Friday, April 13, 2018

Scattered Views, Reactions, Observations, and Discontents


Here is my file of odds and ends, for your consideration, agreement, disagreement, or just plain thought provocation.

One problem with reading too much into the extremely broad statistic that women earn, on overall average, less than what men do is that those who are fully willing to sacrifice their comfort, child-raising and family time, and general work-life balance are unaware of how many of their sex are not.  Simple arithmetic will tell you that if 40% of women are choosing careers which pay half as much as comparably educated mens’, the others averaging the full 100% gets us to our current 80%, with no room at all needed for the effects of real or imagined discrimination.

Economic protectionism is idiocy.  It benefits a few at the expense of everyone else.

Businesses should stop carping about not finding enough good workers and pay more, train more, and remove some of their disqualifying factors, such as off-hours recreational drug use and certain criminal records.  Then, with over 16 million Americans wanting to work but not doing that, they’ll find them.

Drug testing for welfare and food stamp recipients is not only a mean-spirited idea but a stupid one.  The cost of such tests could more than offset any so-called savings, and would we really want to stop our countrypeople from eating or surviving?  Not to mention that marijuana is 10 years, 20 tops, from full national legalization.

Both conservatives and liberals use straw-man arguments, in which they tell us about the most extreme proposals from the other side and imply that all of their political opponents think that way.  The advantage, though, is that we now have good sources for learning about such ideas:  for liberal ones, on Fox News; for conservative ones, on The New York Times and The Washington Post.

There is gun control, there has always been gun control, and some gun control has never had opposition.  If you doubt that, try installing a howitzer on your front yard.  After that, where do you draw the line and why?

True conservatives now have no political party.  Donald Trump is not truly conservative, and Republican encouragement of deficit spending means their legislators aren’t either.  Do they need one?  Will they create one?

The problem with paying teachers more is not the work they do or the value they have – it is simple supply and demand.  Most states have far more certified teachers than jobs for them, and our country has millions more who would be effective without that credential.  Doubling their pay would, at least, quadruple the number of applicants, a disproportionate share of whom would be men – so much for helping women in that way.

There is nothing wrong with Fox News’s material.  There is everything wrong with what they select to report.  Broadcast news, which caters to the tastes of viewers and listeners, remains entertainment first.

I still don’t understand why the great bulk of Americans have slates of opinions, instead of choosing them individually.  For example, I see no objective reason why most people wanting gun rights, which perforce include accepting more violence, are against abortion rights, which do the same.  Is it that people don’t want to make the hard choices of what to stand for, or have they thought little about what they think?

Symbolism is a powerful force in politics today, which may not be anything new.  Say “Jane Fonda” to conservatives, or the erroneous phrase “mass incarceration” to liberals, and you get quick unstudied reactions.  As with slates of opinions, it’s just too easy not to think.

Over the past two years, political hypocrisy has become so common I just ignore it.  I hope I, and we, don’t soon do the same thing with politicians’ lying. 

One reason I left the United States, nine years ago, was that people here too rarely want to learn.  I think that’s still true.  Maybe there’s something about having access to more information on our desktops than the Library of Congress had two generations ago that stops us from wanting to understand.  For that reason, it’s long been a cliché that people don’t want to be confused by the facts, and that’s looking like a permanent situation.

There’s one thing to be grateful about, though.  Our president does not seem competent enough to be an effective dictator.  Otherwise, we as a nation have plenty of problems, so, in all, let’s hope that our decade doesn’t turn out like the last 10’s, about which Bill James said “Lord, it was an awful time, and then the war started.” 

There you go.  I feel better now.


Friday, April 6, 2018

Another Decent Employment Month, and AJSN Reports Half-Million Drop in Latent Work Demand to 16.3 Million

This time, we didn’t make the projections.  Observers closer than I predicted over 180,000 net new nonfarm American positions for March, and it turned out to be 103,000, below the 135,000 we need to cover population increase.  So how good a month, overall, did it end up?

The seasonally adjusted number of unemployed Americans fell 100,000 to 6.6 million, with the actual count just more than that, at 6,671,000, befitting the move from generally poor-employment February to averageish March.  Adjusted joblessness stayed yet again at 4.1%, with the unadjusted rate falling from 4.4% to that same figure.  The number of long-term unemployed, out for 27 weeks or longer and still officially jobless, fell 100,000 to 1.3 million, and the tally of those working part-time for economic reasons, or seeking a full-time opportunity unsuccessfully thus far, dropped 200,000 to reach 5.0 million.  The two best measures of how common it is for Americans to have jobs, the employment-population ratio and the labor force participation rate, held and almost held last time’s 0.3% improvements, ending at the same 60.4% and down 0.1% to 62.9% respectively.  Average nonfarm payroll earnings were up 7 cents per hour, a tad more than inflation, to $26.82.

The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, which tells in one number how many more positions could be easily filled if it were common knowledge that they were available, improved substantially but mostly seasonally to 16.3 million, as follows:



Noteworthy AJSN component changes were unemployment, unadjusted as are all the metric’s inputs, down over 400,000 for a 378,000 net effect, an almost 200,000 fall in the count of those who did not look for 12 months or longer which cut the AJSN by 156,000, and a 77,000 rise in those reporting as discouraged adding a net total of 69,000.  The number claiming no interest in working gained almost 500,000, but, at only 5% of them presumed to work if opportunities were truly plentiful, nudged the AJSN up less than 24,000.

Compared with a year before, the statistic showed that we are still improving beyond simple low unemployment.  It is now 933,000 lower than March 2017, with only 551,000 from reduced official joblessness but almost 400,000 from the half-million improvement in those wanting work but not looking for it over the past year.  That is impressive. 

So how, overall, did we do?  The net new jobs number, though the 90th consecutive nominal gain, was disappointing, but the other figures were generally good.  There easily could have been more fallback after February’s stellar performance.  As a result, it wasn’t large, but I did see the turtle step forward once again.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Accommodating Millennials and the iGen at Work: Some Emerging Ideas, and Some That Shouldn’t Still Be


Millennials, which the Pew Research Center defines as being born between 1981 and 1996, are now from 21 to 38 years old, making up almost perfectly the youngest half or third of American workers.  It also means that most are hardly new to workplaces.  Yet, somehow, articles keep coming out on how to get the best from them and their companies.  Here are two.

