Posts Tagged ‘unemployment’

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The extensive media coverage since Fidel Castro died has included many different voices—from those of journalists who interviewed him and wrote about him, especially in the early years, through Cold Warriors and Cuban émigrés who did battle with him to political figures whose comments have been crafted to align with contemporary constituencies and goals.* But the media have left out one important group: ordinary people who, over the years, found themselves inspired by and generally sympathetic with (even when critical of many features of) the Cuban Revolution.

I’m referring to people around the globe—students, workers, peasants, activists, and many others, throughout the Americas and across the world—who have understood the significance of the Revolution for Cuba and, as a historical example of anti-imperialism and human development, for their own attempts to enact radical political and economic change.

What we haven’t learned from recent coverage is that re-revolutionary Cuba was under the thumb of the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, who governed a relatively wealthy but highly unequal country in which the majority of people had no voice and suffered from high unemployment, a low level of literacy, poor health, and inadequate housing. And they were exploited in an economy dominated by large landowners, U.S. corporations, and American organized crime. The 26th of July Movement (a name that originated in the failed attack led by Fidel on the Moncada Barracks in 1953) launched an insurrection in 1956, with the landing of small force that found its way to the Sierra Maestra Mountains, and, with the support of an army of volunteers in the countryside and “Civic Resistance” groups in the cities, succeeded in overthrowing Batista. A small revolutionary organization with widespread popular support managed to confront and ultimately defeat a typical authoritarian Washington-backed Latin American regime just 90 miles off the U.S. coast.

And while a great attention has been paid to the growing tensions from early on between the new Cuban government and the United States, which sponsored a series of clandestine invasions and assassination attempts, mainstream accounts have overlooked the tremendously successful campaigns to do what had seemed impossible in Cuba and elsewhere—to eliminate illiteracy, promote health, and improve living and working conditions, especially in the countryside. In fact, one of the reasons Havana became and remained so shabby (as legions of foreign visitors who rarely venture outside the capital city never fail to describe) was the Cuban government’s focus on transforming conditions in rural areas so that, in contrast to many other countries, impoverished agricultural workers and their families would have no need to move en masse into the city.

That’s what I noticed when I traveled to Cuba in the late-1970s during the administration of Jimmy Carter, when U.S. travel restrictions were allowed to lapse. I didn’t see the urban ghettoes I drove through before boarding my flight in Montreal, and nowhere did I come across the poverty and inequality characteristic of rural areas across all the countries where I’d lived and worked in Latin America.

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Thanks to the Revolution, Cuba has achieved enormous progress—not only in comparison to the rest of Latin America and the Third World but even (at least in terms of indicators like infant mortality) the United States. That radical turnaround, and the ability to maintain it in the face of unrelenting U.S.-government opposition over decades, is the major reason Fidel and the Cuban Revolution have been admired around the world.

By the same token, the Cuban Revolution has not been romanticized or supported uncritically, especially as a model for left-wing movements elsewhere. For the most part, the economy has been organized around state ownership, not worker-run enterprises. And a small number of political leaders, including Fidel himself, and a single political party have managed to hold onto power, with little in the way of democratic decision-making beyond the local level—not to mention public antipathy towards and discrimination against LGBT people, the jailing of journalists and political dissidents, and so on. Economically and politically, Cuba is no paradise.

Still, for all its faults and mis-steps, the Cuban Revolution has long served as an example of the ability of people to struggle against the impossible and to win. Fidel was thus on the right side of history.

 

*Including the anti-socialist drivel offered by John McTernan, a former speech writer for Tony Blair.

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In a recently leaked audio file (from a private fundraiser in February), Hillary Clinton referred to them as “children of the Great Recession. . .living in their parents’ basement,” who “feel they got their education and the jobs that are available to them are not at all what they envisioned for themselves. And they don’t see much of a future.”*

Well, as it turns out, the children of the Great Recession, especially those who completed college in recent years, were right: the jobs that have been available to them have not been at all what they envisioned for themselves.

