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This is the “new normal”

12:19 pm in Economy, Jobs, Unemployment by dakine01

Roadside 'Jobs' sign stuck in an old couch

Photo: Doug Geisler / Flickr

The ADP Report on private sector jobs came out today and showed an increase of 158K jobs. David Dayen at the FDL News Desk discusses this report and the Bureau of Labor Statistics report that will be issued tomorrow morning (Friday, November 2):

Plug this all in and what have you got? The consensus forecast calls for an increase in 125,000 jobs. That would be an increase from last month’s increase of 114,000, but below the increases in July and August (August and September will get revised in the report). This generally matches what we’re seeing in the ancillary reports, and shouldn’t be a number that would arouse joy or sadness in either Presidential campaign. However, with the volatility of last month’s topline unemployment rate, derived from the household survey, I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw it increase from the current level of 7.8%.

Either way, it’s a preliminary report, and we probably shouldn’t put as much weight on it as we will, especially with the political implications headed into the election.

While the weekly report of initial unemployment claims was lower than expected (economists surprised!), even this moderately good news is not all that great.

The reality for many millions of us among the long term un and underemployed is the good jobs just are not there. At the end of August, Catherine Rampell of the NY Times had an article headlined “Majority of New Jobs Pay Low Wages, Study Finds.” As I noted in this post, it was very similar to an earlier post from April ’11 I had written that was based on a Washington Post article. Both the Times article and the Post article were based on reports from the National Employment Law Project.

Sunday in the NY Times, Steven Greenhouse had this article on how employers in retail and hospitality industries use (and abuse) part time workers:

But in two leading industries — retailing and hospitality — the number of part-timers who would prefer to work full-time has jumped to 3.1 million, or two-and-a-half times the 2006 level, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In retailing alone, nearly 30 percent of part-timers want full-time jobs, up from 10.6 percent in 2006. The agency found that in the retail and wholesale sector, which includes hundreds of thousands of small stores that rely heavily on full-time workers, about 3 in 10 employees work part-time….snip…

A 2011 survey of 436 employees at retailers in New York City, as diverse as luxury establishments on Fifth Avenue and dollar stores in the Bronx, found that half of the city’s retail workers were part-time and only one in 10 part-time workers had a set schedule week to week. One-fifth said they always or often had to be available for call-in shifts, according to the survey, which was overseen by researchers at City University of New York.

…snip…

Mr. Flickinger, the retail consultant, said companies benefited from using many part-timers. “It’s almost like sharecropping — if you have a lot of farmers with small plots of land, they work very hard to produce in that limited amount of land,” he said. “Many part-time workers feel a real competition to work hard during their limited hours because they want to impress managers to give them more hours.”

What? Could someone have actually spoken a truth here? The modern day wage slave, complete with sharecropping as the ideal.

While CNN has an article this morning attempting to paint the rosy glasses scenario on how the jobs are not all part time minimum wage, even they have to acknowledge the reality of the lower wage since 24% of the “new” jobs are in hospitality and retail:

Read the rest of this entry →

The Vortex of Stupidity, also known as Washington, DC

4:47 pm in Economy, Government, Jobs by dakine01

A shot of the US Capitol

Just how stupid are they? (Photo: David Flores / Flickr)

I sometimes think that there has to be a crest to the levels of stoopid coming out of Washington, DC but obviously, I am wrong. Just the past two days, Dean Baker at his blog Beat the Press refuted three different pieces of so-called “conventional wisdom” by different members of the Beltway Village Idiots Pundits, Press, and Politicians in good standing.

First up was his having to counter a column from Steven Pearlstein of the Washington Post. Pearlstein says:

Europe is a different story. The bubble years allowed much of Europe to avoid making the kind of structural changes necessary to put its social welfare system on a sustainable fiscal path and reform its labor and product markets. The euro crisis — which is both a banking crisis and a sovereign debt crisis — has forced Europeans to begin addressing those issues.

Baker points out however:

Of course this is completely wrong. The countries with the well developed welfare states, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands are doing fine. The countries that are in crisis, Spain, Greece, Portugal, Ireland, have the least developed welfare states among the older EU countries.

