Friday, December 6, 2019

November Jobs Data: AJSN Edges Below 15 Million Latent Demand, While BLS Numbers Show Small but Real Improvements

I wasn’t sure about this morning’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Summary.  This edition, from November, could have been much the same as October’s, and therefore overall not much better or worse than September’s, with a published estimate of 180,000 net new nonfarm positions ending up overly optimistic.  But none of this happened.

The actual number of new jobs as above came in at 266,000, with small improvements to the previous two months putting us at a three-month 205,000 average.  The unadjusted unemployment rate was down 0.1% to 3.5%, with the unadjusted one staying at 3.3%.  The total number of officially jobless Americans lost 100,000 to 5.8 million, as did the count of those out for 27 weeks or longer, now at 1.2 million, and the number working part-time for economic reasons, which fell to 4.3 million.  The two measures of how common it is for our country-people to be working, the labor force participation rate and the employment-population ratio, split between unfavorable and neutral, with the former down 0.1% to 63.2% and the latter holding at 61.0%.  Average nonfarm payroll wages had the catch-up month they needed, combining a 7-cent gain with a 4-cent positive adjustment for October to reach $28.29.  

The American Job Shortage Number, the measure showing how many additional positions could be quickly filled if all knew it would be easy to get one, fell below 15 million for the first time during its tracking, but with an improvement of only a scattered 24,000, as follows:

Compared with a year ago, the AJSN is down 530,000, the improvement headed by 188,000 lower latent demand from those unemployed, followed by 115,000 fewer apiece from people discouraged and not looking for the past year, and the rest split between five other categories.  Only 32.6% of the AJSN now comes from those officially jobless.  

How good then, overall, was November?  I like the broad-basedness of its advances, when, with unemployment rates not leaving much room for improvement, any gains would be good.  Therefore, the turtle, after resting in October, took another step forward this time. 

Friday, November 29, 2019

America Isn’t Ending, But It Is Evolving

An article in the December Atlantic considered whether “a tectonic demographic shift” will manage to ruin the United States.  Yoni Appelbaum’s “How America Ends,” which printed out to 18 pages, started with the observation that “democracy depends on the consent of the losers,” and named changes we are experiencing, including that “red and blue areas have become more deeply hued” or more polarized, that political differences are now concerning parents about their children’s spouses more than religious or racial ones, and that more on each side are dehumanizing those on the other.  If you do as Appelbaum apparently did and count all Hispanics as nonwhite, you find that white Christians are no longer most voters.  He also offered the thought-provoking view that “the Republican Party has treated Trump’s tenure more as an interregnum than a revival,” and that the GOP is headed for trouble when he leaves office, which, as “conservatives… are losing faith in their ability to win elections in the future” means that our democracy could weaken.  The Republican National Committee matched that view, issuing a report between 2012 and 2016 calling for the party to cater more to Hispanics, Asians, blacks, Indians, women, and young people, who combined for nearly 75% of 2012 voters.  

Per Appelbaum, though, these are hardly the worst times our republic has seen.  The South, both before and after the Civil War, chose “countermajoritarian politics” instead of seeking support for measures from more than half of the population.  Political-related violence, while more common now than a couple of decades ago, occurred much more often then, with House of Representatives members, in their own chamber, threatening each other with guns.  Neither is the composition of the Supreme Court more uneven than ever, as it “by the 1850s had a five-justice majority from slaveholding states” – even the most avid Trump supporters do not expect 7 of the 9 justices to share their opinions.  And immigration was more restricted in the 1920s than Republicans have recently seriously proposed.  

In the meantime, Democrats have become the party of the establishment, and, along with it, the side with the wealthiest participants.  This is hardly the first time Democrats and Republicans have switched their constituencies, and points more to change than termination.  

So if Republicans are indeed in long-term trouble, how can they escape?  Here are eight ways, all of which I, as a registered one, would like to see.  First, the party needs to overtly appeal to all ages, races, religions, and ethnic groups.  Second, it needs to emphasize common sense in social issues, in such ways as backing marijuana legalization and requiring equal rights between the sexes but needing more than a momentary self-identification to use bathrooms not matching chromosomes.  Third, as our president has totally failed to do, the party platform should emphasize prudent spending while not shorting safety-net programs.  Fourth, it would profit from finding and opposing Democrat-backed views, such as heavy laws and spending on climate change, with which many middle Americans disagree.  

Fifth, Republicans should support American interest while realizing that the country is indeed changing.  Sixth, they should strive to support as many jobs as possible without mandated- benefit or high-minimum-wage encumbrances.  Seventh, it must go out of the way to show that blacks, gays, and Hispanics, to name three, are more than welcome, not only as voters but as organizers and party decision-makers.  

Eighth, when in doubt, the GOP should choose a libertarian bent.  In the article above, Appelbaum quoted political scientist Adam Przeworski saying that our party system “must give all the relevant political forces a chance to win from time to time in the competition of interests and values.”  Libertarians, of which many others are at least partial supporters, have not had theirs yet.  Freedom is as American as the Super Bowl – why not try more of it?  That, beyond almost anything else, is what our evolving, not dying, country should try. 

Friday, November 22, 2019

Driverless Cars – In the Metal!

Eight days ago I sought out and visited Chandler, Arizona.  With 65 square miles and over a quarter million people, that Phoenix satellite is one of the newer huge suburbs, such as Henderson, Nevada and Plano, Texas, which grew by expanding into unincorporated land while adding few features of standalone cities.  It seemed like a fine place to live, but why go there?

The answer, which regular readers of this blog may have suspected even before reading today’s headline, is that Chandler has become perhaps the most important place for the real-life road-testing of autonomous vehicles.  I had known they were common there, but despite writing tens of thousands of words on that subject had never actually seen one.  But now I have.  So you yourself don’t need to try to photograph moving cars from other ones, I chased them around and shot them on my trusty Canon, and returned with the following 13 things to say.

First, in about an hour’s searching I saw 8 to 10 autonomous Waymo vehicles, all moving, and which could have included duplicates.  Second, two seemed to be on courses, making the same sequence of turns.  Three, each had one or two on-board safety drivers, and one I got next to also had a, rather bored-looking, back seat passenger.

Four, the cars acted normally in traffic and actually exceeded the conservative posted speed limits a bit; I almost lost one when it went over 50 for almost a mile in a 45 zone.  Five, most of the vehicle tops had cylinder-shaped rooftop Lidar devices, though some had extra thick flat tops.  Six, all were white sort of small, longish SUVs with the faint turquoise Waymo name.  Seven, I saw not a single out-of-the-ordinary reaction, including jeers or vandalism attempts, from other drivers or pedestrians – all acted as if the vehicles were nothing special at all.

