Friday, September 18, 2020

Autonomous Vehicles Fizzling Out – Why, and What Does That Mean More Generally?

 Aah, for the old days, when the future seemed so bright. 

I’m not talking about just before the pandemic started, though that would qualify too.  I’m talking about the fall of 2017, only three years ago.  Then there was so much news about driverless cars, certain to upend American employment and vastly more, that, so other topics could squeeze in, I needed to put formal limits on how much I would write about.  For example, The New York Times devoted almost an entire Magazine to different aspects of what seemed to be an inexorable mass of social changes, not to mention a total ground transportation makeover – do you remember the picture of the steering wheel moldering in the earth? 

Now, though, progress and milestones here seem to have come to an end.  Published articles are so scarce that I will be going back over four months to get you the latest. 

We begin with “Self-Driving Cars Are Taking Longer to Build Than Everyone Thought,” by Roberto Baldwin, dated May 10th but from the April 2020 issue of Car and Driver.  That publication won’t need to consider any name changes for a while, as “humans take the ability to manage the cognitive load of driving for granted, but building a computer system that can match our abilities is extremely difficult.”  That reminded me of the longstanding lack of automated facial recognition, which ended, though much later than observers around say 1990 thought.  Per Baldwin, “years of research and development are still needed before Level 4 autonomy – in which the car can safely perform all driving tasks but only in limited areas – is accessible to consumers” – in fall 2017, that got a consensus projection of completion by the next year’s Christmas.  Now, such forecasts include Nissan saying “that it’s unlikely to produce self-driving cars before the end of the decade,” and companies are still dealing with a need for common standards, what safety levels consumers will need, and known or feared resistance from the one-off 2018 pedestrian death. 

Soon after, The New York Times published “This Was Supposed to Be the Year Driverless Cars Went Mainstream,” on May 13th by Cade Metz and Erin Griffith.  They reminded us that “tech companies once promised that fully functional, self-driving cars would be on the road by 2020 and on the path to remaking transportation and transforming the economy.”  They blamed the coronavirus for preventing cars from being tested with two drivers, that “start-ups spend $1.6 million a month on average” (that seems, in context, like Puppy Chow to me), and that “bigger companies are hunkering down to wait out the delays,” making it clear that they have other problems – indeed, at least one firm was still struggling with getting vehicles to restart after they waited for traffic to pass, and, in general, “the cars still made mistakes in unexpected ways.”  On the same date the Times also came out with Shira Ovide’s “Where Is My Driverless Car?,” in which she claimed that “the ubiquitous computer-driven car that seemed just around the corner for a decade is now further away than ever,” and blamed mostly technology difficulties. 

One possible semi-solution for driverless technology companies has been, per Baldwin, focusing instead on assistance structures for other vehicles.  However, per “AAA: Partially automated driving systems don’t always work” (Fox Business, August 6th), those aren’t ready either, with AAA researchers finding such technology from five automakers producing “problems every eight miles,” including staying in lanes and avoiding stationary vehicles in their paths.  Overall, “researchers said little had changed from a test of four other vehicles in 2018,” with drivers getting “overly reliant on the technology” offsetting much of its advantage. 

What’s really going on here?  The problems are not financial – there has never been so much excess capital (if you doubt that, look at your bank’s interest rates), and potential profits, during most of our lifetimes, are into the trillions.  The problems are not pandemic-related – for one thing, very well-paid engineers and their families could form pods with others and end the multiple-safety-driver issue.  The problems are not technical – driving is algorithmic, and with continuing intense effort it can be solved.  The problems are not with government regulations or slow federal movement – it’s all in private, generally at least potentially fast-moving hands.  The problems are not excessive complexity – we landed on the moon 51 years ago, with only rudimentary software and project management knowledge.  The problems are certainly not from a lack of use or applications for autonomous vehicles.

The problem is will. 

For whatever reason, Americans no longer have what it takes to complete large technical projects.  It’s an exaggeration to say that over the past 20 years the only trappings of American life which have changed are software and telephones, but not much of one.  Until we understand and fix our will problem, nothing big and good will happen, be it hyperloop or viable supersonic transportation, cures for cancer and other chronic diseases, space settlement and industrialization, or anything else you can think of that has seemed within our grasp for too long.  For now, we can kiss true technological progress, which now slows down or stops progressing when future developments seem too hard, goodbye – in driverless cars and everything else.

