20 Million Americans Left Behind in U.S. Economy

© Spencer Platt/Getty Images Tony, who is currently living at a shelter run by the Bethesda Project, pauses during dinner on October 22, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The program for homeless men is run by the Bethesda Project which serves…
© Spencer Platt/Getty Images Tony, who is currently living at a shelter run by the Bethesda Project, pauses during dinner on October 22, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The program for homeless men is run by the Bethesda Project which serves…

Last month, when Baltimore was burning after a young African-American man died in police custody (six officers were subsequently charged), I did a Google search to find what David Simon thought about it.Simon, a former reporter for the Baltimore Sun, was the creator and show runner of “The Wire,” which ran for five seasons on HBO and which Entertainment Weekly called the greatest television show ever. It was a brilliant narrative of the struggle for survival in a violent, drug-riddled Baltimore neighborhood much like the one that went up in flames.

In my search, I came across an interview Simon did with Bill Moyers a few years ago in which he declared: “ ‘The Wire’ was not a story about America; it’s about the America that got left behind. … These really are the excess people in America. Our economy doesn’t need them — we don’t need 10% or 15% of our population.”

Have 10% to 15% of the U.S. population really been left behind? I contacted Simon at his website to ask where he got the number, but he didn’t get back to me. So I did my own calculations, and he’s actually not too far off.

With a little help from the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, which produces the famous monthly jobs reports, I added up several categories of the unemployed, the underemployed and people on some form of public assistance.

My conclusion: About 20 million Americans, roughly 10% of adults of working age, have at best marginal ties with the U.S. economy. I excluded the elderly, because most of them are retired and getting Social Security, and children, whose lives and futures are often collateral damage in the economic struggles of their parents. Here’s how it adds up:

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Source: MarketWatch |  Howard Gold

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