Friday, December 2, 2016

November: Unemployment and AJSN Both Down, Latter Showing a Shortage of 16.9 Million More Jobs

It was another good, steady, positive month on the employment front. 

The marquee number of seasonally adjusted joblessness will take the headlines this morning, and well it should, since it fell 0.3% to 4.6% to reach the lowest level since December 2006.  The unadjusted figure matched that with a drop to 4.4%.  The next best was the count of those working part-time for economic reasons, or keeping shorter-hours positions while seeking full-time ones, down 200,000 to 5.7 million.  The number of people officially unemployed for 27 weeks or longer was also off, 100,000, reaching 1.9 million.  There were 178,000 net new nonfarm jobs created, below a published estimate of 208,000 but continuing its steady trend of coming in at more than needed for incoming people.  The employment to population ratio remained at 59.7%, and the labor force participation rate worsened, down 0.1% to 62.7%.  The poorest news was in average private nonfarm hourly earnings, which, following a 13-cent gain in October, fell back 3 cents to $25.89. 

The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, which shows in one non-seasonally-adjusted number how many more positions we could fill if getting one were quick, easy, and routine, hit another post-recession low, though its change was not as extreme as in the unemployment percentages.  That was because while the count of people officially unemployed fell almost 400,000, and those wanting work but not looking for it during the previous year was off a surprising 331,000, those improvements were offset somewhat by gains in those discouraged, people claiming no interest in a job, and the “other” category of those wishing to be employed but having a specific reason why that was not possible now.  Overall, the AJSN was off 455,000 from October, as follows:

Compared with November 2015, the AJSN is down 347,000, with demand from those counting as unemployed showing a 456,000 improvement, but with that from other statuses, particularly the number of expatriates, the Other category above, and those wanting work in general but now in school or training, working against that.  We would need to go back to 2008 to find any month at all with a lower AJSN. 

Overall, despite the small negatives and lack of truly large job creation, November gets a thumbs-up.  Our incoming presidential administration will have its hands full improving further.  I hope those responsible for understanding our need for more employment opportunities know that less than 38% of them, even after disregarding those filled by people working already, would go to those officially jobless.  Meanwhile, the turtle, once again, took a modest but unmistakable step forward.   

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Two Weeks of Turmoil, And Trump Won’t Be President for Eight More

A mere fortnight since our country chose Donald Trump, and about everything’s been happening, showing that if he were a Dungeons & Dragons monster he’d have a classic “chaotic” alignment.  Here are some observations, which should be good for at least a few hours after this post comes out.

First, almost day by day Trump has been walking back his campaign blather, moving him ever closer to what might be his only solid convictions, against immigration, especially if illegal, and for protectionism.  The New York Times was actually critical of his changing his mind about things like prosecuting his unsuccessful opponent Hillary Clinton and advocating less torture in suspected terrorists’ interrogations, but we need less of this garbage, not more. 

Second, it’s become clear that the modern partisanship split is not conservative against liberal, but Democrat versus Republican.  If you’re not sure, notice how few bad things conservative politicians and commentators say about him, even when he advocates ideas to the left of the Democratic platform.  That will cause problems if Trump becomes more worthy of impeachment than Bill Clinton was for lying under oath about his sexual affairs, since with both the House and Senate controlled by his party, they probably won’t.

Third, he is on track, if that expression has any meaning when talking about him, to do some good things.  We can certainly use what his strategist Steve Bannon called a “trillion-dollar infrastructure plan,” if, counter to what Times columnist Paul Krugman claimed in his recent “Build He Won’t,” it will materialize.  Arranging for large companies’ money supplies to be held here instead of overseas would be positive, as would tax-code changes favoring American jobs.  We can also stand to take some edge off political correctness in general.  There is more, but I’m too cautious about him overall to sing his praises, since, after all, Adolf Hitler built hospitals.

Fourth, I’m not looking forward to seeing constant criticism of everything Trump does.  Those attacking him should pick their battles, and cut back on snide comments when he only acts the same way he did during his ultimately successful campaign.  We have enough to worry about with our constitutional rights, his finger on the button, and his capability for other extreme destruction to fuss about what he said about a Broadway musical.  Even if the BBC, which asserted this morning that his early-morning tweets represent “the real Trump,” is correct, that’s not how his presidency will be measured.

Fifth, protectionism, now fashionable for little reason beyond faulty evaluation of solutions for the permanent jobs crisis, will prove objectively destructive.  Vastly more Americans are helped by lower-priced foreign products than could ever get jobs making them here, and the amounts of money involved are also enormously greater.  If such nutty ideas as 45% tariffs for Chinese and Mexican products came to pass, we would have a recession or worse along with the slashed prosperity, which would more than offset any employment improvement. 

