Category Archive for: Unemployment [Return to Main]

Monday, October 15, 2012

'Closing America’s Jobs Deficit'

Laura Tyson:

...Earnings gains have been especially strong for those with tertiary degrees, while the real wages of high-school educated workers, especially men, have fallen sharply. It is becoming increasingly difficult for workers with low levels of educational attainment to find high-paying jobs ...
The US was the world leader in high school and college graduation rates for much of the twentieth century. Today it ranks in the middle of the OECD countries.
A major factor behind that relative decline has been the US school system’s failure to ensure high-quality education for disadvantaged Americans, particularly children from poor, minority, and immigrant households. ...
As a result of these and other problems, the average American secondary-school student receives inadequate preparation in core subjects..., which in turn reduces college enrollment and completion rates. ... And a recent study by McKinsey suggests that the gaps in educational opportunity and attainment by income impose the equivalent of a permanent recession of 3-5% of GDP on the US economy.
To address the skills gap, the US must boost the educational attainment of current and future workers. That means investing more in education at all levels – in early-childhood education programs, elementary and secondary schools, community colleges, trade-school programs for specific jobs in specific sectors, and financial aid for higher education. Above all, it means addressing the income disparities in educational opportunity and attainment.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

'Job Polarization and Jobless Recoveries'

Interesting paper (it's being presented as I type this):

The Trend is the Cycle: Job Polarization and Jobless Recoveries, by Nir Jaimovich and Henry E. Siu, NBER: Abstract Job polarization refers to the recent disappearance of employment in occupations in the middle of the skill distribution. Jobless recoveries refers to the slow rebound in aggregate employment following recent recessions, despite recoveries in aggregate output. We show how these two phenomena are related. First, job polarization is not a gradual process; essentially all of the job loss in middle-skill occupations occurs in economic downturns. Second, jobless recoveries in the aggregate are accounted for by jobless recoveries in the middle-skill occupations that are disappearing.
1 Introduction In the past 30 years, the US labor market has seen the emergence of two new phenomena: "job polarization" and "jobless recoveries." Job polarization refers to the increasing concentration of employment in the highest- and lowest-wage occupations, as job opportunities in middle-skill occupations disappear. Jobless recoveries refer to periods following recessions in which rebounds in aggregate output are accompanied by much slower recoveries in aggregate employment. We argue that these two phenomena are related.
Consider first the phenomenon of job polarization. Acemoglu (1999), Autor et al. (2006), Goos and Manning (2007), and Goos et al. (2009) (among others) document that, since the 1980s, employment is becoming increasingly concentrated at the tails of the occupational skill distribution. This hollowing out of the middle has been linked to the disappearance of jobs focused on "routine" tasks -- those activities that can be performed by following a well-defined set of procedures. Autor et al. (2003) and the subsequent literature demonstrates that job polarization is due to progress in technologies that substitute for labor in routine tasks.1
In this same time period, Gordon and Baily (1993), Groshen and Potter (2003), Bernanke (2003), and Bernanke (2009) (among others) discuss the emergence of jobless recoveries. In the past three recessions, aggregate employment continues to decline for years following the turning point in aggregate income and output. No consensus has yet emerged regarding the source of these jobless recoveries.
In this paper, we demonstrate that the two phenomena are connected to each other. We make two related claims. First, job polarization is not simply a gradual phenomenon: the loss of middle-skill, routine jobs is concentrated in economic downturns. Specifically, 92% of the job loss in these occupations since the mid-1980s occurs within a 12 month window of NBER dated recessions (that have all been characterized by jobless recoveries). In this sense, the job polarization "trend" is a business "cycle" phenomenon. This contrasts to the existing literature, in which job polarization is oftentimes depicted as a gradual phenomenon, though a number of researchers have noted that this process has been accelerated by the Great Recession (see Autor (2010); and Brynjolfsson and McAfee (2011)). Our First point is that routine employment loss happens almost entirely in recessions.
Our second point is that job polarization accounts for jobless recoveries. This argument is based on three facts. First, employment in the routine occupations identified by Autor et al. (2003) and others account for a significant fraction of aggregate employment; averaged over the jobless recovery era, these jobs account for more than 50% of total employment. Second, essentially all of the contraction in aggregate employment during NBER dated recessions can be attributed to recessions in these middle-skill, routine occupations. Third, jobless recoveries are observed only in these disappearing, middle-skill jobs. The high- and low-skill occupations to which employment is polarizing either do not experience contractions, or if they do, rebound soon after the turning point in aggregate output. Hence, jobless recoveries can be traced to the disappearance of routine occupations in recessions. Finally, it is important to note that jobless recoveries were not observed in routine occupations (nor in aggregate employment) prior to the era of job polarization. ...
[1] See also Firpo et al. (2011), Goos et al. (2011), and the references therein regarding the role of outsourcing and offshoring in job polarization

Here are few graphs showing routine versus non-routine employment changes. The point is that in the period of increased job polarization, most of the job losses have occurred during recessions (the first graph is non-routine cognitive, the second is non-routine manual, and the third is routine -- the third graph shows the best, after 1990 job losses are no recovered after the recession ends as they were in earlier years

Notes: Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey. See Appendix A for details. NR COG = non-routine cognitive; NR MAN = non-routine manual; R = routine.

Interestingly, the paper argues the explanation for jobless recoveries is not an education story:

The share of low educated workers in the labor force (i.e., those with high school diplomas or less) has declined in the last three decades, and these workers exhibit greater business cycle sensitivity than those with higher education. It is thus reasonable to conjecture that the terms "routine" and "low education" are interchangeable. In what follows, we show that this is not the case.

And it's not a manufacturing story:

we first demonstrate that job loss in manufacturing accounts for only a fraction of job polarization. Secondly, we show that the jobless recoveries experienced in the past 30 years cannot be explained by jobless recoveries in the manufacturing sector.

So what story is it? The answer is in the conclusion to the paper:

In the last 30 years the US labor market has been characterized by job polarization and jobless recoveries. In this paper we demonstrate how these are related. We first show that the loss of middle-skill, routine jobs is concentrated in economic downturns. In this sense, the job polarization trend is a business cycle phenomenon. Second, we show that job polarization accounts for jobless recoveries. This argument is based on the fact that almost all of the contraction in aggregate employment during recessions can be attributed to job losses in middle-skill, routine occupations (that account for a large fraction of total employment), and that jobless recoveries are observed only in these disappearing routine jobs since job polarization began. We then propose a simple search-and-matching model of the labor market with occupational choice to rationalize these facts. We show how a trend in routine-biased technological change can lead to job polarization that is concentrated in downturns, and recoveries from these recessions that are jobless.

That is, in recessions, the job separation rate isn't much different than in the past. But the job finding rate is much lower. Thus, the story is that recessions generate job separations, and "In the recession, job separations were concentrated among the middle-skill, routine workers. The recovery in aggregate employment then depends on the post-recession job finding rate of these workers now searching," and this finding rate is low (and when jobs are found, the outcome is polarizing).

'Digging Deeper into the BLS Data'

After a long, detailed analysis of why the payroll and household numbers diverged in the last employment report, Larry Mishel ends with:

... This controversy is not funny at all. BLS career staff has been inundated with calls from people attacking them, the predictable consequence of these conspiracy charges. BLS staff should not be facing this type of harassment. This whole episode makes me angry—at the disrespect for facts and the professionals at BLS—and it also makes me sad about the state of discourse in our nation.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

'Grudging Declines in Part-Time Employment'

This is from Robert Barbera of the Center for Financial Economics at John Hopkins:

Much Ado About Not Much, by Robert J. Barbera, Center for Financial Economics, Johns Hopkins University: The allegedly shocking increase in September’s tally of household employment, and the fact that the lion’s share of that increase reflected gains in those self-identifying as part time employees for economic reasons is much ado about almost nothing. ...[T]he surge in part time employment is almost certainly a reflection of faulty seasonal adjustments. We witnessed three monthly spikes in the tally for part time for economic reasons. A spike in 2010 totaled 579,000. A spike in 2011 totaled 483,000. Most recently, we witnessed a spike of 582,000. All three occurred in September. ...
Two Pictures Tell The Story:
Glance at the two charts below. The spike in monthly part timers is visible three times. Three-month average data and it is hard to see.
How do we get out from under seasonals? The second chart below looks at part time, not seasonally adjusted (NSA), 12-month moving average data. Grudging declines in part time employment is the unambiguous message.



Tuesday, October 09, 2012

There He Goes Again...

Jack Welch's response to the uproar he caused is -- well, it's something, not sure what the right word for this is.

First, as many people on Twitter have noted, he tries to play the victim in all this. He was just asking an innocent question, and people jumped all over him!

Imagine a country where challenging the ruling authorities—questioning, say, a piece of data released by central headquarters—would result in mobs of administration sympathizers claiming you should feel "embarrassed" and labeling you a fool, or worse. Soviet Russia perhaps? Communist China? Nope, that would be the United States right now, when a person (like me, for instance) suggests that a certain government datum (like the September unemployment rate of 7.8%) doesn't make sense.

Yes, if you accuse the White House of manipulating data, and question the integrity of the employees of the BLS, people might use their constitutional right to free speech (those Commies!) to tell you what they think. And they did. Acting like it was an innocent question mischaracterizes the attack that was made on the integrity of the BLS.

This part is good too, trying to walk away from the part that caused the uproar:

Now, I realize my tweets about this matter have been somewhat incendiary. In my first tweet, sent the night before the unemployment figure was released, I wrote: "Tomorrow unemployment numbers for Sept. with all the assumptions Labor Department can make..wonder about participation assumption??" The response was a big yawn.
My next tweet, on Oct. 5, the one that got the attention of the Obama campaign and its supporters, read: "Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can't debate so change numbers."
As I said that same evening in an interview on CNN, if I could write that tweet again, I would have added a few question marks at the end, as with my earlier tweet, to make it clear I was raising a question.

I didn't really mean to accuse people people of impropriety! I should have added a question mark to make it clear I was questioning their integrity! Just asking a question... Yeah, right.

Then, he goes at it again:

To suggest that the input to the BLS data-collection system is precise and bias-free is—well, let's just say, overstated

He also talks about "subjectivity creeping into the process" and he suggests it's entirely possible that the people in charge of data collection suddenly changed the "subjective" decisions they make to favor Obama (I guess they're all Democrats, or that only Democrats would do this? -- it's a silly arguement in any case).

If he's not accusing anyone of manipulation, his whole argument comes down to 'these numbers are measured with error," so people should be wary. Really? The WSJ gave you space to say that statistics are measured with error? No, I don't think so. He's still making accusations, and he'll probably wonder, once again, why people have the right to tell him what they think in a free country like the US -- he seems to think that people who are free to say what they think (in no uncertain terms) must live in "Soviet Russia perhaps? Communist China?"

