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Stanley Aronowitz

Just Around the Corner
The Paradox of the Jobless Recovery

Stanley Aronowitz

A Q&A with author Stanley Aronowitz about his searing indictment of the American way of recession and recovery, Just Around the Corner: The Paradox of the Jobless Recovery

Q: Your main argument in this book is that it is a fallacy to believe that if the economy is good then we have jobs and growth. How did you come to this conclusion, and what made you realize that this is the case?
A: I observed this disconnect in the early 1990s in connection with a book I co-authored called The Jobless Future. The "recovery" of 1992-3 produced a lot of "McJobs" but continued to hemorrhage good jobs—those paying a living wage, providing benefits, and presuming permanent status to the employee. This trend continued throughout the 1990s but became prevalent during the first four years of the 21st century.

Q: You suggest that the Clinton Boom years and the Bush recession are two sides of the same coin, with chronic unemployment (and underemployment) present in both periods. How do you feel each President handled their respective situations?
A: Badly. Clinton signed the Welfare Reform Act in 1996 amidst the dot.com boom and retired from office before the bust of 2001-3. Neither president took extraordinary measures to combat structural unemployment. In Bush's case we have had a pandemic of structural unemployment and underemployment and the administration believes tax cuts are the answer. Both, however were tied to a crude and rather unrealistic concept of jobs and believed that economic growth automatically leads to job growth.

Q: You talk in your preface about how technology at first produced more jobs, but in the long run it destroyed more jobs than it created. What trends are you seeing in the job market now?
A: The idea that economy recovery can be measured by growth data and that, therefore, good jobs follow economic growth, is a kind of mantra based on the previous industrializing era and the effect of large numbers of private and public sector service jobs existing to take up the slack produced by shrinking manufacturing jobs. In recent years many private sector jobs are temporary, contingent and low paid; public sector employment has largely stagnated except in education and health.

Q: Can you explain why you chose the title "Just around the Corner"? You use this phrase in your chapter on "The Reagan Revolution." Can you discuss the effects Reagan's policies had on the job market?
A: "Just around the Corner" is an ironic comment. I believe we are racing to the bottom as fast as workers will let employers get away with bad jobs. However, 2% of the population is doing very well, another 8% is treading water and 90% have experienced decline of real wages in the past twenty years. That's the legacy of the Reagan Revolution.

Q: You open Chapter 3 with a discussion of the "economic malaise" generated by outsourcing and trade deficits. What do you think are the solutions to these by-products of globalization?
A: Some outsourcing is inevitable and may be necessary for some businesses. But outsourcing to reduce labor costs is unacceptable and should be regulated by law and by labor agreements. Cost containment is the enemy of balanced trade. Trade deficits are a direct consequence of deindustrialization. Many things that were once produced in the USA are no longer made here: clothing, textiles, and some of our steel. 25% of autos sold in this country are made abroad, and recently even engineering and computer products which many economists believed would replace "rust belt" products, are made elsewhere—especially in China, Japan and India.

Q: You suggest that Americans have lost their collective voice. What do you recommend people do to stop job destruction and outsourcing?
A: Restrain employers from outsourcing in order to save labor costs, by law; fight to raise wages and living standards in developing countries by supporting workers who want to organize free trade unions; and workers should consider operating abandoned plants that once produced now imported products by forming cooperatives.

Q: Just Around the Corner also addresses issues of health care, the privatization of Social Security, and other timely topics. You advocate unionization as being the best support for workers rights, especially in an era with so much job insecurity. Given the struggles to unionize in the past few decades, why do you feel this is still true?
A: If unions are now weak, in part, because of globalization, it does not mean they are outmoded. Rebuilding the labor movement is one of the best measures to revive jobs because Organized Labor, with all of its problems, remains the best defender of workers interests.

Q: You conclude with the idea that we are working harder and longer for less money and that minimum wage is one third of the average wage. Do you feel that things will ever improve?
A: Things will improve when the American people lift the scales from their eyes and refuse to be tricked, bamboozled, and scared. Intentional or not, the War on Terror has set America back a half century. Even during the Vietnam War, when the threat of terrorism was announced by the Johnson administration, the federal government was forced by Labor and the Civil Rights Movement to recognize structural unemployment as a serious American problem. Today this question has been buried in war fever. When we take the antibiotic of common sense, we can change the world.


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