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Jack Ranger

Shadow of Unemployment Looms Across Nation

Chicago: The “Small Pool of Labor”
Makes Bosses Happy

(10 March 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 13, 28 March 1949, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

CHICAGO, Mar. 10 – In the two-month period from November 15, 1948, to January 15, 1949, unemployment in Illinois leaped sharply upward, from 101,000 to 175,000, Samuel C. Bernstein, Illinois commissioner of unemployment compensation, announced. Unemployment has continued to rise each week since, by an estimated 5,000 weekly.

Young war veterans and Negroes have been particularly hard hit. Of the 137,337 claimants for unemployment compensation in Illinois the week of February 5, there were 32,262 veterans of the recent war. Of those filing in December in the Chicago-Calumet area, 37 per cent were “non-white,” the governmental lingo for Negro. By March 1, according to one colored spokesman, more than 48,000 colored workers had registered for unemployment benefits at the office on South Parkway, heart of the Chicago black belt.

“For the first time in more than three years, machinists, engine lathe operators, tool and die makers, auto mechanics and other highly skilled workers were laid off in significant numbers and were not immediately able to locate new employment,” Frank Anunzio, state director of labor, announced.

Future Looks Dim

The growing boom in unemployment in Illinois is further complicated by the entry of an estimated 26,000 high school and college graduates into the labor market in February, these, not having been hitherto employed, are not counted in the jobless totals.

The Anunzio report for the Chicago area asserted that “reductions in consumer demand were principally responsible for the 20,000 decline (in jobs) in manufacturing plants. Hardest hit by the slight business recession were four light metal industries which experienced losses totalling 11,000 – electrical machinery, fabricated metal products, non-electrical machinery,” etc.

Government officials do not assert, as do some columnists, that the unemployment situation here is “seasonal.” “Unexpected employment declines were noted which went beyond the normal seasonal volume, resulting in sharper reductions than anticipated,” they said.

The total increase in unemployment in Illinois is about evenly divided between Chicago and downstate. State officials say that the drastic drop in jobs here “points to the fact that employers either have reached or are rapidly approaching peak employment and that future hiring will largely serve to replace diminishing turnover.”

‘Schedules of future employment requirements submitted by employers to the Illinois and Indiana, employment services reveal that only a fraction of the workers laid off during November 15–January 15 will be rehired before May 15,” Anunzio reports.

He said that a spot check of the employment situation indicated that many large employers were “holding off” on production and cutting down on hiring while waiting to see what would happen on the national and international scenes. Smaller employers, without the flexibility of big industry, were decreasing their employment because of a drop in orders, he said.

Parallel with the growth of unemployment has gone a drop in retail sales. A few days ago, both Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward disclosed that national sales in February were substantially lower than in February 1948. It was the second consecutive month in which both big mail order houses reported sales decreases. Sears’ February sales were down 8.3 per cent from a year ago and Ward’s sales were down 9.7 per cent. Retail sales nationally are reported running $100,000,000 a month behind last year’s volume.

More Begging

But the unemployment situation in Chicago is only faintly reflected in these bureaucratic statistics. To the average person, the picture reveals itself in more intimate ways.

There has been a sharp increase in the number of beggars in the Chicago loop. For eight years now, begging has seldom been observed east of the river in the Loop. It has been confined to the “skid rows” of West Madison and State Street south of Van Buren. Now, every day, one is approached by beggars right in the Loop.

Employers and “liberals” with penetrating eyes can judge to a nicety that those begging are not hungry and are “just too lazy to work.” The fact is, most of them look and sound desperate and plenty hungry and disgusted, too.

The bosses are licking their lips over the present situation. According to Austin Kiplinger, writing in the March 9 Chicago Journal of Commerce, “employers everywhere are using the business slack as a time for pruning out some deadwood, incompetents and ‘floaters’ in their labor forces.”

Translated, this means, in a large number of cases, that the best union militants are being given the gate.

‘Employers are reporting that for the first time since before the war, they can be a little selective in their hiring,” said Kiplinger. “It is not a case of taking anybody who offers himself for a job. With 3,221,000 unemployed in February ... a small pool of labor exists.”

There is nothing calculated to make an employer feel so smug and serene as “a small pool of labor” at the employment office.

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