Robert J. Samuelson: Long-term unemployment is a huge national, personal tragedy

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    April 17, 2014 7:12 a.m.

    I think almost all economists, both the academic as well as the armchair variety, don't understand what's happening because they don't revert to first principles in understanding what's happening.

    What got Americans off the farm and into cubicles was inexpensive energy and the ability to do useful things with it. But now we live in a world where it is deemed politically correct to raise energy prices to "save" the environment (e.g., "energy prices will necessarily skyrocket"). But raising energy prices will naturally and necessarily reverse the migration, emptying the cubicles and sending folks back to the farm. The only hitch in the process is that a lot of people aren't comfortable going back to the farm, and a lot of people don't know how to go back to the farm, so Mexicans and Central Americans have come here to take the farm jobs.

    As far as long-term unemployment being the failure of capitalism, that's patently absurd. Capitalism is freedom. In a free society, goods and services and capital naturally flow to where they are needed. The problem is government distortions of the marketplace.

  • Schnee Salt Lake City, UT
    April 16, 2014 11:27 a.m.

    @Thid Barker
    "Grinning Joe Biden said "Obamacare will allow mothers to quit their jobs and be stay at home moms.""

    And here I thought conservatives thought America would be better off if more children had a stay-at-home parent...

  • Florwood American Fork, UT
    April 16, 2014 10:19 a.m.


    We've had Democratic presidents 14 of the last 30 years. So you're saying Presidents Clinton and Obama have perpetuated Reaganomics?

  • Irony Guy Bountiful, Utah
    April 16, 2014 9:47 a.m.

    Ironically, we're going to have labor shortages soon, and at the same time we'll have high unemployment. The reason is a 40 percent high school dropout rate. Get used to it.

  • ordinaryfolks seattle, WA
    April 16, 2014 8:06 a.m.

    What kind of universe do we live in that denies history? My grandfather could not support his family during the Great Depression brought on by Hoover and conservative Republican politics. He kept the family from starvation and homelessness by taking a government job that built roads. He worked his rear off for his family and for his country.

    We now have a chorus of latter day Hooverites whose hue and cry is the laziness of the unemployed. While there will always be some laziness out there, it is absolutely ridiculous to say that the long term unemployed don't want to work. I believe they do and would take it, if only it would be available. However, the LDH's have refused to consider any kind of government sponsored reaction to a jobs program as legitimate. The LDH's still insist that my grandfather's work, and that of may others during the Great Depression was a sham. The LDH's refuse to see how much good an activist government can do to make peoples' live a little better. Horrors!, they say to this. Imagine the horrors!

  • GaryO Virginia Beach, VA
    April 16, 2014 7:59 a.m.

    Ken –

    “We can just retire if that sounds better than working?”

    Why not? If people can afford to retire, then let them retire. What makes “Conservatives” think they can dictate the course of other people’s lives?

    Someone who retires makes room for someone who wants to be employed. What’s wrong with that?

    Your objections make NO sense.

  • Thid Barker Victor, ID
    April 16, 2014 7:05 a.m.

    Shaun. Helping people or making them dependent? Think about how the government harms people, destroys their work ethic and self reliance skills and has created a permanent underclass of poverty in America. But it wins elections for Democrats, doesn't it?

  • Mainly Me Werribee, 00
    April 15, 2014 11:42 p.m.

    Where are all those shovel ready jobs?

  • Mainly Me Werribee, 00
    April 15, 2014 11:42 p.m.


    Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
    Albert Einstein

  • Ken Sandy, UT
    April 15, 2014 11:37 p.m.

    Gari boy,

    Good one. We can just retire if that sounds better than working? Heaven forbid someone have to work at a job they don't like in order to pay their bills. Oh the horror!

  • Utes Fan Salt Lake City, UT
    April 15, 2014 9:47 p.m.

    We do know how to solve it - have a temporary halt on all forms of immigration. Give it a few years, and many American will be put back to work, as they won't have cheaper foreign labor to compete with. Then when the US unemployment hits a certain low point, open up immigration again, but be pragmatic about it.

  • Tekakaromatagi Dammam, Saudi Arabia
    April 15, 2014 9:24 p.m.

    Is it possible for them to hit a 'reset' button on their careers? I.e. go to a community college for two years and learn a craft?

  • Shaun Sandy, UT
    April 15, 2014 8:28 p.m.

    @Thid Baker. You seem to forget that Obama became president during the worst recession this country has had in 100 years. Do you really expect him to turn it around on a dime? He isn't a miracle worker and considering that republicans want him to fail does not help.

    As far as "entitlements" go they are working as they are designed to. Helping people in need during these trying times.

  • Dr. Thom Long Beach, CA
    April 15, 2014 8:00 p.m.

    A colleague with a JD and Phd and years of experience in business law has been unemployed for 3+ years due to a combination of age (65), race (White) and education. A government report stated that there is a 95% chance that someone in his position will never find FT employment again. Today he asked me to give him a reference on a job he applied for but not to mention his two graduate degrees for his 15 years at HP in the employment law department or the 11 years as an employment law professor. He is too old to be hired as an attorney with a law firm, retail wont touch him with a ten foot pole, and hasn't the resources to start his own law firm.

