Archive for December 2008

Unemployment Figures Continue To Soar

December 5, 2008

unemployment12051The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics released its November 2008 “Employment Situation” report this morning.

According to the Bureau’s report, America’s labor market continues to lose jobs at an alarming rate, a clear sign that the recession that began in December of 2007 is worsening with each passing month.

Thus far, in 2008, 1.9 million jobs have been lost. Two-thirds of those have been lost the last three months.

In November, 553,000 non-farm payroll jobs were lost and the unemployment rate climbed from 6.5% to 6.7%, the highest it has been since October 1993.

The 6.7% unemployment rate represents 10.3 million American workers.

The under-employment rate – the broadest and most comprehensive measure of weakness in the job market, which includes part-time workers who want to work full-time but cannot find the work – climbed to 12.5%.

The total number of unemployed and under-employed workers in the United States now stands at 19.6 million people, or one in every eight people in the labor market.

Among the businesses and industries losing big numbers this month were:

  • Retail – 91,000
  • Manufacturing – 85,000
  • Construction – 82,00
  • Professional services (office jobs, temps, legal services) – 78,000
  • Leisure and hospitality – 76,000
  • Transportation and warehousing – 32,000
  • Vehicle and parts dealers – 27,000
  • Motor vehicle and parts manufacturers – 13,100

We are, of course, watching and waiting to see what is going to happen with respect to the Big 3 auto manufacturers and the bail-out that they are appealing for.

To end on a positive note, the Bureau does report that health care employment grew by 34,000 in November. A total of 369,000 health care jobs have been added to the market over the past 12 months.

You can read the Bureaus’ report here.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has published an article by Chad Stone that gives a very concise overview of the BLS employment report. In the concluding paragraph of the report, Mr. Stone says,

“As the Congress and President-elect Obama prepare an economic recovery package, it is important to remember that support for unemployed workers and those with limited means not only helps those hit hardest in a recession but is among the most effective and fast-acting ways to help arrest an economic contraction and turn the economy around.”

Read the CBPP article here.

The Associated Press also published a helpful article on today’s report that you might find interesting. It is entitled, “Half-million jobs vanish as economy deteriorates.” Read it here.

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Labor Revival

December 4, 2008

In a Global Labor Strategies (GLS) blog article entitled, “Labor’s Dead: Long Live Labor!”, it is noted that:

“…while capitalism has undergone revolutionary changes in the past few decades, changes we generally refer to as globalization, the labor movement has remained essentially unchanged and nation based.”

Three trends that are contributing to the rapid change in capitalism and the decline of the labor movement are mentioned:

  1. Capital mobility – multi-national corporations, liberated by free-trade agreements (my note), taking advantage of low-labor costs, lax business and environmental regulations, and weak labor unions in the nations of the world to increase their profits. The article says that this “pits workers and communities against each other in a classic race to the bottom to attract and retain jobs.”
  2. “Dis-integrated” corporate structures – corporations performing the core functions of their industry or business but “farming out the rest to complex chains of contractors and subsidiaries.”
  3. Contingent staffing strategies – corporations dividing their work force into two groups: a core group of employees with “standard jobs” and some sense of job security and contingent workers – part-timers, temps, contract workers, and day laborers – with low pay and little or no job security.

The GLS post says that these three trends are hindrances to labor’s ability to organize and bargain effectively.

In order for labor to experience a revival in a globalized world, there will need to be a new kind of labor movement that provides effective representation at the workplace and in the economy as well as help workers represent themselves in relation to the basic questions of society.

“In fact, the issues on which labor’s revival depends … are essentially class issues that relate to the role of working people in shaping the direction of society.”

The post concludes by saying that labor has a great heritage in the United States and great promise for a continuing contribution to the betterment of peoples’ lives, society and our economy.

“A free and open debate about the future of labor” will be a good first step toward a revival in the labor movement.

Read this Global Labor Strategies August 28, 2008 post here.

