Friday, 3 June 2011

Unemployment American Style



Amidst what can only be said to be the worst most defective mass unemployment in the United States since the 1930s, states throughout the country are cutting benefits to out of work workers; this must fly in the face surely of the ‘change and hope’ that Barack Obama propagated like a ferry-godmother when he first stood and campaigned for the presidency.

The states of Arkansas, Michigan and Missouri have already implemented cuts to unemployment payments, and Florida, Pennsylvania and South Carolina are preparing to follow in their footsteps.

These spiteful and punitive measures - which endanger jobless families with impoverishment - are part of an ongoing drive by the ruling class, led by the Obama administration, to eliminate every social gain won by the working people of America.

They come at the same time as government austerity measures, which include the closure of schools, cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, and the layoff of hundreds of thousands of government employees on both the state and federal levels. The ultimate aim is to create conditions in which millions of people have no access to even the most basic government assistance, to create such levels of economic desperation that workers will take any job, at any wage (god forbid).

I think that we can safely say that this is a trend being rolled out the world over by the world ruling class, intent that workers the poor will be made to pay for their unstable crises, and beaten down to ensure the continuation and survival of capitalism as the dominating social system, to which we must all bend knee and body, workers are to be tied like shoelaces with two loops and no loose ends.

The jobs situation is disastrous in this the leading world capitalist country, said to be the nation of the free. There are currently 24 million people in the United States who either want to work but can’t find it, or are working part-time involuntarily.

Some 5.8 million US workers have been out of work for over 27 weeks or more. Economists estimate that one million people lost all federal unemployment benefits last year after being unable to find work for 99 weeks. Nearly two million people total are among this group.

The portion of working-age people who are employed is 58.5 percent, the lowest level since 1983. This means that the transformative effect of women entering the labour force over the past two-and-a-half decades has been fully counterbalanced by the disastrous rise in unemployment. The employment-population ratio for men is at its lowest level in records dating back 40 years, and no doubt longer.

In another period, such conditions would have been treated as a national scandal, and the political establishment would have felt some obligation to take government action. On January 11, 1944, as the United States was wrapping up the war in Europe, Franklin D. Roosevelt gave an address to Congress, in which he proclaimed that the political rights guaranteed in the American Constitution had proved inadequate, requiring an “economic bill of rights.”

Roosevelt’s proposal was dead on arrival. American capitalism proved incapable of eradicating poverty and unemployment, even in boom years of the post-war period. But for decades afterwards, American politicians gave lip service to the concept of full employment as a basic goal of domestic policy.

Unemployment insurance was introduced in some states in 1932 and expanded throughout the country in the 1930s, in response to the Great Depression. This was part of a general program of social reform driven in no small part by fear within the ruling class of social upheaval and revolution. Roosevelt himself was speaking only a few decades after the Russian Revolution.

The entire direction of American policy today is toward the elimination of whatever remains of the reforms of the post-war period, including unemployment benefits. The political establishment has abandoned even the vaguest suggestion that people have the right to a job.

The administration released the centrepiece of its new “jobs” policy - a program of corporate deregulation to eliminate existing constraints on corporate profit. The extra profit, Obama claimed, will be used to hire workers. This under conditions in which corporations are sitting on the largest cash hoard in history, refusing to hire, waiting for wages to come down even further.

The cause of this transformation is to be found in the transformation of American society. The businessmen of Roosevelt’s age were people who largely made their money from the productive process. But in the past two decades, under conditions of economic decline, the American ruling class has split its attention between dismantling domestic industry and creating the giant banking system that toppled in 2008.

The American ruling class as in Britain, and indecently at that, has been to pursue a policy of de-industrialisation, with banks flourishing to the point where, by the late 2000s, finance and real estate generated 40 percent of all corporate profits
.
The vast increase in the wealth of the financial aristocracy over the past three decades has been bound up with this process. Now, three-and-a-half years after the beginning of the recession, not a single social program or measure to alleviate unemployment has been introduced. Instead, the economic crisis has been seen as an opportunity to throw back the conditions of the working class a century.

If American unemployment continues; this trend will be profoundly worrying for economists and policy makers, and not just in the US. Well-paid jobs are of course the basis of America's middle class.

The middle class, with all of its spending power has been the bedrock of the US economy for decades. It has also been one of the great drivers of economic growth around the world. After all, most countries whose wealth is built on exports are selling to the American middle class.

If the wealth of that class is eroded by a decline in the quality of its jobs, then eventually that spells hardship for people far beyond America's shores.

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