Friday, September 11, 2020

The Logistics of the Upcoming Vaccine, and Other Early September Coronavirus Issues and News

 

It’s been three weeks since I wrote a post dedicated to Covid-19.  The United States has reached a relatively stable point, with the number of cases slowly declining, to a September 9th 7-day rolling average of 36,733.  The hot spots keep changing – here is yesterday’s New York Times map, with red showing counties with 56 or more coronavirus incidences per 100,000 population over the previous 7 days:





First and oldest up is “US stockpiling 3 different types of coronavirus vaccines through ‘Operation Warp Speed’” (Megan Hanney, FOXBusiness, September 2).  The title said it – our government is quickly amassing inventories of vaccines being tested, which cannot be used now but, if the FDA approves any, will provide a running start.  A fine tactic, even if any or all turn out to be worthless. 

Preparation was also the topic of more recent pieces, such as “What We Know About the C.D.C.’s Covid-19 Vaccine Plans,” by Carl Zimmer and Katie Thomas in the September 3rd New York Times.  This three-page primer answered questions we should all have, such as “how do these vaccines work” (by exposing human bodies to weakened or inactivated virus shells or pieces of same so they can learn to resist others), and “who will get it first” (not fully resolved, but probably health-care workers, “essential workers,” and those in the likes of nursing homes), along with a description of Phase 1, 2, and 3 testing.  Some here has been updated below, but it remains a worthy one-source reference.

Next was “’Mind-bogglingly complex’:  Here’s what we know about how Covid-19 vaccine will be distributed when it’s approved” (Elizabeth Weise, USA Today, September 6th).  A Johns Hopkins operations manager, someone who should know, was responsible for the title quotation, but Weise clearly and understandably compressed its subject into four-plus printed pages.  Here we learned that “no one will be charged for the actual dose” (though insurance-plan treatment is not yet established), that “people at high risk for severe disease” may also get high priority, that the Pfizer and Moderna products now “are seen as the front-runners” among American-made efforts, that sites for vaccinations will be approved by the CDC and will order their product from their state governments, how the doses will be handled considering that the two leading contenders must be stored at -4 and -94 degrees Fahrenheit respectively, and even something about the producers’ “specially designed transportation containers.”  Once more we are reassured, by knowing that great effort has put into vaccine logistics and coordination.

Then two days ago came out “SD governor criticizes study suggesting Sturgis bike rally led to 260,000 COVID-19 cases,” by Megan Raposa in USA Today.  The Center for Health Economics and Policy Studies, located at San Diego State University, did that research, concluding that the 462,000 people attending that August event, at which masks and social distancing were far from universal, could have propagated over half a new case per person, resulting in, per another study, a $12.2 billion, or $26,500 per attendee, public health cost.  These estimates were getting heavy criticism yesterday and may change.  As of the latest New York Times data that same day, though, North Dakota had the highest number of new daily per-capita Covid-19 cases of the 50 states, followed by South Dakota.  It is certain that such a huge and arguably imprudent gathering would be bad for the pandemic, regardless of exact or even approximate numbers. 

Also September 9th and in the same publication, by its Editorial Board, came “Rushing coronavirus ‘Holy Grail’ vaccine could turn into a curse.”  It warned of “politics bullying science” being able to “cripple health institutions’ credibility for years” if “Donald Trump’s great bid for redemption after so many coronavirus failures… also fails because of mismanagement.”  Such a reelection-related tactic has at least a real chance of being attempted, and, as this piece warns, cannot be allowed to influence the FDA.  This will remain a polarized controversy, whether we want it to be or not, through at least November 3rd.

Last was one from yesterday, “Pay People to Get Vaccinated” by economics textbook author N. Gregory Mankiw in The New York Times.  From a strictly economic view, Mankiw wrote that, given the disheartening 36% of Republicans and the downright depressing 58% of Democrats saying in an NBC News/Survey Monkey Weekly Tracking Poll that they would “get the vaccine,” and that 70% to 90% of Americans would need it for the country to “develop herd immunity,” it would be worthwhile for our government to offer a monetary incentive, the amount of $1,000 per person suggested by a Brookings Institution economist.  That could be $300 billion, but would be a bargain if it completely ended the pandemic.  More food for thought, and something, as with the above topics, we will hear much more about – I will report it here.

