I write this on the morning that a recently-released Gallup poll revealed unemployment to be the number one concern of Americans, with almost three times as many people considering it to be a bigger problem than the deficit (23% versus 8%).
For those joining us late, I’ve been posting about the subject of unemployment a great deal over the past month or so (it’s kinda personal). Anyway, I was looking around online and I found a most interesting historical anniversary. This coming March 31st will be the eighty-first anniversary of the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps— known as the CCC. It, along with the Work Progress Administration, put millions of Americans to work during the Depression years. And the government acted with uncharacteristic haste in putting it forward–The CCC was implemented with lightning speed on April seventh. The WPA came two years later, in 1935, after it was clear that many more jobs were needed. The CCC was geared towards employment of unmarried men from relief households; the WPA tried to provide one paid job for all families in which the breadwinner suffered long-term unemployment.
The economy has been struggling with unprecedented rates of unemployment for almost six years–ever since the 2008 meltdowns of Lehman and Merrill Lynch and the crash of the housing bubble. Currently, we have a mis-match between the ‘official’ unemployment rate and the real unemployment rate. PBS economics correspondent Paul Solman has even invented a new classification of unemployment–U7. His argument is that the employment classifications haven’t been changed since the 1950’s, when women weren’t in the workforce to the degree they are now, and freelancing /short-term project jobs weren’t a common means of employment. As of last November, his U7 showed some 25 million Americans desirous of a full-time job (some were involuntary part-timers). He also reported about the chicanery surrounding the monthly jobs report from the BLS (good question: How did we ‘add’ 264,000 jobs over September and October of last year when the Census Household survey reported that there were 700,000 fewer people in the workforce?) More to the point–why wasn’t this narrative on the evening news? With the exception of Solmon and John Williams’ Shadowstats (and a few other brave souls on the periphery of MSM), no one has been looking at these discrepancies. Solman pegged the ‘U7’ rate (unemployed plus underemployed) at 15.78 percent last November. That number couldn’t have moved lower due to December and January hiring, which together added less than 200,000 net jobs to an economy that needs a minimum of 135-150K new jobs a month just to stay even with population growth. If anything, it moved higher.
That’s where we are right now, with an estimated twenty five million Americans unemployed or involuntarily underemployed. There is some dispute about whether the number is even higher than that (Williams would probably make the argument that Solman isn’t counting ‘discouraged’ workers correctly). The problem has dragged on so long that a majority of those out of jobs aren’t even getting unemployment benefits. Thanks to the end of extended unemployment last December, perhaps two million people are simply destitute–no work, no UI, limited access to SNAP and other benefits. And while off-shoring is one major culprit, so are robotics. Economist Paul Craig Roberts sees a dim future for human workers once the kinks are out of self-organizing robotics systems. And if you’ve been reading my blog, you know he isn’t the only such prognosticator.
Which brings me back to the CCC and the WPA. When it was clear after two years that the CCC wasn’t getting enough money back into the economy, the WPA was launched in 1935. The economy stumbled again in 1937, but FDR realized that his administration had removed the stimulus before the economy was fully recovered and reversed course. Both programs were continued into the early part of WWII, with the WPA closing in 1943 due to a lack of applicants. After the war there was a short recession, but the reality was that the US had eliminated industrial competition from Germany and Japan thanks to saturation bombing. Our industries had a free ride for most of the next 20 years, with the added stimulus of Cold War spending.
The economy can’t turn up as long as the real rate of unemployment is above 10%. It also can’t recover if half of all new jobs pay subsistence wages. A government willing to juice up the banks with $75 Billion a MONTH worth of ‘tapering’ (through the Federal Reserve) should be able to find a few spare billion to create some jobs.
In the meantime, as I pointed out earlier, the 81st anniversary of the creation of the CCC is coming up on March 31 (it was implemented on April 7). The WPA came two years later (1935) on the same date. Recipients of WPA jobs that kept hundreds of thousands of families out of poverty and homelessness included Ronald Reagan’s Father.
In a country where so many people are out of work, wouldn’t you think elected officials would want to try just about anything to get jobs going? And if (as seems clear) one party is willing to prevent votes on extended UI, wouldn’t you think the people on the other side would talk about it a bit more?
People need to get out in the streets.