Sixth, with that said Trump will come under pressure, to the extent that his own party is willing to apply it, to create jobs.  That could take any number of good forms, and we have plenty of reason to be hopeful, even if we’re short of sufficient justification.

Seventh, we will probably see the left-leaning major media, headed by the Times and the Washington Post, become the coordination center for anti-Trump civil disobedience.  That has already started, with articles suggesting ways of resisting and protesting.

That’s all for today.  I wish I could say more about what Trump will mean for jobs, but about him I feel like the policeman who said he didn’t believe anything he heard and only half of what he saw.  He may not even last long in the office, ending up, as columnist David Brooks predicted, gone within a year through impeachment or truly voluntary resignation.  In the meantime, the Chinese curse has hit all of us:  we are living in interesting times.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Pitfalls on the Way to Getting a Job – Bad Recruiters, Information Gobbling Interviewers, and Excessively Urgent Job Offers – and One Set of Countermeasures

Three articles on dangers on the way to being hired have come out.  The first was from top employment writer Liz Ryan of Forbes, this past weekend.  Titled “Ten Ways Lousy Recruiters Use Fear To Keep Job-Seekers In Line,” it reports on the problem of headhunters, who work in the gaps between employers and the prospective employed, acting as if they have all the power in relationships with the latter.  It outlines ways that some of these recruiters intimidate those looking to be hired, seeking “to keep candidates feeling fearful and desperate,” by insisting on collecting “personal financial information,” threatening to drop them if they don’t cooperate with unreasonable requests, telling them their credentials are commonplace and marginal, and pushing them to accept any offers immediately.  Ryan points out that top-flight candidates are rarely common, even in an employer’s market, and that even bad headhunters would not submit anyone for positions for which they were not solidly qualified. 

Second, last month and also by Ryan, addressed companies bringing in people for job interviews only to collect information that would help them solve problems.  That is a common potential concern, as answers to questions assessing applicants’ skills may reveal ways of doing things better than the organization has known previously, and is hard to completely avoid.  Yet there is a point at which such gathering becomes not only primary but even the exclusive reason for the interview.  Per Ryan, that may have been reached if “your interviewer has very detailed questions for you, and takes notes on everything you say” but will not share much about their own situation, if queries about the rest of the hiring process and the job itself elicit no substance, and if the interviewer generally seem to be more interested in the candidate’s specific methodology than in how they might fit in.  She suggested, logically enough, that someone being treated as a consultant should act like one, giving only general ideas and even offering a contract. 

Third, by J.T. O’Donnell in Inc. in March, dealt with an “ugly recruiting tactic,” also called “the exploding offer,” one which expires in 48 hours or less.  (I’m not sure that two days is an insufficient time, but requiring an answer sooner than the end of the next business day would clearly qualify.)  O’Donnell saw these short deadlines as a pure pressure tactic, indicating not only an urgent need but fear that longer amounts of time would precipitate losing the potential employee.  She advised against that device, not only since it could encourage workers to leave later, but would cause “employer shaming” on online forums.     

How can jobseekers defend themselves against measures like these?  One way, described by Ryan on October 30th, is being willing to leave a job interview in progress.  That may seem taboo to people in a process where the other side is known to hold most or even all of the cards, but it’s not as simple as that.  Sometimes in these meetings things can happen that mean the end of any future there.  They would include a long impersonal set of interview questions followed by a refusal to talk about the job itself; a bait-and-switch replacement of the position with something less desirable; a requirement to pay for office equipment, office supplies, or the likes of background checks or drug testing; a need to sell products to friends and family members; or a need to work unpaid for a day or more as part of the hiring process.  If such information comes to light, Ryan advocated politely standing up and saying something like “it’s been wonderful to meet you, but I’m very conscious of the demands on your time and it’s clear we don’t have a good match.  I’ll get going now, and let you get on with your day.  Thanks very much for your time!”

As I have written before, the hiring process will always be an adversarial situation where each side tries to get the other to make mistakes.  New ideas there, and revived old ones, pop up all the time.  And, despite the permanent jobs crisis, a jobseeker is not, as Ryan put it, “a desperate beggar,” but has personal and professional value along with choices.  That thread runs through this entire post.  If you are looking for work, don’t let yourself be conned out of that.      

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Trump’s Been Elected – Where Do We Stand Now?

