Friday, May 29, 2015

Cities, Jobs, and Careers: What Two New Studies Can Teach Us

A 16-page effort by the website WalletHub came out early this month.  It is titled “2015’s Best & Worst Cities to Start a Career,” and, using no fewer than 19 different criteria, ranks the country’s 150 largest places for suitability for new college graduates to start their professional working lives. 

Within a few days, a similar recent effort also crossed my desk.  Issued by employment site Glassdoor, it assesses the “25 best cities for jobs.”  It is designed more for work seekers in general, and incorporates only four factors:  the number of per capita job openings, Glassdoor data’s median base salary, the area’s “median home (house) value,” and their “job satisfaction rating.” 

So what can we learn from these?

First, each piece of research has its good and bad points.  The WalletHub study used factors ranging from median income growth rate and economic mobility to number of arts, leisure, and recreation establishments per 100,000 inhabitants and even climate (“weather”), and weighted them intelligently.  Instead of overall average local pay, it used monthly median starting salary, adjusted for the area’s cost of living.  On the downside, the 150 largest American cities include many suburbs, and breaking apart metropolitan areas was misleading; people working in Anaheim, Garden Grove, or Santa Ana may live and use other resources in any of those places, leaving us to wonder which of their rankings of 80th, 102nd, and 104th respectively were the most pertinent, and if a combination, given that people could take the best from each city, might come out higher than any of its parts. 

The Glassdoor study avoids that problem, but suffers from use of its own employment data, which may not be representative, and by using what seem to be single-family house prices instead of a more comprehensive cost of living measure.  It does, though, incorporate critical information in a more limited and therefore less presumptuous set of criteria.

Second, there was a definite correlation between the studys’ results.  The places turning up near the top in both, in rough order, were Austin, Houston, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Oklahoma City, and Raleigh, the latter finishing first in the Glassdoor effort.  (After two Dallas suburbs, Austin did best in WalletHub’s.)   None of the lowest-ranking 21 in the WalletHub study made Glassdoor’s top 25.  The largest splits may have been on Denver (not mentioned in Glassdoor, 4th of 150 in WalletHub), Omaha (not in Glassdoor, 20th in WalletHub), St. Louis (11th of 50 in Glassdoor, 109th in WalletHub), and Baltimore (22nd in Glassdoor, 129th in WalletHub).  The five worst true cities in WalletHub, none in Glassdoor’s top 25, were, from the bottom, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia.

Third, according to these studies the bloom is off the rose of some places previously called good for jobs.  Chicago (105th in WalletHub, 20th in Glassdoor), Los Angeles (98th and not named), and Orlando (73rd and not named) are nothing special now, and both New York (not in Glassdoor and 119th, with Jersey City and Newark 74th and 125th respectively, in WalletHub) and Las Vegas (131st in WalletHub, absent from Glassdoor) came in well below average.

Fourth, it is always necessary with multi-component studies to consider which criteria actually matter.  Those deviating significantly from WalletHub’s picture of what is important to career starters in their 20s should factor out the ones they don’t care about – those married, for example, can drop the “Single People” Ranking. 

Fifth, there are indeed massive differences between areas.  A WalletHub publicity email broadcast named several of them:  the monthly cost-of-living-adjusted starting salary three times higher in Houston than in Honolulu; the share of people aged 25 to 34 twice as high in Jersey City than in Cape Coral, Florida; seven times as many per-capita arts, leisure, and recreation establishments in Los Angeles than in Laredo; and more.  In recent years, western North Dakota’s employment boom has reminded us of these regional variations, and they are, as almost always, real.

Sixth, though the jobs crisis is hardly over, unemployment has eased, and it is now well worth considering relocating for better employment conditions.  They should usually be more broad-based than one job offer, which can disappear, but with differences such as the above, moving would be a winner for many.

Seventh, people living in this area of the country, namely the Catskills and Poconos where few professional careers can be started, the best overall reasonably nearby places to move, according to these two studies, are Pittsburgh, Washington, and Boston.  All are within a half-day drive of here, and worthy of special consideration. 

In all, these studies are constructive, well thought out, and, within their limitations above, are valuable inputs to those wanting career success.  Sometimes people need to move to get what they want, and, as WalletHub and Glassdoor correctly imply, 2015 may be one of those times.   

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Declared Presidential Candidates on Jobs? What a Novel Idea!

“For a presidential campaign that has started so early, it’s striking how little most of the candidates want to engage with major issues of the day, let alone the future.” – Thomas Friedman, “Hillary, Jeb, Facebook and Disorder,” The New York Times, May 20, 2015

No kidding, Tom.

It was a simple project, or so it seemed.  For this morning’s blog post, I would look up the positions of the eight officially committed presidential contenders, see what they had to say on jobs, and then analyze, compare, and critique it. 

It didn't work out that way.

I used the New York Times’s quick summary of who has actually declared themselves in – it’s at, and is updated with each new candidate – and went down the list, starting with Ted Cruz.  His website was easy to find, and among his clearly accessible list of issues was “Jobs & Opportunity.”  He only had one paragraph on what he wanted to do with American employment, but his bullet points on his related efforts in the U.S. Senate and elsewhere printed out to three pages.  I wasn't too impressed – on jobs he advocates little other than ending “Obamacare, an overreaching federal government, and out of control spending,” and then just waiting, I guess – but expected to have eight printouts to compare. 

I did not.

The next name was Rand Paul, who seems to have cultivated an image like that of his father Ron’s – outspoken and full of ideas, not to mention libertarian.  I knew the last one was nonsense – he fails the most basic requirement for being a libertarian in 2015, favoring marijuana legalization – but his website put the first and probably the second in doubt as well.  He had issues, in fact 18 of them, but most were routine Republican qualifiers, such as “Israel,” “Second Amendment,” and “Sanctity of Life,” the last referring, of course, to zygotes and not to victims of our bombs or questionably condemned criminals.  He had nothing at all under jobs or the economy – I know because I looked, thinking I had missed something, four times.

On to Marco Rubio, the Republican given the best chance in of the six declared ones to win the election.  He had only four issues on his website, two on foreign policy, one a pledge to never raise taxes (George H. W. Bush, are you laughing?), and one stating that marriage laws belonged to the states.  Perhaps he considers these four things the most important for Americans, but more likely two would scrape to make the top ten and the others would not be close.  Strangely, he did mention the economy – on his “Rubio Doctrine” where he said that we should physically prevent other countries from impeding commerce.  As for the needs of the people in Cleveland, San Antonio, and Miami… well, not this time. 

Next was Ben Carson.  I read his book and was impressed by his level of thinking, and maybe had showed that in his list of 10 issues, but once more the economy wasn't there.  Don’t we know that his stated need to “protect the Second Amendment” (from what efforts in progress?) sets him aside from no candidate in his party?  His staff must think we don’t, and again, they give us nary a clue as to how he might reduce our shortage of 17.9 million jobs.

So you’re disappointed in Carson?  Try Carly Fiorina!  An examination of her official website, her online face to the electorate, showed – get this – no views on issues at all!  Why, Carly, when your poll numbers belong under a microscope, can’t you commit yourself on anything?  Your illustrious corporate career must have given you some ideas, so why won’t you share them?  Are you sitting on your lead?

Then on to Mike Huckabee, who has been committal enough to engender more controversy for what he thinks than any of the five above.  His site includes 13 issues, including the usual suspects of “Israel” and “2nd Amendment,” and also “Values,” but nothing on either employment or our economy – “Tax Reform, advocating a flat-rate “Fair Tax,” and “Spending & Debt,” devoted to other issues, don’t qualify.  

Over to the Democratic side, where Hillary Clinton, as expected and consistent with her past non-statements, has nothing to say.  Her site is completely devoid of issues.  At least she, with odds of just under 50% to win the whole thing as it is, has reason to keep her cards close to her chest – for now.