Next up we have a WaPo opinion piece decrying the “looming short fall in public pensions.” Baker points out here:

The pensions are underfunded in part because policymakers would not take seriously those of us who warned that pensions were making overly optimistic assumptions about stock returns before the market crashed. Returns have been well below expectations in the dozen years since the peak of the stock bubble in 2000.

The other reason is that some politicians, like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, think it is really cute to not make the state’s required contribution to the pension fund. Not surprisingly, if states get into the habit of not contributing to their pension fund, as has been the case in some states, then pension funds will be underfunded.

However, it is more than a bit bizarre that we should therefore ripoff the workers who are counting on these pensions. Suppose state and local governments contract with construction companies for road work or hospitals to treat poor people. If the governments don’t put aside the money to pay these contracts would we then think it makes sense to tell the contractors and hospitals to get lost?

Finally, today Baker goes after NPR and Nariman Behravesh, the chief economist of the forecasting firm IHS Global Insight, who thinks that the biggest problem we face is “the deficit”:

Wow, isn’t that impressive. So Europe, China and the rest of the world will be really impressed if the United States throws even more people out of work as long as it reduces its budget deficit! That’s interesting, had it not been for NPR I never would have known people in the rest of the world thought this way.

As one of the 25 Million plus long term un and underemployed Baker mentions in his post, I would like to quote the inimitable Mr Pierce, “Fck the deficit. People got no jobs. People got no money.

David Dayen at FDL News today (Monday, October 22) covered a survey on the wage gap between federal workers and their private industry counterparts. Not so surprisingly, the public sector workers are paid far less than private sector jobs requiring comparable levels of skills and education:

If you compare organized federal employees, many of whom have college degrees, to unorganized service-sector and retail workers, then yes, you will find higher wages in the public sector. But if you do an apples-to-apples comparison between public employees and their private-sector counterparts in related fields, you will find that the public sector is significantly undervalued.

…snip…

You cannot lump together those who clean up the National Mall and those who work on scientific breakthroughs at the National Institute of Health, compare them to the “average worker,” and come up with a legitimate pay scale for federal employees. You have to go sector by sector and find the appropriate comparison in the private sector. And when you do that work, you see that federal employees are underpaid. This has an impact on millions of hard-working Americans, who are forced to take less than their skills would bring them back in the open market, because of a foolish tendency toward austerity and the demonizing of public workers.

Over these past few years, we’ve all seen many articles decrying the “generous pensions and salaries” of public sector workers, whether teachers, fire fighters, EMTs, or police at local levels or scientists at the NIH, NASA, JPL, EPA, or any other federal agency you wish to name.

My question is why?

One of the themes to emerge from this year’s presidential race has been Mitt Romeny’s “infamous” speech at a private fund raiser last May, calling 47% of the US basically moochers and freeloaders because they don’t pay federal income taxes or they receive some level of federal benefits be it Social Security, VA or the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) among others.

But why is it so fashionable to trash people who have earned pensions, earned veterans benefits or Social Security or have used the EITC because of low wages? Shouldn’t we be asking why there are so many people earning such low wages that they don’t even pay a minimum federal income tax? I know for myself, I would dearly love to be earning a salary that would have me paying federal income taxes. Reuters offered this analysis on Friday (October 19):

The number of Americans not owing federal income taxes has been growing since the mid-1980s, and the increase largely stems from expansion of these two tax credits – championed by Republicans from conservative economist Milton Friedman to former President Ronald Reagan.

I want to work in my chosen field, earn a decent wage with benefits and pay my fair share of taxes. Instead, we see the “champions of industry” threatening employees with lay offs should President Obama be re-elected.

Right now, I’m a bit surprised we don’t see more news articles like this one from the AP last Sunday (October 14) about a man attempting to rob a bank of $1 so he could be sent to a Federal Prison. How bad must it be to want to rob a bank so that you can get sent to prison? My guess is the three hots and a cot and health care sounded mighty appealing if the option was starving on the street.

