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Life On the Dole

[ 108 ] July 28, 2011 |

poor

One of the most devastating economic effects of long-term structural unemployment is that a significant number of people become more or less permanently unemployed. The political effects of such unemployment, however, are complex. Consider this passage from The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell’s 1936 study of the effects of the Great Depression on the industrial areas of northern England:

I first became aware of the unemployment problem in 1928. At that time I had just come back from Burma, where unemployment was only a word, and I had gone to Burma when I was still a boy and the post-war boom was not quite over. When I first saw unemployed men at close quarters, the thing that horrified and amazed me was to find that many of them were ashamed of being unemployed. I was very ignorant, but not so ignorant as to imagine that when the loss of foreign markets pushes two million men out of work, those two million are any more to blame than the people who draw blanks in the Calcutta Sweep. But at that time nobody cared to admit that unemployment was inevitable, because this meant admitting that it would probably continue. The middle classes were still talking about ‘lazy idle loafers on the dole’ and saying that ‘these men could all find work if they wanted to’, and naturally these opinions percolated to the working class themselves. I remember the shock of astonishment it gave me, when I first mingled with tramps and beggars, to find that a fair proportion, perhaps a quarter, of these beings whom I had been taught to regard as cynical parasites, were decent young miners and cotton-workers gazing at their destiny with the same sort of dumb amazement as an animal in a trap. They simply could not understand what was happening to them. They had been brought up to work, and behold! it seemed as if they were never going to have the chance of working again. In their circumstances it was inevitable, at first, that they should be haunted by a feeling of personal degradation. That was the attitude towards unemployment in those days: it was a disaster which happened to you as an individual and for which you were to blame.

When a quarter of a million miners are unemployed, it is part of the order of things that Alf Smith, a miner living in the back streets of Newcastle, should be out of work. Alf Smith is merely one of the quarter million, a statistical unit. But no human being finds it easy to regard himself as a statistical unit. So long as Bert Jones across the street is still at work, Alf Smith is bound to feel himself dishonoured and a failure. Hence that frightful feeling of impotence and despair which is almost the worst evil of unemployment–far worse than any hardship, worsethan the demoralization of enforced idleness, and Only less bad than the physical degeneracy of Alf Smith’s children, born on the P.A.C. Everyone who saw Greenwood’s play Love on the Dole must remember that dreadful moment when the poor, good, stupid working man beats on the table and cries out, ‘O God, send me some work!’ This was not dramatic exaggeration, it was a touch from life. That cry must have been uttered, in almost those words, in tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of English homes, during the past fifteen years.

But, I think not again–or at least, not so often. That is the real point: people are ceasing to kick against the pricks. After all, even the middle classes–yes, even the bridge clubs in the country towns–are beginning to realize that there is such a thing as unemployment. The ‘My dear, I don’t believe in all this nonsense about unemployment. Why, only last week we wanted a man to weed the garden, and we simply couldn’t get one. They don’t want to work, that’s all it is!’ which you heard at every decent tea-table five years ago, is growing perceptibly less frequent. As for the working class themselves, they have gained immensely in economic knowledge. I believe that the Daily Worker has accomplished a great deal here: its influence is out of all proportion to its circulation. But in any case they have had their lesson well rubbed into them, not only because unemployment is so widespread but because it has lasted so long. When people live on the dole for years at a time they grow used to it, and drawing the dole, though it remains unpleasant, ceases to be shameful. Thus the old, independent, workhouse-fearing tradition is undermined, just as the ancient fear of debt is undermined by the hire-purchase system. In the back streets of Wigan and Barnsley I saw every kind of privation, but I probably saw much less conscious misery than I should have seen ten years ago. The people have at any rate grasped that unemployment is a thing they cannot help. It is not only Alf Smith who is out of work now; Bert Jones is out of work as well, and both of them have been ‘out’ for years. It makes a great deal of difference when things are the same for everybody.

It is of course true that in America today there is many a decent tea table where one still hears quite a bit about lazy idlers on the dole. Consider the reaction of Rep. John Linder (R-GA) to the fact that approximately six million Americans (one in fifty people) report having no other income than food stamps:

“This is craziness,” said Representative John Linder, a Georgia Republican who is the ranking minority member of a House panel on welfare policy. “We’re at risk of creating an entire class of people, a subset of people, just comfortable getting by living off the government.”

Mr. Linder added: “You don’t improve the economy by paying people to sit around and not work. You improve the economy by lowering taxes” so small businesses will create more jobs.

Given that the linked NYT story reports that a typical food stamp benefit for an adult couple is $300 a month, it is just possible that Rep. Linder is exaggerating the risks that our idle poor are becoming too comfortable living on this stipend. Indeed Rep. Linder might be surprised to discover, as I was, that welfare benefits in America today are actually less generous than they were in Depression-era England.

