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For Bush, Surplus Labor Hidden In Plain Sight
by Seth Sandronsky
July 3, 2004

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When it comes to paid work, President Bush just doesn’t get it. His focus on job creation conceals more than it reveals.

"The jobs increased by 112,000 in June, which means we've had a total of 1.5 million new jobs since last August," the president noted after the release of monthly employment data from the Labor Department. "That is steady growth."

Yes, but this growth has not changed the employment situation for 1.5 million U.S. workers on Mr. Bush’s watch. Officially, they are the people who are “marginally attached to the labor force.”

You may know them as your family, friends or former co-workers. They are real people coping with the realities of the business cycle.

This June, there were 1.5 million of these so-called marginal folks. That is roughly the same number of such jobless people in June 2003.

Crucially, these folks desired work. Ask them and they will likely tell you what it is like to try without success to leave the ranks of the unemployed.

Certainly, their fate is not for lack of effort. During the past year, the Labor Department notes such “marginally attached” workers had actively sought employment.

However, these job seekers had not applied for jobs in the month before the Labor Department survey. Thus they were uncounted as being officially out of a job.

Welcome to the politics of work in America. This is reality hardly made real on TV and other corporate media.

Officially, there were 8.2 million Americans out of work in June, down from 9.4 million in June 2003. However, the current number of official joblessness is just a small measure of national unemployment.

How small? Try this thought experiment.

Add the 1.5 million of those “marginally attached to the labor force” to the official total. This brings to 9.7 million the total number of Americans who are unemployed.

Additionally, the 2.1 million people behind bars in the U.S. are uncounted in government employment reports. Count the incarcerated and the jobless total climbs to 11.8 million.

Replace the total of 8.2 million unemployed people with 11.8 million. That represents an additional 3.6 million workers who are superfluous to the U.S. economy.

What is hidden in plain sight here to the president? The answer is the amount of surplus labor in nation.

That is the total number of workers for whom paid work is not to be had.

Such surplus workers are a central part of the modern business cycle.

They have a big role to play for businesses. Surplus workers help to govern the supply and demand for paid labor.

This is a crucial function for the jobless, through no choice of their own.

In a market economy that supposedly provides opportunity for personal choice, surplus workers are pitted against the employed work force.

Consider when your family, friends and co-workers compete against each other for employment. Think about the stress and strain of their experiences, or yours, for that matter.

Individual people bear the brunt of this market trauma. Plus society suffers in big and small ways from the waste of human potential.

What counts, narrowly defined, is the bottom line of businesses. Employers are able to pay lower wages when more people apply for jobs than there are job openings.

Business-friendly means anti-labor. Most Americans most of the time fall into the latter group.

Meanwhile, outsourcing of U.S. jobs abroad taps into surplus labor in low-wage nations. There, the supply of jobless workers is vast, and growing.

On that note, President Clinton’s push to pass the NAFTA paved the way for Mr. Bush to create the conditions for the outsourcing of white-collar jobs from the U.S. to the Third World. In his fine book titled Contours of Descent: U.S. Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity, economist Robert Pollin details the continuity of this policy to benefit the financial and industrial elites of America.

Surplus labor is publicly hidden in plain sight to the Bush White House and mainstream commentators. They downplay that everyday reality on Main Street for reasons of upper-class power.

However, such a deception just pours salt in the wounds of those Americans who are chasing work that does not exist. Just ask them.

Seth Sandronsky is a member of Peace Action and co-editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento’s progressive paper. He can be reached at:

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