Friday, December 31, 2010

Some End of the Year Cluelessness

So here we are on the last day of 2010. Because New Years Day is on Saturday this year, a lot of people have the day off, joining all of us who are members of the long term un/underemployed in watching the world go by. I have the Kentucky-Louisville game on in the background and all I will say about that is "Go Hilltoppers!"

But I can't let the day go without highlighting a couple of end of the year news dump articles in today's NY Times. First up is this article on discussions on creating an Ethics Code for Academic Economists. After opening the article with a short list of some fairly well known political economists who also are in the university world and their undisclosed conflicts of interest the article goes on:

Academic economists, particularly those active in policy debates in Washington and Wall Street, are facing greater scrutiny of their outside activities these days. Faced with a run of criticism, including a popular movie, leaders of the American Economic Association, the world’s largest professional society for economists, founded in 1885, are considering a step that most other professions took a long time ago — adopting a code of ethical standards.

Now from my vantage as a professional in the field of Software Quality Assurance, the types of disclosure that are being discussed are an absolute bare minimum of an ethical code. I always go back to my first meeting with my new supervisor when I was just starting in the QA program at the Defense Contract Administration Services Plant Rep Office (DCASPRO) who said straight out "If it appears to be a conflict of interest, then by definition it IS a conflict of interest."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Jobs, Long Term Unemployment, Economic Recovery, and Reality

As I wrote yesterday and the day before one of the big things missing in the discussion of the long term un and under-employed is the human reality and face of the individuals facing the problems.

Other people are trying to draw attention to the problems using their own personal stories, from the commenters on yesterday's post which was cross posted to MyFDL to the personal diary from commenter/diarist Margaret on "The Never Ending Job of Being Unemployed" many people are telling their personal stories, trying to draw attention to their own plight as well as the problems faced by the millions of us who are in the long term ranks of the un/under-employed. Yet for every column such as yesterday's from Bob Herbert at the NY Times, there are two or three columns or blog posts such as this one from Casey Mulligan at the Times Economix blog down playing the effects of any stimulus as just regular seasonal fluctuations in employment due to the holiday season and that the recession didn't really affect things.

You might think that Christmas became smaller during the recession, and that change offset the purported extra impact of each dollar of Christmas spending. It is true that almost all kinds of spending are lower during a recession, but I adjusted for that by measuring the seasonal data in percentage terms.

The retail sales data show that, in percentage terms, the holiday spending surge was not much different from 2007 to 2009 than it was in previous years.

My bold. Notice how he "adjusts" to make his point?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Human Factors (cont.)

Yesterday afternoon I wrote a quick diary at MyFDL on Human Factors. It was basically a rant about how so many of the pundits, politicians, economists, etc see everything about the world except for the actual living breathing humans who inhabit it.

The reality is, I started this blog as an attempt to draw attention to the millions of us who are un/underemployed. It seems that the only thing that often penetrates the consciousness of folks in the media who report is the personalization of the story. Of course with all the millions of people in the same situation of being un/underemployed it is difficult to penetrate the noise. An example of this is an article from Gretchen Morgenson of the NY Times from Sunday (12/26). While the article is talking about a couple, their bankruptcy and the problems they had getting a mortgage modification, it is related as:

After months of no progress, in the spring of 2009, a reporter called Litton to ask why the Ahlemans’ loan modification was stalled. Litton responded quickly and later made the couple a compelling offer: It said it would cut the interest rate on their first mortgage from a variable rate of 9.3 percent to a fixed rate of 4.59 percent. Litton also offered to waive $38,332 in arrears on their loan, which included late fees and legal costs that had accumulated while the loan was in default.
My bold. "A reporter called and asked... "

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Economy for 2011 Still Screwed - Or Is It?

When I was surfing through the news this morning I came across this article in the NY Times from Sewell Chan about economists thinking the economy will be growing during 2011:

WASHINGTON — Eighteen months after the recession officially ended, the government’s latest measures to bolster the economy have led many forecasters and policy makers to express new optimism that the recovery will gain substantial momentum in 2011.

Economists in universities and on Wall Street have raised their growth projections for next year. Retail sales, industrial production and factory orders are on the upswing, and new claims for unemployment benefits are trending downward.

Despite persistently high unemployment, consumer confidence is improving. Large corporations are reporting healthy profits, and the Dow Jones industrial average reached a two-year high this week.

Given how often economists make wrong predictions and are then "surprised," my first inclination was to conclude that things will not only not get better but are likely to get worse.

Monday, December 20, 2010

As the Big Hand Giveth, the Little Hand Taketh Away

The past couple of days, as I've surfed across the news sites as always, I've seen a mix of articles about the extension of the Unemployment Compensation included in the Tax Cut extension bill. The good news was that the bill included an extension of the Unemployment Compensation for another 13 months (why they couldn't have matched the two year extension of the tax cuts is beyond me but that's another story). Of course, since it appears that one in three workers will see their taxes go up under the "tax cut extension," it shouldn't be that much of a surprise after all.

