Timesizing News, September 21-30, 2002
[Commentary] ©2002 Phil Hyde, Timesizing.com, Box 622, Porter Sq, Cambridge MA 02140 USA 617-623-8080
9/29/2002 timesizing consciousness in the weekend news, aka glimmers of strategic hope -
[now here's the trigger article, which presents a critical argument for sharing the vanishing work -]
Help wanted - Out of a job and no longer looking - Our welfare state in closer to Europe's than we think, by David Leonhardt, NYT, 4-1.
The American welfare state was supposed to be dead, victim of the free-market economy and its success in creating a job for anybody who wanted one.
[That was always a huge myth.]
While European countries maintained huge social-service programs and paid for them with high unemployment, the U.S. sharply curtailed its best-known welfare program in the mid-1980s and the [official] jobless rate just kept dropping. Even today, two years in to an economic slump, the labor market appears [our italics - ed.] healthier than it was for most of the last three decades.
But the current downturn is beginning to expose an uncomfortable truth: the American economy looks more like Europe's than most people ever imagined during the triumphal 1990s.
Millions of people, particularly men, have dropped out of the labor force over the last decade, apparently unable to find work that pays near what they once earned in the blue-collar jobs that have since moved to lower-wage countries. Unwilling to take new jobs that pay far less, neither employed nor looking for work, they are not counted in the jobless rate, and a surprising and growing number of them instead depend on a government check to get by.
Once these statistical non-persons are counted, the labor market of today looks all too similar to those of supposedly bleaker past decades, according to a number of recent studies by economists. Even when the unemployment rate was near a 30-year low in 1999 and 2000, men from the ages of 18 to 54, as a group, spent 11% of the year not working, roughly the same as in the late 1970s and late 80s, according to one study.
[And roughly the same as the coveted European vacation of 4-6 weeks per year. Truly technology determines that we either cut the workweek per person and get the technological work savings in terms of financially secure leisure, like Europe, or we'll have it forced upon us in terms of depressing unemployment, or worse (disability, welfare, homelessness, prison, suicide....)].
Things are considerably worse today. In the last two years, the official jobless rate has risen and an additional two million people appear to have dropped out of the labor force. Today, the real level of unemployment for men probably approaches the level of the recession-mired early 80s.
"The unemployment rate doesn't mean what it did 20 years ago," said Robert H. Topel, an economist at the University of Chicago and author of the most detailed recent study of the changes. "Employment opportunities for the less skilled are not what they used to be, so people just leave the labor force."
[Where do they turn?]
To pay their monthly bills, many of these missing workers have turned to disability insurance, a government program under Social Security that has become the centerpiece of the new American welfare state.
[Our society is splitting into workers and drones. The Timesizing full-employment program would gradually reduce the workweek to a technologically appropriate range and with job design, get these people participating again, instead of riding free.]
Since 1990, the number of people receiving disability pay has nearly doubled, to 5.4 million, and the government now spends far more on the program than it does for food stamps or unemployment insurance.
People who once may have worked through injuries or chronic pain, particularly those without a college education, are increasingly making a choice economic planners [such as Rexford Tugwell of FDR's brain trust] did not foresee. They have decided a government benefit, in the form of the roughly $800 in average monthly disability pay, is more attractive than any job.
They make up the biggest group that has left the labor force and help depress the unemployment rate.
[In other words, they make the unemployment rate look unrealistically low.]
The growth of the prison population - to about 2 million today, up from 1.1 million in 1990 and 500,000 in 1980 - has made another large group of people dependent on the government. And while prisoners themselves do not suffer many of the consequences of joblessness, like eviction or lack of health care [no, just knifings and gang rape as demoed on our prisons page - ed.], their relatives often do.
Other labor-force dropouts are harder to count because the government [ie: taxpayers] does not support them. Some have moved in with friends or family, economists say. Still others, caring for children or retired, while their spouse works, are properly not counted as unemployed.