To suggest that the input to the WSJ editorial page "is precise and bias-free is—well, let's just say, overstated," and this is a prime example.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Paul Krugman: Truth About Jobs

Good news for Obama in the form of polls, employment reports -- whatever -- drives the right crazy:

Truth About Jobs, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: If anyone had doubts about the madness that has spread through a large part of the American political spectrum, the reaction to Friday’s better-than expected report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics should have settled the issue. For the immediate response of many on the right — and we’re not just talking fringe figures — was to cry conspiracy. ...
It was nonsense, of course. Job numbers are prepared by professional civil servants, at an agency that currently has no political appointees. ... Furthermore, the methods the bureau uses are public...
Some background: the monthly employment report is based on two surveys. One asks a random sample of employers how many people are on their payroll. The other asks a random sample of households whether their members are working or looking for work. And if you look at the trend over the past year or so, both surveys suggest a labor market that is gradually on the mend ... The eye-popping number from Friday’s report was a sudden drop in the unemployment rate to 7.8 percent from 8.1 percent, but ... you shouldn’t put too much emphasis on one month’s number. The more important point is that unemployment has been on a sustained downward trend. ...
None of this should be taken to imply that the situation is good, or to deny that we should be doing better — a shortfall largely due to the scorched-earth tactics of Republicans, who have blocked any and all efforts to accelerate the pace of recovery. (If the American Jobs Act, proposed by the Obama administration last year, had been passed, the unemployment rate would probably be below 7 percent.) The U.S. economy is still far short of where it should be, and the job market has a long way to go before it makes up the ground lost in the Great Recession. But the employment data do suggest an economy that is slowly healing...
And that’s the truth that the right can’t handle. The furor over Friday’s report revealed a political movement that is rooting for American failure, so obsessed with taking down Mr. Obama that good news for the nation’s long-suffering workers drives its members into a blind rage. It also revealed a movement that lives in an intellectual bubble, dealing with uncomfortable reality — whether that reality involves polls or economic data — not just by denying the facts, but by spinning wild conspiracy theories.
It is, quite simply, frightening to think that a movement this deranged wields so much political power.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

'Contra Romney, This is a Real Recovery'

Greg Mankiw posts this:

Monitoring the Recovery

He knows better, or ought to, and Paul Krugman sets the record straight:

Constant-demography Employment

Friday, October 05, 2012

Fed Watch: On The Surface Better, But Underneath The Same

Tim Duy:

On The Surface Better, But Underneath The Same, by Tim Duy: The jobs numbers are out, and they are reasonably solid. Reasonably solid as long as you weren't expecting miracles. Very strong if you thought the economy was heading into recession. But just about where they should be if you think the economy is just sort of grinding along at a slow but steady pace.
Nonfarm payrolls gained by 114k, about consensus, but both July and August were revised, adding 40k and 46k jobs, respectively. As upward revisions tend to follow upward revisions, we can expect the final September number will print higher as well. The average of the past three months is 146k. The average of the past twelve months is 150k. In short, ignoring the twists and turns of the data leaves you with pretty consistent job growth over the past year:


In my mind, the policy significance of the twists and turns is not so much that the economy was threatened with excessive slowing this spring, but that the Fed's anticipated acceleration in activity was to be unrealized. The continuation of slow and steady is what prompted open-ended QE (although the downside risks didn't hurt either).
Note that hours worked, which had flattened out, are again on the rise:


Likewise, the unemployment rate unexpectedly dropped to 7.8% after holding steady for much of the year:


Again, look through the twists and turns. On average, the economy is adding about 150k jobs a month. At the moment, holding the unemployment rate constant probably takes something closer to 100k jobs. As a consequence, the unemployment rate grinds lower.
This slow rate of unemployment decline presents some interesting challenges for policymakers. My first thought is that Chicago Federal Reserve President Charles Evans should be thankful that his colleagues did not take him up on his 7% target as minimum rate to consider a policy shift. We could get there sooner than expected. Evans should shift gears and join with Minneapolis Federal Reserve President Narayana Kocherlakota and his 5.5% rate (putting aside the issue of "price stability" for the moment).
Why is this important? Because 7% unemployment could be met with considerable slack left over in the labor market. Wage growth remains anemic, for both production and nonsupervisory employees:


and all employees:


A distressingly large portion of the unemployed are long-term unemployed:


Those employed part time for economic reasons continues hold at high levels:


And the employment to population ration remains stagnant:


Bill McBride notes that there has been some gains in the employment to population ratio for persons in their prime working years (25-54), but much ground still needs to be covered.

The point is that it would be very likely premature to tighten policy even when the unemployment rate breaches 7%. But tighter policy may be needed before 5.5%. It is this kind of complexity that shows up in the minutes of the last Federal Reserve meeting as:

Many participants thought that more-effective forward guidance could be provided by specifying numerical thresholds for labor market and inflation indicators that would be consistent with maintaining the federal funds rate at exceptionally low levels. However, reaching agreement on specific thresholds could be challenging given the diversity of participants' views, and some were reluctant to specify explicit numerical thresholds out of concern that such thresholds would necessarily be too simple to fully capture the complexities of the economy and the policy process or could be incorrectly interpreted as triggers prompting an automatic policy response.

Admittedly, differentiating between cyclical and structural unemployment will become increasingly difficult as the unemployment rate continues to fall. I think that I would fall back on wage growth as a key signal of labor market tightness. Until wage growth is "substantially and sustainably" higher, we really shouldn't worry much about the inflation risk.

Bottom Line: A solid report, but basically consistent with the trends of the past year.

'The Outrageous Attack on BLS'

According to the BLS, the unemployment rate dropped from 8.1% to 7.8%. The response from some Republicans was that thenumber must have been manipulated to help Obama. Larry Mishel responds:

The outrageous attack on BLS: Apparently, Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric, is accusing the Bureau of Labor Statistics of manipulating the jobs report to help President Obama. Others seem to be adding their voices to this slanderous lie. It is simply outrageous to make such a claim and echoes the worrying general distrust of facts that seems to have swept segments of our nation. The BLS employment report draws on two surveys, one (the establishment survey) of 141,000 businesses and government agencies and the other (the household survey) of 60,000 households. The household survey is done by the Census Bureau on behalf of BLS. It’s important to note that large single-month divergences between the employment numbers in these two surveys (like the divergence in September) are just not that rare. EPI’s Elise Gould has a great paper on the differences between these two surveys.
BLS is a highly professional agency with dozens of people involved in the tabulation and analysis of these data. The idea that the data are manipulated is just completely implausible. Moreover, the data trends reported are clearly in line with previous monthly reports and other economic indicators (such as GDP)..., there’s nothing implausible about the reported data. ... All in all, there was nothing particularly strange about this month’s jobs reports—and certainly nothing to spur accusations of outright fraud.

See also:

Douglas Holtz-Eakin Stops Being an Economist, by Brad DeLong


Jack Welch Should be Ashamed, by Jared Bernstein
Update: Paul Krugman:
Democrat Derangement Syndrome

Update: Here are my comments on the employment report:

Have we turned the corner on unemployment?

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Stiglitz: Monetary Mystification

Busy day today -- so a quick one. Joe Stiglitz argues that recent monetary policy initiatives by the Fed and the ECB won't be anywhere near enough to produce an economic revival, and that "the stimulus that is needed – on both sides of the Atlantic – is a fiscal stimulus":

Monetary Mystification, by Joseph Stiglitz, Commentary, Project Syndicate: Central banks on both sides of the Atlantic took extraordinary monetary-policy measures in September: the long awaited “QE3”..., and the European Central Bank’s announcement that it will purchase unlimited volumes of troubled eurozone members’ government bonds. Markets responded euphorically... Others, especially on the political right, worried that the latest monetary measures would fuel future inflation...
In fact, both the critics’ fears and the optimists’ euphoria are unwarranted..., the stimulus that is needed – on both sides of the Atlantic – is a fiscal stimulus. Monetary policy has proven ineffective, and more of it is unlikely to return the economy to sustainable growth. ...
Of course, marginal effects cannot be ruled out: small changes in long-term interest rates from QE3 may lead to a little more investment; some of the rich will take advantage of temporarily higher stock prices to consume more; and a few homeowners will be able to refinance their mortgages, with lower payments allowing them to boost consumption as well. ...
For both Europe and America, the danger now is that politicians and markets believe that monetary policy can revive the economy. Unfortunately, its main impact at this point is to distract attention from measures that would truly stimulate growth, including an expansionary fiscal policy and financial-sector reforms that boost lending. ...

I'm a bit more optimistic than he is about what monetary policy can do. But I also think that fiscal policy is needed to really make a difference, and, like Stiglitz, I worry that too much faith and emphasis on monetary policy has let fiscal policymakers off the hook.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

'Middle-Skill Jobs Are Lagging'

While I search for something to post/talk about, a note on the declining middle class:

Middle-Skill Jobs Are Lagging, by Michael S. Derby: ...A report released Monday by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York puts some numbers behind the evolution of the work force. The report found that from 1980 until 2010, job growth happened “disproportionately” at the high and low ends of skill levels.
The middle-skilled jobs lost in recessions haven’t been recovered in rebounds. Meanwhile, low- and high-skill jobs don’t lose any notable ground during downturns and grow in better times. That means the pain of recessions is felt almost exclusively in the middle of the skills curve, the report noted.
Who makes up the ... medium-...skilled workforce? ...The broad swath of middle-level-skill jobs includes repair, construction, factory, office and sales workers, among other classes. ...
In a refrain common to the broader Federal Reserve view on the problem, the paper’s authors argue policymakers need to find a way to promote education as a way to navigate the changing environment created by technology. “Given the reduction in opportunities for middle skill workers, it is especially important to help people build the skills necessary to take on the high-skill jobs that these forces can create,” the report said.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Rogoff: King Ludd is Still Dead

Kenneth Rogoff:

King Ludd is Still Dead, by Kenneth Rogoff, Commentary, Project Syndicate: Since the dawn of the industrial age, a recurrent fear has been that technological change will spawn mass unemployment. Neoclassical economists predicted that this would not happen, because people would find other jobs, albeit possibly after a long period of painful adjustment. By and large, that prediction has proven to be correct.
Two hundred years of breathtaking innovation since the dawn of the industrial age have produced rising living standards for ordinary people in much of the world, with no sharply rising trend for unemployment. Yes, there have been many problems, notably bouts of staggering inequality and increasingly horrific wars. On balance, however, throughout much of the world, people live longer, work much fewer hours, and lead generally healthier lives.
But there is no denying that technological change nowadays has accelerated, potentially leading to deeper and more profound dislocations. In a much-cited 1983 article, the great economist Wassily Leontief worried that the pace of modern technological change is so rapid that many workers, unable to adjust, will simply become obsolete, like horses after the rise of the automobile. Are millions of workers headed for the glue factory? ...

Monday, October 01, 2012

'This is Not Structural, This is Cyclical'

Dear Stephen Roach (and Jeff Sachs, who has been similar things). Please listen to Antonio Fatás:

Cyclical Zombies: Stephen Roach argues in this article that the "current medicine being applied to America's economy" is wrong. The real disease is a "protracted balance-sheet recession that has turned a generation of America’s consumers into zombies – the economic walking dead. Think Japan, and its corporate zombies of the 1990’s. Just as they wrote the script for the first of Japan’s lost decades, their counterparts are now doing the same for the US economy".

This is an argument that has been used before during the current crisis: we are trying to fix a structural problem with medicine that can only deal with cyclical misalignments. Using Roach's words: "Steeped in denial, the Federal Reserve is treating the disease as a cyclical problem – deploying the full force of monetary accommodation to compensate for what it believes to be a temporary shortfall in aggregate demand."

There is no doubt that asset bubbles and excessive optimism during the pre-crisis years are now reflected in weak balance sheets that will take time to fix and will represent a drag on growth. And this clearly is not a mere cyclical issue. But there is something else that is going on: advanced economies have gone through a deep recession and are still producing below potential. This is not structural, this is cyclical. And finding a solution to the structural problem in the middle of a recession is not easy. While households have to reduce spending to repair their balance sheets, doing so at the same time that income is below potential just becomes more painful. Monetary and fiscal policy cannot eliminate the effort that is associated with deleveraging but they need to ensure that this happens in the least painful way. And this requires producing a path for output and income in the short run that is as close as possible to the level of potential output. We can debate about what this level should be but it is hard to argue that given current economic conditions and high levels of unemployment we are close to potential.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

'Where Have All the Workers Gone?'

