The Fruits of Civilization (57) Employment Figures

Employment Figures

Adult unemployment in the US 1977–2015 averaged around 22%, with sharp increases in the wake of economic downturns. The youth employment rate is twice that of adults in their working prime.

Unlike the US central bank (Federal Reserve), which ostensibly has no political ax to grind, the touted unemployment rate put out by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics under-reports by a factor of 4. But even the Federal Reserve lives in la-la land when it comes to characterizing employment. In January 2017, Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen declared “the economy is near maximum employment,” at a time when only 63% of adult Americans had a job.

Meanwhile, those employed by businesses face the constant pressures of exploitation. Since labor is often the most expensive component of corporate doings, employees are squeezed as much as the competitive environment allows.

Employment figures are silent on the quality of employment. Those on the meanest of measly jobs are considered fully employed.

In May 2018, the US federal labor department celebrated their rigged unemployment rate dipping below 4%. The false figures had gullible economists marveling at how well capitalism had done to recover from its doldrums of a decade earlier and left them scratching their heads why real wage rates had not gone up.

To conventional economists, good news is treated as a tribute to the capitalist system, while burst bubbles are explained away overindulgences of enthusiasm and failures of regulatory oversight. In actuality, the toils and tribulations of workers continue unabated. For most, getting by is the best that can be done.


During growth periods, workers are added to payrolls. Wage levels may rise during good times, but not always. Following the 2008 recession, incomes for the average worker stagnated, while those in the upper income tiers made more.

As growth slows, companies shed workers: unemployment rises. The sprouting surfeit of unemployed labor lets businesses squeeze wages and crack the whip for more hours for the same pay.

The United States has the highest proportion of workers in poorly paid jobs, and the highest number of annual hours worked by poor families with children. ~ American political economist Tim Smeeding

Every downturn sees fewer well-paying jobs emerge in the subsequent recovery. So it was in 2010, after the 2008 recession, when less than half of the jobs that came back paid as well as they had in 2007. This has been a continuing trend. 94% of the 10 million new jobs in the US 2005–2015 were either temporary or contract-based, not the traditional salaried positions with fatter compensation.

America has had blighted generations before, like those born in the decade after 1835 and especially the decade after 1905, which was cursed by both war and the Great Depression. The children of today’s baby boomer generation have joined that discouraging list, beset by weak wages and wealth erosion. ~ George Tyler

Despite the recession that began in 2008, seniors working rose while jobs for young people fell. Youth are now having to compete for low-paying jobs against their grandparents, whose life savings were tied to investments that sank.

The number of those working past 65 is at a record high. ~ American financial journalist Floyd Norris in 2012