Commentary on the November 2014 BLS Jobs Report

The headlines are euphoric: “Big Job Gains and Rising Pay in Latest U.S. Data” (NYT 12/6/2014) and indeed the 321,000 payroll jobs increase, 9-cent increase in average hourly wages and 0.1 hour increase in weekly hours last month exceeded expectations and is reminiscent of the 300-400 thousand monthly job growth and rising wages of the late 90’s tech boom bubble economy glory days. These November payroll (Establishment Survey) numbers are good, the kind of monthly job growth that could eventually dig us out of the Lesser Depression hole if they consistently continue for another couple of years (eyeballing from Figure 2 below). This would get us back to the Emp/Pop ratio of 2007 assuming that major Labor Force population age cohorts (16-24, 25-54, 55 and over) were the same share of the overall population in November 2007 when the Lesser Depression started as they were in November 2014 (see Figure 2 explanation). We would still be far below post-war Emp/Pop ratios without taking demographic changes into account (Figure 1 below) but, with increased productivity and more redistribution of income among the cohorts (more wishful thinking), “sort of” where we were in Nov. 2007. Of course expansions out of every past post-war recession have led to a recovery of demographically adjusted employment losses within at most 4 years (see Figure 2) and this would require 7 years of continuous expansion with the most robust job growth in the last couple of years, but at least we would get back to where we were (on a demographically adjusted basis) 9 years after the start of the Lesser Depression.

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Commentary on the October 2014 BLS Jobs Report

On Nov 7th, three days after the 2014 midterm elections, the BLS released its Employment Situation Report for Oct 2014. The numbers are simple and not dramatically different from those that CPEG has analyzed for the past several months.

Overview

First, about 214,000 new jobs were created, continuing the string of net private job creation to 56 months, a new record.

Second, leisure and hospitality, health care and social assistance, retail trade and temporary help services – in that order – accounted for almost 3 of every 5 new jobs in October. Over the past year these four job categories accounted for almost half of all new jobs.

Third, the unemployment rate dropped slightly to 5.8%.

Fourth, the labor force participation rate remains very low at 62.8% although the employment/population ratio has risen by 1% over the past year.

Fifth, looking over the longer time span, the “Obama economy” has, to date generated more than 4.5 million new jobs vs the “Bush economy” new job creation of 1.5 million.

Sixth, although not part of the jobs report analysis, federal deficit is below 2% of GDP – lower than the 40 year average.

Few of the voters in the 2014 elections could have told you any of the foregoing – and some would have vehemently denied at least the last two points.

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Commentary on the September 2014 BLS Jobs Report

In its September 2014 Jobs Report, the Bureau of Labor Statistics once again documented the persistent and pernicious effects of the Lesser Depression, which began to take shape when financial services firm Lehman Brothers collapsed and filed for bankruptcy in September 2008.

Exactly six years on, labor force participation continues to decrease, dropping to 62.7 percent last month, the lowest level recorded since 1978. Nonetheless, the BLS boasts the official unemployment rate declined from 6.1 percent in August to last month’s 5.9 percent, with employment increasing by 248,000 jobs. Retail trade added 35,300 jobs; health care brought on 23,000, with 7,000 Americans going into home health care services; state governments added 22,000 jobs; and, notching another monthly increase, leisure and hospitality added another 33,000 jobs. Curiously, performing arts and spectator sports showed up with 7,200 jobs. However, when it comes to jobs that produce tradable goods, the paltry numbers more clearly illustrate the US economy’s weaknesses. For instance, last month, job losses were noted in computer and electronic products, semiconductors and electronic components, paper and paper products. Overall, manufacturing only added 4,000 jobs across the country. In September 2014, just as it has since the onset of the Lesser Depression, the US economy remained torpid.

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Commentary on the August 2014 BLS Jobs Report

In a shocking rebuke to the capitalist triumphalism of the last year or so, the “slow but steady” jobs growth of the last six months veered sharply off course in August, with net new job creation dropping from an expected 220,000-230,000 to only 142,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even the tiny downward tick in the unemployment rate, from 6.2% to 6.1%, was caused not by the paltry increase in the number of employed workers (16,000), but by the now-familiar shrinking of the labor force, this time by 268,000.

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CPEG’s Bill Barclay at D.C. Jobs Summit

On July 8 – 9 CPEG joined members of Congress, representatives of community groups and union members from around the country for a “Jobs Briefing” in Washington D.C. Bill Barclay was on the panel analyzing the current jobs situation, outlining policies to address continued high unemployment and assessing our experiences organizing the unemployed. His comments are below.

I’m pleased to be at this jobs briefing as both a founding member of, and representing, the Chicago Political Economy Group. CPEG developed and published a comprehensive jobs proposal in 2008, and we have worked with the staff of Rep. John Conyers to include many of the same ideas in HR 1000. I’m also here as a Democratic Socialists of America member, happy to say that DSA was one of the first national organizations to endorse the legislation proposed by Rep. Conyers.

I’m going to consider three points in my remarks. First, what is happening to the US labor market during this Long Depression, a more appropriate title for the period we are in than recovery from something called the “Great Recession”; second, what is the role and importance of a financial transaction tax in the financing of a jobs program sufficient to the problems we face; and third, why did the efforts of several of us in 2009-10 in Chicago to organize the unemployed failed but why the situation may be different today.

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