Category Archive for: Unemployment [Return to Main]

Monday, January 02, 2012

Paul Krugman: Nobody Understands Debt

We should be doing more to help the unemployed:

Nobody Understands Debt, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NYTimes: In 2011, as in 2010, America ... continued to suffer from disastrously high unemployment. And ... almost all the conversation in Washington was about something else: the allegedly urgent issue of reducing the budget deficit.
This misplaced focus said a lot about ... how disconnected Congress is from the suffering of ordinary Americans. But it also revealed something else: when people in D.C. talk about deficits and debt, by and large they have no idea what they’re talking about...
Perhaps most obviously, the economic “experts” on whom much of Congress relies..., the likes of the Heritage Foundation have been waiting ever since President Obama took office for budget deficits to send interest rates soaring. Any day now! And while they’ve been waiting, those rates have dropped to historical lows. ...
But Washington isn’t just confused about the short run; it’s also confused about the long run... Deficit-worriers ... see America as being like a family that took out too large a mortgage, and will have a hard time making the monthly payments. This is, however, a really bad analogy in at least two ways.
First, families have to pay back their debt. Governments don’t — all they need to do is ensure that debt grows more slowly than their tax base. ...
Second — ...the point almost nobody seems to get — an over-borrowed family owes money to someone else; U.S. debt is, to a large extent, money we owe to ourselves. ... If your image is of a nation that’s already deep in hock to the Chinese, you’ve been misinformed. ...
Now.., you don’t have to be a right-wing ideologue to concede that taxes impose some cost on the economy... But these costs are a lot less dramatic than the analogy with an overindebted family might suggest.
And that’s why nations with stable, responsible governments — that is, governments that are willing to impose modestly higher taxes when the situation warrants it — have historically been able to live with much higher levels of debt than today’s conventional wisdom would lead you to believe. Britain, in particular, has had debt exceeding 100 percent of GDP for 81 of the last 170 years. When Keynes was writing about the need to spend your way out of a depression, Britain was deeper in debt than any advanced nation today, with the exception of Japan. ...
So yes, debt matters. But right now, other things matter more. We need more, not less, government spending to get us out of our unemployment trap. And the wrongheaded, ill-informed obsession with debt is standing in the way.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Jobs, Not the Deficit, Should be Our Most Immediate Concern

The NY Times editorial staff:

As Good as It Gets?: ...The way to revive sustainable growth is with more government aid to help create jobs, support demand and prevent foreclosures. As things stand now, however, Washington will provide less help, not more, in 2012. Republican lawmakers refuse to acknowledge that government cutbacks at a time of economic weakness will only make the economy weaker. And too many Democrats, who should know better, have for too long been reluctant to challenge them.
The drag from premature cuts is significant. ... It does not have to be this way. After nearly a year of trying to accommodate Republicans in their calls for excessive budget cuts, President Obama finally pushed a strong jobs bill including spending for public works, aid to state and local governments and an infrastructure bank, as well as renewal of a payroll tax break and jobless aid. Congressional Republicans blocked the bill, and with it, the chance to create some 1.9 million jobs. But late last month, the Republican leadership in the Senate and House retreated — even if extremists in the party did not — and managed to temporarily extend the payroll tax cut and jobless benefits.
The extension is only for two months, setting up another fight. But the good news is that in the showdown, Mr. Obama and the Democratic leadership did not back down. ...
The economy, and struggling Americans, need a lot more help. Mr. Obama needs to translate his newfound focus on the middle class into an agenda for broad prosperity, making the case that what the nation needs now is a large short-run effort to create jobs coupled with a plan to cut the deficit as the economy recovers.

Christina Romer agrees (me too):

Two Big Problems, Two Ready Solutions: The United States faces two daunting economic problems: an unsustainable long-run budget deficit and persistent high unemployment. Both demand aggressive action in the form of fiscal policy. ...
On the deficit, the big worry isn’t the current shortfall, which is projected to decline sharply as the economy recovers. Rather, it’s the long-run outlook. ...
But we can’t focus on the deficit alone. Persistent unemployment is destroying the lives and wasting the talents of more than 13 million Americans. Worse, the longer that people remain out of work, the more likely they are to suffer a permanent loss of skills and withdraw from the labor force.
Despite heated rhetoric to the contrary, the evidence that fiscal stimulus raises employment and lowers joblessness is stronger than ever. And pairing additional strong stimulus with a plan to reduce the deficit would likely pack a particularly powerful punch for confidence and spending. ...
 Because many people worry about increasing the role of the federal government, why not give substantial federal funds to state and local governments for public investment? Tell them that the money has to be used for either physical infrastructure like roads, bridges and airports, or for human infrastructure like education, job training and scientific research. Then let the states, cities and towns figure out what would work best for their citizens. ...

It would be helpful if the press would react as negatively to a failure to produce a jobs bill as it does to failures to come to an agreement about reducing the deficit. But it doesn't. The lack of effort from Congress on jobs is hardly noted in the press while the deficit -- and calls to do something about it -- is noted almost daily.

We need to do more to help the unemployed.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Will the Payroll Tax Cut be Extended Through the End of 2012?

Steve Benen doesn't think there's a very good chance that the payroll tax cut will be extended through the end of 2012:

Enjoy the payroll tax break while it lasts, by Steve Benen: Last week, after a needlessly-contentious process, Congress approved a two-month extension of the payroll tax break. As part of the agreement, a conference committee will try to come up with an agreement to extend the cut through the end of 2012.

I’ve been rather pessimistic about the likelihood of success, and yesterday, the odds got worse.

The Senate Republican leader announced Friday that he had chosen three of his colleagues to try to thrash out a bipartisan deal on payroll taxes, unemployment benefits and Medicare.

The three Republican senators will join four Democratic senators and 13 House members on a conference committee... The newly named Republican conferees are Senators Jon Kyl of Arizona, Michael D. Crapo of Idaho and John Barrasso of Wyoming.

These ... are three senators you’d appoint to a conference committee if you want to be destructive.

Kyl, for example, was instrumental in sabotaging the super-committee process... Crapo and Barrasso, meanwhile, are two far-right senators who’ve never demonstrated any willingness to accept concessions on anything.

What’s more, note that the House GOP leadership has already announced its conferees, most of whom have already said they don’t want a payroll-cut extension no matter what concessions Democrats are willing to make...

What about the risk of being blamed? Remember,... the process itself offers cover. Instead of last week, when House Republicans became the clear villains,... the party will find it easier to spread the blame around.

“It’s not our fault,” GOP leaders will say. “We tried to work with Democrats on a deal, but one didn’t come together. Oh well.”... and the media would feel obligated to say “both sides” failed to reach an agreement.

And even if the payroll tax cut is extended, it's likely that Republicans will demand -- and get -- large concessions in return, e.g. permanent reductions in spending on social insurance programs.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

It's the Season for Optimism

This is the time of year when we get to read all the stories about how the economy is poised to do better in the coming year. There have been a couple of these today, and I expect more will follow.

Better than what? Yes, signs are pointing in the right direction, but we are still in a deep, deep hole and the signs also point to a long, long road to recovery. The economy still needs help, job creation in particular, but, unfortunately, these stories create an elevated sense of optimism about the coming year. This lets policymakers off the hook and helps them avoid the difficulties they would face if they proposed more aggressive policy actions.

Doing better is not the same as doing well enough, and policymakers have no reason to relax yet. I hope the people writing these stories will make that clear.

Maybe we'll be surprised by the strength of job creation in the coming year, I certainly hope so, but we shouldn't count on it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Un-Unpivoting

While I try to find something to post, a quick thought.

A few weeks ago Paul Krugman said:

what strikes me is just how wrong-headed the Obama administration’s “pivot” away from jobs and toward the deficit back in 2010 really was. It was bad economics; but it was also really bad politics, shifting the debate to exactly the ground where the right tends to have an (undeserved) advantage.

The good news for Democrats is that Obama is now in the process of unpivoting.

But the political establishment and the Very Serious Pundits are doing their best to turn the discussion back to deficit reduction.They already are.

Don't let them.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Hoping Employment Takes Off...

Landing...but can't help worrying that this will happen.

Things do look better, but assuming recent trends don't end up like the skier in the link the question is how strong growth will be. Will it be just enough to absorb population growth, but no more? Or will there be an acceleration of growth that allows us to provide jobs for new entrants to the labor force and also begin to reemploy the milllions of people who lost jobs during the recession and have had no luck finding new ones?

I wish I was confident that will happen, and happen fairly soon. In the past, such bursts of activity during the recovery phase were normal and expected. But as I noted recently, it's hard to see where the needed jump in demand will come from:

...no matter which sector you point to, government, business, households, or foreigners, there is little reason to expect the large increase in demand needed to drive an economic recovery. Things are looking better, and the green shoots might just be real this time around, but we are still a long, long way from returning to whatever our new normal might be.

It doesn't have to be this way. Although recessions that are caused by financial collapses are among the most difficult to recover from and lost decades are not at all unusual, as Christina Romer recently highlighted effective government policy (monetary and fiscal) can shorten the recovery time considerably.

As policymakers head home for the holidays, I hope they will give some thought to the families that could be having a much merrier Christmas if they had pursued more aggressive policy. And if they (and the powerful interests pulling their strings) do have such a "Christmas Carol" revelation, I hope they will also realize that it's not too late to do more.

I know this is a wish that's unlikely to come true -- we'll be lucky to avoid job-killing austerity measures in the coming year (lumps of coal for all!). But it's Christmas Eve, and maybe Santa will bring a surprise.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Payroll Tax Cut in "Serious Doubt"

I wonder if the puppeteers in the Republican Party regret what they have created now that they have lost control of the strings controling the actions of the groups they needed to win elections:

For Senate Tax Cut Stopgap, Odds in House Are Uncertain, NY Times: ...the Senate voted overwhelmingly on Saturday to extend a payroll tax cut for only two months, with the chamber’s leaders and the White House proclaiming victory, even as they punted into the new year the issue of how to further extend the tax cut and unemployment benefits.
In an unusual Saturday vote, the Senate approved by an 89-to-10 vote a $33 billion package that would extend a payroll-tax holiday for millions of American workers, extend unemployment benefits and avoid cuts in payments to doctors who accept Medicare. ...
But House passage next week was thrown into serious doubt on Saturday afternoon, when a number of rank-and-file Republicans objected in a conference call with Speaker John A. Boehner, who tried to persuade them that it was good for their party, particularly the provision that would speed the decision process for construction of an oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast known as Keystone XL. ...
Republican leaders — but not necessarily their rank and file — had wanted a full-year payroll tax cut deal to try to inoculate themselves against accusations by Democrats, as they head into an election year, that they are against tax cuts for low- and middle-income workers. It will be up to Mr. Boehner to convince his members that extending the cut —  and at least appearing to work with Democrats even as they labor to unseat Mr. Obama and the Democrats who still control the Senate — will ultimately work in their political favor. ...