The oldest is Mark Hall’s November 8th Forbes “What The Ideal Workplace Of The Future Looks Like, According To Millennials.”  This effort offers only bits and pieces, using a broad brush more suitable for assessing a generation barely understood than for people on the job for over a decade already.  Perhaps “by 2025, roughly 75% of the global workforce will be millennials,” but not in this country, where the population pyramid looks like a Jenga stack.  Hall reported that three-fourths of this cohort “thinks that a “work from home” or “work remotely” policy is important,” as if that distinguishes them from others, and that they rather unsurprisingly “prefer communicating electronically at work.”  More worthwhile was his thought that virtual reality has more current appeal than videoconferencing did decades ago, when no matter how good the technology it still felt like a telephone call, and airline bookings for conferences continued to increase.  Yet we aren’t exactly on page 1 of this book.

The newer one was “Why Businesses Need to Work to Retain the Next-Gen Workforce,” from William Craig, on January 16th and also in Forbes.  After tipping his hat to the Winning by Default Years (“There was a span of several decades in America when job creators could take employee loyalty and retention for granted”), he used “next-gen” synonymously for millennials, and pointed out that they “already are, actually” “tak(ing) the economic reins in a pretty big way.”  He fell into the skills-gap trap, but partially redeemed that by saying, right afterwards, that “simultaneously, it’s not uncommon to hear young people complain about the lack of decent jobs.”  He mentioned the desirable-to-millennials workplace attribute of having a “pro-social context,” that they often “begin job searches on company websites themselves” meaning that “they want your culture to impress them” (italics his), that they “are inquisitive and eager to learn,” and are “way past rigorously regimented company structures and immutable job descriptions.”  A worthwhile summary, but hardly breaking information.

A third article, “The workforce of the future is already here: are you ready?”, published on March 9th in CIO, took one more shot at generational workplace evolution, but was targeted toward employees instead of employers.  We need to be aware that “emerging technologies like IoT, AI and machine learning” are not only making headlines but “seeing rapid adoption” in cubicle jobs, even if their connections with “big data analysis and the cloud” should surprise no one.  The piece is geared more to the future than the present, focusing on changes taking place “as more young generations join the workforce as digital natives,” which referred to the iGen, those born after 1996, instead of millennials.  It touched on the issues of robots replacing human workers, and that “human beings adapt” (even if they may not be hired),  but took pitfalls on “fewer than 5 percent of occupations today can be entirely automated by existing technology” (when the human-needing job tasks can be consolidated into smaller numbers of new positions), and the idea that “engineering and artificial intelligence” will provide “massive potential for job gains” (if headcount could not be cut overall, they wouldn’t bother automating).  The need to “commit to lifelong learning” is not news, and “staying intellectually curious, confident in your skillset and willing to stay informed on new emerging trends,” while a good idea, is not by itself enough to “help ensure that your future stays bright, regardless of what 2030 looks like.”  Still, the unbilled author gets points for providing a good synopsis, whether intended as that or not.

Perhaps I have been too critical of these pieces, as what we might call “generation lag” has been happening for decades.  Into the 1980s people wrote as if masses of young men were still growing long hair, saying countercultural things, and protesting wars.  One author about ten years ago wrote as if Generation X, then a minimum of 28 years old, was just arriving in the workplace.  And all too many have conflated the 1960s and 1970s.  Yet we should be more careful about running generations together.  It is tempting to think of younger people as being in one solid group, but we should consciously avoid that.  It is also easy, as we get older, to fail to realize how much time has passed, and that what seemed like a new generation yesterday isn’t anymore.  The average millennial, using the definition above, is now 29, older than my father, who served in World War II, was in 1955.  If we are still searching to understand what those in established generations are likely to want, then we, whatever it is, are doing something wrong. 

Friday, March 23, 2018

Uber, Lyft, The Gig Economy, The Sharing Economy, and Work at Less Than Minimum Wage – II

Where are we now with all five of these things?

First, time out to address Uber’s recent self-driving pedestrian fatality.  It is no shock that this sort of thing can happen with the current state of driverless technology.  Three things are almost certain to take place:  the developers will research and determine exactly what happened, they will explain it in all the detail we want, and they will solve the problem.  We should expect no long-term slowdown.      

Now, on to some general points.

First, the gig economy, which refers to people getting one-off work assignments, is not the same as the sharing economy, in which provision of resources, such as bedrooms, cars, and power tools, is primary.   

Second, online payment and customer engagement does not make the products offered by Uber, Lyft, and AirBnB distinct.  They are de facto taxi and lodging providers and should be subject to the same regulation as others.

Third, because of low rates of pay, which can drop even more when pertinent expenses are included, gigs are, as Steve Tobak of Fox Business put it, “no substitute for a career.”    

Fourth, poorly accounted-for expenses, especially involving private vehicles, often make either gig or sharing opportunities less profitable or even unprofitable than they may seem.   

Fifth, even though most gigs and sharing are economically inferior, their effect in partially repealing the minimum wage is a good thing, and it is wrong to object to them on grounds that they should pay more, which, given that we are still over 16 million jobs short as well as having 5.2 million people working part-time and wanting but not finding full-time positions, is only another way of saying “let them eat cake.”

Sixth, Uber’s business model is clearly dependent not only on its drivers not comprehending the true impact of their car expenses but on skirting or avoiding normal taxi regulations.  Its only long-term hope for survival, except for a top-to-bottom management and business-practices makeover, is through driverless technology, which, as above last week, also took a hit.

So what do we need to know?

Customers will do well to continue, as their needs and wishes dictate, using gig and sharing services.  There is nothing immoral about hiring people or their possessions for low rates.

Investors should stay clear of Uber, which could crash as a company and a stock at any time.  If and when they have initial public offerings, Lyft and AirBnB may offer some opportunity, depending on their environments at the time. 

Workers should look at the full weighted costs of participating in gig or sharing opportunities before accepting them, and continue if they think, given all hidden expenses, they are worthwhile.  

AirBnB’s management would do well to work out official agreements with their largest locations, and otherwise adhere to laws as they are, otherwise their company will have no future.  Lyft and Uber managers should continue to emphasize self-driving technology, and work to consistently stay within legal and ethical boundaries.  And, maybe more than anything else, anyone working for these three companies should maintain current résumés.    

Friday, March 16, 2018

Uber, Lyft, The Gig Economy, The Sharing Economy, and Work at Less Than Minimum Wage – I


It’s been about two years since I started writing about what were then two newly-named forms of work.  Since “the gig economy” started turning up on headlines, it, and its twin “the sharing economy,” have progressed, largely in ways my April 2016 post projected.  

I won’t recap what has happened with these new or not-really-new ways of earning money before my last, September 15th, pertinent post.  I’ll do some of that next week.  For now, I will get you caught up on developments since then.

