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Labor Pains Workers still losing ground
by Bryan Zepp Jamieson
Zepp's Commentaries
September 6, 2004

I very nearly didn't write a Labor Day Essay. For one thing, I had already put up a link to a brilliant piece Greg Palast wrote under "Other Voices" on my website, and while I might be a fairly good writer (opinions, including my own, vary), I'm no Greg Palast.

But then I saw a speech by Putsch in which he said "the economy is strong and getting stronger." Then the rich white trash at the WSJ had an amazing piece called "The GOP is the party of the little guy"

Well, we're not going to get them out of office if we just ignore their bare-faced lies, are we?

Putsch is trying to position himself as "the jobs President." What makes this particularly ludicrous is that he is about to become the first President since Hoover to see a net loss in jobs over a full term. One and a half million jobs, give or take.

The reason I say "give or take" is because the government lies its head off about the employment picture - it started doing that long before Putsch, but it's gotten worse in the past few years. For one thing, they only count people who are on unemployment benefits and actively seeking work. The reason the Republican Congress didn't extend unemployment benefits was because it lowers the unemployment rate.

So for all you folks out there whose unemployment checks have stopped coming, and have just lost their home and are wondering how the hell you're going to feed your kids, congratulations! Your sacrifice has lowered the unemployment rate and allowed Putsch to call himself "the jobs president."

There's another factor. Along with the net loss of 1.5 million jobs, there's also the fact that the labor force has grown by 4.3 million since Putsch took office. That means there's nearly six million more people looking for jobs now than there was at the start of 2001.

So it's a lot more honest to say there are six million more people out of work now than there were in 2001. Some jobs president, eh?

Another way of looking at it is this way: In 2001 there were 6.8 million unemployed, and 71.3 million "not in the labor force" - that would be children, students, retirees, stay-at-homes and the wealthy. It does NOT include the millions who are in prison and who, by serving time, serve the government because their incarceration lowers the unemployment rate, too. In 2003, the latest year BLS has figures for, those numbers were 8.7 million & 74.6 million. That's an increase of 5.2 million. So if that was just a result of population growth, then the labor force, which is roughly two thirds of the total population, should have grown by 10.4 million or so over the same period.

Nope. It only grew by 4.3 million. In fact, less than that, since I was using 2003 numbers.

Incidently, employed is a question-begging term. The definitions that the BLS gives for "employed" versus "unemployed" are mind-bogglingly lax. From their website http://www.bls.gov/cps/cps_faq.htm#Ques4:

Employed persons consist of:

* All persons who did any work for pay or profit during the survey reference week. * All persons who did at least 15 hours of unpaid work in a family-operated enterprise. * All persons who were temporarily absent from their regular jobs because of illness, vacation, bad weather, industrial dispute, or various personal reasons.

Unemployed persons are:

* All persons who were not classified as employed during the survey reference week, made specific active efforts to find a job during the prior 4 weeks, and were available for work. * All persons who were not working and were waiting to be called back to a job from which they had been temporarily laid off.

Gosh, you don't even have to get PAID to be employed. And if you worked a half-hour at minimum wage, by golly, you're employed! "Bad weather." Wow. So all those hurricanes that hit Florida this month must have really helped the unemployment rate.

The full-time labor force was 114.3 million in the first quarter of 2001, and it is 114.1 million now. If you think that means they didn't lose as many full time jobs as part-time jobs, reflect on this: they changed the definition of "full-time." Full-time workers were defined as those maintaining an average of 34 hours a week for a quarter. Now they are defined as "usually working 35 hours a week or more." That way, anyone who works full-time for half the year is defined as full-time, period. Cute, huh? But the number of full time jobs, according to a different chart: (ftp://ftp.bls.gov/pub/special.requests/lf/aat37.txt) is 100.3 million.

Incomes aren't going up. Less families can afford the luxury of a stay-at-home mom or dad than could three years ago, so that can't be it. In fact, the BLS table for median hourly income shows an interesting pattern. Average hourly wage was $8.03 in January 2001, and went up to $8.32 by December 2001. That sounds pretty impressive, except that in July 2004, it was STILL $8.32 (all numbers are 1982 dollars). Weekly earnings are even more stagnant, reflecting the decrease in full time jobs: $274.64/week in January 2001, $275.63 in July 2004. Keep in mind that during that same period, productivity soared by some 10%. A pity none of that was shared with the workers, eh?

In addition, Americans workers still have less paid time off than any other developed nation, workers still have virtually no rights and no job security (except for union workers), and the government just changed the rules so an estimated 16 million workers will get cheated out of overtime.

But don't worry, be happy. A poll, commissioned by business for Labor Day, reports that most employees are content with their jobs. If you read the fine print, you find that they aren't content with their pay, or the amount of time they get off, but they like the work they do.

And if the workers are told they are content, then content they shall be!

Posted: September 7, 2004


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