This outcome, accurately described by one columnist as “cataclysmic” and accompanied by incoming Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, held me to an hour’s sleep last night.  And judging by the number of pieces published since Hillary Clinton conceded at 2:30am, I wasn’t the only one. 
Presidents usually have a remarkably small effect on people’s lives, but this one threatens to be an exception.  Thinking about that is what kept me up.  Here is what I mean.       

First, I’ll get the old expressions out of the way.  Be careful what you wish for.  Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.  In a democracy, people get the government they deserve.  All of these are trite, but are fully appropriate now.

Next, many people have explanations for what shocked offshore sports books as well as pundits and prognosticators – you or I could have quintupled money by betting on this candidate on as recently as yesterday morning – and I will add only one.  Ever since this actor’s escapade with a 16-year-old made his career go up, up, and away, I have invoked, and found other examples of, what I named the “Hugh Grant Rule” – any publicity is good publicity.  For at least a year and a half Trump got incredible amounts of coverage, especially about unpleasant statements he had made, and that, sadly but truthfully, helped him more than it hurt.    

So where are we now? 

We have just elected, as president and presumed nuclear and other best-in-the-world military resources decision-maker, someone who almost every commenting observer considered dispositionally unfit.  Trump managed only about a half-dozen major newspaper endorsements – fewer than Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson – nationwide, and precipitated several outlets not normally publishing them saying  he was totally inappropriate.  Thus, he is scheduled to become the least popular president with the media in any of our memories, and has at times suggested that the free press, and the First Amendment along with it, be stifled.  He has made few consistent campaign promises, which, given his enormous number of documented lies, is not so relevant, but except for his opposing immigration and free trade we have little reason to know where he stands on anything.  In a field where the most successful practitioners can hardly go to the john without working with others, he, overall, already has an air of considering himself a superior being who need not involve anyone, except various females in certain activities, with anything.  If you want more along these lines, find almost any endorsement for anyone else, including mine, which is at  

Between Trump and the thinking that brought his victory, the American social fabric has already been badly torn.  As another columnist put it, we are putting ourselves in two separate tribes much like Muslim Sunnis and Shiites, divided on ideology.  Since his awful behavior did not stop him from winning, we need to wonder if it will become more acceptable in other circles to lie, offend, boast, retaliate in petty ways, and insult people’s sex and ethnicity.  And last night on Facebook I saw what I’m afraid is the first of many views that whites in general are responsible not only for his election but by extension for whatever damage he ends up doing.  That sort of thing is high on the list of what America does not need.

As for the next several years, since Trump is so unpredictable, we don’t know much at all about what they will be like.  We could have a recession or even a depression, whether caused by his actions or not.  The chance is certainly higher now, and in fact, as the returns came in last night and this morning, after-hours trading dropped the Dow Jones Industrial Average as much as 800 points.  As I have not thought about any presidential candidate since I followed the 1968 campaign in detail, he has a real chance of becoming a dictator.  His administration may well extinguish what is left of foreign admiration of America – I heard Rush Limbaugh yesterday claiming and expressing disappointment about our respect abroad deteriorating during Obama’s terms, but foreign reactions to Trump, with the expected exception of Russia’s, have been consistently much more negative.  I have already been insulted once by a foreigner accusing me of supporting Trump, and, with my amount of international travel, I expect more.  Further statements along the line of those he has made about other countries can only damage our ability to cooperate with them, and, ultimately, hurt or eliminate our standing as perceived leader of the free world.  And, even more tragically, his election, showing those in positions of power what can happen if uninformed and uneducated people choose presidents, could actually be the beginning of the end of the 250-year-old American experiment.  Overall, while a worst-case scenario for Hillary Clinton might have been being pushed out of office like Richard Nixon, with little permanent damage to the country, that might be one of the best for Trump.   
We already know that the domestic political scene has profoundly changed.  Since Trump is not a conservative, the Republican Party, which had not won a presidential election since 2004, can no longer be considered to consistently support that philosophy.  That leaves conservatives without a political party of their own, which they may remedy over the next few years. 

What can we do?  Most important is for those in his inner circle to find the courage to contain him enough to stop or forestall at least his worst destructiveness.  The rest of us need to watch for signs of totalitarianism.  The Soviet and Nazi governments did not reach their worst for years after they were installed, and ours would not either.  For that, we must know our constitution, and not only the First and Second Amendments – if you don’t have a copy, it’s at and prints out to only 21 pages. 

