By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
All the talk these days in the United States and in Europe is about deficit and debt.
In Washington, the battle over America's debt ceiling continues. But let me tell you about the real crisis we face in America (and Europe has its own version of this), a crisis that could cripple America's economy and its society and would make the debt problem much, much worse.
It is America's jobs crisis.
The number of Americans who are unemployed has roughly doubled since the financial crisis and recession hit. And though that number is declining, it is doing so very slowly. Most new jobs are for part-time work, at wages that average $19,000. That is half the median income.
The official unemployment number does not include the millions who have stopped looking for work or are working part time. So, if you add these numbers together, the actual number of Americans without a real full-time job is closer to 24 million.
Everyone is expecting that the normal pattern of growth and job creation will start up soon, except that it hasn't.
Two years into the recovery, growth is stuck at about 2% and job creation has reached 250,000 a month, which might sound high but is actually barely enough to keep pace with all the new workers entering the job market for the first time.
If unemployment doesn't drop a great deal fast - and it shows no signs of doing this –problems proliferate in all directions.
The most significant impact is on the lives of the unemployed. Studies show that after a few years of not working, people lose their talents, their skills, the work habits that make it possible for them to work productively and to be productive citizens. They risk becoming a lost generation - lost to their country, their communities, their families.
The new normal of slower growth and lower job creation also means lower tax revenues, more unemployment and health benefits to be paid out and therefore a much larger deficit.
President Obama's budget assumes that the economy will create 20 million jobs over the next 10 years. That will be a dramatic acceleration. Over the past 10 years, it has produced only 1.7 million.
Congressman Paul Ryan's plan envisions unemployment dropping to 50-year lows to make his budget numbers work. That would require magic at this point. If you assume unemployment stays high, the deficit and debt become unimaginably higher in 10 years.
So, what to do?
Well, there are several things we could do to spur job creation. I wrote about them last week in TIME Magazine. But, briefly: (a) create a regulatory and tax climate that helps small businesses since they create most of the new jobs, (b) revive manufacturing by focusing on research, technical training and apprenticeship, (c) help growth industries like entertainment and tourism to expand and, perhaps most urgently, (d) rebuild America's dilapidated infrastructure and put millions of people in the construction and housing industries back to work.
The crucial point here is that if you care about America's economy, centrally including the deficit, you need to get people back to work - being productive, spending money and paying taxes. And we need to do this fast.