Posts Tagged ‘unemployment’
A delightful tale sent to me by Richard Maugham.
Richard and I go back too many years! He has been a dear friend despite the obvious hurdle that when we first met, he declared that he was a typewriter salesman for Olivetti in the UK with me admitting that I was a typewriter salesman for IBM UK! Here’s the story.
WHAT WENT WRONG IN EUROPE – SIMPLY EXPLAINED!
Helga is the proprietor of a bar. She realizes that virtually all of her customers are unemployed alcoholics and, as such, can no longer afford to patronize her bar. To solve this problem she comes up with a new marketing plan that allows her customers to drink now, but pay later.
Helga keeps track of the drinks consumed on a ledger (thereby granting the customers’ loans).
Word gets around about Helga’s “drink now, pay later” marketing strategy and, as a result, increasing numbers of customers flood into Helga’s bar. Soon she has the largest sales volume for any bar in town.
By providing her customers freedom from immediate payment demands, Helga gets no resistance when, at regular intervals, she substantially increases her prices for wine and beer – the most consumed beverages.
Consequently, Helga’s gross sales volumes and paper profits increase massively. A young and dynamic vice-president at the local bank recognises that these customer debts constitute valuable future assets and increases Helga’s borrowing limit. He sees no reason for any undue concern, since he has the debts of the unemployed alcoholics as collateral.
He is rewarded with a six figure bonus.
At the bank’s corporate headquarters, expert traders figure a way to make huge commissions, and transform these customer loans into DRINKBONDS. These “securities” are then bundled and traded on international securities markets.
Naive investors don’t really understand that the securities being sold to them as “AA Secured Bonds” are really debts of unemployed alcoholics. Nevertheless, the bond prices continue to climb and the securities soon become the hottest-selling items for some of the nation’s leading brokerage houses.
The traders all receive six figure bonuses.
One day, even though the bond prices are still climbing, a risk manager at the original local bank decides that the time has come to demand payment on the debts incurred by the drinkers at Helga’s bar. He so informs Helga. Helga then demands payment from her alcoholic patrons but, being unemployed alcoholics, they cannot pay back their drinking debts. Since Helga cannot fulfil her loan obligations she is forced into bankruptcy. The bar closes and Helga’s 11 employees lose their jobs.
Overnight, DRINKBOND prices drop by 90%. The collapsed bond asset value destroys the bank’s liquidity and prevents it from issuing new loans, thus freezing credit and economic activity in the community.
The suppliers of Helga’s bar had granted her generous payment extensions and had invested their firms’ pension funds in the BOND securities. They find they are now faced with having to write off her bad debt and with losing over 90% of the presumed value of the bonds. Her wine supplier also claims bankruptcy, closing the doors on a family business that had endured for three generations; her beer supplier is taken over by a competitor, who immediately closes the local plant and lays off 150 workers.
Fortunately though, the bank, the brokerage houses and their respective executives are saved and bailed out by a multibillion dollar no-strings attached cash infusion from the government.
They all receive a six figure bonus.
The funds required for this bailout are obtained by new taxes levied on employed, middle-class, non-drinkers who’ve never been in Helga’s bar……………………….!
I can add not a single word to this!
Stating the obvious.
I am about a third into Paul Gilding’s book The Great Disruption. It’s proving to be a very-thought provoking read that I will review in more detail over the coming weeks.
However, I just wanted to quote from the start of Chapter 5, Addicted to Growth,
Indeed, as argued by economist Kenneth Boulding: “Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.”
Very little that can be argued about that statement. It rather puts into context a couple of items read recently. Both from the blogsite New Economic Perspectives. The first on June 10th by Stephanie Kelton,
Earlier this week, President Obama talked about the weakening state of the economy, telling us that he’s not worried about a double-dip recession and that the nation should “not panic.” It’s hard to imagine a more alarming assessment at this juncture.
The recovery is faltering. Our economy is growing at annual rate of just 1.8 percent. Manufacturing just grew at its slowest pace in 20 months. More than 44 million Americans – one in seven – rely on food stamps. Employers hired only 54,000 new workers in May, the lowest number in eight months. Jobless claims increased to 427,000 in the week ended June 4. The unemployment rate rose to 9.1 percent. Nearly half of all unemployed Americans have been without work for more than 6 months. About 25% of all teenagers who are looking for work are unemployed. Eight-and-a-half million Americans are underemployed – i.e. working part-time because their hours have been cut or because they can’t find full-time work. There are, on average, 4.6 unemployed people for every 1 job opening. And even if all the open positions were filled, there would still be 10.7 million people looking for work.
The second on July 8th by Marshall Auerback,
Today’s unemployment data suggests that we are experiencing something far worse than a mere “bump in the road”, as our President described it last month. In fact, if last month was the time to panic, as Stephanie Kelton argued here, then today’s data should create real palpitations in the White House. This isn’t just a “bump,” but a fully-fledged New York City style pot hole.
First the headline number everyone looks at: non-farm payrolls. Up 18,000 in June, the increase was 100,000 less than expectations. In addition the prior two month payroll increases were revised down by -44,000 overall. That’s weak – but not terrible.
Dig a bit deeper into the data and it looks absolutely awful: The household measure of employment fell by -445,000. Okay, it’s a noisy number. But, as Frank Veneroso has pointed out to me in an email correspondence, this measure of employment which is never revised now shows no employment growth over the last five months and very negative employment growth over the last three.
But it gets worse: The work week was down one tenth. Overtime was down one tenth. The labor participation rate at 64.1% was the lowest since 1984. The broad U6 unemployment rate rose from 15.8% to 16.2%. In other words, as Frank suggested to me this morning, “many other employment indicators in this report confirm the deep disappointment in the payroll series and the much more negative message of the household series.”
Now here’s the latest item published by Paul Gilding in his Blog, The Cockatoo Chronicles. (I have republished it in full, hopefully without upsetting Mr. Gilding – couldn’t see advice on reproduction – but copyright remains, of course, fully with Paul Gilding.)
Like a Grenade in a Glasshouse
June 29, 2011
It’s going to hit hard and it’s going to hurt – made worse because most aren’t expecting it. They think the world is slowly returning to our modern “normal” – steadily increasing growth, with occasional annoying but manageable interruptions. After all, the global recession wasn’t so bad was it? Sure there was pain and things got shaky but Governments responded, bailed out companies, stimulated economies, got things back on track. While it’s still a bit bumpy, Greek wobbles, US debt, extreme weather, high oil and food prices etc, it’ll work out. It always does….
If only it were so. In fact we are blindly walking towards the next in a series of inevitable system shaking and confidence sapping crises, deluded in the belief that the worst is behind us.
Each crisis will be a little worse than the last. Each one will shake our denial a little more. This is what happens when systems hit their limits. They don’t do so smoothly, but bump up against the wall, hitting hard, then bouncing off equally hard. It is the behaviour of a system trying to break through. But if the limits are solid, as is the case with our economic system hitting the limits of the planet – defined by unchangeable physical capacity and the laws of physics, chemistry and biology – then it can’t find its way through. So eventually, when the pain of hitting the wall gets too much, it stops.
Then it will hit. Like a grenade in a glasshouse, shattering denial and delusion and leaving it like a pile of broken glass on the floor of the old economic model. Then we’ll be ready for change.
I’ve been arguing the inevitability of this moment since 2005, mostly inside the business community. Before the 2008 financial crisis hit, the idea was almost universally rejected, with a belief in the indomitable power of globalised markets to overcome all challenges and keep growth on track. Most audiences believed that while markets always wobbled, they also always recovered. My suggestion, that this level of arrogance was the hallmark of empires before they fell, landed on deaf ears. They were the masters of the universe and markets and growth would always reign supreme.
Now the response is different. The financial crisis saw many break off from the pack and start to ask the difficult questions. I now find as I tour the world speaking about The Great Disruption to community gatherings, corporate executives and policy makers that minds are increasingly open. While not the dominant view, the previous confidence in the inevitably of growth has become shaky and the group asking the challenging questions is rapidly expanding.
As I argue in the book, the fundamental cause of what’s coming is resource constraint and environmental breakdown, which when combined with an overstretched financial system and high levels of debt puts unbearable tension into the global economy. While no one can know what event will pull the pin out of the grenade, the underlying pressures make that moment inevitable. Yes, the dominant commentary still blames each individual problem on unique circumstances, but the underlying systemic causes are clear for those who wish to look.