Eighth, I talked with (actually at) two safety drivers, encouraging them and acknowledging that while I was being a pest I was on their side – they, men in their 20s or around 30, seemed cheerful, sober sorts.  Ninth, Chandler did look new and prosperous, with streets all in excellent condition.  Tenth, at a sunny or slightly cloudy 80 that afternoon the weather was perfect.

Eleventh, Chandler’s larger roads followed a clear grid pattern, but others, often running through subdivisions, wiggled around.  I saw two expressways, one on the western border and another going through the middle of town, with orderly exit patterns.  Twelfth, except for one where the safety driver was using the wheel to back out of a parking space, I could not tell when the cars were in autonomous mode.

Thirteenth, we can contrast the unobtrusiveness of these vehicles with the fuss the horseless carriages made in their early appearances over 100 years ago.  The equivalent of the Clancy Brothers singing that “you could hear the din all through Glenfin of Johnston’s motor car” will not happen this time.  After a while, we will not notice them – and that is the way that should be.

Here are the photos:

Friday, November 8, 2019

Autonomous Vehicles: The Hits Just Keep On Coming

Three months ago I posted on why self-driving car progress was stalling out, and how we could get it moving again.  Since then, the situation has changed – it’s become worse.

Soon after that date, Clyde Haberman’s July 14th New York Times “Driverless Cars Are Taking Longer Than Expected.  Here’s Why.,” offered a recap of a few of the technology’s problems:  insufficient mapping, which must be done “down to a few centimeters”; remaining issues with bad weather; the perception problem worsened by Boeing’s remarkably recalcitrant 737 Max troubles; and remaining fear from the sole pedestrian death.  There are also real and widespread legal issues, as described in David Shepardson’s August 29th Reuters “Waymo urges U.S. to ‘promptly’ remove barriers to self-driving cars,” including the need to “meet nearly 75 auto safety standards for self-driving cars, many of them written under the assumption that a licensed driver is in command of the vehicle using traditional controls,” which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which may not “complete a comprehensive rewrite of various safety standards” before 2025, will address in March.  Shepardson’s piece implicitly makes a case for development in limited areas, as is happening to a great extent now, to be, if successful, propagated after that.

More discouraging though was Brett Berk’s November 3rd Car and Driver “The Enemies of the Autonomous Vehicle.”  I’m glad to see that publication, which may someday need to drop the two last words from its name, weighing in here.  Berk started with the news that Chandler, Arizona, long a center for driverless cars, has seen “nearly two dozen” attacks, with people “pelting them with rocks, trying to run them off the road, challenging them to games of chicken, and slashing their tires.”  Some of that we can expect, by rather young perpetrators acting out of curiosity, and Berk saw no evidence of any organized revolt. 

The author, though, found more than that to cause concern.  An “earlier this year” AAA survey still showed that about 75% feared riding in autonomous vehicles.  A man, citing the pedestrian death, threatened one with a .22 pistol.  As likely, given the lack of widespread rollouts, “no national or industry standards currently exist for the regulation of these vehicles,” beyond banning them entirely as before.  And while the Chandler troubles were scattered, organizations named Save Driving and The Human Driving Association, the latter with almost 10,000 people, have popped up and are voicing a range of objections, including that self-driving cars would “enhance national divisions” between rural and urban and would provide new masses of data to the huge companies providing them.  There is also union opposition, some remarkably enlightened, with Teamsters president James Hoffa Jr. calling out autonomous vehicle developers for wanting above all to spend less money, and asking that those savings be used to help drivers whose jobs it has cost.  As well, the Cadillac Super Cruise partial automation now for sale does not consistently work, and Berk echoed Haberman’s observation that rain and snow still cause plenty of problems.

Then, as maybe the worst problem of all, we have hacking.  I still maintain that it can be beat, but its variety, sophistication, and technical intensity mean that will require a great deal of time and funds.  Per Berk, a benevolent Chinese research group found that “small stickers placed in a roadway were enough to convince the (self-driving) car to change lanes right into oncoming traffic.”  Overall, “cars could be taken over remotely and manipulated, militarized, or held hostage for ransom.”  As such vehicles have over 300 million lines of code, they have more vulnerable places than commercial planes with their 15 million.

For those of us in favor of automated vehicles, all of this is sad.  And unless research efforts regain their passion, and plenty of other stakeholders help out and clear the way, their state in 2025 won’t look much different from now, with, among other losses, another 150,000 dead Americans.  That would be even more sorrowful.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Jobs Report Barely Moved for October, A Good Thing Given Forecasts – AJSN Latent Demand Down 100,000 to 15.0 Million

This morning’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Summary was supposed to be a stinker, or at least only somewhat unfavorable.  Did that happen?

I saw four forecasts of the recent-marquee number of net new nonfarm positions, all lower than last month’s.  The result beat them all.  Instead of from 75,000 to 125,000 we had 128,000, not impressive but about enough to cover population growth.  Elsewhere, significant results were few.  The seasonally adjusted number of unemployed gained 100,000, offset by the labor force participation rate up 0.1%.  Official adjusted unemployment rose 0.1% to 3.6%.  Wages gained 9 cents per hour over September’s first report, which was later revised slightly upwards leaving us with a 6-cent October rise, just about inflation, to $28.18.  The others on which I have been reporting, the unadjusted jobless rate (3.3%), the count of people in that category for 27 weeks or longer (1.3 million), the employment-population ratio (61.0%), and those working part-time for economic reasons, or keeping such positions while thus far unsuccessfully seeking a full-time one (4.4 million), all broke even.

The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, the metric showing how many more positions could be quickly filled if getting one were as easy as getting a pizza, reached another multiyear low, but it was close – it improved only almost 100,000, as follows:

The largest change was from a 138,000 improvement in the number of people claiming interest in working but not looking for a year or more.  The 45,000 increase in those unemployed offset that by 40,500, and changes beyond that were all 18,000 or lower.  The share of the AJSN from people officially jobless gained a little bit to 33.1%, still under one-third. 

Compared with a year before, the AJSN is still getting better.  October 2018’s result was 700,000 higher at 15.7 million, almost all due to higher unemployment, more not searching for a year or longer, and a rise in those calling themselves discouraged.

How did we do overall?  The good news is that this was not the down month many expected.  The bad news is that we didn’t go anywhere positive either.  There is still no sign of recession here, but although I saw the turtle move his knee, he stayed right where he was.  

Friday, October 25, 2019

Jobs and Human Behavior: Two Views That Help Define the Times We’re In

I got into business writing from sociology, in which I got my bachelor’s degree and spent an ill-fated graduate year.  Since then, as I showed in my books and elsewhere, I have tracked the effect of the work environment on the beings inhabiting it. 

