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Limited Good Economic News Won’t Last

10:11 am in Uncategorized by dakine01

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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 →

Wait! I thought the South was where all the jobs are!

12:30 pm in Uncategorized by dakine01

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Jobs.

Although the official time frame for “The Great Recession” was December 2007 through June 2009, for the millions of long term un and underemployed, the daily reality is that not only has the recession never ended, it is more applicable to The Great Depression than it is to any of the various acknowledged recessions since the end of WWII. One of the articles of faith from the always surprised Economists is that job creation lags other indicators, yet here we are, over two years since the “end” of the last recession and the official unemployment rate is still at 9.1% with the underemployed figure at 16.2% for August 2011.

Each week on Thursday, there’s a report of the Initial Jobless Claims for the week before. Like many of the earlier weeks, last week’s report forced the headline writers to find the lone tidbit of almost good news to concentrate on in their ledes. From Reuters:

(Reuters) – Americans filed fewer new claims for jobless benefits last week but the decline was not enough to dispel worries the economy was dangerously close to falling into a new recession.

Applications for unemployment benefits dropped 9,000 to 423,000 in the week ended September17, the Labor Department said on Thursday. That was roughly in line with expectations.l

Of course, once again, the earlier report had been revised upwards (from 428K reported on September 15). It is not going too far out on a limb to predict that the 423K reported for September 22 will be revised upwards on September 29.

I did not go too far out on a limb back in June when I first predicted a “double-dip” and it still was a short limb when I reiterated the prediction in July. Nouriel Roubini has made the same prediction last Thursday documented from his tweets (via Business Insider). A few days earlier (September 19), Roubini had written this op-ed on how to keep the coming Recession from being a Depression.

Economist Magazine offered this analysis of Growth and jobs across the country on September 15. Their close:

Two things seem clear, however. Across the country, a greater level of demand growth is necessary to boost employment. And at the same time, there are places within the country experiencing strong growth which aren’t producing the jobs we’d expect them to. If America could find ways to make San Jose just a little more like Dallas, that might make a meaningful dent in America’s employment problems.

MSNBC offered this article with a touch of good news involved, i.e., that there is some hiring going on, although not to a level necessary to reduce the official un and underemployment rates. One point to note from that MSNBC link – all the reasons offered for the slow hiring have to do with demand levels and not the skills of the workers.

Today’s (Tuesday, September 27) NY Times had this article analyzing some BLS figures on how the economic map is being redrawn due to the lingering economic ill-effects:

When the unemployment rate rose in most states last month, it underscored the extent to which the deep recession, the anemic recovery and the lingering crisis of joblessness are beginning to reshape the nation’s economic map.

The once-booming South, which entered the recession with the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, is now struggling with some of the highest rates, recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show.

Several Southern states — including South Carolina, whose 11.1 percent unemployment rate is the fourth highest in the nation — have higher unemployment rates than they did a year ago. Unemployment in the South is now higher than it is in the Northeast and the Midwest, which include Rust Belt states that were struggling even before the recession.

…snip…

The long cycle of “lose jobs, gain jobs, lose jobs” that kept Georgia’s unemployment rate at 10.2 percent in August — the same as it was a year earlier — is illustrated by Union City, a small city on the outskirts of Atlanta.

It suffered a blow when the last store in its darkened mall, Sears, announced that it would soon close. But the city had other irons in the fire: a few big companies were hiring, and earlier this year Dendreon, a biotech company that makes a cancer drug, opened a plant there, lured in part by state and local subsidies.

Then, this month, Dendreon said it would lay off more than 100 workers at the new plant as part of a national “restructuring.”

…snip…

In a sign of how severe the downturn has been, the Brookings analysis found that only 16 of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas have regained more than half of the jobs they lost during the recession.

So here we are. After all the years of hearing about the Rust Belt failing everyone and how the South was the leader in everything, well, maybe not so much. Businesses will accept all the subsidies and tax breaks in the world, but they will cut and run at the slightest sign of problems. Of course, I’m from a small town in Kentucky that bragged over the years about bringing in jobs from the Rust Belt (make sure you use plenty of Post-It Notes to keep the folks in my hometown working). I would almost suggest the governors of Georgia and South Carolina might want to contact their rust belt counterparts for some advice except that most of the governors involved seem to be intent on learning the wrong lessons.