The continued level of denial still surprises me, especially given the pressures driving this are not esoteric and can be measured in clear economic indicators. A good example was recently published by one of the more interesting voices to join the growing chorus that we have a system-wide problem. The legendary contrarian and fund manager Jeremy Grantham is co-founder of the Boston based firm GMO, with over $100 billion of assets under management. So this guy is a solid capitalist and market advocate, pursuing wealth for the wealthy. But he sees the data and is raising the alarm, calling this moment “one of the giant inflection points in economic history” – referring to the end of a 100-year steady decline in commodity prices. His views were echoed by Stephen King, group chief economist at HSBC, who wrote in the FT: “After the biggest meltdown since the Great Depression, economic theory tells us that world commodity prices should not be this high. But they are and the West quickly needs to wake up to this new economic reality. Commodity prices are now permanently higher.”
Grantham provides the detail, pointing out that the 100 year trend of falling prices in the 33 most important commodities, except for oil, were wiped out with a price surge from 2002 to 2010 – a surge even greater than experienced in WW2. We have now reached what Grantham calls the Great Paradigm shift; not a price spike but a new reality. Within this new reality, Grantham says: “if we maintain our desperate focus on growth, we will run out of everything and crash.”
This is why hitting the wall is inevitable – because limits are not philosophies, they are limits. We can understand what to expect – and why the grenade will shatter the glasshouse of economic growth – by going back to how systems behave when they hit their limits. Our economic system first hit the wall in 2008 – that was when The Great Disruption began with food and oil prices hitting record highs and a credit crisis driven by reckless monetary policy pursuing growth at all costs. The resulting recession meant we backed away from those limits (bouncing off the wall), and then borrowed massive amounts of money from our children (think Greece) to try to get the economy moving again.
Now that the global economy is slowly entering a so-called “recovery”, the prices of commodities (representing our use of earth’s resources for food and materials) are on the way up, accelerated, in the case of food, by climate change. Of course if significant growth kicks in, the prices of oil, food and other commodities will surge, this timestarting from near record highs. Then we will bounce back into recession and prices will back off again. Hit the wall, bounce off. Hit the wall, bounce off. Ouch.
By itself this would pose enough of a challenge to growth. But now we also have the debt we used to get the economy moving again. This debt can only be paid off with significant economic growth – but such significant growth is impossible as outlined above. So the debt itself becomes an enormous additional tension in the system, as argued by Richard Heinberg in his important forthcoming book The End of Growth. With the global economy and ecosystem now both burdened by unmanageable debt, effective global default is only a matter of time.
So we’re living in a glass house with the grenade sitting there for all to see. Who knows what will pull the pin. It could be Greece, a Chinese food crisis, peak oil or any number of other triggers. But it’s coming.
The question to ask yourself is simple. Are you ready?
Back to Kenneth Boulding: “Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.“
A frank and honest assessment of the reality of the present economic situation, Part Two.
Yesterday, I wrote about publishing, in two parts, a recent article from the Blogsite, Washington’s Blog. If you missed the first part that was here. As I wrote yesterday, it is detailed and comprehensive, which is why I think it will be more easily digested as two parts presented on Learning from Dogs over this week-end.
So on to Part Two.
The particular post that appeared on Washington’s Blog on the 28th April was entitled Gallup Poll Shows that More Americans Believe the U.S. is in a Depression than is Growing … Are They Right? You can link to it here.
Blytic calculates that the current average duration of unemployment is some 32 weeks, the median duration is around 20 weeks, and there are approximately 6 million people unemployed for 27 weeks or longer.
Moreover, employers are discriminating against job applicants who are currently unemployed, which will almost certainly prolong the duration of joblessness.
As I noted in January 2009:
In 1930, there were 123 million Americans.
At the height of the Depression in 1933, 24.9% of the total work force or 11,385,000 people, were unemployed.
Will unemployment reach 25% during this current crisis?
I don’t know. But the number of people unemployed will be higher than during the Depression.
Unemployment is expected to exceed 10% by many economists, and Obama “has warned that the unemployment rate will explode to at least 10% in 2009″.
