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Panic1837

An 1837 political cartoon about unemployment in the United States.

Unemployment rate world from CIA figures

CIA figures for world unemployment rates, 2006

This is a background article. See psychology of unemployment for more detail of psychological issues involved.

Unemployment is the condition of not having a job, often referred to as being "out of work", or unemployed. Not having a job when a person needs one, makes it difficult if not impossible to meet financial obligations such as purchasing food to feed oneself and one's family, and paying one's bills; failure to make mortgage payments or to pay rent may lead to homelessness through foreclosure or eviction. Being unemployed, and the financial difficulties and loss of health insurance benefits that come with it, may cause malnutrition and illness, and are major sources of mental stress and loss of self-esteem which may lead to depression, which may have a further negative impact on health.

In economics, unemployment refers to the condition and extent of joblessness within an economy, and is measured in terms of the unemployment rate, which is the number of unemployed workers divided by the total civilian labor force.

The terms unemployment and unemployed are sometimes used to refer to other inputs to production that are not being fully used — for example, unemployed capital goods.

The history of unemployment is the history of industrialization. It was not considered an issue in rural areas, despite the "disguised unemployment" of rural laborers having little to do, especially in conditions of overpopulation.

Impact on society and the economy

Us unemployment rates 1950 2005

Unemployment rate (as a percentage of the labor force) in the United States. Data source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Individual costs

Lacking a job often means lacking social contact with fellow employees, a purpose for many hours of the day, lack of self-esteem, mental stress and illness, and of course, the inability to pay bills and to purchase both necessities and luxuries. The latter is especially serious for those with family obligations, debts, and/or medical costs, where the availability of health insurance is often linked to holding a job. Dr. M. Harvey Brenner and others have shown that rising unemployment increases the crime rate, the suicide rate, and causes a decline in healthiness.[1] However, during the Great Depression, when unemployment rates exceeded 20% in many countries, the crime rate did not increase.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Because unemployment insurance in the U.S. typically does not even replace 50% of the income one received on the job (and one cannot receive it forever), the unemployed often end up tapping welfare programs such as Food Stamps — or accumulating debt, both formal debt to banks and informal debt to friends and relatives. Higher government transfer payments in the form of welfare and food stamps decrease spending on productive economic goods, decreasing GDP.

Some hold that many of the low-income jobs aren't really a better option than unemployment with a welfare state (with its unemployment insurance benefits). But since it is difficult or impossible to get unemployment insurance benefits without having worked in the past, these jobs and unemployment are more complementary than they are substitutes. (These jobs are often held short-term, either by students or by those trying to gain experience; turnover in most low-paying jobs is high, in excess of 30%/year.[How to reference and link to summary or text]) Unemployment insurance keeps an available supply of workers for the low-paying jobs, while the employers' choice of management techniques (low wages and benefits, few chances for advancement) is made with the existence of unemployment insurance in mind. This combination promotes the existence of one kind of unemployment, frictional unemployment.

Another cost for the unemployed is that the combination of unemployment, lack of financial resources, and social responsibilities may push unemployed workers to take jobs that do not fit their skills or allow them to use their talents. That is, unemployment can cause underemployment (definition 1). This is one of the economic arguments in favor of having unemployment insurance.

This feared cost of job loss can spur psychological anxiety, weaken labor unions and their members' sense of solidarity, encourage greater work-effort and lower wage demands, and/or abet protectionism. This last means efforts to preserve existing jobs (of the "insiders") via barriers to entry against "outsiders" who want jobs, legal obstacles to immigration, and/or tariffs and similar trade barriers against foreign competitors. The impact of unemployment on the employed is related to the idea of Marxian unemployment. Finally, the existence of significant unemployment raises the oligopsony power of one's employer: that raises the cost of quitting one's job and lowers the probability of finding a new source of livelihood.

Costs to businesses and to economic growth

High unemployment implies low real Gross Domestic Product - human resources are not being used as completely as possible and are thus wasting opportunities to produce goods and services. The economic health and real wealth of nations is closely tied to what can be produced and sold.

