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Vol. 75/No. 47      December 26, 2011

US gov’t stats give glimpse
of grind on workers
(front page)
The grinding, long-term effects of the unfolding capitalist economic crisis on the lives of working people is poking through the surface of government statistics.

One source of the grind is persistent long-term unemployment. Some 5.7 million people have been out of work for 27 weeks or more. In November, those unemployed for more than 99 weeks rose by 143,000 to 2 million, approaching a record.

At no time in 60 years has long-term unemployment been so high for so long. The average duration without a job is 40.9 weeks. That is just a notch under the all-time high of 41 weeks set in September this year.

Officially, 13.3 million are unemployed, a rate of 8.6 percent. Not included are 8.5 million who can find nothing other than part-time work and 2.6 million labeled “marginally attached” to the labor force, because, according to government bureaucrats, they haven’t looked for work in the past four weeks. Including these people, the rate of those without full-time work is near 20 percent, according to the Labor Department.

A more objective measure is the percentage of the population that has a job. Between January 2008 and January 2010 this figure dropped from 62.9 percent to 58.5 percent, the farthest and steepest drop since 1948, when these figures first began. Today it remains 58.5 percent. It hasn’t been that low since the early 1980s, when the proportion of women who work was more than 10 percent less that it is today.

Less than half of those officially unemployed get government compensation. In the hardest hit states, Congress has extended unemployment benefits for up to 99 weeks. Other states range from 60 to 93 weeks. With government budgets in worsening shape—and top priority given to paying interest to the holders of government bonds—unemployment extensions increasingly become a target for politicians. If Congress does not renew them at the end of the year, as many as 2.2 million more could be cut off by February.

Labor Department figures on labor “productivity”—a calculation of the average “output” squeezed from each worker—shows the other side of the same coin. Productivity rose at an annual rate of 2.3 percent during the third quarter of 2011. The biggest growth was in manufacture, particularly the durable goods sector where it increased by 9.5 percent. At the same time, real income, which accounts for inflation, has declined 2.3 percent over the last year, the largest decline since statistics began in 1948.

Government statistics on “poverty” are designed above all to mask the real effects of this multi-faceted grind—and limit the number of people in need who are eligible for government aid. In 2006, 12.3 percent of the population were classified as in “poverty.” The figure has steadily risen to 15.2 percent of the population in 2010—46.6 million people.

The official poverty threshold for a family of four is an annual income of $22,350, a mere $300 more than two years ago. When the poverty threshold—a completely arbitrary figure—was set in 1963, it was equal to nearly 50 percent of the median income. Today it’s at 30 percent of the median income, which itself is declining in real terms. About 100 million people in the U.S., about one in three, subsist at 150 percent of the official poverty line—which is $645 a week for a family of four.  
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