Part 1 of a series
on jobs and unemployment
31 million people unemployed or unable to find full-time work, unemployment is
now the central economic issue of our times.
DC 37 Executive
Director Lillian Roberts and Assistant Associate Director Henry Garrido with,
at right, Charles Bell and Gertrude Schaffner Goldberg of the National Jobs for
All Coalition, which organized a conference on employment on Nov. 13-14 with the
support of the union.
GREGORY N. HEIRES
With the unemployment rate at 10 percent, workers
are growing increasingly anxious over the disappearance of secure jobs with decent
wages and benefits.
Good jobs are the central economic issue of our
times, said DC 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts.
high rate of unemployment is a wake-up call about the need to make the economy
work better for ordinary people, not just the bankers and Wall Street elite.
a rebound of stock prices and modest economic growth, many mainstream economists
are saying the Great Recession may be ending. But no recession is over until working
people who want a job are back at work. The jobs crisis facing our country is
- one in five Americans is unemployed or underemployed,
or has given up hope and stopped looking for work;
- only one
job is available for every six Americans seeking work;
now lasts for an average of six months, the longest since the 1930s, and
workers find a new job, it usually pays less than their old one.
Trade unionists, academics and religious and
community activists gathered at the Interchurch Center on Riverside Drive Nov.
13 and at DC 37 Nov. 14 for a national conference on jobs. The National Jobs for
All Coalition, a full-employment advocacy group, organized the conference with
the support of DC 37 and other unions and organizations.
DC 37 Assistant
Associate Director Henry Garrido served on the conference steering committee and
Roberts spoke on a panel. She described the unions fight to help low-wage
workers, including DC 37 members in the citys Jobs Training Program for
former welfare recipients, as well as exploited employees of city contractors.
by the urgency of the jobs crisis, participants pledged to organize a nationwide
movement to fight for decent jobs with an eye toward a march on Washington in
2010. Change will not come about without a mass movement, said Coalition
Chair Gertrude Schaffner Goldberg, who heads the Ph.D. program in Social Work
at Adelphi University.
army of labor
Robert Pollin, a professor of economics at the
University of Massachusetts, underscored the importance of steady work for individuals
and the country, noting that people derive their sense of self-worth from their
jobs and the government relies on their taxes to fund federal services. High unemployment,
he said, can devastate individuals and families and pit worker against worker
in the competition for jobs among the reserve army of the unemployed.
said the current jobs crisis is rooted in the abandonment of the national commitment
to full employment that Franklin D. Roosevelt and Democratic presidents promoted
during the New Deal and through the 1960s. In the 1970s, neoliberal policymakers
abandoned the goal of full employment to focus on controlling inflation to protect
wealthy investors while conservatives pushed to cut taxes, reduce government services
and deregulate the labor and financial markets. These policies have caused greater
economic inequality and undermined union power.
Wages used to rise in tandem with workers
productivity, but that hasnt been true in the last three decades.
the expansion of the 1960s, the median income of middle-income families rose 33
percent, adjusted for inflation. But in the boom of the early 2000s,
their income rose only 1.6 percent. If the minimum wage had kept up with productivity
over the past 30 years, it would be $19 an hour rather than $7.25.
Ronald Reagan smashed the air traffic controllers strike in 1981 and intensified
the assault on unions, whose membership since then has dropped from 22 percent
of the labor force to less than 12 percent.
Obama economic stimulus has created and saved 1.6 million jobs. But many economists
feel the bleak economy demands more help.
Speakers and participants
at the conference had several suggestions for ad-dressing the jobs crisis:
resources from the military sector of the economy toward clean energy, education
and health care, which produce more jobs (see chart);
the Employee Free Choice Act to increase unionization;
for living wage laws to improve opportunities for less-educated workers
the federal minimum wage;
- extending unemployment benefits,
- increasing aid to state and local governments to preserve
jobs and services threatened by the loss of tax revenues.
Glen Ford, executive editor of the online Black Agenda Report, said it makes little
sense to talk about creating jobs without first addressing employment discrimination
and the high incarceration rate of Black men.
At a forum Dec. 4 at the Murphy Institute in New York
City, panelists Steven C. Pitts, an economist at the University of California,
Berkeley, and David Jones, president of the Community Service Society of New York,
said raising union representation and rebuilding an alliance with the white progressive
community are critical to creating good jobs in the Black community.
official employment affecting 15.4 million people, hidden employment hitting 15.3
million and the nations working poor estimated at 30 million, people at
the Nov. 13-14 conference called for a jobs program modeled after the New Deal
and urged the Obama administration to carry out a second stimulus package. Given
the private sectors failure to create jobs, conferees generally felt its
up to the government to solve the jobs crisis.
Budget Office estimates that President Barack Obamas $787 billion economic
stimulus plan protected or created up to 1.6 million jobs. Many of those jobs
are in the public sector, where tax revenue has fallen because of the weak economy.
On Dec. 3, the Obama administration held a jobs
summit at the White House. Obama told the gathering that the administration would
consider every demonstrably good idea for job creation. But he said
that while government can play a critical role in establishing economic
conditions for growth, ultimately, true economic recovery is only going
to come from the private sector.
Obamas jobs summit, the labor movement issued its own Rising unemployment
plan. The AFL-CIO called for extending assistance to unemployed workers; rebuilding
public schools, energy systems and roads; increasing aid to cities and states
to maintain jobs and services; supporting community-based job initiatives, and
directing unused funds from the bank bailout to help small and medium-sized business
In a talk at the Brookings Institution on Dec. 8, Obama outlined
a series of proposals to help small businesses and promote jobs. These included
tapping the unused $200 billion in the bank bailout for jobs creation, rebates
to homeowners who make energy-saving weatherization improvements, business tax
incentives and increasing stimulus plan spending on public infrastructure.
president really does understand the urgency of job creation, said AFL-CIO
President Richard Trumka after the White House summit. He said it numerous
times: jobs, jobs, jobs.