February 3, 2011
-- by Dave Johnson
Who is our economy for? Who is our government for? For 30 years we have been undergoing a transition from "We, the People" democratic government to a plutocracy run by and for the wealthy. One indicator of this transition is the way the DC Elite respond to unemployment. 9-10% unemployment used to be a national emergency. Now it's a yawn.
What The Washington Paper Says
The Washington Post has a front-page story, Why does Fresno have thousands of job openings - and high unemployment? that says the problem is really "structural," a skills gap, and there is little we can do. This is significant because so many people who make policy read the Washington Post while sitting in their nice, expensive restaurants. Stories like this risk that they will think that there really are plenty of jobs out there, but the serfs just aren’t up to taking them, or are too spoiled, but in any event there is no problem that needs solving, and call the lobbyist because this month’s check is late.
Meanwhile, anyone in the real world outside of Washington or Wall Street, reading about “thousands” of job openings going unfilled immediately knows something is fishy. In fact, if this story ran on the front page outside of DC or Wall Street we might even need to worry about Egypt-style riots. Anyone on the same side of the continent as Fresno knows that there are not “thousands’ of unfilled job openings. There might be thousands of foreclosures, or thousands of people in food lines, or thousands of people whose unemployment has run out but there are not thousands of unfilled job openings.
What The Local Paper Says
The Fresno Bee has a different story to tell, EDITORIAL: President should come see impact of joblessness in Valley:
The economy may be improving, but it would be difficult to persuade the thousands of out-of-work Valley residents that things are looking up.
The six Valley communities cited in a U.S. Labor Department report have unemployment rates that run from 16.4% in Hanford-Corcoran to 18.6% in Merced. The other Valley cities on the list are Fresno (16.9%), Visalia-Porterville (16.8%), Modesto (17.2%) and Stockton (17.5%).
. . . The nation's economic recovery will not be complete until Americans go back to work. At every level of government, the goal should be to implement policies that improve consumer confidence and encourage businesses to hire workers.
The Fresno Want Ads
The Fresno Bee help-wanted ads tell the story.
There are 963 “Sales” jobs listed, but the first 519 of those are at the same "company," called “Work At Home Jobs, Inc.” and are mostly the same "job," if you can call it that. The next 136 are a different "company" and the "jobs" are calling people from home to sell them wireless cell service – on commission. The next 52 are the same deal but a different "company," selling internet from home, on commission. The next 46, same story. Etc.
The next category after Sales is “Business development”, with 691 jobs, 466 are “work at home” and many of the rest are the same jobs at the same companies as the “sales” jobs. The next two categories are "General Business" and "Other" and, again, list the same "jobs" at the same "companies." The next category is "Business Opportunity." I challenge you to guess what "companies" and "jobs" are listed. (Hint: it's the same ones again.)
Supply And Demand
Among the few specifics in the story is the example of "Jain Irrigation, which cannot find all the workers it wants for $15-an-hour jobs running expensive machinery that spins out precision irrigation tubing at 600 feet a minute, 24 hours a day, seven days a week."
$15-an-hour is just above the poverty level for a family of four, at about 130%.
Dean Baker, writing in, The Problem of Structrual Unemployment: Really Incompetent Managers, makes the point that a company complaining they can’t find skilled workers at $15 an hour needs to think about raising their offer. Baker writes,
It presents comments from one employer who complains that he can't find workers for jobs that pay $15 an hour. This is not a very good wage. It would be difficult for someone to support themselves and their children on a job paying $15 an hour ($30,000 a year). If the company president understand economics, then he would raise wages enough so that the jobs were attractive to workers who have the necessary skills.
If they can't get workers, they should know that they need to bump up the wage offered until they can. That is about as basic as it gets in the supply/demand equation.
Can't Sell The House And Move
Part of this problem is the housing market. If Fresno really doesn’t have the skilled workers businesses need, Silicon Valley and Las Vegas certainly do, and have very high unemployment rates, but the people there can’t sell their houses and move! And even if they could sell they are "underwater," will come out of the sale owing a ton of money that they can't make up by taking a $15-per-hour job!
Externalizing Training Costs
Companies expect workers to already be trained, “externalizing” one more cost onto local communities, while shopping for the lowest tax areas to locate.
California has a budget crisis and is cutting back on funding for the community colleges and other programs where people are trained for jobs. One reason for the budget crisis is businesses demanding ever-lower taxes, or playing communities and states against each other for tax incentives to relocate, using property tax avoidance schemes and so many other ways to get out of paying something back to the public for the public investment that enabled them to prosper.
The Real Problem
Out here in the real world the real problem is not "structural," it is that there just are not enough jobs, they don't pay enough, "free trade" deals have lowered wages and undermined our manufacturing base, there is not enough demand in the economy and the government is not doing its job of picking up the slack and after 30 years of tax-cutting the infrastructure is crumbling and not supporting competitiveness for our businesses.
There are millions of unemployed and millions of infrastructure jobs that need doing. There is a new green energy and manufacturing revolution going on in the world and we do not have an economic/industrial policy to capture our share. There is problem after problem that is not being addressed by a government captured by interests.
DC Avoids Dealing With The Problem
It seems that the DC Elite will do anything to avoid just seeing what is in front of their faces.
Clearly we have lost jobs from trade deals, Wall Street financialization and domination, lack of investment in infrastructure and education, etc. But the DC Elite come up with a thousand reasons not to fix these because the interests that benefit from those deals have influence over them. Our budget deficit is obviously from tax cuts and military spending – but you will never, ever, ever, ever hear that. Instead we hear job-killing "austerity" solutions that avoid asking the wealthy few to pitch in.
On one issue after another, the DC Elite provide cover for the wealthy elite interests who now control DC. The transition from We, the People democracy to a plutocracy of, by and for the wealthy few is nearly complete.
The real problem is not a breakdown of the structure of the job market and is not a mismatch between the jobs and the skills, it is a lack of jobs because of lack of demand, and a mismatch between who our government and economy are supposed to work for, and the interests that have brought this about.
March 10 Summit on Jobs and America's Future
On March 10, 2011, the Summit on Jobs and America’s Future will bring together leaders and activists who understand that America faces a jobs crisis – and who are committed to building a political movement for sustainable economic growth, dynamic job creation, and a revival of the American economy.
It's free, $15 if you want lunch. Beat that.
Posted by Dave Johnson at February 3, 2011 7:33 AM
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