[Marxism] Behind the "drop" in unemployment

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Dec 7 09:41:35 MST 2013

NY Times December 6, 2013, 9:53 am
Wanted: More Unemployment

It is bad news for the American economy that the unemployment rate fell 
in November. Yes, you read that correctly: We need higher unemployment.

As I’ve noted repeatedly in recent months, the unemployment rate is an 
odd measuring stick for the health of the labor market. It basically 
tells us how many people are looking for work. It falls when people get 
jobs, which is good. But it also falls when people stop looking for 
work, which of course is not so good.

In recent years a lot of people have given up on looking for work. As a 
result, the unemployment rate has gradually declined from 10 percent to 
7 percent even as the share of American adults who are working has 
remained basically steady.

It’s easier to see the trends if you skip over the government’s wacky 
data for the month of October, and compare November with September. The 
number of people that the government counted as unemployed fell by 
348,000, driving the unemployment rate from 7.2 percent to 7.0 percent. 
But the number of people with jobs only increased by 83,000. In other 
words, for every person who found a job between September and November, 
three other people stopped looking.

Explanations for this problem fall into two categories, both depressing.

The first school holds that the economy is broken: We have entered an 
era of “secular stagnation.” We must resign ourselves to a smaller work 

The second school holds that the government is broken. There are steps 
we could take to grow faster but, for the most part, we are doing the 

This sounds more promising, but some subscribers to the second school 
add an important caveat. They warn that as time passes, problems that 
could have been fixed calcify into enduring realities. People who might 
have returned to the work force fall back on disability benefits, or 
simply begin to lose necessary skills.

One of the most striking examples of this phenomenon is a 2008 Swedish 
study that found unemployed people experienced a gradual deterioration 
in literacy.

So these explanations may, in time, converge. The economy will have 
suffered permanent damage. But there will at least be the comfort of 
knowing the unemployment rate, once again, is an accurate measure of 
what’s possible.

More information about the Marxism mailing list