A Sense of Urgency: Wild 3’s in the Work-Income Link Los Angeles Three percent is not a very exciting figure. Used as a measure of the alcohol in a bottle of beer, it is disappointingly small. As an estimate of those who do not cheat parking meters, it sounds about right. It is when three percent is used to show the annual increase in output per manhour for the total private economy that it becomes truly impressive, almost startling. If you are one not easily startled by figures, you may wish to move on at this point to see what new things the Observer has to lay on our sore consciences from Birmingham; Selma, or East Texas. Yet, if there really is room on your conscience for more reports from thoSe battlements, you may wish to linger and stare at this three percent figure, which hovers over Birmingham, East Texas, and all contiguous points. This tenacious figure must be dealt with before any satisfactory quarter is likely in the battles over civil rights. The figure changes with time. It is on the make; it is growing at an ever more rapid rate. The chief of productivity studies in the Bureau of Labor Statistics gave the figure to the Senate manpower subcommittee recently to show the average annual increase in output per man-hour of work in all private industry from 1957 to 1962. He added that in 1962 the figure approached four percent for that year. Thus, it will soon be double the average annual productivity increase for the period 1909 to 1947, which, he stated, was two percent. These should be joyful figures, and, in a way, they are. Standing alone, they indicate that for an hour’s human labor this year we can produce over three percent more than the year before, and over six percent more than the year before that. They mean that the productivityof our economy is increasing almost twice as fast as it did during the period when we developed the first mass production assembly lines, electrified our factories, and pioneered in the scientific organization of work. The trouble begins when we see that the three percent figure does not stand alone. Economic figures seldom do. Three percent is not necessarily a winning hand, for there are some more wild 3’s in the game. The same Bureau of Labor Statistics expert testified that if the output per manhour continues to increase, the total output of the economy must increase at an even higher rate to avoid displacing work The writer is well known to Texans as formerly secretary-treasurer of the Texas AFL-CIO and administrative assistant to Cong. Henry Gonzalez of San Antonio. He is now pursuing economic research in California. 6 The Texas Observer Fred Schmidt ers and to allow a margin for increased employment to absorb the rise in our labor force. Total output of the economy must increase at a faster rate than output per man-hour just to keep the present level of employment. For the first ten years after World War II, he said, it did just that : output went up at a rate substantially more than productivity. But since 1957 it has barely exceeded productivity. It averaged only 3.3 percent per year. This is not good. It results in the unemployment figures we all know, unemployment figures that persist after over 30 months of a socalled booming economy. Unemployment figures themselves do not take the full measure of this unhealthy trend. A man can be only partially or inadequately employed and still count as one employed under the present procedures for taking this count. A better gauge of the extent human beings are used in private industry is to count the actual aggregate hours all of them are used and examine this trend over the years. With these figures the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows us a rather ominous trend. The Senate manpower subcommittee was told that the rate of annual increase in total man-hours worked in the private economy was less in the last five years than in the last fifteen years \(0.3 percent This is a smaller increase in available work than the increase in the labor force. It spells bad trouble for those who want a job in that group of over 25 million persons, the war babies, who are coming of work age in this decade. It is bad trouble for those of limited skills, those with inadequate education, those “automated-out” in their advanced years, and, of course, those who made an unwise choice of parents. It compounds the problem of Negroes already unemployed at twice the rate of nonNegroes. IN A SOCIETY STILL HOB-BLED by that part of the Protestant ethic which so firmly links income rights to work, we have some hard choices to make. We either resign ourselves to a condition in which relatively fewer and fewer people compete more strenuously for available work, hence income, or we begin in earnest to search for new ways to break the Workincome link. We can either continue to act as though we were in a state of scarcity which has to be divided carefully among those deemed most worthy, or we can recognize that after 15,000 years of accumulating technological innovations, we now have the means to provide all essential goods and services for all who need themnot because they earned it through accepted forms of work, but because they are human. Such a glib statement will outrage those whose minds gag at the suggestion of paying one to do nothing, or providing income unrelated to work. Only the limitation of this space prevents adding to their discomfort by reminding them of the scarcely disguised, though limited, ways in which this is already being done. They may concede the settled fact of the old age assistance, aid to dependent children, and similar programs where income is unrelated to work. These they find inoffensive because of the charitable overtones and the good morality of assisting the infirm and suffering-the-little-children. Besides, it has been abundantly shown that these programs do not subtract from our national substance, they add to it. But sooner than later, they and we must raise the question of why it is acceptable for the government to pay one man to become unemployed and deny payment to another who had no choice in being unemployed. The first man is the Texas farmer who agreed to place acreage in the soil bank ; the second would be an unemployed person who exhausted the limited benefits which he had to work to earn. This difference of treatment is but one of many illustrations of our irresolution about our present situation. There is no avoiding our society’s collision course with the stream of technological changes that are just now coming out of the universities and research and development laboratories of corporations. Almost each one of them is heralded as a great advance in technical efficiency because it results in abolishing a certain amount of human labor. The theme of our future is set. If we are successful at all, if we advance further in our technological proficiency, we will dispense with more and more human work as we have known it. In such a world we must decide such things as whether full and complete medical . care should be available to all, regardless of the work done, as is garbage collection, fire protection, and police protection, and other public services. Should all the education one can master be added to the list of essential public services? Should a minimum family income adequate to house, feed and clothe in health and decency be given, irrespective of the work done? I say yes, by all means, yes. These must come; these are coming. Not necessarily as a moral resolution \(though I do. not shy parts of the technological revolution that is here now and about which the Bureau of Labor Statistics cautiously told the senators the other day. It is all told in that three percent figure, but there is much more to be said about that figure.
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