Skip to main content

Washington abandons America's jobless

By David Frum, CNN Contributor
updated 12:57 PM EDT, Mon May 6, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Frum: U.S. creating too few jobs to make a real impact in cutting unemployment
  • He says both parties have given up on policies to speed job creation
  • Washington's message to America is: You're on your own, Frum says

Editor's note: David Frum, a CNN contributor, is a contributing editor at Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is the author of eight books, including a new novel, "Patriots," and a post-election e-book, "Why Romney Lost." Frum was a special assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2002.

(CNN) -- The U.S. economy added 165,000 jobs in April. That's not a bad result, except for this fact: Technically speaking, the economy has been in recovery since the summer of 2009. Yet after nearly four years of economic expansion, nearly 12 million people remain unemployed.

If we continue to add jobs every month at the April rate, not until the fall of 2014 will we again have as many people working as we did back in January 2008. 

And of course, the American workforce has expanded since January 2008 as young people reach working age and as new immigrants arrive. At present job creation trends, it will take until 2021 to drive the unemployment rate down to a rate that is considered "full employment." 

David Frum
David Frum

That seems unlikely to happen. The longest expansion in U.S. history lasted 10 years from 1991 to 2001. Even if we could somehow equal that record going forward, we would expect a recession sometime before 2019 -- meaning that the unemployment rate will surely rise again before it has touched anywhere close to bottom. 

But why repeat these familiar facts? You know all about the joblessness crisis. Everybody knows all about the joblessness crisis. Or rather ... not quite everybody. 

Last week, President Barack Obama held a press conference. He accepted questions on Syria, on the Boston bombing, on guns, on the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and on immigration. None was asked about plans for job creation, which is maybe just as well, since nobody in U.S. politics seems to have a jobs program. 

Before the 2012 election, Obama used to talk often about his American Jobs Act, a second stimulus program that emphasized more cuts in the payroll tax and aid to states to prevent public-sector layoffs. That plan has not been heard from in a long time. The payroll tax holiday expired at the end of 2012.

Layoffs continue apace in the public sector: 11,000 public-sector jobs lost in April 2013. The Obama administration faintly regrets both developments but won't invest much political capital in seeking to reverse them. We are told that the president this week will resume his "jobs and opportunity" tours.

Yet his speeches focus on immigration and budget themes. Nor can the administration muster the creative enthusiasm to propose alternative job-creation plans for the second term.. 

Warren Buffett on stimulus, immigration

Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, continue to emphasize budget-balancing above all else. Back in 2011, the House GOP released a 10-point jobs plan whose key point was a big cut in the top rate of tax to 25%. That plan too has vanished from sight since Election Day.

We now have a two-party agreement to act as if the central economic challenge of our time has been resolved. Here's from the fourth paragraph White House response to the April jobs report, a statement by Alan Krueger, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers:

"The Administration continues to urge Congress to replace the sequester with balanced deficit reduction, while working to put in place measures to create middle-class jobs, such as by rebuilding our roads and bridges and promoting American manufacturing."

Not exactly a ringing call to action.

Here's House Speaker John Boehner's response to the same report:

"To get things moving, we need to seize opportunities the president has been ignoring, and focus on growing our economy rather than growing more government. That means expanding energy production and modernizing our laws to make life work for more American families. It means controlling spending, simplifying our tax code, and reining in red tape that is choking small business owners who want to hire more workers. And it means repealing ObamaCare, and replacing the president's sequester with smarter cuts and reforms that put us on a path to a balanced budget."

That's even less energetic than the president's statement. 

The real message from Washington: The jobs debate has hopelessly stalemated. The only policy now is to wait the long, slow months and years before the problem solves itself. No action will be forthcoming from government. Not even any discussion of action will be forthcoming. Get well, soon, America -- you are on your own. 

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

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

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 1:10 PM EDT, Sat April 19, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT