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UNCOMMON SENSE 4 January 1999


By Helen Lachs Ginsburg, Professor of Economics, Brooklyn College of  the 
City University of New York, and Bill Ayres, Director, World Hunger Year

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) regularly reports the nation's monthly and annual "official" unemployment rate. In 1998, this official unemployment averaged 4.5 percent, representing 6.2 million people. But these numbers don’t tell the whole story. In the same BLS report, we can find large groups that are not counted as unemployed. These official numbers don't include 3.7 million involuntary part-time workers who wanted but weren't able to get full-time employment. Nor do they include 4.8 million people who wanted jobs but were not actively seeking work. Of that group, 1.3 million had searched for work during the previous year and were available to take a job immediately. The rest wanted work but had not looked because they didn't expect to find any, or weren't able to work for a variety of reasons, including lack of child care or transportation, or a disability. Public policy changes would enable many of these people to work. In addition, in 1997 (the most recent year for which such data are available), another 16.8 million people worked full-time all year, but had annual earnings below the government’s meager poverty line for a family of four. 

We need a new composite set of employment statistics that includes each of these four groups. Here is an example for 1998:

Officially Unemployed Workers                   6.2 Million
Involuntary Part-Time Workers                   3.7 Million
Non-Job Seekers Who Want a Job                   4.8 Million
Full-Time Year-Round Workers Earning Poverty Wages*                 16.8 Million
 (earned less than the official poverty level for a family of four, 1997 _____________________
  TOTAL 31.5 Million
*SOURCE: estimated from Money Income in the United States, Bureau of the Census, Sept. 1998, Table 10

It should be noted that even these numbers do not include the vast and rapidly growing prison population, disproportionately young, unskilled minority men. If they were counted as unemployed, the official jobless rate would rise by over 1 percentage point. The true story about unemployment and low wages in the United States is not a pretty picture, but until we stop being in denial about the extent of the problem, we will not develop the programs and policies to guarantee living wage Jobs for All Americans!

  For further information about employment statistics, see Sheila Collins, Helen Lachs Ginsburg and Gertrude Schaffner Goldberg, Jobs for All: A Plan for the Revitalization of America, Apex Press, 1994, pp. 40-48 and 59-61. Editor: June Zaccone, Economics (Emer.), Hofstra University

The National Jobs for All Coalition is a project of the Council on International and Public Affairs.

National Jobs for All Coalition