The Jobs Emergency and America in Crisis

Working families are tapped out, broken by more than 30 years of anti-worker initiatives and policies that led us from one toxic bubble to another.

It was eerie. My wife went into a CVS Pharmacy on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on Memorial Day and there was no one behind the bank of registers near the front of the store. When it came time to pay for her purchases, a woman directed her to a self-service register near the front door. My wife scanned and bagged the purchases herself, each step guided by a computerized, affect-less woman’s voice, similar to the voice in a GPS device. Customers paying cash could insert bills into a slot like the ones on a vending machine. Change (including coins) and a receipt were promptly issued. At the end of the transaction, the computerized voice said, “Thank you for shopping CVS.”

Welcome to the increasingly soulless world of rapidly shrinking employment opportunities in the U.S. We’ve been pretending for too long that something approaching normalcy is just around the corner, another era of good jobs at good wages, ready to embrace us like an old friend. Any day now the middle class will be reconstituted. The American dream will be taken off of life support.

Get over it. It is long past time to recognize that we are in the midst of a howling, long-term employment crisis that needs to be treated, as F.D.R. once said, “as we would treat the emergency of a war.”  I went into the CVS store a few days after Memorial Day to see what it was like on a non-holiday morning. There was still no one behind the registers. There were also very few customers. An employee working on the floor said the store planned to staff its regular registers only during the busiest hours. He added, with an embarrassed, somewhat ironic smile, “This is the future.”