US Economy from a Working Class Perspective

Deepankar Basu

Rising continuously for the last 30 months, the official unemployment rate in the US economy crossed over to double-digit territory in October 2009. According to figures released recently by the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, the official unemployment rate in the US was 10.2 percent in October 2009; this is the first time in 26 years that the official unemployment rate has crossed 10 percent in the US. But the official measure is a gross underestimation of the reality of joblessness in the US. A more sensible measure, which takes into account the “discouraged” and part-time workers, stood at 17.5 percent!

The November 6, 2009 Fact Sheet from the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank in the US provides more interesting facts about the US economy, especially relevant for working-class people; below I provide some of the entries from the above fact sheet as a summary of important facts about several neglected dimensions of the US economy:

Historical context
• Current unemployment rate (October 2009): 10.2%
• Current underemployment rate, including people who have been unable to find full-time work and are working either
part time or not at all: 17.5%
• Number of consecutive months of job loss during this recession: 22
• Last time the United States saw 10.2% unemployment: April 1983
• Number of months double-digit unemployment lasted during the 1980s recession: 10
• Peak rate of unemployment during the recession in 2001: 5.5%
• Number of months that passed after the 2001 recession had officially ended before unemployment peaked, at 6.3%: 19

Current recession
• Ratio of job seekers to job openings when the current recession began: 1.7 to 1
• Ratio of job seekers to job openings today: 6.3 to 1
• Total number of jobs lost during the current recession: 8.1 million
• Number of people who have been unemployed for more than six months: 5.6 million
• Jobs needed to return to pre-recession employment levels when population growth is factored in: 10.9 million

Demographic data
• Current unemployment rate for black workers: 15.7%
• Current unemployment rate for Hispanic workers: 13.1%
• Current unemployment rate for white workers: 9.5%
• Current unemployment rate for men: 11.4%
• Current unemployment rate for women: 8.8%
• State with the highest unemployment: Michigan, 15.3%
• State with the lowest unemployment: North Dakota, 4.2%
• State showing the largest portion of job loss during this recession: Arizona, 10%
• Unemployment rate among black workers in Michigan: 23.9%
• Unemployment rate among white workers in Michigan: 13.7%
• Unemployment rate for college-educated workers: 4.7%
• Unemployment rate for workers who did not complete high school: 15.5%

Related economic data
• Number of Americans with no health insurance in 2008: 46.3 million
• Number of Americans projected to have no health insurance by 2010: more than 50 million
• Percent of U.S. population living in poverty in 2008: 13.2%
• Percent of U.S. children living in poverty in 2008: 19%
• Percent of African American children living in poverty in 2008: 34.7%
• Portion of African American children expected to be living in poverty in the coming years, as a result of higher unemployment: more than half

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