The Reality of the Daily Grind
After two weeks of Brexit-inspired waffling, the stock market shot up near its all-time historic high at the end of the first week of July.
Reported Fortune magazine: “Investors cheered the jobs report showing that the U.S. added 287,000 jobs in June, exceeding economists’ expectations by more than 100,000 jobs.”
Almost lost in the cheering was a quieter, yet equally significant number. Namely, the U.S. Labor Department’s report that the unemployment rate increased (from 4.7 to 4.9 percent) because more people entered the workforce.
Thus, my suspicion—a view shared by others with far more knowledge of economics and statistics—that unemployment data and other leading economic indicators fail to yield a true picture of American life.
After all, just a month earlier, the number of people added to the part-time workforce rose by 550,000. CNN said that the six million people now working part-time is the highest ever. They would love to work full-time, but can’t find that kind of job.
“Some experts believe America now has a ‘new normal’—a permanently high number of part-timers,” wrote CNN’s Patrick Gillespie. “Experts call these jobs ‘hidden unemployment’ because these people are capable of working more hours than they can get.”
Scraping to Get By
I have a theory: If a factory, auto plant or other manufacturer opened a facility in any city and advertised 500 job openings, there would be 5,000 people line for applications.
I say that because of my knowledge of people who are scraping just to pay the bills and hoping no unexpected financial crisis arises.
Take the friend who I used to have lunch with periodically but lately has been too busy to get together. He mentioned working a second job, but until we finally connected recently in person I didn’t know the full story.
The contracting he had been doing that provided the equivalent of a fulltime job had tailed off in late winter and never rebounded. So he had taken a second part-time gig with another company in a related industry—and was about to start a third.
Despite holding a college degree, another friend has been working at a sandwich shop for a year. He took the position in desperation after two years without work, save for some self-generated seasonal labor subject to weather fluctuations.
A Realistic View
Then there’s the guy I know who’s on a temporary lay-off from the place where he’s worked for a decade. He’s working 60 to 70 hours a week at two part-time jobs. He had hoped to land 40 hours a week at one place, but the manager couldn’t free up enough hours in his budget to offer more.
This all echoes what I heard on a radio talk show recently. The host mentioned the vast number of Americans living in quiet desperation. Because they don’t publicly discuss their economic difficulties or how one major medical bill could send them into bankruptcy, many people aren’t aware of how bad it really is out there, he said.
As much as anything, I believe that accounts for the groundswell of support for Bernie Sanders before he bowed out of the Democratic presidential race, and the ascendancy of Donald Trump on the Republican side.
Like them or not, I think many voters believed these two were at least aware of the realities faced by millions.