Women Lose Services, Jobs, and Union Rights

By Mimi Abramovitz

The current effort to dismantle the public sector is the latest round in the rancorous debate about the role of so-called “big government” that has shaped public policy since the mid-1970s. Initially targeted at program users, the attack subsequently took aim at public sector employees and union members. Since most scholars and activists focus on one group or another they miss the whole story and the strategy’s wider impact. Lacking the gender lens needed to bring women into view, they also missed that women comprise the majority in each group. Until the 2012 presidential campaign turned women’s reproductive health services into a hot political item, few seemed aware of this decades- long “war on women.”

Origins: Thirty Years of Neo- Liberalism

Since the onset of the economic crisis in the mid 1970s U.S. leaders have pursued a neoliberal agenda designed to redistribute income upwards and downsize the state. Its contours are familiar: tax cuts, retrenchment, privatization, deregulation, devolution, and weaker social movements. Meanwhile, the Right sought a restoration of family values and a color-blind social order. To win public support for these unpopular ideas their advocates resorted to what Naomi Klein called the “shock doctrine”: the creation and/ or manipulation of crises to impose policies that people would not otherwise support. Discounting data and evoking the shock doctrine, government foes targeted not just programs for the poor but also popular entitlement pro- grams once regarded as the “third rail” of politics. Unlikely to pass Congress intact, their proposals – which fall heavily on women – will set the agenda for months to come. Continue reading

Human costs of a broken economy

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Labor Day Statement.

When we look at the situation of unemployed people and many ordinary workers, we see not only individuals in economic crisis, but also struggling families and hurting communities. We see a society that cannot use the talents and energies of all those who can and should work. We see a nation that cannot assure people who work hard every day that their wages and benefits can support a family in dignity. We see a workplace where many have little participation, ownership, or a sense they are contributing to a common enterprise or the common good. An economy that cannot provide employment, decent wages and benefits, and a sense of participation and ownership for its workers is broken in fundamental ways. The signs of this broken economy are all around us:

▪                About 14 million workers are unemployed. We see the stories and pictures of hundreds, even thousands lining up for the chance to simply apply for work. There are currently more than four jobless workers for every job opening. Many more have given up looking for employment.

▪                There are increasing numbers of children (more than 15 million) and families living in poverty. This does not mean they lack the newest video game, it means they lack the resources to provide the basics of food, shelter, clothing and other necessities. Continue reading

Questions and answers on unemployment

On the first Friday of every month the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) releases information on the US labor force that covers the preceding month.  The number that often gets the most attention is the unemployment rate.  In organizing around jobs and unemployment, it is important to understand what the unemployment rate measures, what it omits, and what other information is contained in the BLS release.

Q: How bad is the employment situation in the U.S?  What do the different numbers mean?

A: The answer to the first question is: very bad – by far the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s.  This is true even though the Great Recession was declared over in June 2009.  Here are the key numbers that demonstrate just how bad things are for working people.  Let’s begin with the unemployment rate as reported by the BLS.  This rate is the number of people unemployed and looking for work in the four weeks prior to the report divided by the people working plus those looking for work (in the prior 4 weeks).  It is important to note two things about this rate.  First, the only people counted as unemployed are those who report seeking a job in the prior four weeks.  If someone has been out of work but has given up looking or did not look in the previous 4 weeks, they are not counted among the unemployed.  Thus, if people drop out of the actively looking for work category, the unemployment rate may decline, even though as many or more people are unemployed.  This is part of what happened between November 2010 and December 2010 when the unemployment rate dropped from 9.8% to 9.4%: about half of the decline was the result of individuals no longer looking for work.  In December 2010 there were officially 14.5 million unemployed people.

That number is large but is at best half the story of unemployment.  In addition to the officially unemployed, the BLS also reports a number for people who report that that they want jobs but did not look in the 4 weeks covered by the report.  In December 2010 there were 6.5 million of these individuals, another 4.2% of the labor force.  Finally, the BLS also reports the number of people who are working part time but want to work full time.  There were 8.9 million such people in December 2010, accounting for another 5.7% of the labor force.  Adding these three categories together, there were 29.9 million un- or under- employed people in December 2010. Continue reading