Friday, February 17, 2017

On the Job: Three Months of Choosing Good Ones, Getting Them, Hating Them, and Containing Them

Whatever your work status, something has come out recently for you to think about.

In Northeast Pennsylvania Business Journal’s November 2016 Dave Gardner interview of Maurice Flurie, “CEO:  The trades are booming,” Flurie, who runs “state-wide cyberschool” Commonwealth Charter Academy, described a disconnect between the jobs for which public schools are preparing their students and actual marketplace needs.  He did not fall into the tired and incorrect view that employers deserve no blame for their unfilled below-market-rate-paying openings, but instead focused on teaching pre-high-school students entire careers, not only considering differing aptitudes but fully recognizing the value of skilled trades.  I have advocated those in construction, as demand for them will stay high in general, and see as the only concerns what can be up-and-down hiring and confusion with manufacturing positions having much poorer long-term prospects.

Also on career selection, The Economist, which has disappointed me recently in employment-related matters, did much better in their The World in 2017 special issue.  In “Apply within,” author Tom Standage only wrote up our Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasted jobs rate through 2024, but those projections showed more depth than those made before.  The top position, expected to provide twice as many opportunities as now, was wind turbine service technician, far ahead of second-place occupational therapy assistant.  After that, not until eighth place does one with which I disagree, statistician, appear.  The others follow my principles in 2013’s Choosing a Lasting Career remarkably closely:  giving best prospects to healthcare-related professionals other than physicians; a great emphasis on jobs that must be done locally and in person; a #10 rating for the position I named first overall, physician assistant; and avoiding currently good but dangerously vulnerable occupations such as pharmacist and computer programmer.  Kudos to the BLS for their pronouncement and to Standage and The Economist for educating us about it.

On December 16th, a Washington Post Jeffrey J. Selingo opinion piece asked “Why are so many students failing to find good jobs after college?”  I could almost completely dispose of it by answering “because the permanent jobs crisis means there are too many workers chasing too few jobs,” but the article brings up a few items worthy of other note.  I was surprised that as recently as 2005 the top motivation for incoming UCLA students was to “learn about things that interest me” – I had thought that the vocationalists, who seemed to win that war in the late 1970s, were still in the majority at least nationally.  According to other studies Selingo uncovered, fewer than 20% of students graduating 2010 or later found their university career centers helpful, rather stunning given such low official unemployment.  Selingo called on colleges to make use of federal 75% work-study subsidies by offering positions with skills more advanced than those typical for student-employee positions; whatever the solution, it is depressing to think how poorly university vocational help would be doing if we had another recession.

Just after Thanksgiving, Forbes career columnist Liz Ryan offered two lists for jobseekers and jobholders.  The second, “Ten Job-Search Habits to Break” (December 5), described how to stick to what she described as “the new-millennium approach using Pain Letters,” in which the applicant acts as a consultant, seeking out information on what the employer needs to improve, to show they can contribute effectively.  The behaviors Ryan recommends ending are using standard cover-letter language, describing career backgrounds instead of problem-solving examples, writing the likes of “results-oriented professional” or “motivated self-starter,” being obsequious in general, only waiting to answer questions in the interview, walking through an already submitted resume, and naming related experience, mentioning compensation levels, asking for approval, or trying to impress hiring managers.  All revolutionary but often justified, especially for people suspecting they may not have a real chance to be hired without it.

Ryan’s previous list, “The Top Ten Reasons People Hate Their Jobs” (November 29), put incentive for good work performances on employers’ shoulders, saying “motivation is a feature of the environment, not the people who work in it.”  Her in-effect checklist named the following as indications that organizational management may be falling short here:  employees “not respected as people at work”; people lacking both the correct tools for their jobs and ability to get them; apathy about personal lives; a supervisor unqualified or “a tyrant”; too many lies; no confidence in leadership; too much politics; being “underpaid and overworked”; inability to get their projects moving forward; and an atmosphere where employees “could get in trouble – or get fired – for almost any reason.”  Some are old and vague, but are indeed worthy of avoiding. 

That brings us to January 17th’s “Why America Needs the French Email Law,” written by Katie Denis in Pulse.  The title referred to the January 1st requirement in France that companies with at least 50 workers must name hours during which their employees cannot send (or answer) email messages.  We’re a long way from agreeing on some of the points Denis made, such as that “skipping vacation time doesn’t make you more valuable” or that we need to “appreciate power of downtime” – perception means a great deal, and innumerable corporate managers cannot tell the difference between work quality and quantity – but I agree that even if such a law were enacted in the United States, which it should not, it is positive that a major advanced country has actually done that.  There is not enough pressure on American employers to let their workers manage their own lives, and this law, applicable to them or not, will provide some.  It, along with the other five subjects here, was well worth publicizing.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, and their Jobs are Sputtering as Expected

It’s not been a good several months for the two largest car-and-driver-sharing companies and the main sleeping-space one.  As I predicted years ago when they made broad-based national news in 2014, these three ever-growing and still successful “sharing economy” companies are falling prey to two things:  the catching-up of regulations they had thus far avoided; and proper cost accounting being done by those providing those services, showing that neither ride-sharing nor home rentals are as profitable as Airbnb, Lyft, and Uber management want us to think. 

On June 27th, even a rare regulatory victory, in which Airbnb in San Francisco won the legal right to offer extensive short-term living quarters without being subject to hotel laws, sprung a leak, as that city’s supervisors ended up voting to require registration of each person providing such services, with $1,000 per incident fines for noncompliance.  The problem, as the board saw it, was not occasional home-sharing, but, per Katie Benner’s June 28th New York Times article, their owners doing that almost continuously.  That controversy resulted in the view from Abha Bhattarai’s July 31st Washington Post piece, “As regulatory attacks mount, Airbnb goes on a charm offensive,” describing how that company organized Washington rental hosts to meet with other local business owners to get their customers to shop with them, in exchange for, they hoped, their votes against a strongly regulatory city council bill. 

The Economist, for which being based in Britain is no excuse for being behind the times, issued a September 3rd piece, “Uberworld,” which looked like it could have been written a year before.  Its unbilled author told us that Uber is “the world’s most valuable startup” (more than Wal-Mart?), which is “shaking up the $100-billion-a-year taxi business” and “will transform daily life as profoundly as cars did in the 20th century” and “could reduce the number of cars needed by 80-90%.”  Though driverless vehicles will have great effects, cheaper taxis will not.  All we need to do to confirm that is to look at cities such as Seoul and Buenos Aires, where relatively low-priced cabs are used more often than in America and have facilitated such improvements as less drink-driving, but have barely if at all reduced the number of privately-owned cars.

Uber, though, has been expanding their business offerings in other, if not new, ways.  Per Business Insider on September 29th, it is now delivering food from over 500 London restaurants to a large area of that city.  If customers will choose Uber for such a service instead of from two other companies, and will pay rates not specified in this James Cook article but seeming to approach $12 to $15 per hour, it will succeed.

Another sign of regulation being applied as much to Uber and Lyft as to true taxi companies reached San Jose’s Mercury News two days later, as the California governor signed a bill requiring both to strengthen their already robust driver background checks.  One more, “New York cracks down on Airbnb” (Sara Ashley O’Brien, October 21,, banned renting of “entire apartments” for less than 30 days in that city.  Those against that activity, per O’Brien, “say (the law) is aimed at people who use Airbnb to effectively turn their homes into hotels – and thus take potential rental housing off the market and deny cities tax revenue.” Airbnb’s resulting lawsuit, which they dropped six weeks later (“Airbnb Ends Fight With New York City Over Fines,” The New York Times, December 3), claimed that they should not be responsible for what their hosts do.

Going beyond simply driverless vehicles, one of the ridesharing companies seemingly let loose more than that in an October 28th USA Today piece, “Uber looks to flying cars as next big shift” by Eli Blumenthal.  The article itself, however, was about helicopters proposed for especially large and heavily trafficked cities, such as Sao Paulo, New Delhi, and the San Francisco Bay area.  Not the same thing as flying cars, and such services are, in New York for one place, available already.

