Why any American worker would believe anyone in government is beyond me. Why any American worker would believe any elected official who claims that unemployment insurance benefits are a disincentive to looking for work is totally beyond me. I read two articles over the past couple of days which indicate to me one thing and one thing only:

The Republicans (and this is no news; we’ve been following their "whatever Obama’s for, we’re going to fight it" thing ever since BEFORE the Inauguration) will not support anything that they perceive as giving Democrats an advantage in this year’s mid-term elections.

Even if American families suffer, more lose their homes, go into bankruptcy, and go into despair.

They do not care.

Paul Krugman notes,

Today, American workers face the worst job market since the Great Depression, with five job seekers for every job opening, with the average spell of unemployment now at 35 weeks. Yet the Senate went home for the holiday weekend without extending benefits. How was that possible? The answer is that we’re facing a coalition of the heartless, the clueless and the confused.

At the same time, we have another, parallel situation with workers and jobs. Manufacturers actually are hiring, but they claim that the skills in the workforce – the workforce they laid off 2 million of over the past 3 years – are no good for what they are doing. In that period, they raised the level of their technology, laid off the folks at the bottom, and replaced them with operations abroad. The New York Times reports,

Now they are looking to hire people who can operate sophisticated computerized machinery, follow complex blueprints and demonstrate higher math proficiency than was previously required of the typical assembly line worker.

Makers of innovative products like advanced medical devices and wind turbines are among those growing quickly and looking to hire, and they too need higher skills."

“That’s where you’re seeing the pain point,” said Baiju R. Shah, chief executive of BioEnterprise, a nonprofit group in Cleveland trying to turn the region into a center for medical innovation. “The people that are out of work just don’t match the types of jobs that are here, open and growing.”

The increasing emphasis on more advanced skills raises policy questions about how to help low-skilled job seekers who are being turned away at the factory door and increasingly becoming the long-term unemployed. This week, the Senate reconsidered but declined to extend unemployment benefits, after earlier extensions raised the maximum to 99 weeks.

We actually have two separate but synergistic issues here: First, we have a group of people in this country (which seems to be made up of Republicans and management of companies) who believe that the American worker is on his or her own. “Must come with own tools” is the foundation philosophy of this group. This is the group that will not pay of worker training in any form – they expect Americans to pay out of their own pockets for training. American workers actually DO pay out of their pockets for their own training and have done so for decades – whenever another recession, or assault on American jobs and businesses take place, even when there are worker training dollars available, there are never enough to actually do the job. American workers have been shelling out, taking loans, and generally taking it in the neck to try to keep up with training.

And still getting laid off, being called stupid, lazy and useless by Republicans and employers because they don’t have – the "right" job skills.

So, what ARE the "right" job skills?

The problem is that our education system (at the high school, community college, voc tech and college levels) is hopelessly behind – the time it takes to ramp up programs for training is such that there is no way for us, given our tendency to separate education from commerce in this country, to actually have training programs NOW for the skills that commerce needs NOW and in the future. We’re still arguing over why American kids are not interested in engineering, math and science to actually get programs that give people the skills they need for the jobs that are and will be available.

Wouldn’t it be simpler to get employers to do something that they used to do: train workers? Thirty years ago, US employers did hire entry level folks and train them to do jobs. They got out of this several decades ago; they expect the recruitment and hiring process to be like shopping in a grocery store and when they can’t find what they want right there on the shelf, they do two things: First, they howl that government (the school systems, the voc tech schools, economic development agencies) are not providing them with a skilled workforce and make threatening noises about how the Chinese (or whoever is the "outsource abroad" flavor of the month) will provide what they need at no cost. And second, they howl about how much it costs them to recruit people from outside the area who DO have the skills.

What they will NOT do is work with local people (many of whom have been laid off from jobs that might be very close to what they are doing now) to bring them the 10% or 15% ahead so that they are now hirable.

For all Republicans and employers want "small government" (a.k.a.: I don’t wanna pay), what they want is government to provide them with the benefits THEY want, which is a workforce with the skills THEY want, at a price THEY want to pay, which is FREE. And they are more than willing to allow the country to go into a long-term depression, with all of the suffering that this involves, as long as they don’t have to pay…anything.

One of the problems here is that we can no longer speak about America needing this or that. We no longer have a united States where people understand and empathize with other co-citizens who are 3000 miles away and who don’t have a job and who have lost their homes and are frankly doing really poorly on the nutritional end of things. What we now have is a fairly sizeable group of people, in government, business, and as citizens, who frankly take the position of "I’ve got mine; if you don’t, then you are stupid, lazy and deserve to suffer."

Charles Dickens would recognize this place instantly.

(composite graphic courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Images via Flickr)