Posts Tagged ‘unemployment’


Even the Wall Street Journal can’t answer the question.

When U.S. unemployment rates fall, conventional notions of supply and demand predict wages will go up as firms bid for increasingly scarce workers, and there are signs of that, for example, in building trades and restaurants. “Basic economics hasn’t gone out the window,” Loretta Mester, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, said in an interview. “When employment grows, wages will start to grow.”

But a Wall Street Journal analysis of Labor Department data points to persistent constraints on worker pay, even as the economy approaches full employment. The Journal found 33 U.S. metropolitan areas­­from the small to the sizable­­where unemployment rates and nonfarm payrolls last year returned to prerecession levels. In two ­thirds of those cities ­­including Columbus; Houston; Oklahoma City; Minneapolis-­St. Paul, Minn.; and Topeka, Kan.­­ wage growth trailed the prerecession pace.

So much for “basic economics”!

As is clear from the chart above, unemployment (whether measured in terms of the headline rate or the total, U6, rate) continues to fall and yet the rate of increase in nominal hourly wages has also been falling.

They throw lots of possible reasons against the proverbial wall, hoping something sticks. But here’s the one that is most compelling:

Companies tapping pools of workers who have disappeared from the U.S. unemployment tallies, creating what economists describe as hidden slack in the economy. Until this invisible labor supply is spent, these men and women, including part-­timers, temporary workers and discouraged labor ­market dropouts, could hold wages down.

The fact is, the rate of change of hourly wages was less than 2 percent in April, while the total unemployment rate in April still stood at 10.8 percent.

It’s what some of us call, without euphemism, the Reserve Army of the Unemployed and Underemployed.


Europe has long been the land of make believe for North Americans. Make-believe royalty, quaint villages, lives free from work, and superb food and wine (OK, the food and wine are, indeed, very good).

Now, it seems, it’s the land of make believe for the Europeans themselves, or at least the tiny elite that is attempting to keep things as they are. Such as the idea that Greece will ever be able to fully retire its outstanding debt, and that continued austerity policies will move it in that direction.

And, now, Potemkin companies in France and across the continent that have been set up to keep the 23.5 million workers who are jobless, especially the long-term unemployed, occupied.*

These companies are all part of an elaborate training network that effectively operates as a parallel economic universe. For years, the aim was to train students and unemployed workers looking to make a transition to different industries. Now they are being used to combat the alarming rise in long-term unemployment, one of the most pressing problems to emerge from Europe’s long economic crisis.

As Bill Blunden [ht: ja] explains,

Faced with the threat of a political uprising the ruling class would prefer that the unemployed dutifully remain on the job treadmill, keep their nose to the grindstone, and stay with the program. Because in doing so workers offer tacit acquiescence to existing political, economic, and social arrangements. To do otherwise might give the unwashed masses a chance to organize and consider alternatives. For the moneyed gentry of the 0.1% that could be truly dangerous.

And that’s exactly why they continue to fabricate a land of make believe.

*According to the same source, 5.1 percent of the European labor force in 2013 had been unemployed for more than one year; more than half of these, 2.9 percent of the labour force, had been unemployed for more than two years.


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Back in 2010, when I first watched The Wire, I was struck by the fact that David Simon had done an amazing job narrativizing the ravages of capitalism without depicting capital itself.

Or perhaps better: capital is the abstract, ghostly presence of much of what transpires in the worlds of politics, drugs, policing, and international trade (through season 3). The capitalists themselves exist mostly just off-screen (except, perhaps, for short appearances by “The Greek”) but the logic of capital (its calculative rationality and homogenizing economistic project) can be felt throughout the various spheres of economic and social life that characterize life in Baltimore.

And so it is with the current situation in the real Baltimore: capital is the abstract, ghostly presence that has created a tinderbox of segregation, poverty, and unemployment that was lit on fire by the recent death of Freddie Gray.

What’s interesting, at least to me, is the fact that precisely that idea—of the specter of capital—that has surfaced in some of the recent commentary on the clashes between Baltimore’s citizens and the police.

So, we have Alyssa Rosenberg expressing her worries about our Wire-induced fatalism and then concluding that “The Greek and global capitalism will never die, but at least there will be Jameson at the bar.”

More seriously, there’s Baltimore Orioles Chief Operating Officer John Angelos, son of owner Peter Angelos, responding to local sports-radio broadcaster Brett Hollande and offering his own explanation of why people have taken to the streets:

That said, my greater source of personal concern, outrage and sympathy beyond this particular case is focused neither upon one night’s property damage nor upon the acts, but is focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the U.S. to third-world dictatorships like China and others, plunged tens of millions of good, hard-working Americans into economic devastation, and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American’s civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of an ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state.

OK, it’s not just the shipping of jobs to China and other “third-world dictatorships.” It’s also the decline of unions, the use of new worker-displacing technologies, the increasing importance of finance, and much more.

In other words, it’s the “whole damn system” that has created an economy of extraction for a tiny minority at the top and an economy of exclusion for a large portion of the working-class in Baltimore and across the United States. What we are witnessing, then, are the effects of capital that is operating in the background—in the real world just as in The Wire—just off-screen.



While relative calm has returned to the streets of Baltimore, because of the curfew, the underlying socioeconomic problems haven’t disappeared overnight.

Far from it. The neighborhood in which Freddie Gray was killed, Sandtown-Winchester/Harlem Park, is profoundly segregated (97 percent black), poor (35.4 percent of households live in poverty, and 51.2 percent have incomes less than $25,000), and unemployed (at a rate of 24.2 percent).

As Jana Kasperkevic explains,

After the unrest in Baltimore is over, the clean-up might get rid of the debris, but the inequality will remain.


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