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In politics, few issues are quite so dear and so personal to the American voter as that of jobs. It directly affects a person's basic livelihood, quality of life, and social station in a way no other concern can equal. The right job can provide financial security and contribute strongly to a happy, comfortable life; the wrong job (or worse, no job) can lead to misery and poverty.

For the purposes of this article, a “job” is anything someone will pay you to do. Washing a stack of dirty dishes after dinner may feel like work, but alas, no one is cutting you a check for that, so we don't count it. The nature of a capitalist economy is such that a large percentage of the population – termed the “workforce” - voluntarily offers to perform some service (cleaning, cooking, delicate brain surgery – anything that is needed, really, and for which the person offering the service is qualified) in exchange for an agreed-upon monetary compensation. The ones doing the compensating are generally business owners (large or small), those who have chosen to accept the risks of entrepreneurship in exchange for the relative freedom of working for themselves and a theoretically unlimited income determined only by their own success.

In 2015, the percentage of the US population that was part of the workforce (those who have or want a job) stood at 62.6%, accounting for a disappointing summer uptick (the workforce generally enjoys an annual surge in or around the month of June, as mostly teenagers and people in their early 20's seek seasonal summer work, but this cycle proved weak in '15). 13% of people own their own business (and there is some overlap here, as that number itself includes about 10% of the workforce). The remaining roughly 25% of Americans are comprised of those who neither possess nor are currently seeking income-generating work, including - but not limited to - students of all ages, social entitlement beneficiaries who have given up on finding work, and retired people.

Precise statistics on unemployment (those members of the workforce who desire but are unable to find jobs – note that this does not include people outside of the workforce) prior to 1940 are difficult to obtain due to lax record keeping, but educated estimates can be made. It is a general trend that unemployment has fluctuated between 3% and 8% for most of the time between 1890 and today. The “Panic of 1893” (an economic crisis of the late nineteenth century, caused by a poor wheat harvest that spread uncertainty and eventually sent world markets into chaos) made unemployment soar to around 13% until the situation had calmed around the year 1900. The Great Depression brought about a meteoric rise of unemployment to a never-before-seen 23%, followed by a steep plunge to an equally unprecedented 1% unemployment rate at the height of World War II. The profound amelioration of the War was caused by the fact that a majority of the young, able-bodied male population of that time was employed by the military, causing a labor shortage at home so severe that jobs traditionally held by men – such as manufacturing – had to be filled by women (a social first for the United States), and most economists agree that the plentiful work caused by the conflict was essentially responsible for ending the Depression. By 1950, more than 5% of the workforce was again without a job. In more recent times, the financial crisis of 2008 caused a recession that brought unemployment up to 10%, but by 2015, it was down to about 5% again. However, many of the people working once more complain that they are “underemployed” - qualified for better jobs than they now have, and earning less than they were before the recession.

Central Issues
The American voting public is extremely concerned with jobs – specifically, with job creation. As a result, politicians across the political spectrum tend to address this issue heavily and offer their own solutions, distinguished only by their proposed methodology.

As a rule, right-wing conservatives tend to rely on free-market principles to correct unemployment, limiting their support for government action to reducing interference in the natural process of capitalism. They often propose lowering taxes on businesses, arguing that this will strengthen companies' financial power to expand and thus increase their need to hire workers. They also favor less government regulation on businesses in order to grant them freedom to operate and prosper, and oppose “stimulus” spending. They often claim that their opponents do not understand economics, or are living in denial about basic economic principles.

By contrast, leftist liberals prefer to involve the government in grappling with unemployment. They support federal or state public works projects to create jobs, loans and grants for students seeking to improve their education and job qualifications, and higher taxes on businesses to pay for social entitlement programs used by people who are unable to find work. They reject the conservative theory of “trickle-down economics”, which states that prosperity among wealthy business owners ultimately benefits all of society, and are likely to accuse supporters of this doctrine of heartlessly serving corporate greed.

Labor Unions
Labor unions have risen to become an extremely controversial aspect of employment in the United States. Defined as alliances of workers within a particular industry formed for the purpose of enabling collective bargaining between labor and management, they began as small groups of paid employees who, together, would threaten to strike or quit their jobs (creating far more difficult and expensive problems for a business than any single worker walking away) if they were not treated well, but today, they have expanded into national organizations that span multiple industries and can represent millions of people. Ostensibly to reduce the bargaining power of companies, union membership (and payment of dues) is often mandatory for those wishing to be hired for a particular job. At the same time, unions are powerful negotiators, with workers under their banners typically earning considerably more and receiving better benefits than their non-unionized counterparts.

Conservatives tend to believe unions have become too powerful, and sometimes, argue against the existence of the organizations at all. They contend that free-market capitalism, left to its own devices, will regulate its own labor markets, with workers refusing to tolerate low wages or poor and dangerous working conditions, thus forcing businesses to respect their employees as a matter of competitiveness. Labor unions, they say, place an undue burden on companies and make it more difficult and costly for them to hire people, so that the unions themselves actually contribute to unemployment. Conservatives also often allege that unions are corrupt, with those in charge a management force unto themselves more concerned with protecting their own interests than those of the workers they are charged with representing.

Liberals typically contend that labor unions are an essential tool for workers to resist corporate greed that would otherwise view employees as an easily replaceable commodity. They point to the American labor market before the advent of unions, when low wages and child labor were the norm. Once again, they are likely to accuse conservatives of serving only corporate interests, without regard to the safety and livelihood of workers.

A very modern economic problem which has persisted since the 1990's, outsourcing is the phenomenon of large American corporations hiring workers in developing countries to perform worked needed for the functioning of their business at home. Because these countries usually have markedly lower standards of living than the United States and value the American dollar highly, people there are typically willing (and legally able, due to different or nonexistent minimum wage laws) to work for a fraction of the pay which would be demanded by a US worker for the same job. This mean that jobs which would otherwise be filled by Americans are instead effective shipped overseas, “outsourced” to foreigners who are hired for their tolerance of low wages. Manufacturing jobs have been especially affected by this practice, and many goods sold in the United States are now produced more cheaply in nations such as China, the Philippines, and others. Phone services like technical support are often outsourced to foreign countries, too, with India being a major destination (and economic beneficiary) of American companies seeking affordable call centers. As advancing technology makes it possible and economical for more and more locally-needed work to be done overseas, the problem of outsourcing grows progressively worse.

Conservatives typically address the outsourcing challenge by emphasizing the need for education, arguing that American workers able to do more skilled and technical jobs that cannot easily be sent elsewhere will still be valued by corporations at home. People of this opinion also caution against increases to the minimum wage, warning that making American labor more expensive exacerbates the problem. Meanwhile, liberals are more likely to support punitive measures against companies based in the United States who are given to the practice of hiring overseas, calling for the imposition of special taxes against those who do so, and perhaps for tax incentives to hire locally.

Candidates' Positions on Jobs

Hillary Clinton
Jill Stein
Donald Trump


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