By Robert A. Vella
Conservatives on both sides of “The Pond” have been boasting about low unemployment figures in their respective nations. This isn’t surprising since the Tories and Republicans are currently in power, and their rhetoric would instantly change the moment they lost power. Regardless, the official unemployment rates in the U.K. and U.S. stand at about 4% which would normally be extremely good news for these countries and for the governments that lead them.
Unfortunately, these are not normal times and such figures are not indicative of general economic prosperity. The conservative political parties in Britain and America are not receiving the wide public approval they would otherwise enjoy because of a new disturbing disconnect between employment and well-being.
It is already common knowledge that income inequality and the wealth gap between the very rich and everyone else are at record levels. This results in highly stratified societies which in turn generates intense class conflicts where ruling elites stubbornly try to hold their advantage while populist angst desperately rebels against it. Additionally, discontent among the masses can often trigger aggressive nationalism and xenophobic sentiments towards ethnic, racial, and religious minorities who are vulnerable to such misguided scapegoating.
The widening gap between the most affluent and the larger populace is directly attributable to the spread of neoliberal economic policies born from the Austrian school and vigorously implemented during and following the Reagan-Thatcher era (see: Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems). This philosophy stresses greed and the pursuit of self-interest as moral standards, laissez-faire capitalism as superior to democratic governance and national sovereignty, corporate consolidation as a means of social control, systematic privatization of the public sector, the subordination of labor and consumer rights, and the exploitation of productive resources on a global scale. Without question, it was a grandiose scheme to first challenge and then overturn the prevailing social structural mores which emerged after World War II and which had created the greatest expansion of middle class prosperity in the history of humankind. That it succeeded so manifestly is truly astonishing.
Since the 2008 global financial crisis and subsequent Great Recession, a new trend became evident in labor markets adding more stress to workers already suffering from decades of wage stagnation – the shift from full-time employment to part-time jobs having few if any supplementary benefits. From: Unemployment is low only because ‘involuntary’ part-time work is high
Britain just notched up yet another record-breaking low for unemployment, according to the government. Unemployment stayed at just 4%, while the number of people with jobs rose to 32.54 million, or 75.8%, “the highest since comparable estimates began in 1971,” according to the UK’s Office for National Statistics.
But once again, the monthly jobs tally eclipsed how that miracle was achieved. “Headline” unemployment is only at a record low because of a 42% increase in the number of people who are in “involuntary” part-time work.
“Involuntary” means they’re only working part-time because they cannot get a full-time job.
The average part-time employee in Britain works for about 16 hours a week, less than half the 40 hours that are generally considered to constitute “full-time” work, according to the ONS.
So, if “involuntary” part-timers were reclassified as “unemployed” – on the logic that they are unemployed for a majority of their week – then the UK unemployment rate would be 7%, based on a back-of-the-envelope calculation using numbers provided by the ONS. The total number of “unemployed” people would be 2.2 million, not 1.4 million.
This isn’t just a thought experiment.
The labour market in the UK and the US (they’re similar) has structurally changed since the early 2000s in a way that is poorly understood.
Here is the situation in America.
“During early 2018, involuntary part-time work was running nearly a percentage point higher than its level the last time the unemployment rate was 4.1%, in August 2000,” according to Rob Valletta, a vice president in the Economic Research Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. “This represents about 1.4 million additional individuals who are stuck in part-time jobs. These numbers imply that the level of IPT work is about 40% higher than would normally be expected at this point in the economic expansion.”
Mass unemployment – the historic kind, with dole queues, unemployment benefits, and idle workers on street corners – has been replaced by low-paid, part-time, “gig economy” or “zero-hours” contract work.
Although the controversies of Brexit in the U.K. and President Trump in the U.S. are certainly on everyone’s mind these days, consider the underlying economic conditions detailed above as you read this story on public opinion. From: ‘Wrong track’: Public sours on nation’s direction after shutdown
WASHINGTON — After the longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history, six-in-10 Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, and nearly 70 percent of them have negative opinions on the state of the nation today, according to the latest national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
“Wrong track,” “disarray,” “turmoil,” “polarized,” “concerned,” “shambles” and “declining” were some of the answers given by respondents asked to sum up their feelings on the state of America.
“Times are grim,” said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff. “The shutdown is front and center.”
The poll — conducted before a deal was reached Friday to temporarily reopen the government — also finds President Donald Trump continuing to receive poor marks from the public as he begins his third year in office, with a majority disapproving of his job and just a third having confidence in his policies and personal characteristics.
In other news: