Skip to main content

Both parties abandon the jobless

By David Frum, CNN Contributor
  • More than 13 million Americans are unemployed; 6 million are long-term jobless
  • David Frum: Neither party is offering a real plan to boost employment
  • He says Republicans are supporting Ryan plan that doesn't promise quick improvement
  • Frum: Democrats don't seem to have a plan, except to blast Ryan's proposal

Editor's note: David Frum writes a weekly column for A special assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2002, he is the author of six books, including "Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again," and is the editor of FrumForum.

Washington (CNN) -- In the fall of 1984, I was a student living in Boston. A high-tax manufacturing state, Massachusetts had been hit hard by the economic troubles of the 1970s. But now suddenly there were signs in every shop window: "Help wanted." Or: "Help wanted!" Or even: "Help wanted!!!"

One afternoon on my way to the subway, I paused in front of one of these signs in the window of a restaurant that catered to students. I stood maybe 10 seconds, maybe 12. The manager bolted out, put his hand on my shoulder: "Hey -- you want a job?"

That's what a strong economic recovery looks like.

Technically speaking, the U.S. economy is recovering right now. GDP growth has been positive since the summer of 2009. Employment is growing. If you like, you can say the recession is over.

But don't say it too loud. With 13.5 million people out of work -- 6.1 million out of work for 27 weeks or more -- the odds are high that one of them may hear and take offense.

Isn't it weird that...neither of the two great U.S. political parties is offering a plan to do anything about the job situation?
--David Frum
Globalization crushing middle class?
Ryan: 'No more gimmicks'
Ryan budget plan fair?
Stockman: Ryan plan 'whiffs entirely'

The recovery is weak, and job creation is slow. Everybody knows that. But here's something that we don't know, or anyway don't think about enough: Isn't it weird that in this dismal economic situation, neither of the two great U.S. political parties is offering a plan to do anything about the job situation?

This is a democracy, right? The parties compete for power by offering solutions to problems that people care about, isn't that the theory? Yet here is the thing that people care about the very, very most -- and from the two parties there is ... what?

The Republicans have coalesced around U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan.

That plan has four main elements:

-- It would impose large cuts in Medicaid for the poor right away.

-- It would impose very large cuts on other domestic spending programs.

-- It would cut the top rate of federal income tax from the current 36% to 25%, while pledging to close unspecified loopholes.

-- Starting 10 years from now, it would reduce Medicare benefits for people now younger than 55 by potentially more than half.

Ryan's plans are bold. And they made bold promises. According to a Heritage Foundation study commissioned by Ryan, the plan would reduce unemployment to 6.4% next year, 4.0% in 2015 and 2.8% by 2021. (The rate of 2.8% was last seen during the Korean War, when millions of young men were conscripted into the armed forces.)

Alas, the Heritage projections were derided by other economists and eventually quietly withdrawn by Heritage itself.

Well, we all sometimes get our math wrong. But here's the strange thing: the invalidation of Heritage's job predictions has had no impact whatsoever on Republican advocacy of the Ryan plan.

Suppose I presented you with a plan to land an astronaut on Mars. You check my numbers and discover a mistake: my trajectory will instead send the astronaut hurtling into outer space. If I answer, "Well let's use that trajectory anyway," wouldn't you conclude that I was less than totally committed to the Mars mission? That perhaps I had some other goal in mind instead?

But at least Republicans have a goal in mind.

What about the Democrats? From the party of the president, we hear no job message at all. The president instituted his job program in 2009: His big stimulus plan, backed by the Federal Reserve's active monetary creation. Last year, the president offered a supplementary measure. He agreed to Republican renewal of the Bush tax cuts of 2001 plus a partial remission of Social Security payroll taxes.

Obviously, the results of those policies has been underwhelming, to put it mildly. On Sunday, The New York Times reported that the latest round of Fed easing -- $600 billion of direct money creation -- has not produced substantial results, in the opinion of most economists.

Plan A and Plan B have failed.

So what's the administration's Plan C? It seems to be wait and hope. The waiting will be long. At current trends, it will be years before all the involuntarily unemployed return to work. And hope is never a plan.

The administration does however have a political plan: Blast the Ryan plan. Since the Ryan plan is highly politically vulnerable, the blasting will likely hurt the GOP and help President Obama. The blasting will not, however, do much for the unemployed. But then we've all sort of given up on them, haven't we?

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Frum.

Featured Deal |