Now that, thanks to in large part to the previous Democratic administration, welfare has been “ended as we know (or rather knew) it,” millions of the long-term unemployed are not eligible for any government cash assistance besides food stamps. By contrast, in England in the 1930s, the long-term unemployed lived on what was known colloquially as “the dole.” In 1936, the dole for an adult couple was 23 shillings a week. This was the equivalent of approximately seven dollars — a figure which I suspect does not sound overly munificent even to Rep. Linder. But inflation is a tricky thing. In 1936 seven dollars per week were equivalent to about $110 in present money, i.e. just under $500 a month. It appears that, for the long-term unemployed, life on the dole in England 75 years ago was, in absolute terms, quite a bit more generous than it is in America today. But in relative terms, this comparison is considerably more startling.

In 1936, England had a per capita GDP of about $7800 in present dollars. Per capita GDP in America today is about $47,200. We are six times richer than Orwell’s England, yet our dole is about 50% less. Now to be fair, as the Heritage Foundation never tires of pointing out, you couldn’t buy a cell phone plan or an HDTV in England 75 years ago. That is some compensation to what I suspect Rep. Linder and his friends at Heritage like to think of (and to refer to in suitably unmixed company) as “the so-called ‘poor.'”

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  • ajay

    Amazing. How many people fall into the nothing-but-food-stamps category?

    • Paul Campos

      According to the linked Times story, about six million as of 18 months ago (I suspect the present figure is if anything higher).

      • ajay

        I should imagine so. Just wondering if you had a more up to date figure…

  • Davis

    Yes, unemployment is our number one problem, so why are we arguing about the deficit? (rhetorical question!)

    • DrDick

      Because none of our millionaire pundits or congressmen are unemployed or know anybody who is.

      • Steve LaBonne

        Which is ironic since all of them SHOULD be.

        • DrDick

          Agreed.

      • Malaclypse

        With one notable exception, none of them are unemployed.

        • DrDick

          But he is neither a pundit nor a congress critter.

  • Lee

    The welfare state is usually seen as something developed over the course of the 19th century and coming into full bloom in the post-WWII world. This is problem a bit of mistake historically. Most Christian and Muslim majority countries had systems in place to take care of the poor, the mentally ill, the physically ill and others who could not take care of themselves for centuries. The Poor Laws and the dole in the UK were examples of this. The past systems weren’t as generous as the welfare states that developed latter and could be patrionizing and harsh but they did exist.

    America was different. Anti-government welfare sentiment is about as old as the Republic itself. Even private charity in 19th century America tended towards harshness towards the recipients. During the depression in the 1890s, the Protestant charities in NYC fiercly criticized the Catholic and Jewish charities for being too generous and not demeaning those who sought aid. The sentiments of John Linder aren’t that unusually from American perspective.

    • ajay

      Lee, historically speaking the Poor Law is indeed very old (mediaeval) but the dole is unemployment benefit, and that’s a 20th century innovation, not something that had existed for centuries.

      • Lee

        Point taken, ajay. My basic argument is that things like the dole have deep roots that aren’t that present in the United States. Thats why in Europe you have Bismarckian conservatives that recognize the need for some sort of welfare state while in America, conservatives are completely against it.

        • Frank

          That’s because when you get something for nothing what’s your incentive to work? Yes, there will always be some who can never care for themselves. But it is better to let non-governmental entities do it than having government putting a gun to everyone’s heads demanding that we give them the money so they can decide the winners and losers. That’s what kings did. We don’t need that type of government again.

          • Furious Jorge

            No, a “non-governmental” system isn’t better. We tried that in the past, and what we got for our troubles were exceptionally high poverty rates, rates that would be inexcusable today.

            But whatev, I’m not getting dragged into a drawn out conversation with a troll. Not again, anyway.

    • Jeffrey Beaumont

      What is all this an argument for? Return to the harsh, patronizing systems of the past?

    • StevenAttewell

      The states had poor laws dating back to the colonial period. The widows and veterans pensions of the 19th century were the largest social insurance system in the world at the time.

      The idea that the U.S lacks a historical welfare tradition is factually incorrect.

      • Holden Pattern

        The idea that the U.S lacks a historical welfare tradition for white people is factually incorrect.

        FTFY

        • Correct: the problem is not a lack of a welfare tradition, but the unwillingness to continue or expand that tradition because of racism and nativism.

          • Kal

            This. What makes the US different with regard to social welfare is, more than anything else, the history of racism, not some special American propensity to self-reliance or whatever.

