Friday, July 26, 2019

Assorted Jobs Topics: Five Shots, All Lined Up

Straight, no chaser:

The May 18th New York Times included KJ Dell’Antonia’s “How High School Ruined Leisure.”  The author is a novelist, but this story was hardly fiction.  It showed us more about how we are implementing what in the 20th century could have been called the Japanese model:  very difficult high school followed by much easier college, and subsequent professional opportunities often circumscribed by the university attended.  Dell’Antonia correctly described what were once called extracurricular activities, often in sports or music, as the students’ de facto careers, making these ventures no longer “leisure,” and could have cited Mark Twain describing work as “whatever a body is obliged to do.”  After the former great structuredness of their lives, young people often arrive in college with no idea of what they really like to do when taking a break from preparing for their futures, so will need to develop that life skill.

A question for 2019, “What even is a data-obsessed, project-juggling digital ninja?,” was the subtitle of a piece in the June Atlantic.  Here in “America’s Job Listings Have Gone Off the Deep End,” author Amanda Mull chronicled “the obnoxious state of the modern job listing,” with perplexing and intense-seeming requirements of which the above are only a few examples.  I stopped off after a page or so to wonder if employers could really identify whether a prospective worker, or even someone on the job, was an “online warrior” or had “a passion for incredible customer service,” then saw the real problem with this sort of thing, that they are going to end up with a heavy share of the applicants they want the most, those young and male.  It is sad that, in an age where bogus accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and so on are almost ubiquitous, the true discrimination here, until this article, has gone unnoticed.  This is old wine in a new bottle, with ever more shameless emphasis on workaholism, and, if as Mull finished, top salaries and flexible labor practices are still lacking, ultimately “few people” will “seem to want to do the duties of a rock star if they’re not going to get paid like one.”

Eric Ravenscraft, in the June 5th New York Times, broached an issue I have called a real problem with setting minimum legal pay rates, “What a ‘Living Wage’ Actually Means.”  He started with understatement, writing that “the definition” of that “can get muddy,” then told those somehow unaware that different geographical areas require different amounts of money.  The piece was biased toward a high base living standard, and did not touch the reality of people having varying wants or even needs, but I was glad to see this headline.

A June 6th Niskanen Center piece, the basis for a related Salon article, considered “The Economics of a Job Guarantee: Wage and Employment Effects.”  Author Ed Dolan might have been channeling my AJSN when he named as the first point in favor of assured employment “a gap between the number of people now working and the number who would work if jobs were available at a living wage.”  Also the “pay gap,” any difference between what employers are offering and the most they could, and “a public service gap,” or the value of tasks that people working such jobs would do above what they would cost.  Although Dolan, through his selection of sources, made some rather fanciful statements such as companies having “business models that require that their workers live in abject poverty” and “the minimum wage has little or no discernible effect on the employment prospects of low-wage workers,” he considered possible problems, such as a too-high guaranteed starting wage rate pulling away low-paid government workers, and acknowledged that, much or most of the time, the public service gap would be negative.  His muted conclusion that “there are many reasons to question how large a role guaranteed jobs should play” constituted an objection from the left, which does not bode well for this idea.

Did you know that, per The Motley Fool’s Daniel B. Kline, in USA Today on June 9th, “many Americans have had a work spouse”?  Kline used that phrase to describe strong workplace friendships with people of “the gender you’re attracted to,” which he found that 44% of men and a hair over half of women have had.  While most have told their romantic partners about their work spouses, many have also lied, and it has been common for such pairings to “lead to full-blown emotional affairs” and, not rarely, even to physical ones.  It is adaptive for people to form personal or semi-personal relationships at a place where people spend much of their time, but the real problem is that the closer and therefore more effective they are, the greater the danger.  So, unless you are unattached or your relationship is open, watch your step here. 

That’s it – no bar bill either.

Friday, July 19, 2019

The Next 11 Years in United States Jobs: McKinsey Looks at Automation

This past week I was thoughtfully informed of a report that came out earlier this month.  McKinsey Global Institute, and especially authors Susan Lund, James Manyika, Liz Hilton Segel, André Dua, Bryan Hancock, Scott Rutherford, and Brent Macon, issued “The future of work in America: People and places, today and tomorrow.”  Despite the more general title, the 28-page paper was limited to the projected effects of automation through 2030, but ended with a section framing courses of action. 

After an introduction in which the authors, to their great credit, mentioned the need to have “more inclusive growth” around the country, they presented five section titles to be fleshed out.  The first, “local economies have been on diverging trajectories for years,” when documented with assignment of almost every American city or its county into 13 “archetypes,” surprised me with how small the differences actually were, with the largest gap, between the 11 “small powerhouses” (e.g. Bend, Oregon and Charleston, South Carolina) and the about 1,000 widespread counties of “distressed Americana,” between a 16% 2007-2017 jobs gain and a 5% loss.  A chart showed the progression or regression of jobs in five of these groups, along with the overall average – while each lost positions between 2007 and 2009, the “high-growth hubs” and “megacities” rebounded and then some, but the poorest 1,000 have only a barely upward-sloping line from 2009 to 2017, showing that they had not recovered from the Great Recession.  One problem with the authors’ classification system is that city and county inclusion came from after-the-fact jobs progress, not original definitions, which accentuated differences; we could not have anticipated, for example, which 192 counties would be named “rural outliers” which “have found some success with tourism or mining and energy.”  Per the article, Americans are not relocating in large numbers for better job opportunities from the least prosperous places; that is probably for two reasons beyond the community-ties one the authors mentioned, that they could not anticipate which cities and counties would do the best, and that they were not confident that opportunities there would be long-lasting. 

