Just more hot air on jobs

Please see the update at the end of the post.

I don’t pay much attention when President Obama talks about jobs. He lost credibility on this issue long ago,[1] certainly by November 2009, less than a year into his first term in office, when he said, “We all know there are limits to what government can and should do even during such difficult times.”[2] I’ve never forgiven him for those words, but they told me all I needed to know about what he was going to actually do about unemployment.

I interpreted correctly. He has done nothing.

But it is an election year, and so Obama needs to burnish his popular appeal. His approval ratings are down, the Obamacare roll-out was a fiasco, the young people who have been among his most significant supporters are seeing through his empty rhetoric, and economic performance has been less than persuasive.[3] So now, he’s talking about jobs.

But is he serious or is he simply, once again, saying what people want to hear? Consider his words on art history:

[A] lot of young people no longer see the trades and skilled manufacturing as a viable career. But I promise you, folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree.  Now, nothing wrong with an art history degree — I love art history. So I don’t want to get a bunch of emails from everybody. I’m just saying you can make a really good living and have a great career without getting a four-year college education as long as you get the skills and the training that you need.[4]

If Obama was serious, he might have done some homework before uttering such words. It seems that, statistically speaking, liberal arts majors haven’t fared so poorly in the job market as stereotypes suggest:

Then there is the fact that arts programs in American higher education (admittedly not identical to art history) — fearful of the stereotype that they provide job training for Starbucks jobs — have worked to study employment outcomes of their graduates. Their findings: Graduates of arts programs, while not all employed in the arts, are generally employed and have high levels of job satisfaction, using their arts knowledge in a range of ways. And then there is the study released just last week by the Association of American Colleges and Universities about the long-term success of liberal arts graduates in the world of work.[5]

So Obama’s words on art history amount to an unwarranted attack on universities for failing to produce ’employable’ graduates in a time when jobs are scarce, regardless of educational attainment;[6] they are yet another anti-intellectual appeal about supposedly good-for-nothing “liberal arts,” or as my father sneeringly referred to them, “basket-weaving” degrees; and they form yet another rationalization for the evisceration of funding for higher education in this country. Notice the damnation by faint praise and the all-important weasel word “potentially”: “people no longer see the trades and skilled manufacturing as a viable career,” but they “can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree”[7] And he utters them as politicians have refused to confront unemployment, even going so far as to let extended unemployment benefits expire.[8]

That is to say, people might “make a lot more . . . with skilled manufacturing or the trades” if Obama doesn’t export their jobs with the trade pacts he’s currently seeking fast-track authority for. In arguing for these agreements, Obama is, in essence, asking us to trust him, on negotiations conducted in secret,[9] just as, apparently, we’re supposed to trust him on domestic spying,[10] just as, apparently, we’re supposed to believe he’s given a damn about the unemployed at any point other than in an election year.

You’ll have to forgive me if I’m unimpressed.

Update, January 31, 2014: President Obama has signed an agreement with “about 300 businesses, including 21 of the nation’s 50 largest companies and 47 of the top 200” to end discrimination against the long-term unemployed. The revised practices will also apply to the federal government. Notably, the corporations agreeing to stop screening out the long-term unemployed include some of the most notoriously abusive: Wal-Mart and McDonald’s.[11]

Apple, for example, is sitting on top of an enormous pile of cash, but the bulk of its workers make around $25,000 per year. In 2012, the New York Times ran an extensive look at the company’s underpaid retail workers. “Worldwide, its stores sold $16 billion in merchandise,” stated the report, “but most of Apple’s employees enjoyed little of that wealth.” In 2013, Apple’s retail workers sued the company over unpaid wages and overtime. CEO Tim Cook has recently distinguished himself by attempting to block the investigation of a federally appointed anti-trust lawyer. And that’s just Apple.[12]

The point gets made, again and again, that employers like their workers desperate. These are the workers who are most tolerant of abusive labor conditions and low pay.[13] They’ll now be cashing in on the most desperate of all.

