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August 2013 Jobs Report: “Good” News That Isn’t

11:27 am in Economy, Jobs, Unemployment by dakine01

Well the August Jobs Reports are in, and, as usual, the numbers were not as expected. From Reuters:

Unemployment Report

Unemployment Report

U.S. employers hired fewer workers than expected in August and the jobless rate hit a 4-1/2 year low as Americans gave up the search for work, complicating the Federal Reserve’s decision on whether to scale back its massive monetary stimulus this month.

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 169,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department said on Friday, falling short of the 180,000 Wall Street had expected and adding to signs that economic growth may have slowed a bit in the third quarter.

CNN points out that the growth for June and July was revised downwards by 74K jobs but they also highlighted (my bold):

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate fell to 7.3%, but the decline came for the wrong reasons, as 312,000 people dropped out of the labor force. Only 63.2% of Americans now participate in the labor force — meaning they have a job or are looking for one. That’s the lowest rate since August 1978.

Reuters also notes the drop in participation in the workforce in a sidebar article here:

The share of Americans aged 25 to 54 who had jobs or were looking for work dipped to 81 percent in August, the lowest level since 1984, a time when fewer women were in the workforce. In another worrisome sign, the share of these prime-age workers who actually had jobs has stagnated at around 76 percent since early last year, well below its 2003-2007 average of around 79 percent.

Most of the reports in TradMed outlets have also commented on the impact of the (lack of) jobs reports on the Federal Reserve “stimulus” (from McClatchy):

The Fed has been purchasing, at a pace of $85 billion a month, government and mortgage bonds in a bid to drive down lending rates in the economy and force risk taking by investors. They must seek better returns than they have been getting on bonds, thus juicing the stock market and commodities such as crude oil and a range of farm products. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, who is concluding his term, wants to begin weaning the economy off of this support before his successor takes over.

Of course, this “stimulus” has not really helped the millions of long term un and underemployed, even though a large part of the Federal Reserve “mission” is maximizing employment.

The stock market continues to show its disconnect with most of the economy as it has gone up in response to the jobs report number (via Bloomberg):

U.S. stocks rose to a two-week high as slower-than-forecast jobs growth eased concern about reductions in Federal Reserve stimulus, overshadowing an escalation in tension between America and Russia over Syria.

So, because the Fed may not be able to stop its “stimulus” (read: easy money for the banksters and Wall St), stocks are going up in celebration. Yeah, that makes sense. After all, the casinos always like to show their appreciation for the marks customers.

Bloomberg has an opinion piece up by a Justin Wolfers, who says to concentrate on the revisions. Of course, he also seems to think public sector jobs are not “real” jobs when it comes to the economy:

There is one further detail worth emphasizing. While there were 74,000 jobs revised away this month, more than half were in the public sector, suggesting that we shouldn’t be too hasty in marking down expectations of ongoing private-sector employment growth.

Now, I am one of those who refuses to give up my search for full time employment, preferably in my chosen field of Software Quality Assurance. I am a stubborn SoB and even when I keep receiving discouraging results, I will not fold. I’m sure many people would claim that I am being unrealistic in my desires to find work in my field. But am I any more unrealistic than the CEO of Morgan Stanley who declares:

Read the rest of this entry →

Jobs and Social Security

8:44 am in Economy, Financial Crisis, Jobs, Media, Politics, Social Security, Unemployment by dakine01

Job forms

Unemployment is up a fraction of a percent.

The January Jobs reports are out and for once, there is a modicum of (somewhat) good news. The Labor Department reported 157K new jobs for January 2013 and significantly revised both November and December 2012 numbers upwards:

Employers added 157,000 jobs in January, the Labor Department said, which was right in line with analyst expectations. The best news, though, was that revised estimates put job creation in November and December much higher than earlier estimated; the nation added a whopping 247,000 jobs in November and 196,000 in December, revisions that place those numbers a combined 127,000 jobs above earlier estimates.

The unemployment rate ticked up to 7.9 percent, from 7.8 percent, however, as both the number of people reporting having a job and the number looking for one edged up.

I’m sure we will hear a lot about how the January figures were “…right in line with analyst expectations” given how they are usually “surprised” that their predictions are wrong.

