Let’s say you get laid off. (Not a stretch, these days.) Then let’s say you spend months looking for a new job but even Der Wienerschnitzel won’t hire you. Now what? Well, you could make a living as a blogger (and if you find a way, let us know). Or you could do what so many other people are doing: spend your hours at more productive pursuits, like, say, watching daytime TV. In the past eight months alone, almost 2 million people without work have stopped looking for it. Because there just isn’t any out there. The Labor Department reports that a record 6.4 Americans are competing for each job opening, a big jump from two years ago, when there were just 1.7 applicants per opening. That’s a depressing number, especially if you’re unemployed. But your odds could improve if more job seekers drop out and stay home. Or your odds could get worse if these people happen to catch an episode of “Ellen” (which is enough to get anybody back on the job hunt.)
USA: the unemployed state of America. It’s not a happy state to be in. The latest issue of Atlantic magazine takes a deeper look at the unemployment crisis and comes up with more bleak stats. The number of Americans who are unemployed or underemployed (part-timers who want to work full time) is over 17 percent, the most since the Depression. A quarter of teens are unemployed. And almost half of all families have seen a job loss, cut in hours or pay reduction in the past year. In other words, says the magazine, “we are living through a slow-motion social catastrophe, one that could stain our culture and weaken our nation for many, many years to come.” But don’t worry. We should bounce back, same as all those other empires that suffered through a short-term slump. Like, say, the Hittites and the Ottomans and the Mesopotamians and…oh never mind.
Healthcare? The joke’s on us. It’s bad when your coverage hangs your butt out in the wind like a hospital gown three sizes too small. It’s worse when your insurance company charges you up the wazoo for the gown. It’s worse still when you complain and they just laugh at your ass. Welcome to our national healthcare system, post-reform era. Yes, the body of healthcare reform is not yet cold but already big insurers are popping the bubbly and rolling out rectum-puckering rate hikes. Many customers of California’s Anthem Blue Cross opened their latest bills to discover increases as high as 39 percent. “Rising costs,” says the company (which made $2.9 billion in the last quarter of 2009). Other insurers will no doubt follow, cranking up rates, blaming it on costs and hoping you don’t notice that the five largest insurance companies (WellPoint, Cigna, UnitedHealth Group, Aetna and Humana) all made record profits in 2009.
Small business, big premiums. One way health insurance companies maximize their profits is by unloading their unprofitable customers. Like, you know, people who might actually get sick and need care. A lot of these customers are small businesses with older employees. Meanwhile, those small-business customers that insurance companies do keep around they charge far higher rates. In fact, small businesses pay 18 percent more in premiums than big firms. It’s enough to make you sick (if you could afford to get sick, which you can’t, because if you do your insurance company will cut you loose.)