Because the unemployed are lost from the world of production — called deficient-demand or cyclical unemployment — thus represents a profound form of inefficiency, sometimes called "Keynesian inefficiency." (However, this loss of production might instead be caused by classical unemployment or Marxian unemployment, which reduce potential output by restricting supply.) Okun's Law tells us that for the U.S., the economy misses out on about two percent of its potential output for each one percentage point of unemployment above the "full employment" unemployment rate or NAIRU (see below). Alternatively, this "law" says that as unemployment rises by one percentage point, say from 5% to 6% of the civilian labour force, the percentage of potential output that could have been produced but was not rises by about two points.

Unemployed workers are lost from the producing world of work, but the reduction in their consumption also has a negative effect on the businesses they no longer patronize, and on the overall economy. One business's employees are the next business's customers. As workers reduce or increase spending, based on their present or expected earnings, the impact on the bottom line of the businesses they patronize is disproportionately greater. A large loss of jobs at one employer may reduces aggregate income and spending so that other businesses come to expect to sell fewer goods, prompting them to consider cutting production and reducing their own workforces. A spiraling circle of job cuts tends to cause or sharpen business panics. The tasks of predicting and moderating panics or recessions is made more difficult by the self-perpetuating negative feedback on the economy of the reduced spending of unemployed workers. The impact of unemployment on businesses is sharpened because the bottom line in business reflects the margin after variable and fixed costs are paid, so that the last lots of goods or services sold tend to be much more profitable than the first.

Economic benefits of unemployment

In weighing the advantages and disadvantages of unemployment, some say that slow economic growth and the resulting unemployment, if not unreservedly good, at least include important economic benefits which must be carefully balanced against the obvious advantages of full employment.

The key benefit for the entire economy arising from unemployment is that it tends to reduce inflation, following the Phillips curve, or to decelerate inflation, following the NAIRU/natural rate of unemployment theory. Runaway inflation has many serious long-term economic costs that negatively affect everyone in the affected economy. Evaluating the relatively straightforward impact on the domestic economy of local unemployment is increasingly complicated by consideration of the effects of the expansion of international trade.

A small amount of frictional unemployment creates a larger pool so that employers are not forced to settle for employees poorly suited to the jobs offered. The amount needed for this purpose may be very small, however, since it is relatively easy to seek a new job without losing one's current one. And when more jobs are available for fewer workers (lower unemployment), it may allow workers to find the jobs that better fit their tastes, talents, and needs.

As in the Marxian theory of unemployment, special interests may also benefit: employers often like having their employees in fear of losing their jobs, and thus working hard, keeping their wage demands low, etc. As noted, unemployment may increase employers' monopsony-like power. Unemployment may thus promote labor productivity and profitability.

An advantage of unemployment is that it tends to limit a constantly accelerated growth of the GDP that cannot be sustained forever, given resource constraints and environmental impacts. But others ask if denying jobs to willing workers is the best, or even an efficient means of limiting the excessive use of resources or the abuse of the environment. At best, the reduced consumption of the unemployed is short-term. Putting the same workforce in play toward the goal of finding more environmentally efficient methods for production and consumption might have a far greater cumulative environmental benefit.

Causes of unemployment

Open unemployment of the sort defined above is associated with capitalist economies. Preliterate communities treat their members as parts of an extended family and thus do not allow them to be unemployed — in the effort to preserve the group. In precapitalist societies such as European feudalism, the serfs (though clearly dominated and exploited by the lords) were never "unemployed" because they had direct access to the land (and the needed tools) and could thus work to produce crops. Just as on the American frontier during the nineteenth century, there were day laborers and subsistence farmers on poor land, whose position in society was somewhat analogous to the unemployed of today. But they were not truly unemployed, since they could find work and support themselves on the land.

Under both ancient and modern systems of slave-labor, slave-owners never let their property be unemployed for long. (If anything, they would sell the unneeded laborer.) Planned economies such as the old Soviet Union or today's Cuba typically provide occupation for everyone, using substantial overstaffing if necessary. (This is called "hidden unemployment," which is sometimes seen as a kind of underemployment, definition 3.) Workers' cooperatives — such as those producing plywood in the U.S. Pacific Northwest — do not let their members become unemployed unless the co-op itself goes bankrupt.