Obama and House Republicans seem to be in some kind of contest to see who can give the biggest political gift to the other side.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Hard (Wish We Were) Working Poor

The rebuttal to Casey Mulligan and others like him is very simple:

A work ethic doesn’t help much when there is no work to be had.

Policymakers need to get off their fat, lazy, pampered butts and do something to help to create the needed jobs. If Congress worked as hard on the unemployment problem as the poor do in their jobs, maybe we'd make some progress.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

New Claims for Unemployment Insurance Fall

With today's decent number for unemployment claims -- claims fell to 366,000 and are finally below the breakeven point for job creation -- it's worth thinking about how long it might take for employment to recover. Calculated Risk calculates how long it will take to reach 8% by November 2012 under various scenarios:

I think the participation rate will be in the 64.0% to 64.5% range next November. That would mean the economy would need to add somewhere between 167,000 and 260,000 jobs per month. The bottom end of that range seems possible with sluggish growth, but the top end is less likely.
This is very sensitive to the participation rate. If the economy adds 167,000 jobs per month next year, and the participation rate increases to 64.5%, the unemployment rate would be at 8.7%. So 8% is possible, but it seems unlikely unless growth picks up.

And even at the optimistic rate of job creation, we'd only be at 8% a year from now.

Note also that the claims number is clouded by uncertainty over seasonal adjustment procedures, so it's not certain that we are getting an accurate read on progress on employment. But even if it is accurate, even if we are finally headed back up the hill, as these graphs show there's still a long, long climb ahead of us:

Gap
Emp-pop

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

High Unemployment Is *Not* Primarily the Result of "Generous" Unemployment Insurance Benefits

Brad DeLong takes on the claim that our unemployment problem is due to "generous" unemployment insurance benefits.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Not Good Enough

Quick note on a travel day:

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims decline to 381,000

The labor market seems to be improving, but the pace of change is far, far too slow. I've been hoping for an acceleration in job creation at some point, but it's hard to see that happen any time soon with so much uncertainty hanging over Europe.

The US is Almost Last in Relative Labor Market Policy Spending

Labor

More here.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Unemployment Falls, But Is It Good News?

I just posted this at CBS News:

The Department of Labor released the employment report on Friday, and it shows 120,000 jobs created in the month of November, and the unemployment rate falling from 9.0 percent to 8.6 percent.

At first glance the fall in the unemployment rate seems like good news, but a closer look at the numbers reveals some weakness in the report.

First, note that depending upon which estimates you look at, it takes from 90,000-125,000 jobs just to keep up with the growth in the population. Thus, the 120,000 jobs that were created in November is enough to keep the unemployment rate from going up, but it is not enough by itself to absorb all the new workers entering the labor force and at the same time reduce the fraction of people that are currently unemployed. So the fall in the unemployment rate cannot be attributed to robust job growth.

Second, the report shows a decline in the labor force of 315,000 for November, and about half of the decline is attributed to discouraged workers giving up the search for a job. This exit of workers rather than job creation is the main source of the fall in the unemployment rate, and since so much of it is from discouraged workers this is not an encouraging development. Note, however, that there is a lot of month to month variability in the labor force participation numbers, and some of this may simply be month to month noise in the measurement.

Third, many of the unemployment duration numbers continue to increase. Average search duration reached a new peak for this downturn of 40.9 weeks, and hence long-term unemployment is getting worse, not better.

Fourth, many of the jobs that were created are in the retail sector. Thus, while some workers are finding new jobs, the new employment does not, in general, pay as well as previous employment. In addition, if the seasonal factors are different this year, e.g. if some of this is hiring for the holidays that seasonal adjustment procedures miss, then the picture is even weaker than the numbers suggest.

There are positive trends in this report as well. For example the number of people working part-time involuntarily fell by 374,000, employment in construction increased, and employment in manufacturing held its own, but there is a reason to point out the weak points in the report. Congress is considering two initiatives, maintaining or even increasing the payroll tax cut enacted to fight the recession, and an extension of unemployment benefits. If this report is interpreted as unambiguous good news and a sign that things are getting better at a relatively rapid pace -- at .4 percent decline per month the unemployment rate would fall at a fairly rapid pace over a year -- then Congress may not feel as much pressure to extend the tax cuts and unemployment benefits. It's something they'd rather not do, and they are looking for excuses that avoid the need to make tough decisions. But the problems for the labor market are far from over and we could use some insurance against the risks from Europe, so now is not the time to conclude that our troubles are over and we can turn our attention to other things. It's been nearly three years since Ben Bernanke first talked about green shoots, and that was used as a reason to pursue less aggressive monetary and fiscal policy than we needed, and we should avoid making the same mistake again. Maybe the green shoots are real this time -- I certainly hope that they are -- but it's too early to be certain, and it would be a mistake for policymakers to conclude that the labor market is on its way to a healthy recovery and no longer needs their help.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Social Insurance and Unemployment: Do People Deserve Poverty?

Casey Mulligan claims that social insurance is a big reason that unemployment is so high:

Were it not for government assistance,... the recession would have pushed 4.2 percent of the population into poverty, rather than 0.6 percent.

One interpretation of these results is that the safety net did a great job... Perhaps if the 2009 stimulus law had been a little bigger or a little more oriented to safety-net programs, all seven would have been caught.
Another interpretation is that the safety net has taken away incentives... Of course, most people work hard despite a generous safety net, and 140 million people are still working today. But in a labor force as big as ours, it takes only a small fraction of people who react to a generous safety net by working less to create millions of unemployed. I suspect that employment cannot return to pre-recession levels until safety-net generosity does, too.

A comment from this post responding to Casey Mulligan takes on this claim:

I'm sure my daughter connived to get herself laid off at Peet's Coffee just as her health insurance would have kicked in and live on $98 a week, far less than she would have brought in in wages, and not even enough to pay her $500 a month rent. And she was so thrilled with this condition that she kept it up for a full two months, and then found herself another job, this one with no health benefits.

The idea that the unemployment problem is due to lack of effort on behalf of the unemployed rather than a lack of demand is convenient for the moralists, but inconsistent with the facts. The problem is lack of demand, not the means through which we smooth the negative consequences of recessions.

But what really irks me is the implicit moralizing, the idea that people deserve to be thrown into poverty. Someone who gets up every day and goes to a job day after day, often a job they don't like very much, to support their families can suddenly become unemployed in a recession through no fault of their own. They did nothing wrong -- it's not their fault the economy went into a recession and they certainly couldn't be expected to foresee a recession that experts such as Casey Mulligan missed entirely. They had no reason to believe they had chosen the wrong place to go to work, but unemployment hit them anyway. And since one of the biggest causes of foreclosure is an event like unemployment, it's entirely possible that this household would lose its home, be forced to declare bankruptcy, etc., and end up in severe poverty if there were no social services to rely upon.

What moral lesson is being taught here? Why does this household deserve to be punished for their bad decisions? It did nothing wrong. I understand that people should suffer the consequences of their own bad choices, but that's not what happens in recessions. People who have done nothing to deserve it are nevertheless hit by severe negative shocks. That's what social insurance is for, to smooth the path for such unfortunate households, to avoid sending people into poverty who have done nothing to deserve it (see "The Need for Social Insurance"). It is not an attempt to reward bad behavior and most programs do their best to avoid giving benefits to people who have made bad choices (for example, the system is far from perfect but in most states unemployment insurance can only be obtained if you lose your job through no fault of your, e.g. if you quit or get yourself fired it is not available). The extent to which we should distinguish between deserving and undeserving households for social insurance programs is debatable and depends upon the type of program, but the idea that all households are undeserving is, in my view, simply wrong. I would apply the social safety net widely myself -- I think the benefit of the doubt should go to compassion, not harshness and moralizing -- but in any case I'd dispute the idea that "safety-net generosity" is too high. If anything, we are not generous enough.

Update: Karl Smith comments on this topic.

The Demand for Jobs

Businesses won't hire workers because there is not enough demand to support them, and the public can't supply the needed demand because too many people don't have jobs.

That's what's so frustrating. If the unemployed had jobs, the demand would be there to support them. But the demand has to come first, and workers won't be hired until the demand is there.

I wonder who could provide the missing demand needed to overcome this problem?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Where’s the Super Committee for Job Creation?

I have a new column:

Where’s the Super Committee for Job Creation?

I am not happy with the Democrats.

"A Hollowing Out of the Middle"

I expected the numbers to be even worse:

Job Polarization in the United States: A Widening Gap and Shrinking Middle, by Jaison R. Abel and Richard Deitz, Liberty Street Economics: ... A Hollowing Out of the Middle Not surprisingly, these patterns have shifted the distribution of jobs among these groups. The chart below indicates the share of workers in each of the wage groups in 1980 and in 2009. In 1980, three-quarters of all workers were employed in mid-skill occupations. Among the occupations included in this group, Machine Operators accounted for 10 percent of the U.S. workforce, and Administrative Support accounted for 18 percent. By 2009, the share of jobs in the mid-skill category had shrunk to two-thirds, with Machine Operators accounting for just 4 percent of all jobs and Administrative Support for 14 percent. Over this same period, there was an increase in the share of jobs in the high and low skill groups. High skill jobs increased their share from 12 percent to 15 percent, while low skill jobs grew from 13 percent to 17 percent. As a result, the share of jobs at the upper end and lower end of the distribution increased between 1980 and 2009, while the share of jobs in the middle group fell.

Shares-of-employment

Clearly, the U.S. workforce has undergone a significant occupational restructuring since the 1980s. Along with an increase in the share of high skill jobs and low skill jobs, there has been a growing wage gap between workers in jobs that pay the most and those that pay the least. With a rising share of jobs at the upper and lower ends of the wage distribution and a wider gap in wages among occupations, jobs have become more polarized in the United States over the past three decades.

This looks like a supercritical pitchfork bifurcation (a potential path to chaos).

Saturday, November 12, 2011

"Would Cracking Down on Illegal Immigration Really Cut Unemployment?"

