That “Encouraging” Unemployment Rate.

Just a reminder: The unemployment rate that gets all the press isn’t a true measure of unemployment. It does not include people who want to work but have stopped looking. These people are referred to as “discouraged.” Well. Sure. The employment rate our governmental leaders are describing as “encouraging” is 9.7%, or just under 16 million people. This is an “improvement” of ten percent compared to December’s,and is considered surprising since companies tend to shed the holiday seasonal workers in January; instead, temporary workers and service workers increased. The average hourly wage is $18.89 per hour, which is $39,291.20, gross, per year. 41.2% of the 9.7% unemployed have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer. That is 6.3 million people out of work for 27 weeks or longer. See the data and the trends for the current 9.7% at the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ informative site.

661,000 workers opted out of the labor force during December, probably not because Cabo called. Approximately 1.7 million workers dropped out between July 2009 and December 2009. The participation rate, or the share of the population in the labor force, fell to 64.6 percent in December, the lowest level since 1985, from 64.9 percent. For African Americans, the feel unemployment rate is 16.5%. The so-called underemployment rate — which includes part- time workers who would prefer a full-time position and those people who want work but have given up looking — rose to 17.3% in December from 17.2%. See Bloomberg for more.

Such a waste of talent and productivity. It’s true more people are volunteering at schools, non-profits, and courts. Some are volunteering (euphemistically called “interning”) in jobs companies used to pay people to do. But why bother, when there a so many people wanting to be productive, desperate to keep skills fresh, or thinking a change of profession is the answer? When will state and federal employment divisions finally decide those “volunteers” and “interns” are employees in fact, for whom companies enjoying the free labor owe employment tax, plus the 100% penalty for not paying timely. It should happen, but it probably won’t until the states have exhausted every other source of revenue to close their budget gaps.

Some would say that jobs should not be artificially created, which is what socialist societies do to give their citizens a reason to leave the house in the morning and put money earned in their wallets to spend or save. Maybe.

The Times said Congress will be voting on a jobs bill next week, though whatever this legislation might be did not have many details, according to the Times. Swell.

I can’t help thinking that if we had a higher calibre of elected public servants at all levels of government we might have a more strategic framework from which to address the systemic problems tormenting us. People involved in campaign finance reform describe it as the reform that makes all other reforms possible. Maybe. It is certainly a step forward. Not much use in the short term except as another worthwhile deployment of all that unemployed talent, should that talent choose to volunteer to promote campaign finance reform. It is something constructive and productive. For all of us, as elections near, it is a concept worth investigating and debating.

Here in California, we will be voting to accept Proposition 15, the California Fair Elections Act, already passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor. The California League of Women Voters is a sponsor. Consider attending a public forum for the Proposition 15 on February 21, at the Main branch of the San Francisco Library, 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. It is something constructive and productive to do. LLII.

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