By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Typically, when we post a video, we post only one. But I felt these two posts were more powerful combined than separately.
First, Richard Richard Wolff, in 38% of American Workforce Still Jobless. Wolff is a Professor of Economics Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and currently a Visiting Professor of the Graduate Program in International Affairs at the New School University in New York.
Everything Wolff says will be familiar to readers (including the parts about the role of the Fed, and the way the crisis that began in 2008 is still roiling the world) but these passages, especially, caught my eye:
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
The Department of Labor released its jobs report for September, and it’s way behind expectations. The U.S. economy created about 140,000 jobs when economists expected a bit more than 200,000 new jobs. The share of the population in the workforce, which includes people who have jobs or who are looking for one fell to about 62 percent, the lowest level since 1977. …
DESVARIEUX: All right. And is this bad news for everyone, these job numbers? Are there sections of the economy still doing quite well? And are people pretty much feeling the pain, or are people feeling the pain throughout the global economy?
RICHARD WOLFF: I think people are feeling the pain throughout the global economy because this is a global effect. Europe and China and the United States are in many ways the three poles of the world economy. Everybody else caught up in the relations among them. So everybody’s hurting. But in a capitalist economic system of the sort we have, when there is hurt those at the top are the ones best positioned, and have the resources to push the pain away from themselves and push it on to those just below them. And so it, if you like, trickles down. And the folks at the bottom, the temporary workers, the part-timers, the unskilled, those in the least capacity to protect themselves are the ones upon whom the ax eventually falls. And they don’t have anybody else to pass it down to. So everybody’s hurting, but those who should hurt the least hurt the most, and those who should hurt the most hurt the least. It’s the way our system works.
So from Wolff’s “those who should hurt the least hurt the most, and those who should hurt the most hurt the least” to David Cay Johnsto’s Taking from the Many to Give to the Few. Johnston is an American investigative journalist and author, a specialist in economics and tax issues, and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Beat Reporting.
This is the first part of a series, and Paul Jay does a great job drawing out Johnston on his family and his childhood. I liked this story:
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: So when I was ten years old and we lived in Mill Valley, California, in a little, tiny rented cabin slung over the side of a hill, I went to work to help the family. And by the time I was 13, we were living in Santa Cruz, where I then grew up. I was working full-time. I had seven newspaper routes, four in the morning and three in the afternoon. And on weekends I washed dishes and mowed lawns and did all sorts of things to sort of help the family.
JAY: So as you’re throwing or handing newspapers over, are you ever thinking, I will be writing in these someday?
JOHNSTON: Actually, the scariest part was I had no idea what I was going to do to make a living. I had no–like millions of young people in America, there was no sort of path to where things were and how you got somewhere. And fortune shined upon me. When I was a senior in high school and I was married and I had a kid, the local weekly paper, which was always shooting my picture ’cause I’d won a speech contest [Yay! Public speaking! –lambert], asked me to write a column and offered to pay me a little bit of money–$0.20 an inch. They liked it, so pretty soon they had me covering the school board and the city council for minimum wage. And one day at the county board of supervisors meeting when I was 18 years old, a reporter from The San Jose Mercury who was filling in for the local guy who was off on vacation slides down the bench next to me, asking what’s going on, during the break takes me to a coffee shop. I literally don’t have a penny in my pocket and I have a hole in the bottom of my shoe. And the following day he told me he had arranged a job interview for me at The San Jose Mercury as a reporter. And I looked at him and I said, “I just graduated from night high school. I’m 18 years old. They’re not going to talk to me.” And he said, “Yes, they are.” So I went over there. They made fun of me for an hour for applying. And I went back and told him how terrible it was, and he said, you go back every three weeks on Friday night until they hire you. And nine months later, they hired me.
Now, I was a university kid, and I most certainly was not married with a child at eighteen (fortunately). So I didn’t have the economic pressures on me the Johnston did; I didn’t have to “help the family.” But, like Johnston, I was working from the age of thirteen or so; moving lawns — I was rotten at setting prices, so I had a lot of customers — and shelving books in the library and washing dishes and painting houses, and so on; all before I left for school. And — from the Olympian heights of the 1% — I was very much of “the many,” and very much “at the bottom,” just like Johnston.
And also, I feel again, from his tone, like Johnston, I didn’t find the work alienating in any way. I enjoyed doing it, both in body and mind, and have felt the same way about all the jobs I’ve had (except the mill that cheated me on piecework), all the way up to the present day. And I’ve had a lot of jobs.
Which brings me to the terrible labor market, and the terrible labor force participation rate. Readers, I would like you to ground me in reality by answering a few questions. (Yes, I know your answers will be anecdotal, but I’m not sure any scholars — or at least academics — are collecting real data on them.)
On the labor market:
1) Is the sort of teenage work experience that Johnston and I had — granting our male privilege, alas — available to teen-agers of today? I have the feeling it’s not, partly because those jobs don’t exist (or have been replaced by deskilled jobs in service industries), partly because “kids these days” are severely overscheduled (though this is surely a class thing), and partly because compliance culture means that kids aren’t nearly as free today as we were when I was growing up. Readers? In your own personal networks and a degree or two of separation out, who do you see doing what?
On the labor force participation rate:
2) What do the disemployed and how do they live? Since I have never found work alienating, it’s very difficult for me to imagine not having any. Friday, I said: “I keep wondering where all those people not in the labor force disappeared to, and what they’re doing. System D? Shuffleboard? The streets?” (In fact, I asked the same question back in 2012.) Again, readers, in your own personal networks and a degree or two of separation out, who do you see doing what?
I’ll give David Cay Johnston the last word in what appears to be his alternative bio:
Mr. Johnston, a renowned investigative journalist, says he used to believe if you worked hard you would prosper, but now, there is a completely different environment.
I guess I’m asking, what is this “completely different environment”? I’ve been working all my life, and expect to work ’til I drop, since shuffleboard is a death sentence. What would I not see?
NOTE Obviously, you don’t have to be an old coot like me to answer!