by Valdas Anelauskas
Adapted from Textbook: DISCOVERING AMERICA AS IT IS, Chapter 9
"When a man tells you that he got rich through
hard work, ask him whose."
It's well known that poverty and unemployment have always been an integral part of American society since the birth of the industrial era and capitalist market economies. But in the 1990s, Americans are facing new kinds of poverty and unemployment. Previously, poverty and unemployment in America were more or less cyclical. Today, they are becoming permanent structural features of this society. A whole new social class of people is being created here -- people whose labor is simply no longer needed in the economy because of technological change. Economic productivity has created a large, permanent class of those whom society cannot use and does not respect. While the experts predict a glowing future for those maximum twenty percent of the U.S. population who will earn their bread by manipulating information in highly specialized ways, they are silent about prospects for the remaining eighty percent. The United States has already become a society with a obscenely prosperous minority at the top, a downwardly mobile working class in the middle, and a marginalized so-called "underclass" at the bottom.
Unemployment: Fudging the Figures
According to official numbers by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of January 1999, only 5,950,000 million Americans were unemployed. But the truth is that while the current official national unemployment rate in the United States stands at a low 4.3 percent, there are far more people than that who are either out of work, only able to find part-time work, employed at below poverty level wages or employed below their skill level. Official jobless figures are only the tip of the iceberg. In contrast to many European countries, the United States, in compiling jobless data, excluded persons without employment who had stopped looking for work. People who want to work but are discouraged about job opportunities and so have given up an active job search are not counted here as unemployed. Instead, they are considered not to be in the labor force. Part-time workers who wanted full-time jobs are nevertheless counted as fully employed. People working even as little as one day a week are categorized as "employed." About two million Americans, for example, are "on-call" workers who are called to work as needed -- sometimes for one day, sometimes for longer. Substitute teachers meet this definition. Such a methodology for determining the extent of unemployment in America is symptomatic, at the very least, of the lack of official concern regarding the problem. Many might say, with good reason, that it reflects an intent to mislead.
Many independent economists accept that the true level of unemploy-ment in the United States of America is at least double the official figure. Even former Commissioner of Labor Statistics, Janet Norwood, after declining reappointment in 1991, began speaking out on the inadequacies of government data. Not only did she acknowledge that the unemployment numbers were misleading, but she also said, "I am very worried, extraordinarily concerned, about the polarization I see going on in our country."
The discrepancy originates in the methodology of calculating unemployment rates: only those signed up at the unemployment office are being officially counted as unemployed. The six million officially unemployed persons consist solely of those who are registered at state unemployment centers as actively seeking for work. Many millions more have concluded that pursuing nonexistent jobs is futile and have dropped out of statistics altogether. Millions of discouraged people aren't being counted and are simply disappearing from official U.S. unemployment statistics. This discrepancy also reflects the fact that many unemployed people are simply hard for a government bureaucracy to track. Unless a person qualifies for unemployment benefits, they are virtually impossible to identify. Even people who once qualified for unemployment fall out of the system once their benefits end.
Such absurd accounting conveniently overlooks too many people who for various reasons are unlikely to register at state centers: Native Americans on reservations, where unemployment reaches as high as seventy percent; black youths, whose unemployment hovers above fifty percent; the discouraged homeless people who quit looking for work; and all those workers with only part-time work who are presently being counted as fully employed even if they work as little as only one hour per week -- maybe... According to the latest Employment Situation Monthly Report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of January 1999, there were as many as 3,562,000 part-time only workers. All these uncounted people must be included if one is to arrive at the true level of unemployment in America. The U.S. Labor Department's euphemism for them is "distressed workers," and after only a very quick look at the latest Employment Situation Monthly Report, it is clear to me that there are at least eight million Americans in this category. And then, there are another eight million Americans who call themselves self-employed consultants or independent contractors. "Many are downsized professionals who are too proud to admit that they are unemployed, who set up their own consulting firm and may even have a few clients, but who make very little income and would be delighted to have a regular job," economist Lester Thurow says.
Thus, yes, the true level of unemployment in the United States of America is at least two times higher than the official rate. The real situation of American labor is that, all told, in addition to the officially unemployed, nearly thirty-five million people -- about one-fourth of the labor force -- are potentially looking for more work than they now have. Economist Lester Thurow puts the number even higher, asserting that "well over a third of our work force is looking for more work. " In 1992, for example, distressed workers totaled 36 million, or forty percent of the American labor force, according to the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute. During this same time period, official unemployment was recorded at "only" 7.6 percent.
It is easy for the public, especially those who still have jobs, to be tranquilized by supposedly low unemployment figures when they are presented in single-digit percentages. But in actual fact, even those "only 5,950,000" officially unemployed (as of January 1999) Americans, linked arm-in-arm, could easily stretch from New York to San Francisco and leave plenty to spare. This is a considerably larger number than the total population of my native Lithuania! And, as commentator Harry Kelber says in his Labor Talk:
Reference Source:The sinking of American labor