On another flawed area of ridesharing, that company lost another judgment that same day.  The title of Danica Kirka’s October 28th “UK Uber drivers win case to get paid vacation, minimum wage” said it all, with the chances of Uber getting away with calling its workers contractors taking another legal hit.  That issue was discussed further in The New York Times (“In Europe, Is Uber a Transportation Service or a Digital Platform?,” November 27th), in which Mark Scott recapped conflict between that company’s practices and both governments and taxi companies in France, Frankfurt, Barcelona, and elsewhere.   Scott also mentioned similar European issues with Airbnb.  A few days after that, a Danish appeals court upheld an unlicensed-taxi conviction against an Uber provider, (Salon, December 2), judging only that cabdriving regulations applied to that company.

Not every situation, though, has been clearly lost by the sharers.  In “New Orleans Becomes New Model for Airbnb to Work With Cities” (Katie Benner, The New York Times, December 7), we saw the results of a rare cooperative effort.  There, the company agreed, in exchange for being allowed to do business in its usual way:  to share data including host names and addresses; to its hosts being required to obtain city permits; to be limited to 90 annual rental days per entire home; and, perhaps most painfully, to almost completely stay away from the French Quarter.  If these agreements hold, expect them to be duplicated elsewhere.

Three more stories, though, showed how reality is catching up with the ridesharers.  Fox News’s “Uber, Lyft clashing with cities over new regulations” (Dan Springer, December 20) was mainly about what could be called an “et tu, Brute?” moment for those two, in which tech-loving Seattle determined that they should be subject to the same rules as taxi companies, since, as an assistant city attorney common-sensically put it, “at the end of the day, they do the same thing, they drive people from point A to point B.”  Fox Business informed us on January 5th that the state of Massachusetts will soon be subjecting “tens of thousands” of Uber and Lyft drivers to what “officials say are the country’s most stringent background checks.”  And, as for the cost accounting problem mentioned earlier, per The Wall Street Journal on January 19th, Uber has been fined $20 million by the Federal Trade Commission for misleading potential drivers about their actual earning potential.  
The possibility is real that, within two years or so, Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb will consistently be held to the same standards as traditional lodging and taxi companies.  Whether they will survive in some form, such as with driverless cars, we do not know.  In an intriguing February 2nd Forbes article (“Uber and Lyft May Just Be Here For A Brief Ride”), Jeff McMahon told us about an idea from urban real estate expert Randy Rowe, that automobile companies may, when self-driving vehicles are well established, sell contracts instead of cars, in which “you’ll get a certain number of points in a year, and if you order a sports car for that morning it costs you that many points, if you order a van for the family trip to the mountains it costs you that many points, and when you have your four-door sedan for your normal stuff it’s a different price.”  Ford, which is as Rowe put it “rebranding itself… as a mobility company rather than an automaker,” may lead the way.

Will that happen?  Hang on – we will see.  In the meantime, don’t buy stock from any ride or home sharing companies. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

AJSN, Up To 18.3 Million, Is Back to Where It Was a Year Ago On Higher Seasonal Latent Demand For Work

This morning’s monthly Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data had an odd pattern.  All the most important numbers were larger.  That held for those where increases were good as well as bad.  What happened?

First, the favorable.  What is rightfully now the marquee figure, the number of net new nonfarm positions, came in at 227.000, almost 100,000 more than our population increase could have absorbed.  The two metrics showing best how many Americans are actually working, the labor force participation rate and the employment-population ratio, each rose a large 0.2% to 62.9% and 59.9% respectively.  Average hourly earnings, which gained 6 cents per hour (adjusted down from 10 cents) last time, did not backtrack, but solidified that with another 3-cent rise to $26.00. 

The other major numbers did not do as well.  Both seasonally adjusted and unadjusted unemployment shares rose, 0.1% to 4.8% and 0.6% to 5.1%.  The count of those officially jobless for 27 weeks or more went up 100,000 to 1.9 million.  Those working part-time for economic reasons, or keeping less than full-time positions while unsuccessfully seeking ones with more hours, jumped 200,000 to 5.8 million. 