10 percent of 154 million is 15 million people out of work – more than during the Great Depression.
But it is important to look at some details.
For example, official Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers put U-6 above 20% in several states:
- California: 21.9
- Nevada: 21.5
- Michigan 21.6
- Oregon 20.1
In the past year, unemployment has grown the fastest in the mountain West.
And certain races and age groups have gotten hit hard.
According to Congress’ Joint Economic Committee:
By February 2010, the U-6 rate for African Americans rose to 24.9 percent.
Unemployment rates for less-educated and younger workers:
- As of the third quarter of 2009, the overall unemployment rate for native-born Americans is 9.5 percent; the U-6 measure shows it as 15.9 percent.
- The unemployment rate for natives with a high school degree or less is 13.1 percent. Their U-6 measure is 21.9 percent.
- The unemployment rate for natives with less than a high school education is 20.5 percent. Their U-6 measure is 32.4 percent.
- The unemployment rate for young native-born Americans (18-29) who have only a high school education is 19 percent. Their U-6 measure is 31.2 percent.
- The unemployment rate for native-born blacks with less than a high school education is 28.8 percent. Their U-6 measure is 42.2 percent.
- The unemployment rate for young native-born blacks (18-29) with only a high school education is 27.1 percent. Their U-6 measure is 39.8 percent.
- The unemployment rate for native-born Hispanics with less than a high school education is 23.2 percent. Their U-6 measure is 35.6 percent.
- The unemployment rate for young native-born Hispanics (18-29) with only a high school degree is 20.9 percent. Their U-6 measure is 33.9 percent.
No wonder Chris Tilly – director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at UCLA – says that African-Americans and high school dropouts are experiencing depression-level unemployment.
And as I have previously noted, unemployment for those who earn $150,000 or more is only 3%, while unemployment for the poor is 31%.
The bottom line is that it is difficult to compare current unemployment with what occurred during the Great Depression. In some ways things seem better now. In other ways, they don’t.
Factors like where you live, race, income and age greatly effect one’s experience of the severity of unemployment in America.
In addition, wages have plummeted for those who are employed. As Pulitzer Prize-winning tax reporter David Cay Johnston notes:
Every 34th wage earner in America in 2008 went all of 2009 without earning a single dollar, new data from the Social Security Administration show. Total wages, median wages, and average wages all declined ….
Food Stamps Replace Soup Kitchens
1 out of every 7 Americans now rely on food stamps.
While we don’t see soup kitchens, it may only be because so many Americans are receiving food stamps.
Indeed, despite the dramatic photographs we’ve all seen of the 1930s, the 43 million Americans relying on food stamps to get by may actually be much greater than the number who relied on soup kitchens during the Great Depression.
In addition, according to Chaz Valenza (a small business owner in New Jersey who earned his MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business)millions of Americans are heading to foodbanks for the first time in their lives.
The War Isn’t Working
Given the above facts, it would seem that the government hasn’t been doingmuch. But the scary thing is that the government has done more than during the Great Depression, but the economy is still stuck a pit.
The amount spent in emergency bailouts, loans and subsidies during this financial crisis arguably dwarfs the amount which the government spent during the New Deal.
For example, Casey Research wrote in 2008:
Paulson and Bernanke have embarked on the largest bailout program ever conceived …. a program which so far will cost taxpayers $8.5 trillion.
[The updated, exact number can be disputed. But as shown below, the exact number of trillions of dollars is not that important.]
So how does $8.5 trillion dollars compare with the cost of some of the major conflicts and programs initiated by the US government since its inception? To try and grasp the enormity of this figure, let’s look at some other financial commitments undertaken by our government in the past:
As illustrated above, one can see that in today’s dollar, we have already committed to spending levels that surpass the cumulative cost of all of the major wars and government initiatives since the American Revolution.
Recently, the Congressional Research Service estimated the cost of all of the major wars our country has fought in 2008 dollars. The chart above shows that the entire cost of WWII over four to five years was less than half the current pledges made by Paulson and Bernanke in the last three months!
In spite of years of conflict, the Vietnam and the Iraq wars have each cost less than the bailout package that was approved by Congress in two weeks. The Civil War that devastated our country had a total price tag (for both the Union and Confederacy) of $60.4 billion, while the Revolutionary War was fought for a mere $1.8 billion.
In its fifty or so years of existence, NASA has only managed to spend $885 billion – a figure which got us to the moon and beyond.
The New Deal had a price tag of only $500 billion. The Marshall Plan that enabled the reconstruction of Europe following WWII for $13 billion, comes out to approximately $125 billion in 2008 dollars. The cost of fixing the S&L crisis was $235 billion.
So even though the government’s spending on the “war” on the economic crisis dwarfs the amount spent on the New Deal, our economy is still stuck in the mud.
Why Haven’t Things Gotten Better for the Little Guy?
Government leaders make happy talk about how things are improving, but happy talk cannot fix the economy.
Two fundamental causes of the Great Depression, and of our current economic problems, are fraud and inequality:
- Fraud was one of the main causes of the Depression, but nothing has been done to rein in fraud today
- Inequality was another major cause of downturns – including the Depression – but inequality is currently worse than during the Depression
There are, of course, other reasons the economy is still stuck in a ditch for most Americans, such as encouraging too much leverage, bailing out the big speculators, failing to break up the mammoth banks, and failing to spend wisely, where it will do some good. See this and this. But fraud and inequality were core causes of the Depression, and our failure to address them will only prolong our misery.
“Son, your ego’s writing checks your body can’t cash.”
Well, this may be old hat for specialists but it surprised me. Is the same true for Britain? In either case, as Friedman says, it suggests we should explore more forcefully the ways we could aid business startups.
I always find Thomas Friedman excellent value for the time invested in reading him! See here:
“Here’s my fun fact for the day, provided courtesy of Robert Litan, who directs research at the Kauffman Foundation, which specializes in promoting innovation in America: “Between 1980 and 2005, virtually all net new jobs created in the U.S. were created by firms that were 5 years old or less,” said Litan. ‘That is about 40 million jobs. That means the established firms created no new net jobs during that period.’”
And if you want to know where the opening quote comes from, read the Friedman article!
By Chris Snuggs
Little reason for celebration
The official unemployment rate of the U.S. economy remains at 9.7%, and the underemployment rate increased to 16.9%. These numbers represent a real tragedy for many Americans.
While the White House tries to celebrate the creation of 162,000 new jobs last month, at least 48,000 of these new jobs are government jobs, specifically temporary census workers, who are doing unproductive work and are being paid with taxes collected from the rest of the private economy.
Employment also increased in temporary help services and healthcare, but continued to decline in financial activities and in information, which is interesting given the recent comments by President Obama that the government takeover of the student loan program tucked into the health care bill “took $68 billion from banks and financial institutions.”(Obama’s April 1 remarks) That’s a lot of jobs, Mr. President.
Seems like there is more concrete evidence that, rather than creating jobs, the President’s policies are costing the economy jobs.
by Sherry Jarrell
Even in the midst of great pain, we must think through our choices
The last week has been really mad. I have been working in different companies and organisations and having to be part of redundancies, power struggles and people rebuilding their lives.
For example, I was in a company that had just let its second lot of people go in as many months. It’s gone past losing ‘dead wood’ and now people with valuable skills needed for recovery are going. I’ve noticed previously that good, employable people with key skills start to get concerned and will often take voluntary redundancy rather than hanging around to see how things pan out.
It’s the shocking way that it’s done as well that’s unbelievable. No warning, just a phone call to attend a meeting, no hint as to what the meeting is about, then an envelope slid across the table and then a rapid escort off site. All done and dusted in 5 minutes.
Having been through this myself some years ago, it’s not something you forget in a hurry. Lots of feelings of rejection and feeling unvalued and unwanted are what I remember. Perhaps its part of being bought up in a job-for-life culture and then having that illusion shattered.
Working with people in this situation is literally quite shocking and traumatic because it clearly affects them and their lives and the lives of their families, and it affects me because the work we started comes to an abrupt end usually with little or no warning, and so does a source of income to be brutally honest. I don’t even have chance to say good-bye in many cases.
