Chronic unemployment and poverty

A study of the “ghetto” labor market in Boston in 1968…showed that about 70 percent of the job applicants referred by neighborhood employment centers received offers. More than half of the offers were rejected, however, and only about 40 percent of those who took jobs kept them for as long as a month. “Much of the ghetto unemployment,” the author explains, “appears to be a result of work instability rather than job scarcity.”

…As Michael J. Piore, an M.I.T. economist, points out, they leave their jobs without notice, sometimes steal, are frequently absent or late, are insubordinate, and so on…

In 1966, the U.S. Department of Labor made an intensive survey in slum areas of eight large cities… Of the persons who were found, between 10 and 20 percent of those who should have been working were neither working nor looking for work. Only one in five of these said that he would be willing to “live away from home temporarily to take training or get a “job” or to “move to another metropolitan area if it meant getting a job.”… Unemployment in these areas is primarily a story of inferior education, no skills, police and garnishment records, discrimination (more frequently on the basis of age than of race), fatherless children, dope addiction, hopelessness.” “The problem,” the Labor Department suggests, “is less one of inadequate opportunity than of inability, under existing conditions, to use opportunity.” – Edward C. Banfield, The Problem of Unemployment, The Unheavenly City.

The study which I’ve just concluded has similar findings. Listening to the young people I had discussions with, they demonstrated a general lack of direction, in life and career, regardless of whether they are from families below or above the poverty threshold. Digging deeper into this phenomenon, we came upon deep-rooted family issues such as mentioned above: lack of parental attention, care, and guidance, dysfunctional relationships in the families, emotional traumas, taking on the role of household head at young ages (e.g. 15), and the like. Of course, for the economically poor, these issues are on top of their economic situation. Slum dwellers, they are without land and constantly threatened even in their sleep of being booted out of what they call house and home. Their lives so far, though they have unbelievably and bravely endured and coped up with, at their young age, are crisis upon crisis. They live on the edge, socially, economically, literally. And not their fault, to start with. This is the poverty trap in the context of Sen’s ‘deprivation of capabilities’.

The easy solution is to raise the minimum wage but unemployment in this country is a deep wound. It will not go away by adding layers of Band Aid.

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