The eighth candidate, Bernie Sanders, did what I thought every candidate should have done.  On his site he has a listing of “12 Steps Forward,” no fewer than six of which address American employment.  Four I can’t agree with at all, specifically “growing the trade union movement” as if that will create jobs, “raising the minimum wage” on the basis that every position should independently and comfortably support at least the person filling it, “pay equity for women workers” based on results instead of laws, and protectionist “trade policies that benefit American workers.”  Of the other two I don’t care much about “creating worker co-ops” – let organizations that want to do that go right ahead – but the last I have been calling for, “rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure.”  Sanders calls for “a massive jobs program rebuilding our nation’s crumbling roads and bridges,” and I don’t see why others don’t openly support the same;  the work must be done somehow, and conservatives, with their generally greater business investments, will be damaged at least as much as liberals if the United States continues to deteriorate in this way. 

Will the remaining expected candidates do better?  Will the second through seventh people above, if they are not doing well in the campaign, commit themselves more?  Will Sanders or someone else put the jobs issue in his rivals’ faces by stating that he has a plan while others do not?  I hope so, but I’m sure not betting the baby shoe money.    

“A recent study by the Oxford Martin School concluded that 47 percent of U.S. jobs are at high risk of being taken by smart machines and software in the next two decades” – Friedman again, as above.  And that doesn’t even include those lost to foreign workers.  Let’s work on this one, candidates. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Merits and Drawbacks of a $15 per Hour Minimum for Fast-Food Workers

If the New York Times, Washington Post, and Salon are to be believed, there is a groundswell of support for a federal $15 hourly minimum wage for those working in fast-food restaurants.  Would that be a good idea or a bad one?

Let’s start by looking at some facts. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2012 there were 2,969,300 people in the subcategory “combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food.”  That includes employees in other types of restaurants, but, as we will see, most are in McDonalds and the like.  Also in 2012, those workers received an average of $8.84 per hour, which in another source, a Salon article by Martin Ford, came through as $8.69.  About half of such employees worked part-time in 2012. 

The above statistics are generally consistent and noncontroversial, but, when dealing with the composition of fast-food workers, the sources dramatically part company.  The head of government affairs at the National Restaurant Association claimed in 2013 that over half of them were teenagers.  In contrast, New York governor Andrew Cuomo recently said that 70% were over 20, and, amazingly, over 66% were both raising children and their family’s main breadwinners.  To go higher, Ford’s article claimed 90% aged 20 or older with an average of 35, the second echoed in a Robert Reich Salon column.  Unfortunately, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which could clear up this confusion, has no number of its own.

In addition to their possibly correct view of fast-food workers being older and usually supporting families, the side wanting a higher minimum makes four main points.  The first is that the companies are generally very profitable.  According to The Huffington Post, the two largest fast-food employers, McDonalds and Yum! Brands, the latter including KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, combined for $7 billion net income in an unspecified recent year.  Those two companies have 1.1 million of those 2.9 million American workers, and the next largest eight, Subway, Burger King, Wendy’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Dairy Queen, Sonic, Dominos, and Little Caesars, employ another 1.1 million.  That makes an excellent argument, that fast-food workers, unlike, say, wait staff or short-order cooks, are retained by national companies we have heard of, instead of local places with less profitability. 

The second through fourth points are more debatable.  Reich started a recent column by saying that “a basic moral principle that most Americans agree on is no one who works full time should be in poverty, nor should their family,” phrased carefully but doubtful on further reflection.  He also said that increasing jobs raises demand, which in turn creates more positions:  true, but the end does not justify the means.  And, perhaps most controversially, other articles have claimed that such employers actually cost the federal government money, since some of their workers are eligible for public assistance;  that is demonstrably false, since they have no obligation, legal or otherwise, to provide jobs at all. 

Five ideas are significant to the other side.  First, demand for fast-food work is still strong, with Ford mentioning, in particular, that a 2011 McDonalds effort to hire 50,000 new employees in one day precipitated over 1,000,000 applications, “a ratio that made landing a McJob more of a statistical long shot than getting accepted at Harvard.”  Second, even Cuomo admitted that average pay for fast-food workers had increased after inflation, on average, since 2000.  Third, such positions typically come with free food, which is not counted in wages and can help anyone struggling financially.  Fourth, automation is on the way.  Ford gave an example of a company now developing machines producing hamburgers from beginning to end, cutting well into the $9 billion in annual American burger-making expenses.

