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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

May 30, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 39




Dennis Coday Where is the George Higgins for our times?

Dennis Coday, NCR staff writer

I did not plan to write about jobs again, but after I posted yesterday’s Today’s Take, I saw a story in The Wall Street Journal titled “Why for Many This Recovery Feels More Like a Recession,” I knew I had to revisit the issue.

The Journal story is part of a series, “Left Behind: Casualties of a Changing Job Market.” It is a sobering read.

By one measure, the U.S. economy is not in recession; it has expanded at an average annual rate of 2.7% since the fourth quarter of 2001. But until job growth accelerates, the recession cannot be declared officially over. This may not happen soon. The country is experiencing the most protracted job-market downturn since the Great Depression. To quote the Journal: The downturn “has left behind a remarkably broad swath of workers — from young to old, and from high-school dropouts to the highly educated — even as the economy has started growing again.”

One economist projected that we need annual average GDP grow of at least 3.5% “for the unemployment rate not to get worse (emphasis mine).” Growth that high is not likely for some time.

What’s going on? The Journal article looks at two issues: a hangover from the much heralded productivity boom of the 1990s and globalization of the manufacturing sector.

Productivity. Productivity — measured as output per hour worked — continues to increase, by 4.2% since the fourth quarter of 2001. That has allowed corporations to meet small increases in demand while still laying off workers.

“You end up with a jobless recovery,” Jared Bernstein, a labor economist with the Economic Policy Institute, told the Journal.

Globalization. Companies are cutting positions in the United States and moving them to Mexico, China and India where labor is cheaper. Sadly, these jobs are gone forever.

After painting this scenario, the Journal offered this (to me) surprising analysis: “These changes help to create a remarkable degree of dynamism in the economy, as workers find their way out of shrinking industries and into ones where jobs are available.” The Journal then tells the story of a mother and daughter both employed by a refrigerator manufacturer in Galesburg, Ill., that is moving the factory to Mexico. The mother and daughter are taking courses to become a medical secretary and a dental hygienist.

I do not want to knock the women’s chosen new professions, but I have to wonder if the wages and benefits will match their old jobs. What will it mean for them in the long term?

The other thing I wonder about is why these trends are not generating a major public policy debate? Except for the just-enacted $350 billion tax cut plan (which economist Paul Krugman says will result in fewer jobs not more) and the Democrats’ face saving extension of unemployment benefits, why isn’t the public talking about this? Where is the political leadership?

Have we resigned our fate to what The Wall Street Journal called the capitalist forces of “creative destruction” decimating weak industries and companies — and workers I would add — so new industries and companies can thrive?

Finally, has the church made a strong pastoral statement on jobs and the economy? Where is the church leadership? Where is the George Higgins for our times?

Send me your ideas. My email address is

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