Friday, May 27, 2011

Is There a Possibility of a Glimmer of a Clue?

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No. It probably isn't. Probably just some more wishful thinking on my part. Nevertheless, I was quite surprised this morning to see a few pieces around the web pointing out that a "new Republican Jobs bill" was just another tired rehash of the same failed policies of the last thirty years. Ezra Klein at the Washington Post, Paul Krugman at the NY Times, Steve Benen at Washington Monthly all pounded on the Republican "Plan" and for good reason. From the Klein link:

The best evidence that Washington has forgotten about the jobs crisis is to look at the plans emerging to address it. Yesterday's House GOP plan was a perfect example. It was, as MIT economist David Autor told me, a classic case of "now-more-than-everism": Everything on the agenda was also on the GOP's agenda in 2006, in 2002, in 1987, etc. It's lower taxes, less spending, fewer regulations, more trade agreements, more domestic oil production. You can argue about whether these proposals are good for the economy. But as Autor says, there's "no original thinking here directed at addressing the employment problem."
Actually, you can argue whether those "proposals" are good for the economy as we have thirty years of evidence that they are not good for the economy.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Wishful Thinking Is Not a Good Policy Foundation

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I had to laugh (albeit ruefully) when I saw this opening from Jon Walker at FDL Action this morning:

Almost any national health care debate in this country is almost entirely disconnected from real-world examples, which is tragic given that facts have a well-known liberal bias.
My bold. Why did I find this worth laughter? Because the bolded part is applicable to just about every policy issue written or talked about by the DeeCee Political crowds and their Beltway Village Idiots Courtiers in the TradMed. Pick the issue, any issue, and the discussion emanating from DeeCee sounds like it is coming straight out of an alternate universe.

By now, most folks reading me know that I write frequently about the (lack of) jobs and the problems facing folks looking for employment; whether they are like myself and among the long term un and underemployed or the folks just entering the workforce with newly minted college degrees.

Today, we have the Initial Unemployment Claims (via Bloomberg) report from last week, and guess what? The economists are once again "surprised." From the Bloomberg article:
Jobless claims increased by 10,000 to 424,000 in the week ended May 21, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median estimate of economists in a Bloomberg News survey called for a drop to 404,000. The economy grew less than forecast in the first quarter, a separate report showed.


Estimates in the Bloomberg survey of 47 economists ranged from 390,000 to 420,000. The Labor Department revised the prior week’s figure up to 414,000 from the 409,000 initially reported. There were no special factors behind last week’s increase, a Labor Department official said as the figures were released.
IMNSVHO (In my not so very humble opinion) I think the economists are making it all up as they go along. I'm not sure any group of people can be so consistently wrong on so many levels.

USA Today had this article last Thursday on the dragging job creation:

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Jobs, Salaries, Careers

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I'm thinking this must be the week for education related news stories. Sunday, I wrote this post on how Education issues were being spun in the TradMed. Today, there are a few articles related to how an undergrad major reflects earnings. The first I saw was this one from the AP (via MSNBC) then saw that the Washington Post also had coverage:

Over a lifetime, the earnings of workers who have majored in engineering, computer science or business are as much as 50 percent higher than the earnings of those who major in the humanities, the arts, education and psychology, according to an analysis by researchers at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

“I don’t want to slight Shakespeare,” said Anthony Carnevale, one of the report’s authors. “But this study slights Shakespeare.”

The report is based on previously unreported census data that definitively links college majors to career earnings. Earlier studies have looked at salaries immediately after graduation, but the new report covers earnings across a person’s working life and is based on a much larger survey.
Bloomberg's article on the study though offers a little bit more perspective:
As a group, engineering majors of all disciplines reported the highest median earnings at $75,000, the study showed. The lowest pay, at $42,000, came from two groups -- education and psychology and social work, which includes such categories as clinical psychology and communications disorders.


Race and gender play a role in salary, according to the report. African-Americans who graduated with finance majors earned an average of $47,000 per year, less than Hispanics and Asians at $56,000 and whites at $70,000, it showed.

While women hold the majority of degrees in many lower- paying fields, even those with specialties that command the highest pay, such as chemical engineering, earned $20,000 less per year on average than men with the same education, according to the study.


