America: the rot goes on

It’s been a while since I looked at one of the major reasons for the pervasive sense of rot about the US: the low level of investment—investment in real things, that is, not crypto. It’s barely keeping up with the forces of decay. If you’re wondering why nothing works and everything seems to be falling apart, here are some explanations. First a definition: investment is spending by businesses, governments, and individuals on long-lived physical assets like buildings and machinery. Gross investment is the dollar value of such spending; net is what remains… Read More

Americans’ class ID shifts down

The USA is the country where everyone feels middle-class, right? No. Gallup is out with the latest edition of a question it’s asked ten times over the last twenty years: “If you were asked to use one of these five names for your social class, which would you say you belong in?” When they did the survey in April, the largest set of respondents said “middle,” 38%—but that’s not much more than a third. Almost as many, 35%, said “working” (a term that has often been pronounced obsolete). Here’s some more detail:… Read More

Quit rates, unions, politics

I’m not sure what this means, but quit rates are higher in states that voted for Trump, and are higher in states with low unionization rates. We’ve been hearing for some time now that quit rates are the highest on record. That’s true if you look only at the Job Openings and Labor Market Turnover Series (JOLTS) numbers, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) started reporting in December 2000. It had an ancestor, which the BLS reported for manufacturing only, covering 1919 to 1981 (left portion of the graph below). Current… Read More

Union membership resumes its fall

Union membership fell by almost 2% in 2021 as employment rose by over 3%. That took union density—the share of the workforce belonging to unions—down from 10.8% in 2020 to 10.3% last year, where it was in 2019. Density rose in 2020 because more nonunion workers lost their jobs in the covid crisis than their unionized counterparts, but 2021’s return to employment undid that. For the private sector, just 6.1% of workers were unionized last year, down from 6.3% in 2020, an all-time low for a series that goes back to 1900…. 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

Who’s not getting vax’d and why

This is hardly an exhaustive treatment of a complex topic—just a quick attempt to illuminate who isn’t getting vaccinated against covid-19 and why. I started looking at these stats after a Twitter exchange and I thought I’d share the resulting graphics. The stats are drawn from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey—health table 5a, two-week period ending December 13, for those who are keeping score at home. First, vaccination rates by income. Almost 80% of people in the lowest income category,  report having gotten at least one shot—51% have gotten two and… Read More

Paying the bills: a closer look

 Yesterday’s post about how people were finding it harder to pay the bills didn’t get into any demographic detail. Time to do just that. According to the Census Bureau’s biweekly Household Pulse Survey, as of the two weeks ending October 11, 47.7% of adults were having no difficulties paying their bills, down just over 2 percentage points from May, which was the best period in the covid era. The numbers bounce around some from one survey to the next, no doubt an indeterminate mix of noise and trend, so it’s a good… Read More

Household money supply tightens

Since April 2020, the Census Bureau, in collaboration with several other official statistical agencies. has been conducting a biweekly survey of people’s material well-being called the Household Pulse Survey. It asks questions about employment, income, food availability, mortgage and rent status, health, and the ease of paying bills, among other things. There’s a lot in these surveys, but for now I want to take a look at just a couple things: how hard people are finding it to pay their bills and where the money is coming from. There have been several… Read More

Wild times in the job market

Millions of unfilled job openings, workers quitting en masse, soaring wages (at least in some sectors)—wild time in the job market. Here are some graphs to make the point. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does a monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) that queries employers on unfilled openings, hires, firings, and quits. August’s data was released this morning, October 12. Here’s a graph of openings, expressed as a percent of current employment, in the private sector as a whole and in accommodations and food services (hotels, casinos, restaurants, and bars, hereafter… Read More

Strikes plumb the depths

Although there have been plenty of reports of rising labor militancy in the US—teachers’ strikes, tech and delivery app organizing—it’s sadly not showing up in the strike data. In its annual release, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that there were just 7 major “work stoppages” (which include lockouts as well as strikes) in 2020, tied with 2017 for the second-lowest number since 1947, and beaten only by 2009’s 5. What strike action there was, says the BLS, was mainly against state and local government employers (5 of them), not private… Read More

Pandemic boosts union density

Union density—the share of employed workers belonging to unions—rose in 2020 for the first time since 2007 and 2008. Before that, you have to go back to 1979 to find another uptick. Those four years are the only increases in density since the modern BLS series begins in 1964. Sadly, though, the rise wasn’t the result of any organizing victories. Union membership declined by 2.2% last year—but the pandemic drove down employment even more, 6.7%. As a result, density rose from 10.3% to 10.8%, bringing it back to where it was in… Read More

Miserable numbers

Even non-connoisseurs are reeling from the miserable second quarter GDP numbers released this morning. Between the first and second quarters of this year, GDP was off 33% after adjustment for inflation. That’s by far the biggest decline since quarterly numbers begin in 1947. That 33% figure is at an annualized rate, meaning GDP would be off by a third if it declined at the second-quarter rate for a full year. The US is unusual in annualizing the data; most other countries report the quarter-to-quarter change without annualizing it. If we did that,… Read More

Measuring the carnage

When Trump promised to end “American carnage” in his inaugural address, he had no idea he’d end up presiding over mass death and economic collapse, but history can be a brutal ironist. Here’s a look at the bloodletting in the job market, which is central to most people’s economic well-being. Most of the time, the monthly employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is of interest mostly to econogeeks, but the April 2020 edition, released on Friday, May 8, was like no other since the end of World War II. The… Read More

Miserable employment report

This morning the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 701,000 jobs disappeared in March. Economists had been expecting about a third that number. Hardest hit were bars and restaurants, accounting for 60% of the loss. Also hit hard: retail, temp work, and, shockingly, health care. One reason job loss expectations were relatively low was that the survey of employers on which the count is based is done during the week containing the 12th—in this case, between March 8 and 14. (No one is expecting anything but a torrent of bad news in… Read More

The hits keep coming

Goldman Sachs attracted a lot of attention with its forecast that US GDP will be off 34% in the second quarter of this year. That is a very big number. It’s three-and-a-half times the worst quarter in US economic history since quarterly GDP stats began in 1947. (That quarter, by the way, was the first of 1958, the onset of a sharp recession, which featured, among other things, an “Asian flu.”) Here’s a little perspective on that number. That 34% figure is annualized, meaning it’s what the total decline would amount to… Read More