  1. [1]David Benfell, “Cold buildings and hot air: the Main Street choice between empty and hateful words,” Not Housebroken, June 3, 2011, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=3713
  2. [2]Michael A. Fletcher and Neil Irwin, “Obama to have forum on job creation,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 13, 2009, http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/11/13/MNL31AJFT4.DTL
  3. [3]Mark Z. Barabak, “Despite an improving economy, Obama’s approval rating stays low,” McClatchy, January 20, 2014, http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/01/20/215131/despite-an-improving-economy-obamas.html; John Dickerson, “President Obama Has Been Reduced to a Late-Night TV Pitchman,” Slate, December 4, 2013, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2013/12/barack_obama_needs_to_sell_obamacare_again_the_president_is_trying_to_save.html; Garance Franke-Ruta, “Why Millennials Fell Out of Love With Obama,” Atlanta, December 4, 2013, http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/12/why-millennials-fell-out-of-love-with-obama/282024/; Katherine Jacobsen, “Poll: Millennials turn on Obama, don’t like Obamacare, either,” Christian Science Monitor, December 4, 2013, http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/2013/1204/Poll-Millennials-turn-on-Obama-don-t-like-Obamacare-either; Amie Parnes and Justin Sink, “Dems admit reboot needs stronger team,” Hill, December 2, 2013, http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/191683-dems-admit-reboot-needs-stronger-team; Alex Roarty, “Obamacare Is Costing Democrats the White Women They’ll Need at the Ballot Box,” National Journal, December 5, 2013, http://www.nationaljournal.com/magazine/obamacare-is-costing-democrats-the-white-women-they-ll-need-at-the-ballot-box-20131205; Nelson D. Schwartz, “Economy Is Expanding, but Obama’s Legacy May Be Slipping Away,” New York Times, January 30, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/31/business/us-economy-grew-3-2-in-fourth-quarter.html; Elise Viebeck, “Administration acknowledges back-end problems on HealthCare.gov,” Hill, December 4, 2013, http://thehill.com/blogs/healthwatch/health-reform-implementation/192109-cms-back-end-issues-persist-will-be-resolved; Elise Viebeck, “Young invincibles spurn O-Care,” Hill, December 4, 2013, http://thehill.com/blogs/healthwatch/health-reform-implementation/192132-young-invincibles-spurn-enrollment; Matt Viser, “Young voters sour on President Obama, creating worry for Democrats, opportunity for Republicans,” Boston Globe, January 12, 2014, http://www.bostonglobe.com/news/politics/2014/01/12/young-voters-sour-president-obama-creating-worry-for-democrats-opportunity-for-republicans/VzbANt6tDC5QpwhDyhxpAO/story.html
  4. [4]Barack Obama, quoted in Scott Jaschik, “Obama becomes latest politician to criticize a liberal arts discipline,” Inside Higher Ed, January 31, 2014, http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/01/31/obama-becomes-latest-politician-criticize-liberal-arts-discipline
  5. [5]Barack Obama, quoted in Scott Jaschik, “Obama becomes latest politician to criticize a liberal arts discipline,” Inside Higher Ed, January 31, 2014, http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/01/31/obama-becomes-latest-politician-criticize-liberal-arts-discipline
  6. [6]Dean Baker, “Unemployment Falls to 6.7 Percent Due to Workers Leaving the Labor Force,” Truthout, January 10, 2014, http://truth-out.org/news/item/21145-unemployment-falls-to-67-percent-due-to-workers-leaving-the-labor-force; Shaila Dewan, “Frayed Prospects, Despite a Degree,” New York Times, July 19, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/20/business/recent-graduates-lose-out-to-those-with-even-fresher-degrees.html; Mike Dorning, “Obama’s 2008 Young Voters Find Little Hope in Job Market,” Bloomberg, June 15, 2012, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-06-15/obama-s-2008-young-voters-find-little-hope-in-job-market.html; Kevin Drum, “10 Reasons That Long-Term Unemployment Is a National Catastrophe,” Mother Jones, December 23, 2013, http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2013/12/10-reasons-long-term-unemployment-national-catastrophe; Steven J. Harper, “Law school is a sham,” Salon, April 6, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/04/06/law_school_is_a_sham/; Audrey