19 Pages Posted: 7 Oct 2011
Date Written: October 6, 2011
The record-breaking economic downturn experienced by the United States beginning in 2007 has been characterized by high unemployment levels that have proved remarkably enduring. Until recently, however, the federal government seemed willing to accept the notion that the economic recovery could be “jobless,” as other recoveries before this one have been. The major pressure on government to address the unemployment problem seemed to stem only from worries that a high unemployment rate would ultimately undermine the economic recovery because it would erode consumption. In a frustrating game of reverse chicken, jobless workers without income pulled back on spending and employers refused to hire on speculation, preferring to wait for renewed demand for products and services to materialize. Newspapers published dire reports on the extent and depth of the unemployment problem side-by-side with upbeat articles touting the burgeoning recovery and bull stock market. Economists advised us not to worry because employment always lags behind the other indicia of economic recovery. All agreed that increased consumption - not increased work - would be the key driver for recovery when it did arrive.
This essay examines how our nation’s economic health came to be predicated on consumption rather than upon work. It argues that the sidelining of work in public policy discussions and legislative reform agendas is grossly out of step with the reality of experience for everyday people, and thus is anathema to a vibrant and healthy democratic polity. Finally, it outlines how employment law and fiscal policy might be different if we took work seriously - if we treated work as if it matters.
Keywords: labor, work, employment, unemployment, labor markets, fiscal policy, consumption, consumer, economic recovery, comparative employment law
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