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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 11/4/16

Behind the Job Numbers, Millions Are Being Left Behind

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A team of political scientists, writing in the Washington Post, concluded that "Trump supporters who are struggling economically perceive U.S. economic performance overall to be much worse than it actually is."

Those voters believe that the unemployment rate is three times higher than the official figure, and these new figurers aren't likely to change that.

"It is noteworthy," the researchers added, "that the impact of additional factual information about the national rate did not move their perceptions much."

They may not know the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but they know their own economic reality and those of their peers and their communities. So do the African-Americans, women, manufacturing workers, and other workers who confront economic injustice on a daily basis.

These diverse groups of working people could become a new coalition for change. Where are the reports that speak to, and for, them?

By the Numbers

The latest employment report looks good at first glance. Hourly wages rose 2.8 percent year over year, slightly higher than recent gains and the largest increase since 2009. The jobless rate fell by a tenth of one percent to 4.9 percent. The "U-6" figure of jobless workers, people seeking work, and those working fewer hours than they'd like, is nearly double the official number. But it fell slightly too.

And yet, underneath these favorable numbers, a darker story is being told. The labor force participation rate -- the number of Americans who are working or are actively looking for a job -- slipped by a small fraction and remains near its lowest level in four decades. Many workers have simply been left out of the job economy.

The centrifugal force of inequality is tearing our economy in two, creating a small aristocracy and a permanent underclass. As the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) recently noted, "Wage inequality has grown tremendously over the longer-term period from 1979 through 2015."

The 161,000 jobs added last month is lower than economists' modest projections and the latest three-month average of 176,000. Average job growth is actually down from recent years. The manufacturing sector lost 9,000 jobs as the overall trade deficit reached $36.4 billion in September.

Adjusting for the average number of hours worked, that hourly wage gain remains pretty much unchanged from previous gains. And it includes the highest-paid workers. "Private-sector production and non-supervisory employees," a category that covers 80 percent of all workers, saw a lower wage increase of 2.1 percent, roughly half of the 4.0 percent annual increase for workers before the Wall Street the financial crisis of 2008.

African Americans

The African-American unemployment rate is 8.6 percent, twice the white rate of 4.3 percent.

Black workers are paid less than white workers, according to the EPI -- and the gap is growing wider, not narrower. The gap is greatest among workers with the highest incomes, meaning that -- at least where income is concerned -- there still isn't "room at the top" for everyone.

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Host of 'The Breakdown,' Writer, and Senior Fellow, Campaign for America's Future

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