April 2013 Employment Report: “The Economy is Not Working for Most People” Says Chicago Political Economy Group

On April 24 two groups of young people met up on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, and it wasn’t for the shopping. One group was striking retail and fast food workers who had walked off the job to protest low wages and demand a $15 minimum wage for downtown workers. The other group was students protesting Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s school closings. Many of the striking workers were only a few years older than the students.

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Inequitable education policies like those of the Chicago Public Schools fall most heavily on low-income communities. Dictates from above that disrupt neighborhoods — closing schools, firing school staff, reducing education to performance on high stakes testing — with no voice from those affected don’t produce schools or encourage low-income students to assert themselves and demand a better life for themselves and their families. Last Wednesday the youth of Chicago taught us what we should already know: the economy is not working for most people in the U.S.

April’s employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is less exciting than strikes and street action, but we should learn the same lesson. The report beat expectations, but the unemployment rate barely changed at 7.5 percent, labor force participation is actually down slightly, remaining stubbornly low at 63.3 percent, and more workers who need full-time work are employed part time.

The labor force participation rate and high rate of involuntary part-time workers show once again that the economy is not able to create adequate jobs for our growing population, to truly recover from the Lesser Depression, or to provide workers with the income they need to meet their basic needs.  The rise in involuntary part-time employment helped bump the broader measure of unemployment that includes those workers as well as discouraged workers (“U-6”) up to 13.9 percent.

What job growth we did see in April is welcome, but troublingly concentrated in low-wage sectors or unstable temporary work. In April, 19 percent of the new jobs were in temporary help services and 18 percent were in retail, the sector that includes the same employers that workers struck in Chicago because they can’t survive on the low wages. A cruel side of conventional wisdom would say they should be happy just to have a job. Certainly that could be the lesson African-American and Latino workers and students could have learned from the disproportionately high unemployment rates in their communities. The unemployment rate for African Americans is 13.2 percent and a shocking 40.5 percent for teenagers. For Latinos the rate is 9 percent, 28 percent for teenagers .Compare that to unemployment for white workers at 6.7 percent overall and 21.8 percent for teenagers.

But all workers are feeling the squeeze. The April BLS report shows average hourly wages for workers increased by only two cents, which doesn’t even make up for the decline in wages in March. Thankfully, workers and students have learned that jobs, income, and education are all serious problems and are all part of the same struggle for economic justice. We hope policy makers will heed that lesson and act to implement a jobs program with living wages instead of tinkering with the details of sequestration and planning the next round of budget cuts.

The April report may still be greeted with relief because it is not as bad as anticipated, and because February and March employment numbers were revised upwards. This is a privileged view. For the 11.7 million unemployed workers, the 7.9 million workers making ends meet with part-time jobs, and the millions of workers whose low wages show little sign of rising, “beating expectations” still sounds like a bad joke.

The Chicago Political Economy Group continues to support comprehensive job creation proposals, such as Rep. John Conyers' HR 1000, “The 21st Century Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment and Training Act.”

Sharon Post is Research Director at SEIU Health Care Illinois/Indiana, a union of home care, hospital, nursing home, and child care workers, and a member of the Chicago Political Economy Group.

DSA Queer Socialists Conference Call

May 25, 2017
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Join DSA's Queer Socialists Working Group to discuss possible activities for the group and its proposed structure. 9 pm ET/8 pm CT/7 pm MT/6 pm PT.

 

What Is DSA? Training Call

May 30, 2017
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If you're a new DSAer, have been on a new member call, but still have questions about DSA's core values/strategy/core work and how to express these ideas in an accessible way to the media, as well as to friends, family and others who might be interested in joining DSA, this call is for you. 

We will talk through the basics of DSA's political orientation and strategy for moving toward democratic socialism, and also have call participants practice discussing these issues with each other. By the end of the call you should feel much more comfortable thinking about and expressing what DSA does and what makes our organization/strategy unique. 8 pm ET; 7 pm CT; 6 pm MT; 5 pm PT. 70 minutes.

Film Discussion: Rosa [Luxemburg]

May 31, 2017
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Join DSA member Jason Schulman to discuss the film Rosa, directed by feminist filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta. View it here at no cost before the discussion. Marxist theorist and economist Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) played a key role in German socialist politics. Jason edited Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Legacy and has a chapter in Rosa Remix. 9 ET/8 CT/7 MT/6 PT.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
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Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Introduction to Democratic Socialism

June 13, 2017
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Join Bill Barclay, Chicago DSA co-chair, and Peg Strobel, National Political Committee and Feminist Working Group co-chair, on this webinar for an overview of what we in Democratic Socialists of America mean when we talk about "socialism," "capitalism" and the goals of the socialist movement. 9:30 PM ET; 8:30 PM CT; 7:30 PM MT; 6:30 PM PT.

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Film Discussion: Pride

September 10, 2017
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Join DSA members Eric Brasure and Brendan Hamill to discuss the British film Pride (2014). It’s 1984, British coal miners are on strike, and a group of gays and lesbians in London bring the queer community together to support the miners in their fight. Based on the true story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The film is available for rent on YouTube, Amazon, and iTunes. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Film Discussion: Union Maids

September 24, 2017
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Join DSA member and labor historian Susan Hirsch in discussing Union Maids (1976). Nominated for an Academy Award, this documentary follows three Chicago labor organizers (Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki, and Sylvia Woods) active beginning in the 1930s. The filmmakers were members of the New American Movement (a precursor of DSA), and the late Vicki Starr (aka Stella Nowicki) was a longtime member of Chicago DSA and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. It’s available free on YouTube, though sound quality is poor. 8ET/7CT/6MT/5PT.