Friday, 13 October 2017

Employment Matters.


Whether a capitalist or a worker, under capitalism one's livelihood depends ultimately on one's income and for the vast majority of us  -- regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnic origin, religion, age, place of birth or residence, education -- having to rely on work, income in essence comes directly or indirectly from employment. It's been like this since capitalism started, it remains so now.

Mind you, you don't need to be an old-fashioned Marxist to believe that. The standard everyday practice of official statistics offices, like the Australian Bureau of Statistics, is an implicit acknowledgement of that simple fact.

Given that, one should expect workers/employees (the working class, in other words) to be very interested on everything related to employment and unemployment. Often, however, that's not case.

In part that may be due to other subjects being perceived as more "glamorous". Among some strains of post Keynesianism, for example, economics is seen as being about macroeconomic flows of funds, to the exclusion of everything else. On the other hand, business-minded people, with greater access to the media, focus on business-related subjects; their readers and viewers focus on that too.

Another possible explanation is that employment and unemployment, so apparently prosaic and simple, are surprisingly complex phenomena. For one, because in capitalist societies oriented towards moralising, motivations are key: what motivates unemployment, for instance? For another, because employment and unemployment (and the notion of labour force itself) all need to be operationalised for empirical purposes. Among other things, that implies different definitions and occasionally seemingly arbitrary decisions.

Whatever the cause, employment matters fall into oblivion.

Nick Bunker (h/t David Ruccio) discusses some questions related to employment. His discussion is centred on the US and involves some statistical subtleties, which may put non-Yank or lay readers off, but the introduction to his article is useful as motivation.

A few weeks back Bill Mitchell introduced a basic framework incorporating unemployment, employment (in the Australian case, part- and full-time), and the relationships between them. It's very didactic.

Mitchell used the same conceptual structure the ABS employs and explains in its regular release 6202.0 - Labour Force, Australia. Those interested in the details could also explore it.

(Mitchell also introduces, at a descriptive level only, a very useful mathematical object called a matrix. I imagine for many readers this would be their first contact with it.)

ABS 6105.0 - Australian Labour Market Statistics explains how they measure unemployment and it's also very instructive (the diagram opening is there). Last but not least, 6202.0 offers a very convenient glossary, too.

Happy readings.

1 comment:

  1. You left out the "blame immigrants" measurement.

    Indeed, unemployment is a political football, which is why many governments do their best to massage the numbers.