Posts Tagged ‘jobs’

decline

Finally, attention is being paid to how much workers have been hammered over the course of the last couple of decades.

Neil Irwin, based on a report from the Hamilton Project [pdf], focuses on workers with less education (with either no high school diploma or with a high school degree or perhaps some college). And for good reason. As a result of a double shift—a shift away from manufacturing and other jobs that once offered higher pay to lower-paying food service, cleaning and groundskeeping jobs and, simultaneously, the fact that pay levels are declining in almost all of the fields that employ less-educated workers (so even those who have held onto jobs as manufacturers, operators and laborers are making less than they did a generation ago)—less-educated American workers saw a dramatic deterioration in their real wages from 1990 to 2013: a decrease of 20 and 13 percent in median wages for the respective groups of men and a decrease in 11.7 percent for women without a high school diploma (and only a 3.2 percent increase for women with a high school degree or some college).

Clearly, the majority of American workers (69 percent of men and 64 percent of women age 30-45) are being left far behind.

But so are more-educated U.S. workers. While they’ve seen their wages rise in real terms over the same period (6.5 percent for men with a bachelor’s degree, 12.8 percent for those with an advanced degree, and even more for women: 12.8 percent and 21.2 percent, respectively), it is still the case that their wages have not kept up with the enormous increase we’ve seen at the very top: 56 percent (which is the gain in average real income, with capital gains, of the top 1 percent from 1990 to 2013)!

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So, even though there are clear differences in the path for workers with different levels of education, their respective gains and losses over the past 23 years pale in comparison with the real winners: the tiny group at the top.

Update

The endpoints data probably also misses the fact that the wages of more-educated workers have stagnated since 2000. See these numbers from the Economic Policy Institute.

LFP

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Capitalism, I’ve often argued, is not natural. It requires a lot of work. It required a lot of work to get it going in the first place. And it requires a lot of work to keep it going today.

A lot of that work involves getting people to work for someone else.

The problem of getting people to work is the foundation of the recent discussion (or, better, revival of the discussion, if we trace it back to Alvin Hansen) of “secular stagnation” [pdf]. Central to the current framing of the question—at least among mainstream economists—is the decrease in the number of available workers, created by declines in the rate of population growth and the labor force participation rate. The worry is that, looking forward, there simply won’t be enough workers to sustain the rates of potential economic growth we saw in the years leading up to the most recent crisis of capitalism.

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, to witness the spectacle of economists such as Regis Barnichon and Andrew Figura [pdf] claiming that the decline in the labor force participation rate in the United States is “a decline in desire to work among individuals outside the labor force, with a particularly strong decline during the second half of the 90s.” For them, it’s not a decline in the number of decent, high-paying jobs, but instead the unwillingness on the part of individuals who are currently not counted as part of the labor force to enter the labor force in order to work for someone else. And the reason?

Looking across different sub-groups, the decline in the number of nonparticipants who want to work is due mainly to prime-age females, and, to a lesser extent, young individuals. Moreover, the decline is mainly a low-income and non-single household phenomenon, and is stronger for families with children than without.

Precisely in order to overcome that supposed aversion to work, Laura Tach and Kathryn Edin praise the earned-income tax credit, because, as the nation’s largest cash anti-poverty program, it goes mostly to parents of children who are willing to work. And working for someone else is, for Tach and Edin, “tantamount to a badge of citizenship.” To which they add:

The dignity-building nature of this cash transfer is reinforced by the way it is administered, through tax preparation offices. Here, low-wage workers are customers served with a smile, not supplicants seeking a handout.

That, of course, is the proverbial carrot for the poor. And then there’s the incentive for employers themselves: the enormous subsidies provided by the government so that employers will hire and keep low-wage workers. As Ken Jacobs explains,

After decades of wage cuts and health benefit rollbacks, more than half of all state and federal spending on public assistance programs goes to working families who need food stamps, Medicaid, or other support to meet basic needs. Let that sink in — American taxpayers are subsidizing people who work — most of them full-time  (in some case more than full-time) because businesses do not pay a living wage.

But if poor people are still unwilling to take one of the low-wage, deadend jobs available, there’s always the stick of Kansas-style welfare reforms.

The measure — called the HOPE Act by supporters — “provides an opportunity for success,” Brownback said in a statement after signing the bill. “It’s about the dignity of work and helping families move from reliance on a government pittance to becoming self-sufficient by developing the skills to find a well-paying job and build a career.”

All of that, both theoretically and in terms of policy, is meant to force people to have the freedom to participate in the labor force. But that still doesn’t mean they’re going to do the requisite amount of work, even after they’ve landed one of those jobs.

According to Ronald Aslop [ht: ja], the problem is particularly acute among young people, who in his view are engaged in a constant struggle to keep their minds focused on the matter at hand and block out email and other digital distractions.

These distractions are shortening attention spans and making it difficult for young people to concentrate and stick with demanding assignments at school and work. In fact, researchers have found that millennials are more likely than Gen Xers or baby boomers to report that their productivity suffers at work because of smartphone distractions and “cyberslacking” on the Internet.

That means employers have to step in “to eliminate some of technology’s temptations” (which apparently involves limiting the use of digital technology and, my favorite, suggesting that distracted employees learn meditation and yoga).

What we’re learning is that it takes a lot of work to keep capitalism going. But notice that all that effort is directed at the masses of people who actually do the work, not at the tiny minority at the top who actually make the decisions about if, when, and how the jobs people are expected to do are actually created.

Apparently, focusing on those decisions—especially as corporate profits soar and economic inequality continues to grow—would require too much work.

Update

Now, according to the New York Times, workers are using stimulants like Adderall, Vyvanse, and Concerta to improve work performance: “many young workers insist that using the drugs to increase productivity is on the rise — and that these are drugs used not to get high, but hired.”

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According to the Wall Street Journal,

Takeovers are booming as companies gain more confidence about the economy, use stockpiles of cash to reach for future growth and get boosts from low interest rates and the surging stock market.

At the current pace, mergers-and-acquisitions volume for the full year would exceed $3.7 trillion, making it the second-biggest year in history after 2007. Among the deals proposed or announced so far this year, 15 are valued at more than $10 billion, the highest such number on record, says Dealogic.

As we know, these deals may boost corporate profits but will do nothing to create new jobs, much less stem the rise in inequality in the United States. They’re likely, in fact, to have the exact opposite effect.

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Recovery: New Job, Day One