Election Day 2012: What Long Voter Lines Tell You About Unemployment

The pictures of long lines of voters on election day tell us more about real employment than last Friday’s statistics. The people I saw on my television this morning were not dressed for success! 

True, some were older and retired. Maybe some of the younger voters were stopping on their way home from jogging or an hour a gym before work? But the bulk of these people seemed to be human economic statistics – jobless or under-employed.

When ADP releases its monthly statistics, it counts paychecks produced. It does not consider the work hours per week or the quality and complexity of the job. Similarly, the Bureau of Labor Statistics counts a job created if a member of the small sample of U.S. households says “yes” someone in the household has a net, “new” job. It does not matter if the job is 4 hours a week or 40 hours a week, it counts as a job.

Under the best of circumstances, a worker can support themselves or a family on a 40 hour/wk job. But, even under the best of circumstances, a worker cannot support themselves or a family on a 4 hour/wk job. This economy is not “the best of circumstances.”

The reality inside the unemployment numbers is that almost half of the 4M jobs created since the official end of the recession were less than full-time jobs. That is what we saw reflected in the early morning lines to vote today.

The explosion of part-time work in the last few years is only partly explained by business concerns about managing the costs of direct labor, overtime and employee benefits (think Obamacare). The larger explanation is found in the consumer driven economy, itself. An economy fueled 75% to 80% by retail purchases of foreign-made goods, fast-food meals and entertainment does not lend itself to creating full-time jobs.

President Clinton is correct when he says there is plenty of “blame for this economy to go around.” The seeds were sown in the late 1990s when outsourcing gained momentum and began to carry off even “service-sector” jobs – a trend that has carried forward into the first decade and half of the 21st century.

The American economy cannot heal itself and heal its middle class without a rebalancing of consumption and production. We need to turn the economy back to the 1960s, if you will.  We can do it, but it will require sacrifice from all. 

Sadly, none of the candidates in the presidential and vice presidential contest have leveled with the American people about the true extent of our economic crisis or what it will take to get past it.

I’m left to wonder, as are you, if the millions who lined up in the frosty dawn. Today, wanted to feel that for a moment that they, themselves, had done something productive – even if they did not have dignified and worthy work to go to?