But then I saw this article via CNN pointing out that folks in a number of states won't even get to receive up to 99 weeks of Unemployment but are capped out at 60 weeks.

Here's how the system works: The jobless collect up to 26 weeks of state benefits before shifting to the extended federal program. Federal benefits consist of up to 53 weeks of emergency compensation, which is divided into four tiers, and up to another 20 weeks of extended benefits. The maximum is 99 weeks.

But not everyone can collect benefits for that long. Extended benefits, as well as the last two tiers of emergency compensation, are tied to state unemployment rates. So as their state job picture brightens, the jobless stop qualifying for long-term benefits.

To be eligible for the fourth tier of emergency benefits, which last up to six weeks, the average state's unemployment rate must be above 8.5% for three months. Similarly, states lose their eligibility for the third tier of benefits, which last up to 13 weeks, if their rate falls below 6%. Extended benefits have a more complicated formula tied to different gauges of unemployment.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Let's Play With Some Numbers

While I was looking at the news yesterday, I came across this from the NY Times Economix blog, where the author threw in a rather standard right wing theme that cutting the minimum wage would help the economy:

In my view, all flavors of Keynesian economics ignore the many mechanisms that permit markets to adjust to changes in costs and benefits. Although a minimum wage cut would be an effective and revenue-free way of raising employment, the proposed payroll tax cut increases the benefits and reduces the costs of employment and will result in more employment among people earning less than $100,000 a year — even among those earning the minimum wage.

Not that this will penetrate the bubble around economists such as Mr Mulligan but let's play with some numbers here.

Why Are Economists Always "Surprised?"

There I was doing my usual surfing of the news sites after my daily disappointment in the job search when I saw that the Weekly Report on Initial Jobless claims had been released as usual. And as usual, the "Economists were surprised":

NEW YORK ( -- The number of Americans filing for their first week of unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell for a second straight week last week, according to a government report released Thursday.

The number of initial claims fell to 420,000 in the week ending Dec. 11, down 3,000 from 423,000 claims filed the week before, the Labor Department said. It was the second lowest level of the year.

Economists surveyed by were expecting 425,000 new claims.

Now realistically, the difference between 425K initial jobless claims versus 420K initial claims is 1.2% which is probably within a statistically margin of error on the reporting. And I assume the faithful stenographers reporters are faithfully reporting and transcribing what they are told by the always faceless and nameless "economists," after all, we know they would never try to shade the facts on anything, right?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Giving Up Is Not an Option

This morning while I was surfing through the various news sites, I spotted this article from Fortune (via CNN) with the headline:

What happens when the jobless give up?

As one of the millions of long term un/underemployed I can only say that for myself, giving up is not a viable option. I search everyday for a position within my professional field of Software Quality Assurance and Testing.

I have written a few posts about my skills, both official (resume skills) and unofficial (not pertinent to the resume but job skills nevertheless). I have written about why I love my professional field and about being an unemployed human and not a statistic. I have written about how folks have it far worse than I do, coping with the job search as well as numerous times discussing the idiocies of our elected officials and the talking heads.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Smart Cities, DeeCee, and Kitchen Table Conversations

Last night as I was channel surfing between snaps of the Patriots-Jets bash in Foxboro, I was momentarily distracted when I reached one of the local, Tampa area stations. They had a graphic up and were talking about the "Smartest Cities" as determined by Portfolio dot com. Boulder, CO was number one, Ann Arbor, MI at two and Washington, DC was third. I can't say I found any of these all that surprising given the criteria Portfolio used: followed Census Bureau guidelines in designing an educational ladder. The following are the five rungs, with average annual earnings for all workers, both full-time and part-time, at each level (as of 2007) in parentheses:

* Advanced degree ($61,287), including professional, doctoral, or master's degree
* Bachelor's degree ($46,805)
* Associate degree or attended college without any degree ($32,874)
* High-school graduate ($26,894)
* High-school dropout ($19,405)

Portfolio has a pdf download available that lists the top 200 in case you're interested.

However, I would contest the declaration of Washington, DC as the "third smartest city" even though it probably does fit the description based on the stated criteria. Educated? Yes. Smartest? Not hardly.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

They Really Think We Are Stupid

Whew! A bit dusty over here. I hadn't realized it had been over three months since I last posted something here but with all the news this week I guess I figure it's time to throw out my 2¢ once again.

The official unemployment rate is now at 9.8%. Nine point eight per cent. And this is just the "official rate" reported by Labor is the "U3." The truer rate is probably contained in the U6 which is over 17%.

It is December 2010 and this is the longest sustained stretch of unemployment over 9% since the Great Depression. While ADP in their monthly reporting of jobs added for November showed an estimated 93,000 new private sector jobs for November 2010, the official Department of Labor report showed only 39,000 jobs added in total for November 2010. This is in an economy that needs to add 100k - 150k jobs per month just to maintain status quo. Now we add in that two million people currently collecting unemployment will be losing their unemployment insurance benefits during December 2010 and another uptick in initial jobless claims for the last week of November and it is going to be a horrendous Christmas season for a lot of people in the United States.