The United States, like other advanced capitalist countries such as Canada, Australia and those in Europe, does not tell the truth about a glaring economic fact: Millions of workers can’t find work.
The official U.S. unemployment rate is 5.1 percent. This hides the true extent of the privation, suffering, despair and alienation workers feel when they are out of work and, in many cases, not even counted. Being out of work is a blow to workers’ self-esteem, as well as their financial status. Their connection to the rest of their class is attenuated, stretched and undercut.
It was interesting to see how the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ official jobless figure of 5.1 percent for September was treated in the big business media. It was called “dreadful,” “grim” and “a body blow,” even though the rate reported for August was the same.
To discount the “official” figure, which is seemingly not so bad, big publications like the New York Times reported that “wage gains stalled, the labor force shrank and employers created many fewer positions than they had been averaging in recent months.” (Oct. 2)
The BLS “estimate[s] that employers created only 142,000 jobs in September,” which should be compared with their estimate that the U.S. economy lost 236,000 jobs that month.
The Times also points to the 6 million people involuntarily working part time but wanting full-time jobs, and the 5.6 million unemployed and seeking work. Then there are the millions of “discouraged” workers who have stopping looking for jobs.
Black workers have an official unemployment rate of 9.2 percent, more than twice the official rate of 4.4 percent for white workers. Their participation rate is also lower. The BLS says the jobless rate for Latino/a workers is 6.4 percent.
Going deeper into the BLS report shows that the labor force participation rate — the percentage of workers with a job or actively looking for one — “declined to 62.4 percent; it had been 62.6 percent for the prior three months.” This is the lowest rate since 1977.
There are changes in the structure of the labor market. One of them is “uberization,” where some workers are considered independent contractors, rather than employees. They are not yet reflected in the methodology of the BLS.
Signs of a slowdown
What worried a lot of business analysts about the employment figures is that the BLS sharply reduced its estimate for job creation in August from 173,000 to 136,000, a big drop. This indicated that the U.S. economy is not doing as well as was commonly assumed.
There are major economic interests that are concerned with the accuracy of the data in the BLS report, which is why it is so often revised to take into account not only household survey data but the enterprise data. All these data are checked with reports generated by the Internal Revenue Service and other government agencies.
There are many explanations floating around the Internet about why the “official” jobless rate doesn’t really measure unemployment. Retailers and other big capitalists selling to workers want an estimate of how much money customers will have to spend for their products and don’t want to be confused by a statistic that doesn’t reflect reality.
Workers have a different set of interests in the BLS statistics. The capitalist class, as Karl Marx pointed out, seeks to lower wages below their subsistence level; that is, they want to impose austerity. Workers want to know if the capitalists have been successful in imposing austerity policies in the U.S.and worldwide — and in creating a “reserve army of the unemployed.” They need to understand the global context of their struggle against austerity and exploitation.