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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

True Unemployment: 20% and Still Rising
Send Geithner Home to Wall Street!
His Legacy: 30+ MM Underemployed, Failed Stimulus, No Bank Reform, Soaring Deficits, Sinking $$
James S. Henry

Reservearmyjsh112009 Geithner2 With official US unemployment now at 10.2 percent,  the third highest among the 29 OECD countries,  and unofficial unemployment at least two times  higher, more than 30 million American workers and their families are now being forcefully reminded  every day that "the reserve army of the unemployed" is not just pure Marxist rhetoric.  

While China and most developing countries are already recovering nicely from this First World-made debt crisis, all indications are that US unemployment is still rising, and that we will soon see a new postwar record -- -- two years after the "Great Recession," the longest and deepest since the 1930s,  began in December 2007. 

UNEMPLOYMENT:  GET REAL

To get the real unemployment picture, we need to adjust the official statistics upwards. First, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics' own data shows, the "official" rate leaves out many workers who are (a) underemployed, working only part time when they'd prefer full time jobs (9.3 million now); (b) fully unemployed,  and desirous of jobs, but not counted in the official statistics because they've given up look (2.3 to 5.6 million). Allowing for these two adjustments already boosts "underemployment" to the 17.5% figure cited in some recent press reports.

But even that figure is too low.  First,  it omits the country's 20 million "self-employed" (incorporated and unincorporated), a growing share of the labor force. All  are counted as "employed" in the official statistics, no matter how underutilized they are. Yet other surveys report that this group is also experiencing serious underemployment.

Furthermore, the official statistics also leave out  about 1.6 million who are now serving in the military, plus the record 2.33 million  US prison inmate population. Both populations are heavily young, male,  and undereducated, and would therefore experience relatively high unemployment. This is especially important for the sake of historical comparability  -- say, for comparisons with the 1930s, when the US military  and the prison populations were both tiny. 

In addition, of course, when the Great Recession started there were at least 8 to 10 million undocumented workers in the US, none of whom appear in the official statistics. Whatever we think of illegal immigration, the fact is that most of these workers have not been able to return to their homelands, and are still here, quietly suffering through this recession. Indeed, to the extent that they are unable to draw on unemployment benefits and other social programs to cushion the blow, they are being forced to compete with the rest of us more fiercely than ever.

All told, therefore, as shown in the adjacent chart (click to pop up), this makes the "real" US unemployment in October 2009 at least 20 percent or more -- twice the official rate.

TO WHOM DO WE TURN?

One might have expected this historic jobs crisis to have provoked a quick, decisive response from Washington  Unfortunately, American workers have also recently been reminded that, disturbingly, the Democratic Party can simply no longer be counted Picture-141on to put labor's interests ahead of capital's. 

This was evident to some of us when Obama's first stimulus package was being designed -- given that it was loaded up with so many Christmas goodies for special interests and so many regressive tax cuts. 

But by now it should be clear to anyone but the most bullet-headed diehard party ideologues.

Whatever else Obama's February 2009 stimulus package has accomplished, it simply hasn't created nearly enough new jobs, fast enough.

Codepinkfiregeithner-1 Nor has it provided nearly enough aid to debt-ridden homeowners --  as the continued record-setting pace of home foreclosures and bankruptcies testifies.

These basic policy shortcomings are not due to some Herbert Hoover or Ronald Reagan.  While Obama obviously inherited a mess, by now enough time has passed that his administration has become responsible for  its continuation.

How high does unemployment have to go for the Obama Administration to actually  want to do something more about it?

When FDR took office in March 1933, unemployment stood at nearly 25 percent of the labor force, and heFigure5.4 immediately took decisive action to make sure that unemployment was reduced, by establishing targeted federal job creation programs, attacking anti-competitive practices by large banks and corporations, and making sure debt relief got through to small businesses, farmers, and homeowners. 

What is it about the character of the Obama Administration that has made its response so different?

