Shadows and Reality

The unemployment report came out recently, and Punxatawny Phil saw a service sector job — that means six more years of growth. Or something like that. It’s all very complicated.

Actually what’s complicated is the trickery involved. The unemployment rate that we have delivered to us from the usual outlets/suspects is not the same creature it was prior to 1994. Back then, people who flat gave up looking for work were still counted in the numbers. Now they are invisible. The carefully titrated rate also doesn’t include the underemployed—individuals who perhaps want to work full-time but aren’t provided with that option. As individuals fall off the rolls they fall into a void. Our single digit unemployment rate is actually around 22% if measured in the pre-1994 reality-based math. If you aren’t already aware of the site, does a marvelous job exhibiting the gritty truth.

I think if you try to follow what I’m saying, you’ll realize that by subtracting the permanently discouraged job seeker, and ignoring the partially employed poverty level toilers, you’ll realize the only uptick in job growth was in oiled up slave boys for Madonna’s half-time show. I was embarrassed to know that, but it doesn’t stop me from bringing you the facts because I care. Sadly by the time the vo-tech greased up slave boy programs graduate their newly inflated classes (excited about the potential jobs)– most benefit to cost ratios will be gone due to the glut in the market. It’s all glamorous until you’re forced to take the 14 hour a week job cleaning pools with a god damn gold plated codpiece (that rusts — it’s not real gold). You’re there dragging the skimmer as you wonder how you’ll pay that 94,000 to Sallie Mae.

But perhaps you will look for a sympathetic ear from your president. President Obamney (really, like it matters which one wins if you opt for one of those clowns. Let’s just call ’em Obamney). If you tell him your sad tale, he might say “interesting” in regard to your plight. That’s what happened when the current president fielded questions from the populace the other night. Jennifer Wedel was gauche enough to ask the president why H1-B visas were still being provided for foreign workers in areas such as engineering, when citizens like her husband (a semi-conductor engineer) could not find work. As you may have heard, Obama found that to be “interesting”.  He was under the assumption that job growth was a’booming in those areas. He really used that bland word in response to the woman’s question.

What I find “interesting” is that with the overall colossal increase in worker productivity over the last several decades, the time needed to be invested in work—that is, to obtain food and shelter, has not reflected any benefit to the more productive employees. Hell, shouldn’t a person be able to work 20 hours a week with those advances –with available employment for all those who desire it? No. Of course not. Because all of the advances and toil has only equaled a boon for the very top. The extra money freed up has only trickled upward.

Believe it or not, Kellogg cereal company implemented a 30 hour work week back in 1930. By many accounts, individuals enjoyed the increase in time with their family and became more involved in the community. But that was 1930. This is 2012.  Of course, things should get worse all the time! Well, that 30 hour per week notion was erased by World War 2 and the subsequent frenzied boom years. But it’s amazing that this is such a buried experiment in the annals of labor. It’s been treated as something of a natural law, akin to gravity, that workers are to become more productive, but never are given the reward of less work. The hamster wheel turns faster and faster. We all know people who work a couple of jobs, sometimes by necessity, sometimes not. You have to wonder about the deathbed realizations that entire swaths of real living weren’t achieved, but 60 hour workweeks were.

I’m pretty certain that Obama does find it “interesting” that unemployment is rife even in the engineering field. It seems highly unlikely that this is an accident. Just as it is with lower skilled jobs, an influx of foreign labor serves to create a downward pressure on wages. We now have a terrified workforce, one that will largely not complain, and will tolerate increasing loads because “at least we have a job”. I would bet this is why something akin to the Depression era WPA hasn’t been created. It certainly doesn’t seem to be due to fiscal responsibility.

We bleed money on foreign soil, losing funds and ethics as the military-industrial complex adds rolls of fat. Frenzied spending still goes on even with superficial “cuts” to defense. The cuts that do seem to keep coming with regularity and depth are the ones that hit social safety nets. Those serve to enhance the fear in the populace.  The workers become more docile and horrified of unemployment. A WPA program would exert pressure in the opposite direction and we can’t have that. It’s all very…..interesting.

But here’s to hoping…hoping at some point there’s a realization that people are more than cogs of production to be manipulated by fear and social Darwinism. And we are all guilty of viewing people as a subset of their occupation — that’s kind of been the American way. There is that omnipresent question “what do you do?” As if that’s the core defining feature of a human. With rampant unemployment, perhaps those boundaries will blur. That along with a person’s worth being measured in ever increasing “productivity”– with the casting off of those ragged, unemployed outliers. people that they don’t even bother counting any longer.

But for now, the gluttonous use of natural resources extends to what they consider the aptly named human resources. It’s a short sighted, soulless plunder that has to stop. And I’m sure at some point it will.

Kathleen Wallace Peine welcomes reader response. She can be reached at: Read other articles by Kathleen.