Unemployment in the United States is still a major issue, even though the existence of tens of millions of jobless and part-time workers has not led to serious discussion within the halls of Congress, the White House or Wall Street.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced on July 5 that some 195,000 new jobs had been created but that the unemployment rate remained at 7.6 percent. These two seemingly contradictory figures given to the media and the public reveal that there is no real rebound in the world’s largest economy and that the growth rate during the first quarter stood at only 1.8 percent.
The federal government through the Congress and the White House has advanced no plans to bring about full employment. Wall Street, which sets the agenda for the corporate community and the state apparatus in the U.S., is seeking numerous ways to lower wages, slash benefits and consequently drive even millions more into poverty.
In the public sector there has been massive job loss through the downsizing of civil servants, human services employees and public education workers. From Philadelphia and Detroit to Chicago and Los Angeles, hundreds of public schools are being closed and thousands of teachers, bus drivers, service workers, social workers, custodians, and health care personnel are being permanently laid off.
Rather than address the economic crisis at its roots, the federal government and the banks are passing on the implementation of austerity measures to the state, county and municipal governments. In cities around the country, the banks are dictating the terms of public service and the reallocation of tax dollars that should be slated for schools, lighting, assets maintenance and pensions. They are demanding that the resources of working people be allocated for debt payments and strengthening the status quo.
Moreover, the unemployment figures released monthly in no way reflect the actual situation involving joblessness. There are millions of additional workers who are toiling part-time, in menial jobs far below their qualifications, not to mention those who have given up looking for employment because there are no viable options to pursue.
Even Forbes, which is a publication of the major U.S.-based firms and financial institutions, was forced to admit the false character of the jobless figures. “The ‘official’ unemployment rate doesn’t count men and women … [who are] discouraged workers who have settled for part-time jobs or have given up looking altogether,” the magazine wrote on July 5.
This source goes on to say, “Tracking those individuals, under what’s called the ‘U-6’ rate, gives a very different measure of the nation’s unemployment rate: 14.3%. And unlike other jobs figures, the U-6 rate actually got worse in June — it went up by 0.5 percentage points.”
The Sequester and the federal deficit
Since the beginning of 2013, the issue of the federal budget deficit has played out at the expense of working people and oppressed communities across the United States. Congress imposed massive cuts in federal departments, including transportation regulation, Head Start programs, public health, education and senior services.
Programs that provide funding for meals for the elderly and preschool programs for children have been gutted, while the Pentagon and intelligence services have increased spending in the so-called “war on terror.” Earlier in the year there were serious delays in air transportion due to furlough days imposed on transportation workers. An act of Congress relieved some airport congestion, but further cuts are coming in the future.
At the same time the Sequester has reduced funding for unemployment benefits when displaced workers need more support than ever. The Emergency Unemployment Compensation program is slated for a $2.4 billion reduction.
This drop will force states to trim benefits or halt payments to more long-term unemployed workers. In some states the cuts will be as high as 22 percent of the checks. In others the unemployed will receive benefits over a shorter period of time.
A study by the National Employment Law Project points out the dramatic impact these cuts will have on some of the most marginalized workers throughout the country. With prospects for job creation almost nil, slashing benefits will precipitate a dramatic rise in poverty.
“[I]t is the workers who have benefited least from the economic recovery who are bearing the largest share of the burden of these domestic sequester reductions,” said the NELP in the July 3 U.S. News and World Report. “While benefits are cut, long-term unemployment remains a persistent problem. Currently, nearly 4.4 million Americans have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer. That is down significantly from an early 2010 peak of 6.7 million but is far higher than the levels of around 1.1 million seen in the mid-2000s.”
Program for full employment needed
The federal government and the corporations have no plans to even raise the notion of job creation and the eradication of poverty in the U.S. This is the program that labor unions, community organizations and all progressive forces should be demanding from the Obama administration, Congress and the capitalist class.
There are currently two laws on the books which mandate that the federal government through the Federal Reserve Bank implement job creation programs when the rate of joblessness reaches a critical level. The Full Employment Act of 1946 and the Humphrey-Hawkins Bill of 1979 are still considered good laws which lack enforcement.
A current effort by Detroit Congressman John Conyers to draft additional employment legislation will go nowhere without the force of a mass movement.
It is important that when these unemployment figures are announced monthly, workers and their advocates should answer these grim statistics with demands for public works programs and reinvestment in jobs and income-generating projects aimed at the hardest hit of the working class and the nationally oppressed.
Plenty of resources have been used for bank bailouts, which are ongoing through the Federal Reserve’s “stimulus programs” and for financing Pentagon and intelligence-aggression programs throughout the world. The true class bias of the government is revealed when these policies are not halted and funding is redirected that should be allocated to lift tens of millions out of joblessness and poverty in the U.S.
These developments point to the failure of capitalism worldwide. From North America, Southern and Western Europe to the African continent, Latin America and the Asia-Pacific, the plight of workers and the poor are worsening while profit levels for the banks and select corporations are growing exponentially. n