The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, showing in one figure how many additional positions could be filled if getting one were quick and easy, gained 1.3 million.  Although that reflects mostly the usual large difference between January and December employment, as the AJSN is not seasonally adjusted, its gain was broad-based, with high latent demand increases coming not only from people officially jobless, but from those not looking for work in the previous year and those describing themselves as discouraged.  Overall, the AJSN came in at just over 18.3 million, as follows:

Compared with a year before, though, the AJSN is almost unchanged.  January 2016’s was 18.36 million, with higher official unemployment and more discouraged workers offset by losses in non-civilian, institutionalized and unaccounted for, expatriate, and those not looking for the previous year. 

So how did we do last month?  With such a large difference in how many people are working between January and holiday-work-rich December, the year-over-year comparison is most important.  That showed essentially no advance.  However, four numbers – net new positions gained, average wages, and both employment percentages – improved, and did not need to.  Our multi-year job situation gains are not quite topping out, so the turtle once again stepped forward.   

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Higher Minimum Wages: Six Months of Laws, Studies, Viewpoints, and Speculation

This employment area has had a lot of activity since the Fourth of July.  What has happened, and what has been said?0

Tom Knighton’s snide-titled July 6th article in PJ Media, “Boston Globe Accidentally Reports That Raising the Minimum Wage Kills Jobs,” showed how the YouthWorks program, which provides pay for teenagers with low family incomes to work at nonprofit opportunities, delivered fewer of them when the lowest legal Massachusetts pay was increased, and correctly pointed out that “no wage” was “harder to live on” than the minimum, whatever it may be.  Radio host Mark Levin hit a similar note later that month, as reported in CNS News, by saying that “raising the minimum wage eviscerates jobs for the little people,” from sheer inability of employers to maintain as many jobs. 

On July 29th, The Washington Post printed Max Ehrenfreud’s “Why raising the minimum wage in Seattle did little to help workers, according to a new study.”  The author wrote that such efforts “have often produced contradictory results,” and reported that, when Seattle’s large-business base rate increased from $9.96 to $11.14, one research project determined that it raised average earnings $5.54 per week, while another found that it reduced them by an almost identical amount.  He named another study result, that birth weights correlated with minimum wages, which could not possibly have shown causality.  Another one Ehrenfreud cited concluded that Seattle’s increase was followed by reduced hours and employment.  The next day, The Seattle Times released something intended and succeeding as an even-handed editorial, “Read between the lines of the minimum-wage experiment,” saying that the new rate was neither “a universal good” nor “a job-killer”;  that while that city’s “white hot” economy had precipitated no reduction in job openings, had mandated pay floors stayed the same there would have been 1.2% more;  and that workers had lost an average of 35 to 40 work minutes per week.  

The negative views continued the next day in New York Post, with Nicole Genilas’s “A $15 minimum wage will crush the retail industry.”  She pointed out that there are now 8 million retail salespeople and cashiers earning hourly averages of $10.47 and $9.28, and maintained that “the result of impossible labor costs will be more automation.”  Much the same viewpoint came out August 1st in Salon, of all places, in Carrie Sheffield’s “Hillary Clinton’s bogus war on poverty:  Her proposed minimum wage hike would only hurt low-income families,” saying that $15 per hour would “price young people… out of the labor market, and for many, their first job.”

Although there are many causes affecting the number of work opportunities, Tyler O’Neil, in PJ Media on August 28, gave as well documented an example of minimum pay affecting jobs as I have seen.  “D.C. Restaurants Lose 1,400 Jobs Amid Minimum Wage Increase” started with a graph showing steady increases in the number of restaurant positions in Washington and its suburbs from 2010 to July 2016, with the only exception being a drop in the city, six months before July’s mandated $1 per hour raise, but not elsewhere. 