Daniel Indiviglio says that eliminating illegal immigration won't do much to create jobs:

Would Cracking Down on Illegal Immigration Really Cut Unemployment?, by Daniel Indiviglio: Americans don't want many of these jobs anyway and aren't desperate enough to settle

"And here is something else that we have to do that will help the economy. We have to build the fence on America's southern border and get a grip on dealing with our immigration problem." This was one of the responses from Rep. Michelle Bachmann during Wednesday night's Republican Presidential Debate when asked how she would create jobs as quickly as possible. This is a sentiment shared by many Americans...

Elizabeth Dwoskin at Bloomberg wrote a very thought-provoking article on this topic... She found that Americans don't want many of those jobs that illegal immigrants have. She shows this through a sort of case study of Alabama. The state recently passed a law that allows the police to question people they suspect are in the U.S. illegally. As you might guess, illegal immigrants are fleeing the state.

But the expected boost for unemployed Americans isn't materializing: they aren't rushing to take the jobs those illegal immigrants are leaving behind. Dwoskin writes:

In their wake are thousands of vacant positions and hundreds of angry business owners staring at unpicked tomatoes, uncleaned fish, and unmade beds. "Somebody has to figure this out. The immigrants aren't coming back to Alabama--they're gone," Rhodes says. "I have 158 jobs, and I need to give them to somebody."

There's no shortage of people he could give those jobs to. In Alabama, some 211,000 people are out of work. In rural Perry County, where Harvest Select is located, the unemployment rate is 18.2 percent, twice the national average. One of the big selling points of the immigration law was that it would free up jobs that Republican Governor Robert Bentley said immigrants had stolen from recession-battered Americans. Yet native Alabamians have not come running to fill these newly liberated positions. Many employers think the law is ludicrous and fought to stop it. Immigrants aren't stealing anything from anyone, they say. Businesses turned to foreign labor only because they couldn't find enough Americans to take the work they were offering.

At a moment when the country is relentless focused on unemployment, there are still jobs that often go unfilled. These are difficult, dirty, exhausting jobs that, for previous generations, were the first rickety step on the ladder to prosperity. They still are--just not for Americans.

This point may seem intuitively obvious, but it's nice to see a reporter provide a clear, cohesive example of why illegal immigrants aren't a significant causal force of the high rate of unemployment. The problem isn't merely that there aren't enough jobs -- there aren't enough of the right sort of jobs.

Perhaps if the U.S. didn't have unemployment insurance programs in place, things would be different. If jobless Americans couldn't collect checks for 99 weeks, then they might feel a greater sense of urgency to settle for any job that they could get -- they would then be more willing to pick tomatoes, gut fish, and make beds. But if they can continue to look for something better while just scraping by on the money they get from the government, then that's a better option.

Is the answer, then, to both deport illegal immigrants and end unemployment insurance? ... But would its decline really imply that the nation was much better off? Remember, most of the job openings that would result would be among the least desirable out there. They would pay poorly and result in a pay cut for many of those Americans. ...

So would cracking down on illegal immigration make the U.S. labor market much better off? Reading Dwoskin's article, it's hard to see how. For the U.S. economy to flourish again, the private sector needs to add millions of good-paying jobs that help to build a skill set, which will rebuild the U.S. middle class. You don't get many of those jobs by merely cracking down on illegal immigration.

There is a wage at which US citizens will take these jobs. If the business owner interviewed above were to offer me a million dollars a day to do one of the unfilled jobs, I'd be on the next plane to the job site. So the idea that Americans won't do this type of work is wrong, but you do have to offer a wage that is high to compensate people for the nature of the work they will be asked to do.

Ah, you say, but this is a sign that our social insurance programs are too good. If people were as poor as they are in Mexico, and faced a similar life outlook, surely they'd be willing to take these jobs too. Yes, probably true. It's also true that if we lived in a dictatorship, someone could force me to do this job at whatever pay they wanted to give. The motivation would be to prevent physical pain -- to, say, stop myself from getting beaten for refusing to take the job rather than starvation -- but the effect would be the same.

But I don't want to live in a society so poor that people take jobs out of desperation to survive -- poverty can take away choices -- and I'd rather not have choices made for me by a dictatorial form of government. So what this indicates to me is that there are people in the world, some of whom live close by, so in need of work just to survive that they will take work at exploitive wages. The conditions where they live are so bad, and the available social services so poor, that they have no choice but to do things like leave their families for months or years, head north, and do whatever they can just to get by (even private sector institutions such as soup kitchens are much more scarce than in the US). And much of what they are asked to do is very, very unpleasant work.

The business owners will complain, of course, that if they pay the wages needed to attract Americans to these jobs -- basically to keep them out of soup kitchens -- then they won't be able to make a profit. That may or may not be true, but assume it is. What does it really mean? It means that the product they are selling is not viable unless people are forced by their circumstances to work at wages below what would be acceptable if even the barest of social services were available.

The fact that Americans "continue to look for something better while just scraping by on the money they get from the government" is a sign that we still have some hope left, that people think there is a chance they won't have to resort to working at exploitative wages that unjustly benefit business owners (and those who think that our social service programs are too kind should try living on them for a year or two). I am glad that we don't put people in the position of having to accept these kinds of jobs at very, very low wages just to prevent starvation.

If these jobs remain open, one of two things will happen. Either wages will rise to a level that will attract workers, or if the wage required is too high to make a profit the firm will go out of business. That's just the free market at work, and cries from business owners that the inability to hire illegal workers is forcing them out of business is no more compelling than a cry that the inability to do something illegal such as pollute is forcing them to close their doors. The question is whether they are profitable when forced to internalize all costs, and pay the above-board market price for the resources they use.

But I am also very favorably inclined toward immigration, and believe our doors ought to be much more open than they are. I grew up in an area where illegal immigration was very high, and I have no doubt at all that these workers are exploited by those who hire them. We would never tolerate this type of treatment for our own citizens, but somehow we look away when it is illegal workers from Mexico. In times when work is plentiful, I would have no problem at all with programs that bring workers to the U.S. legally to do this type of work. We could then do a much better job of monitoring how these workers are treated, and so on, and ensure that business owners aren't getting rich through the exploitation of illegal immigrants. Again, this would mean that some business owners wouldn't survive -- those that depend upon paying very low wages to workers who can't complain -- but that's no different than what happens to businesses across the US every day. Not every business is viable, and when costs are too high firms go out of business -- these firms are no different. In times like the present when work is scarce, I would cut back on these programs (though not fully eliminate them) and hope that the improved conditions and higher wages that would result from bringing the formerly illegal workers out into the open would mean some of these jobs would be more likely to be filled by US citizens.

The cry that "Americans don't want many of these jobs" is really an admission that the wages being offered are too low. There are Americans who will do these jobs, and do them very well, but not for wages that barely keep them out of soup kitchens. If business owners want workers, there are plenty available. All they have to do is offer a decent wage.

Friday, November 11, 2011

"Employment is Improving, But Too Slowly"

Late posting this -- I have some comments about yesterday's report on new claims for unemployment insurance at CBS News:

Employment is Improving, But Too Slowly

New claims are headed in the right direction, but the rate of change is very, very slow.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Turning Our Backs on the Unemployed

Senators, Republicans and two Democrats in particular, have not received anywhere near enough criticism for this:

Last week’s Senate decision to kill a modest $60bn bill to upgrade America’s infrastructure before it came to debate may have exceeded even that august chamber’s recent record. The package, which included $10bn in seed money for a public infrastructure bank, was blocked by every Republican and two Democrats. They objected because it would have been funded by a 0.7 per cent surtax on earnings over $1m.
And that was that. At a time when US businesses prefer to hoard rather than invest their cash, and when long-term interest rates are so low the money is virtually free, the political system is unable to accomplish what ought to be a no-brainer. Until now, America has never faced an ideological divide on infrastructure: both parties accepted the need to upgrade roads, dams, bridges, energy and water systems.
Forget Abraham Lincoln and Dwight Eisenhower, the presidents most often cited as having unleashed growth-boosting infrastructure – transcontinental railroads and federal highways respectively. Forget even Bill Clinton’s cheerleading for the “information superhighway”, which helped pave the way for the spread of the internet...
We need go back only to 2005 when a Republican-controlled Capitol Hill pushed through the infamous $280bn Highways Act, which was the largest transport bill in US history. ...
The US spends just 2 per cent of its gross domestic product on infrastructure. The European Union spends twice that, and China more than four times. It is showing. ...

It's not just the crumbling infrastructure, though that that alone is enough to justify the spending -- especially at a time when interest and other costs are so low -- it's the way in which Congress has all but turned its back on the unemployed. We have an opportunity to provide employment and at the same time invest in projects that have clear net benefits. Yet politics stands in the way and millions of unemployed face a less hopeful future because of it. People who have done nothing wrong except get caught up in a recession -- people who, when they have jobs, show up every day and work hard in support of their families -- are stamped with permanent scars from long-term unemployment. They wonder when, if ever, they will find a job again (and if they do find one what type of job it will be). Yet we do nothing to help them even though meeting our great infrastructure needs could help with the unemployment crisis. Grrr.

Lots of Talk About Deficit Reduction Lately, Not So Much About Job Creation

Un

Friday, November 04, 2011

Economy Creates 80,000 Jobs in October

We need to create 100,000 to 125,000 jobs per month just to keep up with the growth in population. In order to reabsorb the millions of workers who have lost jobs during the recession back into the labor force, we need to create several hundred thousand jobs per month, and even at that rate it would take years for employment to fully recover.

Unfortunately, according to the latest employment report from the BLS, the economy only created 80,000 jobs in October:

Nonfarm payroll employment continued to trend up in October (+80,000), and the unemployment rate was little changed at 9.0 percent... Employment in the private sector rose, with modest job growth continuing in professional and businesses services, leisure and hospitality, health care, and mining. Government employment continued to trend down.

The average over the last three months was 114,000. That's enough to keep up with population growth, but no more. Unemployment did fall slightly, from 9.1 percent to 9.0 percent, and the the employment to population ratio also increased by 0.1 pp to 58.4 percent. Those numbers are moving in the right direction, but the rate of change is much slower than needed. Again, at this rate it will be years before we get back to full employment. And the fall in government employment, something under our control, at a time when we need to be creating jobs doesn't help at all.

