May 12, 2003
The line-up for only 200 applications went around the block. The first workers in line had been there for 3 days. Workers brought their tents and lounge chairs and waited day and night on the New York City public sidewalk, because the Metallic Lathers Union Local 46 had 200 apprenticeship applications to pass out. These were not even immediate job openings – only applications for possible future apprenticeships.
Lines like this are a measure of the real job shortage in this country. The Metallic Lathers' jobs are hard and dangerous, laying reinforcing rod in concrete, often hundreds of feet off the ground. But if a worker passes the apprenticeship exam and makes it through a 4-year apprenticeship, the job can pay well: 30 some dollars an hour plus benefits.
Workers wait in these long lines, putting their lives on hold for three days because there are no other real choices. The official unemployment rate of 6% is already enough of a scandal. But hidden in the statistics are many other percentages. Uncounted millions of workers have quit looking for work because no work is to be had. Workers in the millions are under-employed: they must make do with jobs that are part-time, or temporary, generally paying below-poverty wages with few if any benefits. And no one expects things to get any better.
Lines like this reveal workers' employment problems much more accurately than do doctored government statistics.