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Tag Archives: unemployment

dollarIn early June, it came to light that last October, Walt Disney World Orlando eliminated the jobs of 250 data systems employees. The move made national news not because so many workers became jobless, but because Disney offered a severance bonus to employees who remained with the firm long enough to train the young immigrant workers who would assume their tasks.

The heartlessness of this move left workers and consumers reeling. A former Disney employee told a reporter for the New York Times, “It was so humiliating to train someone else to take over your job. I still can’t grasp it.” Outrage spread across news and social media, fueled by dismay that a company so closely associated with wholesome family entertainment would betray its workers in this way.

Many observers lamented loopholes in the H-1B visa program used to secure the replacement workers’ entry to the US, and endorsed reforms that would reduce impacts on American workers. Relatively few seem to grasp that Disney’s moves are rooted not in policy loopholes or corporate malfeasance, but instead are part and parcel of capitalism. Outsourcing, layoffs and swiftly severed ties – this is what capitalism looks like. As Karl Marx pointed out in his Manifesto of the Communist Party, workers, who under capitalism “must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.” The “increasing improvement” of production methods “ever more rapidly developing, makes their livelihood more and more precarious.” Manual workers confronted this reality decades ago, as plants in the United States closed and production moved overseas to take advantage of lower-cost labor. Increasingly, professional workers are also feeling the pain of displacement. And there is only more to come.

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AAgradorangeRising productivity, profitability and stock prices have long been heralded as signs of economic recovery from the Great Recession.  Many segments of the population, however, have yet to experience any relief.  Initially concentrated among the upper classes, gains in employment, income and wealth have gradually spread to middle America, but many groups, including race/ethnic minorities and young people have been left behind.

Young people suffered a disproportionate share of job losses in the recession, and current trends suggest that they will be among the last to share in the benefits of economic recovery.  Although a college degree offers some protections in a competitive labor market, it is not uncommon for recent college graduates (males somewhat more than females) to struggle with unemployment for many months following graduation.  Many who do find jobs are underemployed – working fewer hours than they would like or in jobs for which they are overqualified

With an unemployment rate roughly double that of their white counterparts, young African American college graduates have even greater difficulty securing employment.  The Center for Economic and Policy Research reports that in 2013, 12.4 percent of African American college graduates age 22-27 were unemployed, compared to 5.6 of all college graduates in this age group, and more than half of those who had jobs were underemployed.  Those with degrees in the highly sought-after STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fared little better, with unemployment and underemployment rates of 10 percent and 32 percent respectively.

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Harvard sociology professor Orlando Patterson recently had an article published in The Chronicle of Higher Education on “How sociologists made themselves irrelevant.” He discusses how sociologists have had almost no influence on the design of policies dealing with poverty among black youth and related problems such as unemployment, gangs and incarceration, despite the fact that these topics have been core topics of sociological research for decades. He argues that the main problem is that “In the effort to keep ourselves academically pure, we’ve also become largely irrelevant in molding the most important social enterprises of our era.”

As a result, sociologists have been reticent to engage in public discourse. The main shapers of policy have been economists, who often come to radically different conclusions than sociologists, based on differing theoretical assumptions, which affect research design. For instance, sociologists find that moving people out of ghettos has strong positive effects on outcomes for black youth, while economists find that such an effect does not exist. Patterson wryly quips that the rational response to the finding that neighborhoods have no effect on youth outcomes means that scholars should advise their children move to the inner city to take advantage of low rents!

Soup kitchen

Source: Wikimedia Commons

by Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler

Can it be true that capitalists prefer crisis over growth? On the face of it, the idea sounds silly. According to Economics 101, everyone loves growth, especially capitalists. Profit and growth go hand in hand. When capitalists profit, real investment rises and the economy thrives, and when the economy booms the profits of capitalists soar. Growth is the very lifeline of capitalists.

Or is it?

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dead end

Source: positiveproductive.com

I recently found myself sat in a stately home in the UK. A small group of politicians, academics and practitioners were there to explore what the UK could learn from Germany and what Germany could learn from the UK about skills. In short, (for now) the UK has better higher education and Germany (for now) has better vocational education and training.

I sat staring out of the large drawing room windows onto the sun-lit, rolling and very green southern English countryside. It was Downton Abbey on steroids; the past but now vanished glories of the British Empire pervaded the atmosphere. It was the kind of place where the Great Powers once carved up the Middle East – and created some of the problems that now exist there.

Shaken out of my historical reverie, I started to think about today’s employment problems. In the US and Europe unemployment is high, particularly for young workers; the employment participation rates of women and migrants also need to be raised; too many low skilled, low wage workers are stuck in a bad jobs trap; and, as the population ages, ways need to be found to enable older workers to work longer.

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by Mike Rose

A high school senior, Carlos is already a promising carpenter. He is volunteering at a Habitat for Humanity site, assembling the frames for the bedroom walls, the boards for one frame laid out neatly in front of him. He measures the distance between them. Measures again. Then he drives one nail, then another, stopping occasionally to check with his eye or a framing square the trueness of the frame. I ask Carlos about this precision. He says that when the frame is finished, “I know it’s going to be straight and well done.” He pauses and adds: “That’s the way I am.”

In the midst of this campaign season’s speeches about the economy and job creation, we should stop and think about the personal meaning of work and whether we are providing enough opportunities for young people to discover that meaning for themselves. This is especially true for the many members of the younger generation who are planning to enter the workforce right out of high school or after attending community college.

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Obama Hard HatIn his January 2014 State of the Union Address and thereafter, President Barack Obama has repeatedly mentioned apprenticeships and vocational education when discussing the jobs crisis.  One might be critical as to why the nation’s first black president would advocate for a policy that has been historically exclusive and harmful to African Americans.  In his autobiography, Malcolm X notes, when telling his middle school English teacher of his aspirations to be a lawyer, the teacher advised him to instead become a carpenter.  To Malcolm, this was in stark contrast to the overwhelmingly affirming advice he gave to less-promising white students.  Malcolm X’s case was not an aberration, but reflected a general trend of structural and systemic discrimination that operated through vocational education programs (where African Americans were tracked into lower-paying jobs) and apprenticeships.  This history involved reifying and reinforcing class divisions along racial lines.  Apprenticeships can be problematic in that often they are awarded to relatives or friends who share the same racial background as the master technician.  As many have noted, white social networks often function to exclude African Americans from potential jobs.

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