Jessie Romero of the Richmond Fed analyzes why so many people are leaving the labor force, and what they are doing after they exit:

Where Have All the Workers Gone?, by Jessie Romero, Richmond Fed: Since September of last year, the unemployment rate in the United States has declined nearly a full percentage point, from 9 percent to 8.3 percent. On its face, this is an encouraging signal about the health of the labor market. But some of the change is due to a potentially troubling trend: a dramatic decline in the number of Americans who are part of the labor force. Prior to the recession, 66 percent of the population (not counting active duty military or people in a nursing home or in prison) over the age of 16 was in the labor force. Just four years later, this rate — known as the “labor force participation rate,” or LFPR — has fallen to 63.7 percent. While this might not sound like a large decline, it is unprecedented in the postwar era. The dropoff is all the more striking because it does not include unemployed workers who are actively seeking work; such workers are still considered to be part of the labor force. It is only when the unemployed decide to stop looking for jobs, perhaps because they have given up on the possibility of finding one, that they are considered out of the labor force...
The current low labor force participation rate is the result of both long-term structural changes, such as an aging population and decreased demand for low-skill workers, and cyclical factors, namely the lingering effects of the 2007-09 recession. ... But it’s difficult to discern the impact of the business cycle relative to structural change. “The certain answer I can give you is that they’re both playing a role. If you want me to divide it proportionally and say how important is each, that’s where it becomes much, much more difficult,” says Betsey Stevenson... A recent report by Dean Maki, an economist at Barclays Capital, argued that only about one-third of the recent decline in the LFPR is due to the weak labor market, with the rest due to demographic factors. Economist Willem Van Zandweghe at the Kansas City Fed found that the split is closer to 50-50, as did economists at the Chicago Fed. Van Zandweghe used a model in which the overall unemployment rate is the primary cyclical indicator. When he altered the model to include the long-term unemployment rate, which might be a better gauge of labor market weakness, he found that cyclical factors could explain as much as 90 percent of the decline in the LFPR.
Whatever the research eventually shows, the fact remains that millions of people who would like to be working have given up trying to find a job. According to the monthly Current Population Survey (CPS) conducted by the BLS, the share of workers not in the labor force who report that they want a job ... [is] 6.8 million workers. “There’s a large group of people who are counted as out of the labor force who we should be trying to find jobs for, and who would want jobs if they were available,” says Rothstein. ... [much more here, including what the workers are doing after they leave the labor force] ...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Campaign Trail: No Help for the Unemployed

A new column:

 The Campaign Trail: No Help for the Unemployed

The unemployed have, it appears, been hiding from politicians.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Paul Krugman: Obstruct and Exploit

Republican obstructionism is real, and it's hurting the recovery:

Obstruct and Exploit, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Does anyone remember the American Jobs Act? A year ago President Obama proposed boosting the economy with a combination of tax cuts and spending increases, aimed in particular at sustaining state and local government employment. ... Macroeconomic Advisers estimated that the act would add 1.3 million jobs by the end of 2012. ... The Jobs Act would have been just what the doctor ordered.
But the bill went nowhere, of course, blocked by Republicans in Congress. ... Think of it as a two-part strategy. First, obstruct any and all efforts to strengthen the economy, then exploit the economy’s weakness for political gain. If this strategy sounds cynical, that’s because it is. Yet it’s the G.O.P.’s best chance for victory in November.
But are Republicans really playing that cynical a game? ... As anyone who was paying attention knows, the period during which Democrats controlled both houses of Congress was marked by unprecedented obstructionism in the Senate. The filibuster, formerly a tactic reserved for rare occasions, became standard operating procedure... In ... reality ... most of Mr. Obama’s time in office U.S. fiscal policy has been defined not by the president’s plans but by Republican stonewalling.
The most important consequence of that stonewalling ... has been the failure to extend much-needed aid to state and local governments. Lacking that aid, these governments have been forced to lay off hundreds of thousands of schoolteachers and other workers, and those layoffs are a major reason the job numbers have been disappointing. Since bottoming out a year after Mr. Obama took office, private-sector employment has risen by 4.6 million; but government employment, which normally rises more or less in line with population growth, has instead fallen by 571,000.
Put it this way: When Republicans took control of the House, they declared that their economic philosophy was “cut and grow” — cut government, and the economy will prosper. And thanks to their scorched-earth tactics, we’ve actually had the cuts they wanted. But the promised growth has failed to materialize — and they want to make that failure Mr. Obama’s fault.
Now, all of this puts the White House in a difficult bind. Making a big deal of Republican obstructionism could all too easily come across as whining. Yet this obstructionism is real, and arguably is the biggest single reason for our ongoing economic weakness.
And what happens if the strategy of obstruct-and-exploit succeeds? Is this the shape of politics to come? If so, America will have gone a long way toward becoming an ungovernable banana republic.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Fed Watch: Another Jobs Disappointment

Tim Duy:

Another Jobs Disappointment, by Tim Duy: The August employment report certainly reminded me that forecasting monthly changes in nonfarm payrolls is a dangerous game. A game I will certainly play again, but dangerous nonetheless. I think there is little doubt that this report is not in the "substantial and sustainable" category, which thus points to additional Fed action next month.
Nonfarm payrolls posted a 96k gain for the month, well below consensus expectations and the low-end of my 110k-290k range (198k midpoint). The numbers for the previous two months were revised downwards. And while the 12-month trend remained virtually unchanged, the 6-month trend is weaker than last summer:


And while I am sure it will not dissuade fears that inflation is just around the corner, hourly wages actually slipped a penny for both all employees and production/non-supervisory workers. The latter category, for which we have a longer time series, continues to plumb the depths of wage growth:


Also note that the index of aggregate weekly hours has largely leveled off this year, in contrast with steady growth in 2011:


Roughly half the net job growth was attributable to health care and social services, manufacturing and government both dragged down the headline, while professional services gained 28k despite a disconcerting loss of 4.9k temp workers. In short, more of the same general lackluster numbers that on average have typified the labor market "recovery."
The population survey was also hardly inspiring. The unemployment rate managed to edge down on the back of an exodus of 348k workers from the labor force. Consequently, the participation rate ticked back down:


The ranks of both the employed and unemployed fell. Employed part-time for economic reasons fell only marginally, basically steady since the beginning of this year:


Long-term unemployment, an issue specifically noted by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, fell as a proportion of total unemployment, yet still remains very, very high:


Improvements in the long-term unemployment situation have been hard to come by, to say the least.
Bottom Line: Where does this leave us for next week's FOMC meeting? Given Bernanke's description of the labor market situation as "grave" and the complete lack of improvement in the most recent report, given Bernanke's meager defense of the potential costs of balance sheet operations (see Joe Gagnon), given the ongoing European saga (Europe still headed for a deeper recession as more austerity will likely occur in both Spain and Italy despite the ECB) and its impacts on US manufacturing (see Intel today), given the uncertain situation in China, given the increasingly vocal support of Fed doves and marginalization of Fed hawks, given that time is running out for Bernanke with the nontrivial possibility of a Romney win, and given that recent positive data is largely limited to consumer spending, it is hard to come to any conclusion other than to expect additional easing next week. Quantitative easing and/or enhanced verbal guidance, although at this point I imagine they need to go hand-in-hand. In fact, if they don't ease this time, I think we will need to conduct a fundamental reassessment about what exactly is happening on Constitution Ave.

The Jobs Report

My comments on the job report are here. I mostly talked about how this will change the likelihood of the Fed doing more to boost the economy, and I briefly talked about fiscal policy (and why it won't happen). I didn't say much about the plans from Obama and Romney to lower the unemployment rate, and disappointingly not much was said at either convention about, arguably, the most important problem we face, but Robert Reich has that covered:

...Unfortunately for the President — and the rest of us — jobs gains have averaged only 94,000 over the last three months. That’s down from an average of 95,000 in the second quarter. And well below the average gain of 225,000 in the first quarter of the year And compared to last year, the trend is still in the wrong direction: a monthly average gain of 139,000 this year compared to last year’s average monthly gain of 153,000. 
Look, I desperately want Obama to win. But the one thing his speech last night lacked was the one thing that was the most important for him to offer — a plan for how to get the economy out of the doldrums.
Last week Mitt Romney offered only the standard Republican bromides: cut taxes on the rich, cut spending on programs everyone else depends on, and deregulate. They didn’t work for George W. Bush and there’s no reason to expect they’ll work again.
But the President could have offered more than the rejoinder he did — suggesting, even in broad strokes, what he’ll do in his second term to get the economy moving again. At least he might have identified the scourge of inequality as a culprit, for example, pointing out, as he did last December, that the economy can’t advance when so much income and wealth are concentrated at the top that the vast middle class doesn’t have the purchasing power to get it back on track. 
Undeniably, we have more jobs today than we did at the trough of the Great Recession in 2009. But the recovery has been anemic — and it appears to be slowing. We’re better off than we were then, but we’re not as well off as we need to be by a long shot. 

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Fed Watch: Quick Employment Report Preview

Tim Duy:

Quick Employment Report Preview, by Tim Duy: Everyone has their eyes on tomorrow's employment report, considered to be especially important as it could clear any final hurdles to additional Federal Reserve easing at the next meeting. Can this week's data give us any hints of the outcome?
The week began with the ISM manufacturing report, with the headline number ticking down just a notch:


Many of the underlying details were also little changed, with some notable exceptions. The inventory component climbed 4 points while the prices paid component rose 14.5 points, suggesting that firms are being hit by both weaker demand and higher costs. Not a great combination for profit margins. The production measure slid 4.1 points, pushing it into negative territory:


And the import component also slid into negative territory, suggesting additional domestic weakness in the sector:


In short, softer, but not devastatingly so. Generally consistent with Fed easing in the past. On the other side of the coin, the ISM non-manufacturing report came in higher, and, notable as far as the employment report is concerned, the employment component rose 4.5 points:


Also on the generally positive side was the gain in the ADP payrolls numbers, with private employees rising by 201k in August. Finally, initial claims were somewhat lower than in August. You can take these bits and pieces to create a quick model of the monthly change in nonfarm payrolls as a function of the ISM employment index (NMFEI), the monthly change in the ADP report, and the monthly change in initial claims:



The model forecasts a nonfarm payroll gain of 198k for August. To be sure, the standard error of 88k is large in terms of payroll forecasts; I wouldn't be surprised by anything between 110k and 290k. That said, the current consensus is 125k with a range of 70k to 177k, which seems low to me. So when Bill McBride concludes:

Overall it seems like the August report will be somewhat stronger than expected.

I find myself in agreement.

Bottom Line: The range of consensus forecasts for the August employment report look to be on the low side of what we should expect. If the consensus is correct, then the odds of the Fed easing further this month will swell; 125k or lower seems too low to rapidly alleviate what Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke describes as a "grave" employment situation. But something closer to the top of the consensus range and above could throw a wrench in expectations for the next Fed meeting.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The Political Empowerment of the Working Class is the Key to Better Employment Policy

While I search for something fresh to post, here's a column of mine from June on the lack of adequate effort from Washington on the unemployment problem. The Republicans had almost nothing to offer the unemployed at their convention, and I'll be curious to see how much atteniton unemployment gets -- relative to other things such as the deficit -- at the Democrat's convention this week. I hope to be pleasantly surprised, but expect disappointment:

Why doesn’t the unemployment problem get more attention? Why have other worries such as inflation and debt reduction dominated the conversation instead? As I noted at the end of my last column, the increased concentration of political power at the top of the income distribution provides much of the explanation.

Consider the Federal Reserve. Again and again we hear Federal Reserve officials say that an outbreak of inflation could undermine the Fed’s hard-earned credibility and threaten its independence from Congress. But why is the Fed only worried about inflation? Why aren’t officials at the Fed just as worried about Congress reducing the Fed’s independence because of high and persistent unemployment?

Similar questions can be asked about fiscal policy. Why is most of the discussion in Congress focused on the national debt rather than the unemployed? Is it because the wealthy fear that they will be the ones asked to pay for monetary and fiscal policies that mostly benefit others, and since they have the most political power their interests – keeping inflation low, cutting spending, and lowering tax burdens – dominate policy discussions? There was, of course, a stimulus program at the beginning of Obama’s presidency, but it was much too small and relied far more on tax cuts than most people realize. The need to shape the package in a way that satisfied the politically powerful, especially the interests that have captured the Republican Party, made it far less effective than it might have been. In the end, it had no chance of fully meeting the challenge posed by such a severe recession, and when it became clear that additional help was needed, those same interests stood in the way of doing more.

Republican policymakers give us all sorts of excuses for blocking further action to help the unemployed. We are told the problem is structural – there is a geographical or talent mismatch between labor availability and labor needs – and nothing can be done to help. But something can be done. We can help workers move to where the jobs are, encourage firms to locate in areas where workers are readily available, and help with job retraining. If mismatches are really the problem, why aren’t Republicans leading the charge on these policies? If they care about the unemployed rather than the tax burden of the wealthy, then why are they allowing community colleges – one of the best ways we have of providing job training for new and displaced workers – to be gutted with budget cuts?

We are also told that the deficit is too large already, but there’s still plenty of room to do more for the unemployed so long as we have a plan to address the long-run debt problem. But even if the deficit is a problem, why won’t Republicans support one of the many balanced budget approaches to stimulating the economy? Could it be that these policies invariably require higher income households to give something up so that we can help the less fortunate? Tax cuts for the wealthy are always welcome among Republicans no matter how it impacts the debt, but creating job opportunities through, say, investing in infrastructure? Forget it. Even though the costs of many highly beneficial infrastructure projects are as low as they get, and even though investing in infrastructure now would save us from much larger costs down the road – it’s a budget saver not a budget buster – Republicans leaders in the House are balking at even modest attempts to provide needed job opportunities for the unemployed.

The imbalance in political power, obstructionism from Republicans designed to improve their election chances, and attempts by Republicans to implement a small government ideology are a large part of the explanation for why the unemployed aren’t getting the help they deserve. But Democrats aren’t completely off the hook either. Centrist Democrats beholden to big money interests are definitely a problem, and Democrats in general have utterly failed to bring enough attention to the unemployment problem. Would these things happen if workers had more political power?

