Friday, August 27, 2004


"Campaign Rhetoric" by Matthew Miller in the current Forbes takes on just some of the problems in each major party's political platform. One of the items itemizes the 142 million Americans who do not work.

In 2000, the U.S. population was approximately 275 million. Of those, 135 million worked and 5.5 million were unemployed. The civilian labor force was just shy of 141 million.

We read almost everyday that the accounting is shaky. The proportions working, not-working-but-looking, not-working-and-not-looking interact in complex ways.

The Miller tally shows 72 million children, 33 million retired, 11 million college students, 8 million unemployed, 8 million disabled, 5 million stay-at-home moms, 3 million gave up looking for work and 2 million are in prison.

Travel surveys have, for years, shown that most daily person-trips are for non-work reasons. The proportion has been rising and hovers near 80%. In most cities one-half of AM-peak person-trips are non-work and two-thirds of PM-peak person trips are non-work. This is, of course, great ammunition for the advocates of peak-load pricing who are constantly berated by know-nothings talking about the "need" for workers to be on the roads at particular times.

It also responds to the question: "Who are all these people?" that those working regular hours ask when they occasionally pop out and see so many restaurants, malls and highways near filled to capacity.

Take away the prisoners and the busy stay-at-home moms and 137 million do whatever they do all day supported and served by a slightly smaller army of 135 million at work.

Conventional labor force participation is up but it's really not. More women are working outside the home than ever but they were always working. Adolescence is longer than ever. Etymologists report that the word was not even in use before 1785.