unemployment-benefits

I want to caution the reader that I am not a trained economist. I’m a blue collar worker with a few basic math skills. I have, however, experienced the capitalist system firsthand for several decades, which gives me a certain understanding of how capitalism really doesn’t “work” for the vast majority.

by Steve Xavier

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the February jobs report on Friday — indicating that the economy added 235,000 jobs last month, with the unemployment rate falling to 4.7 percent from the previous month’s 4.8 percent. Trump administration officials immediately tried to link Trump’s policies to the growth in jobs. During the presidential campaign, candidate Trump said that the BLS numbers were phony – that they underestimate the actual unemployment rate. Now that the numbers seem to favor his narrative about jobs creation, he’s backed off on previous claims. Trump regime spokesman Sean Spicer said, “I talked to the president prior to this, and he said to quote him very clearly…They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.”

Reading the numbers

First, we should understand that approximately 145,000 new workers join the labor force every month. In other words, just to hold the unemployment rate steady, this number of jobs must be added to the economy every month. So, the economy only really added about 90,000 jobs in February. 

The BLS counts 7.5 million workers as unemployed. Unemployed workers are defined as people actively looking for work. This means that people who have given up are not really counted as unemployed. Almost a quarter of the unemployed, 1.8 million, are counted as long-term unemployed. Another 5.7 million workers have taken part time jobs because they can’t find full time employment or their hours have been cut. An additional 1.7 million are considered what the BLS calls “marginally attached” to the labor force. Of the “marginally attached,” more than half a million are considered “discouraged.”  The “official” unemployment rate disguises the fact that unemployment is as much as two to three times  higher for people of color and youth.

By my calculations, this means that about 15 million workers are either unemployed or underemployed. This, of course, does not count the people who have just plain given up looking for work. It also does not count anyone who has dropped out of the regular economy and opted to work in the cash economy. 

To create enough jobs to eliminate unemployment, while taking into account new workers, the economy would have to add almost 400,000 jobs per month over a five year period. This would require a serious rethinking of the whole economic system we live under.

The right’s solution to unemployment is deregulation, austerity, and union busting. To the mind of  right wingers, unemployment is caused either by the laziness of the workers, the disincentive to work caused by welfare programs, regulations hindering the growth of the economy, or high wages caused by unions. They fail to understand the basic structural flaws of a system that does not, and cannot, create enough jobs for everyone.

Trump campaigned on a promise of infrastructure construction. Leaving aside the reluctance of the GOP to spend on infrastructure, we should not trust Trump on infrastructure spending. He favors the weakening or repeal of the Davis-Bacon (prevailing wage) Act, a national right-to-work law, and public-private partnerships to rebuild crumbling infrastructure. None of these provisions would spell good paying jobs for construction workers (or anyone else), only continued retreat. Trump’s meeting with building trades tops only shows the confusion and political bankruptcy of union bureaucrats, not Trump’s willingness to have a dialog with labor.

A jobs program is necessary

A Congress of working class organizations should be convened  to put forward solutions to the capitalist crisis that favor working people. A working class solution to the jobs crisis must necessarily include the demand for a public works jobs program that would create sustainable union jobs at top union wages and includes pensions and healthcare. The work week should be cut to 30 hour with 40 hours pay. Make the bosses pay for the crisis they created by raising their taxes. If they object and say they can’t pay, open their books to public scrutiny. We need to expand and strengthen Medicare as a transition to a single payer health care system. Our economy must be restructured to favor human needs over private profits.

 

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