Vanishing jobs

March 6, 2009 2:11:12 PM PST
I remember when I first started working at Eyewitness News - June, 1998. It was just two days a week back then. I was the weekend anchor - a part timer here, and a full-timer at ABC News.

There was an editorial change underway -- away from a crime-blotter-filled newscast as a matter of routine. And I think it was for the better, especially since crime was dropping in the late 90s.

To be sure, there are some shows that are filled with crime stories - but these days it's more because that might be the news of the day rather than some pre-determined emphasis.

I've been thinking of those days with the run of bad-economy stories that have dominated the news these past months. Months that will soon grow into "the past year."

The truth is that the economy is news. It affects peoples' lives and livelihoods. It affects all of us.

But the other side of that truth is also just as real: There's only so much doom and gloom any one of us can take.

We are well aware of all that. We don't want to front- or back-load the newscasts with woe-is-me stories.

But the news is the news, and we also can't ignore the reality. It's important to talk about and understand the problems if we have any chance of making things better.

With that in mind, the latest unemployment numbers top the headlines. The jobless rate jumped to 8.1 percent - the highest level since 1983 and Ronald Reagan's first term.

Since the recession officially began in Dec., 2007, 4.4 million jobs have vanished - and more than half of them - 2.6 million - have disappeared in the last four months.

Which means since Barack Obama was elected.

People like Rush Limbaugh see those stats and then try to hang this recession on the new President. No thinking person - on the right or left or in the center - can believe that.

This is, however, now Pres. Obama's economy. The unprecedented government intervention that he's instituted -- we have no way of knowing whether it will work. I'm not sure how confident he is. We'll see if it works.

But for now, the dire numbers are causing some very smart people to wonder if this recession is unique; that we are in fact witnessing a radical restructuring of the fundamentals of the U.S. economy. Could it be that many of the jobs that have been lost are simply never coming back? That this is recession isn't about "riding it out" and waiting for the downturn to turn up, but is instead a downturn that will remain down?

We'll have the latest on the economy, tonight at 11.

Speaking of Obama, there's word tonight that he will on Monday sign an executive order overturning the Bush Administration-inspired ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. It's a huge deal for those advocating to find cures for diseases like Parkinson's and other physical disabilities.

Nearly 60% of Americans support loosening the restrictions - but the division shows itself when the people polled are asked their political affiliations. Democrats favor the funding, 68 %; independents favor it 64%. But Republicans are against it - only 40% favor it.

We're following the debate, at 11.

And maybe this is a good time to offer one more Rush Limbaugh story. The blustery talk show host showed his tact again today when he criticized the President for talking about health care reform when, he says, the recession should remain front and center. Limbaugh on the radio said that the President is pushing health care reform now because it is "high visible, news leading, gets a great focus, plus it has the great liberal lion Teddy Kennedy pushing it. Before it's all over," Limbaugh says without even a shred of embarrassment, "it will be called the Ted Kennedy Memorial Health Care Bill."

Sheesh. What ever happened to manners?

Also at 11, our investigative reporter Jim Hoffer takes a closer look at the state of tower cranes in New York City. A year ago next week, a crane collapse killed seven people on Manhattan's East Side. Weeks later, another crane collapse and a series of investigations by Jim exposing corruption and understaffing inside the City's crane inspection unit.

A year later, there are now more crane inspectors - but Jim's investigation tonight raises new questions about their qualifications. It's a disturbing report.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's weekend AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11, right after 20/20.

BILL RITTER