Do We Really Need Job Growth?

Source: Oregon Office of Economic Analysis (Dec 2011)

Oregon’s current unemployment rate hovers around 9%, still one of the highest in the nation. We all did a silent cheer at the end of 2011 when that rate fell .5%. It should have been exciting news, but the fall in unemployment turned out to be more about hopelessness rather than hope — a figure attributed to the fact that job-seekers have given up and stopped looking for employment.

When Juliet Schor published her latest book, Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth, in 2010 she quoted an astounding figure: “By October 2009, 8 million jobs had…been destroyed…. To put these people back to work and accommodate a growing population, the economy would have to generate an astounding half million jobs every month for the next two years.” It painted a grave picture for the the un-or-under-employed.

Even without the economic downturn, the United States was already having to find new ways to reintegrate people in the workforce who lost jobs due to technological advances that increase productivity with fewer employees. How did the market absorb the labor demands?

With growth.

As we learned from our fall speakers, Richard Heinberg and Paul Gilding, continual economic growth is not possible within our physical boundaries. The earth simply cannot withstand growth at the rate required to put all of our country’s unemployed job seekers back to work (especially when job creation is so closely tied to increased consumption). And clearly, our markets can only absorb so many workers under present conditions.

So do we really need more job growth? Well, yes and no. The better question would be, “what kind of job growth do we need?”

Schor has extensively explored our consumerism’s effect on the earth and has concluded that in order to create more jobs, we need enact a major shift in the way we live and work. She proposes less time at our jobs, which means more work to go around and increased free time for self-provision (to make, grow, and do things for oneself). A pretty simple idea, but one that faces almost insurmountable obstacles while our local, state, and national governing bodies rely heavily on increased production, consumption, and commercialization as a way out of our employment crisis.

How does Oregon measure up? We hope to explore that more in the weeks leading up to Juliet Schor’s Illahee talk on February 24th. Details and information below:

Juliet Schor: Jobs, Markets & True Wealth

Friday, February 24th | 7pm

First Congregational Church, 1126 SW Park Ave, Portland

More info: www.illahee.org or (503) 222-2719

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