On the other hand, under capitalism the individual profit-seeking employer does not have to bear the complete social costs of laying off or firing workers, so they are willing to live with (or even profit from) the existence of unemployment — unless employees are able to win good severance packages or protection from the government (such as restrictions on firing and lay-offs, although some doubt if even these help since they may make employers more reluctant to take the risk of hiring someone in the first place). (That is, there is arguably a market failure due to the existence of external costs of firing or laying-off of people.) On the "supply side," workers' lack of significantly positive net worth (beyond equity in a home or a car) makes it very difficult for them to go into business for themselves to avoid unemployment. Economist Edward Wolff estimates that in 1995 in the U.S., families with adults aged 25-45 in the middle income quintile could sustain their current consumption for only 1.2 months (or live at 125% of the poverty standard for 1.8 months) based on their financial reserves. Poorer quintiles of course had more difficulty.

Since not all unemployment may be "open" and counted by government agencies, official unemployment may be very low even under capitalism. Most poorer capitalist countries lack a modern welfare state and unemployment insurance so that it is very difficult to afford being unemployed for very long: they often end up taking jobs below their skill levels. Those who might be counted as "unemployed" in the rich countries end up instead being underemployed (definition 1) and not counted.

Others argue that unemployment actually increases the more the government intervenes into the economy. For example, minimum wages raise costs of doing business and businesses respond by laying off workers. Laws restricting layoffs make businesses less likely to hire in the first place leaving many young people unemployed and unable to find work.

The results of both actions lead to less productivity and are claimed to incur a higher cost on society as a whole. The results lead to not just higher unemployment but may increase poverty. This is why the less market oriented countries of Europe often sustain substantially high unemployment rates in comparison to the United States; that is, government induced employment through policies designed to protect the worker. The welfare state then responds with various benefits that are paid for by the middle and upper class which reduces their ability to consume and is theorised to reduce the incentive to work hard and innovate. Economists like Ludwig Von Mises, Milton Friedman, Friedrich Von Hayek, and many others not only believe that the welfare of society decreases with this kind of intervention but that these economic policies are not sustainable.

Government

Some economists have found high correlations between government spending as a percentage of GDP to unemployment from 1981 to the present using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The correlation between government spending was actually negative during the 1940 to 1980 period; however, the Misery Index was steadily rising during this period.

These same economists state that the unemployment supply curve is actually vertical, that labor will work under any condition provided work is available, and the economic element with the most power to shift it is government.

Debate on unemployment

There is considerable debate amongst economists as to what the main causes of unemployment are. Keynesian economics emphasizes unemployment resulting from insufficient effective demand for goods and service in the economy (cyclical unemployment). Others point to structural problems (inefficiencies) inherent in labor markets (structural unemployment). Classical or neoclassical economics tends to reject these explanations, and focuses more on rigidities imposed on the labor market from the outside, such as minimum wage laws, taxes, and other regulations that may discourage the hiring of workers (classical unemployment). Yet others see unemployment as largely due to voluntary choices by the unemployed (frictional unemployment). On the other extreme, Marxists see unemployment as a structural fact helping to preserve business profitability and capitalism (Marxian unemployment). The different perspectives may be right in different ways, contributing to our understanding of different types of unemployment.

Though there have been several definitions of voluntary (and involuntary) unemployment in the economics literature, a simple distinction is often applied. Voluntary unemployment is blamed on the individual unemployed workers (and their decisions), whereas involuntary unemployment exists because of the socio-economic environment (including the market structure, government intervention, and the level of aggregate demand) in which individuals operate. In these terms, much or most of frictional unemployment is voluntary, since it reflects individual search behavior. On the other hand, cyclical unemployment, structural unemployment, classical unemployment, and Marxian unemployment are largely involuntary in nature. However, the existence of structural unemployment may reflect choices made by the unemployed in the past, while classical unemployment may result from the legislative and economic choices made by labor unions and/or political parties. So in practice, the distinction between voluntary and involuntary unemployment is hard to draw. The clearest cases of involuntary unemployment are those where there are fewer job vacancies than unemployed workers even when wages are allowed to adjust, so that even if all vacancies were to be filled, there would be unemployed workers. This is the case of cyclical unemployment and Marxian unemployment, for which macroeconomic forces lead to microeconomic unemployment. For more details, see unemployment types.

