Of course, I could bore you to tears with anecdotal reports of the unemployed, the underemployed, the hard luck stories of people who really want to work if only The System would give them a chance. Go ahead, it’s okay to cry.
And remember, this is in a recovering economy.
The hard cold facts remain as follows:
Unemployment is not getting better, puzzling economists. Fair disclosure, things are worse in Europe. That doesn’t really change the fact that some economists are no longer buying the idea that employment is a lagging indicator, productivity gains are taking up the slack, and surely the “now hiring” signs will go up everywhere any minute now.
Actual employment figures are quite dismal in certain places and among certain demographics. Unemployment figures measure the percentage of people looking for work, but do not include people who have given up on finding a job, or who decide to become (semi-employed) contractors. First Time Jobless Claims represent the number of poeple who walk into the local unemployment office each week and sadly proclaim that they have just lost their job, but do not include most former part-timers and many upper income unemployeds who just don’t feel the meager payout is going to make a difference. By contrast, Employment figures represent the percentage of people actually holding down a job. Or two or three. There is little room for fluff in this number.
Charity giving is down while need of charity is increasing. Be ready to hear this drum beating throughout the holiday season. That’s only because it’s true.
Almost 3 million manufacturing jobs have vanished. Many have gone to countries with lower wages, no benefits, little regulation, and no need to consider pollution. The nicest thing that can possibly be said about this trend is that the pittance of a wage they are given is still more than they would make in most of the locally originating jobs. I do not know whether there are figures to support or dispute the idea that such job export might reduce the number of illegal aliens that come to the United States.
Almost any other job that does not require laying hands on a physical object in the United States is following. You’ve heard about outsourcing computer programming and customer support to such nations as India, haven’t you? Many high tech jobs and financial industry jobs with American companies are moving overseas to take advantage of lower cost labor.
Unemployment, particularly long term unemployment, is no longer unusual in the middle and upper classes. Long term unemployment isn’t just for drifters, losers, and people with “problems” like mental health issues or broken down cars or unreliable babysitters anymore. It can happen to degreed professionals, people with computer skills, people who thought their specialized training was job security incarnate.
Heck, even jobs that require being in the States are being done by legal and illegal aliens where posible. Remember that things are worse in Europe? That’s part of the reason Wal-Mart’s contractors were able to snap up European illegal immigrants to clean the stores after hours. Then of course there are the nice people who don’t speak English that you may have seen mowing lawns or doing other menial jobs you personally would have to be starving to take. Richard D. Lamm, former Governor of Colorado, seems to have summed it up nicely when he says “Illegal immigrants compete for the jobs our own poor need to start to move up the economic ladder.” Later he adds: “We are told that illegal immigration is ”cheap labor,” but it is not ”cheap labor,” it is subsidized labor. The National Academy of Sciences has found that there is a significant fiscal drain on U.S. taxpayers for each adult immigrant without a high school education. Illegal immigration is something that benefits a few employers, but the rest of us subsidize that labor through the school system, the health-care system, the courts and in other ways that this form of labor imposes.”
The only sector of the American economy that seems to be growing is the “services” sector. This sector includes architects and other service providing professionals. However, it also includes every job that involves such phrases as “Would you like fries with that?” or “Paper or Plastic?” or “Can you read me the model number and serial number please?”
Wages are not going up, and Americans in general report that “Things are tough all over.” People don’t want to complain when they are actually working, but things are getting tight. The lucky people with jobs do not have extra money lying around for anything that is not absolutely necessary. Retailers should feel this trend pinch them very soon. Read it and weep: “According to the poll of nearly 1,000 consumers nationwide, almost 58% said they would spend less than they did last year and 50% said the cutbacks are due to current economic conditions. More than 18% said they’re spending less because they’re earning less — a 4% increase over last year. Over 66% said they’re spending less because they are carrying too much debt, down from 70% last year.”
Many among our “working class” are underemployed. They are struggling to make ends meet. They are taking part time jobs that they hope will put then higher on the list for eventual full time jobs. They are taking two and three part time jobs to survive. This means, by the way, that they are doing without benifits: no health insurance, no retirement plan, no unemployment benefits when they get downsized.
The United States Military plays a perverse role in unemployment. Anybody who has ever lived in a city that had a military base close knows base closures can have an absolutely horrifying effect on the local economy. Now keep in mind that “[The] United States [is] approach[ing] 2005, when “the mother of all base closures,” is planned, said Brian N. Hamel, president and chief executive officer of the Loring Development Authority. In 2005, more closings are expected to occur at one time than in all previous rounds combined.” But wait, there’s more! Do you remember all those reservists that got called up over Iraq and the “War on Terror”? Well, those people left behind jobs too — jobs that had to be done by somebody. Those jobs are now being handled by co-workers putting in overtime, or by temporary workers. Either way, the unemployment rate is artifically lowered by every reservist who was asked to serve his country. Some of them were among the 6000 that just came home on the Nimitz. More are being called up as we speak.
In short, it is a bit premature for the Democratic contenders to stop harping on Bush’s economic policies.