Oil and gasoline prices move together

I keep seeing people on social media saying things like, “Well oil prices are down but gasoline prices are still high.” Look, the last thing I want to do is defend the fossil fuel industry. It should be put out of business as soon as possible because it’s a threat to civilization and maybe human life itself. But on this point, the social media pundits are wrong. For example, in August 2013, crude oil (as measured by West Texas Intermediate, the US benchmark) was $107 a barrel and the average gasoline price… Read More

No strike wave in 2021

There was a lot of enthusiastic talk about a wave of labor militancy last year—remember “Striketober”? With the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) preliminary data for December out—it will be slightly revised next month, but not by much—we can now look at the full year in historical perspective. It was a quiet year, even by recent standards. First, the number of “stoppages” involving 1,000 workers or more.* There were about half as many major strikes in 2021 as there were in 2018 (the year of the teachers’ strikes) and 2019 (which included… Read More

Americans staying put

There are certain things that people say that sound so true that others repeat them credulously without feeling the need to cite evidence. Two covid-era favorites: everybody’s working from home (WFH). And people have decamped en masse for the hinterlands, thanks to WFH. Neither is really true. I wrote about the slim WFH numbers in September. In July, which was the most recent month available then, 13.2% of the employed were teleworking, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ favored term. In October, that had fallen to 11.6% (graph below). Their ranks were still… Read More

Striketober wasn’t

As marvelous as it would be to see a revival of labor militancy, people got a little ahead of things calling last month “Striketober.” According to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stats, it was a blip by historical standards. Here’s a graph of the number of workers involved in strikes or lockouts (the BLS counts them together) since 2000. There were 57 months with higher numbers of workers off the job. At the high point of this graph, May 2018, there were over fourteen times as many workers on strike as there… Read More

Cutting UI early hurt job growth

Employers, right-wing politicians, and the pundits who speak for them have been claiming that the expansion of unemployment insurance (UI) benefits to counter covid woes was hurting job growth. By making it possible to refuse crappy jobs, or maybe even not to work at all, that sort of public sector generosity was making the working class too picky. They’re a lazy lot, you know, and need a good kick in the ass to get them to perform their class duty of laboring for the boss. Problem is there’s just no evidence that… Read More

Why UI isn’t enough

I’m going to be posting a series of commentaries on the current crisis. Here’s a quick first It’s odd to see Democrats like Pelosi and Schumer objecting to Republican schemes to send everyone a check for $1,000, maybe two. Of course, one- or two-off checks for $1,000 won’t pay many of the the bills for very long. But talk of means-testing right now looks mean, cheap, and politically suicidal. Schumer says that rather than write checks, we should expand unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. It would have to be some expansion. Benefits are low,… Read More

No robo

You can hardly look at Twitter without reading something about the impending AI revolution: robots are coming for your job. I’m a skeptic. By that I don’t mean to argue that IT and AI and all the other abbreviations and acronyms aren’t changing our world profoundly. They are. Tech affects everything—work, play, love, politics, art, all of it. But the maximalist version, where robots, equipped with artificial intelligence, are going to replace human workers, is way over done. No doubt they will replace some. But not all. Back in 1987, ancient history… Read More

Rasmus on the attack again

The irrepressible Jack Rasmus, who has never demonstrated any real understanding of how economic statistics are constructed, has a new post claiming that the “real” unemployment rate is more like 10–12% than the officially reported 3.7%. He has a point, even if it’s somewhat overstated. The government’s own broad unemployment rate, U-6, was 7.2% in August, nearly twice the headline rate, though short of the Rasmus rate. (See table A-15 here.) One of the ways the government undercounts the unemployed, says Rasmus, is that the monthly survey “misses a lot of workers… Read More

Responding to Rasmus’s response

Jack Rasmus is out with a response to my critique of his analysis of the April U.S. employment numbers. Enlightening Rasmus looks to be a hopeless case, but since there are may be some onlookers who wonder what’s up, here are a few comments. As with yesterday’s post, his comments are quoted and italicized (though the formatting doesn’t show up on an iPhone unless you choose the desktop version—sorry!). What is significant is that Henwood thinks the CES (Current Employment Survey) is more important and accurate than the CPS (Current Population Survey)…. Read More

Misreading the latest jobs numbers

Z Communications’ resident statistician Jack Rasmus is out with some fresh disinformation about the economic news. It’s been a while since I took his nonsense apart, so this seems like a good opportunity, since his latest looks to be making the rounds. The problems start in the first paragraph (Rasmus is in quoted italics, my comments in Roman.) The just released report on April jobs on first appearance, heavily reported by the media, shows a record low 3.6% unemployment rate and another month of 263,000 new jobs created. But there are two… Read More

Hits to GDP

The hysterical (in the funny sense) report on socialism that the Council of Economic Advisers put out this morning contains this gem of simulation: It may well be that American socialists are envisioning moving our policies to align with those of the Nordic countries in the 1970s, when their policies were more in line with economists’ traditional definition of socialism. We estimate that if the United States were to adopt these policies, its real GDP would decline by at least 19 percent in the long run, or about $11,000 per year for… Read More

Contingency: a last word

Having refuted (here, here, and here) a lot of folk wisdom about increased volatility in the job market, I’d to file a postscript on the meaning of it all. The folk wisdom exaggerates the prevalence of contingent and temporary work, but that doesn’t mean the working class is living in ease and comfort. It’s not. For evidence we can turn to a very orthodox source—the Federal Reserve’s survey of economic well-being (and data appendix). A third of respondents, 33%, report themselves “living comfortably”; 40% are “doing okay,” 19% are “just getting by,” and… Read More

No it’s not a gig economy

Despite the voluble testimony of pundits and bar companions, the world of work is not one of Uber drivers and temp workers. In fact, the share of U.S. employment accounted for by contingent and “alternative” arrangements is lower now than it was in 2005 and 1995. That testimony is derived from several original sources. For example, a much ballyhooed 2014 study commissioned by the Freelancers Union—which is not a materially disinterested party—reported that a third of workers are freelancers. The claim of a 2016 paper by Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger that… Read More

Bosses getting raises, working stiffs not

Stock markets have been swooning, in no small part because last Friday’s U.S. employment report showed that average hourly earnings (AHE)—the average wage, excluding benefits, received by private sector workers—rose smartly in January. This prompted fears that inflationary pressures are mounting, wages will eat into profits, and the Federal Reserve might raise interest rates more aggressively than had been thought as recently as last Thursday. Or, as the New York Times put it in a headline, with its patented mix of dullness and alarm: What these scaremongers aren’t telling you is that it’s only bosses… Read More

Haiti, Puerto Rico, and the Clintons

Howard Dean, who for a brief period long ago wasn’t a shill for the medical-industrial complex, recommended on Twitter that Trump turn over Puerto Rican rehab operations to the Clinton Foundation. Either Dean doesn’t know the first thing about how the Foundation operated in Haiti, an excellent case study on how they do disaster relief, or he’s more depraved than we realized. Their behavior, in collaboration with Hillary’s State Department, was appalling. Here’s the Haiti section from my widely under-bought, under-read, and under-promoted book My Turn: Hillary Clinton Targets the Presidency. Formatting the footnotes… Read More