Our Neighbors are Out of Work

by George Maroukis

Capitalism has taken many forms over the past couple of centuries in the anthracite region with most of the major industries being extractive. Beginning with the enormous logging industry throughout the early 1800s, followed by energy production in anthracite mining in the mid-1800s through the early 1900s, which then conceded to the textile and manufacturing mills. Today, the industrial landscape of the anthracite region is not dominated by one industry. This industrial stratification is effective in isolating the people’s common struggles of wage disputes, discrimination issues, harassment problems, hazard exposures, etc.

What follows builds on a previous post, What We’re Rightfully Owed, which presented a basic historical analysis of wage siphoning since 1975. According to those findings, the average household income in the anthracite region should be double what it is today. This raises the question: in what context do most workers find themselves amid capital’s current state of instability?

Chart 1. Top 4 Anthracite Industries by worker count, 2018

Data USA. (n.d.). Retrieved October 19, 2020, from https://datausa.io/

Chart 1 ranks in order of worker count: Health Care & Social Assistance (71,373); Manufacturing (62,236); Retail Trade (50,183); and Educational Services (34,586). Total employment for all industries in the anthracite region in 2018 was 412,900. These top four industries represent 53% of the total employed. In other words, more than half of the employed workers in our region work in one of these four industries.

Chart 2. Applied BLS Unemployment Rate per Top 4 Anthracite Industry

Unemployed persons by industry and class of worker, not seasonally adjusted. (2020, October 05). Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t14.htm

The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released unemployment percentages per industry in September 2020. When applied to the top 4 industries, a projected regional unemployment figure emerges. Chart 2 depicts 13,177, or 6.1% unemployed workers within the top four industries. As of September, BLS is reporting a national unemployment rate of 7.9%. By comparison to the national rate, our region’s top industries appear to be doing well.

Unemployment statistics, however, ought to be taken with a grain of salt. Recent studies have shown that the manipulation of federal categorization of what constitutes unemployment have been skewed to project a favorable view of the administration. The federal government standard for being categorized as unemployed requires one to be actively looking for work, work in most any form, even for a starving wage. A Ludwig Institute for Shared Economic Prosperity (LISEP) study, concluded on October 13th, accounted for several other factors in establishing an unemployment rate. These include not having a full-time job (35+ hours a week) but wanting one, having no job, or not earning a living wage of at least $20k annually before taxes.

When these factors are applied to national statistics, an astonishing 26.1% unemployment rate is revealed. This is not new, but suppressed, information. A month earlier prominent economist Jack Rasmus depicted a stark 25% unemployment rate, matching the worst year during the Great Depression, in his conveniently named article, ‘America’s Current Jobs ‘Great Depression.’

Chart 3. America’s Current Jobs ‘Great Depression’

America’s Current Jobs ‘Great Depression’. (2020, September 10). Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://jackrasmus.com/2020/09/09/americas-current-jobs-great-depression/

If we apply the 26.1% figure from the LISEP study as an estimate for real unemployment in the anthracite region, there’s a sobering 108,000 people who are unemployed. With almost no government relief, a pandemic still unmitigated, inflation increasing, wages stagnated, a growing elder population, disenfranchised young adults, and rents due, to say that the system has failed us is a misstatement. The system has worked exactly as it had been designed to work, by and for the class of people who established it.

The earliest industries represented in the anthracite region belonged to absentee landowners from Philadelphia, or New York City, whose political influence dictated the means of the region’s toil. Today, some of these industrial monopolies have transformed into international conglomerates, further consolidating the political and economic power that determines government action. The consolidation of capitalist power is generated by dividing the working class. Early in the regions history, the landscape was dominated by one or two industries. This close proximity to one another made it easier for workers to develop a class consciousness and cultivate power through collectivization. Although there are differences in the material possessions between groups within our communities, the fact of the matter remains, you do not live next to the Walton’s of Walmart who drove out the shopping centers that sprang up in the 70’s, which drove out the mom and pop shops of your downtown. You do not live next to Cal Turner Jr. of Dollar General that ran out your local grocery store which at one point replaced the farmers market. The majority that reside within our region are all from a common class, the working class, and however you can collectivize to cultivate power, is a start in fighting these capitalist vampires.

George Maroukis lives in Auburn, Pa., born to a carpenter/ mechanic and a nurse in Schuylkill Haven. He graduated from Penn State University with a BA in Communications. Previously he served six years in the US Army Reserve as a Preventive Medicine Specialist, and was deployed to Afghanistan. Today he is a human rights activist – including anti-war – and a bicycle infrastructure advocate. 

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