Jumping to Label Jobs ‘Failure’

Terry H. Schwadron

Oct. 10, 2021

The monthly jobs figures, showing that the nation added 194,000 jobs is bringing with it the usual public clucking about an economy lagging the hoped-for progress, though the rate of unemployment dipped under 5%.

No kidding.

The numbers show what any of us can see with our own eyes as we walk along main streets.

You would think that we might recognize that the continuing presence of covid contagion in all its effects looms over everything economic, and that having our political leaders in Washington dithering rather than passing some spending bills and agreeing without further ado that the country needs to pay its past bills might be contributing to a sense of economic forlorn. Even storms contributed to delays for many small businesses.

What part of “uncertainty” about our current condition is difficult to understand?

And yet, to hear cable television pundits, politicians, and economists with a lean for one political party or the other, we still tell ourselves that we are missing a magic bullet about moving towards full employment. We still insist on comparing what actually is recorded as new jobs being offered against some mystical estimates by someone about what they might be, and calling the difference a failure, using words like “disappointment” to describe the difference, ruing 12 million open jobs for 8 million workers. We should start by halting “expectations” that seem to be wrong for each of the last several months, good or bad.

Indeed, in all the immediate cable babble following job news yesterday, there was little explanation that made sense: If the economy is “lagging,” it is not something we just learned in a slow-building jobs report.

The Lessons — If We Look

By now, we have clear evidence that ending extended unemployment benefits in September — and earlier in several states — has not ended reports of worker shortages in community after community. For politicians, particularly Republican politicians, to continue to insinuate that workers are lazy, is simply nonsense.

Key elements in the monthly report support steady but slow improvements over a year ago in most categories, without significant changes in unemployment rates across racial groups or industries. Government jobs are down by sizeable numbers, even with the start of school, with various private industries adding jobs slowly. It is too soon to see the effects of forced firings of people refusing mandated covid vaccines.

The half-glass measurers would see continuing, but slower-than-desired improvements. Supply labs forced layoffs in the auto industry, for example, dampening hiring numbers.

Americans seem not to want to look at the obvious, that there is something about wages and work conditions that are not drawing hordes back to work particularly in hospitality jobs.

But there is no public abuse index that’s recorded to show whether the price of going to work at a restaurant where anti-vaxx protesters might be abusive. There is no index measuring the hopes of employee advancement. There is no monthly measure of job training programs, nor any calculation about who can’t go back to work because schools are opening and closing again from covid spread.

There is no employee dignity index. We’re still treating jobs as one-way offers from businesses.

There is only a self-reported jobs measurement that shows some wage improvement, but not enough to make a statistical difference of the sort that economists who estimate what would be in a best case would match.

We have a middle-class protest over job growth underway, a protest that is about redefining the workplace, relationships to work that include a lot more worker involvement and shared responsibility on the one hand, and childcare and wages on the other.

What American business once did for inventory controls, making it dependent on “just as needed,” we now do for employees, and expect that will work.

The Broader View

In our fact-resistant political churn, the “failure” of the economy to respond gets turned around into criticism of whoever happens to be president now. Fox headlined that “President Biden’s economy sputters. . . “; Breitbart said “Another Biden Disaster, Jobs Expectation Mega Miss. . .“ That trend is ironic, since Joe Biden, the current White House face, is using the same information to argue for a huge stimulus for the economy through these two ever-pending infrastructure and Build Back Better bills.

The case is clear for fundamental attitude adjustments:

We should do whatever we can to create certainty for business and worker continuity — from ending the on-again, off-again effects of covid to clearing up supply-line delays that have defied easy explanation.

We should complete negotiations in an orderly fashion and pass the stimulus bills, and we should end public nonsense and game-playing over disputes that go nowhere like that over a debt ceiling that serves no purpose other than partisan blame.

For economic reasons alone, never mind humane caring, we should drop our xenophobia and be looking hard at a comprehensive immigration overhaul to provide a steady inflow of workers who want jobs that Americans are turning their noses at.

We should be investing in our workers through training and advancement, through shared responsibility for the success of businesses, and be measuring more than profit.



Journalist, musician, community volunteer