Sorry, Wrong Number

Falling through the universe at the speed of life

By David Glenn Cox

I hadn’t been to the Bureau of Labor Statistics website in a while and thought I’d check it out. “Hey, it’s the fifth of the month everybody. The new BLS employment report is out! Me first!” That’s how strange I am, an Internet filled with porn and interesting do it yourself projects and I’m reading, (heavy breathing) “Government Statistics.” It’s a harmless past time and no one gets hurt, and so I won’t be made to feel guilty about it or apologize for it. It was a few hours later on Facebook though. I see a meme about the great employment report Joe Biden just turned in and on his first month too, can you believe it? First, Joe Biden’s name is on the door, but these aren’t Joe Biden’s numbers. Good bad or otherwise. Joe Biden is trying to get his agenda passed through a contentious and seditious Congress.

The meme heralded the employment numbers of 258,000 as the second coming of the lord. After you skin it and boil it down, roughly 158,000 unemployed Americans found work. At this rate, we should be back to full employment in not more than six or seven years. If everything goes alright and everything never goes alright. 158,000 jobs in thirty days for the forty-eight contiguous United States, Alaska, and Hawaii. These aren’t Joe Biden’s numbers; he wouldn’t want them. I think what got under my skin was the attempt to turn hog shit into smoked bacon. A number is a number, regardless of the Administration and a bad number is a bad number. We do ourselves no favors sugar coating the truth, haven’t we had enough of that?

So, the meme says, “Wow! What a great number!” As the Republicans answer, “Then you don’t need a stimulus after all, do you?” But looking at just the employment number isn’t an accurate barometer. If it was, this was a bad number. A Donald Trump type number in that even on its best day, is a bad number.

By the BLS figures there are nearly ten million unemployed Americans. That is your mainline unemployed, it doesn’t include your discouraged workers or marginally attached to the labor force. Forty-three thousand of our vaunted 258 number are new entrants. Americans graduating from school or leaving the military, the hidden unemployed. You can’t be officially unemployed in this country until you’ve had a job first. That’s why the BLS features one of my favorite hang outs, “Alternative Measures of Labor Underutilization.”  It gets me hot just thinking about it.

Alternative measures parcel out unemployment through increasingly fine sieves measured in the U scale. U-3 is the official imaginary unemployment rate and U-6 is the actual, this is real and not a dream unemployment rate.  The U-3 unemployment rate this month is 6.2%. The U-6 Unemployment rate this month is 11.1%. From a seasonally adjusted high of 12.1% in October, we have managed to bring the number down one whole percent in just four months! It’s just another lost decade, what’s your hurry? Let’s dance!

I say these things not to piss in the punchbowl or to rip on Joe Biden. Like I said, these aren’t Biden’s numbers anyway and if they were, he wouldn’t like them either. This might be remembered as the most equitable recession ever as it cuts a swath through the entire economy from the high school dropouts to professionals. Covid -19 has done a number on dentists and massage therapists just like beauticians and bartenders. The only real increases have been in healthcare, surprise, surprise. The financial Industry has shown slight growth but that is deceiving. With interest rates at zero, the only place to put your money and draw interest is Wall Street. “It’s like saying, “Business is great! I’m selling lifejackets and maps to the hell out of here like you wouldn’t believe!” Business is good because times are bad.

Like any good thriller, they save the best bits for last. They cut out sections of the economy into shapes and you must put it all back together like a Sudoku puzzle. Take the pieces and move them around the table and then try to put it all back together again. Try and guess the curve and reduce the fractions to their lowest common denominator. The number of hours worked per week is falling. It says, there is little growth, few businesses needing to add workers. The wages earned by Americans are also falling, and this speaks for itself. This is the tolling of the iron bell, the unemployed are just hanging on as the employed are also just hanging on.

The period between 1929 and 1932 was called the road to rock bottom. President Hoover, pole axed by what was going on in the economy did little. “Leave it alone, it will get better all by itself!” The soundtrack for the road to rock bottom was called “Can you hear my wages fall as prices begin to rise?” Poor people can’t fix the economy. If they don’t have the money to buy anything you can’t sell them anything no matter how clever the gimmick. They create a drag on the economy. A minimum wage of $7.25 per hour hurts the economy like hitting yourself in the head with a shovel. How do you expect to build a better America when you allow people to be treated like coolie laborers scratching for a bowl of rice? Living on charity, food stamps, food banks and Medicaid, one the car won’t start away from disaster.

At the end of the last Great Republican ice age, Franklin Roosevelt set up the Civilian Conservation Corps camps located in rural areas of America. This wouldn’t let the usual towns folk rest easy, two hundred young men up there in the woods. Strangers, stealing my chickens getting into all kinds of mischief and causing who knows what kind of trouble. Some towns people called their Congressman and others started petition drives. Then at the end of the month, those two hundred young men came to town and spent one thousand dollars. In a town that had never seen one thousand dollars in a single day before.

“Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt

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