The "Jobs for Everyone" Fantasy

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit Author, editor, expert on income inequality

"The more robots we add to our fulfillment centers, the more jobs we are creating." —Tye Brady, Amazon's Chief Technologist 

That's just one outlandish example of the job-related hyperbole we've been subjected to. We keep hearing about the low unemployment rate and the "booming" economy. "Economic news has been staggeringly good," said Jared Whitley, associate director in the White House under George W. Bush. More hype comes from CNN Money, which talks about "opportunities for almost everyone"; and the windy Wall Street Journal, which claims that "Americans traditionally left behind...are reaping the benefits.." 

The super-capitalists want us to believe that they know what they're talking about. Part of their strategy, based on a neoliberal disdain for any government efforts to provide opportunities for average people, is to perpetuate the myth, as Milton Friedman said, that "the free market system distributes the fruits of economic progress among all people." Part of this myth is a job for everyone, or "full employment," which many economists believe we have attained with an unemployment rate under 4 percent. 

But "jobs for all" is a fantasy, if we're talking about family-sustaining, living-wage jobs, as we should. The facts make that clear.

How is that Imaginary Unemployment Rate Determined? 

The official unemployment rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) itself, is based on employees "who did any work for pay or profit during the survey reference week." The BLS workforce includes contingent and alternative employment arrangements that make up about 10% of the workforce. It includes part-time workers (even one hour a week!), who make up about 16% of the workforce. And, inexplicably, it fails to count as unemployed those who have given up looking for work -- 4% more Americans than in the year 2000. 

Americans Haven't Been Paid for Their Productivity 

Business Insider provides a shocking summary of the realities facing today's workers: "The last time unemployment was as low as its current rate, in 1975, earnings increased by 30% a year. Today, average wage growth is only 1.9%The Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Federal Reserve both report that worker productivity has grown much faster than wages in the past three decades (although productivity has declined since the recession). Some sources show virtually no growth in wages since the 1980s. Meanwhile, expenses have continued to climb beyond reach. Tuition is up 12 times, medical costs 6 times, food 2 to 3 times. Workers can't cope with it all. Over three quarters of them admit to living paycheck to paycheck, often without their own living accommodations. A survey of 16 metropolitan areas found that median rent for Millennials is an astounding 68 percent of their incomes. More and more 25- to 29-year-olds are forced to live with their parents or grandparents, more than at any time in the past 75 years. 

Business Insider provides a shocking summary of the realities facing today's workers: "The last time unemployment was as low as its current rate, in 1975, earnings increased by 30% a year. Today, average wage growth is only 1.9%."

There are Millions of Underpaid, No-Benefit Jobs 

Reports of the gig economy have been strenuously challenged even by progressive writers. But the naysayers are missing the point. It doesn't matter if the level of fulltime jobs has remained constant, if those jobs don't pay a living wage, and if they don't include retirement and health benefits. Even as the NY Times questions the existence of a gig economy, it admits that many companies outsource much of their business to subcontractors. A Princeton study found that 94% of new jobs created in a recent decade were temporary or contract-based, rather than traditional full-time positions. An NPR/Marist poll found that one of every five jobs in America is held by a contract worker. For those who do "gig only" work (rather than gig plus a traditional job), a Prudential survey found that their pay averages $36,500 per year, not much more than half the average full-time salary of $62,700. Many of our young adults are stuck in "gig only" work lives. Nearly half of college graduates up to age 27 work in jobs that don't require a college degree. 

In addition to the meager pay, most have no benefits, no job security, no government regulations backing them, and usually a longer work day, with many young people putting in 10- to 12-hour days for $13 per hour or less. The negative effects cross over into the once-stable workforce. Taxi drivers in New York, for example, saw their annual revenue drop over 20% in three years as the Uber and Lyft drivers moved in. 

It could get even worse. The Department for Professional Employees estimates that nearly 10 million service industry jobs will be added in the next decade. These include millions of jobs in personal care and health care, which are of the utmost importance to society but are traditionally paid very little.

The Great Hypocrisy 

Businesses say they can't find skilled workers, implicitly blaming our educational system, but then they scrupulously avoid paying their taxes, and as a result education funding is constantly cut. Average Americans have few options for middle-income job training. But for the CEOs, soothing talk about a surging economy is a lot easier than actually investing in the country that made them rich.

***

Reposted from Common Dreams

Paul Buchheit teaches economic inequality at DePaul University. He is the founder and developer of the Web sites UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org and RappingHistory.org, and the editor and main author of “American Wars: Illusions and Realities” (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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