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Where are the Jobs? The Parallels between Today and the Great Depression

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Uploaded on Oct 28, 2010

The Great Recession officially ended way back in June of 2009, so why are so many Americans still out of work?

It's not because politicians were twiddling their thumbs. Indeed, from from bailouts to "Cash for Clunkers" to the massive stimulus plan, government has busied itself with trying to fix the economy. And, according to President Obama, this "bold, persistent, experimentation" has brought our country back from the brink.

Obama borrows that phrase from President Franklin Rooselvelt, and today's president has a lot in common with the original bold, persistent, experimenter. Like Obama, FDR was a charismatic Democrat who replaced an unpopular Republican during a time of crisis. And like Obama, FDR championed a slew of policies designed to get America back to work.

Today many Americans credit FDR with rescuing our nation from the Great Depression, but there's plenty wrong with that view, says Lee Ohanian, a UCLA economics professor who specializes in economic crisis. "What's wrong with that view is that private-sector job growth did not come back under Roosevelt," says Ohanian, who notes that Americans often forget how long the Great Depression lasted. Unemployment stood at 17 percent in 1939, a decade after the infamous stock market crash, and, although times were much worse back then, Ohanian sees troubling parallels between the Great Depression and the Great Recession. In both instances our nation emerged from a severe downturn with strong productivity growth and the banking system largely restored. "So the key puzzle for both today and the 1930s is why aren't private-sector jobs being created at a much more rapid rate?"

Uncertainty may have something to do with it. "Uncertainty is an enemy of job creation," says Ohanian, "Because in a world with a lot of uncertainty there's a tendency to 'wait and see.'" Our nation's job creators wait and see what Washington's next experiment will be.

CEO Joanne Garneau has spent a year waiting for the Federal Trade Commission to announce a new regulation that will determine whether her company hires more employees or even stays in business. It's just one regulation, a tiny one by Washington standards. How will businesses end up being affected by ObamaCare or the 2,300-page financial overhaul? What if taxes go up? Today, like the 1930s, uncertainty reigns.

According to research conducted by Ohanian and fellow UCLA economist Harold L. Cole, FDR's anti-market policies actually prolonged the Great Depression by seven years. And what about Obama's policies? When the unemployment rate finally does improve will he receive credit for rescuing America from the Great Recession or blame for prolonging the crisis?

Approximately 6.40 minutes

"Where are the Jobs? The Parallels between Today and the Great Depression" is written and produced by Ted Balaker. Field Producers: Paul Detrick and Zach Weissmueller; Production Associate: Sam Corcos.

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