Spread throughout the United States is an unemployed army of hidden human potential ranging from Ph.Ds to unskilled laborers. With the nation's official unemployment running at 4.5 percent as of June 1998 and the economy booming, how can this be?
Official unemployment figures only tell part of the story. Not included in the government rates of the not-working are millions of part-time, discouraged, and under-employed individuals.
The government calls the pool of available labor and currently working people in the United States the "civilian labor force," and about 120 million of us are in that group. Not included are those who are not working or only working part-time, but would be happy to take a full-time job.
The government does not distinguish between those working part-time out of necessity rather than choice.
Involuntary part-timers now number more than five percent of the civilian labor force and have continued to rise for the past decade.
Additionally, if unemployed workers have not applied for a job in the preceding four weeks, they are not
counted as being unemployed even if they would immediately take an available job. This "out of the work force" or discouraged segment of society is estimated at more than five million nationally.
The government also omits most of those on welfare and general assistance from its tally of who is unemployed. If included, those citizens could add another two percent to the available-for-work number.
The actual number of people available for work can approximate two to three times the official unemployment rate in any given community in the United States. While the "official" unemployment rate of 4.5 percent is 4,500 in a 100,000-person labor market area, in reality as many as 9,000 to 13,500 people are available for work and would take a full time job immediately if provided to them. Even with a high job-growth rate of two to three percent in a 100,000 person labor market, new entrants into the labor force, from new arrivals to the recently graduated, guarantee a permanent surplus labor pool of over 10,000 people. People trade places within the labor pool moving into and out of full employment, however, overall, a permanent collection of extra people exists in every labor market in the United
The surplus labor pool keeps wages low, unions weak, and workers easily replaceable. It builds family insecurity, and complicates the daily lives of millions of people. Understanding surplus labor has profound implications for various government policies and economic conditions. It helps explain why welfare reform is more about trading places than about creating news jobs for welfare recipients. It explains why worker salaries in the U.S. have on average been stagnant for 23 years, and why corporate profits are at all time highs. Desperate workers trying to survive in a broken safety net environment are cheaper workers. Part-time college instructors and contract laborers share a common circumstance in an economy that seems to have forgotten that our working people are our most vital resource.
Peter Phillips is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Sonoma State
University and Director of Project Censored.
Peter Phillips Ph.D.
Sociology Department/Project Censored
Sonoma State University
1801 East Cotati Ave.
Rohnert Park, CA 94928