2003-07-17 / Arts & Entertainment

ANDY ROONEY

ANDY ROONEY

©2003 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

The Horse Race Economy

Predicting whether the economy is going to get better or worse is about as much a science as picking the winner of a horse race. The race may actually be an easier call because at least you know the horses are honest.

Just when things look as if they’re getting better, they get worse, and just when things look as though they’re getting worse, they get better. Right now, Democrats are quietly pleased, even though they don’t say so, at how bad the economy is. It’s their only hope against a popular President in 2004. The decline in employment is more under President Bush than it’s been in 20 years. This is the first time since the 1930s in which the actual number of people working is less than in the previous administration.

The last time there were actual job losses for four years in a row, Herbert Hoover was President. The total reached 7.7 percent. Under Franklin D. Roosevelt, the number of jobs increased by 18 percent. The job loss statistics today are amazing — and don’t think you’re not going to hear about them at election time. The number of jobs increased by 22 percent under Bill Clinton’s presidency, the biggest jump in history. Under George W. Bush, overall employment is down 2.37 percent. It may not be his fault and Bill Clinton may have been lucky, but Democratic candidates won’t be telling you that.

A headline this week read: JOBLESS RATE AT 9-YEAR HIGH.

Of all the things about the economy I don’t understand, I understand unemployment the least. There isn’t any work that needs to be done? Is that what unemployment means? I look at the business I’m in and see nothing but work that needs to be done. I look at my own personal and home life and see nothing but jobs that need doing.

Too many of those things that need to be done at home are things I either don’t know how to do or they’re things that would take me longer than is worth my time. We all draw the line somewhere. My hourly wage is more than I’d be willing to pay myself to do the work. I’m looking for someone down the wage scale to do it for me. It’s a cold, cruel world.

The reason the unemployment rate has reached 9 percent is that a lot of people looking for work have a higher opinion of their value than the people who have work to be done have of it. It’s also true that many people draw a line between blue- and white-collar jobs, and those who think of themselves as white-collar, college-educated, never consider doing physical work, no matter how badly they need a job.

It’s clear that we need more people who know how to do things with their hands. We should forget this collar color division. We have enough administrators, computer technicians, sales engineers and board-of-directors directors. What we’re short of are people who actually know how to make something, move something, or fix something. We long ago passed the point where the hourly wage for a skilled craftsman exceeds that of the average office worker.

I took my 1966 Sunbeam Tiger to a mechanic last week because the brakes weren’t working. He told me it would be a while before he could get at it because he lost the two men who’d been helping him. He was working alone. He’d hire a capable mechanic in a minute, he said, but he can’t find one because almost everyone goes to college now and they don’t teach what he needs done in college.

I don’t know how we ever got thinking that physical labor was demeaning. I wish more colleges would set out to convince students that reading good literature, knowing something about history and philosophy and having a good education is not inimical to working with your hands.

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