Friday, August 19, 2016

Last Week’s Clinton and Trump Economic Speeches: On Jobs, Just a Little More Than Precious Little

On Monday, August 8th and Thursday, August 11th, major party presidential nominees Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton gave talks on their proposed financial policies.  Both were given in the Detroit area, which has been about the slowest and worst in the country at recovering from its mid-century manufacturing emphasis.  The speeches were just as rusty.

And remarkably similar.  Trump, as expected, spent most of his stage time criticizing Clinton and Obama, but Clinton went on almost as much about Trump.  Both speeches were short on positive ideas.  Both speakers seemed to advocate protectionism, to the point of asking for tariffs.  Perhaps influenced by their local audiences, both said they expected to increase manufacturing.  Each mentioned bolstering child care, with Hillary proposing making it “available” to everyone and Trump supporting tax deductions for it.  Both talked about cutting regulations for businesses in the same general and nonlogistical way we have heard from all Republican presidential candidates and most of the Democrats since Ronald Reagan’s time.  Both were also internally inconsistent.  Clinton said, after asking for tuition-free university attendance, that “we’ve got to reverse what has become a kind of commonplace view, which is everybody needs to go to college,” and “it doesn’t help anyone to be trained for a job that doesn’t exist.”  Trump said that “the rich will pay their fair share,” but spent several paragraphs asking for income and estate tax reductions benefiting primarily the wealthiest people.  The two each asked for things actually destructive to employment, Clinton for raising the minimum wage and Trump for repealing Obamacare.  And neither, most unfortunately, proposed enough to have a large positive effect on the number of American jobs.    

There were, though, two glimmers of light.  First, both Trump and Clinton said they wanted to comprehensively improve our infrastructure, paid for through a formal program for the latter and from regulation-cutting savings for the former.  Second, both discussed changing the tax code to reward companies with headquarters, and jobs, in this country.  They did not agree on exactly how to do that, but their ideas had great merit.  If Congress can, indeed, rediscover bipartisan legislation, our next president should ask for their agreement in principle on that idea, and then have them work out specific proposals.  To name just one more, if corporate income taxes included deductions for the number of American-based workers each company employed, we could raise the base rates while allowing labor-intensive firms to pay less than they do now. 

That across-the-aisle cooperation is what we need more than anything.  Even though I do not consider tax reform to be a comprehensive solution to our permanent jobs crisis, it would ease it more than anything Washington has produced these past seven-plus years.  Given the state of our current presidential campaign, I would call that a large victory.  

Friday, August 12, 2016

Modafinil, Maybe The Best Work Substance Yet, Is In Use Now – What Should We Do About It?

Ever since the Stone Age when people started consuming caffeine, humans have been taking advantage of performance-enhancing materials and techniques.  They have ranged from those as otherwise beneficial as exercise to those at least as destructive as 1950s “pep pills.” 

Recently, though, the use of a medication prescribed for narcolepsy, or the tendency towards unwanted falling asleep, has found its way into workplaces.  Many have found modafinil, which requires a prescription in the United States but not in Great Britain and elsewhere, to greatly help them with a variety of cognitive tasks, including learning, planning, concentrating, doing more thinking in less time, and even creativity.  It has been described as “the entrepreneur’s drug of choice,” “the big leagues,” “Viagra for the brain,” and, more often than any of these, a “smart drug.”  Unlike others used for these purposes it is not an amphetamine, and, although there have been no long-term studies on its healthy-person use, it was found, in a joint Harvard-Oxford study, to have “vanishingly few side effects.”  Against that, research has not objectively shown that it is as effective as its adherents claim.  That means that for some at least, modafinil may not be much better than the mild amphetamines, or “greenies,” many major league baseball players took around 1970, about which player and author Jim Bouton claimed helped perception of better play more than actual results.

