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Deficit-Obsessed Media Leaves Unemployment Story at the Side of the Road

Not to harp on Raul Grijalva, but his media critique in this op-ed is spot-on, even if you strip away the partisan lens through which he frames this.

The real story is that we have a jobs shortage crisis in this country, and Republicans haven’t lifted a finger to help. Democrats have put up the Restore the American Dream for the 99% Act, the American Jobs Act and several other landmark pieces of jobs legislation that Republicans killed sight unseen. They didn’t even pretend to have alternatives.

It’s one thing to miss a story as it happens. Reporters can’t be everywhere all the time. But it’s quite another to miss the real story, day in and day out, week after week after week, for more than a year. Voters care about the economy first and foremost, and people are hurting for Washington to show some leadership.

Working people aren’t talking about Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-S.C.) latest comments or who’s taking Grover Norquist’s no-taxes pledge. They’re talking about putting food on the table. Doesn’t anyone out there want to tell that story?

Well, no. Reporters, especially inside the Beltway, have little or no contact with those millions of working people, outside of anecdotal field research that bears a resemblance to Marlon Perkins doing an episode of Wild Kingdom. The parts of DC and its suburbs they operate have done very well for themselves during the recession, and
so in their minds, the country faces a deficit crisis and really nothing else. Jobs are so 2009.

Grijalva has some good ideas on this front – particularly direct job creation through job corps – but I fully expect none of them to even get so much as a vote in the Republican House. There’s an idea on the table to create 300,000 jobs next year simply by extending current law. That comes from stopping the potential cliff from expiring unemployment benefits for 2 million Americans. You would think the human tragedy of 2 million families cut off from any visible means of support would be enough to get Washington to act, but we could frame it in terms of jobs as well:

For the three options involving extensions for an entire year—Options 1, 2, and 4—economic output would be $1.10 higher per dollar of budgetary cost, on average, in 2013, CBO estimates, and employment would be increased by six years of full-time-equivalent employment per million dollars of budgetary cost (see figure below).

Under Option 1 [a full, year-long extension], for example, which extends the benefits provided under the current EUC and EB programs at a total budgetary cost of $30 billion, CBO estimates that gross domestic product adjusted for inflation would be 0.2 percent higher in the fourth quarter of 2013 and that full-time-equivalent employment would be 0.3 million higher at that time than it would be under current law.

That’s from those left-wing radicals over at the Congressional Budget Office, by the way.

Senate Democrats have an unemployment insurance extension ready to go, and House Democrats, led by Ways and Means Committee ranking member Sandy Levin, support it as well. I think Levin puts it best here:

Extending federal unemployment insurance is vital for millions of Americans laid off through no fault of their own and it serves as an important economic stimulus. The system is structured to wind down on its own as the economy continues its recovery and we should make sure that the families who need federal assistance in the meantime continue to receive this important lifeline.

This sounds like a pretty big story! Two million Americans hanging on the actions of Congress. Drama, action, legislative maneuvering. Someone should cover it.

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David Dayen

David Dayen