Notes on the news:
Happy days aren't here again
Sure, the recession's over, but we have a long way to go to get over the hump
If there is such thing as a hospital executive who is suffering from unremitting euphoria, let us offer an article in the latest Atlantic magazine as a tonic.
In it, writer Don Peck paints a portrait of a dystopian America plagued by joblessness. Although the current Great Recession, which began in December 2007, may be technically over, unemployment stubbornly lingers. Peck notes that each recession since 1980 has retreated more slowly than its predecessor. The share of the civilian population with jobs has never returned to its peak. Incomes have been stagnant. The nation’s unemployment rate hit 10% last fall and has receded only slightly. If you count people who have given up looking for work or are working part time because they can’t get full-time employment, the rate is more like 17%.
Peck notes how lack of work takes an especially hard psychological and physical toll on males, who tend to stake much of their self-worth on their jobs. Symptoms include a crippling disorientation, aggression, domestic violence and substance abuse.
The article suggests that we can expect these problems to continue for a long time. The federal stimulus package enacted a year ago may have kept the nation from tipping into a second Great Depression, but it was hardly a panacea. Congress is fumbling around with a jobs bill.
The article does not examine healthcare, but if its arguments are correct, the implications for hospitals are not pretty. They can expect busier emergency rooms, with more victims of violence. They can look forward to more psychological problems and substance-abuse patients. They can expect to be strained financially as even more people who have lost their jobs and insurance coverage stream through the doors. And they cannot count on government to pay all the bills because the federal government and the states are fiscally strained as well.
Speaking of a lack of government help, we noted the announcement last week by Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana that he would not run for re-election. Bayh complained about a lack of bipartisanship in Congress and cited the jobs legislation and a deficit commission bill as examples.
Curiously, he didn’t speak of healthcare reform, which is the most prominent example of the partisan divide in Washington. Perhaps the senator has mixed feelings about this issue. His wife, a former drug company lawyer, has become something of a professional corporate board sitter. She has collected millions of dollars serving on the boards of a variety of companies, including pharmaceutical and biotechnology enterprises as well as insurance giant WellPoint.
Bayh is hardly alone. Congress is filled with members who hold outside financial interests or whose spouses are lobbyists for special interests. Being in government—or close to it—can be quite lucrative.
The senator’s departing criticism falls short of the target. The problem isn’t so much a lack of bipartisanship as a lack of statesmanship: governing with wisdom, skill and a selfless devotion to country. Self-preservation, self-enrichment and ideology drive today’s government. You have to search awfully hard to find anyone in Congress who matches the description of a statesman.
It’s too bad members of Congress such as Bayh think they can’t make a difference in Washington. Several Democrats and Republicans have announced they will retire. Maybe they will be replaced by a new crop of lawmakers with rearranged priorities—statesmen who can secure affordable healthcare coverage for millions of their countrymen, particularly the ones without jobs.
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