Unemployment claims surge

Last week, 3.3 million people* applied for unemployment insurance. That’s five times the previous record weekly number, a series that goes back to 1967. Compared to monthly averages and expressed as a percent of employment, which is how it’s shown in the graph below, that’s over two-and-a-half times the previous record. As of the previous week, 1.8 million people were drawing unemployment insurance, so the number of new claimants is almost twice the number already on benefits, or 182% as many, to be precise. That ratio has never exceeded 26% before. This… Read More

Explaining the rot

In my article about fighting the coronavirus and economic crises yesterday, I said: We also need to invest in the physical and social infrastructure of this country. For decades, civilian public investment net of depreciation has hovered just above 0, meaning that we’re doing little better than replacing things as they decay. Here’s some more detail on that, which updates a September 2017 post. Graphed below are histories of net public investment in the US, from the national income accounts. (The source is table 5.2.5, here.) “Net” means after accounting for depreciation, aka… Read More

Union density: yet another low

Preparing to write up the 2019 union density statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, I looked at last year’s and was tempted just to copy–paste. Here’s the lede, as we say in journalism: Union density—the share of employed workers belonging to unions—fell to 10.5% in 2018, the lowest since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began reporting the data in its modern form in 1964, down from 2017’s 10.7%. The only edit I’d have to make in this bit is to change “10.5% in 2018” to “10.3% in 2019.” Similar things could… 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

Sadly, there is no strike wave

In a September 8 post to the Jacobin website, Eric Dirnbach announced that “US workers are striking again.” In the piece, he discloses: That’s why it’s fascinating that in 2018, we’re seeing a dramatic increase in the number of large work stoppages. I count sixteen for the first half of the year, including one lockout, which if this trend continues, puts us on track for thirty-two for the full year. The number of large work stoppages has not been thirty or more since the year 2000. It would be lovely if this were true, but it’s not…. 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

Smaller strikes also in decline

Several readers responded to the recent post on strikes by asking if the BLS stats, which cover stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers, are missing smaller-scale actions. (And I should say that I’m being imprecise by calling all stoppages “strikes,” since the figures also include lockouts.) Alas, no. The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service publishes data on all work stoppages, regardless of the number of workers involved. The numbers from 1984 through 2016 are graphed below. Smaller strikes peaked at 1,142 in 1985, which looks big by recent standards. If the trajectory… Read More

Why the USA is falling apart

If I were a debased purveyor of clickbait, I’d call this “Everything that’s wrong with America in two charts.” But I’m not, so I won’t. But still…. Hurricane Harvey is only the latest reminder that the U.S. infrastructure is falling apart—a situation that become more urgent as the climate crisis bites harder. Here’s a data series that goes a long way to explaining why. In simple English, the public sector is barely investing enough to keep up with normal decay, let alone doing anything to improve things. The series is net civilian… Read More

Jobs nonsense from ZeroHedge

ZeroHedge is ridiculous and terrible, a fever swamp of conspiracism, far-right paranoia, and permabearishness. Spreading disinformation about the employment statistics might not be their worst sin, but decent naïfs often fall for this sort of thing, so it’s worth a refutation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics applies a statistical model, known as the birth/death model, to its monthly survey of employers—the source of “the U.S. economy created x thousand jobs last month” headline. The survey covers over 600,000 employing establishments, but misses new business formations at first. The b/d model is an… Read More

Job demographics

Paul Krugman asks plaintively “why don’t all jobs matter?” To answer, he enlists the help of Slate’s Jamelle Bouie: Finally, it’s hard to escape the sense that manufacturing and especially mining get special consideration because, as Slate’s Jamelle Bouie points out, their workers are a lot more likely to be male and significantly whiter than the work force as a whole…. Laid-off retail workers and local reporters are just as much victims of economic change as laid-off coal miners. The loss of newspaper jobs, a trend of many years, has been very bad news for… Read More

Union density erodes again—and why bosses hate unions

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is just out with its figures on union membership in 2014. Overall membership, aka density, fell to 11.1% of the workforce, from 11.3% in 2013. The decline was more than entirely the result of slippage in the private sector, down from 6.7% to 6.6%. Public sector density, perhaps surprisingly, rose, from 35.3% to 35.7%. Since private sector employment is more than five times that of the public sector, the private sector decline dominated the public sector’s rise, producing the overall drop. Here’s a graph of union density… Read More