WASHINGTON — Washington. -- That was a dismaying batch of economic news that we got last Thursday:
The Golden State, California, bankrupt, $11 billion in debt, with a million people unemployed, was forced to issue IOUs to employees, to vendors, for tax refunds, for the first time since the Great Depression.
Unemployment nationwide rose from 7.5 to 7.8 per cent, with 9,975,000 people jobless, 1,125,000 more unemployed but not counted because they have become so discouraged that they've stopped looking, and with 6,040,000 people working part time because they can't find full-time employment. That's 17,140,000 Americans in economic distress!
The White House and leaders of the House of Representatives agreed on a ''post-Los Angeles riot'' package of urban aid that would focus on enterprise zones, tax breaks for those investing in such zones, plus $2.5 billion in spending over five years.
Let me note first that this urban aid package is a grotesque joke. It is an attempt to stop a heart attack with a shot of bourbon, dispensed drop-by-drop over half a decade. It is a pathetically timid response to a national crisis that is evident in both the unemployment figures and the economic mess in California and several other states.
The jobless figures tell why Los Angeles and dozens of other cities are powderkegs, loaded with racial alienation, drug abuse and crime. White men unemployed, 6.6 percent; black men, 13.8 percent. White teen-age joblessness, 20.6 percent; black teens, 41.6 percent. White women out of work, 5.4 percent; black women, 12.7 percent. Overall joblessness, whites 6.8 percent; Hispanics 12.1 percent, blacks 14.9 percent.
There is no way to promote ''family values,'' preserve tranquillity, reduce racial polarization or suppress crime in any city in America when the suffering is spread as unfairly as those jobless figures indicate.
I have always supported enterprise zones. We must move jobs and economic hope close enough for our more deprived citizens to grab them. But it will take years for enterprise zones to have impact -- if we ever get any. We need federal boldness akin to the Roosevelt programs of the Depression -- immediate jobs to rebuild both America's infrastructure and its spirit -- if we are to avert tragedy in California, Illinois, Florida and the rest of America.
We can't prevent violent uprisings of America's growing underclass if every policy and every problem deepens the miseries of the poor. Consider those IOUs in California. Banks are saying that temporarily they will honor them much as they honor checks, but only for the banks' customers.
The people hurt most grievously by this forced reversion to IOUs are the poor people who do not have bank accounts. An IOU is worth nothing to a welfare mother, or a family suddenly hit by a layoff, or longtime joblessness, if it cannot be turned into milk, bread, ground beef or a payment of rent.
In these hard times our politicians keep piling pain and humiliation upon the most alienated people in America, and that is a formula for social disaster.
Dare to look at teen-age joblessness alone: we have a total of almost 2 million young people, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, who desperately need constructive work this summer. I don't have any readers who are so dumb that I need to lecture them about the certain consequences of our failing to meet their needs.
Our politicians will have failed them and compromised America's future if they cannot find the boldness to fashion -- immediately -- programs that offer young people both work and a belief in this nation's future.
Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.