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Some Tough Unemployment Numbers…

Photo: Archive

… out this morning, with people mentioning the “D”-word in the same breath as 20 million of our countrymen deal with the impact of widespread job loss.

As Children of Children of the Depression we always wondered if we would ever get back to the Bad Old Days we heard so much about at family dinners back in the day – smiling to ourselves as the aunts and uncles regaled us with yarns about growing their own food or hunting and fishing to supplement the family’s daily dietary needs.

As kids we tended to discount the old stories of Uncle Mike cleaning bricks for a penny a brick, of Aunt Rose working three jobs to make ends meet, dismissing the possibility it could happen again – pass the roast beef, please, Auntie – but later on, after seeing “stuff” happen and scenarios re-emerge that sounded vaguely familiar, we took the Old Ones’ advice and took measures to prepare for that Great Big Rainy Day.

So, here we are – with good people out of work; wondering how much fun it’s going to be flying anywhere in the months ahead; if our very nice postal carrier will soon go the way of the dinosaurs; if warehouse/fulfillment workers will get Hazardous Duty compensation; if during our inevitable hospital stay we’ll call our Night Nurse “Becca” or “RXSpec7” as robotics assume more roles humans can’t or won’t be able to.

And while our TV screens provide ample evidence of our eagerness to get back to doing what we do best: paving, populating, and polluting our planet – while getting our nails done and highlights touched up – we have to wonder if other factors will take the reins and make important future decisions for us, doing what we appear unable, or unwilling, to do successfully ourselves.

With all the cards still up in the air we’re seeing change afoot – much of it in line with points we raised years ago – closing wide swaths of our cities to all but pedestrian or bicycling traffic (Oakland, Seattle, Toronto); a reexamination of our food chain and processing operations; the future look of the modern office space.

Whether or not we will be able to move toward a better future together or into one marked with uncertainty over the tenure of governments, the hold of one monied sector over another, a far right armed to the teeth and eager for a game-changing boogaloo – remains to be seen. Our future is still to be written.


  1. Wow! That’s depressing. I hope you have a good cabernet to go with that.
    We have all had extra time to ponder these days, for those of us still inclined that way. It’s has been kind of refreshing to slow down for those of us fortunate enough not to have to worry about our next meal and rent due notice. Some things become clearer. Some of us may find a new appreciation for what we have and what is most important in life.

    More than twenty million unemployed already. Sad as that is, it has revealed once again how expensive and unreliable humans are on the assembly line, at the hotel check in, at the retail checkout, and at the fast food grill, compared to automated processes. To compound insult and injury, human employees can infect those they serve whereas a machine will not. I fear the renewed drive to more automation will be powerful, and these job losses will be more severe and long-lasting than the direst of forecasts.

    Pass the cabernet.

    • If you look at history, having huge populations of people with little to do, not much future, and nothing much left to lose– things didn’t bode too well for the privileged or the elites in those societies… kind of like being upper middle-class in parts of Mexico or Latin America today– you had better be able to afford your own security because a failed state won’t be too interested in providing that security to you.

      Automation, in a healthy society, has not historically wiped out all the jobs, in fact history indicates just the opposite– but the US is not a healthy society– by virtually any socio-economic measure you care to look at. With profits being the main driver of most corporate activities there is little doubt that conversion over to AI and automation will accelerate as a result of Covid19 with the usual bad policy and planning coming from the top to make it all the more painful for the masses.

      So I would not get too complacent as you hear that bell tolling… you might find yourself wanting to build your own wall… but I can guarantee you that it will not be high enough… you might want to blame the victims and various pawns for their fates– as the monarchs of old always did, but it won’t stop the coming migrations… the coming divergences– that’s what I mean by all together or all alone… your choice, your karma.

  2. Well geez, tell us what you really think! You touch gracefully on many emerging truths.

    The headline unemployment number is by definition, very understated– does not include those forced into part-time but require full-time work to pay their bills, and those that did not look work or who gave up looking– those numbers are also in the report and when you look at those columns we’re already at– at minimum– about 20% unemployment with more grim months ahead of us. Unemployment during the Great Depression you speak of peaked at about 25%.