And because I can:

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

Economists Who Are Always ‘Surprised’ Should Re-Think Their Models and Assumptions

10:30 am in Uncategorized by dakine01

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Today’s report of Initial Unemployment Claims from last week is out and once again, the economists are “surprised” at the figures reported (via Reuters):

The number of Americans filing new claims for state unemployment aid rose unexpectedly to 428,000 in the week ended September 10 from a revised 417,000 in the prior week, the Labor Department said.

It was the second straight weekly increase and took initial claims to their highest level since the week ended June 25. Wall Street analysts expected a modest dip in new claims.

Once again, that is an upwards revision from the previously reported figure. I’m feeling a tad too lazy to go back through all my blog posts to find the last week when there wasn’t an upwards revision from the previous week’s report but I know that it has been months since there has been anything but upward revisions. At best there might have been a week when the numbers reported were not revised at all a couple of months ago but that’s it.

Realistically, I have to admit that the continual ‘surprise’ by the economists is just a continuation of the overall cluelessness shown by the financial elites as evidenced by this yesterday from the World Bank head (also via Reuters): Read the rest of this entry →

Keep the Expectations Low – While Expecting to Be Disappointed

12:08 pm in Uncategorized by dakine01

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So, here we are, waiting for President Obama to give his long awaited “Jobs” speech tonight. However, from the news reports and “analyses” in the TradMed speculating on the content and potential proposals I will not be holding my breath on there being much if anything worthwhile coming out of the speech. The cliche of “too little, too late” most comes to mind. While CNN had this report today on the stimulus from February 2009 having created jobs, it was nowhere near large enough. This article from Center for Economic and Policy Research from October ’10, points out that there was a need for a stimulus nearly three times the size of the $787B from February ’09.

We are and have been in an employment/jobs crisis for years now. Even while the official unemployment figure stays above 9%, even optimistic projections have unemployment to stay high through 2012, some projections have the high unemployment continuing as far out as 2020. Unfortunately, the current White House seems to be more willing to pretend to do something for show rather than actually doing something that will be effective.

As always, there are just some things that I do not understand. A large part of President’s Obama’s plan is further tax cuts (or rather, extending existing tax cuts such as the payroll tax cut). We have fairly strong evidence starting with the initial Bush tax cuts in 2001, that tax cuts have created few if any jobs over the past ten years yet we continue to be presented with tax cuts as a job creating panacea. Read the rest of this entry →

Once a Year Speeches Do Not Mean Support for Workers

10:46 am in Uncategorized by dakine01

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Today is Monday, September 5, 2011. Since it is the first Monday of September, it is the national holiday known as Labor Day. Supposedly, it is the day when our politicians and pundits proclaim their unrelenting love for all things worker related – even as they spend the other 364 days a year doing all in their power to destroy the lives of workers by cutting salaries, limiting benefits. Just today, the Washington Post’s Robert Samuelson had a column decrying the state of labor in the US:

On this Labor Day, there is little good news about labor. We have entered a long period of crushing unemployment and downward pressure on wages that may well transform the nation’s economic and political landscape. There was no job growth in August, and the overall numbers are stupefying: 14 million unemployed; nearly 9 million part-time workers wanting full-time jobs; 6.5 million who want jobs but have given up looking and are, therefore, not counted in the official labor force. People are only gradually recognizing the magnitude of the problem.

…snip…

It’s not only the jobless who will be affected. No one has yet repealed the law of supply and demand. At last count, there were 4.5 unemployed workers for every job opening. Bargaining power has shifted from labor to capital. Sure, some workers will get promotions and seniority raises. Otherwise, gains will be slim. Since September 2008, annual wage and salary increases have averaged 1.6 percent, the slowest pace in 30 years, reports EPI’s Lawrence Mishel.

…snip…

Still, the harshest effects of joblessness fall on the jobless. “We’re creating a bifurcated society,” worries Harvard economist Lawrence Katz. “We’re talking about a lost generation of younger workers and displaced workers.” Younger workers have a harder time starting careers. Because many skills are developed on the job, long unemployment spells can lower lifetime earnings. The same is true of older workers. Even when those who lose stable jobs get new work, they often suffer a 20 percent earnings loss for 15 years or more, reports economist Till von Wachter of Columbia University.

I find it somewhat interesting that Samuelson felt the need to write his column given how many times over the years he has extolled the death of unions, called for cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and called for leaving the minimum wage age at $5.15 per hour. As I noted here, trying to do much more than survive on minimum wage for one person is not really possible and that’s when it is at today’s $7.25 an hour.