Two efforts there have appeared over the past ten days.  One, though officially in the November Atlantic, was released already:  Judith Shulevitz’s “Why You Never See Your Friends Anymore.”  Using the Soviets’ rather unsuccessful effort to shrink and reapportion the week to get more work out of its inhabitants – she could have instead used Central Florida’s unsuccessful 1990s attempt at year-round schools – the author compared today’s situation where, for people comprising “a good third of the American labor force,” there are no traditional weekends, between “unpredictable workweeks” assigned on only several days’ notice and requirements to be on the job for any of the 7 days.  Not even a factory-like setting where people can choose to work extra hours for time-and-a-half and thereby help their prosperity, this overtime is more than ever likely to be mandatory, and hours vary wildly depending on unforeseen and immediate needs of the business.  Then we have the shocking and depressing trend of vast hours as routine for good jobs, shown by a citation that in a survey 92% of “managers and professionals” were going 50-plus weekly with one-third exceeding 65.  That isn’t all, as “that doesn’t include the twenty to twenty-five hours per week most of them reported monitoring their work while not actually working.”  (Haven’t they heard of Parkinson’s Law?)  If this is true, the section of my book Choosing a Lasting Career which assessed positions on their compatibility with outside projects and activities would need serious revision, with many more deserving downgrades.  The title of Shulevitz’s piece came from social activities being precluded by such long and ever-changing schedules preventing time coordination, enough advance notice, and just plain enough free hours.  That’s not a good thing for social animals.

The other was on an old question, Alex Williams’s October 17th New York Times “Why Don’t Rich People Just Stop Working?”.  During most of the past 100 years this has not been worth asking, as only a far-left author would fail to understand both the differences within those called “rich” and the gigantic inventory and variety of goods and services costing differing if very large amounts of money.  The Williams, keeping with the ideological tradition such as by quoting Senator Bernie Sanders inanely saying “billionaires should not exist,” shows us that competition with others at the top is still alive and well.  People at the very summit, such as $23-billion-owning Tesla-CEO Elon Musk, have long approached his once 120-hour workweek, and Williams’s rendition of maritime competition between the likes of computer magnates Larry Ellison and Paul Allen reminded me of old stories about the Astors and Vanderbilts.  Wealth’s effect on contentment is as much a diminishing factor as before, with a “recent Harvard survey” showing that those worth $8 million were only slightly happier with those with one-eighth that.  And neither are worries about economic collapses anything new.  Yes, once we update the trappings from private railroad cars to sports arenas, it’s all the same. 

What can we say about this material?  The problem of scheduling is not easy, as we want products to be available more conveniently than we once settled for.  Yet there is a gap between matching German workers walking out of their retail stores for the weekend by 5:00pm Friday and requiring ordinary, low-paid people to be there at any hour of the day or night.  As it is clearly not a subject for regulation, businesses must make the choices.  More can follow Costco’s lead by, while hardly sticking to 40-hour retail weeks, limiting business hours enough for workers to have planned days and time off.  Scheduling can often be done further in advance.  As many did during last year’s Black Friday, companies can publicize that they are limiting their hours to benefit their employees, possibly getting more sales as a result, and make incentives for overtime great enough that it can be optional.  On the issue of “rich” people putting in huge amounts of time, there is no problem – let them.  Entrepreneurs will entrepren, and ever more wealth for them does not hurt the rest of us.  In the meantime, let us focus on more work opportunities – we can always use them. 

Friday, October 18, 2019

Two Sources of Privacy Attacks: Satellites and Interconnections

I had just finished looking over a piece from Slate, September 19th’s “You Don’t Want Facebook Involved With Your Health Care” by Kirsten Ostherr, when I discovered a related one.  That was “Are We Ready for Satellites That See Our Every Move?”, by Sarah Parcak in the October 15th New York Times.

The effect of their material has much in common.  Both are progressing rapidly, both are behind the scenes as most Americans perceive them, and both can be used for much more than these articles suggested.  As well, both have real potential to get out of control.

The first showed that seemingly unrelated websites could combine their personal data troves to provide further information on individual health care decisions.  Its first sentence, “could your Netflix viewing habits predict that you will develop inflammatory bowel disease?”, may seem silly, but there are correlations everywhere.  Some of these statistical relationships are meaningful, as, for example, the purchase of Tums and Mylanta going along with stomach discomfort.  Some describe situations which are not as they seem, such as the high rates of respiratory problems in southwestern states not meaning problems with Arizona or New Mexico but the opposite, as many people with such issues choose to move there.  Many more, probably most, correlations come from “hidden variables” which affect both factors in the same way, such as, as I have written about, the lower likelihood of female high school athletes using illegal drugs, both actually in large part from higher social class.  Some are splendidly meaningless, such as the long-lasting extremely close relationship a sociologist documented between population in the Indian state of Hyderabad and membership in the International Machinists Union.   These bogus correlations fool a lot of smart people, and an almost infinite number can be found when comparing the contents of large databases.  Accordingly, even if there is no sensible real-life connection between choice of movies watched and diseases, it may look as if there is.  That is scary.

The scope of such data excursions goes well beyond recommending unjustified medical treatments.  The article mentions the possibility, which I have long since noted, that purchases of some products could trigger verdicts of poor health practices, leading to higher insurance premiums.  Some are easy to see, such as those buying motorcycle equipment tending to have higher fatal accident rates.  Some may or may not have merit, such as people acquiring more than a certain amount of bacon or butter having an increased chance of heart problems.  Some will depend on current views about food safety, which, like the 1990s oat bran craze, may only later be shown to be erroneous.  And most if not all are susceptible to failing to identify purchases for others; a father buying his son racing car parts may come through as the one with the risky lifestyle. 

While health care and health insurance costs are real issues, there are plenty more where such data could be generated and then used both fairly and unfairly.  A short brainstorming session got me auto insurance (higher rates for people buying a lot of beer), renting decisions (that and other things associated with rowdy lifestyles), credit-related decisions (what might be deemed excessive spending on non-necessities), membership organization acceptance (opinions they don’t like), employment decisions (already being made, based on anything that could interfere too much with work), or anything else where they know even only your name and address (this time, you say what would stop them).

Parcak’s work described how satellites, which 15 years ago could clearly “see things the size of 40-inch TVs” and can now handle “those the size of smart tablets.”  A big difference as, for one reason, the new capability includes viewing license plates.  Anything not indoors, including you and I much of the time, can be observed and followed, leading to combination with other information to predict future activity, including that none of the authorities’ business.

