austerity / labor / US Politics

Unemployment crisis in the US- No end in sight


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Unemployment crisis in the US- No end in sight.

Time to build a working class fightback!

John Leslie

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics report on employment  for March 2013 paints a grim picture.  The US economy only added 88,000 jobs in March; down for previous monthly performances.   The number of unemployed officially counted is 11.7 million. The unemployment rate of 7.6 percent is little changed from previous months.  Certainly austerity measures and job cuts in the public sector, due to the so-called sequester, have impacted job creation. However, these factors cannot explain all of the problem.

Almost 40 percent of the unemployed are counted as “long term unemployed.”  This means they have been out of work for 27 weeks or more, many of them older workers.  According to economist Robert Reich, “…only 85.3 percent of men aged 45 to 54 are now working. This is the lowest percentage of working men in that prime age group since 1948. It’s 2 percent below the lowest level of their labor participation during the Great Recession. Why are so many of these men without jobs? Presumably, they lost them starting in 2008 and haven’t been able to find… new ones. Many have stopped looking altogether…This marks a completion of a trend that began in the late 1970s, when male earnings first began stagnating or declining.”

Unemployment rates for Black (13.3 %)  and Latino (9.2 %) workers are higher than for white (6.9 %) workers, indicative of continued institutional racism.

There are officially 11.7 million counted as unemployed. There are an additional 7.6 million working part-time jobs because they cannot get a full-time position. On top of this, there are 2.3 million referred to by the BLS as “marginally attached”  to the work force. This means there are almost 22 million workers locked out of the US economy.  Some economists estimate that the number is much higher, due to workers who have given up looking for work or who work in the informal economy.  

It is estimated that the US economy has to add about 150,000 jobs per month just to keep up with the growth the labor force. This means that in order to put the 22 million unemployed and underemployed back to work, while keeping up with population growth, the US economy would have to add 500,000 jobs per month over a 5 year period.

According to Businessweek, “For half a decade, the percent of Americans living below the poverty line has increased each year, from 12.3 percent in 2006 to 15.1 percent in 2010. Today the Census Bureau released its analysis of U.S. poverty in 2011, and the official poverty rate essentially held at 15 percent, meaning that 46.2 million people live below the poverty line.

This is graphically illustrated by a  recent incident in Georgia, where police kept crowds of hungry people from taking food that was being thrown away after a grocery store was shut down due to foreclosure. “It’s a shame that they are just throwing all this stuff away and not even donating it to a shelter or anything,” said Tiffany Serles, a local member of the community.

Austerity

Fightback needed

In all of this, both ruling class parties have worked to balance the so-called recovery on the backs of workers and oppressed people.  This is illustrated by Obama’s repeated offers to cut “entitlements.”

What is needed is a united front fightback against austerity and cutbacks; we need a public works jobs program to create millions of new jobs at union wages, the doubling the minimum wage, the protection of Social Security,  and single-payer health care. We also need a unified defense of the right to organize and strike. Building unity also requires defense of affirmative action and an uncompromising fight against racism.

The central lessons of the defeat in Wisconsin are that mass action and class independence are critical elements of a successful fightback. Taking the movement off of the streets and channeling it into elections insured defeat.  This means that working people must chart a course independent of the two parties of Wall Street.

On the weekend of May 10-12, a Labor Fightback Conference will be held at the Rutgers University Campus in New Brunswick, NJ.  This conference is a modest first step in building resistance to austerity.  It will bring together union officials, rank and file workers and community organizations.  Organizers hope that this conference can spark further discussion and action in the labor movement and its allies on  “What strategy will enable labor to mount the most effective and powerful fightback possible against the corporate assaults?”

For further information, please email conference@laborfightback.org or write Labor Fightback Conference, P.O. Box 187, Flanders, NJ 07836

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