Bill Moyers Essay: What’s the Truth Behind the Sunny New Unemployment Numbers?

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Bill tells the story of Ron Bricker, an out-of-work man who asked President Reagan for help finding a job, only to end up making less than he did on unemployment.


DAN RATHER: In his commentary tonight, Bill Moyers looks beyond the sunny new numbers on unemployment to some of the not-so-happy people behind those numbers. Bill?

BILL MOYERS: Dan, I’ll wager most people have forgotten Ron Bricker. I had, until a wire story crossed my desk this week. Ron Bricker was an unemployed steel worker at a job retraining center which President Reagan visited back in April. Bricker handed his resume to the President, who soon helped him to get a job at Radio Shack. Now you may remember, because it was all played out on the evening news and seemed to have a happy ending-but not quite.

Ron Bricker quit his job fixing computers becasuse he couldn’t pay his bills. His take-home pay per week was two dollars less than he got in unemployment benefits. “Intead of catching up,” said Bricker, “we started going behind.” Luckily, he’s been called back to the mill. But in light of what’s happening in the steel industry, he thinks his days there are numbered. He’s selling his house to cut down on expenses. “rm really bitter about what’s going on,” he told the Associated Press. “I want to reach out and punch someone, but I don’t know who to punch.”

A lot of people are being returned to work by the recovery, and that’s good news. But the jobs they’re getting back in many cases don’t pay what their old jobs paid. Many are grateful to be working, therefore, but others are worried; their standard of living is falling.

This is, I concede, an anecdotal approach to a complex economic issue, but it’s born out by studies. They show that the distribution of income in this country has become more unequal and that the middle class has shrunk, as many families have fallen near or below the poverty line. Several things are responsible. A big increase in divorce has left many families headed by women who make less money. Tax burdens have increased more rapidly for the poor than for the rest of us. Welfare benefits have lost value and the economy has been eliminating those middle-class jobs in basic industries, while creating lower-paying service jobs. The economy’s recovering, to be sure; but it’s also changing, in ways that threaten the social order and the place of many people who once felt secure in it. Remember Ron Bricker.

This transcript was entered on June 16, 2015.

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