What did Arnold mean by 'challenge'?

Let’s begin with the press release sent out this morning under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s name. It’s subject matter, yet another month where the state’s unemployment figure hovers above 12.4 percent, is dark, but the release is surprisingly cheery:

“Boosting employment remains the single most important challenge facing our country and our state. That’s why I announced the California Jobs Initiative as part of my budget and that’s why my budget fully funds education and holds the line on taxation. Keeping California cost-competitive and preparing our citizens for the 21st century workforce are the keys to strengthening our economy. I look forward to partnering with the legislature to implement this plan to boost employment, create jobs and stimulate our economy.”

Where to begin? The use of the word “challenge” to describe the fact that more than 2.2 million Californias are out of work? The visonary call to “prepare” us for the “21st century workforce” even though we’re now a decade into that century? The three ostensible goals listed in the last sentence that are just restatements of each other? The shameless plug for the California Jobs Initiative, which by the governor’s own numbers would create 100,000 jobs — a laudable figure in good times but scant assistance today?

The state Employment Development Department report that prompted Arnold’s little release is a sobering document. California had 579,400 fewer non-farm jobs in December 2009 than in December 2008. What’s more, the current 12.4 percent state unemployment figure is merely an average across the state’s 58 counties, 23 of which are suffering unemployment rates in excess of 15 percent. Two counties — tiny Colusa and somewhat larger Imperial — have unemployment rates greater than 25 percent.

Add all that to this California Budget Project report saying the current official unemployment figures don’t factor in the “hundreds of thousands” of job-seekers who’ve simply stopped looking for work, and the situation looks less like a “challenge” for Schwarzenegger and more like his political epitaph.

-Anthony Pignataro

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