That same day, Mike Isaac and Katie Benner told us, in The New York Times, that “Funding Talks at Uber and Lyft Complicate Ride-Hailing Alliances.”  They started by saying that “the only thing changing faster than who is winning the race in the cutthroat world of ride hailing are the shifting of behind-the-scenes allegiances between those companies and investors.”  Defensible, but perhaps nobody is winning.  Look for Lyft to eventually be absorbed by a driverless-car consortium and for Uber to collapse under the weight of its business practices.

Those who doubt the last half of the previous sentence should look at October 11th’s Mashable “Uber is under fire in *five* criminal investigations.”  Less than five months after that company’s similar spring, reporter Kerry Flynn related that “authorities are looking at whether Uber violated price transparency laws and determining how the company may have stolen documents from Alphabet’s self-driving technology division,” along with the Greyball authority-avoiding technique, “its toxic workplace culture and other shady practices” including using software to illicitly vary fares, that Uber’s Chief Legal Officer was on the way out, and that, to no surprise, on the story “Uber declined to comment.” 

An issue connected with ridesharing in general took the spotlight in “Is Uber Helping or Hurting Mass Transit?” (Emily Badger, The New York Times, October 16th).  That is a good question with the overall answer very much unknown, as the service, in different instances, replaces walking, legal taxis, the subway, people’s own cars, getting rides from friends or relatives, or not going at all.  In small towns and rural areas the mix is different, so it is hard to generalize.  Although this issue is mostly about helping people choose whether to be positive about the likes of Uber and Lyft, it is still worthy of more research.

Brooks Rainwater and Nicole DuPuis’s “Do cities still want a sharing economy? (TechCrunch, November 9th) suggested we are at a crossroads with not only Uber and Lyft but with AirBnB underregulated hotel services as well.  The former have achieved “an outright ban in London,” easy to understand with the level of training and regulation of taxis and their drivers there, but have found friendlier places elsewhere.  The authors found that cities were remarkably polarized on the three companies, with 51% claiming “good” relationships with Uber, Lyft, and AirBnB and 33% calling them “very poor,” leaving only one-sixth in the middle.  From municipal standpoints, sharing cars was more favorable than sharing living quarters, but, unless it was implicit in that 33%, the article did not mention the possibility of regulating these providers like the hoteliers and taxi services they are. 

In “Uber’s Year of Backfires” (The New York Times, November 29th), Robert Cyran told us that “Uber’s year of efficiency is backfiring,” perhaps appropriate for a company with net revenue, or fares minus payments to drivers, growing 70 percent per year to $2 billion in the third quarter, but achieving a corresponding net loss of $1.5 billion.  The previous two months, per Cyran, revealed two more worms, as “it emerged this month that Uber had paid the perpetrators of a data hacking $100,000 to keep the breach secret,” and, in its “courtroom battle” with Alphabet’s Waymo, “the judge said he no longer trusted Uber’s lawyers in the case.”

That brings us to this month’s news about a MIT study, flawed but revelatory to doubters, showing that the median net pretax earnings of Uber and Lyft drivers were $3.37 per hour, with 74% making less than their areas’ minimum wages and 30% actually, after vehicle expenses, losing money.  Per James Doubek in “Researcher Says ‘Criticism Is Valid,’ Will Revise Study Finding Low Uber And Lyft Pay” (npr.org, March 7th), the methodology behind that result was quickly challenged by Uber, and lead author Stephen Zoepf agreed, giving two sets of tentative revisions, one arriving at $8.55, 54%, and 8%, with the other concluding $10,00, 41%, and 4%.  It will be months before Zoepf issues a formal revision.  Yet all we need to do, per Noah Smith in Bloomberg’s March 8th “Uber Better Not Be the Future of Work,” is “to use Uber’s own data,” which claims a gross hourly $21.07, becoming $15.80 after the company’s 25% service fee and less after car expenses, which authors of studies have (under)estimated at 25 cents to 32 cents per mile, or an average $5.00 to $6.40 per hour.  Accordingly, typical hourly earnings seem to be no more than $10, which does not as Smith put it “impoverish workers” (they may opt out and avoid that poverty), but, with no benefits, means driving for Uber or Lyft is not a good job.  Indeed, “a gig economy that relies on small independent contractors consistently making bad business decisions isn’t the future of work” – not to mention the lack of regulation, which will not last forever. 

So where do we, as customers, investors, workers, and company managers, now stand with the gig and sharing economies?  That will be the subject of next week’s post.

Friday, March 9, 2018

February: A Tremendous Employment Month, With Latent Work Demand Shrinking: American Job Shortage Number (AJSN) Down to 16.8 Million


This morning, we expected a good set of Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data, but not this good. 

The publicized projection for net nonfarm payroll employment growth was 236,000, and it turned out even better – 313,000.  That, though, was only in a three-way tie for the best number.  It had to share that with each of the two measures of how common it is for Americans to actually be working.  The labor force participation rate jumped 0.3%, with 0.1% being a solid gain, to 63.0%, and the employment-population ratio did the same to reach 60.4%.  Both of these are now nowhere near last year’s lows, and are clear indications that an increasing number of people are not only avoiding official unemployment, which stayed at 4.1% adjusted and fell 0.1% to 4.4% unadjusted, but finding jobs.

The other results were mixed.  There is still an adjusted number of 6.7 million unemployed.  The count of people out for 27 weeks or longer also held, at 1.4 million.  The tally of those working part-time for economic reasons, or continuing to work at shorter-hours propositions while seeking full-time ones, however, worsened 200,000 to 5.2 million.  After last month’s 9-cent gain, which was adjusted to 7 cents, average nonfarm payroll hourly earnings were up only 4 cents, less than inflation, and are now at $26.75.   

The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, which shows in one figure how many more positions could quickly be filled if all knew that finding work was as easy as finding a grocery store, shrank 344,000, a lot since it is not seasonally adjusted and January and February typically have similar levels of employment, as follows:


Its decrease from January was unusually broad-based, with 121,600 coming from those who wanted to work but have not looked for it for 12 months, 88,200 from lower official unemployment, 70,200 from those claiming discouraged status, and a rare fall, of 54,550, from those denying any interest in working.  The share of the AJSN from those technically jobless is now less than 38%, another post-Great-Recession low.  Its year-over-year change continued to be strongly favorable, with reductions in official unemployment, did not search, and the count of those non-civilian, institutionalized, and off the grid propelling the AJSN to a 1.07 million improvement since February 2017.  