  • Smurfy

    Almost everybody falls in the nothing but food stamps category. Well, that and maybe medicaid.

    ‘free money for poor people’ is almost nonexistent now. all that’s let is TANF for single parents.

    • Jeffrey Beaumont

      Well, unemployment insurance does last for a year or two for most people. That is the “dole” today. After that, you are out of luck.

  • Of course, if you are poor and do by a cell phone, the right will accuse you of being an irresponsible leech on the welfare system.

    • Uncle Kvetch

      As mentioned on Jon Stewart (or was it Colbert?) the other night, the fact that 99% of poor people in the US have refrigerators was recently brandished on Fox News as proof that there aren’t actually any poor people in the US.

      • soullite

        Everybody knows that only cavemen were truly poor.

        • mark f

          How can a man who has a cave to live in claim “poverty”? All I’m saying is why should Fred bust his ass down at Slate’s quarry to have his taxes pay someone else’s mortgage?

          • Uncle Kvetch

            Oh, we used to DREAM of living in a cave!

            • mark f

              My family of nine shared a one-room cave with a hibernating bear. We didn’t have any of those fancy paintings that get Hollywood elites like Werner Herzog all excited, or even a pig to eat our garbage. But we didn’t feel poor! And we didn’t expect the government to provide sticks for our fires. No, we knew that as soon as someone invented boots they’d have straps to pull ourselves up by . . .

              • Ed Marshall

                Luxury. We used to have to get out of the lake at three o’clock in the morning, clean the lake, eat a handful of hot gravel, go to work at the mill every day for tuppence a month, come home, and Dad would beat us around the head and neck with a broken bottle, if we were LUCKY!

                • Captain Splendid

                  Uphill both ways!

                • Even going back into the lake was uphill.

                  It was rough.

                • Well, of course, we had it tough. We used to ‘ave to get up out of shoebox at twelve o’clock at night and lick road clean wit’ tongue. We had two bits of cold gravel, worked twenty-four hours a day at mill for sixpence every four years, and when we got home our Dad would slice us in two wit’ bread knife.

                • And you tell the young people that today, and they won’t believe you.

    • Frank

      Your choice, buy a phone or buy food. But don’t buy a phone and then DEMAND that I pay for your food.

      • Furious Jorge

        Without a phone, how’s he gonna be able to apply for jobs? God, your side is stupid.

  • c u n d gulag

    I’m unemployed and have been for 29 out of the last 36 months. This after having been a corporate trainer for most of my professional career.
    I’ve applied for disability because I have a bad ankle and hip that prevent me from standing for long periods, or walking far. And where I live, most of the jobs are minimum wage ones in retail where you stand all day.
    So, I’ve been SOL because I’m either overqualified for almost anything around here, or physically can’t do the job – no matter what the ADA Act says.

    My parent’s and I were wondering (and we all voted for Obama and the Democrats, so we hold them accountable only for their small part in the economic mess we’re in), where’s “The Cheese?”
    Reagan, during the last major recession gave out huge blocks of nasty, salty, but filling American Cheese to seniors, and poor people. We want somma dat!

    Since it was the corporate world and the economy ‘Who Moved My Cheese’*, the least the goverment could do would be to hand some out free to make up for it. :-)

    *This is and insipid and odious self-help book which is pretty much required reading for employees about to be let go by their corporations, or sodomized with gravel and broken glass-encrusted cattle prods if they stay and accept the new conditions grinding them down, to make any transitions smoother, ‘easier’ and more productive – for the bosses and the company. You, you little mouse, are expected to squeek only when spoken to, and be happy for any small crumb of cheese that falls from their Galtian tables, straining from an excess of food.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Who_Moved_My_Cheese

    Me?
    I’d like to ‘move’ the cheese up the asses of the corporate bosses with a fucking howitzer.

    • Having been compelled to read The Cheese Shop Who Moved My Cheese, I thank you, most profoundly, c u n d gulag.

      • Bart

        Cheese sounds good. Didn’t the government stash away butter at some time in the past as well?

        • Mike Timonin

          They traded the butter for guns, though.

          • Njorl

            Surely we should be giving the poor guns, then.

        • rea

          It used to be cheese, butter peanut butter, sugar, flour, and oats.

          • DrDick

            They also stashed meat, vegetables, and a variety of other comestibles which were given out to the poor, at least in rural areas, as commodities. Those are still distributed on many Indian reservations today.

            • Jill

              Also powdered milk, powdered eggs and some weird meat that came in a can with a drawing of a cow on it. I was hungry a lot as a kid but I still wouldn’t eat that canned meat.