Some say that one of the main causes of unemployment in a free market economy is the fact that the law of supply and demand is not really applied to the price to be paid for employing people. In situations of falling demand for products & services the wages of all employees (from president to errand boy) are not automatically reduced by the required percentage to make the business viable. Others say that it is the market that determines the wages based on the desirability of the job. The more people qualified and interested in the job, the lower the wages for that job become. Based on this view, the profitability of the company is not a factor in determining whether or not the work is profitable to the employee. People are laid off, because pay reductions would reduce the number of people willing to work a job. With fewer people interested in a particular job, the employees bargaining power would actually rise to stabilize the situation, but their employer would be unable to fulfill their wage expectations. In the classical framework, such unemployment is due to the existing legal framework, along with interferences with the market by non-market institutions such as labor unions and government. Others say many of the problems with market adjustment arise from the market itself (Keynes) or from the nature of capitalism (Marx).

In developing countries, unemployment is often caused by burdensome government regulation. The World Bank's Doing Business project shows how excessive labor regulation increases unemployment among women and youths in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

Types of unemployment

Main article: unemployment types
  • Frictional: When moving from one job to another, the unemployment temporarily experienced when looking for a new job.
  • Structural: Caused by a mismatch between the location of jobs and the location of job-seekers. "Location" may be geographical, or in terms of skills. The mismatch comes because unemployed are unwilling or unable to change geography or skills.
  • Cyclical (Demand deficient unemployment) unemployment:When there is not enough aggregate demand for the labor. Caused by a business cycle recession.
  • Technological: Caused by the replacement of workers by machines or other advanced technology (such as artificial intelligence technology).
  • Classical (real-wage): When real wage for a job are set above the market-clearing level, commonly government (as with the minimum wage) or unions, although some (such as Murray Rothbard, America's Great Depression p. 45) suggest that even social taboos can prevent wages from falling to the market clearing level.
  • Marxian: when unemployment is needed to motivate workers to work hard and to keep wages down.
  • Seasonal: When an occupation is not in demand at certain seasons. For example, construction workers in winter, ski teachers in summer.

Measuring unemployment

The unemployment rate is:

Unemployed  Workers/Total  Labor Force*100%

For the purpose of calculating the the unemployment rate, unemployed persons are considered to be those who are willing and able to work for pay but are unable to find jobs. The civilian labor force includes all those willing and able to work for pay - both unemployed and employed.

In practice, it is notoriously difficult to measure the number of unemployed workers actually seeking work, particularly those whose unemployment benefits have expired before finding work. There are several different methods for measuring the number of unemployed workers, each with its own biases, making comparisons between methods difficult.

United States Bureau of Labor Statistics definitions

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides some definitions which are similar to, but not the same as, those of other countries.

The BLS counts employment and unemployment (of those over 16 years of age) using a sample survey of households.[2] In BLS definitions, people are considered employed if they did any work at all for pay or profit during the survey week. This includes not only regular full-time year-round employment but also all part-time and temporary work. Workers are also counted as "employed" if they have a job at which they did not work during the survey week because they were:

  • On vacation;
  • Ill or absent due to medical problems;
  • Taking care of some other family or personal obligation (for example, due to child-care problems);
  • On maternity or paternity leave;
  • Involved in an industrial dispute (strike or lock-out); or
  • Prevented from working by bad weather.

Typically, employment and the labor force include only work done for monetary gain. Hence, a homemaker is neither part of the labor force nor unemployed. Nor are full-time students nor prisoners considered to be part of the labor force or unemployment. The latter can be important. In 1999, economists Lawrence F. Katz and Alan B. Krueger estimated that increased incarceration lowered measured unemployment in the United States by 0.17 %age points between 1985 and the late 1990s. In particular, as of 2005, roughly 0.7% of the US population is incarcerated (1.5% of the available working population).

On the other hand, individuals are classified as "unemployed" if they do not have a job, have actively looked for work in the prior four weeks, and are currently available for work. The unemployed includes all individuals who were not working for pay but were waiting to be called back to a job from which they had been temporarily laid off.

Finally, it is possible to be neither employed nor unemployed by BLS definitions, i.e., to be outside of the "labor force." These are people who have no job and are not looking for one. Many of these are going to school or are retired. Family responsibilities keep others out of the labor force. Still others have a physical or mental disability which prevents them from participating in labor force activities.

Children, the elderly, and some individuals with disabilities are typically not counted as part of the labor force in and are correspondingly not included in the unemployment statistics. However, some elderly and many disabled individuals are active in the labor market.