The second section, “automation will not be felt evenly across places or occupational categories,” was mainly an updated view of the focus of my 2013 Choosing a Lasting Career and various works since then.  The authors said, correctly in my assessment, that “what lies ahead is not a sudden robot takeover but a period of ongoing, and perhaps accelerated, change in how work is organized and the mix of jobs in the economy.”  They also mentioned that while “less than 5 percent of occupations can be automated in their entirety, but within 60 percent of jobs, at least 30 percent of activities could be automated by adapting currently demonstrated technologies,” important since the largest mechanization threat to employment is not entire positions going away, but employers cutting workers by reorganizing workloads, automating portions where that is possible and leaving humans with the tasks machines cannot do.  I also add that mechanizing is often not as cost-effective in less populous areas with fewer opportunities, and so will often be slower there.  The authors held that “the hollowing out of middle-wage jobs” could continue, and forecasted “strong job growth in healthcare (yes), STEM occupations (I still disagree), creative fields (not sure), and business services (until individual ones become automatable).”  For better or worse, a chart showing mechanization exposure by field projected no effect from driverless vehicles.

Section 3, “in the decade ahead, local economies could continue to diverge,” dealt with new positions being concentrated, in particular with 60% of 2030 employment growth going to “25 megacities and high-growth hubs (e.g. Austin, Charlotte, and Las Vegas), plus their peripheries,” and included a projection that rural counties in general could see no net employment increase.  The fourth section, “less educated workers are most likely to be displaced, while the youngest and oldest workers face unique challenges,” found that those with high school or lower schooling are still the most vulnerable to automation.  One fine insight was that many of the jobs people have often used to start careers, especially in retail and food service, “are the very roles that automation could phase out,” and that older workers, heading toward retirement, will often be pushed their earlier.

The final segment, “local business leaders, policy makers, and educators will need to work together to chart a new course,” while necessarily unspecific, provided an outline of how to deal best with automation.  Its four subsections were: “connecting workers with new opportunities,“ mentioning somehow-cheaper urban housing, relocation tax credits, and “new digital tools” as solutions; “retraining workers and providing lifelong learning,” suggesting enlarging and geographically expanding skill-teaching programs (most likely with special emphasis on online and community college curricula);  “creating tailored economic development strategies to boost job creation” including the critical need for high-speed Internet access everywhere, and for areas to take stock of what assets they have; and “supporting workers,” not detailed much except for the idea of portable benefits, which is a dead letter for most low-income employees as they have few of any kind.  In a final paragraph, Lund et al. noted that “the challenge is not fighting against technology but preparing US workers to succeed alongside it.”

Overall, how do I evaluate “The Future of Work in America”?  It was excellent in general.  It had sober conclusions and estimates.  My disagreements were generally minor and expected.  While closely related to Choosing a Lasting Career, its audience was not workers but those influencing public policy.  It would have profited from addressing the gap between having specific job skills and actually being hired.  It could easily be expanded to book length, and further efforts could go in many different directions.  In the meantime, though, its strength at communicating and provoking thoughts about its overall message, which I took as “it’s a lot of work to get enough jobs,” means it belongs in the hands, or on the computers, of every pertinent city and county official in the nation. 

Friday, July 12, 2019

U.S. Soccer Team Pay Differences – Sex Discrimination Yet Again?

One topic I have written on several times is different average earnings between men and women.  My first such post was from March 2015, in which I explained that while most women had the same career attitudes as most men, the share of those making choices reducing their earnings was significantly greater, and a variety of statistics, such as 94% dying on the job being male, bore that out.  The piece, which has had over 6,000 views, is at  This January, hoping to get people to understand how the pattern could cause an illusion of heavier sex discrimination than exists, I released a fable putting the same situation into otherworldly terms, at 