Fifth, and maybe the strongest point of all, is this:  Why is $15 per hour going to be enough?  The arguments for that level have been couched in terms of assuring “a living wage.”  But how is $30,000 sufficient for someone, even with no dependents, to live in Manhattan or San Francisco?  If the effort gets what its organizers want, $15 will probably be only the beginning, with higher expectations cancelling much of any perception of improvement. 

So which side has more merit?  I have a strong bias against forcing businesses to do things that would hurt employment, which a forced $15 per hour minimum for almost three million American workers would do to some extent or another.  The same thing goes for two other things Reich also calls for in those columns:  universal child care and paid family and medical leave.  If employers want to provide much higher pay and these other benefits, they are not barred from doing so.  There is a large difference between helping individuals in crisis, by providing liberal food stamp and unemployment benefits to name just two ways, and attacking the interest of companies to provide work, which, during a permanent jobs crisis, is especially damaging.  When we get to the point where existing safety-net measures are not enough, we will need a guaranteed income or other permanent solution, which may be a gigantic upheaval.  It does not help us to impede business’s ability to delay that.  Until then – and it may be a long time until Americans are willing to seriously consider anything strong enough to solve the problem – we need to realize that companies are not our opponents but our partners.  

Friday, May 8, 2015

AJSN: America Reaches Post-Recession Low Job Shortage, Though Still 17.9 Million

I saw two almost conflicting pieces of speculation about the American employment situation this week.  The first was that we might be in a recession, since the economy shrunk last quarter.  The second was a New York Times view that net new jobs created might go back to the mid-200,000’s, where it’s been for most of the past year.  We don’t quite know about the first, but we discovered this morning that the second was correct. 

April’s Bureau of Labor Statistics showed a net gain of 223,000 positions, with the adjusted jobless rate down to 5.4 percent.  The latter, along with the unadjusted figure of 5.1%, reached new post-recession lows.  As did the American Job Shortage Number.

The AJSN dropped, almost entirely due to official unemployment falling.  About 700,000 fewer Americans were technically jobless in April than in March, meaning that, taking the 90% share of them estimated to actually take work if it were readily available, they could consume about 644,000 fewer new open positions.  The 80% portion of those wanting work but not looking in the previous year was down 140,000, but latent demand from those desiring a job without being available now, estimated at 30%, added 44,100 to the AJSN, with the other categories affecting it little. 

Overall, the AJSN came out as follows:

APRIL 2015
Latent Demand %
Latent Demand Total
Family Responsibilities
In School or Training
Ill Health or Disability
Did Not Search for Work In  Previous Year
Not Available to Work Now
Do Not Want a Job
Non-Civilian, Institutionalized, and Unaccounted For, 15+
American Expatriates


The four key secondary numbers were mixed.  The count of Americans officially unemployed for 27 weeks or more fell 100,000 to 2.5 million, the same drop in the number working part-time for economic reasons, or wanting a full-time position but not finding it, now 6.6 million.  The two indicators showing how commonplace working actually is remained similar and range-bound, with civilian labor force participation up 0.1% to 62.8% and the employment to population ratio steady at 59.3%.  Average wages went up a weak 3 cents per hour, or about 1.5% annually.

Compared with April 2014, the AJSN is 839,000 lower.  More than that was from latent demand from those officially jobless, down just over one million, offset slightly mainly by those fillable by American expatriates.    

One thing behind the numbers is particularly important this time.  April is consistently the month with the lowest average unemployment.  That is why the gap between seasonally adjusted and unadjusted figures is so large, with the unadjusted ones such as the AJSN looking better, all things equal, than any other time of the year.  Another item worth considering is that March weather was, generally, unusually bad.  That usually tends to take the edge off both sales and new hires, and push some of each into the next month.