Although modafinil is not considered addictive, some users report perceiving an ongoing need to take it.  Robert Kolker, who wrote a 2013 piece on it in New York magazine, said that when he went without his dose it “was sort of like being thrust into dirty, messy reality… like crashing, and… the anxiety that got dialed down on the way in, when you were coming off it, all of a sudden you went through the reverse.”  Since then, though, it has been favorably compared to the attention deficit disorder drug Ritalin, also used in work settings, and seems to be getting more and more common. 

Beyond its pharmaceutical characteristics, Modafinil presents true ethical predicaments.  One might be risking the “Outland effect,” named after a 1981 science-fiction movie about an outer-space mining camp in which many workers chose to facilitate longer hours by taking a performance-enhancing drug seeming benign but proving deadly.  A second might be called the Bill Fralic Syndrome, after a top college lineman who, after joining the National Football League in 1985, publicly expressed disgust after determining that he would need to use steroids to be competitive.  Should the same thing be allowed to happen with modafinil in workplaces?  A third also invokes an analogy to steroids – since they are now forbidden for NFL players, stemming from Fralic’s speaking out, should we place the same restrictions on certain medications for other workers?  Does it matter whether these employees are surgeons, who could save lives by being more awake, or corporate staffers who generally could not?  Fourth, and most simply, if we accept caffeine in artificial as well as natural forms, drugs prescribed for other conditions, and, of course, measures such as getting plenty of sleep, where do we draw the line and why?  What is fair and what is unfair?  In 2011, Duke University officially said that “the unauthorized use of prescription medication to enhance academic performance” constituted cheating.  That means that if it became legal to sell modafinil over the counter in this country, Duke’s judgment would no longer apply.  Is that the standard we want to use?

So what should we do?  If we can get through these quandaries, we would best err in the direction of allowing modafinil for workers.  With technology, there is no putting the genie back, pun intended, in the bottle.  Future tools to help work performance, whether chemical or not, may make modafinil seem as effective as licking coffee beans.  As with computer technology, we may not know the best way of dealing with it, but that is not enough reason for a ban.  If modafinil is in fact a mirage, it will fall out of fashion.  If it is dangerous, we will discover that and take appropriate action.  Until then, freedom.       

Friday, August 5, 2016

July Had Peaceful and Positive Jobs Data, but the AJSN Shows America Is Now Up To 18.4 Million Jobs Short

This morning’s Bureau of Labor Statistics July employment report could be called boring, but that might sound too derogatory.  It was encouraging, as we added 255,000 net new nonfarm positions, well over the 180,000 consensus projection and about double what our population increase absorbs, which was not offset by significant worsening elsewhere.  Both seasonally adjusted and unadjusted employment rates stayed the same, at 4.9% and 5.1% respectively, the spreads showing that the number of people working in July is not only typically much the same as in June, but is below the annual average.  The two measures best showing how common is it for Americans to be working, the employment-population ratio and the labor force participation rate, both improved 0.1% – their outcomes of 59.7% and 62.8% are now the same as they were in April and are no longer immediately threatening new 40-year lows.  The count of people working part-time for economic reasons, or holding on to short-hours employment while seeking and not finding full-time opportunities, was, with a gain of 100,000 to 5.9 million, the only major front-line figure to go downhill, whereas the number of long-term jobless held at 2.0 million.  Average hourly earnings rose a more-than-inflation 8 cents per hour to $25.69.

The worst outcomes were in the counts of people marginally attached to the labor force, or neither employed nor officially unemployed.  While there were almost half a million fewer claiming no interest whatever in working, those reporting they wanted jobs but had not looked for one in the previous year rose 175,000 to 3.713 million, and those in the “discouraged” category increased 89,000 to 591,000.  The people in these two categories could now absorb 3.5 million work opportunities, growing in comparison with the 7.4 million for those technically jobless.  Overall, the American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, showing in one figure how many positions could be quickly absorbed if getting one were as easy as getting a pizza, increased 255,000, as follows:

The share of latent demand for jobs coming from those officially unemployed, or, as above, 7,440,300 divided by 18,402,179, remained at 40%.  