Friday, September 4, 2020

August Jobs: People Went Back to Work While Coronavirus Cases Decreased – AJSN Down 3.5 Million as Latent Demand for Work Now 24.3 Million

Two things happened with this morning’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Summary which haven’t for a bit. 

First, both the 7-day average Covid-19 cases and the unemployment rate improved.  The former went from 65,418 to 51,603 from July 16th to August 16th, yet seasonally adjusted joblessness at the same time plunged from 10.2% to 8.4%.  Second, the published projection of net new positions, 1.4 million, was not only reasonable but right on the money.  We are now at 13.6 million, down 2.7 million, unemployed with an unadjusted rate, off 2.0%, of 8.5%.

The report showed us other real progress.  The count of those in temporary layoff plunged from 9.2 million to 6.2 million.  Those working part-time for economic reasons, or holding on to less than full-time jobs while looking thus far unsuccessfully for conventionally longer-hours ones, counted 7.6 million, down 800,000.  The two measures of how common it is for people to be either working or officially unemployed, the labor force participation rate and the employment-population ratio, gained 0.3% and 1.4% respectively and are now at 61.7% and 56.5%.  The downside was an increase in those out for 27 weeks or longer, up 100,000 to 1.6 million, and another gain, this one 8 cents, in hourly earnings for average private nonfarm payroll workers, which at $29.47 is elevated enough to mean that former low-pay employees are not returning in significant numbers.

The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, the measure showing succinctly how many more positions could be quickly filled if all knew that getting one would be as easy as getting a pizza, improved 3.5 million over the previous month as follows:

 

We continued the trend of those marginally attached to the labor force getting fewer.  Of the July to August drop, 677,000 was not due to lower official unemployment – that included 657,000 from  a reduced count of people wanting work but not looking for it for a year or more and 135,000 from fewer people calling themselves discouraged.  However, 1.4 million more Americans claimed no interest in employment, offsetting the above by 70,000.  The share of the AJSN from those officially jobless fell from 54.7% to 50.9%.     

Although we are recovering, both from the coronavirus and from the economic shock it caused, we are still far worse than before the pandemic began.  The unemployment count and percentages are more than double what they were in August 2019, and the AJSN is 8.1 million higher.  If we can stay on track, both with employment-related indicators and with Covid-19 case counts, that will be good.  If one or the other relapses, we will be in even more trouble.  Although the turtle cannot see where he was as recently as March 2020, he, indeed, took a big step forward this month.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Tolerance of Nonconformers: An Ever More Endangered Ideal

 

For the first time since March, I am writing a post not centering on the Covid-19 pandemic.  There, we have reached a stable position that may last for months:  new American cases still a problem but slowly drifting down from our mid-July peak, about one million weekly employment applications but many other jobs resuming, new outbreaks popping up here and there but offset by decreases, a steady stream of misinformation from the White House but most people including Republicans wise enough to make their own more informed life-activity choices.  I will return to this issue, as there is nothing much to say about employment without considering it.

Something else has been getting attention these past two months.  Problems with responses to public disagreement with what are perceived as the most appropriate positions – whether called “the free exchange of information and ideas,” the cause of “cancel culture,” “freethinking,” refusing to cooperate with “political correctness,” or just “nonconformity” – have been brought to our attention, first by over 100 prominent academics, authors, and journalists, and then by two major columnists.

We could start with attempted university First Amendment violations around 1990, or even millennia before, but we’ll instead choose last month.  In Harper’s Magazine, dated July 7th and simply titled “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate,” a piece decried an “intolerant climate that has set in on all sides,” in which “it is all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought.”  The 153 signatories, including those who have written hundreds of well-regarded books of all kinds among many other achievements (such as those of Wynton Marsalis and Garry Kasparov), agreed that we now have “institutional leaders… delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms”; as examples, “editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study.”  And a week after, a second New York Times editor was forced out for printing unacceptable views.  They stated that “the way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away.”  I was surprised to see how many people, especially on the left, signed this document despite having histories of suppressing intellectual dissent in the past, but was glad to see it blaming those on both sides. 

