United States Has 50 Million Unemployed—For How Long?

May 12, 2020
Unemployed men queued outside a depression soup kitchen opened in Chicago by Al Capone. February, 1931 (US National Archives)
Unemployed men queued outside a depression soup kitchen opened in Chicago by Al Capone. February, 1931 (US National Archives)

The guesstimate of unemployment in America made by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka May 8—“It could be 50 million”—was confirmed as true by the Labor Department’s monthly employment report from April, released that day. Many of these Americans will remain out of work for a long time unless Federal credit is directed to allow real demand for what’s needed to save human life in a worldwide crisis to replace lost demand for cars, nights out and hotel stays.

The global total of workers now experiencing or immediately threatened with unemployment is an incredible 1.6 billion, according to a report issued April 29 by the International Labor Organization. Pandemic disease and death; famine in countries now plagued by locusts and/or cut off by broken agricultural supply chains; and unemployment on a scale never seen. The global crisis is so dire that only a directed mobilization of physical economic and scientific capacities, stretched and directed to their utmost, makes any human sense. Only a collaborative combination of the most advanced scientific and technological powers—United States, China, Russia, India, with others such as Japan and Germany—has any hope of being able to create the new credit necessary, and direct that credit productively. The creation of a new world health and hospital system tops the bill.

In the United States, the early lightning-speed Federal Reserve intervention to save securities markets and large financial firms has made no difference economically. The following “relief” trillions have likewise not stopped physical economic rolling shutdown. Now, debate over cancelling payroll tax is downright foolish. Because the 50 million actual U.S. unemployed and underemployed include 4-5 million goods-producing workers who were fully employed two months ago, mobilization of new human productivity here is critically important, and must start immediately.

The Labor Department’s May report showed that as of surveys of employers and households completed by April 16, there were 36.2 million real unemployed including the recently discouraged job-seekers and those forced into part-time work—an unemployment rate of 22.4%. In the three weeks following those surveys, to May 6, some 11.5 million additional Americans filed first-time claims for unemployment insurance benefits, raising real unemployment to 47-48 million. And beyond that, the number of Americans who ceased looking for work more than one year ago—and are thus no longer counted in the labor force—rose from 3.6 million to 5 million during the month through April 13. Real unemployment/underemployment as of early May was 50 million, an unprecedented 30% of the labor force. The ratio of employed (including part-time employed) to the total American population dropped to 51%, fully 10% lower than a year earlier and the lowest ever seen.

The Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that construction and mining decreased by 1,025,000 jobs in a month and manufacturing decreased by 1,330,000 jobs as shown in those three-week-old surveys. A lot of those jobs—as well as others like them which went to part-time—are or were in the oil-drilling sector, auto and auto parts and systems production, and commercial and residential construction. Any assumption that this employment is now going to “spring back” is belied by the huge plunges which have occurred in demand for oil, for new and used motor vehicles, and for home permits and mortgages as well as commercial space.

Without the physical-economic mobilization to save lives worldwide which the Schiller Institute is presenting—such as in the call “LaRouche’s ‘Apollo Mission’ To Defeat the Global Pandemic: Build a World Health System Now!”—large numbers of these layoffs will become permanent. The young generation now entering the labor force can then look forward to even lower average income over their working lives, than their parents’ and grandparents’ falling-wage generations. And millions of households had been shown in surveys before the pandemic, not to have even “$400 saved to meet an emergency” which has come.

Consider: At that survey ending point April 16, when compared to their employment peaks within the last five years alone:

• 20,000 scientists were unemployed, only about 3% of the total. But that total is only 0.5% of the labor force, compared to 1.5% in 1960. A real productivity revolution requires 3-5% of the labor force in scientific R&D, as during World War II.

• About 2,750,000 goods-producing workers were unemployed, or 13% of the total. But that total, including agricultural workers, is just 15% of the labor force, whereas it was 35% in 1960. And the unemployment of goods-producing workers now, as of May 8, is likely about 4 million (18%). This would include 350,000 oil drilling workers and miners; 2 million manufacturing workers; 1.3 million construction workers including 140,000 unemployed civil and construction engineers; 200,000 transit and ground transport workers; 135,000 truck drivers; 10,000 utility workers.

Incredibly, at least 500,000 doctors, nurses, and other health workers are unemployed; and 500,000 educators and teachers.

A mobilization like that for World War II, but this time to save lives and improve them, is the only human path.