Saturday, September 01, 2012

The Problem is Lack of Demand

The chair of Bush's Council of Economic Advisors, Ed Lazear, says that the unemployment problem is not structural, it's due to lack of demand:

Jackson Hole Paper: True Cause of High Unemployment Is Basic Economic Weakness, by Michael S. Derby, WSJ: Is the job market weak because of structural changes, or is a lack of demand the true factor keeping unemployment rates high? ...
The answer isn’t just academic: If a lack of demand is behind high unemployment, the Federal Reserve can help fix the situation via monetary policy stimulus. Structural problems, however, are beyond the reach of those remedies.
A paper presented Saturday at the Kansas City Fed’s annual Jackson Hole, Wyo., research conference argues that what currently ails the economy is indeed a demand problem. That suggests the Fed has room to act if it chooses to do so. The paper was written by Edward Lazear of Stanford Graduate School of Business and James Spletzer of the U.S. Census Bureau. Mr. Lazear was also a chairman of President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers.
“An analysis of labor market data suggests that there are no structural changes that can explain movements in unemployment rates over recent years,” the authors write. “Neither industrial nor demographic shifts nor a mismatch of skills with job vacancies is behind the increased rates of unemployment.” ...
Meanwhile, some of the trends some have used to support the structural argument—the decline of factory jobs, changing labor participation rates, and the benefits education offer to wage growth—have been in play for a long time, well before the current economic troubles started, the authors write.
The authors discount the idea that the long duration of unemployment seen lately is a sign of structural changes. They tied the extended duration of unemployment to the depth of the downturn, saying “the current recession does not appear fundamentally different from prior ones, except that it is worse.”

Some members of the Fed's monetary policy committee sitting in the audience for this paper have used the structural unemployment argument to argue against more help for the economy. If economics was an evidence based science this, and the mountain of other evidence pointing in the same direction, would cause them to change their minds and support more accommodative policy -- the potential benefits of doing more are much higher than they have estimated. Instead, we'll hear the same old arguments from the same people, or they'll search until they find something else that agrees with their priors, and use that to defend them. It's the same with fiscal policy, theory and evidence are ignored in favor of bogus arguments there too, and it's all very frustrating.

Credible Promises about 'Irresponsible' Policy

Paul Krugman discusses Michael Woodford's important paper:

Woodford on Monetary Policy (Sort of Wonkish), by Paul Krugman: I’m not in Jackson Hole... No matter. I can still read the papers — and the most important one was by Mike Woodford (pdf). Woodford’s paper is long and really dense... But the bottom line is “Ben, ur doing it wrong”.
The topic is what, if anything, monetary policy can do when interest rates are up against the zero lower bound... Under these conditions, conventional monetary policy ... has no traction.
Yet this need not mean that the central bank is without options. I think I was the first to make a point (pdf) that Woodford and Gauti Eggertsson greatly expanded in 2003, namely, that the central bank can still gain traction if it can convince the public that it will pursue a more inflationary policy than previously expected after the economy recovers. As I wrote way back then, the central bank needs to credibly promise to be irresponsible.
But can it really do this? Woodford devotes the first half of the paper to an extended review of the evidence on “forward guidance”, in which central banks signal their future intentions — and finds strong evidence that such talk matters. So his answer is yes, the Fed could boost the economy by making a commitment to hold off on raising interest rates when recovery finally kicks in.
But that isn’t what the Fed has mainly done... So what should the Fed be doing? Woodford concludes that ... it needs to promulgate a view of its intentions that would lead it to be slower to raise rates following a big slump than it would in other circumstances. And let me repeat the past tense: following a big slump, not just when you’re in it.
How to do this? Nominal GDP targeting would be one answer, because it would give the Fed a reason to hold off for a long time on rate hikes. Other schemes might also do the trick.
The point is that this is exactly what the Fed has not done. Bernanke has gone to great lengths to reassure politicians that policy will revert to normal as soon as possible, that the Fed remains as vigilant as ever about inflation; and while Woodford doesn’t quite say this, all this amounts to offering forward guidance in exactly the wrong direction.
Important stuff.

As I explained long ago, here's the problem:

[The effectiveness of policy] relies upon changing expectations of future inflation (which changes the real interest rate). People must believe that the Fed will actually be willing to create inflation in the future when it comes time to do so. However, it's unlikely that it will be optimal for the Fed to cause inflation when the time comes. Because of that, the best policy is to promise to create inflation, then renege on the promise when it comes time to follow through. Since people know this, and expect the Fed will not actually carry through and create inflation, it's hard to get them to change their expectations now. All that credibility the Fed has built up and protected concerning their inflation fighting credentials works against them here.

That's why Krugman says repeatedly that the Fed "needs to credibly promise to be irresponsible."

One more note. While everyone has jumped on the statement about nominal GDP targeting, Woodford also says that tying policy to specific goals, e.g. promising to leave interest rates low until unemployment or inflation crosses some threshold, say 4% for inflation or 6.5% for unemployment, "would be an 'important improvement' on what the Fed is doing now, though he said it had flaws." In the short-run, this is probably much more politically viable than moving to a nominal GDP target (Charles Evans, president of the Chicago Fed has been the most vocal proponent of this approach, and I have endorsed it as well).

But let me turn the microphone back to Paul Krugman:

Monetary Versus Fiscal Policy, Revisited, by Paul Krugman: One recurring complaint from commenters on this blog is that they can’t figure out where I stand on monetary versus fiscal policy as a response to a deeply depressed economy. Sometimes, they say, I declare that monetary policy is ineffective once you’re at the zero lower bound; other times I berate Ben Bernanke for not doing more. Which is it?
But it’s not a contradiction. Mike Woodford’s latest paper, especially taken in tandem with his paper last year at the Cambridge Keynes conference, actually explains it all.
What Mike demonstrates is the point that liquidity-trap worriers have been making for a long time – actually, ever since my 1998 piece. Current monetary policy is indeed ineffective in a liquidity trap; but there is still scope for central bank action in the form of credible commitments to keep monetary policy easy in the future, when the economy is no longer at the zero lower bound.
The trouble is how to make those credible commitments. ...
What about fiscal policy? As Mike pointed out in his earlier paper, fiscal stimulus in a liquidity trap doesn’t require that you convince the market that you’re going to behave differently once the crisis is past. It doesn’t depend on expectations at all; the government just goes out and creates jobs. So it made a lot of sense to argue for stimulus as the main immediate response to the slump.
But isn’t fiscal stimulus also a hard sell politically? Yes, indeed...
So what should well-meaning economists do now, with both fiscal and monetary policy falling short? The answer is, campaign on both fronts...

Which is very much the approach I've pushed -- don't put all our policy eggs in either the monetary or fiscal policy basket. I've worried that there has been too much focus on monetary policy lately, and that has let fiscal policymakers -- who must join the battle to lower our crisis level of unemployment -- off the hook. Fiscal policy has an important role to play: of the points that Eggertsson makes is that government spending does not have the credibility problem that plagues monetary policy. He says:

...Expansionary monetary policy can be difficult if the central bank cannot commit to future policy. The problem is that an inflation promise is not credible for a discretionary policy maker. ...
This credibility problem is what Eggertsson (2006) calls the "deflation bias" of discretionary monetary policy at zero interest rates. Government spending does not have this problem. ... The intuition is that fiscal policy not only requires promises about what the government will do in the future, but also involves direct actions today. And those actions are fully consistent with those the government promises in the future (namely, increasing government spending throughout the recession period). ...

We need to push on both the monetary and fiscal policy fronts. Neither policy alone will be sufficient to get the job done (even without the political hurdles standing in the way), and it's far past the time for both Congress and the Fed to do more about our crisis level unemployment problem.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

'Changing Views of Globalization’s Impact'

Edward Alden of the Council on Foreign Relations:

Changing Views of Globalization’s Impact, by Edward Allen, Commentary, NY Times: ...For decades, economists resisted the conclusion that trade – for all of its many benefits — has also played a significant role in job loss and the stagnation of middle-class incomes in the United States. ...
Rather than focusing on trade, economists argued that other factors – especially “skill-biased technical change,” technological innovation that puts an added premium on skilled workers – played the biggest role in holding down middle-class wages. But now economists are beginning to change their minds. Responding to The Times’s recent survey about the causes of income stagnation, many top economists have cited globalization as a leading cause.
While the evidence is still not conclusive, it is pretty strong. Trade’s effect on jobs and income, which was probably modest through the 1990’s, now seems to be growing much larger. [list and discussion of recent studies]...
The usual rebuttal to these findings is to argue that they stem mostly from manufacturing. And manufacturing, the argument goes, is facing a long-run, secular decline in employment that is largely technology-driven, not unlike the story of agriculture in the 20th century. The job losses in manufacturing may seem as if they have been caused by trade,... but they have actually been caused by technological change.
Through the 1990s, that story was largely plausible. But over the last decade it is not. ... There is no question that over the last decade United States manufacturing has declined, taking away jobs and driving down wages for those who are still employed. Robert Atkinson and colleagues have a useful paper on this topic, showing that the loss of more than five million jobs in manufacturing in a decade was not primarily a technology and productivity story.
The real-world evidence makes it surprising that it has taken economists so long to catch on...
I've expressed pro-trade views in the past, and I still have them. But it's not enough to say, as we do, that the gains from trade are such that (under fairly general conditions) we can make everyone better off and no one worse off. If the actual result is that all the gains go to the top of the income distribution, and all the costs go to the working class -- if the distribution of the gains results in a large class of losers -- then it is much harder to defend. We must find a way to ensure that trade realizes the promise of "lifting all boats" instead of just the yachts.

Friday, August 24, 2012

'People Lucky Enough to Find New Work are often Taking Steep Wage Cuts'

Are you surprised?:

New Jobs Come With Lower Wages, by Sudeep Reddy, WSJ: During the recession, people who lost long-held jobs struggled to find new employment and often took substantial pay cuts if they did find new work. Little appears to have changed after the recession ended, a new Labor Department report shows. ...
People lucky enough to find new work are often taking steep wage cuts. Of the displaced workers who lost full-time wage and salary jobs from 2009-2011 and were reemployed by January, just 46% were earning as much or more than they did in their lost job. A third of them reported earnings losses of 20% or more. Both figures are almost identical to those from the prior report. (See our article from last year about these workers: “Downturn’s Ugly Trademark: Steep, Lasting Drop in Wages”)

Friday, August 03, 2012

One More Employment Day Update

Here are my remarks on the employment report:

July Jobs Report Gives Mixed Signals

Like Tim, I don't see this as prompting the Fed to action:

...this report will raise speculation that the Fed will do more to stimulate the economy at its next meeting. But the Fed was already aware of the risks from Europe and elsewhere, and if weaker numbers over the last few months weren't enough to prompt the Fed to do more, it's hard to see how the slight improvement in the numbers would alter the Fed's course, particularly if subsequent data reinforces the "things aren't as bad as they seemed over the last few months" point of view.

The null hypothesis for the Fed could be "we'll do more to stimulate the economy at the next meeting unless there is overwhelming evidence that we shouldn't," or it could be "We'll keep policy on hold unless there is overwhelming evidence we should do more." I believe the Fed is looking for reasons not to act, i.e. it has the second null, and that this report is not the overwhelming evidence they need to change their view.

Fed Watch: Employment Day Updates

Tim Duy:

Employment Day Updates, by Tim Duy: I am on a tight schedule this morning, leaving in a few minutes for a meeting in Salem, so I don't have time for extended comments on this morning's employment report. The report surprised on the upside, with nonfarm payrolls adding 163k jobs, a clear improvement from the last three months:


On the surface, this would seem to weigh against additional Fed action at their September meeting. I would say the counterargument is two-fold. First, wage growth continues to stagnate:


Low wage growth is a consequence of sustained weakness in labor markets and should be seen as further evidence inflation will remain "at or below" levels consistent with the Fed's mandate. Second, the internals on household survey were weak. Employment dropped 195k, reducing the employment to population ratio to 58.4, while the ranks of the unemployed grew by 45k. The labor force participation rate declined further to 63.7, down from 64.0 a year ago. No progress on the unemployment rate, which edged up a notch.
The establishment survey argues for a steady hand, the household survey argues for easier policy (arguably, even the establishment survey argues for easier policy, but I don't think the Fed sees it this way). Also note that we have another employment report before the next meeting. That said, if I had to choose today, I think that the establishment report would get the upper hand, pointing to steady policy in September. But there is lots of data between now and then.
For more employment charts, visit Calculated Risk. Gotta run...

