In January, 6.3 million workers had been unemployed for six months or longer, according to the U.S. Labor Department. That is more than double the toll in the next-worst period in the early 1980s, the New York Times reported February 21.
Long-term unemployment for women between 45 and 64 years is up dramatically. In 1983, after a deep recession, women in that range made up only 7 percent of those who had been out of work for six months or longer, the Times said. Last year, they made up 14 percent.
Most companies are not seeking to hire new workers, but to increase the productivity they extract from their current workforce through increased speedup, thereby making working conditions more dangerous.
At Ford Motor Co., for example, in spite of a 25 percent increase in U.S. sales in January, the bosses plan to further cut the workforcea jobless recovery. Only about 300 workers accepted a buyout proposal last month and the company said it will cut a shift of 900 workers from its Michigan Mustang factory in July, raising those laid off to 1,500. Ford has cut 47 percent of its North American workforce since 2006.
The government has no serious program to provide jobs to the millions of unemployed. Instead, the Barack Obama administrations jobs proposal gives tax breaks to businesses and bailout funds to community banks.
A recent report by the presidents Council of Economic Advisers projects creating 95,000 jobs each month this year. Thats barely enough to keep up with the normal number of jobs the economy would have to create to keep the unemployment rate from going up further, noted the Times. It wont make a dent in the nearly 15 million people officially unemployed.
The councils report projects unemployment levels remaining at about 10 percent through the rest of this year, and at more than 9 percent in 2011.
The governments so-called stimulus programthe American Recovery and Reinvestment Acthas had little impact. Since its passage a year ago unemployment has continued to rise. Some of these stimulus funds have been transferred to state and local governments reeling from the financial crisis. About one-third of the $272 billion paid out as of the end of January was for unemployment compensation and other entitlements.
Welfare and other benefits are less extensive today than during previous economic downturns. Only two-thirds of unemployed workers received unemployment checks last year, according to the Department of Labor, with some of the others having exhausted their benefits. Unless Congress approves an extension, about 2.7 million people will see their unemployment checks halted in April.
For those seeking to get welfare, 44 states over the past four years have cut off anyone with a household income totaling 75 percent of the official poverty level, according to a study by economist Randy Albelda at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.
Decline in strikes, union members
In the face of these economic conditions, workers lack a union leadership they have confidence can conduct an effective fight. According to the Department of Labor, there were only five major work stoppages last year involving 13,000 workers with 124,000 lost workdays, the lowest level since 1947, when records started being kept. In 2008, 15 stoppages idled 72,000 workers for 1.95 million lost workdays.
The government defines major work stoppages as either strikes or lockouts involving at least 1,000 workers. These figures have declined dramatically from the more than 350 such stoppages per year common in the 1950s and 1970s.
Union membership also declined in 2009, by 771,000 to 15.3 million. For the first time, there are more union members who are public employees, 7.9 million, than working at private businesses, 7.4 million.
Overall, union members comprise 12.3 percent of the workforce, down from 36 percent in 1945 and 20 percent in 1983. In the private sector 7.2 percent belong to unions, a decline from 7.6 percent the previous year. Black men have the highest union membership rate at 15.4 percent.
Rhode Island high school fires all 74 teachers to bust union
California workers discuss attacks on unions
On the Picket Line
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