On November 30th, Brian Sozzi’s piece in The Street, “Fight for $15 Serves Up Huge Risk for Restaurant and Retail Investors,” predicted that “the latest populist wage protests will come to a head for many companies in 2017.”  He warned that McDonalds and T.J. Maxx stock might each suffer, and concluded that investors should “pay attention now,” or “be served up a side of losses later.”  The next day, an untitled Investor’s Business Daily editorial came out against that rate, citing a study showing it “would have a devastating effect,” with “ultimately, millions of jobs lost” (italics theirs), with the poorest 10% of such workers dropping 28% and 38% of the positions shed in Chicago and Boston.  The authors said those favoring the $15 minimum may “think they’re taking a moral stand,” but are “merely killing jobs that poor people could do, achieving badly needed training and experience along the way,” contributing greatly to “such a large income and jobs gap, and why minorities have such a hard time getting a foothold in our economy.”  Valid points.

From the other side, Barry Ritholz’s “Minimum-Wage Foes Tripped Up By facts” (, December 7) claimed “many” studies have found that “modest increases in minimum wages don’t lead to job losses,” and said that Wal-Mart workers were receiving an average of $1,000 in public assistance.  He did not consider employers cutting positions to prepare for higher pay to be meaningful, and noted the stimulus effect instead.

This year, per Jeanne Sahadi in CNN Money (December 19), there will be minimum wage increases in 19 entire states and seven additional cities and counties.  The floors are going up in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, and Washington, along with, among other smaller places, Washington, D.C. and Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

So what will be the result of all this?  “What will a higher minimum wage do?  Two new studies have different ideas” (Natalie Kitroeff, Los Angeles Times, January 11) gives us some formal conjecture, including, from Berkeley, California, the ideas that that state’s rises will actually cause a net increase in jobs (!), and that “bigger salaries also make people more productive,” which runs counter to the classic literature on that subject.  We won’t know much, though, until near the middle of the year, when, clearly, there will be plenty of data to analyze.  I’ll see you on this topic then.        

Friday, January 20, 2017

It’s Inauguration Day: Five Enlightened Views on How to Prepare for This Afternoon and Later, Plus Mine

Here we go.  Whether we are ready or not, it’s only hours until Donald John Trump becomes our 45th president.  Contrary to a remarkable amount of commentary seemingly unaware of it, he hasn’t been in that office yet – all the stock market gyrations and real or imagined business and world-leader reactions have been based on speculation, not policy.  And nobody, not even his wife, knows what he will actually do.  We know by now the kind of thing he will say, but will he turn into a thoroughly uncompassionate conservative?  Will he be as unprincipled as his statements, outside of immigration and protectionism, indicate?  Will he leave policymaking to his cabinet and become sort of a King Farouk-like satyr-in-chief?  Or will he become something not only bad but much worse than any of those?

That last possibility has gathered cogent press from a variety of sources.  These five articles are worthy of your attention.

The first one, “What to Do About Trump?  The Same Thing My Grandfather Did in 1930s Vienna” by Liel Leibovitz, appeared in Tablet on November 14th.   This ancestor of Leibovitz’s was “a promising young violinist and composer” who, when “spooked by the goosesteps of Hitler’s goons,” surprised people he knew, who told him “he was hysterical, that he was getting it all wrong, that it couldn’t possibly be that bad,” by leaving Europe for much less affluent Palestine.  He decided to do that, as well as the author could tell, when “his simple heart advised him to take the thugs at their word.”  Leibovitz named three principles to follow:  to “treat every poisoned word as a promise,” to assume adults are adults responsible for knowing the consequences of what they do, and to “refuse to accept what’s going on as the new normal” and not condone otherwise good things resulting from abuse of our fellow citizens. 

The second, “The moral foundations of fascism:  Warring psychological theories struggle to make sense of Hitler, Mussolini, and you-know-who” (Paul Rosenberg in Salon, December 4th) explained the social psychological theory of “moral foundations theory,” which, good or bad, explains the underpinnings of both conservative and liberal ideology.  Rosenberg showed how the need for social order from either the left or the right can lead to authoritarianism, and how a rising leader can cater to the worst of one side or the other to move his organization in that direction.  If you have any inclination toward sociology or psychology, this piece has a lot to offer you.