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According to new research by Jaison R. Abel and Richard Deitz, unemployment among all workers, including college graduates, rose sharply during the Great Recession and continued to climb in the early stages of the recovery to levels not seen in decades.** It also increased dramatically for recent college graduates (whom the authors define as those with at least a bachelor’s degree who are 22 to 27 years old), doubling from about 3.5 percent before the recession to a peak of more than 7 percent in 2011. And even while unemployment among recent college graduates began to fall in late 2011, and to decline thereafter, it fell less steeply than for both college graduates as a whole and for all workers.

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But high rates of unemployment only reveal part of the plight of recent college graduates during the second Great Depression. Many of them also found themselves underemployed, that is, working in jobs that did not require a college degree. Not all of them were working as baristas, of course, but their underemployment rate has consistently held well above the rate for all college graduates (which, historically, has hovered at around one-third)—climbing well into 2014, rising to more than 46 percent, a level not seen since the early 1990s. As Abel and Deitz explain,

This divergence between falling unemployment and rising underemployment among recent college graduates between mid-2011 and mid-2014 suggests that more graduates were finding jobs during this time, just not necessarily good ones.

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The fact is, no matter how hard they tried, recent college graduates have had a difficult time finding jobs that met their degrees. That’s because, beginning in 2011, the demand for college jobs has fallen further and further behind postings for non-college jobs. According to the authors,

The steady growth of non-college jobs, coupled with the relatively soft demand for college graduates during this three-year period, appears to have forced many recent college graduates to take jobs not commensurate with their education. With the demand for college graduates rising again beginning in mid-2014, underemployment also started to come down. However, even with this modest improvement, 44.6 percent of college graduates—nearly one in two—found themselves underemployed in the early stages of their careers following the Great Recession.

What’s interesting is that recent college graduates, who were disappointed by the fewer and worse jobs they offered, for which they and their families had accumulated large amounts of student debt, did not choose the safe, mainstream option. They opted for a much-derided “idealism” and supported Sanders in much higher numbers than his self-identified “center-left/center-right” opponent.

For the last few decades, the value of a college degree has been economic and social dogma in the United States. Recent college graduates, who were forced to confront that dogma, were perhaps more prepared then to challenge other dogmas, including the political options presented by the American establishment.

 

*From Clinton’s perspective, underemployed Millennials’ support for Bernie Sanders betrayed “a deep desire to believe that we can have free college, free healthcare, that what we’ve done hasn’t gone far enough, and that we just need to, you know, go as far as, you know, Scandinavia, whatever that means, and half the people don’t know what that means, but it’s something that they deeply feel.”

**The charts from the Abel and Deitz research paper are updated on the Federal Reserve Bank of New York web site.

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Rev. Michael Pfleger pours mock blood on the ground, to spell out “SOS,” at the corner of West 79th Street and South Racine Avenue, to raise awareness of Chicago’s gun violence 31 August 2016

It may be nice to take a run in New York City’s Riverside Park—where “There are people of all ages, and, yes, all races exercising, strolling hand in hand, playing with their dogs, kicking soccer balls and throwing Frisbees”—but it’s no sign all is well in American cities.

Certainly not in Chicago (or, for that matter, Milwaukee, Baltimore, Ferguson, Flint, Detroit, and many other cities across the United States).

Back in June, as the number of shooting homicides in Chicago continued to rise, I wrote that the mounting gun violence was “The more or less inevitable result of creating and perpetuating an urban economy characterized by high rates of unemployment and poverty, in which racial and ethnic minorities are forced to endure much higher rates of unemployment and poverty and are then segregated into a few neighborhoods.”

while on the surface they’ve been assaulted by gangs and guns, too many Chicagoans have actually been wounded or killed by a City of Unequally Unemployed and Impoverished Segregated Neighborhoods.

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As of yesterday (the end of August), the number of shooting deaths—at least 425—has surpassed the total for all of last year, with four months still to go.

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Last week’s unrest in Milwaukee wasn’t caused by the police killing of Sylville K. Smith, a 23-year-old black man. It’s been brewing for decades.

As Roger Bybee explains,

The recent outbreak of violent rioting in Milwaukee came as no surprise to anyone paying even the slightest attention to the deterioration of conditions for the city’s African Americans, especially the young.