The big picture from this report is that we are not experiencing the kind of growth typical in recoveries -- it is much slower than the recovery from previous recessions.  We are moving sideways -- we aren't losing ground but we aren't gaining ground either, at least not at a satisfactory rate -- and looking forward it's hard to see anything that will change the painfully slow recovery the economy is currently experiencing.

[Also posted at CBS News.]

Thursday, November 03, 2011

"The Case for Rebuilding our Transportation Infrastructure"

Infrastructure needs are high, costs are unusually low, and people need jobs. In addition infrastructure spending, which enhances future economic growth, can be viewed as a supply-side policy.

If our financial infrastructure was crumbling we'd do something about it, so why not do the same for our physical infrastructure, especially since the benefit to cost ratio is unusually high? I suppose we all know the answer, but it's still worth making members of Congress show their votes:

Creating Jobs and Boosting the Economy: The Case for Rebuilding our Transportation Infrastructure, by Aaron Klein, Treasury Notes: Today, the Senate begins its consideration of the Rebuild America Jobs Act, which would put hundreds of thousands of construction workers back on the job and modernize America’s crumbling infrastructure. The President proposed this measure to Congress as part of the American Jobs Act as a way to create jobs and improve the Nation’s long-term economic competitiveness by allowing goods and services to more efficiently reach domestic and global markets. The White House also released a report today that provides examples of recent infrastructure projects which have produced significant economic benefits.
Our economy is as interconnected as our infrastructure, and well-targeted infrastructure investments create immediate and long-term economic benefits to both local communities and those further away. ... As Secretary Geithner said when he visited the UPS Worldport Facility in Louisville, Kentucky recently, “If you do a better job of repairing roads and bridges, highways, airports, railways, it makes companies more competitive. It lowers their costs. It’s like a tax cut.”  Simply put, wise investments in infrastructure save companies and consumers both time and money.
In addition to laying the foundation for stronger economic growth, we must also work to address a crucial problem facing our economy today - unemployment. Investments in infrastructure today will put Americans back to work. And with over 1 million construction workers currently unemployed, now is the right time to invest in infrastructure. Eighty percent of jobs created by investing in infrastructure will likely be created in three occupations - construction, manufacturing, and retail trade - which are among the hardest hit from the recession. Treasury Department analysis shows that these sectors pay middle-class wages, so employment in these sectors bolsters middle-class jobs. ...

I am a bit worried about the privatization of infrastructure in some of these proposals, but that's about how the programs are structured, not about whether they are needed.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"Hayek on Monetary Policy and Unemployment"

David Glasner:

... Sixty years ago Hayek was arguing against an extreme version of Keynesian doctrine that viewed increasing aggregate demand as a panacea for all economic ills. Hayek did not win the battle himself, but his position did eventually win out, if not completely at least in large measure. Today, however, an equally extreme version of Hayek’s position seems to have become ascendant. It denies that increasing aggregate demand can, under any circumstances, increase employment. I don’t know what Hayek would think about all this if he were alive today, but I suspect that he would be appalled.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Unemployment Insurance and Job Search in the Great Recession

New research from Jesse Rothstein shows that, contrary to what you may have heard from those who are trying to blame our economic problems on government programs rather than malfeasance on Wall Street, unemployment insurance is not the cause of the slow recovery of employment:

Unemployment Insurance and Job Search in the Great Recession, by Jesse Rothstein, NBER Working Paper No. 17534 [open link]: Nearly two years after the official end of the "Great Recession," the labor market remains historically weak. One candidate explanation is supply-side effects driven by dramatic expansions of Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefit durations, to as many as 99 weeks. This paper investigates the effect of these UI extensions on job search and reemployment. I use the longitudinal structure of the Current Population Survey to construct unemployment exit hazards that vary across states, over time, and between individuals with differing unemployment durations. I then use these hazards to explore a variety of comparisons intended to distinguish the effects of UI extensions from other determinants of employment outcomes.
The various specifications yield quite similar results. UI extensions had significant but small negative effects on the probability that the eligible unemployed would exit unemployment, concentrated among the long-term unemployed. The estimates imply that UI benefit extensions raised the unemployment rate in early 2011 by only about 0.1-0.5 percentage points, much less than is implied by previous analyses, with at least half of this effect attributable to reduced labor force exit among the unemployed rather than to the changes in reemployment rates that are of greater policy concern.

"More Jobs Predicted for Machines, Not People"

The "key to winning the race" is to make machines complements, not substitutes:

More Jobs Predicted for Machines, Not People, by Steve Lohr, NY Times: A faltering economy explains much of the job shortage in America, but advancing technology has sharply magnified the effect, more so than is generally understood...
The automation of more and more work once done by humans is the central theme of “Race Against the Machine,” an e-book to be published on Monday. “Many workers, in short, are losing the race against the machine,” the authors write.
Erik Brynjolfsson, an economist and director of the M.I.T. Center for Digital Business, and Andrew P. McAfee, associate director and principal research scientist at the center, are two of the nation’s leading experts on technology and productivity. The tone of alarm in their book is a departure for the pair, whose previous research has focused mainly on the benefits of advancing technology. ...
Faster, cheaper computers and increasingly clever software, the authors say, are giving machines capabilities that were once thought to be distinctively human, like understanding speech, translating from one language to another and recognizing patterns. ...
The skills of machines, the authors write, will only improve. ... Yet computers, the authors say, tend to be narrow and literal-minded, good at assigned tasks but at a loss when a solution requires intuition and creativity — human traits. A partnership, they assert, is the path to job creation in the future.
“In medicine, law, finance, retailing, manufacturing and even scientific discovery,” they write, “the key to winning the race is not to compete against machines but to compete with machines.”

Friday, October 21, 2011

Paul Krugman: Party of Pollution

As I said the other day, the GOP's jobs proposals amount to picking something that they (or the people who finance their campaigns) don't like — the EPA, Dodd-Frank, health care legislation, Sarbanes-Oxley, etc. — and then finding some way to argue that eliminating it will create jobs:

Party of Pollution, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Last month President Obama finally unveiled a serious economic stimulus plan — far short of what I’d like to see, but a step in the right direction. Republicans, predictably, have blocked it. ...
So what is the G.O.P. jobs plan? The answer, in large part, is to allow more pollution. ... Both Rick Perry and Mitt Romney have ... put weakened environmental protection at the core of their economic proposals, as have Senate Republicans. Mr. Perry has put out a specific number — 1.2 million jobs — that appears to be based on a study released by the American Petroleum Institute ... claiming favorable employment effects from removing restrictions on oil and gas extraction. The same study lies behind the claims of Senate Republicans.
But does this oil-industry-backed study actually make a serious case for weaker environmental protection as a job-creation strategy? No.
Part of the problem is that the study relies heavily on an assumed “multiplier” effect, in which every new job in energy leads indirectly to the creation of 2.5 jobs elsewhere. Republicans, you may recall, were scornful of claims that government aid that helps avoid layoffs of schoolteachers also indirectly helps save jobs in the private sector. But I guess the laws of economics change when it’s an oil company rather than a school district doing the hiring.
Moreover,... the big numbers in the report are projections for late this decade. The report predicts fewer than 200,000 jobs next year, and fewer than 700,000 even by 2015. You might want to compare these numbers with ... the 14 million Americans currently unemployed, and the one million to two million jobs that independent estimates suggest the Obama plan would create, not in the distant future, but in 2012. ...
More pollution, then, isn’t the route to full employment. But is there a longer-term economic case for less environmental protection? No. ... The important thing to understand is that ... pollution ... does real, measurable damage, especially to human health. ...
How big are these damages? A new study by researchers at Yale and Middlebury College ... estimates ... that there are a number of industries inflicting environmental damage that’s worth more than the sum of the wages they pay and the profits they earn — which means, in effect, that they destroy value rather than creating it. ...
Republicans, of course, have strong incentives to claim otherwise: the big value-destroying industries are concentrated in the energy and natural resources sector, which overwhelmingly donates to the G.O.P. But the reality is that more pollution wouldn’t solve our jobs problem. All it would do is make us poorer and sicker.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"First Look at US Pay Data, It’s Awful"

In case you were wondering:

First look at US pay data, it’s awful, by David Cay Johnston, Reuters: Anyone who wants to understand the enduring nature of Occupy Wall Street and similar protests across the country need only look at the first official data on 2010 paychecks... The figures from payroll taxes reported to the Social Security Administration on jobs and pay are, in a word, awful.
These are important and powerful figures. ... There were fewer jobs and they paid less last year, except at the very top where, the number of people making more than $1 million increased by 20 percent over 2009.
The median paycheck -- half made more, half less -- fell again in 2010, down 1.2 percent to $26,364. That works out to $507 a week, the lowest level, after adjusting for inflation, since 1999.
The number of Americans with any work fell again last year, down by more than a half million from 2009 to less than 150.4 million.

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More significantly,...  close to 10 million workers who did not find even an hour of paid work in 2010. ...
What these figures tell us is that there was a reason voters responded in the fall of 2010 to the Republican promise that if given control of Congress they would focus on one thing: jobs.
But while Republicans were swept into the majority in the House of Representatives, that promise has been ignored. ... Instead of jobs, the focus on Capitol Hill is on tax cuts for corporations with untaxed profits held offshore, on continuing the temporary Bush administration tax cuts -- especially for those making $1 million or more - and on cutting federal spending, which mean destroying more jobs in the short run. ...
The data show why protests like Occupy Wall Street have so quickly gained momentum around the country... Will official Washington look at the numbers and change course? Or do voters need to change their elected representatives if they want to put America back on a path to widespread prosperity?

And, from the WSJ:

Real hourly wages fell 0.1% in September from August. After rising briefly at the start of this recovery, real hourly pay is back to about where it was two years ago — despite the fact that worker productivity has risen more than 5% since then.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Convenient Excuse

If you don't have a job, many in the GOP think it's your own fault. Never mind that there are fewer jobs than people looking by a wide margin, somehow if the unemployed would try harder, the jobs will magically appear:

GOP debate crowd cheers idea that jobless are to blame for their plight, by Greg Sargent: ...This moment from last night’s debate, in which the audience cheered the idea that the unemployed are solely to blame for not having a job, strikes me as one of the most iconic moments we’ve seen at the debates yet...
Anderson Cooper says: “Herman Cain, I’ve got to ask you — two weeks ago, you said, `Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks. If you don’t have a job, and you’re not rich, blame yourself.’ That was two weeks ago. Do you still say that?” At this point applause starts, and after Cain stands by the claim, the applause crescendos and hoots of approval can be heard.
Lovely,... the crowd is applauding the idea that the unemployed are solely to blame for their plight. The basic suggestion here is that ... it’s morally correct to place all the blame for unemployment on the jobless themselves. ...

