A 'national experiment on stress'

High unemployment may be here for years, and it could change America in unexpected ways.

By Kim Peterson Feb 16, 2010 3:50PM
Money frustrations © Big Cheese Photo/JupiterimagesThe unemployment rate has passed 10%, and some indications show it may stay that way -- or drop just slightly -- for the next four years.

It's hard to fathom the impact of that statistic on Americans. Certainly we haven't lived with that level of unemployment for decades. But the Atlantic describes it as nothing less than a nightmare, a horrific and long-lasting disaster:

It could change the nature of modern marriage, and also cripple marriage as an institution in many communities. It may already be plunging many inner cities into a kind of despair and dysfunction not seen for decades. Ultimately, it is likely to warp our politics, our culture, and the character of our society for years.

The economy is expanding again, but the Atlantic's Don Peck doubts the momentum or the pace at which jobs may return.

The U.S. economy has historically been extremely reliant on consumer spending, but we're mortgaged to the gills and trying to deal with significant loss of wealth, Peck writes.

If consumer spending is slumping, then what gets us out of this jobless era? Well, there's no real answer there. And so it starts to sink in that many of the lost jobs aren't coming back -- and the jobs that do return are very different and require new skills and training.

“We haven’t seen anything like this before: a really deep recession combined with a really extended period, maybe as much as eight years, all told, of highly elevated unemployment,” one economist told Peck. “We’re about to see a big national experiment on stress.”


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