One week after that, Ross Douthat’s “10 Theses About Cancel Culture” appeared in The New York Times.  He defined this phenomenon: “cancellation, properly understood, refers to an attack on someone’s employment and reputation by a determined collection of critics, based on an opinion or an action that is alleged to be disgraceful and disqualifying.”  While “cancellation isn’t exactly about free speech… a liberal society should theoretically cancel less frequently than its rivals,” he meant liberal in the liberty sense instead of the political one.  He maintained that “the internet has hastened the consolidation of cultural institutions,” and saw “increased uniformity across cities and regions and industries in general,” and that “the point of cancellation is ultimately to establish norms for the majority,” as “the goal isn’t to punish everyone… it’s to shame or scare just enough people to make the rest conform.”

On July 23rd followed David Brooks’s Times “The Future of Nonconformity.”  He stated that “intellectual exclusion and segregation have been terrible for America, poisoning both the right and the left,” which was hastened as “Sarah Palin and Donald Trump reintroduced anti-intellectualism into the American right: a distrust of the media, expertise and facts.”  He understated that “in some ways the left has become even conformist than the right,” and that our arguably greatest university, Harvard, has only 1.5% conservative faculty.  Brooks called cancel culture “an attempt to shift the boundaries of the sayable so it excludes not only conservatives but liberals and the heterodox as well.”  Now, per a Cato Institute poll he cited, “sixty-two percent of Americans say they are afraid to share the things they believe,” which would be higher among those with terminal degrees. 

That is one wonderful thing about writing this blog.  As I am beholden to nobody, I am under no opinion restrictions.  I had to look up the meaning of “heterodox,” but my writings and broadcasts match Google Dictionary’s definition of “not conforming with accepted or orthodox standards or beliefs.”  I handcraft my ideas and opinions, which can only be refuted through argument and persuasion.  Come back – you can count on that to continue. 

Friday, August 21, 2020

The Latest on Coronavirus – Beyond the Latest on Work

 

By the pandemic’s standards, it’s been a peaceful United States and world week.  The chart for the latter changed little, but the role-model countries of New Zealand and South Korea had small if discouraging relapses.  There are now a huge variety of graph shapes, ranging from many with high pinnacles early on followed by minimal cases since, to another group with skateboard-park curves going up, down, then up again.  Here is the American one, which is unique: 

 

The story this August 20th New York Times chart tells is clear.  We went up as expected, then decreased only slowly as many people resumed risky activities too quickly.  That resulted in a second climb to double the previous peak, and has been slowly drifting down, as there has been only uneven practice of prudence and patience since.

In other news, we’re back over one million weekly jobless claims (The Washington Post, August 20th); “Trump’s extra $300 unemployment benefits may only last 3 weeks – here’s why” (because they are taken from FEMA funding, a fixed pot of $44 billion – Fox Business, August 18th); “Amazon reportedly looking to transform shuttered JCPenney, Sears stores into fulfillment centers (a suitable retrofit for the times – Fox Business, August 9th); and “Consumer prices jump again in July, rebounding from pandemic lows, but inflation remains low” (because money is continuing to pool up – MarketWatch, August 12th). 

We’re getting more discussion on what our country will be like after the pandemic is over.  You can expect a lot from me on that in the next few months, as I’m reading a groundbreaking book on social and political inflection points that author George Friedman expected to hit this decade even before Covid-19 appeared, and will have plenty of conclusions of my own for your consideration.  In the meantime, we have “The Workforce Is About to Change Dramatically,” by Derek Thompson on August 6th in The Atlantic, which took a remarkably wide scope, with three major predictions and much information in and around them. 

His first, “The “Telepresence” Revolution Will Reshape the U.S. Workforce,” names the at least temporary ending of two decades of large spending on “leisure and hospitality,” caused by reduced business travel and commuting-connected eating, drinking, and shopping.  Yet a lot of that will come back in smaller and relocated form, as people not only leave larger cities but do those things closer to their homes.  When the author said that “face-to-face meetings might even feel more valuable in a post-pandemic world,” he brushed up against my 2000 prediction, still waiting for widespread fulfillment, that in-person activities would come to be valued more than electronic ones.  Overall, while it is easy to say that “telepresence will almost certainly increase in the aftermath of this crisis,” its problems, starting with productivity losses from less motivated workers and moving on to uneven and often inadequate home-office settings and resources, have not gone away.