[Though many in this last group, such as Phil Hyde, would get work if it was easy to find and less than 40 hrs/wk rather than running down their modest nesteggs ever closer to zero.]
Overall, however, the rise in the number of missing workers calls into question the great achievement of the 1990s economy: the best job market since 1970. According to the official numbers, the jobless rate generally rose from the 1960s through the early 1980s, reaching a peak of 10.8% in 1982. Since then, it has generally fallen, dropping to 3.9% two years ago. Last month, after a year and a half of widespread layoffs, it remained at "just" 5.7% [our quotes - ed.].
Certainly, the decline was no mirage.
[Oh no? This article has not yet mentioned makework. And the Republicans' big makework channel is the Pentagon, which expanding wildly under Reagan starting around 1982 as he determined to "win" the Cold War. Then there was Panama and Grenada and Somalia and Desert Storm....]
With the economy growing quickly [or merely inflating into a tech bubble?], businesses needed to woo people into the labor force or out of another job, and they offered the first significant raises in 30 years.
[That 30-year gap was a significant signal of labor surplus caused by work-saving technology rising against workweek that was not falling to compensate.]
...Some of the biggest beneficiaries were women, who poured into the job market and whose wages crept closer to men's.
[Actually, women poured into the workforce in the 1970s, when the entry of the postwar babyboomers into the job market stymied household income led them to pitch in, thus worsening the labor glut - at the 40-hour level of the standard workweek - even further.]
Today, 63 million women hold a job, up almost 9 million from a decade ago, according to the Labor Dept. But even the [seemingly] strong economy of the late 90s failed to reverse the gradual overall increase in the number of men dropping out of the labor force [or] halt the long-term rise in the duration of unemployment for those people who kept looking for work and therefore appeared in the official statistics....
A clear sign of the labor market's quiet troubles has long been evident, though its significance was obscured by the official jobless rate. While unemployment was supposedly falling over the last 20 years, pay barely increased for the typical worker. Since 1982, the median hourly wage has grown only about 6%, after adjusting for inflation, according to the Labor Dept.
Reflecting workers' meager bargaining power, the Census Bureau said last week that income for the typical household had fallen in 2001 for the second consecutive year. The poverty rate rose.... As for the disability program, even without any legislative changes its costs will rise 15% to $69 billion this year, according to the Social Security Administration.
...The country faces a series of difficult decisions balancing the ideals of a free market with those of a humane economic policy....
[No, the country faces hanging onto its old "work hard to get ahead" and "I'm busy/work hard, therefore I'm important/have character" and splitting completely into workers and drones, or facing up to the whole purpose and meaning of technology, accepting an easier life in terms of less work and more pay, and, buoyed by "work smart, not hard," letting the workweek automatically adjust downward to spread and share around the vanishing market-demanded human work onto everyone.]
[Meanwhile, the Republicans are trying desperately to start up their usual huge makework program, the Pentagon, via wars of aggression against whomever they get ticked off by, and the Democrats? Where are the Democrats? -]
Kennedy [finally] gets the right balance on Iraq - Questioning policy, but not the motives, op ed by Thomas Oliphant, Boston Globe, D11.
[and more enlightening -]
Democrats' problem, letter to editor by William S. Kessler of Seattle, 9/30/2002 NYT, A22.
As a Sept. 26 editorial notes, Democrats are rushing to pass a war resolution that many privately disagree with, hoping to avoid having to talk about this issue in the election campaign.
But the real problem Democrats have with voters is that on too many issues they do not act on what everyone knows are their real beliefs.
It is obvious that many Senate Democrats think that carrying out the Bush tax cuts will produce decades of deficits, but none of them will propose eliminating those cuts.
The effect of condescending to the public on the important questions of the day is that Democrats are seen as standing for nothing, and give no one a reason to vote for them.
As long as Democrats continue to be paralyzed by political calculation, they will neither gain a mandate from voters nor encourage the strong leadership needed to realize their core ideals.