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

'Jobless Generation'

Policymakers need to do more about the unemployment problem:

Jobless generation puts brakes on US, by Shannon Bond, FT: ...The share of American 18- to 24-year-olds who were employed fell to 54 per cent last year, the lowest since the labor department began tracking data in 1948, according to the Pew Research Center. The share who are in college has risen, but the researchers say this only partly explains the drop. The jobless rate for Americans age 16 to 24 is above 16 per cent, more than twice the national rate.
Youth unemployment has reached crisis levels around the world, with almost 13 per cent of the global youth labor force out of work this year... But the problem has a unique flavor in the US, where the weak job market has collided with record levels of educational debt – about $25,000 for the average graduate. Together, they pose a threat to the future earning power of young Americans ... and could have long-lasting effects on US growth. ...

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

DeLong: Hopeless Unemployment

Brad DeLong also has a column today (and I no longer have this complaint):

Hopeless Unemployment, by Brad DeLong, Commentary, Project Syndicate: ...At first, the long-term unemployed in the Great Depression searched eagerly and diligently for alternative sources of work. But, after six months or so passed without successful reemployment, they tended to become discouraged and distraught. After 12 months of continuous unemployment, the typical unemployed worker still searched for a job, but in a desultory fashion, without much hope. And, after two years of unemployment, the worker, accurately expecting to be at the end of every hiring queue, had lost hope and, for all practical purposes, left the labor market.
This was the pattern of the long-term unemployed in the Great Depression. It was also the pattern of the long-term unemployed in Western Europe at the end of the 1980s. And, in a year or two, it will be the pattern again for the long-term unemployed in the North Atlantic region.
I have been arguing for four years that our business-cycle problems call for more aggressively expansionary monetary and fiscal policies, and that our biggest problems would quickly melt away were such policies to be adopted. That is still true. But, over the next two years, barring a sudden and unexpected interruption of current trends, it will become less true.
The current balance of probabilities is that two years from now, the North Atlantic’s principal labor-market failures will not be demand-side market failures that could be easily remedied by more aggressive policies to boost economic activity and employment. Rather, they will be structural market failures of participation that are not amenable to any straightforward and easily implemented cure.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

House GOP Wastes Valuable Time with Health Care Vote

Floor time in Congress is scarce and valuable. So why is are House Republicans wasting time with a bill they know will be vetoed when there are much bigger problems to address, the unemployment crisis for example? You'd think that politics is more important than the struggles of the unemployed:

House GOP set for health care law repeal vote, but offering no alternatives, CBS News: House Republicans generally avoided talk of replacement measures on Tuesday as they mobilized for an election-season vote to repeal the health care law that stands as President Barack Obama's signature domestic accomplishment. ... [T]he repeal vote ... will lead to nothing as the Democratic Senate won't consider it, and even if the House and Senate somehow agreed to repeal the law, Mr. Obama has the ultimate say with his veto pen. ...

I understand what's going on, but it's still disappointing to see the unemployed fall by the wayside.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

The Failure of the Federal Gvernment to Offset State and Local Austerity is Hurting Job Growth

As I've emphasized many times in the past, austerity at the state and local level forced by balanced budget requirements, falling tax revenues, and increasing demand for public services due to the recession had a large, negative effect on the economy. The failure of the federal government to backfill state and local budgets and stop this from happening was a big policy mistake:

Three years into recovery, just how much has state and local austerity hurt job growth?, by Josh Bivens and Heidi Shierholz: ...the public sector has seen massive job loss in the current recovery—largely due to budget cuts at the state and local level — which represents a serious drag that was not weighing on earlier recoveries. ...
How many more jobs would we have if the public sector hadn’t been shedding jobs for the last three years?  The simplest answer is that the public sector has shed 627,000 jobs since June 2009.  However, this raw job-loss figure understates the drag of public-sector employment relative to how the economy functions normally.
Over this same period the overall population grew by 6.9 million. In June 2009 there were 7.3 public-sector workers for every 100 people in the US; to keep that ratio constant given population growth, the public sector should have added roughly 505,000 jobs in the last three years.  This means that, relative to a much more economically relevant trend, the public sector is now down more than 1.1 million jobs. And even against this more-realistic trend, these public-sector losses are dominated by austerity at the state and local level, with federal employment contributing only around 6% of this entire gap.
It should be noted that this counter-factual of 1.1 million additional public sector jobs is a perfectly reasonable benchmark.  Before the Great Recession, the number of public-sector workers per 100 people had averaged right around 7.3 since the late 1980s.  In other words, having 1.1 million more public-sector workers, which would put us back at 7.3 public-sector workers per 100 people, would simply restore our economy to a normal level of government employment.  ...
However, even that 1.1 million public-sector jobs gap leaves out an important component:  public-sector job cuts also cause job loss in the private sector, for a couple of reasons. First, public-sector workers need to use inputs into their work that are sourced by the private sector. Firefighters need trucks and hoses, police officers need cars and radios, and teachers need books and desks. When public-sector jobs are lost, it stands to reason that the inputs into these jobs will fall as well, and indeed research shows that for every public-sector job lost, roughly 0.43 supplier jobs are lost.[3]
Second, the economic “multiplier” of state and local spending (not including transfer payments) is large – around 1.24.[4] This means that for every dollar cut in salary and supplies of public-sector workers, another $0.24 is lost in purchasing power throughout the rest of the economy. Teachers and firefighters stop going to restaurants and buying cars if they’re laid off, which reduces demand for waitstaff and autoworkers and so on. Add these two influences together (supplier jobs and jobs supported by this multiplier impact) and roughly 0.67 private sector jobs are lost for every public sector job cut. This means that the public sector being down 1.1 million jobs has likely cost the private sector 1.1 million*0.67 = 751,000 jobs.
Further, it should be noted that this 0.67 figure only accounts for private-sector job loss that is due to direct public-sector job loss. But state and local austerity has components besides cutting direct jobs; when these governments cut back, they often don’t just cut jobs, they also cut transfer payments (generally safety-net programs like Medicaid and unemployment insurance...).
A rough estimate of this additional impact of jobs lost due to cutbacks in transfer spending can be constructed using the fact that that transfer payments constitute roughly a quarter of state and local spending, and tend to have slightly higher economic “multipliers” than the direct state and local spending. If we assume that the labor intensity of jobs supported by these transfer payments are the same as that spending undertaken directly by states, this implies that the 1.1 million in state and local job losses is likely matched by 275,000 jobs lost due to reduced transfers as well. Applying a standard multiplier to this number (the 1.52 multiplier for unemployment insurance benefits, for example), yields another 412,500 jobs likely lost as states cut back on transfer payments as well as direct jobs.
This estimate of reduced transfers actually is conservative...
Putting our four components together – the jobs lost in the public sector, the jobs the public sector should have gained just to keep up with population growth, the jobs lost in the private sector due to direct public-sector job declines, and the jobs likely lost when state spending cutbacks on transfer programs were made– we find that if it weren’t for state and local austerity, the labor market would have 2.3 million more jobs today – and half of these jobs would be in the private sector.
This is more than a fifth of our 9.8 million “jobs gap”, the number of jobs needed to bring the economy back to full employment. If all of these 2.3 million jobs had been filled, it is likely that the unemployment rate would now be between 6.7% and 7.5% instead of 8.2%, and the labor force participation rate ... would be up to three-tenths of a percentage point higher than it is.
The public sector continues to shed jobs, causing job loss throughout the economy and creating an enormous drag on the recovery.  To reduce these job losses and the suffering for American families they cause, Congress should provide aid to state and local governments to keep austerity in that sector from continuing to weigh down the recovery.

Here's evidence that help from the federal government mattered. If only there had been more help, the numbers above wouldn't be so large (conversely, without any help at all from the ARRA, the numbers would have been even larger):

The Role of Fiscal Stimulus in the Ongoing Recovery, by Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney, Brookings: ... This conclusion comes from a pair of new academic studies on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) or the 2009 stimulus plan; both studies find robust evidence that government policy helped reduce the extent of the downturn and improve job growth. ...
The Great Recession resulted in significant increases in unemployment, but it did not impact all states equally. In fact, one contributor to the disparities appears to have been the differences in state government spending. Those states that increased per-capita expenditures the most experienced the smallest rises in unemployment rates, while those that increased expenditures the least experienced the largest rises in unemployment. Although state governments certainly played a role in shaping their economic situations, much of the increased state spending was financed by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the federal stimulus plan), which put significant amounts of money directly into depleted state coffers.
Given the serious challenge of the long-run budget outlook, it will be necessary to take difficult steps to address the imbalance between what the federal government spends and how much it raises in revenues. But it is also important to recognize that, despite the boost from the temporary stimulus, millions of Americans remain out of work and more than 40 percent of the unemployed have not worked for six months or longer. As policymakers grapple with these dual fiscal and economic challenges, it is important to recognize that they need not be at odds. The best prescription for improving the budget deficit over the next few years is to return the economy to health. To that end, it is instructive to consider the latest evidence that active budget policies enacted today can help boost employment and speed recovery

Even now, it's not too late to do more.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Private In-Equity: How Outsourcing affected Wage Standards

This is from Arin Dube:

Private In-Equity: How Outsourcing affected Wage Standards

Arindrajit Dube
Assistant Professor
Dept. of Economics
University of Massachusetts Amherst

There is renewed interest in the issue of onshore outsourcing or subcontracting as we evaluate the societal implications of the private equity model exemplified by Bain Capital. Yes, that would be the Bain Capital that is the main source of earned income for candidate Romney.  Writing on this topic, Paul Krugman recently reported some relevant findings from my research in his blog as well as his column. I thought it would be useful to share some more details from that research that was jointly conducted with Ethan Kaplan.

Over the past 3 decades, a rising share of work that used to be done “in-house” has been outsourced to outside contractors. Sometimes, the exact same work is being done at the same physical location—but by someone with a different employer of record. So what is the point of re-labeling people as outsourced workers as opposed to in-house employees? After all, a janitor cleaning the floor of your building after work hours is doing the same job whether they wear a uniform with a contractor logo or that of your company.  Yet, we have seen companies spin off work that is outside of their “core competencies” to such outside contractors.  While the idea of “core competency” makes us think of knowledge and efficiency, it is also plausible that the primary motivation for companies is to spin off low-wage work to contractors who could—and would—pay lower wages and benefits.    

In our research, we specifically considered two occupations where the contracting status was easy to identify using the data: security guards and janitors. These two occupations also saw extensive contracting out during the 1980s and 1990s.  We found that subcontracted employees earned lower compensation than their in-house counterparts (between 7 and 12 percent for janitors and 13 and 26 percent for security guards depending on the specification).  The evidence for wage reduction held even as we considered individuals within the same occupation switching jobs between in-house and outsourced varieties.

Interestingly, we found that the main impact of outsourcing was to reduce “good jobs” within these occupations: janitors and security guards in the upper half of their respective wage distributions saw substantial reduction in wages due to outsourcing.  The pictures below shows the actual occupational wage distributions in 1983 and 2000, as well as “counterfactual” ones had the level of outsourcing remained constant. The story that these pictures tell is one where good in-house janitorial and security jobs were replaced with worse subcontracted jobs: the top quartile of these service jobs saw the greatest reduction in wages (typically above 15%) due to the growth in outsourcing.  

[click on figure for larger version]

Finally, we found that industries and areas that were outsourcing tended to be those who historically paid better wages and benefits. This is exactly the pattern you would expect if companies outsourced primarily to cut pay for these workers—for instance to break previous implicit contracts without upsetting their “core” workforce or changing company wages and benefit norms.

There were many factors behind the fall in the wages of low-credentialed workers during the 1980s and 1990s. Our research suggests that one of those factors was change in institutional arrangements—such as outsourcing—which further reduced the bargaining position of workers in low-wage occupations. To the extent that companies were rescued—and profits restored—by breaking implicit contracts on wages and benefits, we should rightfully be wary of the societal value of such practices.

Employment Report Shows Little Change from Last Month

Here's my reaction to the employment report (let me add what is implicit below, my disappointment with policymakers at the Fed and in Congress -- it doesn't have to be like this. So I hope I've erred in my assessment that the Fed will remain in wait and see mode until the next report.):

Employment Report Shows Little Change from Last Month: (MoneyWatch) The employment report released earlier today was not as strong as many analysts had predicted. Nonfarm payroll employment increased by 80,000, just under what is needed to keep up with population growth, and the unemployment rate was unchanged from the previous month at 8.2 percent.

The report highlights the fact that the economy is treading water rather than making progress on the unemployment problem. The number of long-term unemployed, which accounts for 41.9 percent of the unemployed, was essentially unchanged as was the civilian labor force participation rate (63.8 percent), the employment- population ratio (58.6 percent), and the number of part-time workers (8.2 million). Jill Schlesinger has more details, and a discussion of why the economy is stagnating.