I loved this month.  That 313,000 will get the headlines, but the bolstering of the employment-population ratio and labor force participation rate may be even more valuable.  The across-the-board shrinkage of those marginally attached, as in the statuses just mentioned, gives the job market overall strength behind its marquee numbers.  The turtle took a robust step forward. 

Friday, March 2, 2018

43 Years of College as the Presumed Choice – Its Meaning, Changes, and Value – II


Last week we showed that the percent attending postsecondary school has grown 50-fold since the Civil War.  We also saw the views of two unsure if that was justified, and what things around employment and university attendance have stayed the same since Caroline Bird wrote 1975’s The Case Against College.  Now we look at four things which haven’t evolved much, along with six overall points to understand.

The first much-the-same area is that, although preparation for specific careers now broadly dominates over personal enrichment, there remains debate over the usefulness of nonvocational course material.  Both sides have merit, with things resonating superbly with enough people to justify their teaching offset by the small likelihood of their appreciation by those with marginal ability.

Second, the smartest students and those most open to knowledge in general still benefit immensely, personally, from the liberal arts.  Although that is a minority position and has been ever since those in roughly the bottom half of high school graduates started routinely going to college, those running institutions specializing in letters and pure science should not be discouraged.

Third, college still serves valid purposes for students beyond academics.  It is a time for them to gain social skills, learn at least partially how to live away from their parents, and experience a relatively protected setting for mistakes they would probably otherwise perpetrate later.  While there are problems with excessive drinking among undergraduates, for example, they are smaller and less consequential than they would be if around cars, families, and career jobs. 

Fourth, it also continues to fill additional needs for our society.  Bird called colleges “aging vats” and warehouses for people frankly unneeded; with the jobs crisis just getting underway in 1975 those functions had only started, but are now crucial and entrenched.  Globalization, automation, and efficiency have eliminated most job-market demand for twenty-year-olds, and with even less to do than the average 27 weekly hours in class and studying, many would get in more, and more serious, trouble. 

So what can we conclude, and what should we do? 

Number one, right or wrong, college is probably more sacrosanct than ever.  In scary career times – and if you think our low unemployment rates are putting people at ease, try to confirm that with anyone around age 18 or their parents – the average wage gap between those with and without bachelor’s degrees will overpower any other perception, or reality.

Number two, as Bryan Caplan of this year’s The Case Against Education showed, this statistical pay difference is due less to the merits of college than to its attendance in the first place by the smartest, most capable, and most motivated people.  The advantage they get is not from universities themselves, but from their ability to “signal,” as he put it, their worthiness for the best opportunities by graduating.

Number three, those in the top half of students on merit still cannot afford to skip it.  For every Bill Gates, who dropped out of Harvard and did rather well thereafter, there are not hundreds but thousands who cut off their attendance and did not professionally succeed.  The signaling above may be superficial, but it has no viable widespread alternative.

Number four, the equation changes for those who, in the probably paraphrased words of Mike Royko, should be slicing salami instead of reading spreadsheets.  I am not aware of any completed analysis, but potential university students of the most modest levels, with their high nongraduation rate, should not accrue large amounts of debt in the attempt.  If they have the inclination and aptitude, skilled construction-related trades, which still have excellent prospects, would be better choices. 

Number five, from all standpoints other than the often-unaffordable luxury of an improved social life, starting with two years at a community college and, if successful, transferring to a four-year school is preferable for all but the smartest and richest.      
 
Number six, education for credentials, as Bird implied and on which Caplan wrote extensively, still helps the individuals getting them more than our nation as a whole.  As I showed in Work’s New Age, more schooling does not mean more work opportunities, but only changes who get them; as Caplan ended “The World Might Be Better Off Without College for Everyone” (The Atlantic, January/February 2018), “Trying to spread success with education spreads education but not success.”  These are the best attitudes.

Friday, February 23, 2018

43 Years of College as the Presumed Choice – Its Meaning, Changes, and Value – I


What do people do after graduating from high school? 

Once upon a time there were many common answers to this question, but in recent decades one has increasingly and remarkably steadily become the norm for above average students and many below.  It has hardly been that way throughout the nation’s history; according to the U.S. Department of Education, in the 1869-1870 school year only 1.3% of 18 to 24-year-old Americans were enrolled in college.  That share edged up to 2.3% in 1899-1900, reached 4.7% by 1919-20, and even in the Depression-time 1933-34 was at 6.7%.  By 1945-46, the beginning of the G.I. Bill, it reached 10.0%, achieving 17.7% only ten years later and 27.7% in fall 1963, on the eve of U.S. Vietnam War involvement.  With the end of conscription twelve years later, 40.3% of Americans attended, not exceeding that rate until 1981 but reaching 53.7% by the fall of 1991.  Sources conflict after those dates, but per the Bureau of Labor Statistics 70% of high school students went directly to college in 2005, though dropping to 65.9% by the fall of 2013.  Most other first-world countries have not reached these levels; in a 44-country list from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, only Australia, Canada, Ireland, Japan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Russia, South Korea, and the United Kingdom had a higher share of 2014 25 to 34-year-olds with at least two-year degrees than America’s 46%. 

Since the Civil War, this massive and inexorable-seeming social trend has built with a remarkable lack of opposers.  One classic exception was author Caroline Bird, whose 1975 The Case Against College argued that fewer people should attend.  The book includes sections on how universities and even two-year schools benefit from a “mystique,” the cost of college to parents and students, its real, statistical, and erroneously purported advantages, a look at the true sources of success, and a 44-page chapter on alternative courses of action.  The work got attention, but as above did not stop the enrollment rise.

Now, 43 years later, we have picked up another dissident, this time professor Bryan Caplan, author of last month’s The Case Against Education.  In some ways, the roles and situation of college have transformed; in some ways they have not.  Here are nine changes, from Caplan and elsewhere, since Bird’s book.

First, the cost of college has massively increased even in relation to inflation.  The prices quoted by Bird, including $22,256 for all expenses for four years at Princeton, $2,400 per year including books and support for resident state-school students, and a medical school graduate expecting to owe “close to $15,000” now seem quaint.  According to former U.S. Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander, college tuition rose 260% from 1980 to 2014, compared with 120% for the Consumer Price Index.  Anecdotally, and by adding a few years to each end, we can get much higher jumps.  Tuition at Lawrence University, which I attended for the 1975-76 school year, has more than decupled from $4,400 to 2016-2017’s $44,544.  That at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, for state residents, soared 14-fold from 1977’s $680 for two full-credit semesters to $9,534 per year.  As a student I covered that with 320 hours of minimum-wage work, at $2.30 per hour less payroll tax deductions – today, at Wisconsin’s $7.25, it would take 1,424.    

