Nothing epitomizes just how detached our political culture is from the concerns of most Americans than the coverage of the latest dip in the unemployment rate.
For big media and the punditocracy, the major takeaway was that the latest slight decline, from 8.1 to 7.8 percent, constituted a positive for the president and his stewardship of an economy still struggling for traction after the greatest slump since the Great Depression.
So exactly what constitutes such good news for President Obama?
Dig a little deeper into the unemployment report, and you find an economy in which more people are forced to take lower paying part-time work with no benefits because the good jobs with benefits, pensions and security have disappeared.
While this is not exactly news, what is news is how blithely the two candidates have ignored this reality in their campaigns.
During their first debate, obsessed with tax rates and the deficit, neither the president nor Mitt Romney offered any substance about how they planned to offer leadership to stem this deterioration. Those good-paying jobs aren’t coming back under the policies supported by either the president or Romney, no matter how they try to sugarcoat their promises with soothing rhetoric and homilies about the free market and hard-working Americans.
The challenger stakes our future to a worn-out dogma of deregulation, tax cuts for the rich and promised cuts to education and other essential government services – except when he doesn’t.
The president asks for another four years in which he will presumably figure out how to get intransigent Republicans to work with him while offering his own modest vision for “getting the economy going again.”
In their first debate, there was barely a peep about the crucial issue of trade agreements– because both candidates support free trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, now being negotiated in secret, which protect corporate rights and fat profits, but fail to protect American workers’ jobs.
The media has not exactly ignored the story of economic decline, but it hasn’t put it front and center, either, though it’s eating away at the lives of so many American families.
For example, late this summer the National Employment Law Project published a study on the low-wage recovery and growing economic inequality in the U.S. Among its findings: job gains in the recovery have been focused in lower-wage occupations, while mid-wage occupations, which accounted for 60 percent of job losses in the recession, have made up just 22 percent of the recovery through the first quarter of 2012.
You might have read about the report in the New York Times – if you were reading the B section Labor Day weekend.
You may also have missed this story that fleshes out the economic realities we’re facing: even when high-wage industries are hiring, they’re hiring at lower wages.
But you didn’t hear Jim Lehrer pressing the president or Romney to get specific on the crucial issue. Income inequality may have become a buzzword but our leaders and media have yet to absorb its full importance.