(Note: A book that I read a year and one-half ago, The Bush Agenda – Invading the World, One Economy at a Time, addresses the issue of “capital mobility” (globalization) and equates free trade with the spread of democracy.)

November “Employment Situation” Report Preview

December 3, 2008

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, their “Employment Situation” report for the month of November will be released on Friday, December 5, at 8:30 am.

In advance of that report, Reuters reports that “Private employers cut 250,000 jobs in November, an unexpectedly larger number and the biggest in seven years, while the service sector, which powers most of the economy, posted its worst slump on record.” The private sector includes businesses such as banks, airlines, hotels, and restaurants.

Reuters suggests that this number of jobs lost is a sign that the U.S. job market is “nowhere near bottom” and that “Friday’s payrolls report could exceed current expectations for 320,000 job losses in November.”

All of this in the wake of Monday’s report by the National Bureau of Economic Research that our recession actually began in December 2007.

There is good news to report. Interest rates on U.S. mortgage loans fell to an average 5.47 percent last week and mortgage applications increased by record numbers thanks to a new Federal Reserve program that promises to buy $500 billion of mortgage-backed securities from various home-financial “facilitators” which is helping to bring down home loan costs.

We’ll look forward to learning more about the November economic situation when Friday’s report is issued.

You can read the Reuters article here.

The State of Organized Labor

December 2, 2008

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was a member of the Communication Workers of America union back in the early 1980s. I am not a member of a union today but am very interested in labor and the labor movement.

There are several reasons for my interest in labor issues. There is the role that labor played in the building, development and progress of our nation (i.e., railroads, industries, and mines), especially in the mid-to-late 1800s. Labor fought for and helped secure many of the benefits that working men and women enjoy today – the eight-hour work day, safety standards and laws, and laws that protect children at work. And, today, union members’ wages are 27% higher than non-union workers, 93% of union workers are covered by health insurance and 76% of all union workers get paid sick days where they work.

So, I am trying to educate myself about unions and have found some interesting articles on the subject.

One article that I’ve recently read is entitled, “The State of Organized Labor in the U.S.”, by Elaine Bernard, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard University Law School.

In the opening paragraphs of the article, Ms. Bernard points out that organized labor has been in decline over the past 50 years. In 1955, one out of every three workers was a union member. In 2007, only one in eight workers was a union member nationally, and less that one in 12 was a union member in the private sector. Today, union density “stands at a dismal 12 percent nationally.”

Ms. Bernard then states that, “This decline in unions has contributed to the stagnating wages of the majority of workers and aptly demonstrates that workers in one sector can not expect to maintain their standards if workers everywhere are seeing their wages and conditions eroded.”

The article continues as Ms. Bernard asks and then answers three questions: Why the Decline in Unions Hurts Everyone? If Organizing is the Answer, What’s the Question? What is the Ultimate Role of Labor?

The answers that Ms. Bernard gives to these questions will be approvingly accepted by many and cynically denounced by others.

The last two paragraphs give, in my opinion, the summary statement of the article.

In short, unions are the primary institution of a free, democratic society, promoting democracy in the workplace, as well as economic and social justice, and equality. They have this role because they are instruments of transformation of members and of society at large. In this wonderful transformation rests the real power of the unions.

Is the goal of unions merely to build lobbying power, the political influence of its leaders to get a little more for its members? Or is it to transform power in society as a whole by extending democracy to the workplace and the economic sphere and ultimately to break up concentrations of power, influence, and wealth? If labor’s goal is the transformation of power, then this goal means leading a democratic struggle throughout society and within workplaces. It means constructing democratic unions and moving beyond a stategy of simply seeking to lobby those in power, whether by militant or cooperative strategies, and instead, building a democratic alternative to the concentration of power and wealth.”

I found this article to be interesting, informative and  thought provoking.

This article was posted November 18, 2008 on the “talkingunion” blog. You can read it here.