The real long-term problem with both forms of tracking is not a lack of privacy.  It’s enforcement of conformity.  As we are seeing now with Chinese efforts giving people points for displaying what their government considers socially positive behaviors, we can be motivated with money to do the same.  From there it’s just one step to the political party in power incorporating their ideology as well.  And what will stop it?  The best outcome might be what I think now exists on a smaller scale, where police departments use information, either legally or illegally obtained, to catch criminals, but little else is actually done with it.  If that continues it would hardly be harmless – police do make mistakes – but would be the most positive we can hope for.  From there, we will as always need to do the best we can. 

Friday, October 11, 2019

Good, Bad, and Unspecified Jobs Over The Past Six Weeks: Subtexts, News, and Observations

Since the last week of August, we’ve had all three of the above.  What am I talking about?

In TechCrunch on August 28th, we learned from Megan Rose Dickey that “Uber proposes policy that would pay drivers a minimum wage of $21 per hour while on a trip.”  Of course that offering was not altruistic – it was in response to a protest, in which drivers were hoisting signs expressing discontent with the company’s high CEO pay, lack of dignity (whatever that was intended to mean), and low income.  As any past or present taxi driver can tell you, this proposal doesn’t mean much, as it’s an unusual day if the meter or the equivalent runs for more than half the time, and one-third is common.  Announcing this sort of thing will not help ridesharers in any way, and begs a question:  Why can’t Uber management manage better?

A rather more salutary related idea made the September 11th New York Times editorial page, in “Take That ‘Gig’ and Shove It.”  The board weighed in again, on the right side, of the contractors vs. employees matter, endorsing a California State Assembly bill that “imposes strict limits on who can be classified as a contractor.”  In office settings It is usually hard to stop companies from “hiring large numbers of contractors whom they have treated as an inferior grade of employee,” but the ridesharers, with their rules and restrictions, clearly differ.  The three standards the bill requires for non-employee status, autonomous labor, freedom to work for others, and doing tasks “not central to the company’s business,” if passed into law, would put an abrupt end to talk of their dependent front-line drivers being contractors.  This bill should and probably will succeed, and from there will spread.

Good news on jobs was the subject of a piece in the local-to-here September 12-18 River Reporter, Fritz Mayer’s “If you’re ready for a job, you can get one in Sullivan.”  The director of the Center for Work Force Development in this New York county with a most recent 3.4% unemployment rate calls the labor market “very tight,” and said that healthcare and retail food service jobs were most plentiful.  A boon to the area, which will help more people work, is the recently started county bus service, hardly something to take for granted in a place with well under 100,000 scattered residents – that has increased the number of available workers, which the area can certainly handle right now.  The largest concern, implicit here, is how much these jobs actually pay.

“To Raise Wages, Make Companies Compete for Workers”?  Isn’t what the New York Times Editorial Board advocated on September 19th happening anyway?  Apparently not always, with “the absurd and harmful proliferation” of even low-level employees being required to sign noncompete agreements.  Once something only top engineers and planners need consent to, the limits are now imposed on 30% of salon-employed hair stylists, and when they were sharply limited by law, as in Oregon, employees not only changed jobs more freely but earned more.  With such agreements common for workers paid less than $23,360 per year, as shown by a New York bill barring them for people below that level, they have got out of hand, and employers may soon find that their right to impose them has been slashed.

Related to my August piece on the lives of the 1% was Louis Menand’s September 30th New Yorker “Is Meritocracy Making Everyone Miserable?”.  Indeed, Menand also cited Daniel Markovits, in this case his book, The Meritocracy Trap, the basis of that post’s main article.  While Menand therein gave that a poor review, calling it “bombastic” and “repetitive,” he agreed with most of what I named last time and hit many more, including the $148 billion annual higher-education taxpayer support, the huge 60-year increase of the average lifetime earnings boost for college graduates, problems with “meritocracy” blamed on it being “not meritocratic enough,” the narrow overall scope shown by 12 highly selective schools having fewer than 1 in 200 undergraduates, the decreasing and often insufficient funding for lower-level colleges, the differences between affirmative action by group and by income, and preferential treatment begetting more of the same.  One good Menand counterpoint was that discrimination to the point of complete bans against women and blacks is now gone, and three issues he mentioned were more controversial than he made them out to be:  the held-as-false idea that those in the 1% think they earned what they got (it may be unfair that they unlike others of similar inherent aptitude were put on a track for it from preschool, but they still worked extremely hard), that much of the sorting process happens during college (I think we are already, per grade inflation, getting a Japanese-style system where high school students put in the most effort and the prestige of universities will carry their students on from there by itself), and the problems with SAT scores reflecting social class (they would correlate heavily, also, with number of books at home).  This Menand piece may provoke your thinking as well – as should the other four articles discussed here. 

Friday, October 4, 2019

No Recession Here: American Job Shortage Number Down 1.1 Million On Broad-Based Improvement To 15.1 Million, With Unemployment Rates Still Falling

At first glance, this morning’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Summary looked as expected.  The number of net new nonfarm positions couldn’t have been much closer to a published consensus 140,000 projection with 136,000, and other changes seemed small.  Yet beyond that, which roughly matched American population growth, this September report was deceptively good.

Although the official joblessness rate has been overrated for most of the past half-century, it still means something, and its 3.5% adjusted result was the lowest in almost 50 years.  The unadjusted 3.3%, lower since September is an above-average month for people working, was much the same.  We’re now at 5.8 million unemployed (5.465 million unadjusted), and the two measures of how common it is for Americans to have jobs, the labor force participation rate and the employment-population ratio, did fine also, given that they each gained 0.2% in August, by staying at 63.2% and rising 0.1% to 61.0% respectively. 

There was bad news as well.  The count of people out of work for 27 weeks or longer gained 100,000 to reach 1.3 million.  The number of those working part-time for economic reasons, or holding on to short-hours positions while unsuccessfully seeking a full-time proposition, held at 4.4 million, but did not lose back any of its 400,000 August gain.  Average private nonfarm payroll earnings, after rising a good but unspectacular 11 cents per hour last time, lost 2 cents and are now at $28.09.  This number has been outperforming inflation, but one more like month will push it down to constant-dollar breakeven for the year. 
The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, the measure showing how many more positions could be quickly filled if all knew they were easy to get, lost and thereby improved a stunning 1.08 million, some but not all seasonal (the AJSN is unadjusted), reaching a 17-year low as follows:

Over 60% of that was from lower official unemployment, but more than 400,000 was cut elsewhere, mainly from those wanting to work but not looking for it for the previous year (a 273,000 net latent demand drop), and those calling themselves discouraged (131,400 down).  Compared with a year before, the AJSN is down over 500,000, over half from reduced unemployment and the rest spread out among 8 of the 9 other categories above, all of which have fewer people than in September 2018.  The share of the AJSN coming from those in the main jobless category is now 32.6%, once again below one-third and the lowest since May.  Latent employment demand from those claiming no interest in work is now less than 8% below that from official unemployment, and if the latter keeps dropping the two could converge.

