Public Comment

Lies, Lies and More Lies

Harry Brill
Friday December 07, 2018 - 01:40:00 PM

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the economy next year in California and the rest of the nation is likely to slow. Why? Among the important reasons the Chronicle gives is because the economy "is running out of workers". The following day the caption in the Chronicle's front page claims that there is a "serious shortage of Muni Drivers". What do we make of these claims? 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is the main source of labor force data. Those who follow their reports regularly and carefully realize that the BLS has a strong bias toward underestimating the problem of joblessness. And the fiction that it regularly manufactures finds its way into the mass media. To cite one important example, if an unemployed worker has not actively searched for work in the last 28 days, they are not counted as unemployed. No extenuating circumstances are considered. Perhaps job seekers are waiting to hear from one of the employers they contacted. Or they searched for work in ways that the BLS does not consider as an active search. Yet if someone worked only one hour in the survey week they are counted as employed. 

The BLS does estimate the number of jobless persons who want a job. But if they offer reasons other than saying their search for work has been unsuccessful, then they are not counted officially as unemployed. If they explain that they are not working because they are handicapped, for example, they are not included in the unemployment count. Yet the number of those who are not working but want a job is substantial. In October of this year, over 5 million out of work persons stated that they want to work. That is over 100,000 more than in October, 2017. Clearly, these are the" hidden unemployed" . 

So when the SF Chronicle earlier this week claimed on its front page that there is a "Serious Shortage of Muni Drivers", we have reason to be skeptical. The article claims that it has almost 1900 full time drivers, which results in a shortage of slightly more than 400 drivers. However, the shortage reflects not a lack of enough qualified employees. Rather, it has too many dissatisfied employees. According to Muni operators. low wages and dangerous working conditions are the problem. So as many as 600 drivers are absent on a given day. According to the company's drivers the low wages and poor working conditions are chasing Muni workers off their jobs. 

For Muni and many other businesses, their prime problem is how to recruit workers completely on their own terms. Isn't it about time for executives to realize that the best way to deliver quality service is to provide working people with quality working conditions as well as a living wage?