This Donald Trump presidency may not be a disaster after all.  He may precipitate enough good things, such as his briefly proposed infrastructure project, to more than offset what could, if we are lucky, add up to no more than the behavior of a jackass.  If he does not finish this term, his incoming vice president Mike Pence has proven himself to be a reasonable man who would serve with dignity.  (He is too conservative for many, but it’s almost quaint now to worry about those suddenly mild differences.)  But as it comes to dealing with totalitarian regimes, we are soft.  Except for those who served in the armed forces, were in Holocaust camps, and some others, we know about the worst governments only secondhand.  Doing so would be the greatest challenge of most of our lives.  We need to stay vigilant – much more than ourselves may depend on that.   

Friday, November 4, 2016

A Good Month for Work, as AJSN Down 300,000 to 17.3 Million Jobs Short

At first glance, this morning’s Bureau of Labor Statistics October employment report was nondescript.  There were 161,000 net new nonfarm positions created, a tad below the publicized 175,000 expectation, but still more than needed for population increase.  Official seasonally-adjusted joblessness was down a tenth of a point to 4.9%, offset by labor force participation down the same to 62.8% and employment to population also off 0.1% to 59.7%, with all three of those results returning to where they were in August.  The count of those out of work for 27 weeks or longer held again at 2.0 million. 

The other primary metrics, though, were better.  Those working part-time for economic reasons, or unsuccessfully seeking full-time employment while holding on to something shorter, kept its 200,000 September improvement to stay at 5.9 million.  Unadjusted joblessness improved a tenth of a percent to 4.7%.  And, most dramatically in this generally dull month, average private nonfarm hourly earnings rose 10 cents per hour, and 13 cents over the originally stated September result, to reach $25.92.  That is double the inflation rate, and noteworthy to see after last month’s net 9 cent gain. 

What really made these results a success were changes in the categories of marginal attachment.  Those reporting wanting to work but not having looked for it in the previous year tallied 78,000 fewer.  People describing themselves as discouraged fell 66,000, a lot for one month, to 487,000, and counts of those in the “other” and “family responsibilities” groups declined 59,000 and 56,000. 
So how many more positions could be quickly filled if getting one were as easy as getting a pizza?  The American Job Shortage Number, which takes shares of all of these statuses, shows that we could now absorb 300,000 fewer than in September, as follows:

The AJSN also improved over a year ago, when, at 17.485 million, it reflected higher official unemployment and many more with discouraged status, but fewer expatriates, fewer interested but not having looked for a year or more, and of course fewer people claiming to not want work at all, which rises annually like clockwork.  That is an improvement from September, when the AJSN had its first year-over-year worsening since 2010.  With unemployment down, only 38.6% of these jobs would be taken by those officially jobless, a yet smaller share.

Overall, October was positive, especially since, per last month’s post, we are approaching the good times’ limit.  I am glad to see the less publicized statuses improving.  Will it last?  We will see.  In the meantime, the turtle did, once more, take a small step forward.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Iceland and Jobs: What’s Going On There?

Last week I returned from driving around a country about which people make many erroneous statements.  First, Iceland is not outrageously cold – its winters are about the same temperatures as Chicago’s.  Second, while it has permanent glaciers, most of it looks green, actually rivalling Ireland.  Third, while its population was once unusually homogeneous, now only a minority are stereotypically blonde Scandinavians.  Fourth, while once poor it is now hardly rustic, with a per-capita GDP, 30th in the world at $46,100, fitting in with others nearby, one spot above Denmark’s and four below Sweden’s. 