How do we evaluate September?  The number of new jobs was lukewarm again, and the loss in wages sad, but I like the other-category improvement too much to call it bad.  Not great by any means, and maybe not even encouraging, but we’re still advancing.  Maybe we’re going to get a recession within the next several months, but real signs of that in this report are absent.  Small again, but the turtle yet again took a step forward.

Friday, September 27, 2019

For Overlooked Countries: Eight Ways to Make Travel Easier

It’s not a common subject on this blog, but for a couple of decades I have been visiting places around the globe.  I have now set foot in 58 countries, in all of the continental groups except Antarctica – while my patterns are more frugal than most Americans, perhaps more akin to those of Europeans with more vacation time than money, they are common worldwide.  Travel is not a main source for writing on American employment, but it is related in that tourism has, during all of our lifetimes, been an ever-rising source of jobs; visitor appeal greatly controls how many are working in certain industries, and many more officials would prefer more outsiders coming in and spending money to fewer.  What relatively inexpensive things can destinations, especially but not exclusively the foreign ones which spurred my thinking here, do to get more of that?

First, consistently have and maintain street name signs.  When asked on an exit form what a small island country could do to make my experience better, I wrote “street signs” in capitals, underlined twice, and with three exclamation points.  Those of us who like to walk around can otherwise be blown off course remarkably easily.  And don’t they want them for the locals anyway?

Second, have some sort of competence test for cabdrivers.  It’s infuriating, as I did in this same place, after being pestered constantly by touts of “Taxi?” “Taxi?,” to finally get in one and find the driver, who seems to know English or the other language I’m speaking perfectly well, does not know locations of even the most popular tourist destinations.  If there is such an oversupply of cabs that drivers will often wait an hour or more for customers to finish their sightseeing so they can get another few dollars taking them elsewhere, then, say, a written exam on where things are would correct that as well.

Third, and this time I speak to the most developed places on the planet, have nothing for visitors requiring mobile phones.  I know, we can buy SIM cards, but using such technology also necessitates having such devices on hand, paying roaming charges, getting a clear signal, understanding dialing codes, and more.  With no country close to 100% cellphone saturation anyway, a modicum of pay phones, which have reached near or total nonexistence in some places, could also help travelers more.

Fourth, have more places of any kind to sit down.  To make the same points I made in academia last decade, populations are aging, people often need a few minutes to rest, and concrete benches can last for 50 years.  While loitering is a reasonable thing to discourage, the value to others will soon, if it hasn’t already, more than offset that.

Fifth, facilitate low-priced private room lodging.  Such offerings are nongovernmental-money decisions, but public policy, as shown in countries with few even rural options below maybe US$100 per night, can influence that.  And I’m not talking about Airbnb or other sharing options either, which can seem confusing and offer communication insufficient to many.

Sixth, accept cash everywhere.  Even in the United States, where customer needs have recently caused restaurants taking only electronic payments to change that, many erroneously assume that visitors will be as well-equipped as locals, who pay no credit card transaction fees and have any commonly used small-change-replacement systems (such as Hong Kong’s Octopus transit cards, extensively used in convenience stores).  I’m with a horde of people who use ATMs, themselves becoming less common at some destinations, and then spend as they go, not only getting lower fees but enjoying seeing the local money.  It would be sad to go to Australia and never see the kangaroos, platypus, echidna, and other designs on their everyday coins and notes.

Seventh, have free local maps available anywhere tourists might go.  Advertisements from their sponsors are fine, and are often actually helpful, but please keep them to scale, show what that scale is, and leave in streets or roads even if judged to be of no visitor interest.  Maps, especially in conjunction with good street signs, have no real substitute.

Eighth, and this is where our home country is the worst, have plenty of public toilets.  Walking around without frequent restaurant or museum stops brings this human need to the forefront.  These places need only be reasonably clean and open at all or almost all times.  If they want to, as many do, charge what is almost always a nominal amount, that is no problem (if they can make change!), though businesses, who see gains in sales when people can wander around longer, could pay for them.  One of the largest American portable toilet providers uses the name Comfort House for a reason.

Although some would need to come from changes in laws or company regulations, none of these improvements would be, in the long term, time-consuming or expensive.  All would boost tourism jobs and business income more efficiently than public relations campaigns.  Through online as well as in-person communication, word spreads more than ever before about the merits of Taiwan versus South Korea, or even, and especially, Fiji against Samoa.  Work and money are good things – when it’s relatively easy, let’s do what we can to get more of both.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Uber and Lyft: Heading Toward the End of the Road?

It’s not looking good for America’s premier gypsy cab companies.

In the December 5th, we saw “Uber, Lyft drivers get $17.22 hourly wage guarantee in New York after commission’s vote.”  This move was made by “taxi regulators” who claimed the move would “raise drivers’ annual earnings by $10,000 a year, making it the first U.S. city to set such minimum pay standards.”  That is believable, but since the move makes no mention of that amount being over their expenses, be they average or specific, it cannot be confused with the net $34,000-plus annual pay it would get an ordinary wage earner over a year of 40-hour weeks.  Uber, as expected, cried about that, saying it would cause “higher than necessary fare increases for riders,” which can indeed be the result of workers paid appropriate amounts, “while missing an opportunity to deal with congestion in Manhattan’s central business district” (even if cars trying for Uber fares, some paid by people who would otherwise take buses or subways, actually had that effect, it strains credulity to think that is this company, proven to be as mercenary as any Soldier of Fortune contributor, highly values that).

Six months later, on June 2nd, we got the New York Times’s “Path to Ride-Share Profits Begins With Higher Prices.”  Author Austan Goolsbee started by contrasting Uber and Lyft market capitalization, then $80 billion, with their loss of “a great deal of money,” since then worsened by Uber dropping $5.2 billion in the second quarter and both companies’ capitalization falling to $68 billion.  Per Goolsbee, passengers are less sensitive to the fare increases these companies seem to need than drivers are to the pay raises they would provide.  However, with riders having many alternative ways of getting places, the effect would be significant, and we don’t know how much further the results of a study, that “for every 10 percent increase in price, demand fell by only about 5 percent,” could be extrapolated.  The author also said that drivers might otherwise be working for restaurants, meaning that their “average pay… is likely to end up around minimum wage, too.”  Taxi-commission edict or not, there is no reason for such workers to be getting anything approaching middle-class income – and the more they are paid, the fewer of them the market will need.