    When you factor in the changes already looming– AI, robotics, “gig” work, etc., there’s not much room there for a stable and resilient middle class. While less than a couple dozen of us own more wealth than the bottom 50% with that ratio growing by the month. When more than 2/3rds of all economic activity in the US is consumer spending driven, when (according to the Federal Reserve) more than 40% of US household cannot come up with $400 for an unexpected bill (and +80% when you raise that number to $1000), when we have unprecedented competition globally but our schools, infrastructure, and healthcare is decrepit and far too expensive to compete well even in the near future, and when the best scientists in the world ALL pretty much agree that humanity has about a decade left at best to make massive adaptations to our energy systems and the way we live on this plant to avoid outright disaster, we are indeed living in a time unlike any other– BY MILES– in human history.

    I won’t even get into the broken and very corrupt political systems that will, at least for the present, make it next to impossible to take on these challenges on scale to the problems in any meaningful way…

    It’s overwhelming. Until you accept it for what it is, what it’s become, and begin to ask yourself some very basic questions.

    What kind of future do I want for my family and for that matter, all of America’s families? What kind of world do I want to leave my kids behind in? Can I handle the truth? Am I willing to do whatever it takes to help us change course and avoid the iceberg that’s now plainly looming right out in front of us?

    The future is here. We can let it make and break us, or we can try to shape it into something a lot better. Something that includes everyone. We can face the facts, the science, and changes you can just feel in your gut must be made to survive and to thrive. The choice is ours to make– or not. Either we make it or it will be made for us.

    We need to become Americans again. All together. Not divided by politics and propaganda that’s designed to keep us at eternal odds with one-another. We’re all in this together. The only way out is in.

  3. Effing Denmark. Damn socialists! Per Nicholas Kristof’s opinion piece today.

    “Starting pay for the humblest burger-flipper at McDonald’s in Denmark is about $22 an hour once various pay supplements are included. The McDonald’s workers in Denmark get six weeks of paid vacation a year, life insurance, a year’s paid maternity leave and a pension plan. And like all Danes, they enjoy universal medical insurance and paid sick leave.”

    “Kristof”, sounds foreign to me.

    Build the wall! Build a soundproof wall so that we can’t hear the pity, the sorrow, the bewilderment at how far and how fast the mighty have fallen. Once the leader of the free world, now a symbol of cronyism and incompetence and neglect. Now the world center of an epidemic that was predictable, inevitable, manageable. Ask any country in the world how they managed to do better than the richest country in the history of the species.

    • Isn’t it funny that countries like Denmark– that actually don’t despise their labor– manage to be a wealthy happy country while paying them a living wage with real benefits.

      America needs to decide which direction to move in– toward the neo-feudalism of places like Mexico, Brazil, India, Indonesia, etc., of toward the more open and far more vibrant democracies of Denmark, Norway, France, etc. where people report on surveys year after year that they are happier than places like the US, far more satisfied with their governments, and more optimistic about the future.

      In the US we have levels of wealth inequality that have not been seen here in over a hundred years, people report in surveys routinely that they are less happy, less satisfied, and now mostly believe that their children will not do as well as they did– which is in fact the case when you look at the hard data.

      So what kind of country do we want to be? A family friendly one with a strong resilient middle class, or a billionaire friendly one with a few winners and countless losers? Back when the US enjoyed higher steadier GDP growth much more of that growth made it into the pockets of workers via higher and growing wages and benefits– we all shared in the gains and that led to a far more resilient and happier population and a more stable government.

      It all comes down to what we want. Pretending everything’s just groovy while most of our population’s fortunes trend downward or stagnate is not going to be a happy or a stable place. It is in fact wholly incompatible with democracy and is leading to a very destructive and corrupt form of capitalism– in fact it’s not capitalism at all.

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