Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Where Do Jobs Come From?

Boyfriend and your MatchGirl went to the Met the other day and while perusing a collection of modern photographs, your MatchGirl stumbled upon this gem by the artist Hans Haacke. See the diptych here.

It's an enlarged image of the Paine Webber Annual Report from 1977. Where do jobs come from?, the headline asks. Underneath: A concise report on unemployment. And Wall Street's role in preventing it.

Is it just me, gentle readers, or could this bit of propaganda - a little something to make those wealthy investors feel that they were doing or at least could do something "good" with their investment capital - be from 2008, thirty-one years after its publication and the beginning of the recession? Or, even better, dear readers, wouldn't it be fitting to see that question somewhere today? In 2011, nearly thirty-five years after the corporation posed the question.

Your MacthGirl is lucky. And she knows it. Eighteen months after being laid off, she was working again. And eighteen months, while a really, really long time to be without a job is better than a lot of people are looking at.

But, out of curiosity, I decide to look up unemployment rates in 1977. I was young then, and I don't actually recall anything of it. When watching a movie or sitcom from the late 1970s, there is talk of high gas prices, of fuel lines, of shortages and of unemployment, with industrial jobs starting to end in the United States and more and more people with less and less of an education finding themselves out of work.

Funny how we're facing these problems and asking ourselves the same questions nearly 35 years later. The '80s came along and everything was on an upswing, at least in the media, so instead of figuring out how to keep ourselves, as a country, working, instead of focusing on education and upward mobility, the rich just got richer and the middle class, like today, struggled to make ends meet. 1977? 2008? 2011? Could it all be so similar.

Interestingly, in viewing the unemployment statistics for 1977, when this Paine Weber report is from, I found that unemployment hovered, for most of the year, between 6.5% and 7.5%. In comparison, in 2008 (your MatchGirl was laid off in November of this year) it shot from 5% at the beginning of the year to 7.5% at year's end. And the first half of this year is in the 9% range. Of course, this is country-wide. We're all well aware that it varies widely from state to state.

The question is, gentle readers, where do we go from here? Why are the American people so placid and accepting of these high and seemingly steadily increasing unemployment rates? How can we just sit by and watch so many of our fellow citizens hit rock bottom and just keep falling?

Your MatchGirl doesn't have the answer. She simply has questions.

Here's a final one. Will we see the American people get off their asses and hit the polls, once the primary season begins?

Time will tell.

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