Some folks in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania did actually tell anti-worker/anti-union politicians that they were not welcome at some local Labor Day parades and celebrations (although the folks in Wisconsin may have backed down from their initial non-invitation – I hope the folks in Wausau do have plenty of rotten tomatoes available for their oh so poor US Representative who cant make ends meet on $174K per year.)

Now I realize that to some folks there is no equating the attack on Unions as an attack on individual workers. Yet all those benefits that are available to individual workers are there precisely because of the unions. Whether it is the eight hour day/forty hour work week or paid sick time or worker safety, it is the action of unions that led to these worker benefits available to all. While recognizing that “correlation does not equal causation,” the flatness of wages in the US since the ’70s has at least been a companion to the attacks on unions. CEO and senior executive salaries have exploded while the wages for workers have gone down.

On this Labor Day 2011, we have millions of long term un and underemployed. In an economy that has to create roughly 90K jobs per month to stay even, August 2011 had zero jobs in total. Businesses are profitable so the economy appears to be growing even as the underside of the economy gets larger. Self-employed individuals are not counted among the unemployed nor are new graduates. State and local governments are cutting jobs while those folks with jobs worry that their jobs will be gone tomorrow.

This Thursday evening, President Obama is scheduled to give a speech to Congress on jobs. Yet for all the vaunted interest in creating jobs that has supposedly captured the attention of the Beltway Village Idiots Politicians, Pundits, and Courtiers (finally), all the proposals likely to receive attention are warmed over re-hashes of previously failed policies. Massive tax cuts in place since 2001 have not created jobs so why would further tax cuts create jobs? Regulations and taxes do not stifle small businesses yet we continue to hear how all regulations must be done away with in order for small businesses to thrive.

Short sighted actions by politicians and global businesses will eventually be their downfall (and ours). It would almost be fun to watch it happen if it weren’t causing so much pain and suffering for all the world.

And because I can:

Cross posted from Just A Small Town Country Boy

If Beltway Pols Were 1st Responders, No Foundations Would Be Saved

10:59 am in Uncategorized by dakine01

foundation - frame

foundation - frame. Photo by ClintJCL

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So here we are, coming to the end of another month with limited economic growth. Friday (August 26), the Commerce Department downgraded the second quarter US Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from 1.3% as initially reported to 1%. Via Reuters:

The rate of growth between April and June was cut from the government’s first reading of 1.3 percent and followed a lethargic 0.4 percent pace in the first three months of 2011. 

This means the economy grew only 0.7 percent in the first half of the year. Nonetheless, and despite a sharp fall in consumer confidence this month, economists do not believe the economy will fall back into recession.

Note for those with short memories – the first quarter GDP was initially reported at 1.8%, upped to 1.9% with some fanfare before being downgraded to .4%. That seems to be a bit of a trend these past few weeks and months where the various economic indicators get revised in a negative direction (negative that is in relation to what would be good news). For example, when the Initial Unemployment Claims for last week came out on Thursday, the previous week’s claims were revised upwards (via CNN):

The number of first-time filers for unemployment benefits rose to 417,000 in the week ending Aug. 20, the Labor Department said Thursday. That’s up 5,000 from a revised 412,000 the prior week. 

The original report for the previous week was at 408K so the upwards revision was 4K. Since the business reporters like to latch onto a factoid or two to try to explain things, they’ve all seemingly latched onto the point that some striking Verizon workers had filed claims. But the number provided was 8.5K which means even without the Verizon worker claims (which will most likely be denied as strikers are rarely allowed to collect unemployment), it would still have the initial claims at 408.5K. From the previously linked CNN article:

In most states, workers on strike are not eligible for unemployment benefits. And the weekly initial claims number merely reflects applications for the benefits — not all of which will be approved and paid out. 

Today (Sunday, August 28), Bloomberg has an article on their survey of economists for the August jobs and economic numbers. Read the rest of this entry →

Trickle Down Exists, Just Not as Commonly Supposed

11:04 am in Uncategorized by dakine01

Trickle Down Economy

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Trickle down economics is the phrase that has often been supplied to describe whatever current flavor of economics theory being propounded that says cutting taxes for the well-to-do is the quickest path to an economic nirvana. Supply-side is just one of the variants of this from over the years.