About 41 percent of undergraduates with humanities and liberal arts majors -- including history, English language and literature and foreign languages -- went on to earn a graduate degree, the study showed.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Spinning Education

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I'm not going to act like an economist and claim to be "surprised" that folks are spinning various education pieces today. No, I am not at all surprised that it is happening, but I am a little frustrated when I see something like this from today's (Sunday May 22) NY Times where the headline uses "grassroots" and "Bill Gates" together. The idea of anything funded from the coffers of a billionaire being considered "grass roots" is beyond ludicrous. But then, we are talking about a TradMed that willfully overlooks the funding of folks like the Koch Brothers and Dick Armey to proclaim various astro-turf organizations as "grass roots."

To be fair, the Times article does point out a few of the problems:

INDIANAPOLIS — A handful of outspoken teachers helped persuade state lawmakers this spring to eliminate seniority-based layoff policies. They testified before the legislature, wrote briefing papers and published an op-ed article in The Indianapolis Star.

They described themselves simply as local teachers who favored school reform — one sympathetic state representative, Mary Ann Sullivan, said, “They seemed like genuine, real people versus the teachers’ union lobbyists.” They were, but they were also recruits in a national organization, Teach Plus, financed significantly by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.


In some cases, Mr. Gates is creating entirely new advocacy groups. The foundation is also paying Harvard-trained data specialists to work inside school districts, not only to crunch numbers but also to change practices. It is bankrolling many of the Washington analysts who interpret education issues for journalists and giving grants to some media organizations.


Given the scale and scope of the largess, some worry that the foundation’s assertive philanthropy is squelching independent thought, while others express concerns about transparency. Few policy makers, reporters or members of the public who encounter advocates like Teach Plus or pundits like Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute realize they are underwritten by the foundation.
Leave it to the Washington Post, of all places to counter some of the anti-teacher/anti-teachers unions noise today with Five myths about America's schools

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Spin Begins To Lessen

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After having bounced up to 474K a couple of weeks ago, the Initial Unemployment Claims for last week dropped for the second week in a row, falling back down to 409K after falling last week to 434K (revised back to 438K today). From Reuters:

First-time claims for state unemployment benefits fell 29,000 to 409,000 last week, the Labor Department said.

The bigger-than-expected drop eased fears that a large increase last month reflected a fundamental deterioration in the jobs market, buttressing the view that the run up was due to auto plant shutdowns and other one-time factors.


While the initial claims decline was more than economists' expectations for a fall to 420,000, they remained anchored above the 400,000 level that is normally associated with stable job growth for a sixth straight week.
While any drop in Initial Unemployment Claims is a positive, it is only a faint ray of light within otherwise dismal economic news. Tuesday, CNN had an article on new graduates struggling to find jobs in their chosen career fields, even when coming "highly credentialed."

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

News from Around the Economy

While there hasn't been a lot of economic news for me to rant about today, there have been a few articles I came across in my search of news sites that help to continue to paint the not-so-pretty picture of life in the US these days. First up is this from today's (Wednesday, May 11) Hartford Courant about layoff notices for Connecticut state employees:

On a somber day in state government, the first employees started receiving layoff notices Tuesday in a process that could eventually reach more than 5,000 state workers under a worst-case scenario.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy ordered the layoffs of 4,742 employees in more than 40 agencies, but that number could increase by hundreds if more cuts in state programs are approved by the legislature.

Because many of the employees are being notified individually and in person, the process of notifying all of them could take weeks. Tuesday was marked by confusion among state employees as many did not receive a notice and they remained unsure if they would have a job in the coming months.
I and many others have concentrated mainly on the actions of the Republican governors but the reality is, most all of the states are struggling to balance their budgets and have been forced to cut jobs. Probably the biggest difference between states with Democratic governors and legislatures and those run by Republicans is the Democrats aren't (at least outwardly) aren't cutting the jobs while simultaneously cutting taxes for their campaign contributors.

The Hartford Courant's Rick Greene offered five reasons why the layoff notices are a good thing. I find the first reason quite telling in itself:
1. Republicans will be forced to admit they actually do like some aspects of government when they realize services they want will be eliminated -- like teachers or actually finding someone to answer the phone at the DMV.
Of course, I also have no belief that any Republicans anywhere will actually admit to there being valid government services. It does highlight one of the aspects of the US political systems where (theoretically) there are negotiations between the two dominant parties with compromises and all folks working toward the common good. Yeah, I know, but I still have to believe it is possible for the system to work as otherwise, it means we are all wasting our time and I refuse to give in to that belief.

MSNBC's Alison Lin had this report from the government on job openings in March:
The government reported Wednesday that there were 3.1 million job openings in March, up slightly from the previous month. About 4 million people were hired in March, also a slight increase over the previous month.

