Living in Society Writing

Jobs Aren’t the Issue

Working the Garden

The overlooked part of President Joe Biden’s remarks about the January jobs report is this, “As my dad used to say, ‘A job is about a lot more than a paycheck. It’s about your dignity.’”

Make no mistake that Democrats should tout the achievement in jobs growth accomplished during the Biden administration.

Next week, I’ll be reporting on the state of the Union.  But today — today, I’m happy to report that the state of the Union and the state of our economy is strong.

We learned this morning that the economy has created 517,000 jobs just last month — more than half a million jobs in just the month of January. 

And in addition, we also learned that we — there were half a million more jobs created last year than we thought, so the January report is updated.  I mean, excuse me, the December report is updated.

Add that all up, it means we created 12 million — 12 million jobs since I took office.  That means we have created more jobs in two years than any presidential term, than any time, in two years.

That’s the strongest two years of job growth in history by a longshot.

Remarks by President Biden on the January Jobs Report, Feb. 3, 2023.

I’m more restrained in my reaction to the jobs numbers because business continues to focus on deregulation, profit, and shareholders rather than employees. Having a job is good, yet what kind of work is it, and how long will it last? There are unresolved issues between capital and labor.

By the time I entered the workforce in 1968, the post-war economic boom was ending. We didn’t understand it at the time, yet business had resisted progress with workforce since the post-Civil War era when a few people — John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jay Gould, E.H. Harriman, Henry Clay Frick, and others — tried to capture the entire economy to serve their own interests. While the Gilded Age capitalists, or Robber Barons as they are better known, were beat back through regulation, large corporate interests are again dominating the industrial landscape in today’s society. A small number of companies push the limits of anti-trust regulations to grow big and prosper anew. The same regulations that broke the monopolies.

After WWII, there was a business movement to create “good jobs.” Companies like General Electric, Kodak, General Motors and Coca-Cola were large scale employers who valued putting returning G.I.s back to work and created what today seems like exceptional benefits packages. Profit-sharing, bonuses, pensions, health care, and even a “guaranteed income” program were all part of generous perquisite packages for loyal employees. These actions were partly self-serving, i.e. to gain employee loyalty and support profitable business enterprises, yet these capitalists viewed employees differently than we do today. Growth in wage workers would fuel a consumer society bursting at the gills in the 1950s.

It is difficult to pinpoint one villain in the conflict between employers and employees in the post-Reagan era. In any case, I point to human resources management consultants. The 40th president set the tone by firing air traffic controllers during the PATCO strike. Much less flashy was the hiring of consultants and implementing ideas the main goal of which was to drive out human resource costs. Whatever romantic attachment to so-called “good jobs” persisted was underscored by the quiet changes by human resource consultants to remove the expense of employees from business operations large and small.

Yes, we should congratulate Joe Biden and company for the what they did to get people back to work after the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, we should encourage the administration to tax business fairly, act on the climate crisis, and do what’s right for employees and retirees in a rapidly changing business environment. Jobs aren’t the main issue in society today. Regulating business is.