The myth of the jobless recovery

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A recent graduate approaches a community college employee with whom he has worked in the past as an intern, maintaining the school ventilation system. He is looking for a full-time job, but nobody in the heating and air conditioning business is hiring anyone but the most experienced technicians. Now he is simply hoping to pick up some part-time work from the college.

The grim statistics about the U.S. unemployment rate, as it shoots past 10 percent to the highest levels in over a quarter century, can be heard in his voice.

The young graduate’s unemployment benefits are about to run out. And what happens to people then? The system simply stops counting them as part of the workforce.

This keeps the official unemployment rate from getting too embarrassingly high – a sleight of hand perfected under the Clinton administration. An honest accounting, which would include the long-term jobless as well as those workers who need full-time work but can only find part-time jobs, would put the jobless rate at a whopping 17.5 percent.

But no amount of chronic social misery impresses government bureaucrats and media spin doctors. “Hey, you 26 million people out of work,” they say. “Don’t you know that the recession is officially over? Sure, maybe it’s a jobless recovery. But profits are up! Can’t we celebrate!?”

Meanwhile, many workers are experiencing not a recession but a fullscale depression. For instance, 40 percent of Black workers are likely to be unemployed or underemployed by 2010. Teenage unemployment now stands at 25.5 percent, the highest since counting began in 1948.

Damn! But what to do? During a catastrophe like this, labor leaders have a responsibility to do everything possible to protect workers and their families. Instead, many are found huddling with the bosses to figure out some way to fix capitalism.

The result? No nationwide rallies to demand working-class solutions to the crisis. No general strikes, as have been waged from Puerto Rico to France to the island of Martinique. No mass mobilizations demanding higher taxes on corporate profits and the rich to fund jobs programs and to stop cuts in social services.

Recently the new head of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka, went to Chicago to join protests at a bankers’ conference. Did he demand nationalizing the banks and putting their capital to work providing jobs for everyone? No, he stopped at supporting the mild reforms to bank regulations proposed by Obama and the Democrats.

Working people have had enough of worry, deprivation, lives without jobs, do-nothing leaders, and bailouts for those bankers. Let’s not settle for this!

It’s time for the employed and unemployed to organize a powerful movement to confront the profit system – militantly, not respectfully. That’s the only way to really recover from joblessness!

Published originally in the Freedom Socialist newspaper.