Convenient, isn't it? It gives people who don't think they have any obligation to contribute to social insurance a reason to turn their backs on the unemployed.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The GOP's (Lack of a) Jobs Plan

The GOP wants to take us backwards:

GOP: ‘Deregulate Wall Street!’, by Ezra Klein: In recent days, more than 900 cities have hosted protests under the Occupy Wall Street banner. But the enthusiasm ... hasn’t trickled up to the GOP presidential campaign. There, the candidates want to leave Wall Street alone. ... They want to deregulate -- actively and aggressively.

“I introduced the bill to repeal Dodd-Frank,” bragged Rep. Rep. Michele Bachmann... But Herman Cain was not to be outdone. “Repeal Dodd-Frank, and get rid of the capital gains tax,” he countered. Repealing the capital gains tax would make it vastly more profitable to earn a living through investment income rather than wage income. A hedge-fund manager, for instance, might escape income taxation entirely. It would give smart, young college students even more reason than they have now to go into the hedge fund game than, say, medicine.
“Dodd-Frank obviously is a disaster,” agreed Rep. Ron Paul. “But Sarbanes-Oxley costs a trillion dollars, too. Let’s repeal that, too!” Sarbanes-Oxley ... is the law passed in the wake on the Enron scandals. It sought to make balance sheets more transparent and financial statements more trustworthy. It is not well liked by the financial sector.
Mitt Romney, while not quite as carefree in his denunciations of the financial-regulation reforms, largely agrees with his co-candidates. His jobs plan promises that a Romney presidency would “seek to repeal Dodd-Frank and replace it with a streamlined regulatory framework,” though it doesn’t give much detail on what that streamlined framework would be. He also says that “the Sarbanes-Oxley law passed in the wake of the accounting scandals of the early 2000s should also be modified as part of any financial reform.”
So three years after the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, the consensus in the Republican Primary is that we should deregulate Wall Street not just to where it was before the bubble burst, but to somewhere nearer to where it was before Enron crashed. ...

Romney's jobs plan is to repeal Dodd-Frank? Speaking of jobs, how about the GOP jobs plan?:

Republicans Getting a Pass on Their Jobs Plans, by Kevin Drum: Greg Sargent wants to know why the media is giving Republicans a huge pass on their various "jobs plans":

Obama and the Senate GOP have both introduced jobs plans. In reporting on the Senate plan, many news organizations described it as a “GOP jobs plan.” And that’s fine — Rand Paul said it would create five million of them. But few if any of the same news orgs that amplified the GOP offering of a jobs plan are making any serious effort to determine whether independent experts think there’s anything to it. And independent experts don’t think there’s anything to it — they think the GOP jobs plan would not create any jobs in the near term, and could even hurt the economy. By contrast, they do think the Obama plan would create jobs and lead to growth.
Why aren’t these facts in every single news story about the ongoing jobs debate? Why aren’t they being broadcast far and wide? ...

I ... suspect that reporters are simply so used to Republicans embracing nonsense that they evaluate it on a whole different plane than they do "serious" proposals. GOP campaign plans are treated more as optics than as actual policy, as ways to signal a candidate's conservative bona fides more than as blueprints for actual legislation.

But Greg is right: this should stop. There's no reason to give these guys a pass on their laughable jobs plans that virtually no one thinks will create any actual jobs. ...

Perry's jobs program -- have people drill holes in the ground and then, for the most part, fill them up again -- sounds quite Keynesian. But it's mostly a way to argue for deregulation of his bread and butter, the energy industry, rather than a serious job creation proposal (the claim that it is a favor to the energy industry rather than a serious jobs proposal is bolstered by the other leg of his jobs plan, to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency). This is characteristic of all the GOP jobs proposals -- pick something that you don't like, the EPA, Dodd-Frank, health care legislation, Sarbanes-Oxley, etc. -- and then argue that eliminating it will create jobs. Then wait for the press to report it as a serious job creation proposal (or at least fail to point out that the claims can't withstand scrutiny).

Monday, October 17, 2011

Spence: The Global Jobs Challenge

Michael Spence:

The Global Jobs Challenge, by Michael Spence, Commentary, Project Syndicate: ...The third challenge is distributional. As the tradable part of the global economy (goods and services that can be produced in one country and consumed in another) expands, competition for economic activity and jobs broadens. That affects the price of labor and the range of employment opportunities within all globally integrated economies. Subsets of the population gain, and others lose, certainly relative to expectations – and often absolutely.
Many advanced countries – in fact, most of them – have experienced limited middle-income growth. ... In the United States, income inequality has risen as the upper end of the income and education spectrum benefits from globalization, while the rest experience declining employment opportunities in the tradable sector. ...
What does it mean – for individuals, businesses, and governments – that structural adjustment is falling further and further behind the global forces that are causing pressure for structural change?
Above all, it means that expectations are broadly inconsistent with reality, and need to adjust, in some cases downward. But distributional effects need to be taken seriously and addressed. The burden of weak or non-existent recoveries should not be borne by the unemployed, including the young. In the interest of social cohesion, market outcomes need to be modified to create a more even distribution of incomes and benefits, both now and in inter-temporal terms. ...
None of this will be easy. ... Nevertheless, the unemployed and underemployed, especially younger people, expect their leaders and institutions to try.

I don't like the call to accept that things will be worse in the future, and to get used to it. It is generally based upon the idea that much of our growth was due to the bubble - it was false growth -- and hence led to the perception that we can grow faster than is actually possible.

But if the resources hadn't have been invested in the financial industry, they wouldn't have been wasted, they would have gone elsewhere. If we had taken all the resources (and talent) that went into the financial sector and directed it elsewhere, it would have promoted growth and employment -- and likely of a far more stable and broad-based variety. In my view the challenge is to redirect these resources into productive uses, and to fix the mal-distribution of income gains. But simply accepting that expectations need to adjust downward -- that the fate of the middle and lower classes is a diminished future -- is not acceptable. We can do better than that.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Wanted: Job Creation

I wish I could find a way to adequately express the frustration I feel over the way Congress has all but turned its back on the unemployed. Even now, the only reason we're hearing anything from Democrats about job creation is because there's an election ahead. The legislation is timed for the politicians -- it needs to maximize reelection chances -- minimizing the struggles of the unemployed is a secondary consideration (if that). If the election were further away it's unlikely we'd be hearing about this much at all. And Republicans are worse, they have no plans at all except to use unemployment as an excuse to further ideological goals (balanced budget amendments, tax cuts for the wealthy, etc.). How can politicians be so indifferent to the struggles that the unemployed face daily? Are they really so disconnected from the lives of ordinary people that they don't understand how devastating this is to those who lost jobs due to the recession, people who can't find a way to get hired again no matter how hard they try?

Anyway, I can't seem to find a way to say this with the shrillness it deserves, and I apologize for that, but I just don't understand why the unemployment crisis isn't a national emergency.

Fulfilling Free Trade's Promise

Richard Green:

For free trade to fulfill its promise, the national government must redistribute income: As a card-carrying economist, I like trade--overall, it potentially enriches countries that engage in it. The problem is the meaning of enrichment.
Trade theory says that trade enlarges the pie that people share.  But among the most important contributions to trade theory is the Samuelson-Stolper Theorem, which says that relatively scarce factors of production see their returns fall when trade is introduced. In the context of an economy like the US, this means that low skilled workers see their wages fall in the presence of trade. The trajectory of wages in the US over the past 20 years or so are consistent with the predictions of Samuelson and Stolper.
NAFTA was sold to the US public as something that would make everyone better off. And it principle, it could have done so, had some of the gains to those who benefited from NAFTA been redistributed to those who lost as a result of it. Instead we got the NAFTA but not redistribution. This likely explains the widening disparity of incomes.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

"A Breathtaking Act of Economic Vandalism"

As this says, everyone expected Republicans to block President Obama’s jobs bill, but it's still disappointing to see the "you're on your ownership socety" in action:

No Jobs Bill, and No Ideas, Editorial, NY Times: It was all predicted, but the unanimous decision by Senate Republicans on Tuesday to filibuster and thus kill President Obama’s jobs bill was still a breathtaking act of economic vandalism. There are 14 million people out of work, wages are falling, poverty is rising, and a second recession may be blowing in, but not a single Republican would even allow debate on a sound plan to cut middle-class taxes and increase public-works spending.
The bill the Republicans shot down is not a panacea, but independent economists say it would have a significant and swift effect on the current stagnation. Macroeconomic Advisers ... said it could raise economic growth by 1.25 percentage points and create 1.3 million jobs in 2012. Moody’s Analytics estimated new growth at 2 percentage points and 1.9 million jobs. ...
The Republicans offer no actual economic plans, only tired slogans about cutting regulations and spending, and ending health care reform. The party seems content to run out the clock on Mr. Obama’s term while doing very little. On Tuesday, Mr. Obama’s campaign manager, Jim Messina, accused Republicans of trying to “suffocate the economy” in hopes that the pain would work to their political advantage. They are doing little to refute that charge. ...

Sunday, October 09, 2011

How Long Will It Take for the Labor Market to Recover?

To state the obvious, we need to create a lot more jobs per month than we have so far. If we continue at present rates, the unemployment rate will stay constant or increase even further. Even if we duplicate the performance of the economy prior to the recession, it will take four years to reach an unemployment rate of 7%. Thus, to get out of this in a reasonable amount of time we need job creation to accelerate considerably, and it's hard to see that happening without help from Congress. Unfortunately, Congress pretends to "feel your pain," but they don't seem to really understand how hard it is for those who are struggling with unemployment -- that this is a crisis requiring immediate, agressive action -- and it's hard to imagine that Congress will give labor markets the amount of help they need. So no need to hold on to your hats, it looks like we're headed for a very slow ride:

Two more job market charts, macroblog: ...Payroll employment growth has averaged about 110,000 jobs a month since February 2010, the jobs low point associated with the crisis and recession. This growth level compares, unfavorably, with the 158,000 jobs added per month during the last jobs recovery period from August 2003 (the low point following the 2001 recession) through November 2007 (the month before the recent recession began). One hundred and ten thousand jobs a month compares favorably, however, to the 96,000 job creation pace so far this year.
Are these sorts of differences material? ...[W]ith a few assumptions, such as the presumptions that the labor force will grow at the same rate as census population projections (for the aficionados, my calculations also assume that the ratio of household employment to establishment employment is equal to its average value since January of this year), the unemployment rates associated with job growth of 158,000, 110,000, and 96,000 per month would look something like this:
These paths are just suggestive, of course, but I think they tell the story. The same jobs recovery rate of the prerecession period would get the unemployment rate down below 7 percent in four years or so. But at the pace we have been going this year, things get worse, not better.