While what I just described is the most commonly used version of “trickle-down,” we are now seeing examples of true trickle-down, i.e., the trickle-down of pain through the economy from all the various budget cuts at all levels of government. The past two days the Tampa Tribune has had articles showing the affects of cuts. First up is this one from yesterday on cuts for caregivers of the disabled:

The state Agency for Persons with Disabilities needs to slash about $90 million in services this year to meet its budget. The cuts not only affect contract workers like Davison, but employees in group homes who coordinate training programs, community outings and other activities for the disabled. 

About 33,000 people in Florida with developmental disabilities like Cherta go through the agency to find companions who will not only care for them but also find ways to make them a part of their communities.

The agency serves about 50,000 people with autism, cerebral palsy, spina bifida and intellectual disabilities.

Today was this article on cuts to child services providers in Hillsborough County (Tampa): Read the rest of this entry →

So where exactly is that good economic news?

11:22 am in Uncategorized by dakine01

"Good News and Bad News"

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Well, here we go again. As usual, the past couple of weeks there have been a few articles on how the economy really isn’t THAT bad. In fact, that was a large part of the title of this article from McClatchy while USA Today offered up this from a Maria Bartiromo interview with the head of AIG, Robert Benosche (with a McCainesque “There’s a core of strength to the economy”). However once again, the reality on the ground rears up to refute the cheerleaders. Today’s (Thursday, August 18) Initial Unemployment Claims report for last week is out and the numbers are back over the dreaded 400k line once again (via Reuters):

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted 408,000, the Labor Department said.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 400,000. The prior week’s figure was revised up to 399,000 from the previously reported 395,000.

Given that the trend the last few weeks has been for an upwards revision of the previous week’s numbers, I am not at all surprised at the upward revision from 395K initially reported to the 399K (although since I did not write a post on last week’s report, I can’t claim to have officially predicted the revision.)

Last Thursday, CNN had this article showing the lost jobs holes each state has to crawl out of to regain their pre-recession jobs numbers, especially when the new job seekers and residents for each state are factored in. Meanwhile, we got to ‘enjoy’ President Obama’s photo op Midwest bus tour this week (not to be confused with Cincinnati’s own Midwestern Hayride). Even though the lack of jobs has been an economic crisis for months years now, the elected officials, when they see fit to do something seem most intent on doing the wrong things. Marcy Wheeler has taken a few whacks at the stupidity of “free trade,” deficit reduction clueslessness, and the White House propensity for rhetoric over accomplishment, but I have to chime in with a big WTF over this NY Times article from this past Sunday: Read the rest of this entry →

“So be it”

9:56 am in Uncategorized by dakine01

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Yesterday, I wrote about my prediction for an “official” double-dip recession. One of the points I covered was the release by the Commerce Department of the second quarter GDP figures (along with the downward revision of the figures for the first quarter 2011 back to before the start of the Great Recession/Lesser Depression.)

Today, I have seen a couple of articles pointing out that the (lack of) government spending at all levels has been a large factor in the “disappointing” GDP figures. First up is this blog post from yesterday’s Washington Post with the title “GDP Shocker: ‘Much of the drag was government’:

So what was the problem? 

Government, according to Faucher. “The major drag came from government, on both the federal and state and local sides. Government subtracted 1.2 percentage points from growth in the first quarter, with the federal government accounting for about two-thirds of that,” he said.

Hoocoudanode, right? Read the rest of this entry →

Dispatches From the Economic War Frontlines

10:22 am in Uncategorized by dakine01

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The weekly report of Initial Unemployment Claims is out today (via Reuters):

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 24,000 to a seasonally adjusted 398,000, the Labor Department said.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims falling to 415,000. The prior week’s figure was revised up to 422,000 from the previously reported 418,000.

I do hope the Beltway Village Idiots Pundits, Politicians, and Courtiers don’t make too much of this news however. The 400K figure does seem to be a magic line for most but my guess/prediction is that after revision (which may or may not be reported), it will wind up back over 400K for the week. The upward revision of the numbers from the week before has seemingly become a staple on the reporting of this metric.

While the DeeCee folks do their Debt Ceiling/Deficit/Austerity Danse Macabre, there have been a few reports in the TradMed to remind the clueless of the realities being faced by millions of people who are not cocooned within the fog of life in the Beltway. Not that these articles penetrate the consciousness of most Villagers, given how they seem to always like to double down on the policy while “improving the messaging,” but we can still hope they might see the light at some point, if only to protect their careers.

First up is this from the NY Times’ Catherine Rampell from Tuesday (July 26), pointing out once again that many employers refuse to hire the unemployed, serving only to make things that much worse for the millions of long term un and underemployed:

A recent review of job vacancy postings on popular sites like Monster.com, CareerBuilder and Craigslist revealed hundreds that said employers would consider (or at least “strongly prefer”) only people currently employed or just recently laid off.

