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UNEMPLOYMENT / Vol. 54, No. 2 (Summer 1987)

Alexander Keyssar, Guest Editor
Arien Mack, Journal Editor

By the time this issue is released there were more than 7 million Americans officially unemployed. An additional million were “discouraged workers,” that is, they are jobless and want to work but have stopped looking because they believe that no jobs are available. Thus, fifty years after the Great Depression unemployment remains a significant economics problem throughout the capitalist world. Relatedly, although less visibly, unemployment is posing a significant intellectual challenge to various branches of the social sciences.

Presents an interview with steelworker Dick Hughes, one of nearly 30,000 manufacturing workers employed by metal, automobile, electrical, or machinery firms who lost their jobs in Erie County, New York, during 1980–83.

Compares patterns and conditions of unemployment prior to and after the Great Depression, arguing that the notion of continual progress in solving the problem of unemployment is obscured by the abnormality of the depression. Little real progress has been made and the capitalist system inherently relies on unemployed workers ("reserve labor supply"), a notion that fundamentally undermines finding solutions to the problem.

There are now roughly 7.5 million unemployed workers in the United States. The notion of "full employment" has become something of a joke among mainstream economists, the sort of antiquarian curiosity one expects to find in museum gift shops. It was once a fine idea, one hears, but we can hardly aspire to such noble policy objectives in the present brittle condition of the advanced economies.

At the beginning of the Great Depression, no successful foreign model of social security for workers existed, so the Japanese were forced to develop their own solutions. The author analyzes Japanese worker and managerial responses to the crisis of the Great Depression and their continuing impact.

Youth unemployment is universally regarded as one of the most disturbing features of a slack labor market. Recent school leavers, if out of work for extended periods, may never develop the attitudes and habits needed to retain steady employment or acquire the experience and training needed for advancement to more desirable jobs. Instead, they may fail to develop an attachment to a particular employer and remain permanently on the fringes of the labor market, growing accustomed to recurrent spells of unemployment.

Half a century after the great sociological inquiry into unemployment, Die Arbeitslosen von Marienthal, Marie Jahoda has returned to the subject with the publication of Employment and Unemployment. The chapter dealing with unemployment in the 1980s begins by quoting the closing sentence of the report on Marienthal: “We entered Marienthal as scientists; we leave it with only one desire: that the tragic opportunity for such an enquiry may not recur in our time.”

For many people unemployment is principally an economic category. It is one of those things that economists measure and forecast, a lagging indicator of the business cycle. Until as recently as a decade ago, little thought was paid to unemployment as a threat to mental health, least of all by mental-health professionals.

Applies historical, economic, political, and cultural criteria to the problem of evaluating the effects of unemployment on women and compares female unemployment during the 1930's and 1980's to further expose assumptions blocking a true picture of the relationship in question.

The disappearance of full employment as a postwar political issue owes to the assumption of responsibility for the problem by Keynesian economists; when their expert prescriptions failed and other programs undermined its continued political relevancy, full employment became easy prey for conservative attacks beginning in the early 1980s.

Reviews the work of New York economic analysts Edward Devine, Henry Saeger, and William Leiserson, all of whom played a role in transforming the locus of unemployment debate and articulating the needs of workers and the unity of management and labor's interests.


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