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They’re willing to pay. Are we?

A fifth of working-age American males, 25-54, are out of work — the greatest number since the Great Depression.

There is a big difference between the situation that existed during the Great Depression and that which exists now: Many, if not most of the men out of work those many years ago were primed to return to the workplace, America’s economy being dominated by industry and agriculture. When vigor returned to these sectors, there were plenty of hands available to do the work.

Not so, now.

Increasing numbers of out-of-work males do not possess the skills needed in a vastly different economy. Jobs in heavy industry grow fewer by the day and jobs in agriculture are performed better by those with a burning desire to work and a lack of legal status. Much low-level work has been shuttled abroad. Jobs — well paying jobs —go to those with training, with an education geared to the workplace. That workplace is increasingly sophisticated, demanding skills that fewer Americans possess with each passing jobless month and year.

What backdrop is there to this dilemma? A political situation in which many voters focus solely on our debt and say, “Cut anything that does not directly benefit me. Don’t touch Medicare and Social Security. While you’re at it, since I am perpetually frightened, don’t cut defense spending.”

At the same time, many voters say, “Don’t raise taxes. I am not among the top 2 percent of wage earners, but don’t raise their taxes either. No new taxes!” Certain elected officials add: Keep tax breaks for corporations, e.g. oil companies, agribusiness.

So, less spending on anything but care for a rapidly aging and selfish population. And no new tax revenues, little new spending.

A fine scenario when a fifth of working-age males are out of work, with many destined to be out of work or to be confined to the economic basement if they find employment.

A fine scenario when one considers what will become of a growing number of disaffected young males. After all, if we cut programs and can’t raise tax revenues, building and staffing more prisons will be out of the question, won’t it?

And this is just one of the many sectors in which “Cut everything but my programs and don’t raise taxes” approach will reap rewards for the young Americans who will replace the greediest generation of them all, forced to pay for the Boomers’ narcissistic indulgences.

Hard as it is to swallow, a solution lies, first, in the fact that Boomers and their immediate seniors, are going to have make sacrifices. Medicare has to change. Forget the nonsense about Death Panels, rub the hard edge off of health voucher plans and take a bite of reality: Medicare must be trimmed, costs must be cut.

Social Security? Something has to give.

Taxes? Guess?

It is not all about reducing our debt. We need more money — to train people to survive and flourish in a new and brutal economic world. We need to radically alter the manner in which we educate young Americans and retrain older Americans if we intend to stay with the pack. Other, very serious players are in the game now. They are nowhere as self-indulgent as we. They are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to realize gains for the long term. They are not isolated by their ear buds and iPods and fancy cell phones, or insulated by Internet fantasies and comforted by cable news and radio hosts who parrot ideas that reinforce their sense of self-importance. They know they owe something to those who will come, and they are willing to pay it.

Are we?

Karl Isberg

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