Over the past several years, those writing on the income difference have, indeed, looked for other reasons.  Stephen J. Dubner’s “The True Story of the Gender Pay Gap,” (Freakonomics, January 7, 2016), was a compendium of possible alternative explanations, but including some constructive passages on less-known unfairness, such as behind-screen auditions increasing hiring of female symphony orchestra musicians.  My viewpoint came out in “Don’t Buy Into the Gender Pay Gap Myth” (Forbes, April 12th, 2016), in which, to show the entrenchedness of the perception of discrimination, author Karen Agness Lips added a story of “a group of 70 undergraduate women at Harvard,” when asked if they thought they would earn 78% of men’s pay, most indicated yes.  In the May 13th, 2017 New York Times, Claire Cain Miller opined that “The Gender Pay Gap Is Largely Because of Motherhood,” and named reasons among the 11 figures I had presented in the post above.  After a flurry of August-September 2017 writing about Google’s efforts to increase the share of women in technical positions (for example “Push for Gender Equality in Tech?  Some Men Say It’s Gone Too Far,” in the September 23rd New York Times), we had another piece similar to mine, in Mary Katharine Ham’s April 10, 2018 The Federalist “Equal Pay Day Hype Ignores The Facts and Women’s Feelings About The Workplace.”  Overall, some commentators are getting the message that even if two-thirds of women are getting 100% of men’s average earnings due to their willingness to put in as many hours, choose less comfortable and convenient jobs, work as late into life, and so on, the remaining one-third is more than enough to create the illusion that all women are routinely paid less.  

Yet, that is not all.  I have since seen many articles looking for pay-gap reasons beyond unfair treatment or differing choices, which is healthy.  On the other side, though, was a recent pack-journalism effort.  From the beginning of the Women’s World Cup soccer tournament, reporting of the United States Women’s National Team was intense and pervasive.  It surprised me, since the team was already familiar with success, having won the event three times, including its last running in 2015.  As the event progressed the stories became more and more political, focusing on how much the players earned instead of on their on-field skill, and after they again won it all the coverage became editorial, advocating paying them “equally” to the far-less-successful men’s team. 

There are problems with that.  In the July 8th Washington Post, Meg Kelly dug into the situation with “Are U.S. women’s soccer players earning less than men?”  She found three things not covered by others.  First was that the women’s and men’s teams are, strangely enough, hard to compare financially, as the teams have made “different collective-bargaining agreements,” which included men getting only performance and number-of-games bonuses and women receiving salaries but smaller bonuses.  Second, fully half of the income of the paying organization, the U.S. Soccer Federation, comes from sponsorships, which include television rights and are often sold “as a bundle,” with men’s and women’s teams both included.  Third, the World Cup’s parent company, Fédération Internationale de Football Association or FIFA, pays prize money to national groups for success, but its total amounts are $400 million for men and $30 million for women.

With the media blitz, it is certain that the USSF women’s team has gained fans.  Will they now be as lucrative as the men’s?  I doubt it.  Of three other sports in which the sexes have long played professionally and separately at high levels, tennis, golf, and basketball, men’s event attendances and TV audiences have always been much higher.  College basketball is not even as close.  There are certainly exceptions within countries, but we’ll see how much, and how quickly, the money wants to follow.  In the meantime, we can’t forget that jobs of all kinds pay according to the cash value of their employees.  That is not discrimination.   

Friday, July 5, 2019

June’s Employment Report: With Big Hiring, Looks Like No Recession, but AJSN, Up to 16.4 Million, Says Latent Job Demand is Still a Problem

As May’s job growth lagged, this morning’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Summary was especially important.  A subpar gain in the number of Americans working, when results insufficient to cover population growth have long been rare, would mean two in a row.  But we didn’t get that.  We exceeded the published projections of 160,000 and 168,000 to add 224,000 net new nonfarm positions, putting us back on the beam.

Other numbers were mixed.  The adjusted unemployment rate edged up 0.1% to 3.7%, with the unadjusted figure seasonally way up, gaining 0.4% to 3.8%.  There are now 6.0 million adjusted jobless, up 100,000, including 1.4 million out for 27 weeks or longer which grew the same amount.  The count of those working part-time for economic reasons, or holding on to less than full-time positions while unsuccessfully seeking longer-hours ones, fell 100,000 to 4.3 million, an especially strong result following last month’s 300,000 decline.  The two measures of how common it is for Americans to be working, the labor force participation rate and the employment-population ratio, gained 0.1% and broke even, and are now at 62.8% and 60.6% respectively.  The average private nonfarm payroll wage matched last month’s slightly-above-inflation 9 cents per hour increase, and is now at $27.83.

The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, the metric showing how many additional positions could be quickly filled if all knew that getting one was easy and routine, gained 800,000, as follows:

The AJSN’s increase, mostly due to the difference between May and June (it is not seasonally adjusted), came mostly from official unemployment, but was pushed along by more people reporting they wanted to work but did not look for it for a year or more.  The share of the AJSN from those technically jobless was 34.5%, up 2.8% from May’s record low and also a seasonal outcome.  Compared with June 2018, the AJSN is now half a million lower, almost completely from higher official unemployment. 

How did we do?  Clearly we’re about where we were a few months ago, with May’s poor net-new-jobs result now looking random or caused by temporary factors.  We’re still gaining positions, but more people are looking for them, with a 1.5 million drop in those claiming no work interest and more discouraged.  Once more, we can’t fail to notice that the categories of marginal attachment, the second through eighth rows on the chart above, have stopped improving.  Still, we have less to worry about than a month ago.  The turtle took a small step forward.