The year-over-year AJSN comparisons still show improvement but continue to shrink, with a drop of only 531,000 since July 2015, of which over 90% was due to lower official joblessness.  The count of those not wanting work at all continues to rise, but those in most other marginal attachment categories have diminished, slightly, over the past year.  

So how good a month was it really?  I think it was fine, if unspectacular.  We continue to reach new post-recession improvements, with unemployment rates low and indications of likelihood to work at least pausing.  In the context of a permanent jobs crisis, these are good times.  The turtle, again, took a modest but unmistakable step forward.  

Friday, July 29, 2016

Back to the Minimum Wage: Two Months of Commentary and Doubt

Along with self-driving cars, ride-sharing companies, robots, and guaranteed income, we will remember 2016 for minimum wage raises, both voted-in and proposed, in the jobs news.  Three months ago I addressed what had been written on this subject, along with a few early results, over the previous two-plus years.  There has been more, especially in May.

On the 5th of that month, Fox Business published a piece calling different views between Florida’s and California’s governors an “epic fight over the $15 minimum wage.”  I don’t know if it was either, but it showed some differences between how California’s Jerry Brown and Florida’s Rick Scott saw the issue.  Essentially, Scott said California would lose 700,000 jobs by the time its $15 became effective in 2022, whereas Brown maintained that his state had recently been gaining many positions anyway.  Although California’s first, $1, increase was greeted by an end to 54 consecutive months of seasonally adjusted employment gains, the two are different.  Florida has many significantly populated areas, throughout its panhandle and scattered throughout its peninsula, with low costs of living and modest employment opportunities.  Except for the southeast, most of the state is economically conservative, with residents, the bulk of whom moved in from elsewhere, enjoying the lack of a state income tax and, due mainly to what is now a $50,000 primary-house homestead exemption, generally low property levies as well.  California, though, a perennial Democratic presidential candidate chooser, has its population concentrated in its unusually liberal cities, so its constituents are more likely to support high taxes.  With living expenses higher than almost any other state, that $15 per hour has vastly more appeal than it would in the likes of Gainesville or Panama City. 

Two articles, “Wendy’s Serves Up Kiosks as Wages Rise, Hits Fast-Food Drive” (Investor’s Business Daily, May 11) and “Fast food workers are becoming obsolete” (Yahoo Finance, May 16) describe restaurant ordering touchscreens.  In Hong Kong in January I saw such things at each McDonalds – they were not the only way customers could order, but, maybe since they could be activated by smart phones as well, many younger customers preferred them.  They are now making landfall here, also at Panera Bread and Wendy’s, and are not only cutting labor costs but are proving to be more convenient for customers, who not only use lists of possible ingredients to request custom-made sandwiches but can store and reorder their favorite combinations.  McDonalds and Wendy’s management both named higher minimum wages as reasons for installing these devices, which, even if they are not made mandatory, seem like improvements as well as cost-savers.

If he didn’t do it before, in back-to-back opinion pieces Forbes contributor Tim Worstall established himself as an opponent of any mandated pay floor, let alone an increased one.  In “Sad But True:  A Higher Minimum Wage Means That Some People Will Be Worse Off, Will Get Lower Wages” (May 14), he showed that some British workers lost shift and holiday differentials when their bottom rates were forced up, and other employers had cut perks and other benefits.  The next day, in “The Minimum Wage Kills Jobs Through Automation Bit By Bit, At The Margin,” he made the point that every required pay increase has potential to make machines more cost-effective.  Boosting hourly rates from $7.25 to $8, for example, will not facilitate introducing machines costing $12 for each equivalent hour of labor, but if they work out to $7.75 instead, businesses may have no choice.  Another important thing to realize here is that these job losses are not instantaneous – it may take management months to agree upon the new equipment, and longer for it to be manufactured, to arrive, and to be actually working.  Therefore, early judgments that a higher minimum has not cost jobs may be premature. 

