On July 8 – 9 CPEG joined members of Congress, representatives of community groups and union members from around the country for a “Jobs Briefing” in Washington D.C. Bill Barclay was on the panel analyzing the current jobs situation, outlining policies to address continued high unemployment and assessing our experiences organizing the unemployed. His comments are below.
I’m pleased to be at this jobs briefing as both a founding member of, and representing, the Chicago Political Economy Group. CPEG developed and published a comprehensive jobs proposal in 2008, and we have worked with the staff of Rep. John Conyers to include many of the same ideas in HR 1000. I’m also here as a Democratic Socialists of America member, happy to say that DSA was one of the first national organizations to endorse the legislation proposed by Rep. Conyers.
I’m going to consider three points in my remarks. First, what is happening to the US labor market during this Long Depression, a more appropriate title for the period we are in than recovery from something called the “Great Recession”; second, what is the role and importance of a financial transaction tax in the financing of a jobs program sufficient to the problems we face; and third, why did the efforts of several of us in 2009-10 in Chicago to organize the unemployed failed but why the situation may be different today.
The July “Employment Situation” Report from the BLS has stimulated a range of responses. On the plus side for workers, over 200,000 additional people were employed compared to June. This extended the string of positive jobs numbers for private sector employers to 52 months, among the longest on record. Over the past 12 months, the US economy has generated a little over 2 million new jobs.
So, what can we say about who is and isn’t employed? And, are there any concerns that remain about the recovery from the “Great Recession?”
The June employment situation is largely consistent with recent trends. It is not remarkable, but those recent trends are better than what we had become used to in the years following the deep losses of the 2007-2009 recession. Employment over the last year has risen 2.5 million, while employment growth for the last three months has averaged about 270,000 jobs, as the economy recovered from the harshest months of the winter. The report today suggests that the 2014 first quarter GDP decline of 2.9% was not a sign of major weakening, but rather the result of the bad weather early in the year.
In the late 1960s I was teaching at a community college in upstate NY and, among the books I assigned to my students, was Betty Freidan’s “The Feminine Mystique.” It usually generated interesting discussions, perhaps the most interesting of which was the gender gap in the response to the question I would ask about expectations for the household division of labor (including child care and other housework) in their future lives. The young women turned out to be better predictors of where the future was going than the young men.
Maybe the young men were thinking about 1900 when 1 in 5 women in the US – and only 1 in 20 married women – were in the wage labor force. Housework, “women’s work” was demanding and time consuming; the average household contained almost 5 people and almost 20% had more than 7 members. Or maybe the young men were just reflecting the reality that, in the 1960s, their mothers were doing 6 hours of housework labor for every 1 expended by fathers. In contrast, perhaps the young women were envisioning a society – like today’s US – when 3 of every 5 women, both overall and for married, work for wages. And they understood that human labor time is not indefinitely expandable.
The month of May saw job growth of 217,000 in the U.S. but no change in the number of people who are unemployed. Perhaps buoyed by the news of job growth, 218,000 unemployed people who had abandoned the search for work re-entered the labor force in May. But what awaits those hopeful job-seekers?
Although we’ve had several months of relatively positive jobs reports, the pace of job growth has been too slow to employ the nearly 10 million officially unemployed workers in any reasonable amount of time. The number workers without jobs for 27 weeks or more did not change in May and still accounts for 35% of the total unemployed. Nor has the labor force participation rate budged past the historically low levels that have defined the Great Recession and its long, dreary ‘recovery.’ Prospects for working people are still grim, especially in the 24 states that have callously refused to expand Medicaid even as their residents struggle to get by.