Unworkers, unite?

The other day, the Wall Street Journal [6/9/2016] carried a piece on the fate of the ten million US disposable people living over there. Nothing really new but, still, eery in a way. The usual bureaucrats have already found a name for them: they are called Neets, that is people "neither in employment nor in education or training". Neet sounds neat. In the US, there are some 10 million of them. Structural outcasts. Born and raised to be useless, so to say.

The author of the piece is the political economist Nicholas Eberstadt and the reason he wrote it is that he just wrote a book on the subject. It's called "Men Without Work: America's Invisible Crisis". Thereby he got some publicity for it. Why not? Everyone has to earn his living, even academics.

The figures Eberstadt comes up with are of course striking. The proportion of American age 20 and older without paid work has risen in the past 50 years from 19% to 32%. That's almost one in three.

Worse still is the fact that, whereas the working-age population before usually fell into two big categories (either employed or unemployed), that picture doesn't fit the bill anymore. A new kind of drop-box has come along. A rubbish bin, really. Tailor-made for the Neets, or the "unworkers" as Eberstadt more aptly names them.

Statistics, anyone? The unworkers generally tend to be 1) less educated, 2) never married, 3) native born, and 4) African-American. The portrait corresponds more or less to those that, before, could hope for a unskilled low-paid job. And there are thus some ten million of them. Same figure in Europe where, according to a paper in the Financial Times [28/4/2015], not only is "one in five EU part-time workers underemployed", but the "proportion of people who had given up looking for work has risen." From 9.3 million in 2013 to 9.4 million in 2014. Ten million here, ten million there. The fashion of the day?

Different surveys also show that the unworkers are "almost entirely idle". They help around in the house less that unemployed men. They care for others less than employed women. The volunteer and engage in religious activities less than working men and women.

So, what do they do? Says Eberstadt: "socializing, relaxing and leisure is a full-time occupation, accounting for 3,000 hours a year, much of the time in front of television or computer screens."

Some life. The marxists of yore had another word for them: lumpenproletariat. The economy-as-it-is probably needs them. For one thing, they scare the first two categories, the employed and unemployed: look! this is what might happen to you if you step out of line. Secondly, they're damn hard to organize. It's true already of the unemployed but with unworkers, it's worse, they hardly ever unite. Fringe people, discardable.

What does one do? One takes note.