A third Worstall Forbes contribution, July 26th’s “As I Predicted, Seattle’s Minimum Wage Rise Is Reducing Employment,” cited research showing that while that area has done well since its April 2015 increase, that lift could be charged with 1% lower employment than would otherwise have occurred.  He also made a supply-and-demand point I put forth before, that even if we don’t know the extent, it makes no sense to think that minimum wage enhancements do not cause at least some jobs to go away. 

Although raising the lowest pay rate does not eradicate much poverty, not every article pointing that out is on the right track, as shown by “A Minimum Wage Problem or a Lifestyle Problem?” (Tom Gerdy, Huffpost Business, May 16).  Lines such as “we mistakenly believe that the road to happiness is found in things,” and listings of the prices of smartphones, cable TV, and even the likes of “tattoos and piercings” seem equivalent to those that could have been put together any year since 1945 or before.  We need not conflate goods and services priced for those with middle-class or higher income with those needed for survival to critique forced pay raises – we have plenty of good reasons we can use instead.

In Ars Technica on May 24th, Sam Machkovech recapped how former McDonalds CEO Ed Rensi expected higher fast-food minimum wages to open doors to a wide range of machines, some of which, such as “a $35,000 robotic arm” cost less than “to hire an employee who’s inefficient making $15 an hour bagging French fries.”  Rensi’s point is the same as Worstall’s second one, that technology, which can improve given enough incentive provided by increasing the cost of humans, will become more worthwhile. 

Finally, The Economist got into the act, with “Maximin” (June 25th), presenting various data on 15 American cities with minimum wages above the still-current $7.25 national rate.  It made arguments for and against those increases, with perhaps its most salient in the last paragraph:  “The Fight for $15 campaign is often guilty of a bait-and-switch, justifying much higher minimum wages with reference only to food-service giants like McDonalds, but then endorsing them across the whole economy.” 

These points, namely differences in geographic areas, employers cutting benefits and differentials, technological replacements being delayed but permanent, and the gulf between huge national employers and weak local ones, are all valid.  They will all play roles in how our higher minimum wages work out.  Just how, and when, we will see. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Robots: Misinformation Still Coming Out

One of the several jobs-related topics getting gobs of press this year has been robots.  I could write a post every week on only the stories released, even if I just hit their high and low points.  However, in the interest of writing on other topics as well I have restrained myself to two, on January 15th and May 2nd, unless you count my March 25 artificial intelligence issue. 

On May 2 I named nine points for universal agreement, on robots’ lack of actual intelligence, their need for controlled environments, their one-way progress, their potential to do any algorithmic task, the value of projecting where they are going, their productivity gains always involving job takeovers, their uncertain acceptance, and the dangers of their being programmed amorally.  These aren’t really controversial, and everyone from Luddites to Ray Kurzweil should buy into them.  However, too many otherwise good recent articles have included clearly incorrect statements.  What are they, and why are they wrong?

“March of the machines” (The Economist, June 25th) cited artificial intelligence (AI) researcher Andrew Ng as saying that worrying about a general AI breaking free of human controls “is like worrying about overpopulation on Mars before colonists have even set foot there.”  While I have not taken what is now called AI as seriously as most, since to me it seems only incrementally more advanced than simple if-then computer programming, if we can teach systems how to learn and how to set their own goals we must consider what they might do, as their actions could be far less controllable than regulating the number of people moving to or even living on an extraterrestrial base.

In Harvard Business Review’s June 23rd “Knowledge Jobs Most Likely to Be Automated,” authors Julia Kirby and Thomas H. Davenport noted the trend for robots and other automating features to take over parts of jobs, which they say prevents naming areas where people should avoid jobs and careers.  That is false, since as I documented in 2013’s Choosing a Lasting Career, jobs in the 25 U.S. Department of Labor career groups vary vastly in how susceptible they are to not only automation, but globalization, efficiency, and 18 other current or anticipatable trends.  Whether you agree or disagree with my findings, the mass of which are still current, there is no reason for employers to minimize automation gains by maintaining the same numbers of pertinent workers.  As well, the authors’ statement that machines will be “freeing up humans to work on more value-creating projects” is erroneous, at least in the huge majority of fields with good job candidates not being hired as it is.

