(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)
This time, grill some burgers, raise a glass of beer and drink a toast to Laborless Day, in honor of the 10% to 20% of the American workforce who cannot find work, or anything meaningful that pays a living wage.
The current state of labor affairs in the United States is this: We’ve just barely survived eight years in which corporations amassed even more political power and societal control than they had before.
The military-industrial complex has continued to provide us with war, the banking industry gave us substandard mortgage derivatives but won’t loan money to people with good credit, and the insurance industry forced us to buy home insurance, car insurance, flood insurance and life insurance, but refused to sell us health insurance. Labor unions are on the run in many states, and the minimum wage will buy you a dry spot under the U.S. 90A bridge.
The Captains of Industry have had their way, more or less, for decades, and never more than now. You’d think they’d be flying high, but instead, on the eve of this Laborless Day, they find themselves in a quandry.
They’ve re-learned the hard way that their stock appreciation, bonuses, vacation mansions and hot cars accrue in proportion to American consumer spending.
Economists such as Michael Mandel may argue otherwise, but American consumer spending accounts for in the neighborhood of 70% of the Gross Domestic Product, which is roughly to say, our economy. (Mandel makes a good argument that the consumer impact is less than that, but doesn’t count consumer wages confiscated as taxes, which are then spent on government programs and, yes, do have an economic impact.)
After taking a financial beating in a variety of ways, directly or indirectly from numerous corporate captains, the American consumer has lost the ability to spend. The big shots still are living high on the fuel that was stuffed into the pipeline before the Last Straw, but soon nothing will be left but fumes.
Thus we find the Captains of Industry, through major voiceboxes such as the Wall Street Journal, playing a dual role. Yes, as Republicans they still have to diss the Democrats’ stimulus spending (while forgetting Bush Jr.’s). But at the same time, because consumer spending is predicated on consumer confidence, they must declare that the glass is half full and in fact the recession, which was never all that bad to begin with, is really pretty much over and we’re all in recovery now.
Sure, guys. Paper me over with charts explaining how, technically, the bell curve has rung while Southeast Asian production rates clearly are leveling off and job losses truly are not gushing out on the ground as fast as they were just a month ago.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, almost every middle-class American who still has a job and is not employed in the medical industry faces the very real prospect of sudden job loss. In Detroit, by one measure, 17.7% of the workforce was out of work by the end of July. In the El Centro, Calif., market, for some reason, the unemployment total hit 30.2%.
Some, especially over at the Journal, will say these figures are overstated, that the Labor Department figures show the average U.S. unemployment rate at the end of August was “only” 9.7%.
I say that’s more than bad enough. But it’s also an example of how figures lie.
The Labor Department also tracks more meaningful numbers, which I believe the media should use to provide a more accurate picture of U.S. employment.
Like this one: “Total unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force.”
“Marginally attached” workers are those who have run out of benefits, been unemployed for a year or more but are available for a job and want one. The part-time workers referred to really want full-time jobs but can’t find any.
In August of 2008, as the current collapse began, this more accurate average U.S. unemployment rate stood at 10.7%. One year later, it stands at 16.8%. I shudder to think what this rate is in Detroit.
This holiday weekend, be as patriotic as you are on holidays honoring our brave military members who died serving their country. Honor the American working man and woman, salt of the Earth and the blood that keeps our country’s heart beating.
But also honor your fellow Americans, almost one in five now, who want to do their part, secure their families and help spend the country back into recovery with honest work, only there isn’t enough to go around.
About the Author: Bob Dunn is a writer, consultant and web developer based in Richmond, Texas. He can be reached via Bob Dunn’s Brazos RiverBlog.
This article originally appeared in Bob Dunn’s Brazos River Blog on September 5, 2009. Re-printed with permission from the author.