Labor urges workers to disavow Reagan - despite US job gains
The AFL-CIO, while publicly encouraged by a sharp drop in national unemployment, is concerned about the political impact of the spectacular surge in employment in June, when the civilian jobless rate dropped to 7.1 percent.
As the labor federation sees it, the brightening job outlook could give Ronald Reagan the blue-collar votes the Democrats need if they are to topple the Reagan administration in November.
The drop in unemployment so far this year has exceeded Reagan administration forecasts and is being interpreted as evidence that his economic policies are working effectively. Hoping to counteract what appears to be growing support for Mr. Reagan among trade unionists, the AFL-CIO is intensifying its efforts to convince them that over the long term, they cannot count on Reagan's economic policies.
During the past two weeks:
* AFL-CIO has pointed out to members of its affiliated unions that 23.8 million adult Americans, nearly 20 percent of the United States work force, were unemployed at some time during 1983, with a median length of joblessness of 14.9 weeks.
* It warned that real wages, or spendable income, of workers continues to be ''well below 1979 levels'' - clouding the economic outlook for workers.
* And it noted that the latest increase in the average cost of buying a home (now more than $100,000) and a 15 percent mortgage rate are pricing workers - and much of the public - out of the home market. In 1983, 1 of every 3 Americans had the income needed to buy a new home; now, according to AFL-CIO, fewer can afford one.
The AFL-CIO called on the Democratic Party platform committee to ''speak to the needs of ordinary people, particularly the need of American working men and women for jobs,'' when it reports to the national convention in San Francisco next week.
AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland, Robert Georgine, head of the federation's Building Trades Union, and other labor leaders told platform drafters, ''Putting people back to work must be our highest national priority.''
The arguments were undercut as the government Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the rapid pace of job creation in June brought the jobless rate down to a four-year low. The decline was the sharpest drop in the postwar period. At the peak of the recession in December 1982, the civilian unemployment rate was 10.8 percent. Since late 1982, more than 6.7 million people have gone to work, raising the number of job-holding Americans to a record 105.7 million. The number reported as jobless has dropped in that period from well over 12 million to just above 8 million. When Reagan took office, the unemployment rate was 7.5 percent.
An AFL-CIO official in Washington said lower jobless figures ''obviously are good news,'' but he warned against letting the plight of those still without work ''get buried in Republican political rhetoric.''
Among ''continuing worries,'' labor and other liberal groups say, are the facts that job growth has been heavily concentrated in the service sector, particularly in small businesses; the number of discouraged workers who have given up looking for jobs remains unchanged; the number who have been jobless for longer than six months is 133 percent higher than in April 1980; and the number who are receiving unemployment compensation, 29.2 percent of jobless workers, is the lowest in the history of the program.