The report is not a disaster in the sense that it shows that things are getting worse. But it is very worrisome that things are not getting better, particularly the long-term unemployment problem. Long-term unemployment is, of course, disastrous for the individuals who cannot find jobs, from health effects to reduced lifetime earnings potential, but it is also a problem for the economy as a whole. Evidence from previous recessions shows that long-term unemployment can turn into permanent unemployment, and this reduces our long run growth potential. That has implications for future taxes, which will be lower, future spending on social programs, which will be higher, and for our ability to provide decent jobs in the future.

Does this mean that policymakers will take action? If the report had been stronger, policymakers at the Fed would have likely started thinking about whether and when to break the commitment to keep interest rates low through the end of 2013. It would take several months of strong employment growth before they would seriously entertain doing this, but it would certainly be on their minds. Had the report been weaker, the members of the Fed who want more aggressive action would have had a stronger hand, and there is a good chance that some type of easing would come in the near future, even before the next FOMC meeting. As it stands, with the employment situation essentially unchanged from last month, the Fed is likely to remain in "wait and see" mode, particularly since the data are only preliminary and subject to large revisions down the road (Fed officials will hope for large upward revisions to this month's report). But if the incoming data continues to be weak prior to the next FOMC meeting, which comes just before the next jobs report, the Fed is likely to ease policy further.

As for fiscal policy, more aggressive action could help, for example a large scale infrastructure spending program could provide needed employment opportunities, but that would be a tough sell in this Congress at any time, and is even tougher in an election year. So it's not very likely at all that fiscal policy -- tax cuts or more spending -- will come to the rescue.

All in all, this is not the report we've been waiting for. There are millions of people who want to work but cannot find jobs, and this report does not give much hope that will change anytime soon.

Paul Krugman: Off and Out With Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney's record in the business world -- a cornerstone of his campaign -- should be a cause for concern rather than comfort:

Off and Out With Mitt Romney, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: In a better America, Mitt Romney would be running for president on the strength of his major achievement as governor of Massachusetts... In reality, however, Mr. Romney is ... bitterly denouncing the Supreme Court for upholding the constitutionality of his own health care plan. His case for becoming president relies, instead, on his claim that, having been a successful businessman, he knows how to create jobs.
This, in turn, means that ... the nature of that business career is fair game. ... Was ... what was good for Bain Capital, the private equity firm that made him rich, ... also ... good for America?
And the answer is no..., the tools of macroeconomic policy — interest rates, tax rates, spending programs — have no counterparts on a corporate organization chart. Did I mention that Herbert Hoover ... was a great businessman...?
In any case, however,... Bain didn’t build businesses; it bought and sold them. Sometimes its takeovers led to new hiring; often they led to layoffs, wage cuts and lost benefits. On some occasions, Bain made a profit even as its takeover target was driven out of business. ... And then there’s the business about outsourcing.
Two weeks ago, The Washington Post reported that Bain had invested in companies whose specialty was helping other companies move jobs overseas. The Romney campaign went ballistic... What was more interesting was the campaign’s insistence that The Post had misled readers by failing to distinguish between “offshoring” — moving jobs abroad — and “outsourcing,”... having an external contractor perform services that could have been performed in-house.
Now, if the Romney campaign really believed in ... free-market principles, it would have defended the right of corporations to do whatever maximizes their profits, even if that means shipping jobs overseas. Instead..., the campaign effectively conceded that offshoring is bad but insisted that outsourcing is O.K....
That is, however, a very dubious assertion... Why, for example, do many large companies now outsource cleaning and security...? Surely the answer is, in large part, that outside contractors can hire cheap labor that isn’t represented by the union and can’t participate in the company health and retirement plans. ...
[I]f Bain got involved with your company, one way or another, the odds were pretty good that even if your job survived you ended up with lower pay and diminished benefits. In short, what was good for Bain Capital definitely wasn’t good for America. And ... the Obama campaign has every right to point that out.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Obama versus Romney on Jobs

Laura Tyson:

Obama versus Romney on Jobs, by Laura Tyson, Commentary, Project Syndicate: The United States has just completed its third year of economic recovery, but the unemployment rate remains above 8%, and there are worrisome signs of a slowdown. So it is no surprise that jobs have become a major focus in the presidential campaign – or that the candidates have very different ideas about how to boost employment.
Last autumn, President Barack Obama proposed the American Jobs Act, a $450 billion package of fiscal measures aimed at job creation. The AJA amounted to about 3% of GDP and was designed to take effect in 2012... Most of its measures had enjoyed bipartisan support in the past; tax cuts comprised about 56% of the total cost; and the package was paid for in Obama’s long-term deficit reduction plan.
Several independent economists concluded that Obama’s plan would provide a significant lift to the job market in 2012-2013...
The AJA was filibustered by Senate Republicans, and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives likewise prevented the bill from coming to a vote. ...
Altogether, Congress left at least one million jobs on the negotiating table, holding unemployed workers hostage to the outcome of November’s election.
Meanwhile, in response to persistent media pressure, Romney has unveiled his policies to boost short-term job creation. ...Obama’s proposals to boost job creation are convincing, whereas Romney’s proposals would have little or no effect – and some could even make matters worse. Voters need to know the difference. 

There are more details on the two proposals in the article.

[Also, I probably should have done more to highlight her Economix piece on the European crisis. It appeared on Friday afternoon and was one of the first pieces that talked about the recent Summit, along with a roadmap of what else needs to be done to solve the European crisis.]

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Political Empowerment of the Working Class is the Key to Better Employment Policy

A recent column:

The Political Empowerment of the Working Class is the Key to Better Employment Policy, by Mark Thoma: The high unemployment rate ought to be a national emergency. There are millions of people in need of jobs, the lost income as a result of the recession totals hundreds of billions of dollars annually, and the longer the problem persists, the more permanent the damage becomes.

Why doesn’t the unemployment problem get more attention? Why have other worries such as inflation and debt reduction dominated the conversation instead? As I noted at the end of my last column, the increased concentration of political power at the top of the income distribution provides much of the explanation.

Consider the Federal Reserve. Again and again we hear Federal Reserve officials say that an outbreak of inflation could undermine the Fed’s hard-earned credibility and threaten its independence from Congress. But why is the Fed only worried about inflation? Why aren’t officials at the Fed just as worried about Congress reducing the Fed’s independence because of high and persistent unemployment?

Similar questions can be asked about fiscal policy. Why is most of the discussion in Congress focused on the national debt rather than the unemployed? Is it because the wealthy fear that they will be the ones asked to pay for monetary and fiscal policies that mostly benefit others, and since they have the most political power their interests – keeping inflation low, cutting spending, and lowering tax burdens – dominate policy discussions? There was, of course, a stimulus program at the beginning of Obama’s presidency, but it was much too small and relied far more on tax cuts than most people realize. The need to shape the package in a way that satisfied the politically powerful, especially the interests that have captured the Republican Party, made it far less effective than it might have been. In the end, it had no chance of fully meeting the challenge posed by such a severe recession, and when it became clear that additional help was needed, those same interests stood in the way of doing more.

Republican policymakers give us all sorts of excuses for blocking further action to help the unemployed. We are told the problem is structural – there is a geographical or talent mismatch between labor availability and labor needs – and nothing can be done to help. But something can be done. We can help workers move to where the jobs are, encourage firms to locate in areas where workers are readily available, and help with job retraining. If mismatches are really the problem, why aren’t Republicans leading the charge on these policies? If they care about the unemployed rather than the tax burden of the wealthy, then why are they allowing community colleges – one of the best ways we have of providing job training for new and displaced workers – to be gutted with budget cuts?

We are also told that the deficit is too large already, but there’s still plenty of room to do more for the unemployed so long as we have a plan to address the long-run debt problem. But even if the deficit is a problem, why won’t Republicans support one of the many balanced budget approaches to stimulating the economy? Could it be that these policies invariably require higher income households to give something up so that we can help the less fortunate? Tax cuts for the wealthy are always welcome among Republicans no matter how it impacts the debt, but creating job opportunities through, say, investing in infrastructure? Forget it. Even though the costs of many highly beneficial infrastructure projects are as low as they get, and even though investing in infrastructure now would save us from much larger costs down the road – it’s a budget saver not a budget buster – Republicans leaders in the House are balking at even modest attempts to provide needed job opportunities for the unemployed.

The imbalance in political power, obstructionism from Republicans designed to improve their election chances, and attempts by Republicans to implement a small government ideology are a large part of the explanation for why the unemployed aren’t getting the help they deserve. But Democrats aren’t completely off the hook either. Centrist Democrats beholden to big money interests are definitely a problem, and Democrats in general have utterly failed to bring enough attention to the unemployment problem. Would these things happen if workers had more political power?

When we talk about leveling the playing field, it is generally in terms of economic opportunity. However, leveling the political playing field is just as important, and in the past unions provided workers with a powerful voice in the political arena. But unions have largely faded from the scene leaving workers with very little organized power. Correcting the political imbalance this has created through the renewed political empowerment of the working class must be part of any attempt to improve our response to serious recessions.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Eichengreen: Share the Work

One more from Barry Eichengreen -- like Dean Baker, he supports work sharing as a way to create more jobs and increase employment:

Share the Work, by Barry Eichengreen, Commentary, Project Syndicate: The United States today is facing a crisis of long-term unemployment unlike anything it has seen since the 1930’s. Some 40% of the unemployed have been out of work for six months or more... For those unfortunate enough to experience it, long-term unemployment ... is a tragedy. And, for society as a whole, there is the danger that the productive capacity of a significant portion of the labor force will be impaired.
What is not well known, however, is that in the 1930’s, the United States, to a much greater extent than today, succeeded in mitigating these problems. Rather than resorting to extensive layoffs, firms had their employees work a partial week. ... The 24% unemployment reached at the depths of the Great Depression was no picnic. But that rate would have been even higher had average weekly hours for workers in manufacturing remained at 45. Cutting hours by 20% allowed millions of additional workers to stay on the job. ...
Why was there so much work-sharing in the 1930’s? One reason is that government pushed for it. ... Second, legislation encouraged it. ... [Today,] unemployment insurance ... could be restructured to encourage it. Partial benefits could be paid to workers on short hours...
In fact, the US already has something along these lines: a program known as Short-Time Compensation. Workers can collect unemployment benefits pro-rated according to their hours... Unfortunately, the financial incentives that the federal government provides are ... limited... And those programs, in turn, are too modest...
Other countries have gone further. ...Germany, for example... The US federal government could emulate this example by compensating the states more generously for their Short-Term Compensation programs. Its failure to do so not only inflicts avoidable pain and suffering on the unemployed, but also threatens to inflict long-term costs on American society.

The unemployment problem ought to be a national emergency. The fact that it's not tells me that our political institutions are broken, at least when it comes to defending the interests of the working class (other interests are anything but ignored). Millions of people are struggling to get by without a job, and instead of mobilizing on their behalf and finding some way to make things better -- there is plenty to do and plenty of people who would be glad to do it -- some policymakers are calling them lazy and trying to make it even worse by cutting what help they do get, while others who ought to know better stand by passively watching this happen, or worse join the cause. We can do better than this, but it has to be a priority for those who control the levers of power. Unfortunately, in our dysfunctional political system, improving the lives of the working class is less a priority than serving the interests of those who finance, and hence hold the keys to, reelection.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Paul Krugman: Another Bank Bailout

Why won't central banks do more to help the unemployed?:

Another Bank Bailout, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Oh, wow — another bank bailout, this time in Spain. Who could have predicted that?
The answer, of course, is everybody. In fact, the whole story is starting to feel like a comedy routine: yet again the economy slides, unemployment soars, banks get into trouble, governments rush to the rescue — but somehow it’s only the banks that get rescued, not the unemployed.
Just to be clear, Spanish banks did indeed need a bailout. ... What’s striking, however, is that even as European leaders were putting together this rescue, they were signaling strongly that they have no intention of changing the policies that have left almost a quarter of Spain’s workers — and more than half its young people — jobless.
Most notably, last week the European Central Bank declined to cut interest rates. This decision was widely expected, but that shouldn’t blind us to the fact that it was deeply bizarre. Unemployment in the euro area has soared, and all indications are that the Continent is entering a new recession. Meanwhile, inflation is slowing, and market expectations of future inflation have plunged. By any of the usual rules of monetary policy, the situation calls for aggressive rate cuts. But the central bank won’t move.
And that doesn’t even take into account the growing risk of a euro crackup. ...
Put all of this together and you get a picture of a European policy elite always ready to spring into action to defend the banks, but otherwise completely unwilling to admit that its policies are failing the people the economy is supposed to serve.
Still, are we much better? America’s near-term outlook isn’t quite as dire as Europe’s, but the Federal Reserve’s own forecasts predict low inflation and very high unemployment for years to come — precisely the conditions under which the Fed should be leaping into action to boost the economy. But the Fed won’t move.
What explains this trans-Atlantic paralysis in the face of an ongoing human and economic disaster? Politics is surely part of it — whatever they may say, Fed officials are clearly intimidated by warnings that any expansionary policy will be seen as coming to the rescue of President Obama. So, too, is a mentality that sees economic pain as somehow redeeming, a mentality that a British journalist once dubbed “sado-monetarism.”
Whatever the deep roots of this paralysis, it’s becoming increasingly clear that it will take utter catastrophe to get any real policy action that goes beyond bank bailouts. But don’t despair: at the rate things are going, especially in Europe, utter catastrophe may be just around the corner.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

What Skills Gap?

