You can add unemployed now, to that old saying that goes; as American as apple pie, and Chevrolet. For some it’s worse than others. But we all share in the same unfortunate outlook towards the future. In New Mexico the unemployment rate is comparatively low by national standards at 6.6%. However, in Albuquerque the rate is a full percent higher. To examine the present trends is to peel back a further layer of despair. Seasonal hiring is expected to be even thinner this holiday season. In Albuquerque, the employment agency Manpower has reported that they only expect to see a hiring surge of 4%, down from 11% last season. Such high unemployment in our urban areas, and for such an extended period of time, creates an existential force that challenges the very nature of our “Civil Society.”
In New Mexico, the state Unemployment Insurance program struggles to cope with massive demand. The issue of the unemployed has caused a rupture between those who see the program as a deterrent to work, and those who see it as a necessary social accommodation. The arguments has become about fixing “the system” without truly understanding what “the system” that creates unemployment actually is.
The number of weeks an unemployed worker receives benefits is irrelevant. The very fact that the worker is unemployed should be the real issue, and the question shouldn’t be about his or her puny benefit checks or how long they get them, but instead, why aren’t their any jobs?
The answer of course is the worst kept economic secret in the world; that workers are an expendable commodity, and in the eyes of capital, sometimes its necessary to expend them.
Right-wing economic proponents would most likely tell you that when it comes to unemployment benefits, they don’t believe in paying someone for doing nothing. Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich made this assertion in a recent presidential debate. He advocates funding training programs instead, and then requiring the unemployed to participate for their benefits. A rather strange and contradictory position, especially for a free marketer. Don’t the unemployed know how to use their benefits better than the government? And furthermore, why should these people be punished for simply doing their part? After all, they worked for the good of the system, and now they don’t work for the good of the system. How is it that the workers became the problem? Isn’t it the system itself that needs reforming?
In order to fix the unemployment problems in Albuquerque and across the nation, the task shouldn’t be to reform the unemployment system, but the employment system instead. Such inequality is tied to the problems facing the unemployed. For decades, low wages and high productivity have essentially subsidized the growing income gap between rich and poor. Now, high unemployment and even higher productivity continue to subsidize that gap. The fact that wages have stagnated since the early 1970’s is indisputable. The fact that the income gap between those at the top and the rest of society has widened greatly is also indisputable. Those pulling the economic strings have a choice to make. They can either reform this system, and make the necessary adjustment to capitalism that its modern founder Adam Smith wrote about in his overlooked Treatise, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, or they can continue to blame and punish the unemployed, and reap the eventual whirlwind that such inhuman and unenlightened polices will bring.