Every language on the planet today, but especially those spoken in the modern world, has a term to describe one of the most frightful conditions known to modern man. In the United States, we simply apply a negative prefix to describe it: “un-employment.” In Great Britain, out-of-work people are compared to superfluous things, like a collection of old shoes. They are, in “Oxford English,” called “redundant.”
Whatever term we apply to this particular malady, its use is becoming more common. According to an International Monetary Fund study, cited recently in the International Herald Tribune, “hundreds of millions” of people around the planet are unemployed. In the 33 nation O.E.C.D. (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development) states, average long-term unemployment is stuck at 24 percent. Youth unemployment in the same fairs little better at 18.8- percent. Translated into raw numbers, this means that somewhere around 210 million people around the globe are “on the dole.” In our nation, according to a recent report on the BBC, 14 -percent of Americans now qualify officially as poor.
Winston Churchill once said that we should never trust statistics unless we fake them ourselves. The math surrounding unemployment is always a considerable distance from the reality. Many people have given up on finding work and aren’t included in the numbers. Governments also “fudge” the statistics to avoid the ire of their citizens. And it must also be said that unemployment, as a phenomenon of the modern age, is just a hair’s breadth worse than underemployment, itself the outgrowth of the much-touted “new economy.” Millions and millions of people around the world are working in the retail and food services industry just to piece together a semblance of a living. Often “moonlighting” in several minimum wage positions to make ends meet, they enjoy no healthcare, vacation, or any of the other basic rights, dangled before their noses as “benefits,” that man struggled for so long to gain. If these people—the underemployed who are not earning a “living wage”—are added to the number of unemployed, we are looking at least a billion humans without work or trapped in the “involuntary servitude” of “McJobs.”
In November, Americans will go to the polls, many hell-bent on punishing the Democrats and President Obama for failing to “create jobs.” If Democrats would only give more breaks to the rich, so the argument runs, these generous folks would risk their necks by “trickling down” their spare change to create even more low-paying jobs.
But the simple fact is that no amount of democratic or republican tinkering can overcome the forces that drive the world’s economy today. Assisted by technology, companies now can earn the same amount of profits as before, if not more, with considerably fewer employees. If they need human hands and backs, well there’s always China or some other poor nation. Eager to keep their jobs, employees are willing to work at a break-neck pace and bear any hardship or indignity to fend off competitors who vie for their livelihoods. Industry is also waning in America. Today, only about 1/3 of our GNP (gross national product) comes from industry. The remaining 2/3 comes from the traditionally poor-paying service and retail industry. It is little wonder that we can’t pay for our homes and our credit cards are maxed out.
The prognosis concerning “long-term persistent unemployment” is bleak. Just to keep up with population growth, “440 million jobs would need to be created in the next 10 years” (Int. Herald Tribune).
So before you join a Tea Party and run off to punish the president in November for not organizing a better job for you, bear in mind that America, like all nations today, is caught in a global economic slump that we may well have to get used to for generations to come. Some estimate that as many as one-third of work-aged people might eventually throw up their hands and surrender to permanent unemployment. No politician today, republican or democrat, can solve the prisoner’s dilemma of massive unemployment caused by increasing technology and a work landscape that primarily values single people between 20 and 45. Some things, such as tweaking tax laws and investing in job creation schemes, may make small dents in the overall problem.
But in the long term, it’s unlikely that the industrialized economies can create nearly half-a-billion jobs over the next decade, especially jobs that provide people with a dignified living. But there is one bright side to all this: The number of people claiming to be “self-employed” has skyrocketed. Perhaps we will learn to fend for ourselves again, the way we once did, the way we should. Necessity, the old saying goes, is the mother of invention.