‘A blue-col­lar re­ces­sion’

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY GABRIELLA BOS­TON

Don’t be­lieve ev­ery­thing you read. Be­cause if you did, you might just think that Wall Street bankers and jour­nal­ists are suf­fer­ing dis­pro­por­tion­ately from job losses. The truth? “This is a blue-col­lar re­ces­sion, just like we saw in ‘81,” said An­drew Sum, pro­fes­sor of la­bor eco­nomics at North­east­ern Uni­ver­sity. “In fact, we’ve seen no net loss among col­lege grad­u­ates. At least not yet.”

In the 14 months af­ter the start of the re­ces­sion in late 2007, more than 5 mil­lion jobs were lost. Close to 70 per­cent of them be­longed to blue-col­lar work­ers — an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of whom were male — Mr. Sum said.

Hit par­tic­u­larly hard was the construction sec­tor, where the un­em­ploy­ment rate is about 17 per­cent, he said.

So, why are the me­dia por­tray­ing a dif­fer­ent face of un­em­ploy­ment?

“Jour­nal­ists are pris­on­ers of their own per­cep­tions,” said Robert Lichter, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Me­dia and Pub­lic Af­fairs at Ge­orge Ma­son Uni­ver­sity. “They de­scribe the world they see, and the world they see is the neigh­bor­hood they live in along with doc­tors and pro­fes­sors.”

In other words, jour­nal­ists tend to write about the peo­ple with whom they iden­tify most closely.

“It’s a form of jour­nal­is­tic nar­cis­sism,” Mr. Lichter said.

That might ex­plain why me­dia out­lets are run­ning sto­ries about laid-off ex­ec­u­tives turn­ing to man­ual la­bor and other mem­bers of the up­per mid­dle class who are find­ing in­ner peace in the wake of a lay­off. (“I never knew how much I would en­joy stay­ing home with the kids.”)

Well, for many blue-col­lar work­ers, stay­ing home is not a vi­able op- tion, said Mr. Sum, adding that many don’t have a fi­nan­cial cush­ion on which to rest in hard times.

So, sto­ries that a “laid-off ex­ec­u­tive be­comes a jan­i­tor” — while wait­ing for the next well­pay­ing job — are not only a slap in the face of those at the bot­tom of the eco­nomic lad­der but also un­rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the big­ger pic­ture, he said.

Tom Rosen­stiel, di­rec­tor of the Project for Ex­cel­lence in Jour­nal­ism, sees it dif­fer­ently. He said the sto­ries that point out the anom­aly — for ex­am­ple, the hap­pily laid-off — are do­ing two things: point­ing out the un­usual (which makes it news) and try­ing to find some glim­mer of hope in a time of dis­tress.

“I think it’s more a sign of try­ing to find a sil­ver lin­ing rather than a sign of not car­ing for blue-col­lar job losses,” Mr. Rosen­stiel said.

He also dis­agrees with the no­tion that the me­dia are por­tray­ing the re­ces­sion in­ac­cu­rately in terms of job losses.

“The im­pres­sion early on in Septem­ber was that this was a bank­ing cri­sis,” he said. “But I don’t think any­one is think­ing that any­more.”

There are no quan­tifi­able data — as in count­ing sto­ries that slant one way or an­other — on the me­dia’s cov­er­age of job losses, he said. It’s all about im­pres­sions.

But the abil­ity to find a new job is not about im­pres­sions. It is well-doc­u­mented that the more ed­u­ca­tion you have the eas­ier it is to find a new job, Mr. Sum said.

“This is why we’ve seen vir­tu­ally no net losses among whitecol­lar work­ers,” he said.

In fact, in some seg­ments of the pop­u­la­tion there have even been net gains, he said. Black women, for ex­am­ple, who are heav­ily rep­re­sented in ed­u­ca­tion and health care, have seen gains.

Not so for black men, who sta­tis­ti­cally ac­count for vir­tu­ally all the re­ces­sion-re­lated lay­offs in the black com­mu­nity, Mr. Sum said. In the His­panic com­mu­nity, men have ab­sorbed about 80 per­cent of the lay­offs. The cor­re­spond­ing num­ber among whites is 75 per­cent.

So, along with be­ing a bluecol­lar re­ces­sion, it is also a male re­ces­sion, Mr. Sum said, also a story that the me­dia largely have ne­glected to tell.

That’s be­cause no one, in­clud­ing the pres­i­dent, is pur­su­ing that nar­ra­tive, said Christina Hoff Som­mers, au­thor of “The War Against Boys” and res­i­dent scholar at the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute for Pub­lic Pol­icy Re­search.

“Pres­i­dent Obama has just es­tab­lished a White House Coun­cil on Women and Girls at a time when the na­tion’s men and boys need as much or more at­ten­tion,” Ms. Som­mers said.

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