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Man of the Year: The Unemployed American

Time magazine's ritual exercise in slow-motion trendspotting and well-liquored (we presume) committee mongering has reached its merciful end. Verdict? Facebook visionary Mark Zuckerberg. Which is fine, I guess. Except that Time already honored Zuckerberg's social graph (sort of) with its much-shellacked  "you!" tinfoil cover back in ought-six. There was a lot of angst in one corner of the series of tubes over the failure of Wikileaks mastermind Julian Assange to win the nod, despite triumphing in an online poll. But really, if you're going the route of exposing America's foreign policy secrets and failings being the year's biggest story, isn't Pfc. Bradley Manning the choice there, and not his publicist?

No, I think we need to move offline this year and away from the shiny and those "this changes everything!" moments that are intoxicating. I'm as guilty as the rest of the networked faithful preaching the gospel of digital transfiguration, but here's a reset button: the person of the year in this country (and very probably the next and the one after that) is the unemployed American.

After all, if you give the honor a year ago to the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, a man who never saw the current and ongoing financial crisis until it swept across our shares like a tsunami, you can certainly back those who suffer for his monetary policies. Time itself makes the case for one its finalists:

In early March, there were nearly 16 million Americans out of work, at least 5 million more jobless than at the peak of any of the previous three recessions. What's more, out-of-work were staying that way for longer than any other recession since WWII. In October, the average unemployed worker had been out of a job for more than 8 months. And while the unemployment rate dropped, the broader measure of job market health, the so-called U-6 — which tracks those who are working part-time but would like to work full time, as well as those who had stopped looking for work — continued to climb to a recent 17%. Most economists predict the situation won't improve anytime soon. Many believe the jobless rate, currently at 9.8%, will remain above 8% for another two years.
It's back to the 1970s, but with a less deliberative Senate, a meaner more conservative Republican Party and  no small share of malaise on the Democratic side as well. We're two years in, well past TARP, well past the frist stimulus, and now into renewed tax cuts that will continue to drive a trillion-dollar deficit that the GOP "hawks" pretend to care about. Some hawks. And frankly, some doves as well - two never-ending wars that bleed the national economy, bleed our international reputation, and bleed the soldiers whose oaths demand their attendance. The kids are noticing, at least around my house. Lance Mannion remembers another similar time:

I mean that we were sheltered from what was going on in the country by virtue of our parents being middle class or working class, which in those days, in Upstate New York, where most of the blue collar work was at the many nearby GE plants---most of the white collar and pink collar work was there too---where thanks to the Unions and GE’s manufacturing strength effectively meant middle class.

But we were also sheltered by our parents being responsible grown-ups with the attitudes and codes of parents of that time and that place, some of which were less than ideal, but one of them was the principle that adults did not share their feelings with children.

By then the Recession had hit.  I’m sure there were some kids in school who wondered why suddenly so many of their suppers featured tuna casserole or pancakes and scrambled eggs.  I didn’t.  There were six kids in our house.  I just took it for granted that my mother fed us what she was sure all six of us would eat.  I also knew she didn’t have time to make a big meal for eight every night.  I didn’t figure out until I was in college that my father’s salary was in the process of being effectively halved by inflation.

When one of us asked why we couldn’t go out for ice cream after dinner tonight or why we couldn’t have a toy or a particular item of clothing we just needed to have by this weekend if not right now and we’d have to wait for our birthday or Christmas, we accepted---because we had no choice but to accept it---my mother’s calm and patient reply, “We don’t have the money for it today.”

Chronic unemployment over a decade - the kind that breaks families and discourages a generation - will have a far greater impact on this society than a social networking site or some leaked government documents. Yeah, the unemployed American - man of the momen, man of the decade, man of the year. Cue the mistletoe.

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