Thompson’s second prediction was “Remote Work Will Increase Free-Agent Entrepreneurship,” including employees having new “emotional relationships with colleagues” as “many white-collar companies have become virtual group chats punctuated by Zooms,” problematic since “online communications can be a minefield for mutual understanding.”  That takes coworkers out of their special category, since “at the kitchen counter, hunched over your computer, you are as close to the people and communities on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram as you are to the Slack messages and chats of your bosses and colleagues.”  Accordingly, “more Americans may take on side gigs and even start their own companies,” as they want to profit from being alone.  Against that, companies, in the footsteps of IBM and Yahoo, may rush back to offices once the threat of the virus is way down, with the variation in home work caused, as it was in the past few decades, by the choices of employers, some of whom “were, just seven months ago, outfitting their offices with the finest sushi bars, yoga rooms, and massage rooms.”

Third, “A Superstar-City Exodus Will Reshape American Politics.”  The author’s idea there was that Democrats might become less concentrated in large cities and on the coasts, leading to less of a gap between electoral-college and popular-vote outcomes.  I suspect this won’t have that effect, since most movements will be made either within states, to neighboring ones with similar political tendencies (for example, New Jersey or Connecticut instead of New York City), or to already solid-blue college towns.  For this prediction to come through, telework would need to be common enough that people would not care where they lived, even after anticipating possibly needing to be rehired, and would actually move into states with generally opposite political currents. 

In all three of these outcomes, Thompson acknowledged that a vaccine being distributed early next year could blunt them.  “Still, even a moderate increase in remote work could lead to fundamental changes,” as those employees will allocate more money and online community time at home, and will be at least slightly more likely to relocate.  There will, though, be backlashes and countertrends which we cannot forecast with any accuracy.  In all, Yogi Berra was right when he said, “it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” 

Friday, August 14, 2020

Public Health and Jobs: Where Are We Now, and How Can We Save Both?

With the monthly employment report and AJSN issue, I did not post last week on other aspects of our situation.  The largest jobs news since the previous one was on weekly unemployment claims, which had a 20th straight week of over a million followed by the end of that streak. 

We now have a lot of chaos, ambiguity, and uncertainty about the jobless numbers, shown by, per Patricia Cohen in the August 6th New York Times “New Unemployment Claims Decline, but Remain ‘Alarmingly High’,” 30 million people collecting benefits but only 16.3 million in last week’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Summary.  We have a lot of positions starting and ending, and, apparently, a lot of people just guessing when answering surveys whether their pandemic-lost job will come back.  That wildness is also going on with the virus in our country, which offers, in different locations, world-high infection rates and role models of nonspreading, numbers of cases increasing and holding and decreasing, and responsibility variation ranging from here in the Catskills where whole counties have no Covid-19 hospitalizations and maskless people at all close to others are nonexistent to a Florida sheriff actually banning masks for deputies and visitors.  Overall, though, we are still among our planet’s worst, with this latest New York Times map putting us with Panama, Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Suriname, and Argentina, but no other countries, with daily new infections of over 14 per 100,000:

In these past two weeks there has been a flurry of published opinions on how we can end these two huge problems.  The first, “The Extremely Boring Idea That Could Save the Economy (Jordan Weissman, Slate, July 31st), proposed “automatic stabilizers,” which “could redesign unemployment benefits and food stamps to increase in value when unemployment spikes,” sort of like automatic stock-market shutdowns when losses reach certain amounts.  That, which unfortunately would have only partisan appeal, would prevent needing to develop and agree on additional assistances when they are suddenly and urgently needed. 

Next, we had “America’s Coronavirus Endurance Test,” by Howard Markel in the August 6th New Yorker.  Markel, a physician and medical historian, recounted how he and others developed the idea of flattening a virus-infection curve over 10 years ago, that social distancing may have prevented over half a billion coronavirus cases in six countries alone, but keeping physically away from others “cannot cure or defeat Covid-19” and “only allows us to hide from the virus while scientists do their work.”  Such may be necessary in some times and places into 2022, so accordingly “businesses need to give up on the idea of a near-term return to normal and commit to letting people work from home or in staggered shifts until a vaccine or other treatment becomes available.”  Stern advice, but it is a clear conclusion that we cannot get the economy back until the virus is vastly less prevalent.