Even CNN [ht: ja], which botched (and then, later, apologized for) its reporting of Sherelle Smith’s remarks about moving violence away from the local community, understood “The ongoing protests and violence that have occurred over the past several days in Milwaukee are about more than the police killing of Sylville Smith.”

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In a recent report, the National Urban League (pdf) examined economic data for African Americans (and Hispanics) in 70 metro areas and found that Milwaukee has the largest gap in unemployment between blacks and whites in the country and the second biggest income gap.

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The unemployment rate for blacks in Milwaukee is 4 times that for whites, while the median income for black households is only 40.8 percent of white household income. (Nationally, the corresponding numbers are 2 and 60 percent.)

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Those racial inequalities in Milwaukee are both a condition and consequence of the economic and racial segregation of the city. Thus, while the majority-white downtown area is booming (with trendy new restaurants and craft breweries), outlying majority-black neighborhoods in and around Sherman Park (where the shooting took place) are falling farther and farther behind.

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And, in the final contribution to the foul Milwaukee brew, the homicide rate (at 23 per 100,000, higher even than Chicago’s) is also unequally distributed across the city. Thus, for example, in the police district that includes the downtown, the homicide rate was just two, while in the bordering district to the northwest of downtown (which includes Sherman Park), the murder rate was 36, or 18 times as high.

As Daniel Kay Hertz explains,

High levels of gun crime profoundly affect neighborhood residents whether or not they are a direct victim. Witnessing a shooting, or having a friend or loved one become a victim, can be deeply traumatic, leading to depression, anxiety, difficulty concentrating at school or work, and other issues. High crime rates can affect whether businesses are willing to locate near your home, reducing your access to important services like banking, and contributing to depopulation and abandonment. . .

Nor are neighborhoods facing these issues randomly distributed: They are much more likely to be home to disproportionate numbers of people with low incomes and people who are black or brown. That racial and economic segregation play an important role in perpetuating deep social inequalities has been well-established. Directly and indirectly, violent crime is itself a crucial part of the basket of disadvantages that make living in a segregated neighborhood so costly.

It should come as no surprise then that the Brew City, with its strict segregation and profound racial inequalities, should have erupted after the latest police shooting.

And, as Bybee warns, unless the racial political economy of Milwaukee is criticized and transformed, “the recent explosions may signal more episodes of rage to come in the months ahead.”

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Here’s an episode concerning U.S. unemployment statistics I was not aware of: in September 1961, James Daniel, writing in the Readers’ Digest, accused the U.S. government of providing “excellent fodder for the communist line.”

Daniel’s article, “Let’s Look at Those ‘Alarming’ Unemployment Figures,” began as follows:

For months the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has been pouring out a stream of doleful figures depicting the worst ‘unemployment crisis’ in the United States since the Great Depression of the 1930′s. Almost daily some administration official tells us that nearly seven percent of our labor force is out of work. Meanwhile, Congress has passed one emergency spending bill after another on the ground, in part or in whole, that it will help employment…. All this unemployment news out of Washington provides excellent fodder for the communist line, of course.

At least in part in response to the Daniels article, in November 1961, the President’s Committee to Appraise Employment and Unemployment Statistics was appointed. Then, in 1963, the Subcommittee on Economic Statistics of the Joint Economic Committee held hearings on “Measuring Employment and Unemployment” (pdf).

Here’s Robert A. Gordon, the chair of the president’s committee:

You will forgive me if I say that this article represented an egregious example of irresponsible journalism. In effect, it charged that the official data on unemployment were being deliberately manipulated in order to justify larger Government spending and more extensive Government controls.

The entire transcript of the hearings is worth reading, if only to get a sense that there is no level of unemployment “out there” to be measured. The measuring of unemployment (like all such statistics, from national income to profits) is a social construction.

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Today, of course, the rate of unemployment is once again contested, as conspiracy theorists (like Donald Trump) argue the official unemployment numbers out of Washington are exaggerated. However, in their case, it’s not that they’re too high, but too low.