The national effort for "First Friday" vigils on unemployment was joined by Dallas on May 6th. The first Friday is when the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases bad news and statistics on unemployment. The BLS is part of the Department of Labor, and both are housed in the A. Maceo Smith Federal Building at Griffin & Young downtown. That's where we set our vigil. We leafleted the employees, including BLS employees and at least one statistician during their noon lunch period.
Trish Major, Mavis Belisle, Brad Walker, Anita Thomas, Beth Freed and I participated. A guard from inside the building came out to tell us that leafleting was illegal on federal property, that the sidewalk was federal property, and that we would have to move across the street. We refused and she talked to someone on her two-way radio, but then she left and didn't come back.
The news headline from Associated Press that morning exulted, " How April job growth beat projections by 32 percent" because the BLS statistics had shown an increase in jobs over the past month. What the article didn't mention was that there were even more layoffs than new jobs. The net loss resulted in a .2% increase in the official unemployment rate. It went up to 9%.
A few days earlier, the Economic Policy Institute had accurately predicted a rise in unemployment because the gross domestic product had dropped to an average annual rate of 1.8%, down from 3.1% in the previous quarter. EPI economist Josh Bivens said, “Growth this slow, if sustained for a year, would most definitely lead to a guaranteed rise in the unemployment rate – it’s time for politicians to put jobs back on the top of the issues menu.” The conclusion was, "This rate of growth does little to lower the overall employment rate and shows more government intervention is necessary to make significant progress."
The previous week, news sources revealed that the much-watched statistic of first-time applications for unemployment benefits had spiked up to 474,000 in the first week of May. That's double the new jobs created in April. The trend is toward more unemployment.
Our leaflets used the same BLS statistics that brought such joyful news from the Associated Press to show that the picture for American workers is grim. We used algebra to surmise that if 9% of the total workforce was 13.7 million, then the total workforce must be about 152 million. Then we added up some of the other direct victims of this employment crisis:
Sum of direct victims of unemployment crisis: 24.4 million or 16% of the 152 million. Of course, we are all victims because wages and benefits are being depressed everywhere, but 16% is lot more accurate and a lot alarming than the 9% published by BLS.
In addition, some workers are much harder hit than others:
Other BLS statistics for May 6th indicate trouble behind and ahead of us.
The average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls: 34.3 hours. The average American worker isn't even getting a 40-hour week, much less overtime pay. Productivity rose another 1.6% in the first quarter. In other words, those who still have jobs continue to produce more and more due to speedup, new machinery, and new methods of work. Much as the bosses love automation and steadily increasing productivity, it puts more of us out of work.
As we explained to passersby, the immediate solution is government action such as that taken by the Roosevelt Administration during the 1930s. The long-term solution is a reduction in working hours with no cut in pay. Neither is even being considered.
As our leaflets concluded, "And yet, nothing is being done!"