Williams June, “Do You Know Where Your Ph.D.’s Are?” Chronicle of Higher Education, September 23, 2013, http://chronicle.com/article/Do-You-Know-Where-Your-PhDs/141777/; Paul Krugman, “Bill Clinton and Structural Unemployment,” New York Times, September 6, 2012, http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/06/bill-clinton-and-structural-unemployment/; Paul Krugman, “The Jobless Trap,” New York Times, April 21, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/22/opinion/krugman-the-jobless-trap.html; Annie Lowrey, “Long-Term Jobless: Still a Bleak Picture,” New York Times, June 7, 2013, http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/07/long-term-jobless-still-a-bleak-picture/; Annie Lowrey, “Caught in Unemployment’s Revolving Door,” New York Times, November 16, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/17/business/caught-in-unemployments-revolving-door.html; Christopher Matthews, “Long-Term Unemployment: A Weak Link in a Fragile Recovery,” Time, August 20, 2013, http://business.time.com/2013/08/20/long-term-unemployment-a-weak-link-in-a-fragile-recovery/; Matthew O’Brien, “The Terrifying Reality of Long-Term Unemployment,” Atlantic, April 13, 2013, http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/04/the-terrifying-reality-of-long-term-unemployment/274957/; Matthew O’Brien, “How to Save the Long-Term Unemployed,” Atlantic, April 25, 2013, http://m.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/04/how-to-save-the-long-term-unemployed/275279/; Stacey Patton, “The Ph.D. Now Comes With Food Stamps,” Chronicle of Higher Education, May 6, 2012, http://chronicle.com/article/From-Graduate-School-to/131795/; Christopher S. Rugaber, “Jobs report bummer: Another lousy batch of employment numbers,” Salon, January 10, 2014, http://www.salon.com/2014/01/10/jobs_report_bummer_another_lousy_batch_of_employment_numbers/; Nelson D. Schwartz, “Just as Hopes Were Lifting, a Meager Growth in Payrolls,” New York Times, January 10, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/11/business/economy/us-economy-added-only-74000-jobs-in-december.html; Chad Stone, “It’s the Great Recession, Not the Great Vacation, That’s Responsible for High Unemployment,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, December 15, 2011, http://www.offthechartsblog.org/its-the-great-recession-not-the-great-vacation-thats-responsible-for-high-unemployment/; Timothy R. Williams, “Readers React to Unemployment’s Revolving Door,” New York Times, November 21, 2013, http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/21/readers-react-to-unemployments-revolving-door/; Matthew Yglesias, “The Long-Term Unemployed Are Doomed,” Slate, April 15, 2013, http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2013/04/15/rand_ghayad_on_long_term_unemployment_the_long_term_unemployed_are_discriminated.html; Matthew Yglesias, “Statistical Discrimination Against the Long-Term Unemployed,” Slate, April 23, 2013, http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2013/04/23/long_term_unemployed_face_ferocious_statistical_discrimination.html;
  7. [7]Barack Obama, quoted in Scott Jaschik, “Obama becomes latest politician to criticize a liberal arts discipline,” Inside Higher Ed, January 31, 2014, http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/01/31/obama-becomes-latest-politician-criticize-liberal-arts-discipline
  8. [8]Brian Beutler, “The fools are at it again!: Conservatives’ inane new budget strategy,” Salon, December 10, 2013, The fools are at it again!: Conservatives’ inane new budget strategy; Brian Beutler, “GOP’s deep moral failing: Why it won’t extend unemployment insurance,” Salon, December 10, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/12/10/gops_deep_moral_failing_why_it_wont_extend_unemployment_insurance/; Charles M. Blow, “The Appalling Stance of Rand Paul,” New York Times, December 11, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/12/opinion/blow-the-appalling-stance-of-rand-paul.html; Josh Eidelson, “Rand Paul’s patronizing excuse for screwing the poor,” Salon, December 10, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/12/10/rand_pauls_patronizing_excuse_for_screwing_the_poor/; Burgess Everett, “Senate blocks jobless aid,” Politico, January 14, 2014, http://www.politico.com/story/2014/01/unemployment-benefits-update-102165.html; Ezra