And because I can:

Cross posted from Just A Small Town Country Boy by Richard Taylor

Final Pre-election Jobs Reports

3:23 pm in Economy, Jobs, Unemployment by dakine01

Employment Population Ratio, Participation and Unemployment Rates (calculatedriskblog.com)

This week has seen the final jobs reports that will be available to make a possibly measurable impact prior to November 6. Wednesday’s report from ADP had 162K new private sector jobs. Yesterday’s (Thursday, October 4) Jobless claims report had a slight increase to 367K new jobless claims and 4 week rolling average of 375K new claims. Finally, today’s (Friday, October 5) Bureau of Labor Statistics report has an increase of 114,000 jobs for September and the jobless rate falling to 7.8%.

It seems the fall in the overall unemployment rate has some folks on the right, led by Neutron Jack Welch, claiming the numbers have been cooked. David Dayen at FDL News puts it this way:

Because data is just fungible to the political leanings of whoever confronts it, we predictably saw a number of conservatives question today’s jobs report, suggesting that the Bureau of Labor Statistics fudged the data to help the President’s re-election campaign. Leading this charge was former GE CEO Jack Welch on Twitter. I think the government should make a deal with Welch – they’ll admit to massaging the data if he cleans up all the PCBs in the Hudson River personally.

On a more serious note, this is really pretty outrageous, and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, whose department includes the BLS, is right to be insulted. The BLS is a civil service agency that until recently was still run by a Bush appointee. It now has a career bureaucrat in charge. The political team plays no role whatsoever in the derivation of or announcement of the jobs data. And if, despite all this, BLS cooked the books, they’re terrible at it, because they shifted the data in the household survey without corresponding in the establishment survey.

My WAG on this is that the adjustment of the number of jobs for July and August probably had as much affect on the September jobless rate as the actual numbers for September. As far as I can see, this opinion piece from Jay Schalin at Fox News pretty much covers the basic point of the “unemployment” figures:

One thing the current economic slump has made painfully clear is that the unemployment rate is an imperfect tool for gauging the health of the economy. Washington should replace it with a more meaningful and useful benchmark: the labor-force participation rate.

The widely publicized unemployment rate, eagerly awaited each month by pundits and policy wonks, has become little more than a shell game in which officials keep the public guessing about the real state of the economy.

Please do go and read the entire piece, he makes some excellent points.

One item that I find still glaringly obvious is that for the most part, most of the people in charge or talking about jobs and the economy have no more clue about what is happening than they do about what the surface of the moon feels like. Just the past few days, I have seen these headlines as I have surfed the toobz (links embedded in headlines):

I think the bottom line point here is any attempt to tie jobs reports, favorable or unfavorable, to the stock market is attempting so much witch craft. There IS no connection or the stock market would not be trading. As Reuters reported back in August, the market is up for the Obama administration by 74% since he took office January 2009:

At 1,400, the S&P 500 on Friday was closing in on a four-year high and was up 74 percent since January 20, 2009, the day Obama took office. Not since Dwight Eisenhower’s first term has a president had such a strong run for their first term.

As most folks reading this know, I am and have been among the long term un/underemployed. The reality for me and many millions of others is, we want to work in decent paying jobs, preferably in our chosen career fields. The dithering in DeeCee from both sides of the aisle, the constant calls for cuts to the budget, “Grand Bargains” to “save” Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid (especially the non-existent “Bowles-Simpson” plan since there was no formal report and plan adopted by their namesake committee) personally drives me nuckin’ futz. As Mr Pierce often says, “Fck the deficit. People got no jobs. People got no money.”

It really is a simple concept. People want to work. We want to work at decent paying jobs with halfway decent benefits and contribute to the overall commonweal of the nation. Working two or three part time barely above minimum wage jobs does NOT fit this definition.

And because I can:

Cross posted from Just A Small Town Country Boy by Richard Taylor

How does an interconnected global economy avoid a global recession?

1:04 pm in Economy, Jobs, Unemployment by dakine01

(photo: athoshun/flickr)

(photo: athoshun/flickr)

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As I was surfing through various news sites this morning (April 2), I noticed a number of articles discussing problems with the European and US economies which lead directly to the question I have posed in the title of this post:

How does an interconnected global economy avoid a global recession?

Unfortunately, I do not know the answer but if I had to guess, it would be to say “It can’t.”