The .1% uptick in the unemployment rate (from 7.8% to 7.9% is not all that much of a surprise – or shouldn’t be – if the economy truly is improving after all these years. The BLS U6 figure for the un/underemployed and marginally attached folks was unchanged at 14.4% (a figure that I believe is low but can’t prove). Bloomberg reported the jobs news as:

Sustained hiring gains will give incomes a lift, buffering American workers from the sting of higher payroll taxes and helping them keep spending. At the same time, bigger employment advances are needed to drive down a jobless rate that Federal Reserve officials say is too high.

We can but hope Bloomberg is correct in this analysis that incomes will be lifted.

This past Wednesday, ADP reported 192K private sector jobs for January (versus 166K reported by BLS – see Bloomberg link).

One of the areas that seems to escape a lot of notice is how the jobs reports impacts the Social Security Trust Fund. Bloomberg touches on this with the mention of higher wages offsetting “…the sting of higher payroll taxes” but still seems to miss how higher employment will provide more funds to keep Social Security running without needing to be “fixed.”

Of course, this in no way will stop people like Robert Samuelson of the Washington Post from offering up his fantasy of cutting Social Security as part of a “sequestration”:

To be effective, a sequester has to hit millions of Americans so hard that, if it took effect, mobs of outraged voters would storm Capitol Hill.

Here’s my modest proposal to do that. Unless congressional negotiators agreed on at least $1 trillion in deficit cuts over a decade — personally, I’d go higher — then the desired amount would be raised in two ways: half from across-the-board income-tax increases and half from across-the-board Social Security cuts. People would see their take-home pay and retiree benefits reduced. There would be no mystery.

…snip…

It won’t happen. Truth in journalism: I have proposed this before. There were no takers. It would astonish me if there were any now. But the point is that there is a path to agreement. The fact that our so-called leaders don’t take it reflects their calculation that disagreeing is better politics.

Thankfully, he has had no takers so he has a sad

Allison Linn at NBC News offers a counter to Samuelson and his gibberish with this report of a survey with results that fly in the face of so much Beltway Conventional Wisdom:

Read the rest of this entry →

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

Economists try to explain why they were wrong on March jobs forecasts

10:49 am in Economy, Jobs by dakine01

Percent Job Losses in Post WWII Recessions, calculatedriskblog.com

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Once again, the economic community is scrambling to find the reasons why they were suprised by the March 2012 jobs report. The monthly report from ADP had private sector jobs at 209K increase for March 2012 which apparently led many economists to predict a similar number for the official report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that was released on Friday.

Oops. Wrong again.

We have been seeing stories such as this from today’s NY Times about the “strong” jobs growth from earlier this year:

Although signs pointed to a strengthening economy earlier this year, the jobs report on Friday came with a message: don’t get ahead of yourself.

The country’s employers added a disappointing 120,000 jobs in March, about half the net gains posted in each of the preceding three months. The unemployment rate, which comes from a separate survey of households rather than employers, slipped to 8.2 percent, from 8.3 percent, as a smaller portion of the population looked for work.

120K jobs is not much more than is necessary to maintain the status quo of population growth (90K is the figure Dean Baker uses) and even 200K, while growing, does not appreciably put a dent in the long term un and underemployment rates. When there are 13M to 14M unemployed and 25M to 30M un and underemployed, 200K jobs is just not going to help all that much.

Surprisingly to me, the Benbernank may have been more realistic than many others (via Bloomberg.) Of course, the article goes on to quote Fed regional presidents as saying that the numbers, no matter how soft, probably won’t cause the Fed to actually, you know, do something to ease the un and underemployment problem. No matter that a primary part of the stated Federal Reserve Mission statement is to pursue “maximum” employment.

It does appear that the consensus being reported is to blame the warm weather from January and February for the lighter number for March. Here’s Dean Baker’s take: Read the rest of this entry →

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 →

I really do want to believe in the economy…

2:56 pm in Uncategorized by dakine01

I want to believe (photo: xyotiogyo, flickr)

I want to believe (photo: xyotiogyo, flickr)

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In the coming up on two years that I have been writing about the economy, jobs, un and underemployment at this little corner of the Intertoobz, I’ve tried to admit when my predictions have been a bit off. Like here and here where last summer I predicted we would be in a double-dip recession by the end of 2011. While we didn’t fall back into recession on the time frame I envisioned, I still see it as quite possible.