A third heavy shoe is about to drop.  As documented in “A fierce battle over defining employees in California nears decisive vote,” by John Myers, Liam Dillon, and Johana Bhuiyan in the September 7th Los Angeles Times, this week the California legislature will vote on a measure, known as Assembly Bill 5 or AB5, which, per “Why Uber and Lyft Are Pushing To Keep Their Drivers as Independent Contractors” by David Jagielski in the same date’s Motley Fool, would require three criteria for workers to be denied classification as employees:  they would need to be “free from the company’s control”; their work “can’t (be) part of the company’s core operations”; and such laborers “would need to have an independent business in the industry.”  Either of the second two would conclusively deny Uber and Lyft ability to keep treating their drivers, who would “receive sick days, have minimum-wage protections, and be eligible for other benefits,” as independent contractors.  As a result, those two and restaurant delivery service DoorDash have spent $90 billion fighting AB5, which would not only raise their expenses but would end much of “their flexibility and being able to have almost anyone being able to drive for them.”  Here also, these companies are looking at some combination of higher customer charges and losing even more money. 

Will Uber and Lyft ever become profitable?  Maybe if and when autonomous vehicles, now delayed and uncertain, arrive.  But it seems more likely that they cannot last that long.  So keep patronizing them if they help you, but choose other investment opportunities.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Friday AM: Some Jobs Numbers Still Improving, Some Advances Reversed, and AJSN Down 200,000 To 16.2 Million

This morning’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Summary was another mixed bag.  The headline number of net new nonfarm positions didn’t make its published 158,000 projection and turned in 130,000, close to what we need to cover population increase.  Seasonally adjusted unemployment remained, for the third straight month, at 3.7%.  The unadjusted version dropped 0.2%, mostly due to the typical difference between July and August, to 3.8%.  The adjusted number of jobless people fell 100,000 to 6.0 million, with those out for 27 weeks or longer holding at 1.2% and those working part-time for economic reasons, or working short-hours jobs while seeking thus far unsuccessfully full-time ones, gave up its June and July improvements and is now back at 4.4 million.  The two measures showing how common it is for Americans to be working, the labor force participation rate and the employment-population ratio, each gained 0.2%, with the former having its third straight improvement, to reach 63.2% and 60.9% respectively.  After a neutral month, average private nonfarm hourly wages came in at 13 cents more per hour than the previously announced result, and are now at $28.11.

The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, the Royal Flush Press metric showing how many additional positions could be quickly filled if all knew that getting one would be routine and easy, went down 207,000, as follows:

The largest AJSN changes over July were those unemployed, cutting 317,000 from the total, followed by those discouraged and not wanting work at all, offsetting much of that with worsenings of 89,000 and 54,000.  The share of latent demand from those officially jobless fell to 34.5%, matching May’s outcome. 

Overall, how did we do?  The net effect was modest, with some measures, specifically the employment-population ratio and the labor force participation rate, continuing to improve, and others, such as the count of those working part-time for economic reasons, losing what I had hoped were sturdier gains.  With better results so common, the lukewarm – and that’s what it is, not the likes of “poor” or “skimpy” – 130,000 jobs gain is no cause for concern.  As there is so much latent demand, the wage improvement is nothing to take for granted.  We’ll continue to track the trends, and see which are real and which, as most of them these days, are only fluctuations.  In the meantime, though, the turtle took a tiny but real step forward.  

Friday, August 30, 2019

Glaciers, Gondolas, and Slot Machines: Attracting Tourism Jobs Means Making Tough Choices

There may be no area of employment more modern, substantial, and promising than catering to people traveling for pleasure.  For all the beefing about air travel conditions, fares are lower in constant dollars than they have ever been.  Worldwide prosperity, on average, is way up.  A shift from valuing objects to valuing experiences means that more and more people travel.  And the rise of the 1% has opened up a new high tier.

With that said, here are three places where that has not worked out as planned.  The first was featured in Peter S. Goodman and Liz Alderman’s August 25th New York Times “Iceland’s Purple Planes Are Grounded, and With Them, Its Economy.”  The piece, about a remarkably steep fall in that country’s number of visitors from discounter WOW going out of business, drew this immediate reaction from me:  Wait a minute!  Wasn’t it just yesterday that Icelanders were complaining about too much tourism?  Word was that visitors, often ill-mannered (of course), were overtaxing their delicate ecology, taking up too much Reykjavik space, preventing locals from getting hotel rooms when they themselves traveled, and so on.  And now “the sudden shortage of Americans – widely celebrated as a free-spending people – is bemoaned by merchants of Viking-themed tourist tchotkes (sic), by whale watching tour operators and by real estate agencies.”  Oh well.

The problem I have always sensed with Iceland’s tourist industry – and I have been there four times – is its ambivalence.  Some would like to make their country, the size of Kentucky with one-fourth the population of metropolitan Louisville, as close to an environmental preserve as sanely possible.  Others see its ample open spaces as opportunities to add industry and other businesses to help their standard of living.  It has often seemed gratuitously high-end to me, with a lack of bed and breakfasts and other low-priced non-hostel hotel rooms, little fast food, and sit-down restaurant meals seeming to start at about US$28 per person.  Except for the fine Bonus supermarket chain and a competitor or two, prices in stores will surprise you.  To sell more Eric the Red refrigerator magnets they can cut their $10 price in half with business-friendlier public policies… if they decide that’s what they want.

The opposite problem has plagued Venice.  Spearheaded by cruise ship passengers spending far less per capita than other visitors, they have just plain had too many – 36 million international ones alone, or 138 per permanent city resident, in 2017.  With demand for related goods and services distorting the business atmosphere the city runs the real risk of becoming a theme park, with a thousandth glass-animal shop pricing out the likes of a dry cleaner or an insurance agency.  Normally supply and demand would kick in, with hotel rooms and restaurants charging more, but with waterborne visitors not using much of either they have been able to clog the streets cheaply.  Two years ago the city banned large ships from docking, and next year they start a three-euro entrance fee for those not staying there, but those will only solve part of the problem – watch this classic destination for more developments.

The third tourism issue is here in the Catskills.  Locals clearly wanted the Resorts World casino, which, at my visit last year looked modern, busy, and full of people gambling, but it is losing so much money that the major stockholders are resorting to declaring bankruptcy, while staying open, to stiff its lenders and stay, at least for a while, in business.  Why has it done so poorly while seeming so good in principle and in real life?

One problem is that Resorts World, with what was a $129 per night hotel-room minimum, became yet another place failing to realize that one thing making Las Vegas great was its quantity of cheap accommodations, facilitating longer stays translating into more gambling.  Its publicity efforts have always seemed inadequate, without any massive push to bring in New York-area Jews with good childhood Catskills memories, and an apparently failed effort by the Malaysian owner to attract high-rolling Asians.  Prices such as the $16 nachos can also cut back repeat visits.  And, to keep bored patrons interested, like any other large casino it requires massive periodic infrastructure spending, meaning it needs way-high amounts of business just to break even. 

