pull themselves out.. Then who will rescue us? The Tooth Fairy?

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William A. Collins

OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.

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