Despite a low share of natural economic resources (world-class scenery doesn’t quite count), Icelanders have done, in many ways, an outstanding job with their country.  In 2015, it was ranked the world’s 13th most developed by the United Nations, down from first in the world, soon before their three-year political and economic crisis, in 2007-2008. It has universal health care, the fourth highest life expectancy, lower smoking and obesity rates than in most of Europe, and unusually low pollution.  In 2015 it had almost 1.3 million foreign tourists, four times the resident population.  For those who like that sort of thing, Iceland also has one of the lowest rates of economic inequality, and is informal enough that their people still have, in effect, no last names.  I can personally attest that it has its share of gravel roads, but most of them and all of its paved ones seem in excellent condition.  Taxes are not obscene, and include a flat 22.75% on personal income, only 18% on corporate, a value-added tax (VAT) of 11% on food, room rentals, and other things consumed by humans, and a 24% VAT on everything else.  Unemployment was last seen at 3.1%.  Their government aggressively dealt with financial transgressions during their crisis, and required some bankers to make up a part of their microscopic total of 147 prisoners, a real reason why their currency, the Icelandic krona (ISK), is stable and strong today. 
On the other side, there’s one thing that pervades the experience of locals and visitors alike.  It’s expensive!  Not only, as one would think, are the mass of imported goods higher than in their original countries, but so is almost everything else.  In Alaska, locally caught salmon is a relative bargain.  Not so for the lamb and fish raised and caught in Iceland.  Restaurant meals, even plates of those things, seemed to start at ISK 3000, or over $26.  Although tips and tax are included, that’s a lot.  The largest supermarket chains, Netto, Kronan, and especially Bonus, mitigate that somewhat, and while fast food is often available and cheaper it is around double American rates, with the lowest-priced Subway footlong ISK 1199 or $10.51.  Postage on a domestic letter in that small country is ISK 160 ($1.40), and even a postcard to the United States, or elsewhere outside Europe, costs ISK 285 ($2.50).  Items for tourists were no exception either, with ordinary souvenir magnets usually ISK 899 and playing cards almost always more.  Even things where I would not think prices would vary much from one country to the other, such as silver bracelet charms, were at least double those of similar items elsewhere.  That puts a lot of pressure on locals as well as tourists, and is probably the main reason why many have more than one job.  Although I suspect high pay for workers is a real reason, and accounts for such things as unmanned fuel stations, there is no national minimum wage as such.  Yet what is in effect a lack of positions paying comfortable wages in relation to cost of living, and a general sense of balance, did not stop large numbers of Icelanders from unsuccessfully protesting a $3 billion aluminum smelting installation, despite its thoroughly modern environmental safeguards.    

To what does all this add up?  Iceland is certainly an admirable country, but, despite its long-time cultural emphasis on self-reliance, people’s choices are more limited.  There are far fewer opportunities to become truly wealthy there than in the United States.  However, its advantages in health and life expectancy are real, and lofty food prices may help that.  Almost everyone there who wants to can work, which, in 2016, is quite a strength for anywhere fully developed.  Accordingly, while I would never want to force such a system on Americans, little Iceland has plenty to teach us.  And as we have, in the past anyway, excelled at borrowing from other countries, we should keep their ways in mind.  

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Three Reasonable Presidential Candidates on Jobs: Good, Bad, and Indifferent Proposals

Three people running for president are worthy of your consideration.  What do they say they will do about employment?

In March, Hillary Clinton, later to become the Democratic Party nominee, put forth an economic plan.  She asked to roll back tax breaks for American companies moving jobs out of this country (excellent idea, and in the right direction), and create a new levy for those taking their headquarters overseas (also good, since many people work at these offices).  She wanted to raise the minimum wage (bad – we don’t want to reduce the number of positions right now), and upped her proposed floor from $12 to $15 later in the campaign (even worse).  She thinks employers should be required to pay for family leave (wrong – let them compete by offering these benefits voluntarily), and proposed the College Affordability Plan, to refinance student debt and provide free or discounted tuition to all university enrollees in need (not sure – seems off beam in principle, but could stave off a huge bubble in the form of what is now almost $1.4 trillion in US student debt).  Over the summer she spoke of a National Infrastructure Plan, costing $27 billion per year to build, repair, and improve highways, bridges, airports, water mains, and more.  That last item is the best of the candidates’ employment proposals, and I am glad to see more people suggesting it. 

Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson believes that those in government, including himself, do not create jobs – they come from, as his website puts it, “entrepreneurs, businesses, and economic prosperity.”  Accordingly, he emphasizes deregulation as the best tool to achieve employment growth – he and running mate William Weld credit that for the unusual improvement achieved in joblessness in New Mexico and Massachusetts, where they were governors.  Unfortunately, as much as I like him, and am impressed by his and Weld’s succeeding this way in their states, that course seems insufficient.  I hope, and expect, that a President Johnson would take more aggressive steps if we had a recession.

Green Party nominee Jill Stein expects to generate what she calls “millions of jobs” by changing energy use, nationally and completely, to renewable sources by 2030.  She also would get more people working by “investing in public transit, sustainable agriculture, and conservation.”  She considers employment to be “a right,” and says we should “create living-wage jobs for every American who needs work.”  I would feel better about her basis for putting more people to work if she were not against petroleum and natural gas-based sources, fields with many jobs, so much.  Since hardly every person who wants to be employed needs a “living wage,” I can’t support her there either.  However, her opinion on people’s entitlement to work does match one of the five comprehensive jobs-crisis solutions.

Those are your choices.  My views are above, but others also have strong, and sometimes differing, ones on these initiatives’ merits, how we could pay for them, and on the effect they would have on budget deficits and the national debt.  Which of these solutions are realistic and which are not?  How much are we willing to spend to get more Americans working?  Those are questions for you to answer, as you prepare for your November 8th decision.