The Jobs Problem

The United States has been sliding away from a full-employment economy for 40 years, and the pace of that slide is accelerating rapidly.  In particular, low-skill entry-level jobs are being replaced by machines or by people working for poverty wages overseas.

In this context, new labor practices such as shift-splitting are becoming the norm.  Companies are offering only part-time work – and “part-time” can mean irregular 3- or 4-hour shifts that pay little more than the cost of getting to work.  With irregular hours, it’s harder to even piece together full-time work with multiple part-time jobs.

Workers have little say in the conditions of their employment, as only 14.6% of employed Massachusetts workers are members of labor unions.

Massachusetts is sliding even faster than other parts of the country.  Some key findings of the “Mass Jobs” report produced by MassINC and the Center for Labor Market Studies.

  •  Massachusetts is still down roughly 100,000 payroll jobs from the peak of 2001 and is one of only seven states that has still not recovered all of the payroll jobs that it had at the peak of the business cycle.
  • In the last six years alone, the state has shed, on net, more than 100,000 manufacturing jobs, and these recent losses come on the heels of large job losses in previous decades.
  •  The Massachusetts economy is becoming highly specialized with great rewards for those with the requisite levels of education and skills and fewer options for everyone else. This trend, which is occurring nationally as the U.S. economy continues to be reshaped by the global economy, appears to be happening at an accelerated pace in Massachusetts.

Does this mean that Massachusetts lags behind other states in economic development?  On the contrary, it means we are ahead, in our progression toward an economy increasingly independent of labor.  What happens here will soon be happening in other parts of the country.

On the local level, many Massachusetts neighborhoods have been locked in poverty for decades, with unemployment rates at depression-era levels even before the recent recession.  Racism remains a big factor, not only in the legacy of past stolen wages (leading to a $236,500 average wealth gap between black and white families), but also in current-day employ-ability.  Black applicants are as little as half as likely to receive a call back from an employer as equally qualified white applicants.

Most “jobs bills” do not target long-term unemployment in low-income neighborhoods.  For example, even Massachusetts’ badly underfunded “One-Stop Career Centers” are only tailored to serve people with strong work histories and low barriers to employment.