For an insightful and timely look at why corporate and public policy efforts aimed at enhancing workforce readiness are important, consider the views of New York Times op-ed columnist Bob Herbert. Herbert wrote yesterday about “A Scary Reality” — and he really focuses on the problems we face as a nation as we struggle with the recession today and possibly long-term structural unemployment in the years to come.

Herbert writes:

Some 247,000 jobs were lost in July, a number that under ordinary circumstances would send a shudder through the country. It was the smallest monthly loss of jobs since last summer. And for that reason, it was seen as a hopeful sign. The official monthly unemployment rate ticked down from 9.5 percent to 9.4 percent.
But behind the official numbers is a scary story that illustrates the single biggest challenge facing the United States today. The American economy does not seem able to provide enough jobs — and nowhere near enough good jobs — to maintain the standard of living that most Americans have come to expect.

Some 247,000 jobs were lost in July, a number that under ordinary circumstances would send a shudder through the country. It was the smallest monthly loss of jobs since last summer. And for that reason, it was seen as a hopeful sign. The official monthly unemployment rate ticked down from 9.5 percent to 9.4 percent.

But behind the official numbers is a scary story that illustrates the single biggest challenge facing the United States today. The American economy does not seem able to provide enough jobs — and nowhere near enough good jobs — to maintain the standard of living that most Americans have come to expect.

And among the implications, according to Herbert:

Two issues that absolutely undermine any rosy assessment of last week’s employment report are the swelling ranks of the long-term unemployed and the crushing levels of joblessness among young Americans. More than five million workers — about a third of the unemployed — have been jobless for more than six months. That’s the highest number recorded since accurate records have been kept.

For those concerned with the economic viability of the American family going forward, the plight of young workers, especially young men, is particularly frightening. The percentage of young American men who are actually working is the lowest it has been in the 61 years of record-keeping, according to the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston.

Many public and private organizations — including Corporate Voices for Working Families — are working to address these issues through research, advocacy and developing and implementing programs that benefit individuals and working families.

And as Herbert writes: “This is, by far, the nation’s biggest problem and should be its No. 1 priority.”