Every Thursday I become a trainee psychotherapist and work with people who mostly struggle to hold down any sort of job. The reasons for this are generally because of upbringings that are awful beyond description. The shock and trauma that is in the air when working with these people is amazing, and so scary for them that the idea of being present in the room with me and is virtually impossible.
So that brings us to managing in a world where lots of mad and non-integrous things happen. I believe that mindfulness can provide a key to these situations; being present for another does more than any instruction manual!
Being present means we make ourselves available at many levels to someone who is suffering. By avoiding the subtle invitation to join someone in their shock and trauma but by being there for them, to the best of our ability and listening to them at depth, we can provide an environment where real reflection can take place. Then options may be chosen which are not born of panic and reaction but come from reflection and response.
I believe that this approach gets us out of the ‘noise machine in our heads‘ (that is forever churning and worrying, in my case) that we have no control over, and creates space for more subtle things to come through the quiet and calm.
Most people I’ve met in my engineering work like to assume that they think their way out of tight situations but I’m not convinced that this process is actually effective. I have heard and practised many times the activity of ‘sleeping on something’ and then being able to decide on a course of action the following morning with relative ease. My psychotherapy clients can’t think their way out the awfulness because thinking about things has got them into a spiral
process which is highly addictive, predictable and virtually impossible to break without the intervention of a higher level of awareness. I think it was Einstein who said something like, “you can’t use the same intelligence that created a problem to solve it“! In other words, a different approach or level must be used.
I believe that this different approach or level can be used to solve most problems we have. By bringing a different level of awareness to a challenge, whether it is redundancy or some other sort of deeper problem always gives different results and provides more options. It’s just that initially it needs to be facilitated, until we can do it under our own steam. I am heartened that even in the depths of a recession that there are still companies out there that support this approach and the work I do.
By Jon Lavin [This article from the BBC is worth reading in conjunction with Jon's excellent Post. Jon may be contacted via learningfromdogs (at) gmail (dot) com]
Unemployment statistics and the real world.
Keep in mind, even as the number of first-time claims for unemployment insurance rose again recently, that the 10% U.S. unemployment figure understates the actual number of unemployed. Even the 17% underemployment figure, which includes those who are either unemployed or who are working part-time but would like to work full-time, fails to include many of those who have lost their jobs but, because they fail to qualify for unemployment, are not being tracked. I know several such people personally; one has been unemployed for over a year.
My point? Structural unemployment is a serious economic issue. But the solution is not to funnel more unemployment benefits to the unemployed. The best thing the government can do is to reduce the barriers it has erected to a vibrant economy, including oppressive taxes, fees, paperwork, bureaucracy, and regulations that repress business productivity and raise prices. By reducing these explicit and implicit costs, there is absolutely no doubt that the private economy will be able to employ more workers as it produces more output at lower prices.
The best thing we can do as private citizens and neighbors is to treat each other right. Keep the economy moving. Put in a good day’s work. Volunteer or learn a new skill if you can’t find a job. Fill a need. Buy smart. And, finally, elect business-friendly local and national politicians. It matters.
By Sherry Jarrell
Grim news continues
The U.S. unemployment rate remains at a 26-year high. This is troubling for two reasons. One, the struggle and suffering of the unemployed (and underemployed) and the impact on the world economy.
Two, the mixed signal it gives policy makers. I worry that the White House will think that it needs to do “more” of what it’s been doing, and dismiss any negative comments about its economic policies as a knee-jerk reaction to the unemployment figure when I, in fact, would be saying the same things if the unemployment figures had improved. It would be a harder sell, true, but that doesn’t change the facts.
The reason? Because I believe we would be in a better position today, with lower unemployment — no matter what the current unemployment rate — and higher growth, had the stimulus program never been initiated. I base this on my understanding of the fundamentals of how the economy works, how businesses create value, and how labor makes itself indispensable to industry.
And none of these areas were helped or improved by the economic policies of this President.
By Sherry Jarrell
As expected … and as cautioned here:
The Commerce Department has revised downward its estimate of the U.S. growth rate from the third quarter of 2009, see this report.
Citing weaker consumer spending than originally estimated (discussed in an earlier post here) the annualized growth rate is now 2.8%, down from 3.5%, far too weak to make any progress on the employment front.