by Diane Muste, NYC
The Obama administration wants us to believe that we are headed towards a full economic recovery. How close are we really to recovery? What makes a “recovery” a recovery? A “recovery” for WHOM? The “real” recovery – the one of statistics of rising profit rates and a re-stabilized and lucrative stock market – is being made possible by making this crisis a permanent one for workers.
In the U.S., about 2.6 million workers are no longer looking for jobs and another 40,000 just stopped searching. As the end of 2013 approaches, economists and journalists are beginning to announce once again that the recession will continue in the United States. Moreover: they recognize that this crisis is not only in regards to the rates of growth and unemployment, but that labor and living conditions are dramatically worsening (Wall Street Journal, Nov. 12th, p. A1).
In the so called heart of America, New York City, many workers that have more than one job still don’t have a place to live and have to sleep in the subways (New York Time, Sept. 18th, p. A1). In “The Big Apple”, this situation became worse after Hurricane Sandy. Around 22,000 households that were affected by the Hurricane are still displaced (New York Times, Nov. 4th, 9-11).
Moreover, in the last decade, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute, New York City lost hundreds of thousands of jobs in middle and high wage industries and that this trend includes staff reductions and relocations in legacy (i.e. traditional) industries. Low wage jobs, consequently, increased significantly in the same period (NYC Jobs Blueprint, Nov. 12th, 2013)). The absolute number of unemployed workers looking for jobs also grew, from 50,000 in 2008 to 177,000 in 2012 (The Nation, May 6th, p. 18).
The national horror story of the austerity years of neoliberalism in the 1980s and 1990s was dwarfed by what occurred between 2008 and 2009, when the U.S. entered into a serious economic recession. This was after a financial crisis, and therefore the job market was seriously constrained, pushing millions of workers into a situation of persistent unemployment, precarious jobs, low wages and lack of rights and benefits. One consequence of this labor collapse was an increase, of 15%, in this year alone, in the number of users that applied and qualified for Medicaid – the public health program created in 2001 for very poor or differently-abled (a.k.a disabled) communities.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau official statistics in 2013, 87 million wage and salary workers earned $40,000 or below. This is out of 157 million, the total number of workers in the US according to Census statistics. Another important number is that of 74 million workers. That’s the number of workers that depend on one or more of the public benefits or social programs offered by the government in order to sustain themselves, with 47 million surviving just off of Social Security benefits.
Although some are arguing that we have seen some kind of economic recovery happen since 2008 (marked by a jump in stock prices to record highs), what hasn’t changed is the destructive trend on labor conditions that the American working class has been facing. Approximately 46.5 million people were considered to be in poverty in the United States in 2012 (and the poverty threshold considered for this survey was the very low income of $23,492 for a family of four!). This number represents 15% of the total population and includes 10 million people that are full-time workers!
They want to drag us back to… slavery?
The economic model being used in the United States has not been modified at all since 2008. However, the government, the bosses, and major economists are talking about “a way out of the crisis”, putting all efforts in saving the financial system. As a consequence, we have seen that their rates of profit have somehow recovered. How exactly did they pull this off? And why hasn’t this recovery extended to the working class?
Even in the bourgeois (aka ruling class) analysis, the unemployment and precarious employment figures are understood as one of the most important indicators of the economic crisis. This is because the lack of jobs directly affects the future of the American capitalist growth rate, since everyone knows that the stock market and its virtual “investments” are not going to get the economy out of the recession. The last government shutdown in October only brought this problem into a more dramatic situation, since it approved another cycle of cuts and austerity as a “possible deal” among Democrats and Republicans- although the fact is that they know it’s not going to solve the problem.
However, both parties know from practical experience that social austerity has a limit and feel that time is running out. After all, the 85 billion dollars paid by the Federal Reserve to “save” the national economy will never be enough in a country whose productive forces are being destroyed. Besides insignificant signs of recovery, often identified using highly superficial and questionable measures of economic stability, what we do know is that the working class in U.S has been treated as the government’s most serious enemy for years.
 This concept refers to the combination of the means of labor (tools, machinery, land, infrastructure and so on) with human labour power. More information on the destruction of these forces can be found here as well: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Productive_forces