Friday, November 27, 2009

No Such Thing as 10.2% Unemployment

November 27, 2009, 11:00 a.m.

I Can CCC Our Way Out of Recession
(brought to you by*)

Today we transition from the poverty, and generosity, of Thanksgiving Day, e.g., Lee Hermiston, "Sharing food, lives; Church serves meal as a gift to community," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 27, 2009, p. A1, to the profligacy of the Black Friday Stampede -- America's equivalent to Pamplona, Spain's running of the bulls -- on our corporatized, computerized, commercialized way to many religions' winter holidays.

It's a time for those of us who are still employed, more or less, to reflect upon the impact of the recession on those who aren't . . .

[. . . but first, know that at the bottom of this blog entry there are links to earlier entries on some of the hot topics from the past week or so that are now getting the most direct hits, along with links to "updates" in the form of subsequent news articles, among which may be the entries you came here looking for.]

Unemployment statistics are a classic example of the old definition of averages: A man with one hand in a pan of boiling water, and one foot in a bucket of ice water is, on average, comfortable.

During the past year no one has become 10.2% unemployed (unless you count "underemployment, of which more in a moment). It's binary; you're either employed or you're not.

The New York Times provides one of its "multimedia interactive graphics" that makes the point: "The Unemployment Rate for People Like You," New York Times, November 6, 2009. As it shows, the percentages of unemployment for various demographic groups that have been averaged into that 10.2% are widely disparate.

For example, the unemployment rate for white, college educated women, 45 and over is 3.7% -- a number well within the normal range for a fully functioning economy. (For white, college educated men over 45 it's an equally acceptable 4.1%.)

On the other hand, the unemployment rate for Black, high school dropouts, aged 15 to 24 is 48.5% -- equal to the worst numbers in third world countries with virtually no economy. For Hispanic men 25 to 44, with a high school diploma, it's 9.9%. For more of the combinations click on the link above and select the demographic characteristics that interest you.

Moreover, even that 10.2% increases to 17.5% if you include, along with the recently unemployed, those unemployed for over six months, part time workers who would rather be working full time, and those too discouraged to continue looking (and even that number does not include, so far as I know, those working full time but at jobs well below their skill, education, and experience level). Presumably that near doubling of the numbers would apply to the percentages within various demographic groups as well.

Since 1948 it has never reached this level except for a time in 1982 -- following which it took five years to return to pre-recession numbers. Kevin Quealy, "Behind the Jobless Rate; a multimedia interactive graphic," New York Times, November 6, 2009.

My point, for now, is that just as we have a growing gap between rich and poor in this country (including "information rich" and "information poor"), so we have enormous gaps in the impact of the recession on various demographic groups.

And from that truth come some serious questions about what we're doing about it.

So far we're applying the same "trickle down economics" that President Reagan taught us. In an economy 70% driven by consumer spending, the money and a sense of economic security are not reaching the middle-to-lower class consumers who make up the majority of Americans. When auto dealers lots are full of unsold cars, giving billions of dollars to General Motors (taxpayers' money that has little prospect of ever being repaid), does little to benefit either workers or consumers -- or to boost the economy. (And don't get me started on the trillions of dollars to Wall Street investment bankers and AIG.)

Providing up to $4500 "cash for clunkers" to clear out that inventory of new cars boosts the income of auto dealers (and provides a false sense of "jobless recovery" with a brief and insignificant blip in GDP as a result), but does little for those who are either too smart, or unable, to borrow more money for any purchase, let alone a new car. It's a gift to those 96.3% of white, college-educated women over 45 who are employed, and in a market for a new car -- but they would and could have made the purchase without the subsidy. Ditto for the $8500 subsidy for "new home buyers." That may help those of the relatively wealthy employed who are able to be in the market for a new home, but neither program does anything for the unemployed or the newly homeless who are unable to pay mortgages on their old homes.

The one program that Washington seems unwilling to try is the no-brainer solution that did work in the last Great Depression and would work now: federal employment.

One of those programs was called the "Civilian Conservation Corps." Opposed at the time by President Roosevelt's Department of Labor, Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Army (responsible for some of its administration), that President was willing to take the leadership, and the heat, to push it through to reality -- and great success.