The third article, also in Salon, Robert Reich’s “4 syndromes of passivity in the face of pending Trump tyranny,” appeared on December 16th.  He named four destructive reactions common to people who did not vote for our president-elect.  They are “normalizer syndrome,” or believing Trump “will make rational decisions once in office”; “outrage numbness syndrome,” or disregarding his offensive statements and actions from sheer overexposure to them; “cynical syndrome,” determining that Democrats, Republicans, and the media are as complicit and as bad as Trump; and “helpless syndrome,” or feeling too powerless to take any action.  Instead of maintaining any of these views, he recommends “demonstrating, resisting, objecting, demanding, speaking truth, joining with others, making a ruckus and never ceasing to fight Trump’s pending tyranny” instead.

Fourth, by Jeffrey C. Isaac on December 17th in The Washington Post, “How Hannah Arendt’s classic work on totalitarianism illuminates today’s America” demonstrates just that.  That 1951 book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, was written toward understanding what was put together by both Hitler and Stalin.  Conclusions Arendt made that could apply to the years now to come include “freedom is fragile, and when demagogues speak, and others start following them, it is wise to pay attention” (Isaac’s words), “the mob always will shout for ‘the strong man,’ the ‘great leader.’  For the mob hates the society from which it is excluded” (Arendt’s words), “what convinces masses are not facts, and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably part” (likewise), and that “peoples made superfluous… were rendered superfluous in a legal and political sense” (Isaac).  This last idea, which led to Nazi concentration camps, suggests that the masses of displaced, formerly working people consuming social services, despite their November support for him, may prove to be surplus and therefore expendable or even undesirable to Trump.

The fifth piece is the best of all.  From Dallas News on November 21, Timothy Snyder’s “What you – yes, you – can do to save America from tyranny,” named no fewer than 20 such things.  They are “do not obey in advance,” “defend an institution,” “recall professional ethics,” “when listening to politicians, distinguish certain words,” “be calm when the unthinkable arrives,” “be kind to our language,” “stand out,”  “believe in truth,” “investigate,” “practice corporeal politics,” “make eye contact and small talk,” “take responsibility for the face of the world,” “hinder the one-party state,” “give regularly to good causes, if you can,” “establish a private life,” “learn from others in other countries,” “watch out for the paramilitaries,” “be reflective if you must be armed,” “be as courageous as you can,” and “be a patriot.”  For more on what the author meant by these, see the article at

To Snyder’s fine list, I add two.  First, know your constitution, so you can see if and when it is being violated.  If Trump arranges for flag-burning to become illegal that would be one clear sign of that, as, as reprehensible as that activity is, it is plainly protected by the First Amendment.  Second, learn more about Nazi German history, which will tell you how a free society devolved so totally and quickly, and heed George Friedman’s 2015 words on that topic, published before Trump arrived on the presidential political scene: “This was a seductive work of art that was judged not by its logic or justification but by the way it resonated.  And it resonated so well that it did not require proof or logical consistency.  It simply had to be a stunningly seductive and effective work of art.”     

Expect more from this blog.  As well as writing more, as usual, on jobs in America, I will publish information on to what extent true American authoritarianism is or is not taking shape.  All you will get from me is, as I see it, the truth.  Stay in touch.   

Friday, January 13, 2017

Jobs General and in Public Policy: A July Through January Round-Up

In this blog I’ve focused mainly on what is happening in various industries, along with monthly numbers which give insight into our employment situation.  More, though, has happened, and been written about, how our laws could help with that.

First is July’s issue of the Northeast Pennsylvania Business Journal, in which Howard J. Grossman, former executive director of what is now NEPA Alliance, an organization promoting economic growth in this area, wrote “unemployment insurance:  an option for joblessness?”.  Grossman discussed private work-loss compensation insurance covering annual income up to $250,000, with premium costs averaging about $1,000.  He advocated it, and showed that it is not only viable but a desirable choice for many.

