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The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play. That’s why we have to destroy the present politico-economic system. ~ Arthur C. Clarke
Unemployed men outside a soup kitchen in Depression-era Chicago, Illinois, the US, 1931

Unemployment (or joblessness) occurs when people are without work and actively seeking work. The unemployment rate is a measure of the prevalence of unemployment and it is calculated as a percentage by dividing the number of unemployed individuals by all individuals currently in the labor force. During periods of recession, an economy usually experiences a relatively high unemployment rate.

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  • When a great many people are unable to find work, unemployment results.
    • Attributed to Calvin Coolidge, in Stanley Walker, City Editor (1934), p. 131. Reported as unverified in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989).
  • The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play. That’s why we have to destroy the present politico-economic system.
    • Arthur C. Clarke, interview with Los Angeles Free Press, pp. 42–43, 47 (25 April 1969)


  • There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an “army of unemployed” almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job.
  • Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all. The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for an instability... which leads to increasingly severe depressions. Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labor, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals. This crippling of individuals social consciousness, I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.
  • Production is carried on for profit, not for use. There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an “army of unemployed” almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job. Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labor, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals.
  • In this paper we examine whether unemployment has a differential impact on the expression of psychological distress among men and women. Based on the traditional centrality of the work role to men and the family role to women, we defined several key domains that might affect unemployed men and women differentially: family circumstances, concerns and worries about children and family; coping responses; social support and social integration; and the centrality of the work role. While the study population either were or hoped to be in the labor force and had dependent children, they varied in their marital status and whether they were the custodial parent. Using data collected in Baltimore from those who had been unemployed but had returned to work, those who had remained continuously unemployed for a year, and those who had been continuously employed, we compared the patterns of men's and women's reactions to unemployment. The important differences in psychological symptoms in this population were related to employment status, problems with parenting, financial difficulties, perceived lack of social support, hostility, and feelings about unemployment. By and large, the patterns of these relationships were similar for men and women. These findings suggest that when gender differences in psychological distress are found they may be due to differences in role configurations of men and women rather than intrinsic gender differences.


  • [Capitalism] requires a certain level of unemployment to function. If there were enough work to go round, no worker would worry about losing their job, and all workers could demand higher wages and better conditions. The ever-present spectre of unemployment, on the other hand, enables employers to dictate conditions. Equally, in times of severe crisis this ‘reserve army’ of unemployed people can be called into employment as and when the economy requires it. This system of deliberate unemployment needs ways to mark who will work and who will be left unemployed. In our society this is principally achieved through race, class, gender and disability.
  • Unemployment, of course, sends the economy into a recession, creating more unemployment. Ironically, unemployment hurts women more than men. Feminists argue that’s because of sex discrimination: women are the last to be hired and the first to be fired. Correct on the outcome; wrong on the reason. We hire first what we need most, and we fire first what we need least. That’s why you hire the garbage collector first, and fire him last. Men may be hired first and fired last because more men are willing to do society’s dirty work and hazardous work for a lower price.
  • It was the phenomenon of industrial unemployment that shocked contemporaries most. 'Next to war,' remarked The Times in an editorial ten years after the nadir of the downturn, 'unemployment has been the most widespread, the most insidious, and the most corroding malady of our generation: it is the specific social disease of Western civilisation in our time.' As a percentage of the civilian labour force, unemployment in the United States rose from 3.2 per cent on the eve of the Depression to a peak of 25 per cent in 1933. It remained above 15 per cent for the remainder of the decade. In Germany, which used a somewhat different definition, unemployment exceeded 50 per cent of trade union members in 1932.
    • Niall Ferguson, The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West (2006), pp. 192-193


  • In 1970 Clarke addressed a conference based on the futuristic theme of life in the year 2000, and he envisioned a society of full unemployment: The world is heading toward “full unemployment,” Clarke said, as 99 per cent of the current human activity will be eliminated through machines, the “slaves of tomorrow.”
    • 2001 Author Tells 2000 Conferees: ‘The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be’ by Janos Gereben, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, (6 August 1970)


