Mort Zuckerman: Welcome to the Modern-Day Depression

We need to recover from the recovery.

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This trend has displaced young workers, who now face double-digit unemployment and more life at home with their parents. Many young couples realize they can't afford to start a family, and the result is that the birth rate has just hit a 25-year low of 1.87 births per woman. And job prospects for young workers aren't very good. Layoff announcements have risen from a year ago and hiring plans have dropped dramatically.

[See a slide show of Mort Zuckerman's 5 Ways to Create More Jobs.]

Workers won't feel the labor market is recovering until hiring is occurring at a recovery level pace of at least 300,000 more hires per month than we are seeing now. And when it comes, there will be a cloud to that silver lining. The job openings are mostly low-wage jobs that haven't been exposed to global competition. More than 40 percent of new private sector jobs are in low-paying categories such as leisure and hospitality, bars, and restaurants.

This is, in effect, the modern-day Depression. Take two issues, Social Security disability and food stamps. Roughly 15 percent of the population, a record, representing over 46 million Americans, are in the food stamp program, compared to the 7.9 percent participation from 1970 to 2000. And about 400,000 people have been signing up each month over the past four years. In addition, a record 11 million-plus Americans are now collecting federal disability checks. Half of them have come on board since President Barack Obama took office. This is another sign of the Depression-like times that we are in. It is not as visible today as it was back then because there are no bread or soup lines. That is simply because checks have replaced those lines. But it doesn't take away from the fact that millions of people who had good private sector jobs are now dependent on the government for life support.

[See an opinion slide show of 10 wasteful stimulus projects.]

Which candidate has the better answer? Romney has declared, without much detail, that he will create 12 million jobs in his first term. It sounds great, but it is actually no more than what Moody's Analytics predicts are already likely (and its forecast includes extending the Bush tax cuts for those earning less than $250,000, not quite the same as what Romney is planning). Meanwhile, it is clear that the ill-designed stimulus has not worked. True, things would likely have been worse. But the president left too many decisions to a pork barrel Congress: Less than 10 percent of the stimulus funds were pegged for infrastructure of lasting value.

The White House website proclaims that "from day one President Obama has focused on efforts that can help small businesses grow and expand." That is a tall one. The president pivoted late to jobs, having expended much energy and political capital on his healthcare reform bill. When he did unveil the $447 billion American Jobs Act before a joint session of Congress last year, it was without any attempt to garner Republican support. While it included many good things, it also included tax increases and regulations the president knew were anathema to the opposition, leading the Fiscal Times to call the bill "a scam," designed for the election to complete the portrait of an obstructionist Republican Party.

[See a collection of political cartoons on healthcare.]

It's right and understandable that the outrages in Libya, Egypt, and Yemen have commanded attention and may yet command more. But at base the economy is the fundamental challenge that will determine America's strength as well as its resolve.

The economy is slowing to a growth rate that will be close to zero in the second half of this year, according to a recent AEI report, which also notes that 2012 is the third year of stalled recoveries. No incumbent president has ever won re-election with unemployment rates as high as they are likely to be in November. A job is the most important family program, the most important social program, and the most important economic program in America. The unemployment and income statistics are intolerable for a compassionate and wealthy nation.