Idle Hands

After the administration released estimates that the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to bail out failing financial institutions would cost $200 billion less than originally thought, President Obama suggested using the leftover money to on a program to create jobs. By law, any extra TARP money is supposed to go to paying down the deficit. But while the economy is showing signs of improving, unemployment is likely to remain high for a while. And if it does, a lot of politicians are going to find themselves out of work too.

Officially, the unemployment rate is 10% in the United States. While the rate itself has improved slightly, it's still near a 25-year high, and the economy still seems to be losing jobs. The good news—such as it is—is that number of jobs is declining more more slowly than it was. But, as Paul Krugman points out, we have now lost some 8 million jobs since the start of the recession. With the growth of the workforce, even if we add 300,000 new jobs a month it could take five more years to get back to full employment.

A striking new New York Times/CBS poll of unemployed adults shows just how painful unemployment has been for Americans. With a margin of error of four percent, 62% said they have had to cut back necessities. Almost as many said they have even had to cut back on medical care. Fully 47% reported having no health care coverage at all—a rate that's almost four times that of the general population. And 40% have already spent more than six months looking for work. Not surprisingly, 56% said that either the unemployment rate or the economy was the greatest problem facing the country.

As I've argued, this is a huge problem for Obama and the Democrats, because incumbent politicians' fortunes tend to  rise and fall with the employment rate. In spite of everything, 61% of the unemployed still approve of the job Obama is doing as president—that's actually over 10% more than the latest Gallup average for the general population. And 26% said that George W. Bush was the most to blame for the condition of the economy, compared to just 3% who blamed Obama. But that's because unemployment disproportionately affects blacks, young people, and the so-called lower-class—all demographic groups that generally support Democrats. And their support will start to waver if they don't find work sometime soon.

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