In the early stages of an economic boom, unemployment often rises. This is because people join the labor market (give up studying, start a job hunt, etc.) because of the improving job market, but until they have actually found a position they are counted as unemployed. Similarly, during a recession, the increase in the unemployment rate is moderated by people leaving the labor force.

Note: from March 1 2005 unemployment statistics were be derived from three sources, the Current Population Survey, a statewide survey of businesses known as the Current Employment Statistics Survey, and state unemployment insurance claims.

The inaccuracy of unemployment statistics

The unemployment rate may be different from the impact of the economy on people. The unemployment figures indicate how many are not working for pay but seeking employment for pay. It is only indirectly connected with the number of people who are actually not working at all or working without pay. Therefore, critics believe that current methods of measuring unemployment are inaccurate in terms of the impact of unemployment on people as these methods do not take into account:

  • The 1.5% of the available working population incarcerated in U.S. prisons.
  • Those who have lost their jobs and have become discouraged over time from actively looking for work.
  • Those who are self-employed or wish to become self-employed, such as tradesmen or building contractors or IT consultants.
  • Those who have retired before the official retirement age but would still like to work (involuntary early retirees).
  • Those on disability pensions who, while not possessing full health, still wish to work in occupations suitable for their medical conditions.
  • Those who work for payment for as little as one hour per week but would like to work full-time. These people are "involuntary part-time" workers.
  • Those who are underemployed, e.g., a computer programmer who is working in a retail store until he can find a permanent job.
  • Involuntary stay-at-home mothers who would prefer to work.
  • Graduate and Professional school students who were unable to find worthwhile jobs after they graduated with their Bachelor's degrees.

On the other hand, the measures of employment and unemployment may be "too high." In some countries, the availability of unemployment benefits can inflate statistics since they give an incentive to register as unemployed. Homemakers and other people who do not really seek work may choose to declare themselves unemployed so as to get benefits; people with undeclared paid occupations may try to get unemployment benefits in addition to the money they earn from their work. Conversely, the absence of any tangible benefit for registering as unemployed discourages people from registering.

However, in countries such as the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Japan and the European Union, unemployment is measured using a sample survey (akin to a Gallup poll). According to the BLS, a number of Eastern European nations have instituted labor force surveys as well. The sample survey has its own problems because the total number of workers in the economy is estimated based on a sample rather than a census. So many economists look to the survey of employers (in U.S.) to get a better estimate of the number of jobs created or destroyed.

Due to these deficiencies, many labor market economists prefer to look at a range of economic statistics such as:

  • Labor market participation rate (the percentage of people aged between 15 and 64 who are currently employed or searching for employment)
  • The total number of full-time jobs in an economy
  • The number of people seeking work as a raw number and not a percentage
  • The total number of person-hours worked in a month compared to the total number of person-hours people would like to work

The limits of the unemployment definition

For the fourth quarter of 2004, according to OECD, (source Employment Outlook 2005 ISBN 92-64-01045-9), normalized unemployment for men aged 25 to 54 was 4.6% in the USA and 7.4% in France. At the same time and for the same population the employment rate (number of workers divided by population) was 86.3% in the USA and 86.7% in France.

This example shows that the unemployment rate is 60% higher in France than in the USA, yet more people in this demographic are working in France than in the USA, which is counterintuitive if it is expected that the unemployment rate reflects the health of the labor market.

This is because the definition of unemployment relies on the distinction between inactive and unemployed, a quite subjective measure which can be easily manipulated by policies that do not change the situation of the labor market, but decrease unemployment by shifting people from unemployed to inactive status.

Situation in the United States

USA states unemployment 2004

Unemployment rate for US states in 2004

There are two permanent government projects conducted by the United States Census Bureau (within the United States Department of Commerce) and/or the Bureau of Labor Statistics (within the United States Department of Labor) that gather employment statistics monthly. One is the Current Population Survey (CPS) [3] which surveys 60,000 households: it is used in calculating the unemployment rate. The other is the Current Employment Statistics (CES) which surveys 300,000 employers.

These two sources have different classification criteria, and usually produce differing results. As noted, most economists these days see the CES as a more accurate estimate of the state of the job market. Because the CES only surveys employers, it does not produce an unemployment rate statistic.