I do hope I get to admit being wrong on that. I so very much want to believe the economy is really improving and the jobs picture will brighten but I just can’t shake the feeling that it is all smoke and mirrors.

Today, (Thursday, January 19), the report of Initial Jobless Claims for last week came out and once again, the economists are surprised. Via Bloomberg:

Claims plunged by 50,000 to 352,000 in the week ended Jan. 14, the lowest level since April 2008, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 41 economists in a Bloomberg News survey projected 384,000. A Labor Department spokesman said the decrease reflected volatility seen during this time of year. The four-week average, which smoothes out fluctuations, decreased to 379,000 last week from 382,500.

…snip…

Jobless claims were projected to decrease from 399,000 initially reported for the prior week, according to the Bloomberg survey. Estimates ranged from 363,000 to 405,000. The Labor Department revised the previous week’s figure up to 402,000.

I am not at all surprised that last week’s figures were revised upwards as that is the pattern over the last few months at least. I did not make an official prediction but will admit that I thought this week’s number would be back well above 400K. Once again, I do prefer to be wrong on these.

But then I see articles across the Toobz like this from Tuesday from US News (via Yahoo) with the headline “Are We Entering a Jobless Recovery?” and I just want to weep at the incredible combination of stoopid and duplicity to that gives us such a headline. Read the rest of this entry →

Improvement, yes, but not that much improvement

1:32 pm in Economy, Jobs, Unemployment by dakine01

The Scariest Chart - Calculated Risk

The Scariest Chart – Calculated Risk. Click to embiggen

 

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OK, so you might have noticed a few headlines the last few days talking about how the economy is getting better, unemployment is dropping, and we’re all going to win Powerball tonight and retire tomorrow with our sparkly ponies.

Yeah, I ain’t holding my breath on any of those things either.

Yes, the economy is getting a little better. Slightly. But not to a level to make an appreciable difference to the millions of long term un and underemployed. As David Dayen noted at FDL News on Friday:

The reason that the unemployment rate was able to tick down, however, is that the labor force participation rate remained unchanged at 64.0%. This low participation rate means that, even with the economy growing and the job market improving, a fair number of able-bodied workers have not rejoined the labor force. When they do, and when the labor force participation rate increases, that will put upward pressure on that topline unemployment rate. And unless everyone came into found money, that’s fated to happen. The employment-population ratio also remained unchanged in December (58.5%), despite the job additions. The average workweek and average pay went up very slightly over the month.

Even if those folks who have given up and left the workforce were to stay away and not return, it will still take years for the current problems to right themselves.

Let’s pretend that we stay on the current level of seeing the official unemployment rate drop .2% each month. At the end of 2012, the unemployment rate would be at 6.1%, a number that sounds much better than it has been. But that number would still not be addressing the millions of folks working part time (probably minimum wage) jobs who want full time employment. Nor does it account for all the folks forced into being “independent contractors” or all the college grads from 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 still trying to get their first position in their fields.

Just today (Wednesday, January 11), MSNBC had this post with the headline, “Four job seekers for every opening, report shows”: Read the rest of this entry →

Limited Good Economic News Won’t Last

10:11 am in Uncategorized by dakine01

"Perishable!" by Young Master Sunshine on flickr

"Perishable!" by Young Master Sunshine on flickr

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You might have seen some headlines from yesterday on the weekly report of Initial Unemployment claims about those claims “falling sharply” (Reuters headline phrase):

Applications for unemployment benefits fell by 37,000 to a seasonally adjusted 391,000 in the week ending September 24 from an upwardly revised 428,000 the prior week, the Labor Department said on Thursday. 

My first prediction today is that the 391K figure first announced will be revised upwards when next week’s report comes out. My second prediction is whatever good news that can be wrung from this report will have a limited overall effect.

CNN’s report was a bit more circumspect with this:

The recent drop to 391,000 maked the lowest level since the week of April 2, when 385,000 new claims came in. 

Still, economists cautioned against getting too excited about the better number. It’s just one week of data, and according to a government spokesman, seasonal adjustments could have impacted the calculation.

…snip… Read the rest of this entry →