Here is a description from "Scout Report" regarding an online PBS video documentary about the CCC:
American Experience: Civilian Conservation Corps

The excellent film from the WBGH website, The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), is offered in its entirety on this site. "Heal the man, heal the land," was the philosophy of the CCC, and they engaged in some of the first environmental conservation work in the country. Since many academics, politicians, and lay people compare the current troubled times with what was seen in the 1930s, this film is particularly pertinent and visitors can decide if it's an apt comparison or not. Regardless, the stories of the three million young men who benefited from the regular meals, healthcare, clothing, diversity and hard work are fascinating. The trailer for the film starts playing right upon entering the website, but can be stopped just by clicking on the screen. Visitors can scroll over the "The 1930s Collection" logo to the right hand side of the film's screen to see the playlist for the film, but watching the whole film is recommended, as it is truly a treat. [KMG]
As you can read from the "Timeline" on that site, the contrasts between the response of the Roosevelt and Obama Administrations is dramatic.

FDR was sworn in on March 4 of 1933. By March 31 the CCC legislation had been passed and signed. Five days later there were already 25,000 employed in the program -- soon to reach 250,000 and then 3 million. And not incidentally, the benefits to the participants in literacy training and health care paid national dividends for decades more.

"By mid-1933, sixteen CCC camps and thirty-two projects had been approved for Iowa. . . . By the time the CCC ended in 1942, the number of CCC enrollees in Iowa camps would total nearly 46,000. They would contribute to the development of more than eighty state parks, and leave a tangible legacy that still numbers more than seven hundred state park structures" -- including Johnson County's own Lake MacBride State Park. Rebecca Conard, "The Legacy of Hope from an Era of Despair: The CCC and Iowa State Parks," Books at Iowa 64 (April 1996). [Photo credit: the Iowa DNR CCC Web site.]

How far we have fallen from our once proud compassion for our fellow Americans in distress. Nor is that distress limited to homelessness and hunger. See Reid Forgrave, "Worry rises with suicide rate," Des Moines Register, November 28, 2009.

But hunger is still a very real problem. And yet some are even seemingly reluctant to provide the underemployed 17% with unemployment compensation and Food Stamps -- those who are suffering from an economic collapse brought on, through no fault of their own, by greedy, multi-million-dollar Wall Street bankers and those in Washington who've been blessed with their generous campaign contributions. See Jason DeParle and Robert Gebeloff, "Across U.S., Food Stamp Use Soars and Stigma Fades," New York Times, November 29, 2009, p. A1 (More than 36 million receive Food Stamps, a program that "now helps feed one in eight Americans and one in four children. . . . Under Secretary of Agriculture Kevin Concannon says 'there are another 15, 16 million who could benefit.' . . . [T]he program is now expanding at a pace of about 20,000 people a day. . . . In more than 750 counties, the program helps feed one in three blacks. In more than 800 counties, it helps feed one in three children. In the Mississippi River cities of St. Louis, Memphis and New Orleans, half of the children or more receive food stamps. [H]alf of Americans receive food stamps, at least briefly, by the time they turn 20. Among black children, the figure was 90 percent. . . . [During] the 1990s . . . some conservatives tried to abolish the program . . ..").

Notwithstanding the fact that many, if not most, of these recipients would prefer the self-esteem that comes from work, and the ability to support oneself financially, we have yet to see the first federal job created by the current Administration.

As a result, we all fail to receive the benefits -- for ourselves as well as the participants in a modern-day CCC -- if only we were willing to pay for their work rather than their unemployment.

Here are links to earlier entries on some of the other hot topics from the past week or so that are now getting the most direct hits, along with links to "updates" in the form of subsequent news articles, among which may be the entries you came here looking for:
UIHC, Regents and UI.