Friday, October 07, 2011

The Employment Report: Still Moving Sideways

A few comments on the employment report:

The Employment Report: Still Moving Sideways

Monday, October 03, 2011

Cantor Says Obama’s Job Bill Is Dead

That the jobs bill is dead is not a surprise, but given the national unemployment crisis we face the lack of will and urgency in Congress to do anything about it ought to add fuel to whatever fire recent protests have ignited. We need to do something to help the unemployed now, not tomorrow -- more should have been done already -- and the action needs to be bold and aggressive. Don't these people have any sense what it's like to look for a job for months and months and not be able to find one while every bit of hard-earned savings and then some withers away (if there's any savings to begin with given the stagnation in wages in recent decades)? Do they understand what the unemployed face in their day to day lives? Where's the compassionate conservatism we heard so much about? Do Republicans really think that trade agreements and tax cuts for government contractors -- while opposing a payroll tax cut -- is going to provide the help that is needed? And what's wrong with the centrist Democrats who are voting against Obama's plan? Whose interests are they protecting? It sure isn't the jobless. Like I said, this isn't unexpected, but (obviously) it still irks me to see it play out in this way:

Cantor: Obama’s Job Bill Is Dead in Congress, by Janet Hook and Carol E. Lee, Washington Wire: President Barack Obama’s $447 billion jobs bill was declared dead in Congress Monday, as Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) said he did not expect the House to take it up as a package.
Mr. Cantor announced the House would consider elements of Mr. Obama’s jobs agenda in the coming month, including trade agreements ... and a tax break for government contractors. But asked if the president’s jobs bill as a whole is dead, Mr. Cantor replied, “Yes.”
“The president continues to say, ‘Pass my bill in its entirety,’” Mr. Cantor said in a press briefing. “As I’ve said from the outset, the all-or-nothing approach is just unacceptable.”...
Mr. Obama ... has been flying around the country holding up a copy of his jobs bill and insisting that the House and Senate pass it “right away.”Earlier on Monday, Mr. Obama said he wants Congress to schedule a vote this month and will “be insisting that we have a vote on this bill” in upcoming discussions with House and Senate leaders.
The Republican-led House isn’t Mr. Obama’s only obstacle. In the Senate,... top Democrats concede they would not have the votes within their own party ranks to pass the bill. Some conservative Democrats say the bill calls for spending too much. Oil state Democrats oppose proposed tax increases on oil and gas companies. ...
Although some Republicans have indicated they are willing to go along with Mr. Obama’s payroll tax extension, that was not among the elements of the bill that Mr. Cantor said would be brought to the House floor. ...
Officials said the White House’s goal over the next few months is to get elements of Mr. Obama’s jobs bill passed, and in the process work to isolate Republicans as obstructionist in the event that doesn’t happen.
Noting that Democrats have criticized elements of the president’s jobs bill, Mr. Cantor said, “The president’s got some whipping to do on his own side.” ...

The administration ought to be able to make Republicans pay for their obstructionism if they have any political skill at all, but their past history leads to doubts that they can. This is a big part of the problem.

Paul Krugman: Holding China to Account

Improving our trade balance would help with the recovery:

Holding China to Account, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: The dire state of the world economy reflects destructive actions on the part of many players. Still, the fact that so many have behaved badly shouldn’t stop us from holding individual bad actors to account.
And that’s what Senate leaders will be doing this week, as they take up legislation that would threaten sanctions against China and other currency manipulators.
Respectable opinion is aghast. But respectable opinion has been consistently wrong lately, and the currency issue is no exception.
Ask yourself: Why is it so hard to restore full employment? ... The answer is that we used to run much smaller trade deficits. A return to economic health would look much more achievable if we weren’t spending $500 billion more each year on imported goods and services than foreigners spent on our exports.
To get our trade deficit down, however, we need to make American products more competitive, which in practice means that we need the dollar’s value to fall in terms of other currencies. Yes, some people will shriek about “debasing” the dollar. But sensible policy makers have long known that sometimes a weaker currency means a stronger economy... Switzerland, for example, has intervened massively to keep the franc from getting too strong against the euro. ...
The United States, given its special global role, can’t and shouldn’t be equally aggressive. But given our economy’s desperate need for more jobs, a weaker dollar is very much in our national interest — and we can and should take action against countries that are keeping their currencies undervalued, and thereby standing in the way of a much-needed decline in our trade deficit.
That, above all, means China. ... And the reality of the unemployment disaster is also my answer to those who warn that getting tough with China might unleash a trade war or damage world commercial diplomacy. Those are real risks, although I think they’re exaggerated. But they need to be set against the fact — not the mere possibility — that high unemployment is inflicting tremendous cumulative damage as we speak.
Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, said it clearly last week: unemployment is a “national crisis,” with so many workers now among the long-term unemployed that the economy is at risk of suffering long-run as well as short-run damage.
And we can’t afford to neglect any important means of alleviating that national crisis. Holding China accountable won’t solve our economic problems on its own, but it can contribute to a solution — and it’s an action that’s long overdue.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Fed Watch: Too Late for the Unemployed?

Tim Duy says that while Ben Bernanke suggested that the main unemployment problem was cyclical, not structural in his speech at Jackson Hole, Federal Reserve policymakers are increasingly adopting the structural view. Unfortunately, the belief that unemployment is mostly structural is a self-fulfilling proposition:

Too Late For The Unemployed?, by Tim Duy: The debate about whether unemployment is cyclical or structural unemployment arose last year. At this point, it looks like Federal Reserve policymakers increasingly favor the structural side of the debate.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, speaking at Jackson Hole, suggested that cyclical unemployment remains the primary economic challenge:

Normally, monetary or fiscal policies aimed primarily at promoting a faster pace of economic recovery in the near term would not be expected to significantly affect the longer-term performance of the economy. However, current circumstances may be an exception to that standard view--the exception to which I alluded earlier. Our economy is suffering today from an extraordinarily high level of long-term unemployment, with nearly half of the unemployed having been out of work for more than six months. Under these unusual circumstances, policies that promote a stronger recovery in the near term may serve longer-term objectives as well. In the short term, putting people back to work reduces the hardships inflicted by difficult economic times and helps ensure that our economy is producing at its full potential rather than leaving productive resources fallow.

Note that he does not conclude the long-term unemployed are by definition structurally unemployed. Still, he continues to suggest that cyclical unemployment can turn structural:

In the longer term, minimizing the duration of unemployment supports a healthy economy by avoiding some of the erosion of skills and loss of attachment to the labor force that is often associated with long-term unemployment.

But, as is well known, he throws the ball to the fiscal authorities:

Notwithstanding this observation, which adds urgency to the need to achieve a cyclical recovery in employment, most of the economic policies that support robust economic growth in the long run are outside the province of the central bank. We have heard a great deal lately about federal fiscal policy in the United States, so I will close with some thoughts on that topic, focusing on the role of fiscal policy in promoting stability and growth.

But is it already too late? Has the cyclical unemployment turned structural? This week, serial-dissenter Philadelphia Federal Reserve President Charles Plosser embraced the structural view:

These numbers are troubling, especially when more than 40 percent of the unemployed, or some 6 million people, have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer. This underscores that we should not expect any easy solution. Millions of unemployed workers may take longer to find jobs because their skills have depreciated or they may need to seek employment in other sectors. These structural issues will take time to resolve. Jobs and workers will need to be reallocated across the economy, which is a long and slow process.

Plosser takes the rise in long-term unemployment as an indication of structural unemployment. He then extends the point to fight the last war:

We have provided a great deal of monetary accommodation to the economy, and given the stubbornness of the unemployment rate in responding to these efforts, we should be cautious and vigilant that our previous accommodative policies do not translate into a steady rise in inflation over the medium term even while the unemployment rate remains elevated. Creating an environment of stagflation, reminiscent of the 1970s, will not help businesses, the unemployed, or the consumer. It is an outcome we must carefully guard against.

Likewise, the centrist Atlanta Federal Reserve President Dennis Lockhart also speaks of structural factors with respect to the long-term unemployed, even invoking a comparison with Europe:

I was concerned by not only the persistence of high unemployment but also the complicated internal dynamics of the current labor market. To me, it is not clear to what degree structural factors are impeding the filling of job vacancies. And with some 43 percent of the unemployed out of work for more than six months, it is not clear to what extent the long-term unemployed are becoming a class of permanently unemployed, creating a problem resembling the so-called structural unemployment of some European countries. Further, it is not clear why participation in the labor force continues to fall. Finally, it is not clear what level of unemployment should be considered the natural or equilibrium rate under current circumstances.

Not to be outdone, the difficult-to-categorize St. Louis Federal Reserve Chairman James Bullard also looks to Europe for guidance. From his presentation this week:

  • Unfortunately, unemployment rates have a checkered history in advanced economies over the last several decades.
  • In particular, “hysteresis” has been a common problem, in which unemployment rises and simply stays high.
  • This occurred in Europe during the last 30 years.
  • If such an outcome happened in the U.S., and monetary policy was explicitly tied to unemployment outcomes, monetary policy could be pulled off course for a generation.

Now, it seems to me premature to be looking to Europe as an example. It seems reasonably obvious the unemployment problem is the result of a severe negative shock to spending. You might say no, it is structural in that we can no longer rely on housing to support incomes. But that just boils down to a spending problem - unemployment was at the natural rate as long as households and firms had the ability and willingness to spend. Moreover, I am a bit hard pressed to see how America was transformed into Europe in just three years. That said, I am not the policymaker. It appears Federal Reserve members increasingly embrace the structural unemployment story, and that suggests they will hesitate to bring out substantial additional stimulus until the see greater evidence of deflation. Of course, the longer we drag our heels on the unemployment crisis, the more easily it will be for policymakers to wash their hands of the issue, as the cyclical unemployment eventually will become structural.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Plosser: Recent Stimulus Will Hurt the Fed's Credibility

Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia President Charles Plosser voted against Operation Twist -- the recent attempt for the Fed to help the economy -- because:

“The actions taken in August and September tend to undermine the Fed’s credibility by giving the impression that we think such policies can have a major impact on the speed of the recovery. It is my assessment that they will not,” ... “We should not take certain actions simply because we can.”
“If we act as if the Fed has the ability to solve all our economic problems, the credibility of the institution is undermined,” Plosser said. “The loss of that credibility and confidence could be costly to the economy because it will make it much harder for the Fed to implement effective monetary policy in the future,” he said.