In The Atlantic, Alana Semuels’ August 8th “Is the U.S. Due for Radically Raising Taxes for the Rich?” considered this issue which seemed headed for change before our presidential election.  The article is mostly a history of top American income tax rates, which almost doubled for the highest bracket under Republican Herbert Hoover and went even higher with his Democratic successor Franklin D. Roosevelt.  They held at 70 percent-plus from 1935 to 1982, but have been under 40%, also under presidents of both parties, since 1987.  The piece noted the correlation, if not the causality, of high levels of income inequality after long stretches of low marginal income taxes over the past 90 years, and concluded that for raising those rates to be effective, it would need to be done by “all the big countries,” and that “the U.S. must really want it to be done.”  That, now, means not soon. 

Former labor secretary and active author and blogger Robert Reich decried “corporate tax deserters” in Salon on September 14th.  He suggested an end to “financial incentives that encourage” it, and opined that United States companies moving their cash or headquarters overseas “should no longer be entitled to the advantages of being American,” including political involvement and use of the domestic litigation system.  That has plenty of merit, and removing tax breaks instead of implementing new levies should in theory have bipartisan support.  I have previously advocated better tax treatment of companies creating and maintaining large numbers of jobs, and Reich’s ideas here could be implemented along with that.

Another viewpoint to which I have subscribed, that of the need for a national infrastructure project, gathered opposing views.  The Wayne Independent and other sources published Heritage Foundation research associate Michael Sargent’s “What both candidates get wrong about infrastructure” (July 29th).  The author cited statistics and studies showing that American pavement, bridges, and highways had improved, not worsened, since 1992, and that such efforts were susceptible to overspending.   George F. Will’s November 25th Washington Post “Infrastructure projects aren’t jobs programs” differentiated between these two purposes, but unfortunately illogically claimed that New Deal public works projects “did not significantly reduce unemployment,” since joblessness then did not drop, and said such efforts would not be as useful as those before since our infrastructure is now more developed.  Both Sargent and Will bring worthwhile points, but nothing in either article convinced me such a plan, perhaps modified to consider the above, would not be worthwhile.

The worst labor-related news of the year came out November 22nd, when a federal judge blocked adjustment of the maximum salary for overtime eligibility.  My May 27th post named six reasons why this change was good, even if a higher minimum wage was bad, and said that I had never seen as many “bad arguments” as put forth by those opposing it.  However, lawsuits filed by “21 states and a coalition of business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce” (Reuters, in Fox Business) provoked the judicial response that the change was unlawful.  The measure is now under nationwide injunction, but further legislation and litigation are sure to follow.  Eventually, though probably not with the incoming presidential administration, the courts will see that low pay is not the same as employee abuse, and resolve the overtime issue appropriately.

In “What a 21st-century safety net should look like” (Washington Post, November 29), Democratic Virginia Senator Mark R. Warner suggested, in response to “modern American capitalism… not working for many Americans,” portable health-care and disability insurance, some type of retirement savings protection, and incentives for companies to retrain workers.  He bemoaned business’s short-term financial focus, but had no ideas on changing that.  Overall there is not much here, except inadvertently pointing up that agreement on the causes of problems is not enough to solve them by itself.

Although there has been a lot of recent press about guaranteed income, there is still some confusion about what it actually is.  That was made clear in reports of Finland’s experimental enhanced unemployment benefits, going to 2,000 jobless people for two years.  Since the money will not be stopped by the recipients’ earnings elsewhere, Peter S. Goodman in the December 17th New York Times, despite his article’s title “Free Cash in Finland.  Must Be Jobless.,” described this effort as “an experiment in a form of social welfare:  universal basic income.”  But it is not.  For earnings to be both guaranteed and universal, they must go to people regardless of employment status.  By skewing the set of people given this money, the outcomes will be misleading and will distort the views of those not realizing this distinction.  Higher unemployment compensation is generally a good thing, though, even if it is represented as something else.