Second, vocationalism, which was starting to vie with pure learning for main college directions in 1975, largely won that battle in the early 1980s, with school-wide emphasis changes and accounting becoming the most popular undergraduate major.

Third, the percentage of graduates has also increased substantially.   In 1975, 17.6% of American males, and 10.6% of females had four-year degrees; by 2016 those numbers were up to 33.2% and 33.7%, or a combined share 137% higher.

Fourth, the average statistical advantage for graduates has also gone up, with the expected “earnings premium,” cited by Caplan as rising from 50% more over a lifetime than those only finishing high school in the late 1970s to 73% last year.

Fifth, there are more college dropouts than ever, and they are not counted in the statistical gain above.  They accrue sometimes considerable debt, impede themselves from earning more during their enrollment times, cost their parents money as well, and, per Caplan, may after failing “be too embittered to go back and learn a trade.” 

Sixth, employers’ main response to degrees becoming more common has been to raise their educational requirements.  In the 1950s, people wanting careers in business rarely went to college.  Later, I saw that personally in AT&T management – when arriving in 1988, my bachelor’s degree was a solid credential, with many peers and even my first on-the-job boss without one, but in only nine years so many such managers had retired, been downsized, or were otherwise replaced by those two steps more educated, that I felt naked without a master’s degree.  The tasks themselves did not change nearly that much, with intelligence and technical aptitude still most required.

Seventh, academic work and studying hours in college have dropped.  Per Caplan, average 1967 students took 40 hours per week for class and study time – in 2017, that was 27. 

Eighth, and strangely given the last difference, above-average universities have become significantly more selective.  Even correcting for high school grade inflation, many successful 1970s and 1980s professionals could not now get into the colleges they attended with the credentials they had.  To name only one example, the University of Wisconsin at Madison then accepted almost all applicants with gradepoint averages in the top half of their classes – now the average is 3.85, and over half of those seeking to attend are rejected.  

Ninth, the general incompetence of graduates, in conjunction with their learning only narrow pieces of subjects, has worsened.  For me, the most depressing parts of learning about Caplan’s work were his examples of what people who successfully completed college, the most recent of whom have overcome these high admission requirements, paid modern-day tuition, and avoided falling to the no-degree wayside, often or even generally cannot do.  Per Caplan, 20% had only “basic” or even “below basic” literacy, and many could not “make sense of a table explaining how an employee’s annual health-insurance costs varied with income and family size, or summarize the work-experience requirements in a job ad, or even use a newspaper schedule to find when a television program ended.”  He also discovered Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner’s finding that “students who receive honor grades in college-level physics courses are frequently unable to solve basic problems and questions encountered in a form slightly different from that on which they have been formally instructed and tested.”  Caplan glumly noted that while “those who believe that college is about learning how to learn should expect students who study science to absorb the scientific method, then habitually use it to analyze the world,” it “scarcely occurs.”  While 1970s universities with their arena-sized classrooms and predominant “multiple-guess” exams had, though to a lesser extent, these problems as well, few good academic departments would have let people graduate without having more flexible capability within their fields. 

Next week, we look at what has stayed the same since Bird’s work, and what is now happening, overall, with American higher education. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Bogus Employment Situations, How People Actually Find Work, and What Hiring Managers Really Want – Or Not


As long as there are people looking for employment, in other words as long as there is employment, there will be advice on how to get it.  Here we have three pieces from two authors, one maybe the best employment-obtaining columnist in the nation, and one with a standpoint of value without much previous stature in the field, anthropology.  What are they saying, and how much merit does it have?

First is another incisive warning from Liz Ryan of Forbes, her August 8th “Ten Signs You’re Interviewing For A Fake Job Opportunity.”  She recapped a letter received from a blogger cold-recruited for “Director of New Markets” and brought in for four interviews, during which “every conversation was stimulating,” then invited to a fifth, before which he overheard himself being described as a “tremendous resource… helping us figure out how to market our new products.”  He left the meeting early, then, when his main interviewer asked him to meet with a customer, requested that the man “get serious about this job offer,” after which he was never contacted again.

With online sources giving information about people’s knowledge and experience, which is often more than seekers of lower and middle management positions usually had in decades past, such abuse is a real problem.  Her ten tipoffs included a lack of apparent vetting and new interviewers every time who record your answers (“If they were going to hire you, why would they need to write down what you say?”), contrasted with vague and ever-changing information on their recruiting process, inability to articulate business “pain” with which the organization needs help, and a situation where “the job title, reporting relationship and responsibilities change every time you talk to them.”  As Ryan has written before, when all the company seems to care about is obtaining what you know, it’s time to talk instead about a consulting fee.

The second piece was Richard Eisenberg’s November 9th Next Avenue “Why Job Hunters Don’t Find Work,” an interview with anthropology professor Ilana Gershon.  She reached five ostensibly preconception-free conclusions, that personal brands don’t help people get jobs, that “people you don’t know very well” aren’t worth much either, that “employers rarely know” how effective potential hires would be, that true workplace ties are the best, and that age discrimination is often implemented by employers dropping applicants without communication.  I think better of personal branding than Gershon, as it is a way of becoming known before jobs become open, and don’t think all people have enough direct work contacts to ignore the secondary ones, but otherwise I can’t disagree with any of these.     

The third article, published January 9th and also from Liz Ryan in Forbes, gave me more to quarrel with than anything I can remember from her.  Perhaps that started with the overstated title, “Ten Things Every Hiring Manager Is Looking For.”  Clearly she was right about candidates’ needing to tell stories showing, instead of just stating, that they are “hard-working, smart and reliable,” even if such tales may not be believed, but those filling jobs don’t always particularly want “someone who can think on their feet,” “who’s dependable and keeps their commitments,” or “who has a sense of humor,” especially if they are not like that themselves, and it is surprisingly naïve to say that “they want to hire someone who has great ideas and is happy to share them,” or “is willing to learn, and to teach what they know.”  Having been told I wasn’t “a good fit” for a position that fit me like an Italian driving glove, after a day’s worth of interviews during which I emphasized my quality with actual work experiences, may have biased me, but I think most long-time corporate managers have seen the same. 