On the same date, the USA Today Editorial Board released “Coronavirus ride:  4 ways America can get back on track.”  The bullet points are “once and for all, fix testing results,” since, as few have dared put in print, “tests that take a week or more for results are virtually worthless.”; “ensure adequate supplies” (if multiple companies are not mass-producing them now, I don’t know why); “build a COVID-19 infection barometer to guide the states,” with which many Republicans and many state governments disagree; and “tell the truth” (it is out there, but it needs to contend with conspiracy theories, cherry-picked statistics, runaway tribalism, national priority confusion, and much more.)  These suggestions are useful, but preventing spread is most critical.

Only the day after that, we saw “Here’s How to Crush the Virus Until Vaccines Arrive,” by Michael T. Osterholm and Neel Kashkari in the New York Times.  It’s more castor oil – the authors called for “a more restrictive lockdown, state by state, for up to six weeks to crush the spread of the virus to less than one new case per 100,000 people per day,” or one-sixteenth of what the map above shows.  We failed as a country because “we gave up on our lockdown efforts to control virus transmission well before the virus was under control.” 

On August 8th, the next day, the Times Editorial Board printed “America Could Control the Pandemic by October.  Let’s Get to It.”  The “six to eight weeks” the authors called necessary seems like a lot less time than it did in the spring.  The piece offered the new insights that “airborne transmission is a far greater risk than contaminated surfaces,” while “the virus spreads through singing and shouting as much as through coughing” and “superspreading events – as in nursing homes, meatpacking plants, churches and bars – are major drivers of the pandemic.”  They asked for “clear, consistent messaging,” which seems a doubtful product from our current presidential administration, along with “better use of data,” “smarter shutdowns” more severe for places doing worse, and the old favorites “testing, tracing, isolation, and quarantine.”  I found this piece less effective than two above, since it hoped for things with poor current prospects and advocated measures already taken. 

None of this is very encouraging, but we will do what we can, including on November 3rd, to minimize damage before the vaccine arrives.  Only then will the pandemic, and employment with it, start to normalize. 

Friday, August 7, 2020

Despite 6 Million Unemployment Applications, Joblessness Drops 0.9% in July to 10.2 Percent – AJSN Shows Latent Demand for Work Down 1,350,000 To 28.0 Million

 

I was the predictor this time, and fell flat on my face.  Because of new unemployment compensation applications camping out at over one million per week, I thought we would see the seasonally adjusted rate worsen from June’s 11.1% to 13% or 14%.  Not only did it not reach that level, it improved.

Other numbers released in this morning’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Summary got better as well.  Unadjusted unemployment fell 0.7% to 10.5%.  Total nonfarm payroll jobs were up 1.8 million, meaning that along with those six-plus million position losses that sent people virtually or in person to their employment offices, there were about 8 million jobs created or reinstated.  The count of the unemployed lost 1.5 million and is now 16.3 million, with people considering themselves to be on temporary layoff adding up to 1,400,000 less to reach 9.2 million.  Those out for 27 weeks or longer, meaning they lost their jobs long before the pandemic, now number 100,000 more and total 1.5 million.  The employment-population ratio, the best indicator of how common it is for Americans to be working, gained 0.5% to 55.1%, and those working part-time for economic reasons, or keeping less than full-time opportunities while seeking them, dropped from 9.1 million to 8.4 million.  The two statistics on which I have been reporting that did not get better were the labor force participation rate, down 0.1% to 61.4%, and average private nonfarm payroll hourly earnings, up 2 cents to $29.39, not an improvement since increases in this number, way-high since coronavirus started, indicate more lower-level workers unemployed.

The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, the metric showing how many additional positions could be quickly filled if all knew they would be easy to get, fell over 1.3 million as follows:

The AJSN is now 6.5 million less than when the first month of the pandemic reached the data in mid-April, but is 11,400,000 higher than a year before.  Only 54.7% of it comes from those officially unemployed, meaning that latent demand for work includes 12.6 million positions from those with other statuses, roughly a three-way split between those wanting work but not looking for it for a year or more, those claiming no interest in employment, and all others. 

What is really happening now?  Given the historically elevated counts of those filing for jobless benefits, there is great employment churn.  Apparently it is, or those working are, coming and going at an unusually rapid pace, on the order of five times as much as before Covid-19.  There are almost certainly too many people being allowed to work in the Deep South and Florida, the states now worst at containing the virus.  Beyond that the picture is muddled, especially as lower joblessness is less desirable now than lower infection rates.  Until we see both together, we cannot take credit for any employment improvement.  The turtle went forward again, but is too concerned with getting sick to be happy with that.