Though many people care about the number of unemployed (6.8 million in the U.S. in November 2006), economists typically focus on the unemployment rate (4.5% in November 2006). This corrects for the normal increase in the number of people working for pay or seeking work due to population increases and increases in the paid labor force relative to the population — and thus the normal increase in the number of unemployed workers.

It is important to note that these statistics are for the U.S. economy as a whole, hiding variations among groups. For November 2006 in the U.S., the unemployment rates for the major worker groups were as follows:

  • adult men: 3.9 %
  • adult women: 4.0 %
  • Caucasians: 3.9 %
  • Asians: 3.2 %
  • Hispanics or Latinos (all races): 4.9 %
  • African American Descent: 8.6 %
  • teenagers: 15.1 %

These percentages represent the usual rough ranking of these different groups' unemployment rates, though the absolute numbers normally change over time with the business cycle. They come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Clicking on this link will lead to a pdf file with up-to-date numbers.)

Aiding the unemployed

The most developed countries have aids for the unemployed as part of the welfare state. These unemployment benefits include unemployment insurance, welfare, unemployment compensation and subsidies to aid in retraining. The main goal of these programs is to alleviate short-term hardships and, more importantly, to allow workers more time to search for a good job.

In the U.S., the unemployement insurance allowance one receives is based solely on previous income (not time worked, family size, etc.) and usually compensates for one-third of one's previous income. To qualify, one must reside in their respective state for at least a year and, of course, work. While 90% of citizens are covered on paper, only 40% could actually receive benefits as unemployment is based on an antiquated system created in the Social Security Act of 1935. In cases of highly seasonal industries the system provides income to workers during the off seasons, thus encouraging them to stay attached to the industry. To calculate the unemployment insurance benefits you might receive, see the page at the Economic Policy Institute.


In the United States, the New Deal made relief of the unemployed a high priority, with many different programs. The goal of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was to employ most of the unemployed people on relief until the economy recovered. FERA/WPA director Harry Hopkins testified to Congress in January 1935 why he set the number at 3.5 million, using FERA data. At $1200 per worker per year he asked for and received $4 billion.

"On January 1 there were 20 million persons on relief in the United States. Of these, 8.3 million were children under sixteen years of age; 3.8 million were persons who, though between the ages of sixteen and sixty-five were not working nor seeking work. These included housewives, students in school, and incapacitated persons. Another 750,000 were persons sixty- five years of age or over. Thus, of the total of 20 million persons then receiving relief, 12.85 million were not considered eligible for employment. This left a total of 7.15 million presumably employable persons between the ages of sixteen and sixty-five inclusive. Of these, however, 1.65 million were said to be farm operators or persons who had some non-relief employment, while another 350,000 were, despite the fact that they were already employed or seeking work, considered incapacitated. Deducting this two million from the total of 7.15 million, there remained 5.15 million persons sixteen to sixty-five years of age, unemployed, looking for work, and able to work. Because of the assumption that only one worker per family would be permitted to work under the proposed program, this total of 5.15 million was further reduced by 1.6 million--the estimated number of workers who were members of families which included two or more employable persons. Thus, there remained a net total of 3.55 million workers in as many households for whom jobs were to be provided." [Howard p 562, paraphrasing Hopkins]

The WPA did not quite reach 3.5 million--its maximum was 3.3 million in November 1938. Worker pay was based on three factors: the region of the country, the degree of urbanization and the individual's skill. It varied from $19/month to $94/month. The goal was to pay the local prevailing wage, but to limit a person to 30 hours or less a week of work. About 75 percent of WPA employment and 75 percent of WPA expenditures went to public infrastructure, such as highways, airports, parks and libraries.

The WPA had numerous critics who said that political considerations helped decide which states received the most funding. Civil rights leaders often complained that African Americans were proportionally underrepresented. In New Jersey, they argued, "In spite of the fact that Negroes indubitably constitute more than 20 per cent of the State's unemployed, they composed 15.9 per cent of those assigned to W.P.A. jobs during 1937." [Howard 287] Nationwide in late 1937, 15.2% were African American. The NAACP magazine Opportunity hailed the WPA: [February, 1939, p. 34. in Howard 295]

It is to the eternal credit of the administrative officers of the WPA that discrimination on various projects because of race has been kept to a minimum and that in almost every community Negroes have been given a chance to participate in the work program. In the South, as might have been expected, this participation has been limited, and differential wages on the basis of race have been more or less effectively established; but in the northern communities, particularly in the urban centers, the Negro has been afforded his first real opportunity for employment in white-collar occupations

When unemployment disappeared in World War II, and almost no one was eligible, Congress shut down the WPA in late 1943.

