Saturday, June 25, 2011

One Reason For The Jobless Recovery

(Click on graph to enlarge)

Now, here's something guaranteed to raise your blood pressure. I know it ruined my day. It's an article from Mother Jones which explains one of the reasons why the unemployment figures in this country are still so high.

Webster's defines speedup as "an employer's demand for accelerated output without increased pay," and it used to be a household word. Bosses would speed up the line to fill a big order, to goose profits, or to punish a restive workforce. Workers recognized it, unions (remember those?) watched for and negotiated over it—and, if necessary, walked out over it.

But now we no longer even acknowledge it—not in blue-collar work, not in white-collar or pink-collar work, not in economics texts, and certainly not in the media (except when journalists gripe about the staff-compacted-job-expanded newsroom). Now the word we use is "productivity," a term insidious in both its usage and creep. The not-so-subtle implication is always: Don't you want to be a productive member of society? Pundits across the political spectrum revel in the fact that US productivity (a.k.a. economic output per hour worked) consistently leads the world. Yes, year after year, Americans wring even more value out of each minute on the job than we did the year before. U-S-A! U-S-A! ...

...increasingly, US workers are also falling prey to what we'll call offloading: cutting jobs and dumping the work onto the remaining staff. Consider a recent Wall Street Journal story about "superjobs," a nifty euphemism for employees doing more than one job's worth of work—more than half of all workers surveyed said their jobs had expanded, usually without a raise or bonus.

In all the chatter about our "jobless recovery," how often does someone explain the simple feat by which this is actually accomplished? US productivity increased twice as fast in 2009 as it had in 2008, and twice as fast again in 2010: workforce down, output up, and voilá! No wonder corporate profits are up 22 percent since 2007, according to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute. To repeat: Up. Twenty-two. Percent.
[Emphasis added]

That's right, kiddies: each employee is doing the work of 1.25 or 1.50 workers without any increase in pay or benefits. The great speedup has saved companies lots and lots of money, money which gets distributed to the shareholders and the top tier of management. That's what the chart at the top of the post confirms. Why hire more people to do the jobs that need doing when you can frighten the current workers into taking on the additional load lest they their jobs at a time when there just aren't that many jobs available.

Go read the entire article to see the effect this is having on the employed at the production level. Check out the charts provided and linked to. Then take a deep breath so we can figure out what to do about it.



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