Announcement by the Department of Commerce, August 15, that commodity production and consumption had been larger, and business in general more active during July, 1929, than in any corresponding month of the nation's history followed close upon the heels of a statement by President Green of the American Federation of Labor that during 1929 at least 500,000 wage-earners had been added to the number enjoying the five-day week and that millions of additional dollars for expenditure in retail trade had been provided through wage increases received by organized workers during the year. Unemployment, Green added, did not seem at this time to be “unusually large,” There was more of it in the smaller towns than in large cities, but whether the total was above or below normal he was unable to say, for “there has never been any determination of what normal unemployment might be.” The first countrywide figures of this nature will be obtained through the census of unemployment to be taken as of April 1, 1930, in connection with the next decennial enumeration of the population.
Labor leaders have directed attention with increasing emphasis during recent years to the fact that sub-normal employment may exist side by side with super-normal business activity; that full employment is not by any means an inevitable accompaniment of conditions of prosperity. The new machine processes that have been so rapidly introduced, and have contributed so largely to corporation earnings, have at the same time displaced large numbers of wage-earners. According to Prof. William Leiserson, well-known labor economist, “present unemployment is a product of prosperity,”-for American industry is becoming so organized that it can use only the more efficient workers. Those who lose their jobs are “the less efficient, less adaptable, and more unemployable”; they are not readily absorbed in other lines of activity and they tend to create “a surplus of labor, more or less permanently unemployed.”
Prospect of Action by Congress on Unemployment
During the last regular session of Congress, ended March 4, 1929, unemployment was an important subject of debate. Pursuant to a resolution offered by Senator Wagner, Democrat, New York, the Senate ordered an investigation of the problem by its Committee on Education and Labor. While the investigation was in progress two bills to provide for construction of public works in times of depression as a means of alleviating unemployment were before the Senate, one introduced by Senator Jones, Republican, Washington, and the other by Senator Wagner. The committee's report was not submitted to the Senate until the end of the session. In the present special session two measures recommended by the committee have been adopted by Congress., the first providing increases in appropriations for the Bureau of Labor Statistics to permit the collection of improved current statistics of employment, and the second authorizing the forthcoming census of unemployment. Other measures recommended by the committee will receive consideration at the first regular session of the present Congress, which convenes on December 2, 1929.