December Jobs Report: "Not Enough"

By Sharon Post, CPEG.

The theme of this month’s jobs report ought to be “not enough.” The latest disappointing numbers are far lower than the optimistic expectations voiced by many economists after ADP reported payroll growth of 238,000 in Dec. 2013. The Chicago Political Economy Group (CPEG) has been arguing for years that what job growth the U.S. economy has seen since the official end of the “great recession” has been inadequate. In fact, the total number of employed workers in the U.S. is still lower than it was before the start of the great recession.  The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) announced this morning that the economy added 74,000 jobs in Dec. 2013, falling far short of expectations. This anemic job growth brings the total employment in the country to less than what it was in Nov. 2007, the month before the great recession started. It’s important to note that if the economy had added the 200,000+ jobs that many expected, we would still not have reached pre-recession employment levels. Even a “good” jobs report would have been disappointing.

The BLS employment report for December 2013 comes out in the context of terminated emergency unemployment benefits; the departing Federal Reserve chairman citing “fiscal drag” to explain persistent unemployment, and a dramatic demonstration of how our economy is failing: Even people with jobs as skilled manufacturing workers at Boeing gave into huge concessionary demands from management. The political debates that dominate the headlines are about where to place the chairs on the deck of the Titanic. In the meantime, the people whose lives are affected by the outcome of those debates continue to suffer.

What’s more, the number of people who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer remains stubbornly high at 3.9 million people. Those long-term unemployed constitute 37.7 percent of the total unemployed, still higher than in June 2009 when the recession officially ended (29.7 percent) and much higher than before the recession started in November 2007 (19.3 percent).

As many as 1.3 million of those long-term unemployed lost their jobless benefits when Congress declined to extend emergency unemployment insurance. If the House doesn’t pass the Senate’s bill to renew those benefits, five million workers will lose access to this crucial income support over the course of 2014.

It’s clear that we have not done enough for workers who have been left behind by the so-called recovery. The long-term unemployed in 2013 had a smaller chance of finding a job in a given month —only 12 percent — than other workers and are also worse off in the job market than the long-term unemployed were in 2007.  The truth is that people who are out of work for only a few weeks are more likely to become part of the devastated long-term unemployed group than they were in 2007. Finding work is especially hard for people who have been jobless for more than six months, but the chance of finding a job is still lower for all unemployed workers than it was before the recession.

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Terminating unemployment benefits when the deck is stacked so heavily against unemployed workers is cruel. But not only is this the wrong time to cut off unemployment benefits for these workers, it is also the wrong time to congratulate ourselves if we win back those extended benefits. It’s not enough to pay workers to look for jobs that don’t exist, and that’s what we are doing if we extend emergency unemployment insurance without responding to the real emergency — an economy incapable of providing sufficient jobs.

From the bottom-up view it’s obvious that the labor market, left to its own devices, is not meeting the need for jobs. The labor market participation rate declined in December to 62.8 percent, indicating that some workers are dropping out of the job market altogether. While unemployed workers experience frustration and give up hope, workers with jobs are burdened by the fear of losing them.  A sign of this fear is the International Machinists Association members’ vote in December to accept a concessionary contract that sacrifices retirement security and fair wages in response to Boeing’s threat to leave Seattle and toss them out of work. The same workers had voted down a similar proposal, but the inhospitable climate for workers sends a chill through the entire labor force, leading to lower wages and greater insecurity.

Meanwhile, what job growth we did experience in December was largely in the retail sector, where workers are fighting across the country for a $15/hour base wage and the right to form a union. Those workers still have not lost hope, but they are not relying on policy makers or the market to correct the injustice of stagnant, poverty wages.  Elected leaders should take inspiration from the Fight for 15 and take real steps toward repairing the structural inequities in our economy. 

It’s not enough to extend unemployment benefits one more time without any real policy to create jobs, not enough to strike “grand bargains” with deficit hawks, and not enough to simply keep jobs in place while wage and benefit standards deteriorate.  An agenda that moves us out of the persisting employment crisis would include a federal jobs program like the one CPEG has proposed or the jobs program in Rep. John Conyers’ “The 21st Century Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment and Training Act” (HR 1000); a tax on the trading of financial assets included in Rep. Keith Ellison’s “Inclusive Prosperity Act” (HR 1579); an increase in the minimum wage; and support for strong labor organizations that can build power for workers to protect the interests of American communities when they are threatened by overwhelming corporate power.

Sharon Post is director of the Center for Long-Term Care Reform at the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group and a member of the Chicago Political Economy Group.

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership.

 

LGBT Activism: A Brief History with Thoughts about the Future

April 01, 2017
· 66 rsvps

Historian John D'Emilio's presentation will do 3 things: Provide a brief explanation of how sexual and gender identities have emerged; provide an overview of the progression of LGBT activism since its origins in the 1950s, highlighting key moments of change; and, finally, suggest what issues, from a democratic socialist perspective, deserve prioritizing now. John co-authored Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America, which was quoted by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision that ruled state sodomy laws unconstitutional. 1 pm ET; 12 pm CT; 11 am MT; 10 am PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
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  4. If you have questions, contact Peg Strobel, peg.strobel@sbcglobal.net.
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt, schmittaj@gmail.com, 608-355-6568.

Film Discussion: Documentaries of People's History in Texas

April 02, 2017
· 30 rsvps

Join DSA members Glenn Scott and Richard Croxdale to discuss videos produced by People’s History in Texas (PHIT), a project that brings to life the stories of ordinary people in significant socio-political movements in Texas. They will discuss The Rag, their newest documentary, which tells the story of an influential underground paper based in Austin, Texas, from 1966-77. Click here to view Part I (the early years as an all-volunteer paper covering the student, anti-Vietnam and Civil Rights movements), Part II (the impact of Women’s Liberation on the paper) and Part III (building community: covering local politics, nukes, co-ops, feminist institutions). But also check out the video on the Stand-Ins about a group of university students who led a movement to desegregate Austin’s movie theaters in 1961. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT. Here's a blog post about PHIT.

Introduction to Democratic Socialism

April 04, 2017
· 85 rsvps

Join Rahel Biru, NYC DSA co-chair, and Joseph Schwartz, DSA Vice-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 PM ET; 8 PM CT; 7 PM MT; 6 PM PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have headphones (preferred) or speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Joseph Schwartz, schwartzjoem@gmail.com.
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt, schmittaj@gmail.com, 608-355-6568.

What Is DSA? Training Call

April 05, 2017
· 9 rsvps

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.

Feminist Working Group

April 12, 2017
· 28 rsvps

People of all genders are welcome to join this call to discuss DSA's work on women's and LGBTQ issues, especially in light of the new political reality that we face after the elections.  9 pm ET; 8 pm CT; 7 pm MT; 6 pm PT.

DSA New Member Orientation Call

April 16, 2017
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You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  8 pm ET; 7 pm CT; 6 pm MT; 5 pm 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.