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Jarring Disconnect: If Joblessness and Hopelessness Undermine Democracy in the Middle East, What about Here at Home?

 

In his latest speeches on the Middle East, President Obama, both at the State Department and at the G8 meeting in France, has pledged billions of dollars in economic aid to Middle Eastern countries, drawing a direct connection between the unrest and demonstrations that brought down the dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, and the joblessness and hopelessness felt by the young people in those two countries.

His adviser on international economics, David Lipton, has been more specific, saying that, “We believe that these two pillars go hand in hand. Without economic modernization, it will be hard for governments trying to democratize to show people that democracy delivers.”

Unemployment in Egypt among young men and women is about 30%. In Tunisia, it is over 40%. The White House claims that with figures like that, the future for democracy in those countries is tenuous.

But wait a minute. What about the US? Unemployment and underemployment here is still up around 20% overall, and it is much higher among young people. Black youth unemployment fell so far in 2011 to an official rate of 44% from 50% last year (because so many young workers just gave up trying to find work)! Among Latino youth, the official unemployment rate is stuck at around 30%. Overall, youth unemployment, according to the official Labor Department figures, is 20%, but remember, the official rate does not count those who are working part time who want full-time work, and does not count those who have given up looking for work. Among young people, it may be that many who work part-time (those who live at home or who are in school or college) actually are not looking for full-time work, so that upward adjustment may not be as great as for older workers, but at the same time, there are certainly more young people who give up looking for jobs than is the case with older workers who have families to support. In any event, it is clear that all these youth unemployment figures are actually too low by a significant amount.

If the official rate of unemployment for all Americans of 9% is actually less than half of the actual rate of 20%, then even if we took a conservative estimate, simply eliminating the adjustment of those working part-time who want full-time work from the youth unemployment figure, and just keeping the adjustment for those who have dropped out of the labor force (stopped looking for work) because it is fruitless, we would still see actual unemployment figures for young people in the US at staggering Egypt-like levels: 30% for all young people, 45% for young Latinos, and as high as 66% for black youth!

So why is the president so concerned about providing economic support to boost jobs in countries like Tunisia and Egypt, in order to “support democracy,” while in here in the US, he has basically thrown in the towel on job creation efforts, and is just talking about cutting the deficit--a Republican theme?
 Big US concern in the Middle East, but at home, who cares?Youth unemployment: Big US concern in the Middle East, but at home, who cares?

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