              • DrDick

                I have also been on commodities in the distant past and some of the meat my dog would not eat. The canned pork wasn’t too bad. Commodity cheese is rather iconic in certain circles and merely mentioning commodity peanut butter can elicit giggles among the cognoscenti.

    • guthrie

      I was lent a copy of that book by one of those permanently motivated people once. reading it made me feel even more alienated and left wing than I had been before, since the characters didn’t do the obvious thing and go and find out why the cheese had run out.

      • c u n d gulag

        I never met one of these bullshit stupid business self-help books that I could stand for any longer than the cover.

        I used to fake reading them. I never read one of them.
        If you listened to the idiot’s who’d actually read it for about 30 seconds, you can pick up the simplistic “idea’s” and the writers verbiage, and then act like you read it.
        It’s not like any ONE of them EVER had a NEW fucking idea.

        They’re all about basically taking an ass raping from some twisted corporate thug, acting like you like it, and pulling an Oliver Twist and begging, “Please Sir, I want some more.”

        Instead of making me read your ‘who moved my fucking cheese’ book, how about you treat me like a man and not a mouse, and tell me to my face how you’re about to fuck me and mine so you and yours can make more.
        But you don’t have the guts for that, do you?

        I don’t miss anything about my corporate job except the steady pay and half-decent benfits – and not that THOSE were that great, by any stretch of the imagination. The company I worked for underpaid people by quite a lot compared to others in the same job in the telecommunications industry.

        My word of warning to everyone is, if they give you a book to read – start lookin’, ’cause the end is nigh!

        Or else, if you decide to stay, come to work everyday with some Vaseline in a jar in your pocket, so you can sneak off and stuff some up your ass before your bosses pull out razor dildo’s to ass-fuck you with.

        Trust me, you’ll thank me later.

        • Captain Splendid

          Oh god, yes. There must have been a five year period in my life where I’d hear about The Secret every other day.

          “Positive visualization is good for you? Who’d a thunk it?”

      • p j

        One good result of my having previously scanned the pages of many of these wasted tomes has given me the ability to remember key words and phrases that, whenever a speaker regurgitates one, I’m able to immediately return to whatever in the hell I was doing before I was so rudely interrupted by some self-important gasbag and be able to know that I’ve missed nothing important. Bliss.

  • jeer9

    Excellent comparison of the two countries’ welfare “generosity”, though I would take issue with the unemployment crisis being described as structural. Krugman from last fall: And as I and others have been trying to point out, none of the signatures of structural unemployment are visible: there are no large groups of workers with rising wages, there are no large parts of the labor force at full employment, there are no full-employment states aside from Nebraska and the Dakotas, inflation is falling, not rising. Perhaps it’s a definitional problem, perhaps it’s something we’ve never seen before, or perhaps it’s a political policy subscribed to by both parties which views 9% unemployment as acceptable (and conducive to greater profits for the elites). I’d be curious to know in inflation-adjusted terms what the average US wage was in the 1930s and a congressman/senator’s salary vs. today’s situation. Have they kept pace? Is it even relevant? We know the middle class/top 5% differential has soared.

    • Expand your time horizon past 2008, back through the Bush administration, and the structural element becomes more clear. Even during a period of economic growth from 2001-2007, private-sector job creation was flat. The deindustrialization of the upper mid-west is a structural, not demand-related, problem.

      Obviously, there has been the Great Recession unemployment on top of that – I don’t think anyone is talking about the current 9% rate being mainly structural.

      • soullite

        Then you clearly haven’t actually been listening.

        And even if some of it is structural, well, that just means that congress as well as this and previous Presidents should have been able to see it coming and should have done something about it. It hardly absolves anyone from guilt.

        • Then you clearly haven’t actually been listening.

          Ah, yes, your well-known perceptive abilities. I am so abashed.

          that just means that congress as well as this and previous Presidents should have been able to see it coming and should have done something about it

          Actually, I think Obama did more in the “stimulus” bill to address the structural issues than the short-term demand issues. The Green Jobs, for instance, are great as an industrial policy to orient us to have a lot of manufacturing jobs in ten, twenty, thirty years, but they don’t put a whole lot of people to work three months after the bill’s passage.

          It’s certainly better than Clinton’s “those jobs aren’t coming back, train to do medical billing” strategy.

          It hardly absolves anyone from guilt.

          Good thing I wasn’t trying to absolve anyone from guilt, then.

          • Joshua

            And Clinton even worked with Republicans to set up a for-profit college scam to rip off the poor suckers trying to learn medical billing.

            Great conservative President indeed.

          • Ed

            It’s certainly better than Clinton’s “those jobs aren’t coming back, train to do medical billing” strategy.

            “Green jobs” are stylish now. Clinton would be promoting them if he were in office today and indeed probably so would any generic Democratic president. Some Republicans, too.