So what does work for getting a good job?  I will stay with my perceptions, originated by me during a half-year of unemployment and seconded by my career counselor, that hiring managers want two things:  someone with specific experience at the position in question, and someone they like personally.  You will know when you have the former, and the latter is far too individual to say, beyond ordinary manners and courtesy, what will win you over to “every” interviewer, or even to most of them.  As with tournament bridge, all you can do is play your game, and if you lose, you lose.  As with standup comedy, since you always risk it you should ensure that if you bomb it is with your own material.  As I learned in comedy improv, if you “suck” and “die” you should smile and bow.  Accordingly, prepare, be on time, and be yourself.  That is the right approach.      

Friday, February 9, 2018

It’s Open: Resorts World Catskills Is Already Transforming Sullivan County and Beyond


Yesterday, the long-anticipated Monticello, New York casino, approved by voters over four years ago, opened its doors.  With fewer than one third of its anticipated 332 hotel rooms available, many restaurants still in construction, and Resorts World Catskills’ centerpiece golf course not to be ready until next year, it’s a soft opening, but weeks ahead of schedule that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

The gaming facility will have two special emphases.  First it is trying to cater, more than other regional casinos, to high rollers, with private gambling areas and high-end accommodations.  Second, with Mandarin-speaking staff and large layouts for the dice game sic bo, similar to ones I saw crowded with players in Macau, it is seeking eastern Asian customers.  It has already been credited with creating anywhere from 1,400 to 2,200 jobs.  Additionally, in a departure from the casino model created by Bugsy Siegel over 70 years ago and still in use worldwide, it has large windows, perhaps emphasizing its integration with instead of separation from its surrounding area. 

How has employment worked out so far?  In June 2015, before significant construction had started, Sullivan had 32,441 people employed and 5.3% unemployment, higher than neighboring Orange and Ulster counties’ 4.8%.  A year later, Sullivan had shrunk the gap from 0.5% to 0.2%, and was up to 33,045 working and down to 4.2% unemployment.  By June 2017, possibly the building peak, Sullivan County, though now at 4.4% joblessness, was tied with Ulster and better than Orange, with 33,653 employed.  Given that these numbers reflect county residents instead of in-county employment, these statistics do not clearly show Sullivan’s work-opportunity changes, but a net gain of over 1,200 positions for a place of this size is noteworthy – and residents of nearby counties have also been helped. 

As for Resorts World Catskills’ future, we can only speculate.  Some comments coming out now look oversold, particularly the idea that the facility will, by itself, return the Catskills to its postwar tourism glory.  Its emphasis on large bettors may not work out.  If it starts with results as disappointing as those from other new state casinos, we hope the owners have the patience and can implement the business changes to achieve a turnaround.  The idea of catering to Asian players could be either visionary or quixotic, yet we should expect that chief Empire Resorts owner K.T. Lim, a billionaire Malaysian of Chinese descent, can bring them in and get them what they want.    

All the advantages, though, I cited in an August 2013 blog post still apply.  The increased tax revenues will help the state as well as the community, with many New Yorkers certain to choose it over competitors in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.  Tourism to the area will rise, with legal, fair, modern gambling, and other entertainment, becoming part of what the Catskills offer.  Those of us living in the area will have, along with the gaming opportunities, additional access to concerts, restaurants, nightclubs, golf, and waterparking.  The casino includes a poker room, giving the many people who play that game, in a category apart from others since it is not against the house, its only public Sullivan County venue.  Those unable to tolerate gambling have many casino-arranged resources, including the ability to bar themselves, available.  The resort is confined to its land and will not threaten widespread environmental destruction as did the previous large opportunity, fracking.   Accordingly, all we can do is cheer for it, because, at this point, if the casino wins we will as well.     

Friday, February 2, 2018

AJSN Up Almost 900,000 To 17.15 Million as Unemployment Seasonally Jumps on Otherwise Slightly Warm Fed Jobs Report

The news is in from two classic American places this morning.  The first was discouraging but expected.  Washington, though, did better than Gobbler’s Knob.

We were led to anticipate a poor jobs report, with indifferent employment gains at best, after how much, a year ago, January dropped off from December.  Once again, though, this morning’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Summary was more moderate than expected.  While unadjusted joblessness did worsen considerably, from 3.9% to 4.5%, the adjusted version held at 4.1%.  We added 200,000 net new nonfarm payroll positions, half again what we needed to cover population growth.  The count of long-term unemployed, or those officially jobless for 27 weeks or longer, shed 100,000 to reach a new prerecession low of 1.4 million.  Average private nonfarm wages added 9 cents to a 2-cent December adjustment and is now at $26.74, for the past year up 2.9% and more than inflation.  The two measures of how common it is for Americans to be working, the labor force participation rate and the employment-population ratio, held for the second straight month at 62.7% and 60.1% respectively.  

Bringing up the rear in January’s federal statistics were adjusted unemployment, which rose 100,000 to 6.7 million, and the count of Americans working part-time for economic reasons or holding on to part-time jobs while looking for full-time ones, up the same amount for the second straight month to 5.0 million. 
The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, the measure of latent demand which shows in one figure how many additional positions could be quickly filled if all knew they were available, gained 867,000, almost completely on unadjusted unemployment’s bump, as follows:



Comparing the AJSN with last January’s, though, gives a more encouraging story.  It is now almost 1.2 million lower, with more than one quarter of that difference coming from people marginally attached to the labor force, specifically those discouraged or not searching for work in the previous year.  There are also now about 1.1 million fewer Americans in the armed services, in institutions, or off the grid.  On the other hand, to what should be nobody’s surprise, the count of those claiming no interest whatever in working continued its steady climb with 1.9 million more, in large but hardly entire part from the increasingly aging population.

So how good a month was this January?  Quite respectable, if unspectacular.  We avoided as large a seasonal drop as we had last year, and the strong gain in jobs was not offset much by anything else.  Accordingly, I saw the turtle shake his legs and take a step forward.  


Thursday, January 18, 2018

Double Issue: Around the Horn on the News, On and Off the Jobs Topic

What’s been happening lately? 

The smelliest story of last week, if not truly deserving of being the largest, was not quite how it was widely interpreted.  Our president’s descriptive term about Haiti and a group of central African countries was vile, highly offensive, gratuitously provocative, and a piece of putrid diplomacy.  It was not racist.  The tendency of many liberals and some others to see any situation involving significant numbers of blacks through a racial lens came through here.  It is true that the countries referred to have predominately non-Arab African populations, but so do many others, such as Barbados, The Bahamas, and Botswana, which would never, even in his mind, suggest that label.  The citizens of almost all the world’s poorest countries are predominately of that overly general racial type, so unless he had gone out of his way to name one of the exceptions, say, Afghanistan, his statement would draw that accusation.  In our generally reasonable efforts to assess what this president is doing and saying, even when it is as here spectacularly repulsive, we must still be fair.

