"The latest job numbers are out -- and they're not good."
That's a phrase we've heard a lot lately -- and will likely continue to hear for the foreseeable future. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 9.5 percent, the economy actually lost another 131,000 jobs in July. The only reason the unemployment rate didn't go up was because so many people had quit looking and dropped out of the workforce. Tens of thousands of people throwing in the towel is definitely not good news. More "not good news": the number of Americans unemployed for 26 weeks or more is now over 6.5 million.
Clearly, we're not in the middle of a normal recovery. Wall Street may have its casino up and running again, but Main Street shows no signs of bouncing back anytime soon. From foreclosures to unemployment to household debt to bankruptcies, the American middle class is under assault -- and America is in danger of becoming a Third World nation.
I detail all the ways this is happening -- and the reasons why -- in my upcoming book, Third World America. Just as important, I also talk about the steps we can all take to help stop the slide. As soon as I finished writing the book, I knew I wanted to keep telling the stories of the middle class families whose lives have been turned upside down by the economic crisis -- and to provide interactive tools that would allow people to get involved.
That's why HuffPost is launching a "Third World America" section to bear witness to what is happening to the American middle class in small towns and big cities all across the country. And we will, every day, focus on the solutions that are making a difference in the lives of ordinary Americans.
And we want you to be a big part of this section. If you or someone you know has been struggling with unemployment, foreclosure, bankruptcy, or credit card debt, we want to hear about it. Visit our interactive map, share your story, and leave your mark.
Though it is far from what dominates the debate in Washington, every day brings fresh evidence of the new reality that America is entering. And it's not just about dismal unemployment figures and gloomy foreclosure numbers. As the New York Times reported last week, Hawaii has gone beyond laying off teachers and has begun laying off students -- closing its public schools on 17 Fridays during the last school year. In the Atlanta suburb of Clayton County, the entire bus system was shut down. Colorado Springs turned off a third of its 24,000 streetlights. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Camden, New Jersey is soon to permanently shutter its entire library system. And last month the Wall Street Journal reported on the trend of cash-strapped states and counties giving up on the idea of maintaining paved roads, allowing them instead to turn back into gravel. And those localities that can't even afford to put gravel down are just letting the roads, as the Journal put it, "return to nature." A seminar at Purdue University on this trend was entitled "Back to the Stone Age."
Though the particulars of our country's transformation are painfully real to the rest of the country, Washington and Wall Street remain blind to our trajectory toward Third World status.
Witness the joint appearance on Fareed Zakaria's CNN show by former Treasury Secretaries Paul O'Neill and Robert Rubin. According to both of them, we don't need a second stimulus. "We are moving forward at a pretty gradual pace," said O'Neill, "but I don't think things are terrible." Is "not terrible" the new definition of success? And I don't doubt that things are not terrible for O'Neill -- in fact, I bet the roads leading to most of his houses are still paved.
As for Rubin, he "wouldn't do a major second stimulus, because I think...we run a risk that it could be counterproductive in creating a lot of additional uncertainty and undermining confidence."
Uncertainty? I guess that's true in the sense that the nearly 15 million people without a job are currently quite certain they don't have one; if a new stimulus bill were passed, there will at least be some welcome uncertainty as to whether they would be one of the lucky ones getting hired.
In Rubin's mind, what would create more "certainty" is -- drumroll, please -- deficit reduction. "I would try over the next six months to put in place a very serious beginning of deficit reduction that would take effect at some specified time in the future," he said. "I think that could do a lot for confidence."
As Duncan Black writes:
"Can someone get me some of the Very Serious Person crack rock so I can understand the very sophisticated economic model such that all that matters is 'confidence' and that confidence could be undermined by fiscal stimulus?"
To learn more, visit the Third World America section.
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