What about the short term?
Tonight's State of the Union will be about the future, mostly. What the American economy should look like in five, 10 and 20 years. The major policy initiatives are expected to span that timetable: Infrastructure investment, R&D, education and deficit reduction all tend to be multi-year endeavors, not policies we wrap up by June.
The address won't forget the unemployed, who number nearly 15 million, and many more than that if you count the under-employed and those who've given up on looking for work. They'll be mentioned, and their distress lamented. The president will gravely remind us that the status quo is not good enough, and the recovery has been agonizingly slow. But the truth is that the political system is moving on, both in rhetoric and in policy: The Democrats don't have the votes to do much more for the unemployed, and the Republicans aren't interested in doing much more in the unemployed.
Which is a shame, because unemployment remains the country's No. 1 problem over the next few years: The high rate of joblessness is a drag on both short-term growth and long-term human capital, as time out of work tends to degrade skills. The economy is recovering, but not quick enough: If we doubled the 103,000 jobs the economy created in December, it'd still take more than five years to return to full employment. The country needs to address our long-term challenges, but doing so isn't a substitute for solving the crisis we're facing right now. And I fear that the situation is even a bit worse than that: Both parties, for different reasons, are using action on long-term challenges to distract from inaction on unemployment.
Graph credit: The Hamilton Project.
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