He certainly isn't acting like "the Fed has the ability to solve all our economic problems," (and two other Fed officials dissented along with him). In addition, the Fed officials who voted for this action have been careful to say this won't, in fact, solve all of our problems. They've said it can help modestly, and given the state of the economy even modest help is vary valuable, but they have not implied this will suddenly and magically fix our problems. So I really don't see how this action undermines credibility. Fed officials have been clear this is no magic bullet, but they think it could help some and things are so bad -- and the threat of inflation so low -- that they feel compelled to try.

But from Plosser's point of view, the Fed can't do much at all at this point, and the fear of inflation down the road trumps concerns about unemployment now. Plus, the Fed can't do anything about unemployment anyway:

“I am skeptical that this will do much to spur businesses to hire or consumers to spend, given the ongoing structural adjustments occurring in the economy and the uncertainties posed by the fiscal challenges both here and abroad,” Plosser said. Meanwhile, “we should be cautious and vigilant that our previous accommodative policies do not translate into a steady rise in inflation over the medium term even while the unemployment rate remains elevated.”

He is saying that unemployment is largely structural ("given the ongoing structural adjustments") even though it's clear that a large part of it is cyclical, and that uncertainty over fiscal policy is holding the economy back even though bond yields show no sign of this whatsoever. Thus, in his view the structural problems combined with uncertainty are holding back employment, and there's nothing the Fed can do about it.

Is he worried about inflation in the near term? No:

with many commodity prices now leveling off or falling, and inflation expectations relatively stable, inflation will moderate in the near-term

And why should we trust his forecasts in any case? He keeps seeing green shoots that aren't there:

“I was expecting GDP growth in 2011 to be 3% to 3.5%. Now, I expect GDP growth to be less than 2% in 2011, but to gradually accelerate to around 3% in 2012.” He added “I do not believe the current data signal that we are on the precipice of a so-called double-dip recession.”

So he keeps expecting growth that never comes, and uses those expectations along with the excuse that it's structural/uncertainty forestall policy action. What if his forecast for 3% growth in 2012 is as wrong as his previous forecast, and what if there is a double-dip? What if the unemployment problem is largely cyclical like most analysts say? What if, as many have concluded, uncertainty is not the problem? Is he really so certain about his forecasts and views about what's holding the economy back given his track record? With near term inflation falling, why not at least try to do more? Why should inflation risk trump the risk of continued sluggish growth (which in and of itself alleviates inflation concerns if it happens)? Is somewhat higher inflation down the road -- if it even happens -- really more worrisome than a period of elevated unemployment?

And why should this action produce inflation in any case? Operation Twist doesn't change the size of the Fed's balance sheet, it changes the average duration of the assets the Fed holds. If the balance sheet doesn't expand how, exactly, does that create inflation pressure to any significant degree? If there's no inflation pressure, what is the real concern? It appears to be the credibility argument and the fact that unemployment can't be helped -- it's structural/uncertainty -- but as noted above the structural/uncertainty claim is easy to rebut, and the concerns over credibility ring hollow. So he might at least consider the possibility that he has this wrong.

For me, one of the most frustrating thing about policy over the last several years is the continued insistence from some Fed officials that good times are just around the corner so any action they take will be inflationary. They have been wrong again and again, yet the optimism about future growth -- green shoots -- remains. Like Paul Krugman, I have been warning about a slow recovery since at least 2008, and warning about seeing green shoots that aren't there for almost as long, and it's disappointing to see policymakers continue to use the promise of good times just ahead -- especially policymakers who have been wrong again and again -- along with the easily refuted claim that the problem is all uncertainty and structural issues as an excuse to stand against doing more to try to help the unemployed (however modestly).

A Free Lunch for America

Brad DeLong explains how to get A Free Lunch for America.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"Wages and Recovery"

Laurence Kotlikoff misrepresents the views of Paul Krugman and Jamie Galbraith:

Five Prescriptions to Heal Economy’s Ills, by Laurence Kotlikoff, Bloomberg: Desperate times call for creative measures. We’re in desperate times, but we’ve had little creative thinking from the Obama administration on how to fix the economy. ... I see five things policy makers can do to get the economy going. ...
4. Get prices and wages unstuck.
Some prices and wages are set too high, thereby damping demand for output and for the workers needed to produce it. This is the standard sticky wage and price explanation for our economic malaise offered by Keynesian economists such as Paul Krugman and James Galbraith. I think there are fewer markets suffering from this problem than Krugman and Galbraith do, but there are enough such markets to make the case for government intervention. Indeed, the president should put these economists in charge of identifying the markets suffering from this problem and helping their participants set market-clearing prices and wages.
One example is the market for construction workers. A 1931 law called the Davis-Bacon Act effectively requires contractors using federal money to pay union wages. If the act were suspended or repealed, federal spending on much-needed infrastructure projects could create a lot more jobs.  

In comments, Jamie Galbraith corrects the record:

...I have never written, argued or believed that unemployment can be cured by cutting wages. Nor does that position have anything to do with Keynes, who wrote The General Theory to debunk this view. Keynes favored stable money wages, writing: "it is fortunate that the workers, though unconsciously, are instinctively more reasonable economists than the classical school, inasmuch as they resist reductions of money wages..."
It seems likely that Professor Kotlikoff has never read Keynes either.

Here's Paul Krugman's dismissal of this idea: Wages and recovery.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Romer: A Plan on Jobs Deserves a Hearing

Christina Romer takes on several arguments against Obama's job creation proposal, e.g. that worry about the deficit is standing in the way:

A Plan on Jobs Deserves a Hearing, by Christina Romer, Commentary, NY Times: ... People are concerned about the deficit, and this concern is holding back the recovery. Fiscal austerity, not more stimulus, is the answer.
This argument makes me crazy. There’s simply no evidence that concern about the current deficit is a significant factor limiting consumer spending or business investment. And government borrowing rates are at record lows, suggesting that financial markets are not worried about the deficit, either.
Moreover, as I discussed in a previous column, the best evidence shows that fiscal austerity depresses growth and raises unemployment in the near term. That’s the experience of countries like Greece, Portugal and Britain... Cut the current deficit and you will raise unemployment, not lower it.
Like many other countries, the United States has two terrible problems: a devastating lack of jobs right now and an unsustainable budget deficit over the longer run. The right question is not whether we can reduce unemployment by lowering the deficit (we can’t), but whether we can make progress on both problems.
With 14 million Americans unemployed and no prospect of rapid recovery on the horizon, we really have no choice: we must take additional measures to create jobs. ... Just as important, policy makers should be discussing how to make meaningful progress on the long-run deficit at the same time. We need a credible plan that phases in aggressive deficit reduction as the economy recovers.
The president has started a discussion about job creation. His proposal deserves a full debate based on facts, evidence and careful analysis.

One thing -- I wouldn't say that long-run deficit reduction is "Just as important" as job creation. Job creation is the more important concern right now.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Job Creation Overshadowed by Debt Reduction Speech

For a few days, we were actually talking about a job creation program instead of debt reduction. However, Obama's speech yesterday seems to have turned the conversation back to the debt. In his speech he did talk about how to pay for job creation, but his plans for over $3 trillion in debt reduction (on top of the cuts that were already in place as part of the deficit ceiling negotiations) is the message that stuck in the media. Job creation is no longer at the forefront of the conversation, and unless Obama is willing to lead on this issue, that won't change.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

"House Republicans Whittle Down $447 Billion American Jobs Act to $11 Billion"

I think this might be a political mistake if Republicans follow through on blocking all but $11 billion of Obama's jobs proposal. But this is likely just the opening bid, which is intentionally low. As I've noted before, I expect Republicans to go along with just enough to be able to defend against the charge they didn't do anything to help the jobless, and not a penny more -- and they will insist on tax cuts as a large fraction of whatever is done. (If Democrats reject a proposal heavily tilted toward tax cuts, Republicans will try to make it seem as though Democrats are the ones standing in the way. If Democrats play the game right, that shouldn't be a problem, but that's a big if):

House Republicans Whittle Down $447 Billion American Jobs Act to $11 Billion, by: David Dayen: The House GOP leadership has written a memo to their caucus picking and choosing what they would be willing to support in the American Jobs Act. The numbers come out to support for 1/44th of the overall price tag, about 2% of the total bill.
As you may know, the AJA is comprised of about 57% tax cuts and 43% spending initiatives. So in the main, House Republican leaders tossed out the spending and embraced a few of the tax cuts. They also rejected the tax hikes on corporations and the wealthy to pay for the bill.
John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy and Jeb Hensarling, who wrote the memo, took advantage of the President’s backtracking of an “all or nothing” approach to the bill, and stressed “areas of common agreement” in the plan. ...
So at best, you’re talking about a $447 billion jobs bill whittled down to no more than $11 billion. The memo closes by saying that “We are, however, committed to passing legislation to implement the policies in the areas where agreement can be found to support job creation and long-term economic growth.” With these numbers, I’m not sure why they’re even bothering.

Meanwhile, the millions of unemployed continue to struggle.