            It’s been said before, but Clinton’s was a different era. Clinton ran on welfare reform, it was no secret any more than Obama’s full throated support for taking it to Afghanistan was a secret, and Clinton’s shift to the center at least made some sense in bringing the party back to the White House after twelve years out of power.

            Clinton also had progressive reasons for promoting welfare reform, just as Obama is said to believe that trading away important aspects of the social safety net to the GOP will be worth it.

            • I don’t agree with the glib dismissal of green jobs as “trendy,” and I don’t agree that Clinton would be pushing for such an affirmative effort to shape the economy, as opposed to merely reacting to it.

              Also, get back to me when Obama actually trades away any part of the social safety net. In the mean time, it’s probably worth acknowledging that he has actually expanded it through SCHIP expansion, the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, community health clinic funding, and subsidies for insurance coverage.

            • Any Democrat would have talked about green jobs and put some money into it, but a $50 billion commitment is a BFD. It’s not just getting some people some jobs, but an actual honest-to-God industrial policy.

          • Furious Jorge

            He’s actually right, Joe. I’ve heard plenty of people float this idea.

      • 2001-2007?

        Try since 1980, absent the mid-90s.

        There was job growth, yes, but there was an explosion of people available to take those jobs, because wage growth was stagnated. Most of the jobs created were recessive in terms of salary and benefits.

        • absent the mid-90s

          That’s why I didn’t go back as far as you say – because the period from 1995-2001 muddies the picture. There was such a big demand boom that the underlying structural decline gets lost, and there were other policies that actually did target gains towards areas with the most need (as opposed to before and after that period). There was a reason why the 80s boom only lifted 1/2 million people out of poverty, while the 90s boom lifted something like 13 million.

          There was job growth, yes, but there was an explosion of people available to take those jobs, because wage growth was stagnated. Most of the jobs created were recessive in terms of salary and benefits.

          Except for the 90s boom, yes. I think we need to understand more why that expansion worked differently then those immediately before and after it.

          • Except for the 90s boom, yes. I think we need to understand more why that expansion worked differently then those immediately before and after it.

            It’s not very different than the jobs boom that occured after the Erie Canal opened or mass production was introduced. New technologies require lots of jobs until technology can be developed to take them away.

            This is why productivity comes into play, and why conservatives will inevitably point to that to justify stagnating job growth

            • I don’t think that’s it. IT was never a jobs-intensive industry, and it had the effect of producing productivity improvements across the rest of the economy right away.

              Productivity went through the roof during the 1990s, even as jobs and wages even at the bottom saw real gains.

              I lean towards urban policies. The end and reversal of the old Urban Renewal/Urban Highways projects, and other policies that lifted up inner-city areas, removed barriers that were preventing the poor from benefitting from prior booms as much as they should have. But that’s just a hypothesis.

              • IT was not, but implementing them new-fangled compooters in the rest of the business world? People to type and data entry and all that. That was labor intensive.

                • True, true.

                  But at the same time, wouldn’t a lot of those ‘puters have also allowed “labor force efficiencies” as one person could now do what used to be several people’s jobs?

                • DocAmazing

                  Yes, once breathing humans had been hired & then fired to implement those new labor force efficiencies.

                • ^This

                • Yes, once breathing humans had been hired & then fired to implement those new labor force efficiencies.

                  Odd, then, that the actual pattern of hiring and firing lines up with the performance of the economy so closely.

                • Malaclypse

                  Odd, then, that the actual pattern of hiring and firing lines up with the performance of the economy so closely.

                  Odd that mass layoffs can trigger demand busts?

                • Odd that mass layoffs can trigger demand busts?

                  No, odd that there doesn’t seem to be the theorized industry-specific increase and decrease in employment distinct from the performance of the larger economy.

                • DocAmazing

                  Actually, we saw that very thing in the Bay Area coincident with the dot-bomb and with the end of the Y2K bug fixes.

                  Now we have legions of unemployed low-end programmers, their work having been completed.

              • Kal

                The difference between the 80s and 90s booms wasn’t just jobs. Profitability also grew in the 90s to an extent that it really didn’t in the 80s in the US. It briefly reached 60s levels at the end of the decade, which hadn’t been seen for over 30 years.

      • Bill Murray

        Expand your time horizon past 2008, back through the Bush administration, and the structural element becomes more clear. Even during a period of economic growth from 2001-2007, private-sector job creation was flat. The deindustrialization of the upper mid-west is a structural, not demand-related, problem.

        but that isn’t what structural unemployment is — structural unemployment is a mismatch between the labor market demand for jobs and the skills of those seeking employment. So there are job openings but only a few people that can fill them. That does not appear to be the case in either the current or early 2000s recessions, which seem to feature few job openings and lots of people to fill them, although of course there is some structural unemployment.

