Work is a necessity
I consider myself something of a wordsmith, so I am always amazed at the work of others, especially when they are government bureaucrats.
The most recent unemployment figures, which show the unemployment rate rising, and the pace of job creation slowing, are interesting and incisive. The Employment Situation says that the unemployment rate is “essentially unchanged” as it has moved from 9 to 9.1 percent. In April more than 200,000 jobs were created; in May it was a scant 54,000. Still, the situation was “essentially unchanged.”
Give me a break. That means someone is fudging and smudging the fact that our economy is sputtering.
This could well be expected given the fact that most cities and states are now grappling with ways to balance their budgets, and that includes layoffs of government workers. Furthermore, we can expect a sputtering economy given the drama that is taking place in Washington around increasing the debt limit. The Tea Party folks, if they had their way, would fully dismantle government, throwing hundreds of thousands of workers into the streets. Rising unemployment?
That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Yet, in a society where most people work for a living, public policy must embrace work as a necessity. We have to ensure that any able bodied person who wants to be gainfully engaged in the capitalistic system has an opportunity to be so. That means that work has to work; that people have to work; that people have to have the opportunity to work; that government must promote the creation of work; and that when necessary, government subsidize the development of working opportunities.
Instead, we have seen a recession and a so-called recovery that has not embraced the centrality of work in our society. Too many people are living at the periphery of the economic mainstream. Those people were told, when the May unemployment rates were released, that their misery is none of the government’s concern. Yet they are homeowners and taxpayers, parents and producers, people who didn’t plan for their factory to close or for the demand for their products to simply dry up. Economic recovery is a bitter pill for some to swallow, when their lives have not recovered from the drama also known as a massive shift in the ways that Americans deal with work and economic integrity.
Why can’t we spur a populist economic movement that says something else, instead? Why can’t we embrace Dr. Martin Luther King’s message, when he said “I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, peace and freedom for their spirits.”
In other words, how come we can’t decide that everyone can eat and be educated? How come we can’t make eating and educating a cultural imperative?
To put some meat on the official numbers, we should note that nearly 14 million people are officially unemployed, with 6.5 million (45 percent) of them being unemployed for more than half a year. These are just the official numbers. The unofficial numbers make these look minuscule.
What do we do with all this pain? How do we begin to respond to our fellow citizens? The future of our nation hinges on our ability to engage more people in the business and the work of this economy. We engage people by involving them, educating them, empowering them.
At the end of the day, here is what we need to know. When work doesn’t work, life doesn’t work for too many Americans. When work doesn’t work, too many people are kicked to the curb, told they are useless and left to their own devices. In an entrepreneurial culture, that can be a good thing. If we encourage entrepreneurship, people can invent, invest, and promote their ideas. But when there are no open arms for those who have been sidelined, they are likely to engage in actives that can be interpreted as less than wholesome.
Julianne Malveaux is president of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.
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Unemployment rates were “little changed” in March 2013; they were either holding steady or dropping by a tenth of a percentage point or so. The unemployment rate dropped from 7.7 to 7.6 percent representing a steady, if painstakingly slow, decrease. This declining unemployment rate was reported with some circumspection because even as the rate dropped, nearly half a million people left the labor market, presumably because they could not find work.
The unemployment rate has hovered above 8 percent for several months, most recently holding ground at 8.2 percent; the same as last month.
Meanwhile the African American unemployment rate went up, technically to 14.4 percent, and we all know that means the real rate is even higher—in excess of 25 percent.
Last week, I had the opportunity to testify before the Congressional Progressive Caucus. I am grateful to Congressman Keith Ellison for the invite. Here are excerpts of my testimony:
While I am sure that you are familiar with the data, I would like to take a moment to discuss the magnitude of the unemployment challenge.
The first Friday of the month is a day when economists like me are riveted to the news. We want to know what’s up with the unemployment rate, and with the changes that have taken place in the last month. Last week, our nation learned that we treaded water. The unemployment rate remained at a high of 9.1 percent, 8 percent for White folks, and 16 percent for Black folks.
Some pundits were jazzed at the rates, thinking that they meant we are doing OK. What’s OK? The real unemployment rate for African Americans is close to 30 percent.
LOS ANGELES, Calif.—The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Los Angeles County held steady at 12.6 percent between August and September, the state Economic Development Department reported today.
The 12.6 percent unemployment rate was above the 12.2 percent rate in September 2009, according to the EDD.
In Orange County, where seasonally adjusted numbers were not available, the unemployment rate was 9.6 percent, the same rate as August.