Feature

Jobs: Why aren’t companies hiring?

Nearly 15 million Americans are out of work, half of them for more than six months, and the figures aren't dropping even though employers are ringing up good profits.

It’s been two years since Dwight Michael Frazee lost his construction job in New Jersey, and he’s starting to feel desperate. Frazee, 50, the married father of a 5-year-old daughter, has applied for work at car dealerships, insurance companies, big box stores, bail bond firms, even kitschy boardwalk shops—but he keeps coming up empty. After 99 weeks, his unemployment insurance ran out. “My life has been total stress,” he says. “I sleep maybe fours hours a night, worrying about money.” He has lots of company, said Michael Fletcher in The Washington Post. Nearly 15 million Americans are out of work, half of them for more than six months, “the most serious bout of long-term joblessness since the Great Depression.” And with nearly five unemployed people for every opening, job prospects are dismal. With the economy slowly rebounding, and employers ringing up good profits, unemployment should be dropping, said John Harwood in The New York Times. But it’s not. It’s “the biggest conundrum” facing President Obama as Democrats brace for a drubbing in November. “Where did the jobs go?”   It’s no great mystery, said Thomas Sowell in The Washington Examiner. From health care to finance, Washington keeps coming up with “more red tape, more mandates, and more heavy-handed interventions.” This massive expansion of government has created massive uncertainty for the private sector, which is reluctant to commit to hiring new, full-time workers. Obama promised that his $862 billion stimulus package would keep unemployment at 8 percent, said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. Wrong again. Unemployment remains stuck at 9.5 percent since “employers are afraid to hire because they don’t know what costs government will impose on them next.”

Sheer nonsense, said Robert Creamer in HuffingtonPost.com. The aggressively pro-business Bush administration created the Great Recession by eviscerating regulations, cheering on the recklessness of Wall Street and banks, and transferring wealth from the middle class to the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. Obama has been digging out from a deep “economic ditch,” and blaming him for stubborn unemployment is absurd. If Republicans had their way, there wouldn’t have been a stimulus package, which did spawn or save a few million jobs. It’s not Washington that employers fear, said Jia Lynn Yang in The Washington Post. It’s competition from China, India, and other cheap-labor nations, and the possibility that shellshocked American consumers will not return to their free-spending ways. So big companies are sitting on $1.8 trillion in cash, waiting for proof that better times are ahead. “CEOs don’t like taking risks,’’ one analyst said. “They kind of move in packs.’’

Whoever’s to blame, said Derek Thompson in TheAtlantic.com, the situation for millions of Americans is bleak. Most economists admit that it’s unclear whether any of the proposed remedies—from more stimulus spending to expanded job retraining—can make much of a dent. Millions of manufacturing and service jobs have been outsourced to India and China, and may simply be gone for good. But look at the bright side, said Andrew Leonard in Salon.com. “Productivity” is way up. What that means is that companies now get to hire highly skilled workers for part-time jobs at a fraction of their former salaries and no benefits, while people who do have jobs make up for their laid-off colleagues by putting in 10- and 12-hour days. As long as companies keep hauling in profits, “who cares if the social fabric is rent in tatters?”

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