Fears persist the jobs crisis cannot be fixed
High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our Ts&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to buy additional rights. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/6327a7f4-21bb-11e1-8b93-00144feabdc0.html#ixzz1gQ0eevdh
Last week, Barack Obama went to Osawatomie, Kansas, to kick off a more populist phase in his 2012 re-election bid. “This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class,” declared the US president, who chose the same venue that Teddy Roosevelt used in 1910 to call for a new progressive era. “I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot.”
Saying everyone should get a “fair shot” always makes political sense – particularly at a time when US income inequality rivals that of Mark Twain’s “Gilded Age”. But it might have been a stretch for Mr Obama to suggest the American middle class is facing a unique “make-or-break” moment. In reality, the labour force has been polarising for most of the past generation in a trend that has sharply accelerated since 2000.
America used to be exceptional. Postwar, it maintained lower unemployment than the Europeans and a higher rate of jobs turnover, enabling it to get away with more meagre benefits; “a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay” was within the grasp of most. That gave America a booming middle class that until recently was the most important engine of global demand.