Unemployment
Staying high,
Our good jobs
Have said goodbye.

“Don’t believe everything you read in the papers,” Grandma said. We all learned that as kids, but sometimes we swallow dumb stuff anyway. Like now. We want to believe the economy is improving, so we grasp at headlines or TV news leads that offer hope. But those hopes are fools’ gold. The media mostly feature reports of growth because that’s what advertisers, especially real estate and stock brokers, want to hear. Glowing reports stimulate buyers.

But formal improvements in economic growth–the Gross Domestic Product (GDP)–no longer mean new jobs for you and me. Increased production now often comes from beefed-up technology and automation, not from hiring. It also reflects making more stuff abroad and just assembling it here, greatly aided by NAFTA, CAFTA, WTO, and other suicidal foreign trade agreements. These generally enrich corporations and beggar workers, both here and afar. That’s why they were passed in the first place.

And even those new jobs that are being created today are suspect. Two recent announcements in our hometown paper seem symptomatic. On the one hand REI, the outdoor sports chain, is opening an outlet here that will hire sales clerks. On the other hand, the maker of Nivea Face Cream is closing its factory and sending many manufacturing jobs overseas. This is how the working class morphs into the lower class.

Our national work data are similarly dreary. Some public joy bubbled up in Washington recently when the unemployment rate finally fell below 10 percent. And here in Connecticut a drop to nearer 9 percent spurred the governor to let her name be attached to the monthly labor report. When unemployment was still going up she told the statisticians to make the announcement themselves, but 9 percent is now considered good news. Of course when you add in those who have forlornly given up looking for work at all, the real jobless rate is over 16 percent.

Meanwhile many local companies that are adding workers have learned to sneakily reclassify them. We are seeing more temp jobs, “contractors,” and part-timers these days. This shift in status is meant to avoid paying benefits. And since both the state and federal governments are woefully short of cash, there are fewer inspectors to catch up with this abuse. Such is the “shrinking of government” the tea party so fancies.

At least President Obama’s stimulus package seems to have put the brakes on the relentless growth of joblessness. Now we’re just kind of drifting. Another stimulus or flat out WPA-style government hiring program might nudge us farther along the path to recovery, but you know what Congress would say to that.

Reworking “free trade” and the tax code to benefit workers instead of the wealthy would help too, but Wall Street and the press are not likely to allow any such change beyond what’s already scheduled. Therefore get ready for more foreclosures and more kids moving back in with Mom and Dad. Those good old jobs we used to cherish aren’t coming back anytime soon.

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William A. Collins

OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.

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