The first article I noticed was from tha AP via Yahoo titled, “Euro unemployment spikes to record 10.8 percent.” Reuters reported it as “Euro zone unemployment reaches near 15 year high“:

Unemployment in the euro zone reached its highest level in almost 15 years in February, with more than 17 million people out of work, and economists said they expected job office queues to grow even longer later this year.

Joblessness in the 17-nation currency zone rose to 10.8 percent – in line with a Reuters poll of economists – and 0.1 points worse than in January, Eurostat said on Monday.

Economists are divided over the wisdom of European governments’ drive to bring down fiscal deficits so aggressively as economic troubles hit tax revenues, consumers’ spending power and business confidence which collapsed late last year.

As a companion to these was this blog post from Reuters on youth unemployment across Europe: Read the rest of this entry →

Bernanke wrings his hands on jobs. Market reacts favorably.

4:43 pm in Economy, Jobs, Unemployment by dakine01

(photo: Old Sarge/flickr)

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So. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke gave a speech this morning.:

My remarks today will focus on recent and prospective developments in the labor market. We have seen some positive signs on the jobs front recently, including a pickup in monthly payroll gains and a notable decline in the unemployment rate. That is good news. At the same time, some key questions are unresolved. For example, the better jobs numbers seem somewhat out of sync with the overall pace of economic expansion. What explains this apparent discrepancy and what implications does it have for the future course of the labor market and the economy?

Importantly, despite the recent improvement, the job market remains far from normal; for example, the number of people working and total hours worked are still significantly below pre-crisis peaks, while the unemployment rate remains well above what most economists judge to be its long-run sustainable level. Of particular concern is the large number of people who have been unemployed for more than six months. Long-term unemployment is particularly costly to those directly affected, of course. But in addition, because of its negative effects on workers’ skills and attachment to the labor force, long-term unemployment may ultimately reduce the productive capacity of our economy.

Once again, it seems to be a speech that depends on the individual perspective as to the take-away. David Dayen at FDL News titled it “The “Better But Not Good Enough” Economy Conundrum” and it follows a pattern from earlier speeches. Last June, I wrote a post after a Benbernank speech that appeared to be at least four different speeches, depending on the spin. Getting it down to only two spins is a bit better. The problem I have with Bernanke and his speeches is that while he talks about the problems of the long term un and underemployed, he never really seems to get around to doing anything about it, even while “pursuit of maximum employment” is part of the stated Federal Reserve mission.

While it appears that the folks on Wall Street and the various stock exchanges loved Bernanke’s speech, it has been obvious to anyone paying attention that Wall Street and the various stock exchanges don’t really have much of a connection to the real world economies. As Dayen notes in his post: Read the rest of this entry →

Is the Greece Crisis a Preview of Coming Attractions?

4:39 pm in Economy by dakine01

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Let me start this by stating right up front that I do not pay near enough attention to happenings around the world and the Greek debt crisis is just one of those issues that I am aware of without really knowing all the ins and outs of the situation.

Nevertheless, I saw a headline this weekend that has me in full on WTF mode. Saturday morning a NY Times headline said “Greek Premier Faces Impasse Over Demand to Cut Private Wages.”:

ATHENS — Lucas Papademos faced his most difficult test as Greece’s interim prime minister on Friday when his three-month-old government reached an impasse over proposed demands by the country’s foreign lenders to reduce private-sector wages drastically in exchange for the aid the country needs to prevent default.

Now, I can understand why lenders would demand wage cuts for Public Sector employees. I can think it is incredibly stupid, short-sighted, and penalizing the wrong group of people but I can understand the logic behind it. But Euro zone leaders and banks requiring private sector wage cuts before restructuring debt for Greece just makes no sense at all.

A bit further down in the article though I do get a small hint here:

It was unclear exactly what sort of wage cuts the troika was demanding. Some news reports said the lenders were seeking changes that would reduce most private-sector salaries by as much as 25 percent; others said the group was insisting on a cut in the minimum wage that, at least directly, would affect fewer than 300,000 people.

