The unemployment rate has drastically dropped this year, with some of the lowest rates since the 1960s, according to news sources. The black unemployment is also at record lows. This is great news, right?
While having a low unemployment rate is not a bad thing, it is important to remember unemployment rates are not good indicators of job growth, job stability, or how good the jobs Americans are working actually are.
Let’s look at how the unemployment rate is calculated. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “People are considered employed if they did any work at all for pay or profit during the survey reference week. This includes all part-time and temporary work, as well as regular full-time, year-round employment. Individuals also are counted as employed if they have a job at which they did not work during the survey week, whether they were paid or not,” if they didn’t work because of illness, childcare issues, vacation, parental leave, bad weather, or being involved in a labor dispute. People are considered to be unemployed if “if they do not have a job, have actively looked for work in the prior 4 weeks, and are currently available for work.”
Since, according to BLS, people are considered employed if they did “any work at all for pay or profit,” the low unemployment rate that is being touted by the Trump administration and the mainstream media does not actually account for the many people who are employed, but who are also underemployed, making less than they need to actually survive, or they get no benefits through their employment. In addition, freelance and “gig” workers (think Uber/Lyft drivers, TaskRabbits, etc.) account for almost one-fifth of the U.S. workforce but are not generally eligible for unemployment insurance, even though they are likely to need it the most. The unemployment rate also fails to factor in those who need to work more than one job to survive and those who are unemployed but not looking because they have become so exasperated about not finding work that they have given up hope and stopped looking.
Even more troubling is the trend of wage stagnation that widens the economic inequality gap. The wage stagnation is not a Democrat or Republican problem; it has existed over the past couple of decades. Unfortunately, however, it’s getting worse. Corporations and their executives are profiting at the expense of workers. This is clear when you have situations like Toys R Us executives getting millions in bonuses right before the company declares bankruptcy, leaving thousands of workers without jobs. Or, Disney making billions in profits while most of its employees don’t earn enough to pay for basic necessities like food and rent, and many have experienced homelessness.
While it’s good that more people are employed, we have to do better. Instead of alienating our country’s closest allies at the expense of American workers, we need to rebuild American industry. We need to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour and tie it to inflation to make sure that the trend of wage stagnation not only stops, but doesn’t happen again. We need to consider benefits such as Pre-K education, Medicare for All and expanding American Unions.
Economic success isn’t measured by a robust stock market or faulty unemployment numbers, it’s measured by the wealth of American families. Today, American families are saddled with student loan debt. Many work two or more jobs to keep food on the table and for others health insurance is a pipe dream.
When three individuals own as much wealth as 50% of the country, we know there’s an issue. It’s time to hold corporations and Congress accountable. To do all of this, we need to elect a Brand New Congress that is willing to put people over profits and ensure that every family has a shot at the American Dream.
By Bobbie Todd, BNC Writing Team Lead