Prejudicial responses also came from last week’s top business news, Walmart’s boost of their lowest chain-wide pay from $9 to $11 per hour, with additional benefits and many $1,000 add-on bonuses, and their almost simultaneous announcement of their decision to close 63 Sam’s Club stores later this year.  Walmart is to liberals much as Jane Fonda is to old-time conservatives, and their reaction to these business decisions, the first of which will cost the chain $700 million, was no more positive and believing than what those on the right would say if the former actress posed with a cache of guns and expressed fealty to the Second Amendment.  The point of this sharp attack may have been John Foley’s January 11th New York Times “Walmart’s Minor Act of Retribution,” which called the over-two-thirds-of-a-billion-dollars “just a sliver of what it could save in taxes,” though according to analysts it was actually about 30 percent, or rather more if you imagine that portion of a pie.  The company also announced it would be cutting 1,000 corporate positions, which also seemed to get no favorable press.  It was noteworthy that while the closing Sam’s Club locations are heavily located in urban, suburban, or other relatively high-wage areas, a much larger share of the workers benefitting from these 22% wage increases are not, meaning not only that the company will now be sending a greater part of its money to the poorest American areas, but that it will get even more applicants for jobs already in heavy demand.  Investors were not moved much, and it may prove to be a lose-lose proposition for the firm, costing itself money while failing to satisfy its inconsolable opponents. 

Another large news item was from the previous week, that of Oprah Winfrey giving a fine if very partisan speech at the Golden Globes award ceremony, and emerging almost instantly as not only a possible 2020 presidential candidate but as a potential juggernaut of one.  She seems the perfect Democratic response to our current president – she is widely beloved for reasons other than substance, she is a woman, her fame is mostly from entertainment, her previous political experience borders on nonexistence, her party orientation is secondary but clear-cut, and she is black but transcends racial limitations similarly to Colin Powell who decades ago could have run and won.  Given the bizarre turn presidential politics took two years ago, she is deserving of the oddsmakers’ present choice of her as the most likely Democrat to win.  If she wants it she should go for it – it is quite possible that she is actually the only person, aside from the president himself, who can limit our current, potentially disastrous situation to four years. 

Moving to the subject of an article appearing in a Monday-dated magazine but appearing online the week before that, we, along with Alexandra Schwartz in The New Yorker’s “Resolutions” (electronic-version title “Improving Ourselves to Death”), look at the state of self-help literature.  Schwartz showed us how the genre has responded to higher work standards and requirements, gained diversity, and of course built on its own history, giving us approaches based on self-acceptance, telling others off, setting measurable and quantifiable goals, multifaceted development including such as cleansing diets and 1,000-digit pi memorization, making radical situational changes, and even choosing to “content ourselves with being average.”  It’s a good check-in on the field, but does not quite touch on what I have long considered its largest problem, that no matter how much most people can improve, their success will be determined by others who usually will not care about, or even like, your progresses.  Unless you want to do it as a hobby, or you have the aptitude, opportunity and sustained intensity necessary for a serious business venture or other project (and, as the world is closing in, realistic settings for such things are getting rarer and rarer), raising yourself from the 90th percentile to the 99th in public speaking, self-awareness, physical health, organization skills, work habits, or self-esteem will generally not, in money or even happiness, justify itself.  The outcome for people in the great middle capability and ambition zone is more likely, per Schwartz writing freely and quoting various authors, to contribute to high suicide, body-dissatisfaction, and anxiety rates; succumb to perfectionism, “the idea that kills”; and, if conveyed to others, add to the current situation, where “parents continue to feed their children the loving, well-intentioned lie that there are “no limits” and they can “be anything,” which leaves the kids blaming themselves, rather than the market’s brutality, when they inevitably come up short.”  If you find yourself the likes of morbidly obese, emotionally unable to chair a meeting at work, or stopping yourself from social behavior you know would be fun as well as beneficial, get the help you need, but once you surpass problems of this severity it may not be healthy for you to consume figurative platefuls of vitamins.

Another issue that keeps coming up is the possibility of removing our president through the Twenty-fifth Amendment, which, if “the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” the vice president can indefinitely act for him.  Our current one may be as objectionable as anyone to ever hold that office, and be the best likewise at bringing out negative emotions, but is not in this territory.  He maintains an excellent chance of being impeached, especially if Democrats take over both houses of Congress this fall, but it’s a waste of hope and effort to get him out before 2021 otherwise.  On a similar note, it’s wrong to overstate how much he is damaging our country’s reputation, as a clear problem with our form of government is that, once a century or two and with luck no more often than that, we elect a stinker. 

Here is one more paragraph on three more issues.  One, sex, often called gender, is becoming more of a social construct, defined by which one people decide to present as, which may be a change for the better, but doesn’t make transsexuals biological members of their new one, and it is positively Orwellian to change sexes on birth certificates, which must reflect anatomical and genetic realities.  Two, sex differences in average pay need not reflect educated and career-focused women, but those who set up their lives to depend on men for most of their money – as long as Seven Sisters graduates and similarly credentialed women are statistically tethered to others, we will not know the extent of the discrimination they face.  Three, in response to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others, all should know that advocating social conservatism, in anything from drug legalization to religious views, is going against the flow of history – in fifty years, for example, it will stun our great-grandchildren to realize that using a certain wild-growing weed could once, in this country, get you prison time – and should not be done.  


Next week, I will be traveling and well away from both computers and my normal routine, so will not have a blog post.  Rejoin me on February 2nd, for my comments on the January jobs report and the latest update of the American Job Shortage Number (AJSN).  Have a fine fortnight. 

Friday, January 12, 2018

Starting 2018 with Six Proposed Jobs-Related Trends of Merit

We’re now on the twelfth day of the new year.  We don’t know what will happen, but we can predict and project. 

I am in receipt of six interrelated views.  How good are they, and what might the authors not be seeing about our current and evolving situation?

We start with the October 24th New York Times “A Peek at Future Jobs Shows Growing Economic Divides.”  Ben Casselman suggested that the expected 2026 state for our economy is “more dominated by the service sector amid the continued erosion of manufacturing jobs,” appropriate since after those two, which followed extraction, we know of nothing to take over from service positions, which have hardly multiplied in past decades, as the highest level of paid work.  He did well to say that jobs centering on not only machine-compatible tasks but on algorithmic ones are endangered, and that, according to a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report, “overall job growth will continue to be slow.”  I quarrel with a finding that “computer science and other fields heavy in math or science will grow quickly” – I think in the next decade many American positions in those fields will go away to both globalization and automation, factors mentioned in the article – and don’t think a “steep decline” for typists and telephone operators would now be meaningful, but, overall, Casselman and this study are on solid ground.

