Columns » Hightower

Five million missing workers




Wall Street analysts, corporate lobbyists, and front groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce form an exuberant cheering squad for maintaining the status quo of America's do-nothing jobs policy.

"Hooray!" they shout to our lawmakers, "The unemployment rate is improving!"

Waving pom-poms of campaign cash and doing statistical backflips, the pep squad instructs Congress to forget a national jobs program, raising the minimum wage, extending unemployment benefits, etc.

"Push 'em back, Push 'em back," they yell!

Well, yes, the official jobless rate has fallen to 7.2 percent, but don't get giddy, for that's not the total score.

In December 2007, when Wall Street's reckless greed crashed our economy, the unemployment rate was only about 5 percent, the average length of being unemployed was half of today's, and far fewer people were forced into part-time work or had to find multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Plus, family income was much higher back then.

But there's an even more telling statistic that we rarely hear about: the employment/population ratio. It tells us the number of working-age adults who're "in the workforce," meaning they are employed at least part-time or are looking for jobs.

This number has plummeted by 5 million people since the crash. They're not working, and they're not counted as unemployed.

That's 5 million American workers who — poof! — have simply disappeared. If we added these "missing workers," as they've been dubbed, to the number of unemployed and underemployed Americans, no one could cheer Washington's do-nothing jobs policy.

We need a national "milk carton" campaign, spreading the photos and names of each of these 5 million missing workers so widely that even Congress would finally recognize that it must do something to boost jobs and wages in our country.

Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow, on sale now from Wiley Publishing. For more information, visit

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