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T hat delicious smell? It’s the Economy Cooking”—this is Business Week (December 8, 2003) greeting the news that the gross domestic product expanded at an annual rate of 8.2 percent in the third quarter of 2003. Looks as though we’re back in business as the world’s mightiest engine of progress and prosperity.
How about employment—smelling delicious, too? The latest recession, as officially dated by the National Bureau of Economic Research, began in March 2001 and ended in November 2001, but the aroma lingers on. From March 2001 through July 2003, 2.7 million jobs disappeared, in the greatest employment contraction since the 1930s: for the first time since World War II, the total number of employees on payrolls (private sector and government) continued to fall 20 months into recovery from a recession. The previous record, impressive in its own right, was 13 months, following the end of the 1990-1991 recession.
From August through November 2003, to the accompaniment of cheers for “the end of the jobless recovery,” the economy generated an average of 82,000 new jobs per month. But this is half the number needed to absorb all the new people looking for work and hold the unemployment rate steady, and one-third the number needed to bring about substantial reductions in the ranks of the unemployed (8.7 million in November 2003).
The official unemployment rate (which was 4.3 percent in March 2001) peaked at 6.4 percent in June 2003, then fell to 5.9 percent in November 2003, essentially unchanged from October. Thereby hangs the tale of the labor market facing U.S. workers—provided that the full story is told.
The official rate is the percentage of all workers who are unemployed, expressed as unemploy- ment/labor force. The numerator, unemployment, is the number of jobless people who have actively looked for work during the last four weeks. The denominator is the number of people in the labor force, which equals employment plus unemployment, or people who have jobs plus those who are unemployed as defined in the numerator.
This measure understates unemployment in two key respects. First, unemployment excludes involuntary part-timers—people who want full-time work but have to settle for part-time or split-week schedules. Second, it excludes “discouraged workers”—those who believe they can no longer find work and stop looking or who indicate they want a job and have looked for work sometime in the indefinite recent past. People in this category are no longer actively seeking work and are therefore classified as “not in the labor force” (neither employed nor unemployed).
Thus, as happened last summer, an increase in numbers of discouraged workers can actually reduce the official unemployment rate. The labor force as officially defined (employed plus unemployed) totaled 147,096,000 in June and 146,530,000 in August—a decrease of 566,000, during which time the official unemployment rate fell from 6.4 to 6.1 percent. The reason for the drop is that 566,000 workers vanished (ceased looking for work and were no longer considered to be in the labor force).
this and other reasons, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
provides a series of “alternative unemployment measures,”
which go almost entirely ignored and unreported by the major media
and news organizations. One of the alternative measures shows that
if both involuntary part-timers and discouraged workers were added
to the unemployment rate as officially measured, the rate for November
2003 would stand at 9.5 percent of the labor force, instead of the
official 5.9 percent.
Since the 1970s, labor force withdrawal and longer jobless spells have been gaining ground, steadily and ominously, so that even the BLS “alternative unemployment measures,” let alone the official one, increasingly understate true unemployment in the U.S.
Jobless rates fell sharply in the 1990s because more prime-age males (25 to 54 years old) stopped looking for work and thus were not counted as unemployed and gave reasons other than job-search discouragement for their withdrawal from the labor force (personal reasons, keeping house, early retirement, disability, self-employment). “Over the 1990s, even as unemployment was falling, time spent out of the labor force was rising... [and] was so large that total joblessness—which combines the unemployed with those who have withdrawn from the labor force—was as high at the business cycle peak in 2000 as it had been at the previous cyclical peak of 1989, even though the [official] unemployment rate was roughly 2 percentage points lower. In terms of total joblessness, the often-praised boom of the 1990s really represented little in the way of employment progress for American males” (C. Juhn, K. Murphy, and R. Topel, “Current Unemployment, Historically Con- templated,” Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, 1:2002).
Participation in the labor force by prime working-age males, who still command the highest wages for any given job, has been drifting downward for more than 40 years. In 1972 a noted labor economist regarded the labor force drop-out by males, both black and white, as “mysterious.” Three-fifths of it, he observed, could be attributed to growth in numbers of men “unable to work...reasons for this apparent increase in chronic disability are not known” (T.A. Finegan, “Labor Force Growth and the Return to Full Employment,” Monthly Labor Review, February 1972). It is all the more “mysterious” in that it flies in the face of the increasing demand for jobs—and take-home pay—that has made the U.S. the only high-income nation in which time spent working has been on the rise since 1970. The average U.S. worker now spends more time on the job than she or he did in 1950.
Male participation in the labor force, it would appear, has been declining not as a result of genuine physical or mental illness, or free choice of more leisure instead of work, but because of chronic job scarcity and lack of decent employment opportunities, particularly in an era of wage compression at home and shifting of factory jobs to lower-cost nations overseas.
This is the state of the labor market in which the number of workers receiving disability benefits grew from 1.5 million in 1970 to 5.0 million in 2000, more than twice as fast as the labor force during those years. (The increases were 4.1 percent per year and 1.8 percent respectively.) When Congress began to loosen the standards for disability payments in the late 1980s, many people who normally might have been counted as unemployed started moving into the disability system in record numbers. Nearly all the increase came from hard-to-verify disabilities, like back pain and mental disorders. From 1990 through 2002, the disabled worker total climbed at 5.2 percent per year, while the labor force increased only 1.0 percent per year.
Another sign of “hidden unemployment” is the rapid expansion in numbers of people who declare themselves “self-employed”—9.2 million by November 2003, accounting for 6.6 percent of all people who say they are working and are officially counted as employed. Some of them—perhaps many—are out of work but will not admit it to the Household Survey enumerator who collects the employment data each month. Self-employed workers increased by 156,000 in November; this was a primary reason why the official unemployment rate dropped from 6.0 percent in Oct- ober to 5.9 percent in November.
Incarceration is another comparatively large source of hidden unemployment in this country. In 2002, the number of people im- prisoned reached 2.0 million. We’re number one. The U.S. has 702 prisoners per 100,000 of population, well ahead of second-place Russia (665 per 100,000); the U.S. rate is three times higher than that of Iran, four times that of Poland, five times that of Tanzania, seven times Germany’s. Adding jailed working-age men to the official U.S. unemployment rate would increase it by as much as 0.3 percent.
In a historical survey of unemployment, Wall Street Journal columnist Cynthia Crossen wrote (Dec. 3, 2003) that “Since the late 19th century, America has never been fully employed except during the two world wars.” In fact the record shows that unemployment may never have been as low as 2 to 3 percent, which would represent genuine full employment, except near the end of World War II (Du Boff, “Unemployment in the United States,” Monthly Review , November 1977). Not even the three longest economic expansions in our history—those of the 1960s, 1980s, and 1990s—have been able to drive the U.S. economy to full employment. In the new era of globalized technologies and production, jobs are becoming even harder to get and hang on to.
Richard DuBoff is an author and professor of economics at Bryn Mawr College.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; email@example.com; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.