Public Comment

The Thriving Economy: Fact or Fiction

Harry Brill
Saturday December 16, 2017 - 05:50:00 PM

The press nationwide has been conveying the so called good news they received from the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). We learned that the economy is thriving and at full employment. Why? 228,000 jobs were created in November. According to the Federal Reserve, the nation is at full employment when the rate is at 5 percent. The November rate was even lower, at 4.1 percent. 

Incidentally, the Federal Reserve, which represents the interests of the banking industry, has encouraged banks to raise their interest rates to prevent the economy, it claims, from overheating! But the economy is not overheating. Rather, it is an excuse to increase the profits of the financial institutions. 

Yet The New York Times, echoing the BLS report, writes that companies are posting jobs faster than they can find workers to fill them" Moreover, the Times reports that there has been "broad-based gains in income..." In reality, however, there are far more job seekers than good jobs, and wages are not going up. The official (and underestimated) unemployment rate is exactly the same as the month before and only one tenth lower than two months ago. Also, the increased income is nothing to boast about. Even according to the super-optimistic BLS report, earnings rose by only five cents an hour. And when the inflation rate is taken into account, the gains made mounted to only a few pennies. So despite BLS's report, it is evident from the official data that prosperity is not around the corner. 

Among the recent ominous developments have been the closing of about 5000 retail stores. Over 90,000 jobs have been lost recently. Particularly hard hit have been women who make up 60 percent of retail employees. Many attribute the blame to Amazon and other e-commerce businesses for the loss in sales. But although these companies certainly compete with retail establishments, their impact has been greatly exaggerated. According to the US Census Bureau, over 90 percent of purchases are still made by brick-and-mortar stores. Unfortunately, the economy and working people are in serious trouble. The November job increase has nothing to do with a vibrant economy. Many of the so called new jobs included construction jobs to rebuild hurricane devastated areas. 

From the perspective of working people and their families, the economic situation is becoming more worrisome. Since the year 2,000 over 5 million manufacturing jobs, many of which were unionized and paid good wages, have been exported. 3.2 million jobs have been shipped to China. At least as many have relocated to India. And 700,000 jobs have been outsourced to low wage Mexico. Generally speaking, more than 2 million jobs are being sent abroad annually. Not only did a huge number of job opportunities disappear. Also, with so many jobs vanishing, employers have been in a stronger position to pay lower wages. 

Here's a lesson in establishment statistics. Because the labor market has been becoming tighter, millions of workers are giving up the search for jobs. So they are no longer counted as unemployed. So ironically, the rise in discouraged workers tends to constrain the increase in the unemployment rate. That is among the reason that the current official unemployment rate is relatively low. 

To make matters worse, how employers are relating to employees has been changing dramatically. A growing number of full time jobs are being converted to part time and temporary jobs. Here is another lesson in establishment statistics. Splitting full time jobs in half statistically doubles the number of jobs. Every one hundred jobs split in half become two hundred jobs. So it appears that the economy is growing even though each employee is earning as a part timer substantially less money, and most likely does not receive the benefits that are only available for full time work. In short, then, what appears statistically as very good news is actually very bad news. 

Moreover, more and more jobs are becoming temporary positions in which workers are hired to take on one particular task. As a result, many workers have been compelled to become freelancers who are counted as employed even during periods when they are earning no income at all. Obviously the unstable employment situation of these workers makes their lives very stressful. There are 68 million freelancers in the United States. According to an estimate by a consulting firm, nearly 20 million are freelancing because they are unable to find adequate paying jobs. Since the average annual earnings of freelancers according to the Freelancers Union is only $6,000, it is likely that the number of dissatisfied freelancers is much larger. Particularly distressing, a growing number of jobs are placing millions of workers on the road to poverty. 

We must do whatever we can to reverse the current employment trends, which is increasing hunger and homeless appreciably. 

As Johnny Cash sang: 

"Will we get cold and hungry? 

Will times be very bad. When we're needen bread and meat, 

where we gonna get it, Dad?"