To Be, Or Not To Be (Exploited)
“Under capitalism, the only thing worse than being exploited is not being exploited.” –Michael Denning
From the perspective of “labor”, the callous contradiction inherent to capitalism is that its very configuration guarantees exploitation by appealing to the language of economic propriety; after all, who would object to the prospect of full employment?! And from the angle of “capital,” one could say that it takes money to take money.
After six months of “wageless life” my father was very recently offered (and accepted) a position at a reputable engineering firm. His good fortune, however, belies the chilly and cheerless figures released last week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) concerning the state of working America. According to the July 2011 monthly Employment Situation report drafted by the BLS there are 25.1 million workers who are either unemployed or underemployed last month. Further, the labor market is now 11.1 million jobs below the level needed to restore the pre-recession employment rate of 5.0% in December 2007. And, according to research conducted by the Economic Policy Institute we would need to add roughly 400,000 jobs every single month for 4 years to return to our pre-recession unemployment rate by 2015. A sanguine aspiration like this would require a job growth rate of 350% our 2011 monthly average.
Last Friday’s BLS report shows the addition of 117,000 jobs in July, a rate of job growth that all but preordains persistently high unemployment. (We need to add at least 125,000 jobs per month to achieve parity with workforce entrants.) The report also indicates a paltry decline in the unemployment rate from 9.2% to 9.1% which is attributable entirely to a drop in labor force participation, not an increase in the percentage of workers with jobs.
Unfortunately, the labor force participation rate (the ratio of working-age adults to those with jobs) also declined to 63.9% in July, its new low of the recession. Surprisingly, the labor force is smaller than it was before the recession started (by more than a half a million workers), though the working-age population grew by over 7 million in that time. There are currently 2.8 million “marginally attached” workers—workers who want a job, are available to work, but have given up actively seeking work. If these workers were in the labor force and counted as unemployed, the unemployment rate would be 10.7% right now instead of 9.1%.
Demographically, workers from historically subjugated racial communities continue to experience disproportionately vaulted rates of unemployment. Unemployment in July was 15.9% for Black workers, 11.3% for Latino workers, and 6.1% for White workers. (These disaggregated figures are up 6.9, 5.0, and 3.7 percentage points, respectively, since the start of the recession).
What do we want? We want jobs, man. We want a robust jobs bill to restart our economy. One simple suggestion might include recreating or renovating organizations similar to the WPA or the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930’s. The federal government could also consider giving employers tax credits for the creation of new jobs. Such a tactic is required simply because capitalists will never invest in workers so long as options for securing a higher return on investment exist. It pains me to write that the short-term sustenance of our nation hinges on our ability to incentivize the future exploitation of workers.
A jobs bill should have been on the President’s desk the day before yesterday. Ours is an unemployment crisis, not a budget crisis. Unfortunately, the debt-ceiling deal (read: steal) mitigates the capacity of the government to respond to an unemployment crisis. Spending cuts in the absence of revenue generating policies will stifle growth even further and imperil our ability to create jobs in both the long- and short-term. Perhaps the 1st century Syrian thinker Publilius Syrus said it best: “There are some remedies worse than the disease.”