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Thorns Among the Roses

12:00 AM, Dec 7, 2013 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
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Unemployment among blacks (12.5 percent), Hispanics (8.7 percent), and teenagers (20.8 percent) remains high. The non-profit Opportunity Nation coalition, an organization of businesses, individuals, and educational and faith-based institutions, reports that six million young people, 15 percent of those aged 16-to-24, are neither in school nor working. That means they are not acquiring the skills needed to get off the dole and the couch, or off the stoops and benches of high-crime areas.

Finally, men are doing less well than women. Almost two million fewer men are in work than at the June 2007 male-employment peak, whereas more women are working today than in early 2008, their prior peak-employment period, in good part because they dominate growth industries such as retailing, health care and hospitality.

This uneven impact of the good news coming from the economy explains part of the problem that is becoming the central issue, after Obamacare, in American politics: the increasing gap between the skilled and the unskilled, the educated and the under-educated, owners of assets and those with no such holdings—all summarized as the 1 percent vs. the 99 percent by liberal (or progressive, as they now prefer to be called) politicians.

So here is the state of play. The economy is growing, with almost all sectors contributing. The jobs market is improving, although the gains are not evenly distributed. It is becoming increasingly obvious that Taper Day looms in our future, although just when and how rapidly the Fed will slow the printing presses is anybody’s guess. The bond market seems to have taken that prospect into account even before tapering begins, driving up long-term interest rates, thereby avoiding a negative jolt when tapering begins. The politicians are on the verge of proving that they can agree on a budget, which businesses say will give confidence a shot in the arm even if the agreement is modest in amount and scope.

So Sondheim’s lyrics are indeed applicable to today’s economy—almost. It is fine for an owner of assets and a job to sing to another fortunate soul “Everything’s coming up Sunshine and Santa Claus, Everything’s coming up roses for me and for you.” But not quite applicable if his audience includes the unemployed and under-employed millions, and unwilling recruits in the army of the long-term unemployed.

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