Unemployment in the U.S.: A Historical Summary


  • Richard B. Du Boff




Political Economy, Labor


There can be no appreciation of the seriousness of unemployment without a knowledge of its true extent. In the absence of information about the number unemployed, many people will drug themselves into the belief that but few of those seeking work are really unable to find it. The comfortable men and women of the ruling class do not like to admit unpleasant facts about a social system which has proved its worth by giving them—the deserving persons—its material rewards. Hence until the evidence is available they will continue to believe that there is little unemployment. Even then some will continue to believe it—but not so many. —Paul Douglas and Aaron Director, The Problem of Unemployment (New York: Macmillan, 1931), p. 3. What is the historical record of unemployment in the United States since the foundations of industrial capitalism were set in place in the last quarter of the nineteenth century? Is it true that "high level employment has characterized the performance of the American economy [since 1914]," inasmuch as "a level of 5 percent unemployed…has been achieved in more than half of this period."