Still, the Economic Policy Institute reports that there continues to be more than four jobseekers for every job opening.

For unemployed people, those are a lot better odds than back in July of 2009, where there were nearly 7 unemployed people for every job opening, according to EPI's calculations.
I wonder what the April results will show after the McDonald's McJobs Fair with their over a million applicants? I guess it is all the low wage earners that lost jobs during the recession as this post from economist Casey Mulligan at the NY Times Economix purports to show.

USA Today had this article on the Oh Woe is me! aspect of holders of H1b visas returning to India and China and starting their own businesses. From the article:
What's happening is the nation is experiencing a brain drain.

"For the first time, immigrants have better opportunities outside the U.S.," Wadhwa says. Indeed, nearly half of 264 immigrants surveyed by Wadhwa said they wanted to start companies back home.

Silicon Valley may be the cradle for tech start-ups, but some foreign-born executives, engineers and scientists are leaving because of better opportunities back home, strict immigration laws here and California's steep cost of living.
Gee, anyone think the tech companies will look around and maybe find some competent, US born folks with the skills they might need? I'm sure there's a good mix of both older, experienced tech workers looking for employment as well as fresh new college grads with the latest tech skills right out of college looking for some decent paying jobs in their chosen career fields.

For a little "comic" relief, I will end today with a couple of snippets from the Politifact folks at the St Pete Times on Speaker of the House John Boehner in an interview with Matt Lauer yesterday:
Host Matt Lauer said to Boehner, "You talk about creating jobs. When the Bush era tax cuts were passed in 2001, unemployment in this country was 4.5 percent. Today it's at 9 percent, just down from 10 percent. So why are the Bush era tax cuts creating jobs?"

Boehner responded that the tax cuts "created about 8 million jobs over the first 10 years that they were in existence. We've lost about 5 million of those jobs during this recession."


Where does all this leave us? First, under the most common yardstick for measuring employment -- the CES data -- Boehner's claim is significantly overstated. Second, while Boehner is closer when using a different statistic, it’s only more accurate if he uses a time period much different than the one he stated in the interview. And third, his suggestion that the tax cuts are primarily responsible for subsequent job growth is contentious at best (and the job growth he points to is modest compared to previous administrations).

So the numbers Boehner offers are accurate only with significant adjustments. Overall, we find his statement too flawed to give it a rating higher than False.
My bold. Oops.

And because I can:

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Need for Jobs Cuts Across All Groups

There are roughly 25M to 30M Un and Underemployed people in the United States today. Some of the millions show up in the base statistics provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics while other groups do not. Among the groups that do not show are people who have been declared "self-employed" as well as new college grads, yet both groups are full of people trying to find gainful employment in professional fields.

Yesterday (Monday, May 9) Business Week (via Yahoo) had this article on how wonderful things are for the 2011 new college grads:

The class of 2011 is enjoying the best job market for new grads since the 2008 financial crisis, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. It's being driven by gains in finance, energy, and technology, says Edwin W. Koc, NACE's research chief, who foresees younger workers filling a backlog of jobs after two years of stagnant hiring.

In Silicon Valley, postings have doubled from two years ago at technology career website operator Dice Holdings (NYSE:DHX - News). "It's quite a stunning comeback," says Lance Choy, director of the career development center at Stanford University. Postings on Stanford's online job board for full-time positions surged 36 percent to 1,900 in the fourth quarter of last year compared with a year earlier.
Sounds wonderful for those new grads, right? Well, not so fast there Bunky. A few weeks ago, USA Today had a similar article but while also mentioning the percent increase of new jobs for new grads this year, also let slip the unpleasant reality:
The increase in open positions means employers have half as many applicants per job now than at this time last year: 21.1 applicants this year vs. 40.5 in 2010.
Yes, it is a good thing that the percent of new jobs available to new grads is up but that good news has to be tempered by the reality that there are still so many applicants for each job. My SWAG is that the 2011 applicants are competing with the 2010, 2009, and 2008 applicants as well.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Unemployed Are Not the Reason Unemployment Funds Are Broke

OK. I guess technically the title is not true. If folks hadn't been laid off and collected Unemployment Compensation, the funds would just be sitting in the various state coffers, unused. But the unemployed are not the reason the economy tanked; the unemployed are not the ones sending jobs overseas; the unemployed are not the ultimate root cause of the problem.