Klein, “The politicians-are-failing theory of unemployment,” Washington Post, September 11, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/09/11/the-politicians-are-failing-theory-of-unemployment/; Paul Krugman, “War On the Unemployed,” New York Times, June 30, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/01/opinion/krugman-the-war-on-the-unemployed.html; Eduardo Porter, “Confronting Old Problem May Require a New Deal,” New York Times, January 28, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/29/business/economy/confronting-old-problem-may-require-a-new-deal.html; Eugene Robinson, “Where is the Democrats’ outrage about unemployment?” Washington Post, January 13, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/eugene-robinson-where-is-the-democrats-outrage-about-unemployment/2014/01/13/6ebc87c6-7c93-11e3-93c1-0e888170b723_story.html; Jonathan Weisman, “Capitol Leaders Agree to a Deal on the Budget,” New York Times, December 10, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/11/us/politics/party-leaders-indicate-deal-is-reached-on-budget.html; Matthew Yglesias, “The Long-Term Unemployed Are Doomed,” Slate, December 11, 2013, http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2013/12/11/long_term_unemployment_doom.html
  9. [9]Zoë Carpenter, “Keeping a Massive Trade Deal Out of the Fast Lane,” Nation, August 22, 2013, http://www.thenation.com/blog/175865/keeping-massive-trade-deal-out-fast-lane; Democracy Now!, “NAFTA at 20: Lori Wallach on U.S. Job Losses, Record Income Inequality, Mass Displacement in Mexico,” January 3, 2014, http://www.democracynow.org/2014/1/3/nafta_at_20_lori_wallach_on; Erika Eichelberger, “The Biggest Secret Trade Deal You’ve Never Heard Of, Explained,” Mother Jones, July 10, 2013, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/07/trans-pacific-partnership-explainer-free-trade-deal; Dave Johnson, “NAFTA At 20: 1 Million Lost Jobs, 580% Increase In Trade Deficit,” Campaign for America’s Future, December 30, 2013, http://ourfuture.org/20131230/nafta-at-20-1-million-lost-jobs-580-increase-in-trade-deficit; Annie Lowrey, “Obama and G.O.P. Facing Opposition to Trade Pacts,” New York Times, January 30, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/31/business/reid-pushes-back-on-fast-track-trade-authority.html; Elaine Magliaro, “President Obama Trying to ‘Fast Track’ the Trans Pacific Partnership—a Trade Pact That Could Be Worse Than NAFTA,” Jonathan Turley, September 28, 2013, http://jonathanturley.org/2013/09/28/president-obama-trying-to-fast-track-the-trans-pacific-partnership-a-trade-pact-that-could-be-worse-than-nafta/; Amie Parnes, “Obama: Give me fast track trade,” Hill, January 21, 2014, http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/195858-white-house-works-to-convince-dems-to-give-obama-fast-track-on-trade; Manuel Pérez-Rocha, “NAFTA’s 20 Years of Unfulfilled Promises,” InterPress Service, December 29, 2013, http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/op-ed-naftas-20-years-unfulfilled-promises/; Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, “NAFTA at 20,” Public Citizen, January, 2014, http://www.citizen.org/documents/NAFTA-at-20.pdf; Jon Queally, “White House Selling ‘Free Trade’ and ‘Fast Track,’ But Who’s Buying?” Common Dreams, January 21, 2014, http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/01/21-0; Timothy A. Wise, “How Beer Explains 20 Years of NAFTA’s Devastating Effects on Mexico,” Triple Crisis, January 2, 2014, http://triplecrisis.com/how-beer-explains-20-years-of-naftas-devastating-effects-on-mexico/
  10. [10]David Benfell, “N.S.A. scandal timeline,” December 17, 2013, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2013/11/07/peeping-obama-prospects-for-a-movement-to-restore-the-right-of-privacy/; David Benfell, “Extortion and the NSA,” Not Housebroken, January 6, 2014, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=6088;