        The de-industrialization of the midwest is really more technological unemployment which was at least partially treatable by increasing aggregate demand — that’s what the stimulus (which worked about as well as expected) was all about indicating that the unemployment was mostly cyclical with the only structural part being people unable to sell their homes and move to better job environments.

        the main reason certain economists (or pseudo-economists like Megan McArdle) have been pimping structural unemployment is that f the unemployment is structural, then a stimulus/jobs package won’t help unemployment and we can give more tax breaks to rich people and explain to the unemployed it’s their fault they don’t have a job.

        • but that isn’t what structural unemployment is — structural unemployment is a mismatch between the labor market demand for jobs and the skills of those seeking employment.

          And that’s exactly what the deindustrialization of the mid-west is. Lots of people who have skills for a manufacturing/assembly economy, and not enough of the types of jobs that match their skills even during periods of economic expansion.

          That does not appear to be the case in either the current or early 2000s recessions, which seem to feature few job openings and lots of people to fill them

          I picked 2001-2007 specifically because it was the expansion in between the two recessions you mentioned.

          The de-industrialization of the midwest is really more technological unemployment

          The two concepts are in now way mutually-exclusive. Technological advances which put people out of work are one of the big ways that structural unemployment comes about.

          which was at least partially treatable by increasing aggregate demand

          If unemployment is caused by technological advance, boosting demand won’t address the root cause. Sure, it could treat the symptoms to a certain extent, but it won’t change the underlying dynamic.

          the main reason certain economists (or pseudo-economists like Megan McArdle) have been pimping structural unemployment is that f the unemployment is structural, then a stimulus/jobs package won’t help unemployment and we can give more tax breaks to rich people and explain to the unemployed it’s their fault they don’t have a job.

          I understand that. That’s not a legitimate reason to deny the existence of the structural unemployment that does exist, where it exists. As I used to say to my libertarian global-warming-denier “friends,” denying the existence of a dynamic on the grounds that it makes it easier for your political opponents to make their argument is an admission that your own politics are incapable of producing a solution to that problem, and ours aren’t.

          • Bill Murray

            And that’s exactly what the deindustrialization of the mid-west is. Lots of people who have skills for a manufacturing/assembly economy, and not enough of the types of jobs that match their skills even during periods of economic expansion.

            but that is not the same thing as not having skills necessary for jobs. The unemployment rate is high because there aren’t any jobs period, which is not structural.

            I picked 2001-2007 specifically because it was the expansion in between the two recessions you mentioned.

            but again that has nothing to do with structural unemployment. Just because an economy expands without adding jobs does not make that unemployment structural, unless there are many jobs going unfilled because no one can be found to fill them.

            The two concepts are in now way mutually-exclusive. Technological advances which put people out of work are one of the big ways that structural unemployment comes about.

            nor does it make them identical either. technological advance can make be structural but unemployment from increasing productivity is generally not considered structural.

            If unemployment is caused by technological advance, boosting demand won’t address the root cause. Sure, it could treat the symptoms to a certain extent, but it won’t change the underlying dynamic.

            again this is not necessarily so, increasing demand can address the root cause if the root cause is increased productivity leading to fewer employees needed, which is why much technological unemployment is not structural.

            I understand that. That’s not a legitimate reason to deny the existence of the structural unemployment that does exist, where it exists. As I used to say to my libertarian global-warming-denier “friends,” denying the existence of a dynamic on the grounds that it makes it easier for your political opponents to make their argument is an admission that your own politics are incapable of producing a solution to that problem, and ours aren’t.

            of course there is some structural unemployment, there always is when there is any unemployment; but thus far there is no evidence that this is particularly significant in the 21st century unemployment, so I don’t see the point of introducing irrelevancies to the debate. Further, by obscuring the cause and allowing for people of ill will to follow their preferred policies you are contributing to the future problem of structural unemployment. So I’m saying there are several solutions although if the easiest (increasing demand) is not begun soon that solution will no longer be possible and the harder more expensive solutions will have to be undertaken and thinking like yours is contributing to this

            It has even been shown that the original thought about housing lock (not being able to move because you can’t sell your house) causing structural unemployment is not even correct.

            https://rortybomb.wordpress.com/2011/06/15/a-new-study-on-post-crash-mobility-also-seeing-like-state-econometricians/

            • but that is not the same thing as not having skills necessary for jobs.

              I don’t understand what you mean. You just wrote that not having the skills necessary for jobs is not the same thing as not having skills necessary for jobs.

              but again that has nothing to do with structural unemployment.