"UI's Basketball Fees Self-Defeating," November 23, 2009

I'll drink to that: "UI Has A Drinking Problem," November 18, 2009 [see "Updates," below];

If UI has become a for-profit corporation . . .: "Corporatizing the University of Iowa; If We're Going to Do It, Let's Do It Right," November 17, 2009

Strategic Communications VP position: "Strategic Communications a Failed Strategy; Actions Speak Louder," November 13, 2009 [See "Updates," below]

Executives trip to Disney World: "Mickey Mouse Patient Satisfaction; UIHC's Troubles: Is Orlando the Answer?" November 8, 2009

"Contributions from patients" proposal: "UIHC: 'Sick Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?'; A Check-In and a Check," October 31, 2009, 7:00 a.m. (with numerous updates through November 4, links to additional, related material -- and now with over 30 of the Press-Citizen readers' comments on B.A. Morelli's stories) [see "Updates," below]

Board of Regents and State universities' budget cutting: "Cutting Slack, Cutting Budgets; Regents, University Presidents, Deserve Some Thanks and Credit," October 30, 2009, 8:30 a.m. (with links to prior, related blog entries)

Spence break-in grand jury proceedings: "UI Spence Break-In: Gazette Scoop Illustrates Issues," October 27, 2009 [See "Updates," below]

School boundaries, school boards, and the ICCSD.
"School Board Election: Now Work Begins; It's Swisher, Dorau, Cooper; Old Board 'Starting Off Backing Up' With Consultant and Tough Decisions," September 9, 2009, 7:00 a.m. (with its links to 11 prior and related blog entries including, for example, "School Boundaries Consultant Folly; Tough Boundary Questions Are for Board, Not Consultants or Superintendent, Plus: What Consultant Could Do," and "Cluster Schools: Potential for IC District?")

Nicholas Johnson, "School Board Has Work to Do," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 2, 2009 (and reproduced in blog)

"Boundaries: Only Board Can Do Board's Job; Drawing School Boundaries Made Easy," November 2, 2009

And Updates: UI VP Medical Jean Robillard says patient-donation-dunning plan "canceled a week ago"; spokesperson "clarifies," says "canceled" means "under review," B.A. Morelli, "Leaders Address Employee Concerns; UI Officials: No Decision on Job Issues," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 20, 2009, p. A3; Ashley Oerman, "UI Cancels Asking Patients for Money," The Daily Iowan, November 20, 2009, p. A1; UI's Funded Retirement Insurance Committee asks President Mason to "abolish rather than just delay" UIHC's "patient donation plan," B.A. Morelli, "Group Wants UIHC Patient Donation Plan Nixed," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 19, 2009, p. A1;

Two Spence break-in grand jury witnesses jailed for refusal to testify, one now indicted, "UI Spence Break-In: Gazette Scoop Illustrates Issues," October 27, 2009; Anonymous, "Davenport Grand Jury Subpoena for Scott DeMuth," Nov. 11, 2009; "Two jailed for refusing to testify before grand jury," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 17, 2009; Carrie Feldman's Web site and the new "Support Carrie and Scott!"; "Activist indicted for alleged role in Spence Labs vandalism," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 19, 2009 [in hard copy as "Man Indicted for Animal Terrorism," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 20, 2009, p. A1]; Ann McGlynn, "Activist who refused grand jury testimony now charged with conspiracy," Quad City Times, November 19, 2009; Ann McGlynn and Diane Heldt, "Lab Break-in Charge Pleases UI Officials," The Gazette, November 20, 2009, p. A1; Regina Zilbermints, "Man Charged in Spence Action," The Daily Iowan, November 20, 2009, p. A1; Ann McGlynn, "Animal rights activist pleads not guilty in University of Iowa vandalism," Quad City Times, November 20, 2009; Zack Kucharski, "Judge Orders Animal Rights Activist Held," Quad City Times, November 26, 2009;

Press-Citizen editorial: Hold off on VP for Strategic Communications: Editorial, "Stakes Have Risen for UI's Strategic Communication," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 20, 2009, p. A7 ("it's wrong when UI seems to care more about finding the right way to spin its decisions than about making the right decisions in the first place. The best strategy for UI communication is for officials to be more forthright and to show more common sense.");

Press-Citizen editorializes for 21-only, Editorial, "21-Only Still an Option for Bars with PAULAs," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 19, 2009, p. A7;

Hancher Relocation: Rachel Gallegos, "Property owner for Hancher site won't sell land," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 26, 2009, p. A1 (and see related five-part series, "Hancher - Part V," September 18, 2009, with links to prior four).

* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source, even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson
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1 comment:

TY said...

I suppose you could be 10% unemployed if you had a 40 hour/week job, but your employer forced you to take a furlough day every other week, no?