Director’s Corner: The Real Unemployment rate
On Martin Luther King Day, Real Change helped pull together a workshop that was the public debut of something we’re calling Unemployed Workers Action. “We” is our friends and allies over at SHARE/WHEEL, the Defenders Association’s Racial Disparity Project and a few others who believe that those of us who were screwed from the beginning will probably get jobs right about the same time the CEOs of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac go to jail for wrecking the economy—which, unless we find some way to turn up the heat, is to say, never.
The idea of our workshop was to test an idea we’ve been rattling around: The majority of folks who use WorkSource, we figured, have probably experienced this agency as worse than useless and would perhaps enjoy a chance to share their thoughts.
We were right.
Near the end of our workshop, the paper on the wall that listed the pros and cons of WorkSource was remarkably lopsided. The cons side was filled. The pro side was blank.
“Can’t we think of any pros?” the facilitator asked.
“Well,” volunteered a homeless man, “they have bathrooms we can use.”
A few older attendees recalled a time when WorkSource was known as the unemployment office, and actually helped you find work. They’d assess your skills, match you with jobs, and send you out on interviews. Now, people said, they just send you over to a computer that’s filled with poor-paying “opportunities” that never seem to call you back. You log your time on job search or participate in less than useful “trainings” in exchange for an unemployment check.
When that check runs out, you cease to be “unemployed.”
Officially, that is. If you’re not drawing unemployment and actively searching, as logged by WorkSource, then you become “discouraged,” which means you have left that nine-point-something percent of folks that we bother to count. If you worked an hour or more during any given month, you weren’t counted either. And you certainly weren’t counted if you were in prison.
If you’re a black high school drop out under the age of 35, you know you don’t count, because your chances of being employed are about one in four. To put it another way, the real unemployment rate among these folks is around 75 percent. This is why drugs, which offer oblivion and work opportunity in one convenient package, would be the perfect commodity, if it weren’t for the heightened risk of incarceration.
In the new global economy, what’s left of our ever-shrinking social safety net is managed more or less punitively, and any attempt to sidestep the wage slavery of minimum-wage employment through illegal underground activity will probably land you behind bars. WorkSource and prisons are the left and right hands of the neoliberal state’s management of the poor.
If we can ever learn to organize in a way that gets at this, we’ll finally be getting somewhere.
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