              I didn’t claim it did. Did you see what I was responding to when I made that point? I was responding to your observation about there being two recessions as an explanation for the job loss, and I pointed out that I was talking about the inter-recessional period.

              nor does it make them identical either.

              I didn’t claim it did. Once again, I was responding to a point of yours – the point you made asserting that unemployment can’t be structural if it is caused by technology.

              unemployment from increasing productivity is generally not considered structural.

              I assume the word “generally” here is meant in the sense of “necessarily,” and that’s true. If the skills of the “redundant” workers are still in demand but they can’t find jobs for some other reason, then that’s not structural unemployment. However, if those skills are no longer in demand, then the unemployment caused by increasing productivity is structural.

              again this is not necessarily so, increasing demand can address the root cause if the root cause is increased productivity leading to fewer employees needed, which is why much technological unemployment is not structural.

              No, increasing demand cannot address that root cause. Boosting overall economic activity will not slow down productivity increases; nor will it make the skills of workers were made “redundant” suddenly in-demand. It may be able to produce other jobs that they can fill using other skills, but it won’t address the dynamic of some kind of change eroding the demand for their skill set. That’s why I said it can treat the symptom of unemployment, but not the root cause. If there isn’t some other structural change, then we’ll just see a long-term downward trend in demand for those workers, with wobbles up during booms and down during recessions. And if the skills they used to make their living on are no longer in demand, even the replacement jobs created by increased demand will pay less, because they will rely on a less valuable skill set (steel workers flipping burgers because the mills laid off lots of people, but overall economic growth increased demand for burgers).

              but thus far there is no evidence that this is particularly significant in the 21st century unemployment, so I don’t see the point of introducing irrelevancies to the debate.

              First of all, the downs of this particular recession will end someday, but if the longer-term decline of manufacturing employment in the U.S. isn’t addressed, the end of that recession won’t translate into jobs in traditional manufacturing areas.

              Second, I didn’t “introduce” anything. Jeer brought up the issue of structural unemployment not really explaining the big drop in jobs – which is true – and I responded to his point by pointing out that the structural problem is found elsewhere.

              Third, I’m not going to stop saying things that are true because you find them inconvenient for your political message of the day. Sorry.

              Further, by obscuring the cause and allowing for people of ill will to follow their preferred policies you are contributing to the future problem of structural unemployment.

              No, it will not. That doesn’t even make sense working from your assumptions.

              Oh, and I didn’t write anything about housing lock. It would be nice if you’d respond to my arguments, not those other people have made that kinda sorta remind you of mine, or what you imagine some people might make if their see my terrible, terrible blog comments.

    • Frank

      If you listen to Krugman God help you.

      • Furious Jorge

        Yeah, why listen to someone who’s been demonstrably right about our current financial and economic crisis? Clearly, he’s shrill. And he has a beard.

  • I really wish someone would point out, every time some asshat talks about entitlement reform, that America tried private charity handling social problems like poverty and long-term unemployment for the first 150 years, and we had people dying of starvation in our streets, in Appalachia, in fact across the nation.

    These folks might watch The Grapes Of Wrath and see a plucky family making due on a dollar a bushel and faith in Jesus with its sanitized plea for socialism, but I’m betting they’ve never read the book.

    Paul, that six million figure is troubling. I’m assuming it’s been vetted?

    I’ve been out of work: sometimes my own fault, sometimes through no fault of my own. It’s why I feel very liberated at my current job to not give a damn about what goes on around me, because I’ve got two feet and will land on them.

    But I’m peculiarly talented and so have little problem finding work now (in fact, I get solicitations regularly to leave here, even in the midst of a recession.) There was a time I was not so lucky, and that was the two longest years of my life. I don’t blame people for being out of work until they show me that they’re doing it deliberately (e.g. taking a job for six months to build up an unemployment balance then looking for ways to get fired)

  • Excellent essay about the alienation so many elites have from the poor and employed.

    But the popular images of mass poverty, like the famous Dorothea Lange photo you lead with, obscures your point and only helps the Heritage types who glibly think that the only real poverty is the kind depicted in photos like that.

    Its beyond my ken, but I think we need artists and journalists to do the real yeomen work of getting the word out to the better-off in the middle class, who apparently need to be reminded that, yes, having actual unemployment at 15 percent or more kinda sucks.

    Scenes from Surrendered Homes.” – The Design Observer Group

    DU

    • Paul Campos

      Point taken.

  • Imagine if all those people on unemployment or government assistance voted as left as possible.

    • DK

      True (or if they were marching and demanding jobs).

      Also, imagine how much more we could accomplish if such a large segment of our population wasn’t forced into idleness (which isn’t exactly a fair characterization, but hopefully the point is still clear). The problem is that resources, both physical and human, remain fallow, because our economic and political systems are broken.