However, I suspect the largest problem is something else.  People came to 1950s and 1960s Las Vegas to gamble.  They would play, play, and play.  Long hours, as close to around the clock as they could stand.  Some thought they had systems assuring wins, but few people did that – it wasn’t called Lost Wages for nothing.  Gambling’s appeal is totally different now.  The GI and Silent generations forming not only the backbone but most of the body of Las Vegas punters have been replaced by Generation X and Millennials, who care for gambling vastly less.  Casinos are all over the country now, and the novelty is no more.  Instead of tacitly encouraging problem gambling, people who cannot handle it see a variety of announcements offering them help, including the option to bar themselves.  Roulette, blackjack, craps, and slot machines, after 70 years still the mainstays, are all old hat now.  It has become the norm for people to both know intellectually and feel emotionally that they cannot win over the long term.  Low-stakes entry points, such as $20 buy-in poker and nickel slots that don’t try to get people to play 20, 50, or 100 coins at a time, have gone away.  The clank of coins into metal trays is a thing of the past.  Despite, or maybe even because of, the proliferation of American and world casinos, gambling itself is in big trouble – the choice here is how casinos can change to accommodate that.

Obviously, tourism will continue to grow – but in what ways?  We will see.  Not all the jobs it generates will remain.  We wish it the best, but it may have many more hard times ahead.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Work Meritocracy: American Cradle-To-Retirement Competition

Yes, the United States has a culture.  For those of us living here it may seem transparent, but there are ways in which we part company with even our most comparable countries.  One of them is our love of competitions, which are not only central to our educational and vocational experiences but pop up in group recreational activities.  There is something about needing to know who is the best that gets our interest.

While we may bewilder Canadians, western Europeans, Australians, and northeast Asians by competing at choral singing, ranch chores (rodeo), and even ballroom dancing, we are taking that to a further extreme by inventing entire lives based around it – and those choosing that regimen are the worse off.  That is the thesis of Daniel Markovits’s “How Life Became an Endless, Terrible Competition,” in the just-released September issue of Atlantic. 

Markovits, a Yale law professor whose article is planned to be released in book form, exaggerated – most Americans know little firsthand about the things of which he wrote.  But for those regretting not being in what has been called the 1%, he offered a look at the underside of how they got and stayed there.  And it’s not pleasant.

Have you wondered about the lives of those with the half-million-dollar-and up salaries in “finance, management, law, and medicine”?  Per Markovits, they now split off in preschool, when they prepare to “apply to 10 kindergartens, running a gantlet of essays, appraisals, and interviews,” which is repeated with “elite middle and high schools” that “commonly require three to five hours of homework a night,” all focusing not on “experiments and play” but instead on “the accumulation of the training and skills, or human capital, needed to be admitted to an elite college and, eventually, to secure an elite job.”  From there, these one-percenters “work with unprecedented intensity,” for example, if they are large-firm lawyers, producing 2,400 annual billable hours (calling for 70-hour weeks), or, if bankers, putting in 20-hour day-and-night combinations.  Those ultimately successful, per sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild, survive a “final elimination” by being “still able to maintain a good mental set, and keep their family life together.”  And eventually if they want they can retire, after which they will probably spend much time, money, hope, and effort helping their descendants do as they did.

Although this program, which despite Markovits’s use of the word, is not truly meritocratic – per my post earlier this year with oboes and Guatemala in the title, the type of merit is also critical – it causes problems.  It endangers three areas most would call key to a generally successful life:  happiness, sex, and longevity.  It may provide its practitioners with net worths unknown without entrepreneurism or large inheritances, but with, until the work ends, little opportunity to be enjoyed.  Per the author, it forces even very young people to stick to their preordained plans at the expense of exploration and self-discovery, in the process “exploiting” themselves and “impoverishing” their “inner lives.” 

Of such choices for themselves and their children, it is easy to see the appeal, especially for Americans, who, even those of lower family education and incomes, have long heard about “making something” of themselves, and, if particularly smart or capable, of getting to “the top.”  Winning such long, massive competitions can provide powerful self-esteem and eliminate any fear of having failed or underachieved.  Being without any real possibility of financial failure has its advantages.  However, I suspect the truly smart people, with vision of wider scope, know that excelling in this way is not the best they can do.  There is more to life than that, and those in the tracks described here are missing it, completely and permanently. 

Evaluating our success is open to great debate.  Even if we agree on who was better than whom and by how much, one simple truth still applies:  those winning rat races are still rats. 

Friday, August 16, 2019

What You Need to Know About Career-Related Instruction

The August Northeast Pennsylvania Business Journal had a 16-page section headlined its “2019 Adult Education Guide.”  It presented articles provided by a variety of learning-program providers explaining what courses they had and what they could do for those taking them.  They ranged from The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education (I didn’t know there even was such a thing), master’s degrees at East Stroudsburg University, “straight-to-career training certificates” from Northampton Community College, a cybersecurity program, and Johnson College’s diesel truck technology credential.  Here are 11 observations on this career-related area.

First, as above, there are a lot of programs and they vary widely.  The target area of this 33-year-old publication has fewer than a million people, and is probably roughly nationally representative as to economic strength, diversity of jobs, formal education levels, and so on.  A similar compendium for the New York area could be in the hundreds of pages.

Second, such programs are best when the school and the hirers are connected and the latter can strongly influence the former, by relating honestly what program graduates need to be chosen.  The gap between becoming qualified and actually getting a job can be huge, and responsibility for making it as small as possible ultimately falls on the schools.  Third, the in-field getting-hired rate is the most important statistic such organizations can offer.  Fourth, with those two things said there is nothing wrong with for-profit course providers as such. 

Fifth, those considering further instruction need to analyze the target field, including its current state, its prospects several years out, and its long-term viability.  Choosing a Lasting Career is now six years old, but anyone considering putting a large chunk of their lives and money need to look at the same factors as in that book, namely resistance to robotics, susceptibility to improvements in computing and connectivity, chance for a good living wage, family and outside activities compatibility, local-boundness, typical work conditions, and more. 

Sixth, while certificate programs should zero in on specific competencies, overly specific bachelor’s degree programs can fail when narrowly targeted objectives do not materialize.  Nobody expects coursework in air conditioning repair to provide guidance for a life’s worth of thinking, but conventional four-year experiences should do just that. 

Seventh, community colleges are good choices, as they provide well-focused training at bargain prices. 