…snip…

Legal experts say that the practice probably does not violate discrimination laws because unemployment is not a protected status, like age or race. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently held a hearing, though, on whether discriminating against the jobless might be illegal because it disproportionately hurts older people and blacks.

…snip…

Government incentives for companies to hire unemployed workers have met with limited success. One such tax incentive from last year was poorly publicized, so most employers did not know about it. Better publicity may not suffice, either. An experiment from the 1980s found that telling companies that the unemployed were eligible for generous wage subsidies actually made employers less likely to hire such workers.

I’m not sure if this blog post from Rampell at the NY Times Economix from Monday (July 25) was intended as a companion to the Tuesday article, but there is some reinforcement of the themes:

One of many reasons blamed for (Western) Europe’s stagnant growth in recent decades has been that so many European adults are not working, and are effectively not employable because they have been out of jobs for so long. The United States, on the other hand, has had a much higher share of its population in gainful employment. In fact, between 1980 and 2000, the percent of adults working was on average about 10 percentage points higher in the United States than in Europe.

…snip…

It’s not clear whether the gap between employment-population ratios in the United States and Europe will continue to shrink. Certainly it does not help that the United States has been accumulating a huge underclass of long-term unemployed workers. As we’ve noted before, the longer people are out of work, the harder it is to find them a new job.

Which is exactly the experience Europe had seen, and that the United States hadn’t learned from, in decades past.

Amazing! US politicians not learning from all the previous economic problems across the world. Hoocoudanode? Of course, one glaringly large difference between Western Europe and the US is that Western Europe has a far more robust social safety net protecting its citizens.

Tuesday’s Washington Post had this article on polling showing dissatisfaction with President Obama’s handling of the economy. Of course, in a slightly buried lede, the polling shows even more dissatisfaction with Congressional Republicans:

More than a third of Americans now believe that President Obama’s policies are hurting the economy, and confidence in his ability to create jobs is sharply eroding among his base, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

But Americans’ discontent does not stop there. The survey also found that Americans harbor negative feelings toward congressional Republicans. Roughly as many people blame Republican policies for the poor economy as they do Obama. But 65 percent disapprove of the GOP’s handling of jobs, compared to 52 percent for the president.

Now whatever could the elected officials do that could improve their standing with their nominal constituents? Well, this article from the Washington Post just might offer a small clue:

As Congress debates how to meet the nation’s long-term transportation needs, decaying roads, bridges, railroads and transit systems are costing the United States $129 billion a year, according to a report issued Wednesday by a professional group whose members are responsible for designing and building such infrastructure.

Complex calculations done for the American Society of Civil Engineers indicate that infrastructure deficiencies add $97  billion a year to the cost of operating vehicles and result in travel delays that cost $32 billion.

…snip…

Thomas J. Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the necessary spending was “not just transportation for transportation’s sake.”

“Without more robust economic growth, the U.S. will not create the 20 million jobs needed in the next decade to replace those lost during the recession and to keep up with a growing workforce,” he said.

Ultimately, Americans would get paid less, the ASCE report says. The economy would lose jobs, and the paychecks of those who are able to find work would be cut by nearly 30 percent.

It is not often that I find myself even remotely close to agreeing with Mr Donohue but in this instance he is correct. I’m sure we would not be remotely close on how to go about fixing things but still, it’s a start. And in reality, it’s not as if this should be coming as a surprise to people. The collapse of the I35 bridge in Minneapolis a few years ago brought the infrastructure issue to the fore but as seems to be the norm these days, even if there is agreement on an issue, the solution(s) seem to defy agreement.

It does seem to me though that an investment in repairing the US infrastructure (bridges, roads, dams, sewers, etc) could go a long way to repairing the US economy. Yes, it would require a $2T – $3T investment by governments at all levels. But this investment would start to be recouped immediately by the taxes paid by the newly hired workers and by the further economic ripple of jobs throughout local economies all over the country. Not to mention the savings of the $129B in not having to cover vehicle repairs and lost time from the decaying infrastructure.

It is such a simple solution isn’t it? So very simple that we can pretty much guarantee that nothing like it will be done since it would benefit millions of people without necessarily bringing immediate partisan benefit to one party or the other.

And because I can:

Cross posted from Just A Small Town Country Boy