Finlay Renwick, writing in Esquire, cited a rather different source in his November 7th “Stephen Hawking Is Reasonably Worried We’re All Going To Be Destroyed By Robots.”  This is not new territory, but hearing it from possibly the world’s most brilliant man gives it extra impact.  As Renwick reported, Hawking told a Web Summit conference crowd that artificial intelligence “could be the biggest event in the history of our civilisation or the worst,” and maintained that “we cannot know if we will be infinitely helped by AI, or ignored by it and side-lined, or conceivably destroyed by it.”  Not only could the technology produce “powerful autonomous weapons,” as we should already know, but also “new ways for the few to oppress the many.” He correctly said that “we simply need to be aware of the dangers, identify them, employ the best possible practice and management, and prepare for its consequences well in advance.”  All worthy of emphasis, especially from such a lofty perch.

There isn’t any consensus on the nature of the first three, but now, per Jim Hoagland in the November 22nd New York Times, “The fourth industrial revolution is upon us.”  After steam engines, electricity, and computers, Hoagland saw some combination of machine learning and autonomous vehicles as the next fundamental leap.  It’s a problem that even two-page articles based on ideas as good as this one are sometimes too long, and here it didn’t help us to hear, erroneously, that “6.1 million jobs currently sit vacant largely because applicants lack either the skills or mobility needed,” or that China is one of two superpowers because we are in “a new bipolar world based on technology.”  Still, full credit to Hoagland.

One large autumn piece of employment news was a McKinsey study concluding that “Automation could kill 73 million U.S. jobs by 2030” (Paul Davidson, USA Today, November 28th), which drew the comment, odd since it was from one of the effort’s co-authors, that “the dire predictions that robots are going to take our jobs are overstated.”  Well, it depends on both the job and the timeframe, and the “huge overhaul of the economy and labor market” advocated in the report won’t, as far as we can see, happen with paid positions.  The vague conclusions Davidson cited, such as that technology will replace from “zero to a third of work activities” and that from “39 million to 73 million jobs could [not will] be destroyed,” fail to inform, but the conclusions that “jobs will be created from rising incomes and consumption” and from “an aging population that will demand more health care professionals and investment in infrastructure and renewable energy” are, if obvious, worth something.  Although, in the absence of something as wide-scoped as a national infrastructure project, training doesn’t seem like a national project, it was good to hear the same co-author putting blame where it belongs, by saying that “governments and businesses already have fallen short in the retraining of workers.”  Ultimately, these study results are down the middle, which should make them noncontroversial and relatively easy to accept.

We have also long known about average Westerners getting older, but how is it that “We haven’t prepared for the aging monster” (Washington Post, December 6th)?  Author Robert J. Samuelson correctly said that “the problem is simple,” but concluded that our only choices are higher retirement ages, cut benefits, or higher taxes.  He left out the effect of not only more jobs but more good jobs for those 60 and older, without which we will indeed make no progress and need no preparation.  The reason the jobs crisis continues despite much improved employment numbers is that so many Americans and others, such as the 96 million out of the labor force, are neither working nor officially jobless, and that people choosing in large numbers to drop interest in working does not mean they would not ultimately want to do that and generate federal tax revenue in the process.  More career positions for those now taking early or other retirement from lack of perceived opportunities is the best aging-trend preparation we could have.


Contrary to its title, Alex Williams’s December 11th New York Times “Will Robots Take Our Children’s Jobs?” is a survey of what individuals should know and can do about our employment situation.  As I covered in Work’s New Age and Choosing a Lasting Career, Wilson identified the problem, documented the rising ability of software to replace human analysis, considered guaranteed basic income, touched on the Singularity, and looked at what career paths might stay or disappear.  Although he seemed to fall into a trap by citing a TED talk saying that bank employees have not reduced in number, but rather replaced “mind-numbing work like counting out 20-dollar bills” with “more cognitively demanding tasks” when the lack of job loss has been completely due to massively more transactions, he ended with a quotation that “the robot plumber is a long, long way away.”  As with other articles here, Williams’s piece is flawed but still well worthwhile.  We might end the decade with the likes of December’s 4.1% official unemployment, but only if we can avoid a recession – if we get one of those, we will see even more truth in the predictions above.       

Friday, January 5, 2018

December’s AJSN Up 113,000 to 16.3 Million Positions Behind in Classically Meh December Jobs Report

The word on the electronic street, coming in to this morning’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Summary, was that it was going to be a good month, with 190,000 net new nonfarm payroll positions added.  It didn’t work out that way, though as we will see it was hardly a thumbs-down report either. 

We added 148,000 jobs, not an embarrassment but only about 15,000 more than we need for our increasing population.  Average private nonfarm payroll wages were up 8 cents per hour, a few cents more than inflation, to reach $26.63.  The count of what the BLS calls “long-term unemployed,” or those jobless for the past 27 weeks or longer, fell 100,000 to 1.5 million, but the number of those working part-time for economic reasons, or keeping less than full-time positions while looking thus far unsuccessfully for something beyond that category, rose the same amount to 4.9 million.

The other significant statistics broke even.  There are still 6.6 million officially unemployed.  Seasonally adjusted and unadjusted joblessness are still at 4.1% and 3.9% respectively.  The two measures of how common it is for Americans to be working, the labor force participation rate and the employment-population ratio, held at 62.7% and 60.1%. 

The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, the metric showing in one figure how many more positions could be quickly filled if all knew that getting one were as easy as getting a pizza, didn’t change much either.  However, with a sharp increase in those claiming no interest in working, and gains or no change in all seven categories of marginal attachment, especially those wanting work but not looking for the past year, the difference was unfavorable, up just over 100,000 as follows:


Compared with a year before, however, the AJSN has shown real improvement, completely in the number of those officially unemployed, down since December 2016 from 7,170,000 to 6,278,000.  There was a drop of 255,000 in the count of people not having looked for work in the past year, but that was more than erased by rises in the numbers of those in the armed services or off the grid and the best estimate of American expatriates.


So where did we go this month?  Once again, nowhere.  As before, where we are camping out is not so bad, with low unemployment and participation rates significantly above their 2015-2016 lows, but that is very much what we are doing.  However, our employment situation has stopped improving.  Whether that is plenty good enough, woefully inadequate, or somewhere in between is for you to judge.  For the third straight month, though, the turtle did not move a leg muscle.