In “Industrial robot sales hit record” (Financial Times, June 22), Michael Pooler quoted a company robotics head as saying that “people today don’t want to do dull, dirty, dangerous and delicate jobs any more.”  I could introduce this man to tens of thousands of Americans in my state alone who would gladly do all of those things – if the pay were right.  Almost all skills shortages are really training and pay shortages; while those are the free choices of the companies involved, and they are entitled to position them as workers’ shortcomings instead, we have the final option in what we will believe.

Eduardo Porter’s June 7 New York Times piece, “Jobs Threatened by Machines:  A Once ‘Stupid’ Concern Gains Respect,” looked at some invalid thinking on work and automation across the years, in response to Wassily Leontief’s pithy and prescient response to those doubting machines could take over jobs, “They replaced horses, didn’t they?”  It included another economist, Kenneth S. Rogoff, saying that “it seems unlikely that millions of workers are headed to the glue factory like discarded horses” (why not, and why doesn’t that simile fit?), and a comment from a young Lawrence H. Summers that productivity gains from technology would create so many jobs from people having more money to spend that employment would stay at least the same (sure, if there were no products like software where cost per item drops almost as fast as the number of items sold goes up, and if companies paid workers according to productivity instead of on supply and demand).   It is common in economics to see even eminent practitioners saying things that, on further analysis, simply don’t make sense – I suspect political biases for some, but don’t understand its other causes.

On June 1, The Washington Post published Robert J. Samuelson’s “The robot invasion that isn’t yet here.”  Samuelson, who has written much fine material, took a remarkably anti-job-loss stance here, saying that since our country had added 14 million jobs in six-plus years “there’s little evidence that robots have yet had much effect on job creation in the current recovery.”  That does not follow to me.  He also wrote that according to a University of Michigan study “only 16 percent of respondents wanted self-driving vehicles” (there were 260 million registered in the U.S. in 2014, which works out to “only” 41.6 million).  At the end of the piece, he fell into the common trap of saying that “workers may become scarce” when “baby boomers age and retire” (as I have documented in no fewer than three books, most in the baby boom generation will not voluntarily retire, and despite 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day, latent demand for work is stronger, in relation to official unemployment, than it has ever been.) 

Lilah Raptopoulos’s April 8 Financial Times compilation “Robots:  friend or foe?  You told us” presented readers’ comments on robotics, with most chosen ones being excellent.  One responder said that he asked his 17-year-old son if he thought his “future profession already exists.”  That is not an error, but brings up an important distinction.  Even though many specific job tasks are completely new from five or ten years before, the overall positions change remarkably little.  Martin Ford, in The Lights in the Tunnel, documented how, in 2006, not a single American job area, except for the subset of restaurant work labeled “fast food,” with at least one million workers was nonexistent in 1930.  Obviously that could change, but we know of no reason why it should.

Finally, an old area of automata reappeared, by Maija Palmer on May 4th, also in Financial Times:  sexbots.  Maybe my recollection is wrong, but it seemed a foregone conclusion two decades ago that not-quite-human sex partners would be common by mid-century if not sooner, and I have read almost nothing since.  This story, “Prospect of sexual relationships with robots poses moral dilemmas,” started almost from the beginning, with cinematic references, currently available sex dolls with semi-robotic features, and one commentator’s thought that “female sex robots will dehumanise women” since “creating objects that closely resemble human females… leads men to regard women as objects.”   Well, if they don’t resemble human females, they won’t be too popular, so I expect the mainstream view on such things to take two parts:  one, and more than anything else, apathy; and two, seeing such things as economic inferior goods like bottom-grade beer.  