  • But the time will come when New England will be as thickly peopled as old EnglandWages will be as low, and will fluctuate as much with you as with us.  You will have your Manchesters and Birminghams; and, in those Manchesters and Birminghams, hundreds of thousands of artisans will assuredly be sometimes out of work.  Then your institutions will be fairly brought to the test.
    • Thomas Babington Macaulay, letter to Henry Stephens Randall (May 23, 1857); in Thomas Pinney, ed., The Letters of Thomas Babington Macaulay (1981), vol. 6, p. 95. Pinney notes that the letter "was published in part as early as 1860 and has frequently been reprinted since", but deems a February 1877 publication in Harper's Magazine as "the place of first full publication so far as I have been able to determine".
  • The more education, the less unemployment of women; this relationship is as strong as it is in the male labor force. The channel through which this relation arises is also the same, namely, labor turnover, almost half of which involves unemployment. However, the relation between education and turnover is mediated largely by educational differences in on-the-job training among men, while educational differences in labor force attachment are the main source of turnover differences among women. This is because levels of educational differences in on-the-job (in-house) training are small among women, while nonparticipation in the labor market and educational differences in it are quite small among men. Educational differences in the duration of unemployment are negligible among women, though they are observable, if small, among men. Recent growth in women's work attachment has reduced their inter-labor force turnover and their unemployment rate to the point of eliminating the sex differential. On-the-job training of women appears to have increased, though it still remains skimpy


  • Throughout the Keynesian and post-Keynesian era, the inexorable laws of economics have not changed.  Unemployment still is, and always has been, a cost phenomenon.  A worker whose employ ment adds valuable output and is profitable to his employer can always find a job.  A worker whose employment inflicts losses is destined to be unemployed.  As long as the earth is no paradise, there is an infinite amount of work to be done.  But if a worker produces only $2 per hour, while the government decrees a minimum wage of $2.30 an hour plus sizable fringe costs, he cannot be employed.  For a businessman to hire him would mean capital loss and waste.  In other words, any compulsion, be it by government or union, to raise labor costs above those determined by the marginal productivity of labor, creates institutional unemployment.
    • Hans Sennholz, "Unemployment Is Rising," The Freeman: A Monthly Journal of Ideas on Liberty (Irvington-on-Hudson, N. Y.: Foundation for Economic Education, 1 July 1977), p. 390.
  • If one machine can cut necessary human labor by half, why make half of the workforce redundant, rather than employing the same number for half the time? This would be possible if the gains from automation were not mostly seized by the rich and powerful, but were distributed fairly instead.
  • We advocate a Universal Basic Income , received by all citizens on an unconditional basis: that is, detached from the labor market. This offers a choice between work and leisure. To offer such a choice is both a fruit of an affluent society and a solution to the problem of technological unemployment.


  • America has lost more than 12 million jobs in the last six months. An estimated 12 million people have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance during the worst pandemic in a century. Tens of millions report not having enough to eat. But one month ago, tens of millions of unemployed Americans lost... a $600 weekly federal unemployment insurance benefit that Congress failed to renew... How can this happen in a democracy? This is a question that everyone who works for a living... might want to consider on this Labor Day... If the facts of this political disaster were more widely known and understood, Republicans could lose not only the presidency but also the Senate in November. After all, millions of unemployed Republicans lost most of their income as a result of what their political party...did... Republican senators repeatedly expressed worries that the unemployment benefits created a "disincentive to work." But economists have found no evidence of this; on the contrary, millions of workers who were receiving these benefits returned to work in May through July, and there are more than 11 million more workers and there are more than 11 million more workers unemployed than there are job openings.


  • The horror of unemployment is the final undoing of the worker. When he sees this confronting him he sells himself regardless of the intrinsic worth of his ability. Labor unions and collective bargaining arose to give him some show of power and dignity.

See also