On December 28th, Fox Business published “The Average Retirement Age in Every State in 2016.”  I was stunned by how little variation this study, which used federal data for people aged 40 to 80, found across the nation.  All 51 data points, for the states and the District, came out between 62 and 65, with the relatively largest in New England and nearby New Jersey.  Additionally, despite much talk about later retirements, only 6% of Americans are still in the labor force at age 80.  More interesting would be the share of people who have left what could be defined as their main careers at certain ages – that would not come out anywhere near 20th-century levels. 

Lauren Weber’s January 3rd Wall Street Journal piece “‘Routine’ Jobs Are Disappearing,” discovered what readers of this blog have known since its 2012 inception, that many doing algorithmic work, be it physical or mental, have been losing it.  Weber’s additional statement that “the U.S. must invest in raising the skills of the workers most likely to be affected by the disappearance of routine jobs, labor market experts say” is even less useful, not only no newer but something I debunked five years ago in Work’s New Age

Shorter workweeks have great value, and stand as one of the few comprehensive solutions to the permanent jobs crisis.  Have they failed already?  Liz Alderman, in “In Sweden, Happiness in a Shorter Workday Can’t Overcome the Cost” (The New York Times, January 6th) seems to consider that possibility.  She documented the Swedish experiment with a six-hour workday, which resulted in “happier, healthier, and more productive employees,” but proved too expensive, as others needed to be hired to cover the lost time.  On further examination, though, the trial was held with retirement home workers, who needed to cover predetermined hours.  Under those circumstances, it was clear that shortening their work would mean more employees would be needed.  That would not be the case for most cubicle-job workers who, if they did not have as in this case ten hours a week of idle or expendable time, could have their least essential tasks cut.  Clearly, shortening hours for production workers, or those needed to be present for certain lengths of time, is not as viable as doing that for those with slack time or flexible workloads.  Thus, the headline here was as misleading as the subhead of the Finland article above, “the idea, universal basic income, is gaining traction worldwide.”  Guaranteed income and shorter working hours have great potential, but they must be understood properly.      

There will be more.  If anything else, it is good to see the issues above being discussed.  Even if the unemployment rate stays low, we will need to keep doing that as the years roll on.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Dull but Still Improving Jobs Data Puts American Job Shortage Number (AJSN) At 17 Million

Not much was supposed to happen in this morning’s monthly Bureau of Labor Statistics national employment report – and not much did.

Most of what was there, though, was good.  Although official seasonally adjusted unemployment increased from 4.6% to 4.7%, two behind-the curtain numbers which got better in November improved again.  The count of those out of work for 27 weeks or longer dropped another 100,000 to 1.8 million, as did the tally of people working part-time for economic reasons, or keeping shorter-hours positions while looking thus far unsuccessfully for longer ones, now 5.6 million.  Average private nonfarm hourly earnings, after taking a one-month break with a small loss, almost matched October’s 13-cent increase to reach an even $26.00.  The two percentages which show better than any other figures how common it is for Americans to actually be working, the labor force participation rate and the employment-population ratio, held steady at 62.7% and 59.7%.  There were a population-gain-exceeding 156,000 net new nonfarm positions, and seasonally unadjusted joblessness matched the adjusted’s rise to go from 4.4% to 4.5%. 

The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, which shows in one metric how many more positions could be filled if getting one were as easy as buying a movie ticket, gained a modest 126,000, as growths in the counts of those wanting work but not looking for it for at least a year (up over 200,000) and officially unemployed (up just over 100,000) more than offset the surprising 165,000 fall in those describing themselves as “discouraged.”  Overall, the AJSN came in at just over 17 million, as follows:

Compared with a year before, the AJSN is down 475,000, reflecting substantially reduced numbers of those discouraged and officially jobless.  The one that keeps climbing, the count of those claiming no interest whatever in working, rose 1.34 million, adding 67,000 to the latent demand which the AJSN measures. 

So how are we looking now?  Favorable.  We could still use many more work opportunities, and there remain too many people working part-time not by choice, but we ended the last full Obama-administration month with not only a massive eight-year improvement but reasonable figures in general.  We will see if Trump’s team will hold the gain, improve further on it, or let it go back to the likes of 10% official unemployment.  In the meantime, the turtle, once again, took a small step forward.