On that not really titillating note, I wrap up.  Be assured, no matter what, that robots will take over plenty more jobs somewhere and somehow – maybe not huge amounts today or tomorrow, but during, if you are lucky, your lifetime.  Let’s think straight about them.      

Friday, July 15, 2016

Checking In With Work’s New Age Issues in the News, May-June 2016

Four and a half years ago I released a book with the thesis that the jobs crisis was permanent.  I still stand by that, as although the official unemployment at press time was about double what it is now, other metrics have trailed.  Some have even got worse, such as the labor force participation rate, down from 64.0% in December 2011 to 62.7% last month.  The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, which I invented in September 2012, has fallen since then only from 20.7 million to 17.6 million, with the portion of latent demand from people beyond those technically jobless up from 10.2 million to 10.8 million.  As even the most partisan Obama and Democratic-administration supporters agree that despite that 4.9% unemployment all is hardly well with the economy, it is to the credit of those interpreting the monthly Bureau of Labor Statistics data that net job growth has replaced the unemployment rate as the headline figure.  Accordingly, over the past several months, there has been a jump in publicized views on concerns I identified and evaluated in Work’s New Age.

On June 28th, The Atlantic published “Would a Work-Free World Be So Bad?”  It looked beyond the resurgence of guaranteed income commentary I wrote on last month, and considered the human side of near-universal joblessness.  It held that people’s problems could be much like those faced by retirees:  lack of purpose, boredom, malaise, and even depression.  Author Ilana E. Strauss compared this possible future to what all humans experienced up to 10,000 years ago, life as hunter-gatherers without separate concepts of labor and leisure, and to farmers before 1600 who “mixed work and play in their daily lives.”  Per Strauss, recreational patterns may move away from the likes of “beer and TV” catering to “tired workers,” education might also change, and families could be together for far more hours than now.  These thoughts add depth to the now-materializing trend toward futurist Herman Kahn’s concept of unpaid replacements for service jobs he called “quaternary” involvements.

The Economist’s June 25th issue devoted a 16-page insert to artificial intelligence, with rather melodramatic emphasis on whether that could “cause mass unemployment or even destroy mankind.”  It recapped automation concerns as far back as 1964, and documented that jobs likely to be lost would not necessarily be manual but “routine,” or algorithmic.  Both these perceptions, though old, are correct and worthy of repeating, even though artificial intelligence is still limited to identifying and following clearly defined sequences of tasks. 

On May 27th, CNBC had a story on one comprehensive solution to the permanent jobs crisis, shorter working hours.  It concluded that while such an experiment in Sweden last year seemed successful, with higher productivity offsetting at least some of the time shortfall, it might not work in the United States, as “the eight-plus hour workday ethic is embedded too deeply,” and full-time workers are actually on the job an average of 47 per week.  I can’t agree at all, as even a cut to 40 hours would be in the right direction, and that would call for base weekly hours of 30 or so.  I will leave to you to decide what the country would be like if we had not made improvements over the past couple of centuries due to previous practices being “embedded too deeply.”

Patricia Cohen’s May 25th New York Times piece, “Fewer Americans Choose to Move to New Pastures,” addressed why worker mobility is down.  She found some of the reasons, but cited “economists” as saying, as Yogi Berra might have, in effect that people not moving makes it hard for them to move, and also quoted a Notre Dame professor who did not understand that Facebook and LinkedIn are not proving poor substitutes for “personal connections,” but, in 2016, are those connections.  More important than almost any cause Cohen mentioned are four others:  that people don’t leave low-level positions if better ones don’t exist; that everyone will be more hesitant to change cities for opportunities that rate to last for shorter and shorter lengths of time; that the job market simply doesn’t want enough people in their 20s for many to move away from their parents; and, as mentioned by one article commenter, that full relocation packages are almost a thing of the past.

