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PROSPERITY: Economic Policy | January 30, 1988



An Unpublished Letter to Los Angeles Times

One of the greatest underlying causes of economic distress in our nation is going virtually unreported, at least by name.

As millions of workers are forced out of higher-paying, often union jobs into lower-paying, typically non-union jobs; as the productivity and buying power of the economic grass-roots of our country thus weaken; as individual and business consumption, investment, and savings thus fall or grow at no more than a lackluster rate and indebtedness rises; as the tax base thus shrinks, abetted by windfall tax breaks for the well-off, and social programs are strained to the breaking point, as the middle class is torn in two; and as our government, vexed by such aggravations, sinks deeper and deeper into trillions of dollars of increasingly foreign-held debt, it becomes evident that the unspoken name of one of our worst economic enemies is underemployment.

The world is not all black and white: Although the reported rate of unemployment (complete underemployment for an individual) has dropped, the full human potential of our citizenry has not been increasingly tapped. Whether one is a homeless wretch, an "unskilled" laborer, a highly trained and/or educated professional, or one of that rare breed of "renaissance" men and women, underemployment can bedevil us all, as our nation -- no matter how militarily muscle-bound -- becomes more and more an economic wimp, increasingly outcompeted by and indebted to foreign powers making better use of their human resources.

A person is a terrible thing to waste.

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