Why don’t you just get a job?

Opponents of Occupy Wall Street are quick to lob the time-tested jeer “why don’t you just get a job?” at protesters. Of course, this jeer is not based on any kind of economic sophistication. It is just the cliche used when someone has nothing intelligent to say. This taunt continues to flood still-confused media reports about Occupy Wall Street and is shouted — in one form or another — at occupiers during marches or at campsites.

The sheer amount of ignorance required to utter such a thing is astounding. I am very confident that a reasoned explanation will not convince someone so ignorant to say that to change their mind, but let’s try anyways.

For those who do not realize this, our economic situation is really bad. In late 2007, we had a massive recession caused by the collapsing of a housing asset bubble that was driven by a mixture of bank incompetence, greed, and outright malice in some cases (e.g. Goldman Sachs). Trillions of dollars of imagined housing wealth disappeared as the bubble collapsed which wreaked havoc on credit markets, business and consumer confidence, aggregate demand, and so on. This was not good for employment:

The official unemployment rate shot up to higher than 10%, but has inched down to 9.1% since. This official rate is misleading however. If you count those working part-time jobs but who want full-time jobs and those who have become so discouraged that they have stopped looking for jobs at all, the rate jumps to around 17%. Even on the 9.1% unemployment rate, we have 6 million more unemployed people now than we did on the eve of the recession. I guess 6 million people were stricken with chronic laziness overnight. Or you know, maybe there aren’t any jobs. If only we had empirical data to help us figure out whether sudden laziness or scarce job openings is the problem. Oh that’s right, we do:

The red line introduced there is the number of job openings. We have around 5 unemployed persons per job opening (remember that this does not include those involuntarily working part-time or those who have stopped looking). Even the math-impaired should realize that the reason protesters and the unemployed do not “just get a job” is because they can’t. And the reason they can’t has everything to do with what Wall Street did to the economy, as explained above.

To close this out, I think it is necessary to also point out that the unemployment rate of 16-24 year olds is 18.1 percent, double the overall unemployment rate. Is it any wonder that so many young people have jumped to get involved in the Occupy movement? They cannot just “get a job.” There aren’t any to be gotten.