The Investors and the Jobless

The news about jobs is devastating. Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal provided an analysis suggesting that the problems are deeper and far more intractable than had been thought (see The Economy is Even Worse Than You Think). Wednesday’s New York Times, points out the discrepancy between the official figures and the real numbers (see Part-Time Workers Mask Unemployment Woes – though the print version was headlined far more bluntly: “In Recession, a Bleaker Path for Workers to Slog.”)  The official figure is 9.5 percent;  but in many states, the real figure is over 20 percent.

At the same time, technology companies are set to announce dramatically improved earnings (see in Tuesday’s Journal, Can Investors Hang Their Hats on Tech?) and Wednesday’s paper brings news of whopping profits at Goldman Sachs, sure to set off a renewed round of out-sized bonuses (With Big Profit, Goldman Sees Big Payday Ahead)

Wednesday’s stories are both on the front page, next to each other.  But they are not linked. For me the important news is how far apart they appear to be, as if there were separate populations with markedly different and distinct bits of news to follow — and, of course, different interests.  It is almost  as if we live in two separate if sometimes overlapping countries, each irrelevant to the other.

What we don’t stop to know we know is how strange this separation is.  One set of news is about investments and the recovery of credit markets.  The other is about people who work.  Right?  We can see that on some level, of course, they are linked.  Yes, it is about recovering from the recession.  But the more we stop to think about it, the more we are forced to see concerted acts of consciousness keeping them in different domains.

From one perspective, keeping them apart allows us all to stay on our accustomed paths, not questioning that things are going on as they always have, always do.  It suggests that actually little has changed in the familiar array of social and economic issues we face.  From another, keeping them apart prevents the dismay and outrage that might be experienced by the dramatic contrast between the haves and the have-nots.  Putting them together might imply that something should be done about it.

Is this what it means to be in a recession?