The American and European Jobs Machines

Conservatives have long argued that high taxes, regulation, and lack of mobility were hurting the European job machine. However, as Antonio Fatas notes, according to this measure, European labor markets have been outperforming US markets for over a decade:

The American and European jobs machines, by Antonio Fatas: Via Mark Thoma I read about the recent failure of the American jobs machine, unable to keep up with the strong dynamics it displayed during the 80s and 90s. After the 2001 recession the performance of the labor market as measured by the number of jobs or the employment rate (employment relative to population) has been much weaker than in the previous two decades. And it is a combination of very limited job creation during the 2001-2007 period and an extremely high rate of destruction during the last recession.
To add an international perspective, here is a comparison between the American, European and German job machines for the last 18 years.
The variable plotted is the employment rate for individuals in the 15-64 age group. During the 90s the US employment rate increased, at a time where the European (and German) employment rate was declining. This was a period where the US economy, in particular its labor market, was used as an embarrassing example for the Europeans. A lot of talk about how high taxes, regulation, lack of mobility in Europe were hurting the European job machine.
But starting with the late 90s we see a reversal of this trend. While the US employment rate flattens and then drops, the European rate, more so the German one, increases and by 2009/10, the German employment rate is above that of the US. Of course, this is just a partial view of the labor market (there are other age groups, there is the issue of number of hours worked), but it illustrates well the change in the performance of the US labor market, not just in isolation, but in comparison with similar economies. And what it is interesting is that this is not just the outcome of the great recession, it is a trend that had started more than a decade ago.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

"Unusually Severe and Persistent Earnings Losses"

The impact of job loss during recessions:

Recession Job Losers Take Bigger Hit to Future Earnings, by Sara Murray, WSJ: Workers who lose jobs in a recession suffer nearly twice the hit to future earnings compared to those who are displaced in more prosperous times, a new study shows. ...
[A]ccording to a paper ... by Columbia University’s Till von Wachter and the University of Chicago’s Steven Davis ... “workers who have experienced job displacements events since 2008 are likely to experience unusually severe and persistent earnings losses.”
The researchers tracked workers ... between 1980 and 2003. They focused on workers 50 years old and younger. ...
Workers who were laid off in recessions experienced, on average, $112,095 in income losses — three years of pre-layoff earnings. Those laid off in expansionary times experienced a $65,424 loss.
The negative impacts of job losses extended beyond the financial hit, affecting workers’ health, mortality outcomes, child achievement levels and happiness.
“The negative consequences of job displacement, and fears of job displacement, are among the main reasons that recessions and high levels of unemployment create so much concern in the general population and among politicians,” the paper states.

Concern among politicians? To the extent it's there, it's far short of what's needed. In any case, it certainly hasn't resulted in the kind of action you'd expect when there is a crisis. And our unemployment rate is at crisis levels.

If politicians were truly concerned, they would have done something to try to help already -- a year ago would not have been too early. But all we have at this point is talk of a job creation program, and the unemployed will be lucky if anything meaningful is done.

In the meantime, as I discussed recently (and have discussed many times before), the longer unemployment persists, the larger the permanent impact:

"Many employers shy away from workers who have been unemployed for a considerable period of time. That is, the longer a person is unemployed, the more negatively he or she will be viewed by the job market. In response, many of the long-term unemployed will drop out of the labor force. For example, some workers in their late 50s or early 60s might give up even looking for a job and find a way to hang on until retirement by living with a family member, etc. Others will take any job they can get, perhaps one that is ill-suited to their talents or in the underground labor market, and get stuck in these jobs long-term. Because the jobs do not make the best use of their talents, their output will be less than it might be otherwise."

"This is one source of aggregate losses, and it's not confined to older workers. There's evidence that the first job a person takes has a large influence on their lifetime earnings. When young workers have trouble finding employment and settle for a job that doesn't make the best use of their talents, and then get stuck in those jobs as they buy cars, houses, have families to support, etc., they suffer permanent losses of income."

Lives are being permanently and negatively affected, and what are politicians on the right up to? They are playing deficit games and wasting valuable Congressional time:

House GOP proves Standard & Poor’s right, by Ezra Klein: ...The vote ... on Wednesday nigh ... saw 232 members formally disapproving of what was, in effect, a motion not to default on our debt and cause a global financial panic, and 186 members voting to keep current on our bills. The Treasury’s new borrowing authority amounts to only $500 billion, so the House and the Senate will have to hold a number of these votes between now and 2013. But no one seems to care. As Rosalind Helderman reported, the vote “had no practical impact but allowed Republicans to once again express their displeasure at government borrowing.” ...
Republicans ... weren’t exactly a profile in courage. Fully 174 of them voted for the August deal that gave the White House between $2.1 trillion and $2.4 trillion in borrowing authority. But not one among that 174 voted to approve of the White House actually using that authority to avert default -- even in the presence of more than $900 billion in discretionary spending cuts, and a supercommittee charged with finding another $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction. ... It’s a meaningless statement of fiscal irresponsibility rather than an actual moment of brinksmanship, but it sets a new precedent for how these votes will occur, and it makes it harder for any of those 178 members to ever vote to raise the debt ceiling again. ...

It also makes it harder to support job creation. If they ever get to it.

"A Jobless Future?"

Dan Little:

A jobless future?, by Daniel Little: Stanley Aronowitz and William DiFazio wrote a pretty gloomy book in 1994 with the striking title, The Jobless Future. Here is a Harvard Educational Review discussion of the book (link). What is most discomforting in reading the book today is the degree to which the factors they identify seem to be today's headlines. What does jobless mean here? In a word, it means that the US and other OECD countries will never recover the number and quality of jobs they need in order to regain the middle class affluence they had in the 1950s and 1960s. The future will involve work -- but not enough jobs to ensure a low unemployment rate. Here is their assessment in 1994:

For there is no doubt that we have yet to feel the long-term effects on American living standards that will result from the elimination of well-paid professional, technical, and production jobs. At the same time, nearly everyone admits that many of these jobs are gone forever. (xi)

The central structural factors they identified in 1994 are still key parts of our economic environment today: technology innovation replacing labor, rising productivity producing persistently flat labor demand, shifts in the structure of the economy towards finance and service sectors, and internationalization of production.

Technological progress and capital accumulation seem to disrupt the social fabric in the United States. A weakened position in the international economy demands that American industry increase its productivity and cut its unit labor cost. As Carl G. Thor, president of the American Productivity Center in Houston, says, "The trick is to get more output without a surge in employment." Technological change and competition in the world market guarantee that increasing numbers of workers will be displaced and that these workers will tend to be rehired in jobs that do not pay comparable wages and salaries. Women and minorities will suffer the most as the result of these changes; the increased participation in an occupational sector by women and minorities is often an indicator of falling wages in that occupation. (3)
The second explanation, more sobering, emphasized the role of huge federal and consumer debt accumulated beween the late 1970s and the early 1990s that has drained public and private investment, inhibiting recovery and growth. (5)
This, in brief, is the context within which a severely reduced job "market" began to take shape, not only for U.S. workers, but potentially for all workers. In this book we argue that the progressive destruction of high-quality, well-paid, permanent jobs is produced by three closely related developments. (8)

The implication they draw is stark: new jobs will never be created at a rate to satisfy rising demand for jobs.

Our first argument—that the Western dream of upward mobility has died and it is time to give it a respectful funeral—may have at long last seeped into the bones of most Americans, even the most optimistic economist. The dream has died because the scientific-technological revolution of our time, which is not confined to new electronic processes but also affects organizational changes in the structure of corporations, has fundamentally altered the forms of work, skill, and occupation. The whole notion of tradition and identity of persons with their work has been radically changed. (15)

They've also got a vision of what the future could look like: satisfying lives with a decent standard of living, based on a combination of paid work and guaranteed social income.

The aim of this work is to suggest political and social solutions that take us in a direction in which it is clear that jobs are no longer the solution, that we must find another way to ensure a just standard of living for all. (xii)
Accordingly, if unwork is fated to be no longer the exception to the rule of nearly full employment, we need an entirely new approach to the social wage and, more generally, "welfare" policy. If there is work to be done, everyone should do some of it; additional remuneration would depend on the kind of work an individual performs. (353)

They are as interested in the "satisfying" part of the question as the "standard of living" part. They want to know what sources of meaning, worth, and value are possible for a whole civilization in which work and career are no longer the primary focus? It is an existential question as much as it is an economic one -- which takes us back to an earlier post on income and wellbeing.

But here is someone else who has a vision of a jobless future: William Gibson. His pictures of the Sprawl (an urban agglomeration extending from Atlanta to Boston) and the Bridge (the improvised "off the grid" community living on the earthquake-damaged Oakland Bridge) offer a grim picture of life for people scraping by in a cyberpunk world. There is talent, technology innovation, wealth, economic competition in Gibson's world -- but there's nothing that looks like a middle class life for ordinary people. (Here are a couple of the novels: Neuromancer, All Tomorrow's Parties.)

It seems inescapable that the rising inequalities of income and wealth we have experienced for thirty years are strongly linked to the jobless state of 15% to 20% of us (counting discouraged workers and underemployed workers) and the fairly stagnant living standards of another 50%. By tolerating this acceleration of inequality, our society is also silently sanctioning the end of social solidarity and the compact that we've had according to which everyone benefits from economic activity. Our graph seems to be pointing more in the direction of Gibson than Aronowitz. But maybe this is the fundamental goal of right wing rhetoric after all: to decisively break the bonds of social solidarity and mutual obligation altogether and to allow privilege to have its way unconstrained by social obligations. Surely we owe each other more than this.

So far the strategies on the table about employment are either about job creation (Democrats) or providing even more tax relief for business and the wealthy (Republican). None of these voices consider the more radical implication: we may need to consider a dramatically new way of thinking about income, work, social distribution, and lifestyle in the future. And that's what Aronowitz and DiFazio proposed almost 20 years ago.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Shovel Ready

Yes we can:

Infrastructure in the Real World, by Jared Bernstein: One critique you’re beginning to hear about the infrastructure ideas in the President’s jobs proposal is that the Recovery Act’s infrastructure programs were some kind of bust, of never got started, or whatever.
Demonstrably untrue..., here’s a graph of ... work underway by day 200 on 192 airports and over 2,200 highway projects across the country.
I’m sure you’ll hear claims to the contrary in coming days as we debate the infrastructure initiatives in the American Jobs Act, but the fact is that these projects were solidly in the economy by last summer.  The problem is we needed more of them this summer, and we’ll need more next summer as well. ...

Infra

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims increased to 428,000

From Calculated Risk:

The DOL reports:

In the week ending September 10, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 428,000, an increase of 11,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 417,000. The 4-week moving average was 419,500, an increase of 4,000 from the previous week's revised average of 415,500.

The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since January 2000:

Click on graph for larger image in graph gallery.

The dashed line on the graph is the current 4-week average. The four-week average of weekly unemployment claims increased this week to 419,500.

The 4-week average has been increasing recently and this is the highest level since early July.

Usually we hear all the reasons why special factors -- weather, strikes, etc. -- can explain the elevated numbers, and policymakers nod their heads and promise good times are just around the corner. I wonder if this time will be different.

[Also from CR: Industrial Production increased 0.2% in August, Capacity Utilization increases slightly, but "After the fairly rapid increase last year, increases in industrial production and capacity utilization have slowed recently."]