Given these special significances, where are we now?  It was not a bad month, in context, with net job creation making March look like an anomaly.  Yet latent work demand from those not technically unemployed was down only 73,000, meaning that, with the seasonal drop in official joblessness, 60% of readily available jobs would go to those with other statuses.  That also is a post-recession extreme, and calls for public policy to cater more to the needs of other sets of non-working Americans. 

Yes, the turtle did step forward this month.  Not a huge stride, but clearly in the right direction.  Whether its progress is now good enough is for you to decide.      

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Baltimore Riots: We All Lost

The largest reasonably important national news this week has been the riots in Baltimore.  Ostensibly started by the questionably-caused death of citizen Freddie Gray in police custody, they grew into a remarkably widespread attack on not only the law enforcement officers themselves, but on cars, businesses, and others.  Unlike after similar events last year in Ferguson, Missouri, moderate liberals in the press are not apologizing for those destroying property and attacking people.  On Tuesday morning the BBC, in its worldwide Morning Edition and News Hour programs, showed little sympathy for the rioters, with air time going to local people saying things similar to “we’ve built up this city, and they are trying to tear it down – they want it to be better, but they can’t have it both ways.”  The conservative side, headed of course by Fox News, kept more to the facts – reports from the streets, updates about the curfews, and interviews with police and other authority figures.  In the meantime, helped by 2,000 National Guard troops and 1,000 more law enforcement officers, the violence has ran its course.  So what can we say about it?

First, any idea of the rioting being justified protests of the aggrieved is without merit.  Many if not most of the looters were juveniles, so weren’t old enough to have known racial problems as much as they may have thought they did.  Second, the looting and vandalism is without any coherent purpose – it’s more akin to that popping up after significant sports results.  Third, in the case of a localized attack, abstract inequality, or those elsewhere having more money and better opportunities, cannot be to blame. 

On the other side, the lack of jobs is certainly a contributing problem.  In Work’s New Age, I documented how that caused neighborhoods to deteriorate, when people lost the ability to support themselves and their families.  It still does, and the permanent crisis rates to get worse, not better. 

However, the rioters, and their supporters among those now passing for civil rights leaders, had their methodology all wrong.  If there is ever an excuse for rioting, previous actions by the police aren’t it.  Running from the authorities, for people with nothing to immediately worry about, shows execrable judgment.  Those who think they or others have been wronged by the authorities should wait until the immediate situation has ended and then file lawsuits, file formal complaints, talk with the press, and so on.  As for the advantages of action, we can only imagine how much better West Baltimore would be if those stealing, destroying, and injuring were to focus that intensity on working for more jobs instead.  The most effective, longest lasting, and most broadly appealing civil disobedience tactics are the nonviolent ones – a protest march through those same Baltimore streets, coupled by demands on all fronts for an investigation into Gray’s death, would have gathered supporters from all over the political spectrum, along with positive attention from the authorities being questioned.  Americans do not like punks, bullies, and looters, be they running amuck through the streets or wearing blue uniforms, and race is hardly the entire issue.  No matter what else you think, the two wrongs of poor living conditions and street violence do not make a right.

Sadly, almost everybody lost this week in Baltimore.  Innocent car and business owners lost property.  Innocent police officers and other people were injured.  The American racial impasse was cemented even more in place.  Our black President, while properly calling the rioters “thugs” and “criminals” while acknowledging problems with police behavior, managed once again to please neither his base, who wanted him to focus on the latter, nor others, wishing for him to mention only the former.  Our country lost in the eyes of others.  The Al Sharptons, Jesse Jacksons and Cornel Wests may think they profited, but with the common sense view of seeing the rioters as no more than punks carrying the day, they were defeated too.  The thieves and looters, with no prospects of being equated with 1960s freedom riders, will gain only longer criminal records.  Even the Baltimore Orioles ended up moving some of their home games at cost of both local and overall attendance, after, bizarrely, playing one in Camden Yards without spectators.  And the rest of us, wanting civil rights related progress we can support – instead of racial divisiveness, unfair press coverage (where are the stories about whites dying in police custody?), demands to ignore cultural differences at least partially responsible for bad outcomes, and bipartisan acceptance of the jobs crisis as an American problem – came out behind yet again.