Hidden US jobless: the 'hopeless'

John R., a black handyman who lives in Washington's in ner city, is unemployed and has given up hope of ever finding a job. and he is angry -- at the growing recession, the Carter administration, and his failure to find work.

His situation is not unique.

The nation's unemployment rate for May stood at 7.8 percent. This meant 8.2 million people were out of work. Moreover, the rate was expected to post another increase today (July 3), when figures are released for June.

But the official unemployment numbers don't really measure the effect of the current recession, because, in fact, Mr. R. is not even counted in the overall unemployment roster. He is joined by 1 million others who are not officially counted. And that figure is 33 percent higher than it was at the beginning of this year.

Carter administration economists, as well as many outside employment experts, are increasingly disturbed by what they see as a growing pool of Americans who have given up hope of finding a job.

Officially dubbed "discouraged" workers by the government, these people have stopped looking for work because of their previous inability to find employment. For that reason, they are not counted as "unemployment."

In effect, they have disappeared from employment and unemployment statistics.

Most of these people, says Harvey Hamel, an official of the Bureau of Labor Statistics and a labor economist, are nonwhite. Many are also black youths who tend to live in the nation's inner cities, he notes.

The growing size of this category of unemployed -- and the proportion of young people in it -- is believed to be one reason behind the new $96 million jobs program outlined here by the adminis United States.

The program, which comes on top of $1 billion in funding for summer jobs that had already been planned, is expected to generate 32,000 summer jobs in such hard-pressed racially mixed cities as Detroit; Chicago; New York; Boston; Cincinnati; Newark, N.J.; and Los Angeles.

Some 20,260 of the new jobs will be designated for youths.

For the first three months of 1980, the overall US unemployment rate was 6.1 percent, or 6.4 million people. During that same period, 97.8 million were working. at the same time, another 59 million aged 16 or over were outside the labor force altogether, such as students, mothers at home, and older Americans who had retired.

But then there is also the "discouraged" group, the growing category that includes Mr. R. During the first quarter, this group grew by more than one-third, jumping from roughly 750,000 people to 1 million.

Economists say the size of this group -- people who want to work but have given up looking because they can't find a job -- is disturbing.

The category had stayed level at roughly the 750,000 mark for the past several years. during the 1973-75 slump, for example, which was the worst slowdown in the economy since the Great Depression, "discouraged" workers reached a high of around 1.1 million, close to the present rate.

What the current figures mean, argues Arnold Cantor, assistant director of economic research for the AFL-CIO, is that the severity of the 1980 recession is being far "understated" by the official Labor Department statistics.

Mr. Cantor, for his part, says the AFL-CIO analysis suggests that the roster of "discouraged" workers will probably post sizable increases during the next several months in areas with heavy industries, such as autos.

For the Carter administration, that huge jump in "discouraged" workers holds a double danger.

First, there is the danger of riots in central cities as the summer months continue.

Beyond that, of course, is the genuine possibility of a strong political backlash against the administration -- particularly from minority groups, which so far have tended to be among the firmest part of Mr. Carter's constituency.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.