The 'Rates'Go Up

Carl T.Rowan

December 12, 1990|By Carl T.Rowan

WASHINGTON — YOU GOT SOME bad news about unemployment in America last week. In one month, some 267,000 Americans lost their jobs, 7.4 million people couldn't find employment and 5,450,000 people were working part-time because they couldn't find full-time work -- all this as the jobless rate reached a three-year high in November.

The only thing worse is that the media didn't tell you about the unemployment figures that would help you to understand how ''boring'' figures on the jobless rate have everything to do with the murder rate, the teen-age pregnancy rate, the infant mortality rate, the Americans-on-welfare rate and just about every other ''rate'' that indicates the overall quality of life in America.

In my daily reading of seven newspapers, only in the Wall Street Journal, tucked in small print on page 6, did I find a few of the Bureau of Labor Statistics figures that tell the profound things about the people around us who can't earn an honest living.

Women head 26 million households in this country. When, in one month, the unemployment rate for adult women in the labor force jumps from 4.9 to 5.1 per cent, it means that families that are traditionally the poorest in the land are in for new miseries, at Christmastime and far beyond.

Press stories told most Americans that the overall rate of joblessness had risen from an irritating 5.6 per cent to a worrisome 5.8.

What no story focused on is that black unemployment jumped from 11.8 per cent to 12.4 -- a worsening depression in communities already wrenched by poverty, crime, drug abuse.

The media that tell us in dreadful litany about murders in urban ghettos did not tell you that unemployment of black teen-agers rose from 31.6 per cent in October to 35.2 per cent in November. Or that among Hispanics of all ages and sexes, joblessness rose from 8.1 to 8.6 per cent.

The way my profession reported these jobless figures, they meant only that ''the economic downturn will be steeper than most economists have forecast.'' Or that the Federal Reserve governors might be pressured into lowering interest rates.

Why can't the media report unemployment data in human terms? We are dealing here with children, old people, whole families suffering. We are talking about social trauma that pains an entire society. We are looking at indicators of America's future well-being.

I know that the media have been steeped in the cliche that ''it only hurts for a little while,'' and that the nation's economy will come out of this spasm of misery more robust than it has ever been. My profession doesn't seem to want to face the truth that our country did not come out of the recession of 1982-83 ''more robust'' than before, which is why the Japanese, the Germans and others have rendered us less than competitive in world economic markets.

I know, also, that the media, like the leaders of our capitalistic system, do not want to face the truth that we must do a lot more to support families headed by women, blacks, Hispanics, than provoke the Fed into lowering interest rates by a quarter of a point. With a whopping 7.4 million Americans unemployed and the number rising dramatically, American opinion makers don't want to raise issues like the need for a Jobs Corps, or for Uncle Sam to become ''the employer of last resort.''

But the evidence has been clear for more than a decade that for millions of Americans our system doesn't work. And we are paying dearly in local bloodshed and worldwide competitiveness for our failures.

The media have a responsibility to prod Americans into at least debating the causes and possible cures of our economic sickness.

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