On May 24th, again in The Atlantic, the title of Derek Thompson’s “The Myth That the President Can Save the Economy” was enough to remind us that no candidate can be expected to do it all by himself or herself.  While our 2017 inauguree can push us in the right direction, he or she can’t repeal historic trends, and it is wrong to think that “5 percent growth will suddenly appear if somebody thinks of the right marginal tax rate.”  A good reminder this year.

A May 23rd article asserted that “The U.S is ‘basically at full employment.’”  Even occasional  readers of this blog can guess my view on that, which author Heather Long unwittingly reinforces by naming as still-remaining problems income inequality (a product of the hardly-over jobs crisis) and wages not increasing much (too large a supply of workers, whether officially jobless or not).  The AJSN shows that latent demand for work is comparable to times with 6 or 7 percent unemployment, and it may reach record levels with the next recession.

Finally, in on May 19th Daniel Altman took on giddiness about globalization in “Economics Has Failed America.”  He made many of the same points I raised over four years ago but without noting the cause of scalability, the post-industrial capacity to produce a million copies of a product for barely more in money or workers than a thousand.  Altman correctly noted that “job destruction” is not “healthy” as others have said but is one of the worst results of international trade, and that while “globalization reduces inequality among countries” it raises it within them.  None of this is justification for protectionism, but we still need to be fully conscious of these challenges. 

Are these articles good or bad for our job situation?  Except for possibly the regressive piece, all are positive.  As they will sooner or later require solutions, the issues here are well worth our attention now.  At times, the state of American jobs has seemed out of sight and out of mind – that is not the case anymore, and that is good for our country.   

Friday, July 8, 2016

Calm, Rebounding June Jobs Data Almost Offsets May’s: AJSN Says We’re Now 18.1 Million Jobs Short

This morning, I was ready to declare a Pee-wee’s Playhouse era of federal employment reports – in other words, we’ll never know who or what we’ll see.  This month, though, came in at almost exactly what would be expected after May’s wild data, if we decided were not expecting a recession.  Official joblessness rebounded upwards to 4.9%.  We gained 287,000 net new nonfarm positions, up from the previous 38,000.  Those looking for 27 weeks or longer gave back half of last month’s improvement to reach 2.0 million.  The count of those working part-time for economic reasons, or holding on to less than full-time jobs while wanting and not finding one of those, more than erased its huge worsening, losing back not only the 468,000 it gained in May but another 121,000.  The two measures showing best how likely it is for Americans to be working, the labor force participation rate and the employment-population ratio, were split, with the former regaining half of the 0.2% it fell last time to reach 62.7%, and the latter down 0.1% on higher official joblessness to 59.6%.  Unadjusted unemployment was up beyond the seasonal effect of more people working in May than in June, going from 4.5% to 5.1%.  Average wages rose a little something, 2 cents per hour, to $25.61. 

The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, showing in one number our latent demand for additional positions, gained over 550,000, as the officially unemployed, up 937,000, can now absorb almost 6.5 million new jobs.  About one quarter of that was offset by a 269,000 fall in the count of those wanting to work but not looking for a year or more; the numbers of those temporarily unable to take jobs, and those saying they did not want them at all, were also down significantly.  Overall, the AJSN came in as follows:

Compared with a year before, the AJSN is down just over 700,000, with lower official unemployment, but also fewer discouraged and fewer not looking for a year or more.  The year-over-year improvements are shrinking but are still large, meaning that prospects for Americans to find jobs continue to get better.

If we spread out May’s nuttiness by taking the last two months together, where are we?  The headline unemployment rate is down from 5.0% to 4.9%, net new nonfarm jobs gained an average of 162,500 per month, and the long-term jobless and those working part-time for economic reasons each fell almost 200,000, but the two key percentages each worsened 0.1%.  Pay was up 4 cents per month, roughly equal to inflation.  Accordingly, we are still slightly improving, though the lower employment-population ratio and labor force participation rate remain causes for concern.  In six months, will we be plumbing new depths, or will we be higher than we have been for years?  Probably neither.  In the meantime, the turtle took a good step forward.