    So much for the American dream. His best hope for retirement is a heart attack or suicide.

  • Thid Barker Victor, ID
    April 15, 2014 6:38 p.m.

    Kent. Food stamps recipients have doubled under Obama and unemployment compensation is nearly limitless. Obamacare is nothing more than income redistribution. How can you say Democrats don't love entitlements? If you don't like Fox news, don't watch it! Or is it a threat to you liberals? To millions of the rest of us its a breath of fresh air!

  • Owl Salt Lake City, UT
    April 15, 2014 6:35 p.m.

    Socialism has been repeatedly tried in the laboratory of human society and proven to be a miserable failure. Fixing a mistake by repeating the mistake is not the answer. The solution to unemployment is to expand the economy through job creation. Mr. Obama's "jobs, jobs, jobs" campaign promise was the answer, but has proven to be as empty as "If you like your doctor…."

  • Joan Watson TWIN FALLS, ID
    April 15, 2014 5:50 p.m.

    It is a horrible situation. Parents with elderly children who have been gainfully and successfully employed all their working lives, but who are now out employment, find it hard and discouraging to find work - those in their late forties and early fifties are finding it extremely hard.

  • Kent C. DeForrest Provo, UT
    April 15, 2014 2:08 p.m.


    Simmer down. Good grief. No Democrat, even Pelosi, is suggesting that everybody quit their job and go on the government dole. That's a Faux News scare tactic. Democrats just want people to be able to make a decent living and have affordable health-care. And without Republican heel-dragging, they might have been able to deliver both in a marginal manner. In the Reaganomics disaster we live in, nothing close to the American dream is even possible for most Americans.

  • The Real Maverick Orem, UT
    April 15, 2014 1:21 p.m.

    The direct result of 3 decades of Reaganomics!

    Deregulation, redistribution of wealth, and lower taxes (for the rich)! Don't ya just love all his trickle down America! Let's vote another repub senate and president so we can have some more of this!

    I personally, don't believe this country can endure another decade of Reaganomics. Can Teddy please come back and end this new Gilded Age? Time to cut the Waltons, the Kochs, and the Adeltons down to size!

  • GaryO Virginia Beach, VA
    April 15, 2014 12:15 p.m.

    Hey Thid Barker - You are extremely confused about the "quit their jobs" quote.

    What it means is that people don't have to be tied to a job they hate just to get health care.

    They can do something else. They can start their own small business. Or they can retire.

    They have choices.

    You seem to be saying that you think people should not have the FREEDOM to choose how they run their lives.

    It's that a common feeling amongst other "Conservatives?"

    Do all of you think people should be kept from working in a career they want?

    Who are you to tell other people what to do?

  • GaryO Virginia Beach, VA
    April 15, 2014 12:08 p.m.

    "What can we do about the long-term unemployed?"

    For a start, we could pass a jobs bill of the kind proposed by Obama in 2011 and then immediately shot down by the obstructionist destructionists in Congress who call themselves Conservatives.

  • Thid Barker Victor, ID
    April 15, 2014 11:36 a.m.

    Kent DeForest, No misquote. It was all over the news for several days like on 03-21-13 08:06 PM: Pelosi: "ObamaCare Lets You Quit Your Job And Be An Artist."
    Grinning Joe Biden said "Obamacare will allow mothers to quit their jobs and be stay at home moms."
    Look it up for yourself, think for yourself and ask yourself who is going to pay for this? Our grandchildren?

  • Kent C. DeForrest Provo, UT
    April 15, 2014 10:05 a.m.

    Gee, Thid, I like how you take quotes totally out of context. The Pelosi statement simply refers to people who have wanted to retire but have been unable to because they couldn't get health insurance except through their employer. Now they can. End of story. There's nothing there about entitlements being more lucrative than working, which is simply another conservative trip to Fantasyland.

  • Badgerbadger Murray, UT
    April 15, 2014 8:04 a.m.

    The long term unemployed are exactly those the Obama policies have imprisoned in a dependent state, and have no intention of ever freeing. Their dependency means votes for democrats.

    The Obama administration doesn't want people working in prosperous jobs. They want people in minimum wage jobs.

  • Thid Barker Victor, ID
    April 15, 2014 7:51 a.m.

    In any socialist society such as ours, working is sometimes not as profitable as just getting entitlements. For example, didn't we recently learn from Nancy Pelosi, "Obamacare means people can quit their jobs"?

  • marxist Salt Lake City, UT
    April 15, 2014 12:19 a.m.

    "Long-term unemployment is a huge national and personal tragedy. It's an idleness trap. We don't know how to solve it; but we can at least not make it worse."

    This is a very frank admission that capitalism has failed, utterly failed, labor. A socialist president and congress would put the long term unemployed to work, doing what they already know how to do if possible, retraining them if necessary. But government would be the employer of last resort. And there are plenty of potential projects to soak up the idle labor, with our rotting transportation infrastructures for just one example.

    In the meantime this is a tragedy, a permanent one for many.

    Lastly, we socialists need to make it completely clear, we understand that people NEED to work. Not being able to work destroys human beings.