Thursday, June 16, 2011

Could the Cable Industry Have a Clue?

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The weekly report on Initial Unemployment Claims came out earlier today and while the numbers did fall a bit, they are still over the 400K threshold that seems to be the cut off for declaring that things are going to get better. From Reuters:

The Labor Department said on Thursday new jobless claims fell to 414,000 in the week ended June 11 from an upwardly revised 430,000 in the prior week.

Economists polled by Reuters had been looking for a smaller decline, to 420,000. Claims have been above 400,000 for two months, reflecting a rough patch in the recovery that has led to renewed weakness in an already anemic job market.
Just as they did last week, the reporter just brushes right on by how the figures for the week before had been revised upwards. Last week it was reported as 427K now revised up to 430K - the week before it had originally been reported as 422K but then revised up to 426K. I would not be surprised if next week's report revised this week's numbers upwards again, closer to the original figure from the economists of 420K.

There were a couple of articles in the past couple of days that suggested to me that there are a few folks in corporate boardrooms who might have finally gotten a small clue. Surprisingly enough to me, it is the cable television industry! It's not as if the cable industry has not been noted for trying to squeeze people at each and every turn with annual rate increases while they take channels away from the "basic cable" and move to more expensive groupings on "digital tiers." Got to rent those digital cable boxes doncha know. I think that is one lesson from the old Ma Bell that was adopted early on - rent equipment for as long and as high a rate as possible.

Reuters presents the cable industry concerns as:
For all the talk about competitive threats from the likes of Netflix Inc or Apple Inc, it is rising poverty among households that TV executives say is their biggest source of concern.

Executives from News Corp, Comcast Corp and Time Warner Inc, speaking at the annual Cable Show industry event, made clear the industry needed a stronger housing market and better jobs picture to win new customers and keep existing ones.
The LA Times on the other hand, presents the problem for cable as just part of the competitive balance:
For the last year, top cable industry executives have dismissed the idea that consumers are cutting the cord and opting to get their content online.

Turns out they're right. Consumers are cutting the cable cord, but not for the Internet. Instead they're signing up with satellite companies and phone companies offering the same service.
Since the LA Times goes on to quote the same Time Warner executive that Reuters quotes, I'm thinking the economic problems of many cable customers are actually causing some concerns in the boardrooms.

Unfortunately for those of us facing the realities of long term un and underemployment, the cable industry is still very much the exception with their faint glimmer of a clue. Tuesday's (June 14) Politico had this article on the "Third Way's" "kitchen sink" approach to jobs for a forum held Wednesday:
The center-left Washington think tank Third Way is holding a forum Wednesday to discuss the merits of allowing companies to bring the $1 trillion in profits parked overseas back to the United States at a temporarily reduced tax rate.

...snip...

It’s not a perfect solution, Gibbons said, but one the Republican-controlled House might be willing to entertain.

He acknowledged that analysts don’t yet know how many jobs such a policy might create. But, he said, bringing money back to the U.S. creates demand, which in turn drives hiring.
Since this has been done before with few if any jobs created, I have a pretty good idea what the end result will be. I also don't expect anything different from a group that seems to have a fetish about bi-partisan destruction of the economy and the country. After all, better to keep trying failed ideas to get a couple of Republican votes than to try something that might truly work but wouldn't get little Republican support.

The NY Times' Dave Leonhardt on Tuesday also presented a variant on the Third Way that could have been written by the Republican Party:
Consumer spending has weakened. Hiring has slowed. Stocks have slid. As tends to be the case in the long aftermath of a financial crisis, the economy once again needs help.

And the debt talks have become the best opportunity for Washington to provide that help.

Doing so will require some political maturity, because the negotiators will have to hold on to two thoughts simultaneously. They will need to increase the deficit in some modest, targeted ways that could increase hiring, like tax cuts for businesses and spending on scientific research. At the same time, negotiators will have to find enough medium-term spending cuts and tax increases to bring down the deficit soon.

...snip...

Republicans are worried that their plan to replace Medicare with a system of private insurance will let Democrats win even if the economy remains weak. A deal that commits both parties to further cuts in Medicare’s growth while also helping the economy seems to have a chance of passing.

...snip...

Obviously, any package that survives the debt ceiling talks will not be the ideal one. But there is a whole lot of room between neutral and ideal. Washington really can put people back to work while cutting the deficit. And, of course, moving people back into paying jobs will ultimately help reduce the deficit, too.
While I have just provided a sampling of Leonhardt's gibberish here, you should really read the whole piece to get the full extent of the idiocy.

While not directly jobs related, I found this article from USA Today disturbing on a couple of levels:
Kerryann Bouret spends her week answering a lot of questions.

As one of 65,000 "guides" for the ChaCha question-and-answer website, she'll answer about 500 questions a day.

She doesn't make much — 10 to 20 cents an answer — but loves it "because it kills the time I'd be spending on Facebook, and I enjoy helping people find answers."

...snip...

The uptick in question-and-answer sites shows "this nut hasn't been cracked yet, and there's a ton of opportunity," says Valerie Combs, a vice president at Ask.com. Ask originally started in 2000 as Ask Jeeves, a pure question-and-answer site, but eventually became a pure search engine.

This year it switched back to only questions and answers. Ask, a unit of Barry Diller's IAC, is beta-testing a feature that lets the online community answer questions. Its official debut is expected by year's end, Combs says.
At least one of the levels I find disturbing about this is not having any type of confidence level in the accuracy of answers provided then to learn that the people "answering" the questions might make a quarter per answer tops?

Finally there's this article today from Bloomberg/BusinessWeek on people staying in jobs they don't like due to the crappy economy:
In 20 years of recruiting executives, William Rowe says he's never had such a hard time persuading the inhabitants of corporate suites to swap corner offices.

...snip...

From the factory floor to the boardroom, few Americans these days are willing to tell the boss to shove it. Many of those who have weathered the recession with their jobs intact are now sheltering in place, either fearful of risking a change or simply lacking the opportunity. Since January 2009, an average 1 million fewer Americans per month have quit their jobs than in previous years. Through April, the most recent data available, that adds up to 28 million Americans stuck in jobs they would have left in ordinary times.

That's a lot of careers slowed and dreams deferred. At double the number of the 14 million unemployed Americans, it's also a huge swath of voters who may be in search of a Presidential candidate who they believe understands their discontent.
I understand the point they are making as they paint a group of people as a large voting block but to think that folks who are employed, no matter how unhappily, will create some monolithic voting bloc just seems to be a conclusion searching for a pattern.

And because I can:

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