Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Full employment and the new economy

A full-employment vision for the twenty-first century can and must look different from the full-employment realities of the postwar era. Nor is the call for full employment necessarily bound up with assumptions about the virtues of work and the vices of idleness.
At the end of The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, John Maynard Keynes surveyed the dire political-economic scene of the mid-1930s and summed it up in a single, incisive phrase: “The outstanding faults of the economic society in which we live are its failure to provide for full employment and its arbitrary and inequitable distribution of wealth and incomes.”
Consider a snapshot of the situation young people face: the unemployment rate for workers under age 25 is 18.1 percent; unemployment for black people who have not graduated from high school is 82.5 percent; the people most likely to be shot by police are black 25–34-year-olds; the national student loan debt has surpassed $1 trillion; and the only jobs lucrative enough to pay off college loans are in the financial industry that detonated our economy or Silicon Valley companies deregulating working-class industries.

The future doesn’t hold much hope either, with median household income declining 12.4 percent between 2000 and 2011. Having a family is simply harder to afford now. Meanwhile, each new year sets another low record for union density, meaning we have few levers for turning those income numbers around. Unlike most wealthy countries, the United States lacks universal childcare and maternity leave, so women are stuck with the same old debates over an impossible work-life balance.
This is an age when the power of the boss is so ascendant over the power of the worker that we can be shuffled around to match precisely the needs of capital. Department stores and retailers now use apps that will inform an employee midway through a workday if their services are no longer needed to match customer demand. About half of early-career hourly workers learn their schedule for the week less than one week in advance. A full day’s work, or a “steady” job, is a thing of the past. This is a chronically unstable way to operate in the world, picking up bits of knowledge work, service work, or manual labor as needed.