Tuesday, December 6, 2011

An update, sort of

How many people are actually unemployed in the United States? I got another partial answer -- the estimated number of "discouraged workers." Those are the folks who have been unemployed long enough or had such disheartening experiences while job hunting that they've given up. Apparently it comes close to being a one-for-one match. That is, for every person who is officially unemployed, there's another person who's a discouraged worker and no longer counts. Which is, I guess, another way of saying that if the official unemployment rate for persons who would fall within the parameters of the labor force (ages 15 through 64) is about 9%, the actual is more like 18%. Maybe.

Whatever the real numbers are, it does raise an interesting question: just how the fuck are people surviving? I heard a bizarre story on NPR this morning touting the underground economy, the informal economy, which the supposed expert was quick to note does not necessarily entail illegal activity (e.g., drug dealing), but I find it hard to believe many people can manage to survive for very long by holding endless yard sales, scrounging for scrap metal, or doing unlicensed daycare in their homes.


  1. I have seen other numbers from credible sources that back up your 18% estimate and even raise it to 21% counting partially employed looking for full time work and so forth. The economy is in serious trouble for ordinary folks but has "recovered" if it ever was a problem for the "1%".
    Italy's economy has a high percentage of "underground" to avoid taxes. Much of this is legitimate business. Ukraine, too, has a large underground economy just so folks can make a living. Employers pay employees minimum wage on the books and then top up the envelope with cash to avoid punitive employment taxes which must be higher than the income taxes they pay. Crazy world.

  2. How are people surviving? 1) Scrounging for meals at food banks and soup kitchens and in dumpsters behind restaurants and grocery stores, 2) Food stamps (only applies to women, children, and families though -- if you're a single man, don't bother applying, you're eligible for only one month of food stamps per year, thanks to legislative discrimination against single males that also means we aren't eligible for Medicaid), 3) Odd jobs, day jobs, collecting aluminum cans, and outright panhandling, 4) Shacking up with relatives (the number of households with multiple families living in them has skyrocketed), 5) or they don't -- look in the death notices for those who die of "natural causes". Hey, starvation and exposure are "natural", aren't they?

    All of these safety nets are rather frayed at the moment, so there's some really intense misery out there. No widespread starvation -- yet -- but that could happen if the soup kitchen / food pantry network completely collapses as is threatening to happen right now due to the ongoing recession sapping donations to them, and if that happens... oh boy. People do not willingly starve to death. Bad Things will happen at that point. Bad Things which Republicans apparently don't have any problem with, since they seem to be doing everything in their power to make sure that widespread starvation comes to America....

    - Badtux the Desperation-smellin' Penguin

  3. Bad Tux, I've noticed that doubling (hell, tripling and quadrupling) of households happening for quite awhile. In the apartment complex where we lived in Atlanta, the S.O. and I were among the lucky few where the household was more or less traditional -- one family (just the two of us) in a one bedroom unit. The annual food drive is on here -- the TV6 canathon. A local television station began it back in the 1980s as a supposed one-time thing, and it's became an annual event -- and every year the need is greater, more people going to food banks for help. Like the James McMurty song says, We can't make it here anymore.

    As for desperate people doing desperate things, Detroit (and for all I know, other areas) is already experiencing that: groups of people will go into a supermarket, fill a cart, and make a dash for the parking lot. When people start stealing food that openly, you know we're close to tipping totally over into the abyss where people will be shooting each other over who gets the last box of government cheese.

  4. Nan,
    There is work available. There was a man with a sign this week begging for money right across from a new to open I-Hop with a big HIRING sign! He was also smoking. A pack of cigarettes over the counter in Indianapolis runs between $4 and $5 depending on the brand. So, going with just a $4 a day habit equals $120 a month.
    My nephew doesn't work - Does part time shit and odd jobs and lives with people who get food stamps and visit food banks.
    A classic example of this was during a past summer when a man drove a bus from Sullivan county - a 2.5 hr drive to Indianpolis, and arrived early at a homeless shelter. He needed people to pick his melons. The man offered $10 an hour in cash, lunch on site, and a stop at the Golden Corral for supper and got not a single one to go with him.

    I knew a lawn care telemarketer that went for months without a job when fucking with people over the phone became illegal. I told him to redefine himself. He struggled with that and finally went to work for Home DEpot - He manages their
    lawn care operation.

    I changed jobs after retiring from the Air Force faster than some people change skivies! You go and you do. And, if $9 and hour seems a huge step down from your $15 - You are competing with Pedro for that job. Suck it up!


  5. I'd be inclined to argue that picking melons and doing occasional yard work falls into the scrounging category. As for the panhandlers, I always thought the ones in Atlanta worked damn hard for whatever they managed to collect: there were regulars at the intersections near the off/on ramps for I-85 near where we lived, and those guys would be out there first thing in the morning, no matter what the weather, putting in some long hours, risking life and limb, and inhaling exhaust fumes. I've done stoop labor, I've worked as a hotel maid, but there's no way in hell I'd have the nerve (nor can I visualize being desperate enough) to stand in that traffic with a cup and a cardboard sign.

  6. How are people surviving? It seems to me that a lot of people are moving in with their parents or grandparents, or taking several roommates. And quite a few seem to be couch-surfing. That is, they bounce from one friend's place to another -- sleeping on their couches until they have to move on to another friend.


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