First let’s be clear about this. “Unemployment” does not refer to people too lazy to work or to the losers who have failed to secure an available job.
What unemployment means is that there are no available jobs. It means that X number of people are being denied work. The unemployed are not those who refuse work, or who do not seek work, or even those with poor “job-seeking” skills. The unemployed are that percentage of the population whose right to earn a living is being denied to them. The 7 percent or so unemployment rate we have had in the years following the crisis year of the Great Recession refers to the percentage of the work-force for which no jobs exist to seek, to find or to fill.
This is why the better measure of unemployment is the ratio of job-seekers to job openings. That ratio has not sunk below 3 to 1 since the Great Recession. That means that if in a single miraculous instant, every mismatch of geography, skill-set and pay-scale were met and every job opening were filled at once, then two-thirds of our unemployed would remain unemployed. And at that point there would be no reason for any of them to send out résumés, brush up on their interview skills, or do any of that other victim-blaming make-work we expect them to do, unpaid, until such time as someone deigns to allow them to earn a living again.
I prefer that ratio as a measurement of unemployment because it proves — proves — that all of the moralizing lectures levied at the unemployed are cruel and absurd.
I prefer that ratio as a measurement of unemployment because it proves that anyone offering such a moralizing lecture is an idiot whose glaring stupidity proves that the premise of such lectures is false — if unemployment were, in fact, related to moral desert and qualification, then those morons would be the last people “deserving” permission to earn a living.
Ed Kilgore wrote recently about the self-refuting nonsense of trying to blame unemployment on some vice or lack of virtue on behalf of the unemployed themselves:
Where [Sen. Rand] Paul and [Rep. Paul] Ryan alike go fatally adrift is in identifying economic success with virtue, and lack of success with a lack of virtue. Thus we are to believe that when the housing and financial markets collapsed late in the Bush administration, many millions of people suddenly lost their character along with their financial assets and their jobs. And so many conservatives think using public resources to help them is by definition the subsidization of vice.
If, of course, the Great Recession and the period since is in fact not a passion play about the consequences of national profligacy exemplified by easy credit for those people, and is instead, as the evidence everywhere suggests, a classic demand-side depression, then the long-term unemployed aren’t moral lepers but largely the victims of bad policy, and helping them isn’t a moral hazard but part of an intelligent strategy for boosting consumer demand.
In his wise encyclical Laborem Exercens (On Human Labor), Pope John Paul II denounced unemployment as a grave evil:
The opposite of a just and right situation in this field is unemployment, that is to say the lack of work for those who are capable of it. It can be a question of general unemployment or of unemployment in certain sectors of work. The role of the agents included under the title of indirect employer is to act against unemployment, which in all cases is an evil, and which, when it reaches a certain level, can become a real social disaster.
Kathleen Geier reports on the science that backs up JP’s argument: “What social science says about the impact of unemployment on well-being: it’s even worse than you thought.”
If you prefer less theology or sociology, here’s Kevin Drum with “10 Reasons That Long-Term Unemployment Is a National Catastrophe.”
1. It’s way higher than it’s ever been before.
2. It’s widespread.
3. It’s brutal.
4. It’s long-lasting.
5. It dramatically reduces the prospect of getting another job.
6. It turns cyclical unemployment into structural unemployment.
7. It hurts the economy.
8. Cutting off unemployment benefits makes things even worse.
9. There still aren’t enough jobs to go around.
10. Practically everyone, liberal and conservative alike, agrees that this is a catastrophe.
Kevin supplies more details, statistics, studies and links if you doubt the undeniable reality of any of those 10 items.
What that means, in short, is that unemployment is a real social disaster, an evil, the opposite of a just and right situation.
Correcting this opposite of justice and this opposite of rightness ought to be a national emergency. The fact that it is not represents a greater moral failing — a greater viciousness — than anything the moralizers themselves have imagined the jobless are guilty of.