Whatever the root cause (and there could be several, IMO -- technology is the obvious one to me) -- there is a new reality we need to come to grips with:
There is going to be a structurally high unemployment rate in this country for a LONG time, if we don't intellligently alter policies to deal with it. (I say this because TECHNOLOGY is driving a lot of it. If automation can make most things more efficiently and cheaper than people -- automation will end up doing a larger share of the work. This shift is clearly accelerating in response to increased pressure to manage costs to be competitive.)
To me, the key question is, how bad do things have to get before we actually deal with the fundamental issues involved, instead of (from Capitol hill on down) throwing rocks at each other and trying to score political points?
Some simple ideas (which NEITHER party is making a REAL effort to utilize, from what I can see):
1). Encourage job sharing through the tax code. There are lots of folks who need work, and half a job is far better than no job.
2). Provide low skilled government jobs. At moderate pay (still a lot better than no job). There are all kinds of things that need to be done. Just elder care (and assistance) is a daunting task, and this will be a major growth industry in the first world as the polulation ages. Infrastructure would be another example. Hell, even basic healthcare jobs like helping transport sick patients through the healthcare maze -- if we have government run healthcare, why can't government provide good candidates for jobs like these?
3). Combine 1 and 2. Maybe 50-somethings can't do moderately physical work 8 hours a day, but they might well be able to handle 4 hours a day.
4). Better education and especially meaningful retraining opportunities. Hell, instead of proposing to give people basically endless unemployment, how about letting people EARN better opportunities through retraining/education? It's no guarantee for everyone, but it should sure help, with so many employers citing poor skills as a key reason for not hiring -- AND -- the superior basic educational system so much of the rest of the world now has compared to the US.
5). Longer term, we need to be looking at the reality of the long term unemployed who actually WANT a job. Are we going to just let a larger and larger segment of the polulation languish? People who are willing to work, to be retrained, to move, to be flexible on their job choice? (I'm not talking about people who are unwilling to do anything but X at an unrealistic salary, or who only want something for nothing).
What do we do when these folks rise in number to 20%, 30% or even 50%? There is only so long you can expect people to "behave well" when conditions get bad enough long enough. Egypt seems to be a pretty good current example of that.
But no. We seem to be convinced that fighting, believing in BAU, believing in corporate profits (or GDP) as the ONLY measure of overall economic health is the way to go, and keep kicking that can down the road.
This isn't a left or right wing problem -- it is EVERYONE'S problem. But, alas, I predict just more insistence that electing THIS candidate or THAT party will make all this better.
(edit - cleaned up a few minor typos)