by Phavia Kujichagulia
America has truly become the land of plenty. There are plenty of Ponzi schemes, plenty of bank failures and plenty of foreclosures. This leaves us with plenty of debt, plenty of crime, plenty of corruption, plenty of inflation, plenty of homelessness, plenty of poverty and plenty of unemployment.
The hopes and dreams of many families are slowly ending up in the toilet of pending economic collapse. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to get a “good job” or a “good education” in the land of plenty because unemployment rates and college tuition fees are steadily on the rise. Meanwhile, we pretend that economic recovery is just around the corner and remain in plenty of denial about the real levels of unemployment nationally.
Do you actually believe that approximately 90 percent of Americans are employed? According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the December 2010 U.S. civilian unemployment rate was 9.4 percent and the expected U.S. civilian unemployment rate for February of 2011 is 9.4 percent. Here in Oakland, the EDD (Employment Development Department) office listed the December 2010 U.S. civilian unemployment rate at 10 percent. Unfortunately, these figures are neither true nor correct.
Rather than representing the actual percentage of people unemployed, America’s unemployment statistics only reveal 1) the percentage of people receiving unemployment benefits and 2) the percentage of citizens applying for benefits. All those who fall outside of these two categories are not represented within the official unemployment statistics because they are not considered unemployed. Out-of-work independent contractors, entrepreneurs, seasonal and migrant farmers, and discouraged job seekers are not counted as part of the nation’s unemployment statistics.
The largest groups of people discounted by the nation’s unemployment statistics are those classified as “discouraged” workers. Discouraged workers are willing-and-able individuals, who for one reason or another have been unable to secure employment in six months or more. After six months, these individuals are removed from the unemployment statistics. Without this policy and practice of under-reporting, the actual percentage of unemployed Americans could easily double, if not triple, the nation’s “official” unemployment statistics overnight.
So the actual unemployment rate is not revealed in order to shield the public from the harsh realities and obvious failures of free enterprise. Outsourcing, illegal sweatshops and illicit trafficking all contribute to high unemployment rates in the states.
Now add to this figure jobs “outsourced” to America’s Prison Industrial Complex (PIC). The PIC sustains a rapidly growing pool of underpaid and exploited workers. Inmates constitute a captive, controlled workforce ineligible for decent pay, scheduled pay raises, workers’ compensation, unemployment benefits, overtime pay, vacation time, retirement pay/plans etc. Additionally, there are no tariffs, fines, fees etc. associated with the products manufactured and repaired by exploited prison laborers. The result: plenty of profits for plenty of companies.
As incarceration rates increase, the number of jobs removed from the public and private sector are able to increase as well. An incarcerated workforce can increase company profit margins by decreasing or eliminating the numerous costs – decent wages, health care etc. – associated with actually employing the public.
This insatiable quest for greater profits and more money drives Microsoft, Compaq, Texas Instruments, IBM, MCI, Starbucks, Victoria’s Secret, TWA, Unicor, the CCA (Corrections Corporation of America), Chevron, Motorola, Honeywell, Boeing and plenty of other companies to shortchange the nation’s workforce by utilizing prison workers instead.
It’s no wonder America continues to incarcerate more people than any other country on the face of the earth. Free labor is free labor, weather enslaved on a plantation or incarcerated in a prison. And profit is profit.
Meanwhile, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics continues to under-report actual unemployment rates, corporations continue to contract prison laborers and illicit economies continue to diminish legitimate employment opportunities, as plenty of real human beings, not statistics, continue to be unemployed.
Phavia Kujichagulia is an author, educator, journalist and Griot (oral historian/musician). From 1990 to 1999, she wrote for Jazz Now magazine and was resident literary artist at San Quentin prison. A former professor of African civilizations and ethnomusicology, Phavia is highlighted in “Images of America: Black Artists in Oakland.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story first appeared in the San Francisco Examiner, where Kujichagulia is Oakland Ethnic Community Examiner.