David Altig of the Atlanta Fed agrees with his colleagues at Chicago that "the facts just don't support skill gaps as the major source of our current labor market woes." Here's the overly condensed version:

The skills gap: Still trying to separate myth from fact, by David Altig, macroblog: Peter Capelli has looked at the skills gap explanation for labor market weakness and sees more myth than fact... To some extent, the issue is semantic...
In the language of economists, Capelli is defining skill as the possession of generalized human capital, while businesses are defining skill as the possession of firm- or job-specific human capital. In more familiar language, Capelli appears to be focused on innate skill levels and education, while businesses are looking for the types of skills that would be attained through past on-the-job training. In even more colloquial language, Capelli wants businesses to appreciate book-learning, and businesses prefer those who have already survived the school of hard knocks.
We have recently completed our own version of the Manpower survey Capelli references. ... We infer a couple of lessons from all of this information. First, it does appear that there is a long-term skill level problem in the U.S. economy. Adopting Capelli's definition of skill does not mean the existence of skill mismatch is a myth.
But turning to the short run, we've been pretty sympathetic to structural explanations for the slow pace of the recovery. Nonetheless, we have yet to find much evidence that problems with skill-mismatch are more important postrecession than they were prerecession. We'll keep looking, but—as our colleagues at the Chicago Fed conclude in their most recent Chicago Fed Letter—so far the facts just don't support skill gaps as the major source of our current labor market woes.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

"Limited Evidence of Skills Mismatch"

The Chicago Fed examines the evidence and says:

we find limited evidence of skills mismatch

They do find a few places where a mismatch might be present, but this is not the problem in most sectors (it's lack of demand). [via David Wessel]

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Catastrophic Credibility

Paul Krugman today:

Catastrophic Credibility, by Paul Krugman: A little while ago Ben Bernanke responded to suggestions that the Fed needed to do more — in particular, that it should raise the inflation target — by insisting that this would undermine the institution’s “hard-won credibility”. May I say that what recent events in Europe, and to some extent in the US, really suggest is that central banks have too much credibility? Or more accurately, their credibility as inflation-haters is very clear, while their willingness to tolerate even as much inflation as they say they want, let alone take some risks with inflation to rescue the real economy, is very much in doubt. ...

I took this up in a recent column:

Breaking through the Inflation Ceiling: At some point during the recovery, the Fed may face an important decision. If the inflation rate begins to rise above the Fed’s 2 percent target and the unemployment rate is still relatively high, will the Fed be willing to leave interest rates low and tolerate a temporary increase in the inflation rate?
Probably not. Even though higher inflation can help to stimulate a depressed economy, Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, is not in favor of allowing higher inflation because it could undermine the Fed’s “hard-won inflation credibility.” And recent Fed communications seem to be setting the stage for the Fed to abandon its commitment to keep interest rates low through the end of 2014. This adds to the likelihood that the Fed will raise interest rates quickly if inflation begins increasing above the 2 percent target even if the economy has not yet fully recovered.
As I’ll explain in a moment, that’s the wrong thing to do. But first, why does the Fed put so much value on its credibility?
An abundance of credibility allows the Fed to bring the inflation rate down from, for example, 5 percent to 2 percent at minimal cost to the economy. It also makes it less likely that inflation will become a problem in the first place, because high credibility makes long-run inflation expectations less sensitive to temporary spells of inflation. So maintaining high credibility has substantial benefits.
Does this mean the Fed should do its best to keep the inflation rate at 2 percent?
Sticking to a 2 percent target independent of circumstances is not optimal. There are times, such as now, when allowing the inflation rate to drift above target would help the economy. Higher inflation during a recession encourages consumers and businesses to spend cash instead of sitting on it, it reduces the burden of pre-existing debt, and it can have favorable effects on our trade with other countries.  
If inflation begins to rise before the recovery is complete the Fed could, for example, announce that it is willing to allow the inflation rate to stay above target temporarily in the interest of helping the economy. But once unemployment hits a pre-set rate, for example 6.25 percent,  or core inflation rises above some predetermined threshold, for example,  5 percent, then, and only then, will the Fed step in and take action. And it should leave no doubt at all about its commitment to step in if either condition is met.
But there is a tradeoff to consider. Allowing a temporary spell of higher inflation during the recovery does pose some risk to the Fed’s credibility. I think the risk is small precisely because the Fed has been so careful to establish its inflation fighting credibility in the past. And the risk is even smaller with the 5 percent limit on the Fed’s tolerance for inflation described above. But the risk is there.
When the economy is near full employment, the tradeoff between the risk to credibility and the prospect for a faster recovery is unattractive. There’s little room to stimulate the economy and hence little room to benefit from a higher inflation rate. And the loss of credibility is potentially large because creating inflation in such a circumstance – when the economy is already growing robustly – would be viewed as irresponsible. Thus, the tradeoff is negative overall.
But when there is considerable room for the economy to expand, as there is now, the potential benefits from the increase in employment  that this policy is likely to bring about are much larger. Why the Fed places so little weight on these benefits when unemployment remains so high is a mystery.
In comparison to the risks to credibility, which are smaller than they are near full employment, the benefits are large and the tradeoff is positive rather than negative. There does come a point when the tradeoff is negative again – hence the 6.25 percent unemployment and 5 percent inflation triggers described above – but in the interim we should be willing to allow modestly higher inflation. I have no doubt that, once the economy has finally recovered, the Fed will ensure that the inflation rate is near its target value, so long-run credibility is not at risk.
If inflation begins to rise before the economy has fully recovered, the Fed shouldn’t react as though its world is coming to an end and immediately begin reversing its stimulus efforts. The resulting increase in interest rates would make the recovery even slower. In fact, given the net benefits that more inflation would provide right now, the Fed should try to raise the inflation rate through additional stimulus programs.
Unfortunately, the Fed has made it abundantly clear that’s not going to happen. But at the very least the Fed should continue its present attempts to help the economy, even if that means a temporary increase in the inflation rate.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Will the weak employment report prompt action from policymakers?

Here's a quick reaction to today's employment report:

Will the weak employment report prompt action from policymakers?

It won't, but it should.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Plosser on the Risks from Europe

Philadelphia Fed president Charles Plosser on the risks from Europe:

Q&A: Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser, by Brian Blackstone, WSJ: On whether Europe could have a significant effect on the U.S. economy:
Plosser: Europe is clearly near recession. That impacts the U.S. in part through trade ... but Europe is not our largest trading partner at the end of the day. The thing that people really worry about is you have some financial implosion in Europe and markets freeze up and you have some serious financial disruptions.
There are several ways this could go. At one level the U.S. has been trying to insulate itself from that risk. The Fed and regulators have tried to stress to money market funds, for example, to reduce their exposure to European financial institutions. So on a pure exposure basis I would say U.S. financial institutions are taking the steps they need to ensure that ... financial distress in Europe it doesn’t necessarily lead to distress for them...
People have made the analogy that an implosion in Europe would be a Lehman Brothers-type event. It might be a Lehman Brothers-kind of event for Europe. And if the market is sort of indiscriminate in whom they withdraw funding to, you could have indiscriminate funding restrictions on U.S. institutions just because everybody’s scared.
There’s another scenario that is exactly the opposite. There might be–and you already see some of this–a flight to safety. So rather than the markets freezing access to short-term funding for U.S. institutions, you could have a flood of liquidity that gets withdrawn from European institutions ... and floods into the United States. That’s exactly the opposite problem.
On which scenario is more likely:
Plosser: I don’t have the answer to that. ... I don’t think a flood of liquidity is a huge problem. That would be manageable. The bigger problem is if it dries up for everybody. The Fed still has the tools it used during the crisis. ... So I think we have the tools at our disposal if they become necessary. ...

Thus, he thinks the Fed can handle whatever comes its way, and hence sees no need to alter his forecast:

On his economic forecasts:
Plosser: I’m still looking for 2.5% to 3% growth over the course of this year. I think the unemployment rate is going to continue to drift downward to 7.8% by the end of this year. I would think for 2013 we’ll see similar developments. As long as that’s continuing then I don’t see the case for ever increasing degree of accommodation.

Since he believes output will grow no matter what happens in Europe, inflation is the biggest risk:

On inflation:
Plosser: I think headline will drift down just because of oil and gasoline. It will be interesting to see what happens with the core. The inflation risk we have is longer term. The problem is that as the U.S. economy grows we have provided substantial amounts of accommodation. We have $1.5 trillion in excess reserves. Inflation is going to occur when those excess reserves start flowing into the economy. When that begins to happen we’ll have to restrain it somehow. The challenge for the Fed is will we act quickly enough or aggressively enough to prevent that from happening.
It may be a challenge politically when we have to start selling assets, particularly if we have to start selling (mortgage backed securities) to shrink the balance sheet and to prevent those reserves from becoming money.

My view is different. I'm more worried about output and employment being affected by events in Europe than he is, and less worried about long-run risks from inflation (both the chance that it will happen and the consequences if it does). So I see a far greater need for policymakers -- monetary and fiscal -- to take action now as insurance against potential problems down the road.

It is interesting, however, that he sees the political risk as the primary challenge  for controlling inflation for a supposedly independent Fed, especially since several Fed presidents recently assured us that politics plays no role whatsoever in the Fed's decision making process (I also wonder why he didn't mention raising the amount paid on reserves as a way of keeping reserves in the banks).

Finally, I'm glad he said "I don’t see the case for ever increasing degree of accommodation," rather than saying he thought we needed to begin reducing accommodation. We may not get any further easing, but perhaps there's a chance we can keep what we have, at least for now.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"The Irresponsibility of Speaker John Boehner"

Stan Collender is very unhappy with John Boehner:

The Irresponsibility of Speaker John Boehner, by Stan Collender: ...Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) choreographed events last week in which he repeatedly said he would prevent the debt ceiling increase that will be needed at the end of 2012 or the start of 2013 from happening unless he got what he wanted — was so exceptionally irresponsible.

I’m using the word “irresponsible” very deliberately.

Boehner is more than just a Member of Congress. As Speaker, he is next in line to the presidency after the vice president and the most powerful person in the House. That magnifies the importance of everything he says. ... The Constitution gives Congress specific fiscal policy responsibilities — that makes what this or any Speaker says something that makes headlines and is taken very seriously.

Coming on the heels of last year’s downgrade, the very public way Boehner repeatedly issued his debt ceiling threat made it the equivalent of alerting S&P and the other rating agencies that little had changed since last summer. It also was an invitation to again downgrade U.S. debt. ... There’s no word for that other than irresponsible.

Boehner’s threat also was irresponsible because the immediate spending cuts he said were the only way he would allow a debt ceiling increase to be considered is the wrong fiscal policy for the current economic situation. At a time when businesses and consumers are still not spending and most state and local governments are continuing to cut back, the federal government is the only major gross domestic product component enhancing growth and creating jobs. Given the current slow recovery, the large spending cuts Boehner is demanding could push the economy back into recession. ...

One of the points I was trying to make here is that if you look at the constituency Boehner is trying to satisfy, a constituency that has changed over time as wealth and power have become more concentrated, his tactics become more transparent and understandable. That doesn't excuse the fact that Republicans have turned their backs on the unemployed, nor does it excuse holding the economy hostage in order to make ideological gains, but it does help to explain the behavior.

Why Have Politicians Neglected the Unemployed?

