Under Bush, Labor Surplus Grows
by Seth Sandronsky
March 15, 2004

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President Bush is presiding over a growing surplus of U.S. workers who are unable to find paid work.

Case in point is the growth in the rate of employment to population (job-holders age 16 and up) that fell to 62.2 percent this February from 62.4 percent last February. Consider some workers who think that no employer will hire them.

There were 484,000 of these “discouraged workers” in February 2004, up from 450,000 a year ago. These jobless workers are a subset of a yet larger group.

Yes, there is a name for these folks. Meet those Americans who are “marginally attached to the labor force,” in the words of the Labor Dept.

This February the number of workers so named increased to 1.7 million from 1.6 million last February. To be marginally attached means that workers are out of a job and have tried to find paid employment in the past year, but had not actively tried to be hired during the four weeks before the Dept. of Labor’s survey of households.

As a result, such workers were not counted as being officially unemployed.

What if they were included in the government’s jobs report?

Then the official number of unemployed U.S. workers would rise to 9.9 million instead of the official count of 8.2 million. The labor surplus in the U.S. economy would further expand if the two million persons held in jails and prisons were counted, as the Labor Dept. does not now do.

If half of this incarcerated population was jobless before becoming imprisoned and were counted as such along with those marginally attached to the labor market, than the official number of workers out of a job would rise from 8.2 million to 10.9 million. Thus official unemployment in the U.S. would be 33 percent larger than it was in February 2004.

This expansion of surplus labor, it should be noted, is taking place as the nation’s economy is growing. In 2003, U.S. output, or gross domestic product, increased from 1.4 percent in Jan.-March to 3.3 percent the next quarter; spiked to 8.2 percent in the third quarter and fell to four percent in Oct.-Dec.

Officially, the U.S. economy is in fine health, as defined by GDP growth.

By contrast, the nation’s growing surplus of unhired workers is a sign of ill health.

Public opinion polls show that the working majority opposes this attack on their living standards. Against that backdrop, the Bush White House insists that the nation’s job market will recover.

To that end, Congress should make permanent the president’s three income-tax cuts, he and administration officials say. Then, employers’ demand for new employees will take off.

Tell that to U.S. manufacturing workers getting layoff notices from their bosses. Jobs in the nation’s manufacturing industry have dropped for 43 consecutive months.

The jobless recovery that officially began in November 2001 is not confined to factory work. So-called white-collar jobs are now being shifted to low-wage nations such as India.

In the U.S., feeble job creation reveals the nature of class society. Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry, his Democratic challenger, are locking horns over the former, while avoiding the latter conflict between those who buy and sell labor-power.

What is happening here, and why? With anything as large and complex as the U.S. economy, several factors are at work.

A leading factor is the nature of the job market itself, driven by the insatiable thirst of those who own capital, financial and industrial, to get more. Briefly, we turn to the rising productivity of U.S. workers.

That is, their output per worker per hour. In the U.S. for nonfarm businesses in 2003 there was a 4.2 percent jump in productivity that came on the heels of a 4.9 percent spike in 2002, according to the Labor Dept.

On one hand, this was the highest two-year spurt in productivity in a half-century. On the other hand, U.S. workers are becoming more productive while their labor-power is less in demand by employers.

Politically, there is a void in this discussion. Yet the absence of political talk in no way changes the concrete connections between productivity and employability for U.S. workers.

Accordingly, the nation’s economy is generating an increase in surplus labor relative to paid work. In rural and urban America, real people are being made really redundant by changes at work, the point of production.

At the same time, the U.S. working day is becoming more intense as surplus labor grows. That is part of what this thing called the jobless recovery is all about.

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

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