  11. [11]Peter Baker, “Big Business Joins Obama Effort to Aid Long-Term Unemployed,” New York Times, January 31, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/01/us/politics/big-companies-join-obama-in-initiative-to-help-long-term-unemployed.html; Donna Ballman, “Walmart Should Have Listened To Me About Firing Striking Workers,” Screw You Guys, I’m Going Home, November 22, 2013, http://employeeatty.blogspot.com/2013/11/walmart-should-have-listened-to-me.html; Susan Berfield, “Fast-Food Wages Come With a $7 Billion Side of Public Assistance,” Business Week, October 15, 2013, http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-10-15/mcdonalds-low-wages-come-with-a-7-billion-side-of-welfare; Democracy Now!, “Wal-Mart Workers in 12 States Stage Historic Strikes, Protests Against Workplace Retaliation,” October 10, 2012, http://www.democracynow.org/2012/10/10/walmart_workers_in_12_states_stage; Democracy Now!, “Super-Sizing Welfare Costs: Low Wages at McDonald’s, Burger King Cost Taxpayers Billions,” October 17, 2013, http://www.democracynow.org/2013/10/18/super_sizing_welfare_costs_low_wages; Democracy Now! “Over 110 Arrested as Record Black Friday Protests Challenge Wal-Mart, Major Retailers on Low Wages,” December 2, 2013, http://www.democracynow.org/2013/12/2/over_110_arrested_as_record_black; Peter Dreier, “Labor Board Sides With Workers: Walmart Can’t Silence Employees Any Longer,” Nation, November 19, 2013, http://www.thenation.com/article/177254/labor-board-sides-workers-walmart-cant-silence-employees-any-longer; Josh Eidelson, “Wal-Mart faces warehouse horror allegations and federal Labor Board complaint,” Salon, November 18, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/11/18/breaking_wal_mart_faces_warehouse_horror_allegations_and_federal_labor_board_complaint/; Josh Eidelson, “Senators blast Wal-Mart “trampling” workers’ rights as dozens of activists are arrested on Black Friday,” Salon, November 29, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/11/29/senators_blast_wal_mart_trampling_workers_rights_as_dozens_of_activists_are_arrested_on_black_friday/; Josh Eidelson, “Tens of thousands protest, over 100 arrested in Black Friday challenge to Wal-Mart,” Salon, November 29, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/11/30/tens_of_thousands_protest_over_100_arrested_in_black_friday_challenge_to_wal_mart/; Josh Eidelson, “Wal-Mart arrests could fuel “a new political movement of the disenfranchised,” Grayson tells Salon,” Salon, November 29, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/11/29/wal_mart_arrests_could_fuel_a_new_political_movement_of_the_disenfranchised_grayson_tells_salon/; Josh Eidelson, “Finally paying for Wal-Mart’s sins: Wage theft settlement yields millions,” Salon, December 16, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/12/16/finally_paying_for_wal_marts_sins_wage_theft_settlement_yields_millions/; Josh Eidelson, “Freezing for Wal-Mart: Sub-zero warehouse temperatures spur Indiana work stoppage,” Salon, January 13, 2014, http://www.salon.com/2014/01/13/freezing_for_wal_mart_sub_zero_warehouse_temperatures_spur_indiana_work_stoppage/; Allison Kilkenny, “Cleveland Walmart Holds Food Drive For Its Own Employees,” Nation, November 18, 2013, http://www.thenation.com/blog/177241/cleveland-wal-mart-holds-food-drive-its-own-employ%C3%A9es; Yves Smith, “The Rise of Bullshit Jobs,” Naked Capitalism, August 22, 2013, http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/08/the-rise-of-bullshit-jobs.html; Veruca [pseud.], “Which Ten Companies Pay Their Employees The Least?” Everlasting GOP Stoppers, November 17, 2013, http://www.theeverlastinggopstoppers.com/2013/11/ten-companies-pay-employees-least/; Jordan Weissmann, “McDonald’s Can’t Figure Out How Its Workers Survive on Minimum Wage,” Atlantic, July 16, 2013, http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/07/mcdonalds-cant-figure-out-how-its-workers-survive-on-minimum-wage/277845/; Spencer Woodman, “Labor Takes Aim at Walmart—Again,” Nation, January 4, 2012, http://www.thenation.com/article/165437/labor-takes-aim-walmart-again
  12. [12]Lynn Stuart Parramore, “Record-Breaking Long-Term Unemployment in Virtually Every State, and Obama Turns to Big Business?” Alternet, January 30, 2014, http://www.alternet.org/economy/record-breaking-long-term-unemployment-virtually-every-state-and-obama-turns-big-business
  13. [13]George Kent, Ending Hunger Worldwide (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2011); Yves Smith, “The Rise of Bullshit Jobs,” Naked Capitalism, August 22, 2013, http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/08/the-rise-of-bullshit-jobs.html

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