Friday, November 07, 2008

Good Night John Boy

In a speech given in 1992 Papa Bush said he'd like to make American families a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons.

I can't help but wonder if George W. is following up on pop's dream of making us more like the Waltons - living in a time of war and economic depression.

In some ways, being like the Waltons doesn't look all that bad - they had interesting adventures, didn't need a lot of money to spend on clothes or consumer electronics, and Grandpa got free moonshine from the Baldwin Sisters.

Today we learned we have 10 million Americans unemployed, the unemployment rate is 6.5% and we lost 240,000 jobs in October.

I was wondering what a 6.5% unemployment rate "feels" like compared to other times in history. Of course if you lose your job it doesn't matter what the rate is - but I was thinking on a personal level - how did I feel things were going when unemployment rates were high?

An unemployment rate of 6.5% is a 14 year high, but what about The United States Unemployment Rate at other times in our recent past?

From 1968 to 1972 unemployment was relatively low ranging from 3.5% to 6%. I was in high school and had no trouble finding part time and summertime jobs.

In 1975 to 1977 unemployment peaked at 9% - I was 21 in 1975 and didn't have any problem finding jobs. I was single and wasn't too particular about what kind of jobs I'd do, so found work as a cook, bartender, janitor and various other part time jobs. I had fun, was going to school part time and had enough money for a car and an apartment. I joined the Navy in 1977 and they had plenty of work for me until I went back to college in 1981.

In 1982 unemployment got up to 10.8%. I was going to school, working at a gas station and the registrar's office part time and B had a job at the Sheriff's office. We were doing fine. I think our rent was $220 a month, I rode my bicycle a lot and spent my free time fishing in Montana's trout streams.

When I started my current job in 1985 the unemployment rate was 7.2%. Thankfully I liked the job and remained employed during the up and down cycles.

My point is twofold - I've been doing some kind of work for the last 40 years and was always able to find a job regardless of the unemployment rate (knocking on wood here) and secondly it really isn't necessary to have a lot of money as long as you have the essentials food, clothing, shelter - you can find all sorts of ways to live a good life, find peace and joy.

To be honest I think papa Bush had a valid point about making families more like the Waltons.

The pictures of the Great Depression make it look like hell in black and white, but I can't believe that was the real story - or at least the whole story. In my family's experience I don't think it had much impact at all - teachers were still employed and not making much money, and small farmers never had any money anyway. I'm not worried about another depression - in fact I think it might be a relatively positive counterbalance to combat affluenza, the epidemic of overconsumption and associated stress on our own systems and the world's ecosystem.


I realized today I have no idea how the Government calculates the unemployment rate so I headed over to The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to learn How the Government Measures Unemployment.

I thought it had to do with the number of people who were drawing unemployment insurance but that's not correct.

The BLS does a sample of 60,000 households to come up with the unemployment rate.

According to the BLS website, the basic concepts involved in identifying the employed and unemployed are quite simple:
* People with jobs are employed.
* People who are jobless, looking for jobs, and available for work are unemployed.
* People who are neither employed nor unemployed are not in the labor force.

The survey is designed so that each person age 16 and over who is not in an institution such as a prison or mental hospital or on active duty in the Armed Forces is counted and classified in only one group.

Persons are classified as unemployed if they do not have a job, have actively looked for work in the prior 4 weeks, and are currently available for work.
The only thing I wonder about is how many people fall out of the "labor force" and therefore out of the "unemployed" count, because they gave up looking for work...hopefully not very many.