You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

The Economic Roots Of Reaction

The current reactionary mood among large segments of the public is a response not only to the general fact of a recession, but the specific way in which its effected certain groups. One of the factors that has caused unemployment to remain so high is that employers have used the recession to restructure their work force, eliminating jobs made obsolete by technology or other changes. This, Catherine Rampell explains, has disproportionately hurt older workers:

But there is reason to think restructuring may take a bigger toll this time around. The percentage of unemployed workers who were permanently let go has hovered at a record high of over 50 percent for several months.
Additionally, the unemployment numbers show a notable split in the labor pool, with most unemployed workers finding jobs after a relatively short period of time, but a sizable chunk of the labor force unable to find new work even after months or years of searching. This group — comprising generally older workers — has pulled up the average length of time that a current worker has been unemployed to a record high of 33 weeks as of April. The percentage of unemployed people who have been looking for jobs for more than six months is at 45.9 percent, the highest in at least six decades.

This sort of change represents not merely economic hardship but a massive, status-altering life change. And, of course, it's older workers who have disproportionately turned rightward. The phenomenon is not entirely economic in nature, but economics has driven the trend.

Rampell focused on one administrative assistant, who takes enormous pride in her skills and cannot fathom why businesses don't want to hire someone for her quickly-disappearing job category. Norton is a victim of market forces. But she locates the problem elsewhere:

Ms. Norton says she cannot find any government programs to help her strengthen the “thin bootstraps” she intends to pull herself up by. Because of the Wal-Mart job, she has been ineligible for unemployment benefits, and she says she made too much money to qualify for food stamps or Medicaid last year.
“If you’re not a minority, or not handicapped, or not a young parent, or not a veteran, or not in some other certain category, your hope of finding help and any hope of finding work out there is basically nil,” Ms. Norton says. “I know. I’ve looked.”

The whole article is fascinating and worth a read.