Near the opening of The Divine Comedy Dante saw these words written on the gates of Hell: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” In the original Italian, it reads: “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate"
It’s a great lead-in for a post about the Obama economic recovery, especially in regard to unemployment.
Writing in The New York Post John Crudele emphasized that a large number of people had given up the hope of finding a job.
Last month, three times more people abandoned hope than got jobs.
Then, Mort Zuckerman, a man whose trenchant analysis of the Obama record has drawn my interest, wrote that by any metric the nation has fallen into a depression.
Of course, depression or despair is the absence of what Dante’s Italian called speranza, hope.
As the best description of depression has it, when you believe that you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t… to the point where you give up trying, you fall into depression.
Zuckerman’s analysis of the numbers behind the numbers is sobering:
First, the number who have abandoned the hope of finding a job:
How many people are out of work but not counted as unemployed because they hadn't sought work in the past four weeks? Eight million. This is the sort of distressing number that turns up when you look beyond the headline number.
He continues, examining the number of chronic unemployed, those who face ever dimmer prospects of finding work:
The alarming numbers proliferate the deeper you look: 40.7% of the people counted as unemployed have been out of work for 27 weeks or more—that's 5.2 million "long-term" unemployed. Fewer Americans are at work today than in April 2000, even though the population since then has grown by 31 million.
We are still almost five million payrolls shy of where we were at the end of 2007, when the recession began. Think about that when you hear the Obama administration's talk of an economic recovery.
By any measure, Zuckerman says, the Obama stimulus has failed:
In short, the president's ill-designed stimulus program was a failure. For all our other national concerns, and the red herrings that typically swim in electoral waters, American voters refuse to be distracted from the No. 1 issue: the economy. And even many of those who have jobs are hurting, because annual wage increases have dropped to an average of 1.6%, the lowest in the past 30 years. Adjusting for inflation, wages are contracting.
Not only are wages contracting, but older Americans cannot afford to retire. With interest rates kept artificially low, they cannot live on the interest from their savings. Also, they have lost much of their family equity in the declining housing market.
Older Americans can't afford to quit. Ironically, since the recession began, employment in the age group of 55 and older is up 3.9 million, even as total employment is down by five million. These citizens hope to retire with dignity, but they feel the need to bolster savings as a salve for the stomach-churning decline in their net worth, 75% of which has come from the fall in the value of their home equity.
Moreover, as The New York Times and now Zuckerman notes, most of the new jobs that have been created are bad jobs.
In his words:
Furthermore, the jobs that are available are mostly not good ones. More than 40% of the new private-sector jobs are in low-paying categories such as health care, leisure activities, bars and restaurants.
Among the signs of the depression, the number of people on food stamps and the number of people taking social security disability:
We are experiencing, in effect, a modern-day depression. Consider two indicators: First, food stamps: More than 45 million Americans are in the program! An almost incredible record. It's 15% of the population compared with the 7.9% participation from 1970-2000. Food-stamp enrollment has been rising at a rate of 400,000 per month over the past four years.
Second, Social Security disability—another record. More than 11 million Americans are collecting federal disability checks. Half of these beneficiaries have signed on since President Obama took office more than three years ago.
These dependent millions are the invisible counterparts of the soup kitchens and bread lines of the 1930s, invisible because they get their checks in the mail. But it doesn't take away from the fact that millions of people who had good private-sector jobs now have to rely on welfare for life support.
Reading through these glum statistics one is forced to conclude, echoing Macbeth, that Obama has murdered hope.
Barack Obama ran in 2008 as the Pied Piper of hope. In less than four years he has wiped the optimism from far too many American minds.
How has he done it?
Everyone knows that Obama has rigged the system to favor government over private enterprise, the takers over the givers. He has stifled entrepreneurship with Obamacare and onerous banking regulations.
Second, think about the example that Obama has set. Barack Obama is clearly in over his head; he has set an example of weak and ineffectual leadership, of someone who is floundering.
It is demoralizing to see that your chief executive does not know what he is doing. Think back to Jodi Kantor’s New York Times profile of President Obama.
Regardless of your political proclivities, Kantor, who is most likely an Obama supporter, paints a picture of a man who is so obviously clueless that even she, sympathetic, cannot cover it over.
How does it feel to be a passenger on a ship that is out of control, heading for an iceberg and knowing that the captain is hard at work trying to perfect his pool game or his three-point shot?
Had Obama set the example of someone who is in charge, in control, who knows what he is doing and knows how to do his job, don’t you think that that, in and of itself, would inspire people to do the same.
Put someone who can’t do it at the top of an organization and everyone else will find themselves imbued with a can’t-do spirit.
When you see ineptitude and incompetence at the top, you are more likely to emulate the example.
The best sign of the leadership vacuum was Obama’s need to tell people in his acceptance speech Thursday that he was the president.
Mickey Kaus commented:
I cringed–literally literally, not Biden-literally–when Obama said “I’m no longer just a candidate. I’m the President,” If you really are the President–i.e., if you’ve filled the role–you don’t have to say “I’m the President.” You don’t let that line get written.
Unfortunately, if you are Barack Obama you do not just let it get written. You probably write it yourself.