The statistics show:

Families on relief 1935-41
<TD> 1937</FONT></TD><TD> 1938</FONT></TD><TD> 1939</FONT></TD><TD> 1940</FONT></TD><TD> 1941</FONT></TD> <TR> <TD> Workers employed:</FONT></TD> <TD colspan=6> </TD> </TR> <TR> <TD> WPA</FONT></TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="96,-1,1995"> 1,995</FONT></TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="96,-1,2227"> 2,227</FONT></TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="96,-1,1932"> 1,932</FONT></TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="96,-1,2911"> 2,911</FONT></TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="96,-1,1971"> 1,971</FONT></TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="96,-1,1638"> 1,638</FONT></TD> </TR> <TR> <TD> CCC and NYA</FONT></TD><TD> 712</FONT></TD><TD> 801</FONT></TD><TD> 643</FONT></TD><TD> 793</FONT></TD><TD> 877</FONT></TD><TD> 919</FONT></TD> </TR> <TR> <TD> Other federal work projects</FONT></TD><TD> 554</FONT></TD><TD> 663</FONT></TD><TD> 452</FONT></TD><TD> 488</FONT></TD><TD> 468</FONT></TD><TD> 681</FONT></TD> </TR> <TR> <TD> Public assistance cases:</FONT></TD> <TD colspan=6> </TD> </TR> <TR> <TD> Social security programs</FONT></TD><TD> 602</FONT></TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="96,-1,1306"> 1,306</FONT></TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="96,-1,1852"> 1,852</FONT></TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="96,-1,2132"> 2,132</FONT></TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="96,-1,2308"> 2,308</FONT></TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="96,-1,2517"> 2,517</FONT></TD> </TR> <TR> <TD> General relief</FONT></TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="96,-1,2946"> 2,946</FONT></TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="96,-1,1484"> 1,484</FONT></TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="96,-1,1611"> 1,611</FONT></TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="96,-1,1647"> 1,647</FONT></TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="96,-1,1570"> 1,570</FONT></TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="96,-1,1206"> 1,206</FONT></TD> </TR> <TR> <TD> Total families helped</FONT></TD> <TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="96,-1,5886"> 5,886</FONT></TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="96,-1,5660"> 5,660</FONT></TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="96,-1,5474"> 5,474</FONT></TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="96,-1,6751"> 6,751</FONT></TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="96,-1,5860"> 5,860</FONT></TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="96,-1,5167"> 5,167</FONT></TD> </TR> <TR> <TD> Unemployed workers (Bur Lab Stat)</FONT></TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="96,-1,@ROUND(+B14,-2)"> 9,030</FONT></TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="96,-1,@ROUND(+C14,-2)"> 7,700</FONT></TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="96,-1,@ROUND(+D14,-2)"> 10,390</FONT></TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="96,-1,@ROUND(+E14,-2)"> 9,480</FONT></TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="96,-1,@ROUND(+F14,-2)"> 8,120</FONT></TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="96,-1,@ROUND(+G14,-2)"> 5,560</FONT></TD> </TR> <TR> <TD> Coverage (cases/unemployed)</TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="288,-1,+B11/B15"> 65%</TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="288,-1,+C11/C15"> 74%</TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="288,-1,+D11/D15"> 53%</TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="288,-1,+E11/E15"> 71%</TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="288,-1,+F11/F15"> 72%</TD><TD QP::NUMFORMAT:="288,-1,+G11/G15"> 93%</TD> </TR> </TABLE> source: Donald S. Howard, WPA and Federal Relief Policy. 1943 p 34.
Relief cases 1936-1941
Monthly average in 1,000
Year 1936</FONT>
Year Unemployment (% labor force)
1933 24.9
1934 21.7
1935 20.1
1936 16.9
1937 14.3
1938 19.0
1939 17.2
1940 14.6
1941 9.9
1942 4.7
1943 1.9
1944 1.2
1945 1.9

source: Historical Statistics US (1976) series D-86

See also

Bibliography

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