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Why are so many Americans unemployed and underemployed? And what could we do about it?

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Some folks say it's our moral obligation to spend as much as possible on the goods and services that are produced in the US.   Why?   Because the more we spend on that stuff, the more jobs that are going to be created, producing the stuff.   There are now 7 million fewer jobs in the US than there were before the recession started.   Somehow we gotta bring back those 7 million jobs.   Is the only solution to this problem to successfully encourage more people to consume more stuff -- specifically more in the way of American made stuff?

Here are some alternatives.

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Were it not for Republican and blue dog Democrat opposition to greatly increased amounts of infrastructure spending, we could certainly increase the number of available jobs greatly by implementing a massive infrastructure repair and rebuilding program.   For that matter, we could also implement the construction of entirely new, and hopefully green-oriented, infrastructure -- stuff like a new energy grid and huge new arrays of electricity-generating wind-turbines and solar energy collectors.

We could of course also increase the number of jobs by cutting the length of the workweek by some significant amount, and/or by some combination of lowering the retirement age, increasing the length of (paid) maternity and paternity leave and paid vacations.   But of course the owners of businesses would be up in arms by any movement in any of these directions.   Why?   Because they want to continue hogging all the benefits from our nation's growing productivity, and don't want to share any of those benefits with workers, no how, no way.  

We could also increase the number of available jobs by greatly increasing the size and length of unemployment benefits.   Then, providing it wasn't that difficult for any given individual to transition from work to compensated unemployment, far more people would occasionally chose the unemployment option for as much as a year or two at a time, thereby making their former jobs available to someone else.  

In a bit more detail, here are the main and most practical alternatives to greater consumption as the primary means of generating more jobs:

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Reducing the length of the work day, week, month and/or year, just like in France and some other countries.  

Increasing the length of paid vacations, maternity/paternity leaves, just like in Sweden and some countries in South America.  

Increasing the ease with which workers can transition to unemployment insurance, as well as increasing the monthly amount that is collected and the length of time that it can be collected, just like in northern Europe.  

For the last half century, the only way we've been able to even begin to employ all the people who need jobs is by war ("defense") spending, by keeping a comparatively very large percentage of our young men either in the military or in jail, and by successfully encouraging people to consume all manner of comparatively superfluous goods and services.   (That creates consumer demand and thus jobs producing stuff to meet those contrived 'needs.')  

But now that an ever larger percentage of those superfluous goods are produced in countries other than US, it becomes ever more difficult to find jobs for all who need them in America -- especially so since business owners and the top 1% of income receivers insist on hogging the lion's share of all the financial benefits that derive from the gains in productivity stemming from ever more efficient, computer-assisted production.

Many would point out, however, that given the powers-that-be, and the means by which they preserve their power, their obscene incomes and privileges, none of the foregoing proposals are likely to catch on in America.   So here's still another alternative for generating all the jobs we need.   I'm not sure it would have any better chance of being implemented than the ones we've already considered, given the near total control of our oligarchic powers-that-be;   nevertheless, if for no other reason than educational, it certainly deserves our thoughtful consideration.

This proposal is to somehow organize the world's largest cooperative, even larger than the one in Mondragon, Spain.   Its purpose would be to provide basic employment, outside city centers for the most part, for every able bodied person who needs basic goods and services and wasn't getting enough of them through the paycheck received from his or her current or previous job.   The most common enterprise of these new co-op members would be the construction, reconstruction and refurbishing of housing, as well as the construction of public works that have to do with the provision for electricity, clean running water, and the like.  

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The second most common enterprise of these members would be community gardens and local agriculture.   Everything from fruit and vegetable gardens to bee keeping.   But there would also be work in the field of public health, as well as work on things like bike paths and public transit.   Everyone would be paid in the form of some kind of labor credit, consisting of a bill or certificate that could be exchanged for dollars, but that would have far more value if it were exchanged for any of the basic goods or services that were produced by co-op members as a whole.

By this means, no able bodied person in the USA would be denied either employment or the basic necessities of life -- especially housing, food, medical care, primary education, electricity, water and the like.  And all would be given the opportunity to work in these various basic fields of cooperative endeavor.

Finally, if reasonable standards of efficiency and organization could (with the help of modern technology) be maintained, there is no reason why these workers and coop members would have to work any more than 20 hours a week for 9 months of the year, for 20 years, to secure their lifelong rights to basic housing, health care and food staples.   This would allow any of them who wanted more than the basics provided by this work, to take an additional part-time or temporary job in the so-called private sector, i.e. in the world of "free enterprise" where things other than the basics are produced and sold.   But would such jobs be available to our members of the co-op?   Yes they would.   Why?   Because to the extent that this co-op provided jobs to one and all, which would allow them to obtain their basic needs with a relatively small amount of work, this would drain huge numbers of workers away from the menial and poorly paid jobs they once had.   Therefore, employers would be badly in need of part-time and temp employees to replace the ones they had lost to employment with this huge new co-op.

Your thoughts, questions and objections, please.


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Several years after receiving my M.A. in social science (interdisciplinary studies) I was an instructor at S.F. State University for a year, but then went back to designing automated machinery, and then tech writing, in Silicon Valley. I've (more...)

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