      • dave

        Imagine if, while the food-stamps were keeping them alive, some great grass-roots movement came along and helped them mobilise themselves to build new economies where they lived, rather than waiting for a national government that patently doesn’t give a rat’s ass to come up with a brilliant plan…

        • L2P

          A smarter punditry would be more worried that a mix of high unemployment, stagnating real wages, unabashed militarism, and demagogic, uncompromising politics has been seen in several countries before with . . . unsatisfying results when the unemployed were “mobilized.”

          Our punditry, however, is more worried in horserace politics and taming the deficit.

          • DrDick

            Actually, I think that many in our punditry would welcome the outcome you imply, at least if it were the “right kind”. They know that they are wealthy and privileged enough to do well under that kind of regime. The left kind might inconvenience them a tad.

            • Holden Pattern

              Here’s a question: how many of the wealthy people who benefited from authoritarian regimes in the 20th century (not the actual jackbooted thugs, just their financiers) actually wound up dead or bankrupt, or even seriously financially inconvenienced over the long term?

              • The BCCI scandal comes to mind, but that’s mainly because it’s such an oddity.

              • DrDick

                Given that the rightwing thugs are generally doing the will of the wealthy, I doubt many were inconvenienced.

        • Sharon

          You mean ACORN?

      • fmg

        I think that part of the problem with that is that 6 million is spread across the country. 100-200 people marching and shouting here and there in small towns isn’t going to scare congresscritters too much. When tens of thousands march in big cities they’re simply ignored or dismissed.

        • DK

          I disagree. When people who are normally quiescent start acting in novel, aggressive ways, it generally scares the powers the be. Large marches in DC have their place, but smaller more frequent protests at the local level have a history of impacting policy.

    • Frank

      They do. That’s the problem. In Sweden nobody on public assistance can vote. Should adopt that system here.

  • wengler

    Americans have been very pliant in the 30 year Republican plan of “work harder, for less!” In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if the really radical Republican shit started to take hold.

    A new one(that’s actually an old one) is that Republicans want to get rid of the minimum wage. You know that decadent leftist idea that does nothing but hold back the economy? The rightwing “think” tanks have been churning out papers for years about how people will actually get paid more with no minimum wage. How does that work? Magic, you see. Employers will be happier without the stifling restrictions of the government and so will reward the worker with lots of money. Just like the good ol’ days!

  • Plus ca change.

    It makes me think it is time (really, way past time) for another march to end poverty.

    At the very least the Neo-Con claims that the crowd packing the National Mall from end to end only amount to 1,000 people will be amusing.

  • Uncle Ebeneezer

    What I want to know is: we keep being told that tax cuts allow the rich to create jobs. So where are all the jobs that resulted from the landmark Bush Tax Cuts?

    • BigHank53

      See, those tax cuts just weren’t big enough.

    • wengler

      Step 1) Give free money to rich people.

      Step 2) ??????????

      Step 3) Jobs for everyone!

      • mark f

        But why should I listen to psuedonymous internet Commies when I’m assured by gen-u-ine job creators like Jack Welch?

    • bill

      That’s sort of my question, too.

      How, exactly, does Trickle-down Economics work? I mean, show me the micro-mechanics of it, from when Joe Richguy gets his tax break to when Johnny Middleclass gets whatever benefit he’s supposed to get from it. And then, on the macro level, as well.

      Really, when’s the last time anybody ever had to explain this bullshit?

      • Malaclypse

        Ooh – I can do this!

        In January, your taxes went down by 2%. And this is FICA, which means no shenanigans – you really did get a 2% raise.

        Obviously, you took that money, and invested it in a steel mill, right? Because investing is step 2 in the underpants gnome scheme.

        • mark f

          Of course he would. I mean, what else would a person do if he had almost limitless money? A trampoline room and $2000 doorknobs? Multi-million dollar parties with pornographic ice sculptures? Get serious!

          • As a trampoline coach, I take umbrage at your characterization that I am wealthy.

            OK, not a coach. I don’t even own one. I’ve been on one and that makes me like a Teabagger! WOOOOOOOO!

      • Furious Jorge

        Really, when’s the last time anybody ever had to explain this bullshit?

        I explain this bullshit every semester.

        And then I explain why it’s bullshit.

        • DrDick

          You are among Dog’s chosen.

  • Thanks for a really great post, Paul. I’m going to pass it along to some people who will probably refuse to pay any attention to what it’s trying to say…

  • Amazing things here. I’m very satisfied to look your article. Thanks so much and I am having a look ahead to touch you. Will you please drop me a e-mail?

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