The goal of any pay cuts would be to help make Greek workers, who are generally less productive than workers elsewhere in Europe, able to compete more effectively inside the euro zone, where countries share a common currency that does not allow devaluations to help even out differences in labor costs.

My bold. And I think that is the goal right there. Cut minimum wage. Read the rest of this entry →

Only MOTUs and Banksters get TARPs.

8:18 am in Uncategorized by dakine01

No Tarp for you, Hippy!! (Photo: raptortheangel, flickr)

No Tarp For You, Hippy!! (Photo: raptortheangel, flickr)


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So there I was this morning, having completed my daily check for jobs in my chosen field of Software Quality Assurance and Testing (I do wish it would take longer than five minutes as that would mean there are actually some improvements in the economy but such is life), when I reached the NY Times and saw this article with the headline from Mayor Bloomberg that “‘Tent City’ Goes Beyond Free Speech”:

“The Constitution doesn’t protect tents,” he said at a news conference in Queens. “It protects speech and assembly.”

The mayor expressed concern that those exercising a “right to be silent” might be getting drowned out amid the din of the protests.

“We can’t have a place where only one point of view is allowed,” he said. “There are places where I think it’s appropriate to express yourself, and there are other places that are appropriate to set up Tent City. They don’t necessarily have to be one and the same.”

A quick check of der Google shows that a lot of elected officials in places such as Durham, NC, Hennepin Co, MN, Seattle, WA, San Francisco and even Sydney, Australia are apparently in full agreement with Mayor Bloomberg. In fact, in this quick check, it was only Hartford, CT that did not seem to think tents and Tarps are the cause of the decline of Western Civilization. (I’m sure there are other cities fighting the use of tents and tarps and there may even be a couple of others allowing them besides Hartford). Read the rest of this entry →

Regulations Are an Opportunity for Job Creating Innovation

1:41 pm in Uncategorized by dakine01

"Opportunity Center" by {Guerrilla Futures | Jason Tester} on flickr

"Opportunity Center" by {Guerrilla Futures | Jason Tester} on flickr

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It is an article of faith among Republicans (and far too many Democrats) that all those pesky “regulations” are to blame for the lack of jobs today and the ongoing economic slowdown. Just the first of this month, McClatchy had an article where they had surveyed small business owners across the country and the consensus was that in fact regulations are not the problem for small business but lack of demand is:

When it’s asked what specific regulations harm small businesses _which account for about 65 percent of U.S. jobs — the Chamber of Commerce points to health care, banking and national labor. Yet all these issues weigh much more heavily on big corporations than on small business. 

…snip…

None of the business owners complained about regulation in their particular industries, and most seemed to welcome it. Some pointed to the lack of regulation in mortgage lending as a principal cause of the financial crisis that brought about the Great Recession of 2007-09 and its grim aftermath.

…snip…

Other small firms say their problem is simply a lack of customers.

My bold and I think we see where the folks complaining about regulations are really coming from. While the small businesses are struggling to make traction and find customers, the big businesses are squeezing every penny out of their operations in order to meet the quarterly demands of Wall St. Read the rest of this entry →

Political Posturing Versus Reality

10:32 am in Uncategorized by dakine01

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This morning (Wednesday, June 22) David Dayen at FDL News reports that the entire Senate Democratic leadership is getting behind a jobs/stimulus push:

The Senate Democratic leadership – all of them, Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, Patty Murray, Debbie Stabenow and Mark Begich – planned a morning press conference today where they will call for job creation measures, or stimulus, to be included in any debt limit deal.

This follows a report from Politico on Sunday:

Fearing the economy may be getting worse, Democrats plan to soon unveil what they’ll call a “Jobs First” agenda — and the stakes are high. A bleak economic outlook, like the May jobs report, could cost Democrats their thin Senate majority and even the White House if they can’t make a strong case to an anxious electorate that their policies will create jobs.

Senate Democrats are now grappling with ways to gain an edge in the economic debate dominated by budget talk. For instance, in an attempt to woo Republicans, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and the White House are open to extending a payroll tax break to stimulate the economy, but that has spawned unease from Democratic senators such as Maryland’s Ben Cardin who worry that it would drive up the deficit and unnerve liberals such as Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, who are concerned it would deplete the Social Security trust fund.

