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Middle Class Death Watch -- 33 Frightening Economic Developments

Downward mobility, homelessness spreading to the middle class, 200,000 public employees laid off? Here are some frightening trends to keep an eye on.

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Unemployed face tough competition: underemployed

“The job market is even worse than the 9.1 percent unemployment rate suggests. America’s 14 million unemployed aren’t competing just with each other. They must also contend with 8.8 million other people not counted as unemployed — part-timers who want full-time work. When consumer demand picks up, companies will likely boost the hours of their part-timers before they add jobs, economists say. It means they have room to expand without hiring. And the unemployed will face another source of competition once the economy improves: Roughly 2.6 million people who aren’t counted as unemployed because they’ve stopped looking for work. Once they start looking again, they’ll be classified as unemployed. And the unemployment rate could rise.”

A smaller share of men have jobs today than at any time since World War II

“Employers are increasingly giving up on the American man. Men who do have jobs are getting paid less. After accounting for inflation, median wages for men between 30 and 50 dropped 27 percent—to $33,000 a year— from 1969 to 2009, according to an analysis by Michael Greenstone, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economics professor who was chief economist for Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. “That takes men and puts them back at their earnings capacity of the 1950s,” Greenstone says. “That has staggering implications.”

More than 200,000 public employees laid off in 2010

“Local and state governments axed more than 200,000 jobs in 2010, according to U.S. Census data that showed the growing threat of public employee layoffs to the economic recovery. According to the Census, local and state governments had 203,321 fewer full-time equivalent employees in 2010 than in 2009 and 27,567 fewer part-time employees. “

Uncle Sam Does(n’t) Want You – America’s Reserve Army of Labor Marches Through Time

“Today, the question is: As the new unemployment “norm” rises, will the “99ers” remain just a number, or will anger and systemic dysfunction lead to the rebirth of movements of the unemployed, perhaps allied, as in the past, with others suffering from the economy’s relentless downward arc? Keep in mind that the extent of organized protest by the unemployed in the past should not be exaggerated. Not even the Great Depression evoked their sustained mass mobilization. That’s hardly surprising. By its nature, unemployment demoralizes and isolates people. It makes of them a transient and chronically fluctuating population with no readily discernable common enemy and no obvious place to coalesce. Another question might be: In the coming years, might we see the return of a basic American horror at the phenomenon of joblessness? And might it drive Americans to begin to ask deeper questions about the system that lives and feeds on it? After all, we now exist in an under-developing economy.

What new jobs it is creating are poor paying, low skill, and often temporary, nor are there enough of them to significantly reduce the numbers of those out of work. The 99ers are stark evidence that we may be witnessing the birth of a new permanent class of the marginalized. (The percentage of the unemployed who have been out of work for more than six months has grown from 8.6% in 1979 to 19.6% today.) Moreover, our mode of “flexible capitalism” has made work itself increasingly transient and precarious. Until now, ideologues of the new order have had remarkable success in dressing this up as a new form of freedom. But our ancestors, who experienced frequent and distressing interruptions in their work lives, who migrated thousands of miles to find jobs which they kept or lost at the whim of employers, and who, in solitary search for work, tramped the roads and hopped the freight cars (even if they could not yet roam Internet chat rooms), were not so delusional.