THE FIFTH COLUMN

As we've argued for some time (See "The Pseudo Stimulus," The Nation, February 3, 2009, and "Too Big Not to Fail," The Nation, February 23, 2009),  one basic problem seems to be that Obama's Administration, unlike FDR's, has been overly dependent from the get-go on pro-Wall Street insider/ fifth columnists, captained by the Supreme "Jimmy Do-little"/  Andrew Mellon of the period,  Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. 

Not only has Geithner  been far too slow to recognize that the first stimulus was woefully inadequate.

Unemployment-line-nyc-depression Time and again, he and his x Goldman groupies at Treasury have also piled out of the Trojan horse to defend traditional Wall Street prerogatives. They have:

  • ☛Opposed serious restrictions on executive compensation and perks for senior bank staff that are unrelated to performance;
  • ☛Opposed  clawbacks or windfall profits taxes on the hundreds of millions in stock options  granted by bailed-out banks last spring;
☛Opposed serious debt relief for homeowners, and failed to strengthen the loan modification program introduced last spring, even after it had clearly failed;

☛Failed to fight hard for "cram-down" legislation that would have required banks to accelerate loan Unemployment-1modifications;

☛Opposed   the establishment of a new independent consumer protection agency for financial products; 

☛Opposed forcing banks that have accepted US aid to accelerate lending to small business and homeowners;

☛Opposed proposals for a "Tobin tax" on financial transactions, as suggested by the UK and France, as a way of financing climate change aid;

☛Opposed G20 proposals to clean up a wide variety of tax haven abuses by major bank and companies around the globe;

☛Failed to achieve any serious reforms whatsoever  of financial regulation, more than a year after the crisis;

☛Failed to get anywhere with the vaunted "toxic asset buyback" program;

☛Insisted that any reforms leave the ultimate regulatory authority in the hands of the US Federal Reserve  -- an anti-democratic, pro-Wall Street institution if ever there was one, whose policy errors  have contributed significantly to this costly crisis. 

LOSE THE BOZO

Of course at this stage, with US budget deficits at a postwar high, and controversial measures like health care reform, climate change, Afghanistan, and immigration still in stuck in traffic, plus a mid-term Congressional election fast approaching,  it may well be too late for the Obama Administration to propose a second stimulus. If this were going to happen, it  would have needed Treasury and White House leadership already. 

Geitherobama1 It is not too late, however, for Obama to send a signal that he actually holds his own senior executives accountable.

Secretary Geithner, I'm told, already has multiple job offers from at least a half a dozen leading banks and hedge funds, so he will only profit from this exit  -- which he probably anticipated all along. 

By clearing the decks and bringing in a fresh team with some new, more progressive ideas,  more daring-do, and independence, this could  help prevent Obama from repeating Jimmy Carter's sad, rapid one-term involution. 

In any case, when the history of the Obama Administration is written, it is worth remembering that at least a few progressives warned about all this very early  --  the risks of adopting a "pseudo-stimulus," failing to aid small debtors and businesses, and failing to exert strong control over the banks.

Ultimately, that may be one of the biggest costs of this crisis --  the lost opportunity to show that Democrats really are still capable of providing the country with outstanding, disinterested economic leadership in times of crisis. 

(c) SubmergingMarkets, 2009

November 10, 2009 at 01:35 AM | Permalink

Comments

Of course the Wall Street Journal is taking this as evidence that Keynes was wrong and that stimulus doesn't work. Apparently we are supposed to wait for the "creative destruction" to work its magic, after which we will enjoy a new period of prolonged prosperity. Didn't Herbert Hoover try this?

Posted by: Christopher Herot at Nov 11, 2009 5:45:14 PM

Yeah. Herbert Hoover and a lot of other folks before him. Not a new movie. There have been about 25 similar banking crises since 1800. The US spent the 1870s and the 1890s, and much of the 1930s waiting for the system to self-correct. EVentually it did -- well, with a lot of help from WWII. The real problem now is, there is no union movement and no left wing threat. So there's no incentive for the gov. to help labor and homeowners. So we're about to see at least another year of high unemployment....

Good time to continue shorting the dollar and investing in foreign bonds that are dollar denominated.....Brazil has some, I believe.

Posted by: Submerging Markets at Nov 11, 2009 9:09:49 PM

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