Professor Robert Reich talks unemployment, economic interdependence at conference

Public Policy Professor Robert Reich delivered a keynote address at the fifth Annual Town & Gown Conference addressing unemployment, government investment and economic interdependence.

The address came in the wake of a U.S. Department of Labor announcement Friday that payroll employment nationwide increased by 103,000 in September.

Reich said that while the number is a welcome improvement and far above estimations that there would be little or no increase, the 9.1 percent unemployment rate announced in the same statement still indicates that improvement is needed.

“Not only are we still in the hole, but the hole is getting deeper,” Reich said. “One out of four people in this country are underwater.”

The statement from the department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that “of the 14 million persons unemployed in September, 44.6 percent had been jobless for 27 weeks or more.”

Reich emphasized that at the heart of addressing the economic downturn is the recognition that all socioeconomic levels are impacted by a struggling economy.

“Economic stress either brings us together or pushes us apart,” Reich said. “What is good for you is good for me because the rising tide lifts all boats — the task of leaders is to tell the upper middle class, ‘You are a part of this.’”

Reich also tackled the issue of government investment and the Obama administration’s recently announced $447 billion jobs plan, saying that government investment would give a “boost” to the economy. He compared this to the approach the government took to investing in the economy after World War II.

“In short, you want as much of a boost as you can possibly get,” Reich said. “(After World War II) we invested, and we grew, and that’s what we need to get back to understanding.”

He added that cooperation and initiative are needed to improve the economic situation.

“When you hear the whining around you ask, ‘What are you doing about it?’,” Reich said. “Stop whining and come together. The big money, the big issue and the big fight is in Washington. We, the people, have got to lobby for what we need.”

Reich’s speech served as the first keynote address for the second day of the 5th annual California Town & Gown Conference — held in Berkeley this year — which focuses on encouraging cooperation between cities and universities on issues such as economic progress and disaster responsiveness.