While the Politico piece reinforces for me the idea of the Dems actions as just so much posturing, so does this, also from the Dayen piece:

There’s a sense that this is mainly rhetorical. Democrats have seen Republicans obstruct even the most piddling of jobs bills in the Senate. Yesterday the reauthorization of the Economic Development Administration, an old Great Society program, failed to break a filibuster.

This article from today’s Washington Post on Senate Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad’s claim that $2 trillion in spending cuts is not enough tends to reinforce the believe that it is posturing:

The debt-reduction package emerging in talks between the White House and congressional leaders would not “fundamentally change” the alarming rate of growth in the national debt, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee said Tuesday.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said the goal of slicing more than $2 trillion from the federal budget by 2021 falls far short of the savings needed to stabilize borrowing, reenergize the economy and avert the threat of a debt crisis.

As we all know, Conrad is one of the Gang of Six Five Thieves Deficit Hawks who doesn’t quite seem to comprehend that creating jobs would go a long way to addressing those long term deficit problems through increased tax revenues across all aspects of the economy. Even Wall St Journal and Bloomberg/Business Week columnists have come out this week and stated that jobs are the most serious issue of all today. Now, I don’t know of anyone who would perceive that the folks at either of these as being “card carrying members of the professional left” yet both are pointing out the fallacies of the current political discourse.
Read the rest of this entry →

The Beltway Fantasy Land In Operation

7:11 pm in Economy, Government, Jobs, Media, Unemployment by dakine01

Unicorn

Unicorn by goodevilgenius, on Flickr

It is almost impossible for me to freshly describe the ongoing disconnect between what we see and hear coming out of the mouths of people in and around the Beltway Village and the facts on the ground for the rest of the country. I won’t say that they must be on drugs because I’ve used drugs and I never was as far away from reality as the Beltway Village Idiots Pundits, Politicians, and Courtiers. They just live inside a fantasy bubble. It might be acceptable if the decisions they make each day didn’t have such negative consequences for the rest of us.

The Initial Unemployment Claims report for last week came out today (Thursday April 28), and guess what? It surprised the economists. From Reuters:

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits jumped 25,000 to a seasonally adjusted 429,000, up from a slightly upwardly revised 404,000 the preceding week, the Labor Department said. Economists polled by Reuters were expecting claims to slip to 392,000 from the previously reported 403,000.

Of course, usually the surprise is the claims didn’t fall as much as expected but today the claims went in the totally opposite direction than the predictions. Yet some of them refuse to give up their pre-conceived notions as AP quotes a Deutsche Bank economist that it is just “technical factors.”

Well, those “technical factors” include the US economy growing at 1.8% for the first quarter of the year. From the NY Times:

American economic expansion slowed to a crawl in the first quarter, but economists are hopeful that the setback will be temporary. Total output grew at an annual rate of 1.8 percent from January through March, the Commerce Department said Thursday, after expanding at a 3.1 percent pace in the fourth quarter of 2010.

When the year began, economists expected a more robust growth rate of about 4 percent, only to be barraged by bad report after bad report. Turmoil in the Middle East led to higher oil prices, which had already been climbing because of increased demand in emerging markets like China. Housing sales dropped sharply. Winter blizzards closed businesses and delayed construction, causing investments in nonresidential structures like office buildings to fall 21.7 percent from the previous quarter. Imports, which are subtracted from gross domestic product, surged. Military spending sank.

There are all sorts of ready-made excuses for the economists as to why the slow growth, however there were two other stories in the news today that tell me far more about where the economy is today than any of the economic predictions.

First up is this report via CNN:

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Wal-Mart’s core shoppers are running out of money much faster than a year ago due to rising gasoline prices, and the retail giant is worried, CEO Mike Duke said Wednesday.

…snip…

Wal-Mart shoppers, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck, typically shop in bulk at the beginning of the month when their paychecks come in.

…snip…

Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500), which averages 140 million shoppers weekly to its stores in the United States, is considered a barometer of the health of the consumer and the economy.

To that end, Duke said he’s not seeing signs of a recovery yet.

Read the rest of this entry →