Michigan started things back in March but has since been followed by Missouri and now Florida. (Other states may have done so as well, these three are the ones I know for sure have done this.) Florida's new law actually goes beyond Michigan and Missouri, as bad as their laws are. Where MI and MO cut the maximum period for collecting state level unemployment compensation from 26 weeks to 20 weeks, Florida ties the benefits to the overall state unemployment rate. Via the Tampa Tribune article linked above:

TALLAHASSEE — Out-of-work Floridians would receive fewer state benefits while businesses pay less tax under a controversial proposal approved Friday by a divided Legislature.

The deal, which Gov. Rick Scott is expected to sign into law, immediately cuts unemployment benefits by 11.5 percent.

Jobless Floridians would continue to receive a maximum payment of $275 per week, among the lowest of any state in the country. But they would be paid for no more than 23 weeks, instead of 26.


The bill also creates a sliding scale that cuts and adds weeks of benefits based on the unemployment rate. Unemployment compensation would drop to as low as 12 weeks if the average unemployment rate drops to 5 percent or lower. A week would be added for every 0.5 percent the jobless rate climbs.
I can guarantee you that the newly unemployed person is not going to give two shits to know that the overall state unemployment rate is X percent so the number of weeks of benefits are limited accordingly. All that newly unemployed person is going to see is s/he is out of work and the state supplied safety net is full of gaping holes. Annie Lowrey at Slate on Friday offered this analysis:

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Finding a Job Over 50

As I was checking the various news sites this morning, I came across this article at the Boston Globe:

A number of older job seekers are finding that their age is working against them during this painfully slow recovery. People age 55 and older are unemployed for a year on average — more than two months longer than younger workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some employers are scared away by the higher pay and health care costs that can come with hiring older workers, as well as the perception that an older hire may not be motivated to learn new skills.


The US economy added far more jobs than expected last month, according to data released yesterday by the Labor Department, but there are still more than 13 million people out of work. The unemployment rate for workers over age 55 is lower than the overall national average, partly due to the number of people in that age bracket who decide to retire, but those forced out of work before their planned retirement, and who don’t have enough to live on, are putting added strain on the government and the economy.

From 2007 to 2009, the number of 63-year-olds filing early for Social Security jumped by nearly 20 percent, according to the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. Among 62-year-olds, it was up 42 percent. Not only are those people collecting less money, they’re also not paying taxes on employment income and are more likely to apply for other government aid, said director Andrew Sum.
Now, I'm nearly 59 years old (next month), and as I read the article, the stories being told are quite familiar. And not just the stories of excuses offered by employers why the applicant was not acceptable, but the recommendations the "experts" make for the older worker to overcome. Employers can't legally come straight out and claim our age is why we're not even getting interviews, much less job offers but I and most everyone in my age group who is un or underemployed knows the signs.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Economy Stays Muddled

I've been a bit distracted this past week or so, what with moving into a new place and getting things settled in but it sure does look like things are going on pretty much as they have been with the economy. Of course, the Economists are surprised at the figures being reported. Economists are always surprised by the figures reported.

First up is the private sector jobs report from payroll processor ADP that came out Wednesday, May 4. Via the NY Times:

Private employers in the United States added 179,000 jobs in April, while the pace of growth in the services sector unexpectedly eased in April to its lowest level since August 2010, according to economic reports released on Wednesday.

In the jobs report, the ADP Employer Services report fell short of economists’ expectations for a gain of 198,000, according to a Reuters survey. March private payrolls were revised up to an increase of 207,000 from a previously reported 201,000.
Then the economists were really surprised when the Initial Unemployment Claims report for last week that came out yesterday showed another big job in claims. Via Reuters:
While the surprise jump in initial claims for unemployment benefits was blamed on factors ranging from spring break layoffs to the introduction of an emergency benefits program, economists said it corroborated reports this week indicating a loss of momentum in job creation.

New claims for state jobless benefits rose 43,000 to 474,000, the highest since mid-August, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Economists had expected claims to fall.


"We do not think that the entire rise in claims over the last month can be explained by special factors alone," said Harm Bandholz, chief U.S. economist at UniCredit Research in New York. "It seems instead as if the improvement in the labor market slowed a bit."

The data, a day before the U.S. government's comprehensive employment report for April, was the latest to suggest a softening in the jobs market.
Doncha just love the phrase "...softening in the jobs market"? As if the jobs market for the last few years hasn't already been closely resembling a marshmallow in strength.