Republicans didn't always oppose the use of monetary and fiscal policy to stabilize the economy, but they do now. Why the change?:

Why Have Politicians Neglected the Unemployed?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

"Incredulous and Horrified"

Jonathon Portes bangs his head against the wall over economic policy in the UK:

Four charts and why history will judge us harshly, Not the Treasury View: When I'm asked in interview or articles to sum up concisely why I think the government should change course on fiscal policy, I usually say something like this:

"with long-term government borrowing as cheap as in living memory, with unemployed workers and plenty of spare capacity and with the UK suffering from both creaking infrastructure and a chronic lack of housing supply, now is the time for government to borrow and invest. This is not just basic macroeconomics, it is common sense. "

The charts below (click on each to enlarge) try to illustrate this. ...

[P]ublic sector net investment - spending on building roads, schools and hospitals - has been cut by about half over the last three years, and will be cut even further over the next two. Hardly surprising that the construction sector has been a heavy drag on output and jobs recently.

[Source: OBR, March 2012]

But, at the same time, the cost to the government of borrowing money - the real interest rate on gilts - is at historically low levels. Not to put too fine a point on it, the government can borrow money for basically nothing. ...
What does this mean in practice? It means that if the government were, as I suggest, to fund a £30 billion (2% of GDP) investment programme, and fund it by borrowing through issuing long-term index-linked gilts, the cost to taxpayers - the interest on those gilts - would be something like £150 million a year. To put this in perspective, it's roughly the revenue the OBR estimates will be raised by the "loophole-closing VAT measures" in the last Budget. In other words, we could fund a massive job-creating infrastructure programme with the pasty tax.
Twenty, or fifty, years from now, economic historians will look back at the decisions we are taking now. I cannot imagine that they will be anything but incredulous and horrified that - presented with these charts and figures - policymakers did nothing, international organisations staffed with professional economists encouraged them in their inaction, and commentators and academic economists (thankfully, few in the UK) came up with ever more tortuous justifications. In Simon Wren-Lewis' words, they will ask why "a large section of the profession, and the majority of policymakers, appeared to ignore what mainstream macro [and, I would add, basic common sense] tells us". Their judgement will be harsh.

Regarding a recent debate, that sure looks like a form of austerity to me (though the graph begins in 2008 and I'm not sure what a longer series would show). But in any case, the same comments about the need for public investment apply here in the US, and the judgment of history will be just as "incredulous and horrified."

Friday, May 11, 2012

Cutting Extended Unemployment Benefits Will Not Solve the Unemployment Problem

This article on why ending unemployment benefits will hurt individuals and the economy has quite a bit of editing, e.g. the figures noted in the title were added, but it's mostly me:

Cutting Unemployment Benefits will not Solve the Unemployment Problem

Some people claim that cutting benefits will motivate people to get jobs, but that is unlikely, especially when there are still so few jobs to be found and the net effect of these cuts will be negative.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

David Altig: Labor Force Participation and the Unemployment Rate

How likely is it that the unemployment rate will fall to 7.5% by the end of 2013? The answer depends critically on assumptions about the labor force participation rate (I suppose I should add that while policymakers are likely to hope for the best course for unemployment, they should avoid the temptation to use the best possible scenario as an excuse to avoid hard policy decisions -- they should be prepared for, and take actions to prevent the worst outcome):

A take on labor force participation and the unemployment rate, by David Altig, macroblog: By now, if you've been paying attention to the coverage following the April employment report, you know the following:

The March to April decline in the unemployment rate from 8.2 percent to 8.1 percent was arithmetically driven by yet another decline in the labor force participation rate (LFPR).

The decline in the LFPR, now at its lowest level since the early 1980s, is itself being influenced by a confounding mix of demographic change and other behavioral changes that nobody seems to understand—a point emphasized by a gaggle of blogs and bloggers such as Brad DeLong, Carpe Diem, Conversable Economist, Free Exchange, and Rortybomb, to name a few.

With respect to the first observation, in a previous post my colleague Julie Hotchkiss described how to use our Jobs Calculator to get a ballpark sense of what the unemployment rate would have been had the LFPR not changed. If you follow those procedures and assume that the LFPR had stayed at the March level of 63.8 percent instead of falling to 63.6 percent, the unemployment rate would have risen to 8.4 percent instead of falling to 8.1 percent.

It is clear that interpreting this sort of counterfactual experiment depends critically on how you think about the decline in the LFPR. The aforementioned post at Rortybomb cites two Federal Reserve studies—from the Chicago Fed and the Kansas City Fed—that attempt to disentangle the change in the LFPR that can be explained by trends in the age and composition of the labor force. These changes are presumably permanent and have little to do with questions of whether the labor market is performing up to snuff.

The following chart, which throws our own estimates into the mix, illustrates the evolution of the actual LFPR along with an estimate of the LFPR adjusted for demographic changes:

As the header on the chart indicates, our estimates suggest that roughly 40 percent of the change in the LFPR since 2000 can be accounted for by changes in age and composition of the population—in essentially the same range as the Chicago and Kansas City Fed studies. (If you are interested in the technical details you can find a description of the methodology used to generate the chart above, based on work by the University of Chicago's Rob Shimer.

In other words, 0.9 percentage points of the decline in the LFPR since the beginning of the past recession can be explained by demographic trends (as the baby boomers age, the labor force will grow more slowly than the total population [ages 16 and up]). Subtracting the demographic trends still leaves 1.5 percentage points to be explained, a number right in line with Brad DeLong's back-of-the-envelope calculation of "cyclical" LFPR change.

As DeLong's comments make clear, the interpretation of the nondemographic piece of the LFPR change requires, well, interpretation. And the consequences of connecting the dots between changes in the unemployment rate and broader labor market performance are enormous.

In the recently released Summary of Economic Projections following the last meeting of the Federal Reserve's Federal Open Market Committee, the midpoint of the projections for the unemployment rate at the end of 2013 is 7.5 percent. Turning again to our Jobs Calculator, we can get a sense of what sort of job creation over the next 20 months will be required given different values of the LFPR. For these estimates, I consider three alternatives: The LFPR stays at its April level, the LFPR reverts to our current estimate of the demographically adjusted level (that is, increases by 1.5 percentage points), and an intermediate case in which the LFPR increases by 0.7 percentage points—the lower end of DeLong's estimate of "people who really ought to be in the labor force right now, but who are not."

DeLong asks:

"Are [people who really ought to be in the labor force right now, but who are not] now part of the 'structurally' non-employed who we will never see back at work, barring a high-pressure economy of a kind we see at most once in a generation?"

As you can see, the answer to that question matters a lot to how we should think about progress on the unemployment rate going forward.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

"Central Banks Should Do Much More"

In the Financial Times, Roger Farmer notes a close association between Fed policy and stock market values:

[1] Is the date at which QE1 began, [2] Is the date at which the Fed started to buy mortgage backed securities, [3] Is the date at which QE1 ended, and [4] Is the date of the Jackson Hole conference at which the Fed announced that it would begin QE2.

How can central banks use this information? He says the stock market crash *caused* the Great Recession. Thus, if the Fed can raise stock market values, and the graph above suggests it can, it will turn the economy around and reduce unemployment:

The stock market crash of 2008 caused the Great Recession. If this relation is truly causal, then central banks can do a great deal to alleviate persistent unemployment. ...
The chart shows that when the Fed began to purchase mortgage backed securities in March of 2009, the stock market began to rally. When QE1 ended a year later, the market tanked and equities did not recover until the Fed saw the error of its ways. When the Fed announced the beginning of QE2, at the Jackson Hole conference in April of 2010, there was a third turning point in the market and the beginning of a new bull market.
The coincidence of these market turning points with the beginning and ending of Fed asset purchase programs is not accidental.  The Fed moves markets!
So what! Who cares if a bunch of Wall Street investors make money? ... There is a connection between the stock market and the welfare of the average citizen... When the stock market plummets, so do the prospects of the average worker.

In the paper he cites as making the case that the relationship is causal, i.e. that stock market values cause unemployment (the argument is theoretical), he says:

I realize that correlation is not causation and these graphs do not prove that the stock market crash caused the Great Depression. However, they do suggest to me that a theory that does make that causal link deserves further consideration.

The paper includes the following graphs:

Figure 1: Unemployment and the Stock Market During the Great Depression

Figure 2: Unemployment and the Stock Market over the Last DecadeFarmer4

I am not yet fully convinced that causality runs from stock values to unemployment, it seems more likely that economic conditions cause both. However, I agree that central banks should do more, and this is evidence that the case for doing more can be derived from more than one theoretical construct, i.e. that it is relatively robust.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Krugman: How Bad Things Are

This is from chapter 1 of Paul Krugman's new book "End This Depression Now" (the full chapter 1 is here):

...How severe is the problem of unemployment? That question calls for a bit of discussion.
Clearly, what we're interested in is involuntary unemployment. People who aren't working because they have chosen not to work, or at least not to work in the market economy--retirees who are glad to be retired, or those who have decided to be full-time housewives or househusbands--don't count. Neither do the disabled, whose inability to work is unfortunate, but not driven by economic issues.
Now, there have always been people claiming that there's no such thing as involuntary unemployment, that anyone can find a job if he or she is really willing to work and isn't too finicky about wages or working conditions. There's Sharron Angle, the Republican candidate for the Senate, who declared in 2010 that the unemployed were "spoiled," choosing to live off unemployment benefits instead of taking jobs. There are the people at the Chicago Board of Trade who, in October 2011, mocked anti-inequality demonstrators by showering them with copies of McDonald's job application forms. And there are economists like the University of Chicago's Casey Mulligan, who has written multiple articles for the New York Times website insisting that the sharp drop in employment after the 2008 financial crisis reflected not a lack of employment opportunities but diminished willingness to work.
The classic answer to such people comes from a passage near the beginning of the novel The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (best known for the 1948 film adaptation starring Humphrey Bogart and Walter Huston): "Anyone who is willing to work and is serious about it will certainly find a job. Only you must not go to the man who tells you this, for he has no job to offer and doesn't know anyone who knows of a vacancy. This is exactly the reason why he gives you such generous advice, out of brotherly love, and to demonstrate how little he knows the world."
Quite. Also, about those McDonald's applications: in April 2011, as it happens, McDonald's did announce 50,000 new job openings. Roughly a million people applied.
If you have any familiarity with the world, in short, you know that involuntary unemployment is very real. And it's currently a very big deal...: for millions, the damage from the bad economy runs very deep. ...

And we aren't doing nearly enough to try to fix the unemployment problem, in part because of those who say unemployment is the fault of the unemployed -- they aren't trying hard enough, they're lazy, they're addicted to the benefits, and other such nonsense. They tell us that it's all structural and hence there's little we can do, that we can afford wars and tax cuts, but not this. In short, what we hear is any excuse Republicans can think of to forestall government action. And they're winning the ideological battle. Government is shrinking -- the Republicans are making good on the adage to "never let a crisis go to waste" -- all the while accusing Democrats of out of control spending and stoking fears of impending budget doom in the hopes of getting even more reductions in the size of government. Under those circumstances, we aren't going to get much help for the unemployed, especially if Democrats continue to roll over rather than making a strong, winning case for an alternative path.

"The Unemployment Rate Without Government Cuts: 7.1 Percent"

Via the WSJ's Real Time Economics, a calculation of how costly the "sharp cuts in state and local government spending" have been:

Unemployment Rate Without Government Cuts: 7.1%, by Justin Lahart: One reason the unemployment rate may have remained persistently high: The sharp cuts in state and local government spending in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, and the layoffs those cuts wrought.

The Labor Department’s establishment survey of employers — the jobs count that it bases its payroll figures on — shows that the government has been steadily shedding workers since the crisis struck, with 586,000 fewer jobs than in December 2008. ... But the survey of households that the unemployment rate is based on suggests the government job cuts have been much, much worse.
In April the household survey showed that that there were 442,000 fewer people working in government than in March. The household survey has a much smaller sample size than the establishment survey, and so is prone to volatility, but the magnitude of the drop is striking: It marks the largest decline on both an absolute and a percentage basis on record going back to 1948. Moreover, the household survey has consistently showed bigger drops in government employment than the establishment survey has.
The unemployment rate would be far lower if it hadn’t been for those cuts: If there were as many people working in government as there were in December 2008, the unemployment rate in April would have been 7.1%, not 8.1%.
Ceteris is rarely paribus, of course: If there were more government jobs now, for example, it’s likely that not as many people would have left the labor force, and so the actual unemployment rate would be north of 7.1%. ...

It's possible to quarrel with the exact figure given above, but not the general message. One of the biggest policy mistakes that has been made during this recession is allowing government employment to fall by this magnitude. Stabilization policy calls for the opposite, a temporary increase in employment to provide employment for people who cannot find private sector jobs, and at the very least we should have kept government employment stable.