Break out the champagne on Wall Street! A new report is out called “Labor Market Left Behind,” co-authored by Economic Policy Institute senior economist Jared Bern-stein and the Institute’s president, Lawrence Mishel.
“Since the start of this recovery, unemployment has continued to trend upward, from 5.6 percent in November 2001 to 6.2 percent in July 2003….(There are) three unem-ployed people for every job opening. During this recovery, unemployment has risen 0.6 percentage points overall and 1.3 points among African Americans,” according to Bern-stein and Mishel (see http://www.epinet.org/content.cfm/briefingpapers_bp142).
And get this: “Employment opportunities have declined more for college graduates than for high school dropouts. Underemployed workers – those working fewer hours than they want to or in a job for which they are overqualified – reached double digits (10.2 percent) in July 2003. Current unemployment rates are actually lower than they would be, except for the fact that some 2 million workers have stopped looking for work in this poor market.”
Fortunately for the Bush administration, the question: who would Jesus bomb? is crowding other important inquiries such as: how do we end poverty as we know it?
Loyola University’s distinguished professor of law, William P. Quigley, addresses the latter question in his new book “Ending Poverty As We Know It (Temple University Press).”
It makes for some interesting Labor Day weekend reading. And even if you’re too busy working trying to make ends meet, I recommend you check out Quigley ‘s sobering 163-page analysis about the problems in the labor market and what he thinks we should do about it.
Even your Constitution-worshipping friends who are convinced that the Founding Fathers and the American Revolutionaries could not be wrong about anything, Professor Quiqley has something for them too.
“When it shall be said in any country in the world, my poor are happy; neither igno-rance nor distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want, the taxes are not oppressive;…when these things can be said, then may that country boast of its constitution and its government.”
Karl Marx? Lenin? Nope. Thomas Paine wrote that in his famous treatise, “The Rights of Man.”
“Ending Poverty As We Know It” is full of facts kept safely away from the conscious-ness of the voting public. For starters, Quigley reports: “There are approximately thirty million people in the United States who are working full-time but earning poverty-level wages.”
Now, add to that the 15 million or so who are either out of work or are working part-time but would love to be working full-time, and we’ve got one big, good-news story for the investors who, like a teenager reading Penthouse, get their jollies from reports of surplus labor.
“Historically, the first response to poverty has been to advise the poor to work. But if the poor are already working or cannot find a job, what’s the next response? Usually, silence. And because of that silence, more and more people join the ranks of the poor,” Quigley writes.
As was evident when Clinton and his New Democrats trumped the GOP by “ending welfare as we know it,” we have a persistent belief that work is the way out of poverty and into affluence.
“While I applaud the sincerity of these beliefs,” Quigley observes, “as a longtime stu-dent of poverty issues I know that they simply are not true.”
Then he suggests we ask ourselves the following questions: Do you think that every person who wants to work should have the opportunity to do so? And, do you think that every person who works full-time should earn enough to be self-supporting?
In speaking in various venues all across the country, Quigley gets an overwhelming yes to those questions.
The problem, as was so eloquently stated by University of Washington professor Di-ana Pearce, “this is not about people doing a bad job of budgeting or making bad choices. They simply don’t have enough to make it.”
Quigley’s solution? A Constitutional amendment guaranteeing a right to a job with a living wage. It ain’t exactly participatory economics but as Chomsky points out, there’s a difference between long-term vision and short-term goals.
You’ll have to read the book to understand his proposal and how it would work. The idea is not a new one. Dr. King made similar proposals back in the 60s.
Speaking of which, since 9/11 we’ve had two Dr. Martin Luther King Days and two “celebrations” of his August 28, 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech. Yet, somehow we man-age to forget that King was assassinated while working in solidarity with unionized Memphis sanitation workers seeking living wages.
And in the years leading up to his death, he was a fierce critic of the violence created by the military industrial complex, telling us that our choice is nonviolence or nonexist-ence, chaos or community.
Instead, as we follow policies that lead us further down the path of escalating violence and destruction, we take time out to get all warm and fuzzy, holding hands singing kumbaya, congratulating ourselves about integration or bad-mouthing the goals of af-firmative action while citing King’s famous “content of our character” line, which our neoconservatives brothers and sisters have shamelessly wrenched out of context.
I better warn professor Quigley. You can catch a bullet in the throat for taking these issues seriously.
ZNet commentator Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times reporter and syndicated columnist. E-mail him at [email protected]