Eighth, while employment-focused training is often excellent for individuals, as a matter of public policy it is ineffective for cutting joblessness, as it tends only to change who gets work, rather than the total number of people thus successful.

Ninth, students need to consider where the jobs are in their fields of interest, and know if they will need to relocate.

Tenth, nonspecific career credentials, such as M.B.A. programs, usually have very weak connections with employers, so those considering them should determine first if they will be sufficient, when combined with their existing assets, to get them working in the field they want. 

Eleventh, as I advised people as a business professor, anything called “adult education” requires participants to act that way.  College for 18 to 22-year-olds serves purposes other than learning and credential acquisition, but these programs really don’t.  Students should always or almost always attend classes, do assignments in good faith, and complete all work required.  Such things as all-night agonizing over three to five-page papers need to come to an end.  Adult learners will find that if they focus on their assignments and complete them, that will be good enough if not perfect, and they will then pass their courses and complete their objectives.  That is why they are spending their time, effort, and money to be there.  If people get the most from adult learning programs, they may benefit greatly – accordingly, If such training is at all suitable and clearly leads to jobs, I strongly recommend it. 

Friday, August 9, 2019

Autonomous Vehicles: What’s Causing the Delays, and How They Can Get Off the Dime

Per recent posts, the past year has been rather disheartening for those of us who think we need progress on self-driving cars.  What has been the problem, and how can they get moving again?

The best article describing the state of that field so far came out in the July 17th New York Times.  Neal E. Boudette’s “Despite High Hopes, Self-Driving Cars are ‘Way in the Future’,” started by saying that “a year ago, Detroit and Silicon Valley had visions of putting thousands of self-driving taxis on the road in 2019, ushering in an age of driverless cars,” which hasn’t and won’t happen.  The piece’s sources blamed the lack of progress on being able to deal with “all kinds of crazy things on the road,” and Boudette also named small related news items, recapped the fatal accident, quoted evidence of Elon Musk’s delusional hubris, and then got the article to justify itself by naming the need for “micro maneuvers” such as understanding other drivers are looking for a parking space so should not be followed closely and saying that “the technology is available now to create a car that won’t hit anything,” even if it would “constantly slam on the brakes.” 

From what I have read and not read, I see five reasons why progress has almost ground to a halt.  First, not only overreaction to that single death, but expected overreaction, as the firms seemed to pull back soon thereafter without receiving much actual pushback.  Second, companies’ testing has, thus far, not emphasized creating algorithms mimicking the thoughts of actual drivers.  Third, as I have read recently about artificial intelligence, massive efforts such as this often go through slow stretches in research intensity, which author and professor Nick Bostrom called a “winter,” or “period of retrenchment” – we clearly have another one here.  Fourth, the legal and regulatory climate, despite the July 31st Yahoo Finance report that “U.S. Congress seeks to jump start (a) stalled self-driving car bill” to allow them more, has been intimidating if not actively discouraging, perhaps to the point where companies have focused excessively on being stopped.  Fifth, there has been insufficient emphasis on implementation – I saw that when working with information technology technicians more comfortable keying on the clean and promising future than on dealing with the grit of making things actually work, and recognize, or at least strongly suspect, it again. 

What, then, are the solutions?  Here are six.  One, researchers need to catalog what Boudette called “corner cases,” where people disobey traffic laws, and concentrate on solving them.  Two, it is time for them to quantify how drivers actually think when faced with these problems.  In Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano, those making automated barbers copied the exact movements of people doing that job – let’s do that here.  Three, they should implement Boudette’s “car that won’t hit anything” and see where it could be used – the technology could progress from there.  Four, we need more driverless shuttle buses in limited, well-defined settings, which is about the lowest-hanging fruit actually constructive.  Five, manufacturers and others should push for more freedom and more places to use these vehicles, which may, given the recent Congress event, be easier than they think. 

Sixth, and finally, those on the side of this technology need to do interviews, give presentations, write articles, issue news releases, do radio spots, appear on TV shows, and put in Internet advertising, all emphasizing the potential for slashing the 30,000 annual driver-caused American deaths along with other autonomous-vehicle advantages and showing how close we really would be if we can tolerate a few more accidents.  There were times when it was more acceptable for efforts thought of as American projects to cause tragedies along the way.  Eighteen people have died during space flights and 96 perished during Hoover Dam’s construction, not to mention such numbers as over 400,000 United States soldiers killed in World War II.  It is time for us to consider driverless vehicle implementation necessary for the country, and give it the same status.  Then, as we know about our countrymen and from our history, it will succeed.

Friday, August 2, 2019

July Employment Data Almost All Positive – AJSN Says Latent Demand Unchanged at 16.4 Million Jobs Behind

According to two published new-positions projections, this morning’s Bureau of Labor Statistics data wasn’t supposed to do anything spectacular either way.  It didn’t, but its improvements were remarkably broad-based. 

We added 164,000 net new nonfarm positions, within a few thousand of the predictions.  The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate sat at 3.7% while the unadjusted one went up 0.2%, half or so of that due to typical differences between June and July, to 4.0%.  The adjusted jobless number gained 100,000 to 6.1 million.

From there, though, everything got better.  Those out for 27 weeks or longer lost a surprising one-sixth and is now at 1.2 million.  The count of those working part-time for economic reasons, or keeping short-hours positions while seeking longer ones, lost over 300,000 and is now at 4.0 million, 700,000 less than only three months ago.  The two measures of how common it is for Americans to be working, the labor force participation rate and the employment-population ratio, each gained a significant 0.1% and are now at 63.0% and 60.7% respectively.  Average private nonfarm payroll hourly earnings were up 8 cents, significantly over inflation, to reach $27.98. 

The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, the measure of how many additional positions could be quickly absorbed if all knew they were available, was almost unchanged, as follows:

Increased latent demand from those officially unemployed, pushing the AJSN up 156,000, was more than offset by drops in almost every category of marginal attachment, most importantly those wanting to work but not looking for it over the past year and those claiming discouragement, down 154,000 and 144,000.  Between higher unemployment and lower inputs elsewhere, the share of the AJSN from official joblessness is now 36.0%, up 1.5% from June.  Compared with a year before the AJSN has improved 400,000, with the largest falls in official unemployment and the two marginal attachment groups just mentioned.

Overall, how good was July?  I am happier with the smaller groupings’ improvements than I am unhappy with higher unemployment.  We need those pools to continue to improve, as they remain underpublicized and are all too capable of harboring people who would rather be on the job.  Gains in the employment-population ratio and the labor force participation rate indicate a stronger than appearing economy, and we got both this time.  The AJSN did not get in on the act, but is still maintaining a good distance from what it was 12 months ago.  No records were set this time, but none were supposed to – the turtle took another step forward.