Monday, May 14, 2012

The Regulation Debate



Take a look at the May 11, 2012 Associate Press article entitled “Calls to toughen regulation follow JPMorgan loss.” [http://news.yahoo.com/calls-toughen-regulation-jpmorgan-loss-212428437--finance.html]  I do not expect you to completely understand the article and that is part of my point.  The banking industry has become so tremendously complex that it is difficult for people, including bankers, to understand it.  In their pursuit of profits, banks use intricate financial instruments with exorbitant risks (such as derivatives and credit default swaps) and they use savvy legal techniques to disguise those risks.  Most analysts put much of the blame for the economic decline of 2007-2009 (from which we have not yet fully recovered) on excessively risky lending practices by banks due in part to insufficient regulation of financial markets and the use of complex financial instruments that are not completely understood.

Banks have spent vast sums of money lobbying politicians to reduce regulations of financial markets or to create loopholes that make regulations less effective.  JPMorgan Chase, the largest U.S. bank, is widely considered to have one of the most knowledgeable and effective management teams with a chief executive officer, Jamie Dimon, who boasts of the bank’s exceptional understanding of risk management.  So the report that JPMorgan Chase recently lost $2 billion in six weeks pursuing an aggressive investment strategy has reignited concerns that bank actions could lead to another financial crisis that might have a devastating effect on the global economy and potentially require another hefty bailout by U.S. taxpayers.   The rationale for the taxpayer-funded bank bailouts begun under President George W. Bush and continued under President Barack Obama is that financial markets have become dominated by a few giant banks that are “too big to fail.”  Mainstream economists are in general agreement that there were mistakes in the design and implementation of the recent bank bailout packages, but the global economy would be in significantly worse condition if the U.S. government had not taken action to prevent a larger financial collapse.

Many analysts suggest that the problem of banks being “too big to fail” is a direct result of the removal of government restrictions that previously limited the scope of an individual bank’s activities (e.g., by not allowing a typical commerical bank that lends money to households and small businesses also to be an investment bank that engages in risky, speculative behavior) and the removal of laws that limited the size of banks by not allowing them to operate across state lines.  In essence, if laws and regulations prevented banks from becoming “too big to fail,” then we could allow the ones that engage in risky behaviors to go out of business without having a huge negative impact on the global financial system.

The new suggestions that financial markets need increased supervision are part of a much larger debate about government regulation.  This is another area is which the perspectives of mainstream economists differ significantly from many politicians, business leaders, and voters.

Many people talk about free markets as if they are intrinsically  superior to the alternatives.  Politicians profess support of free markets as a moral virtue and they imply that government intervention or interference with business activities is unquestionably detrimental to society.  U.S. politicians who advocate regulation are ridiculed as un-American.  The fundamental flaw with this reasoning, however, is that despite claims to the contrary, almost nobody believes in free markets.  In a truly free market, laws, rules, and regulations do not inhibit, restrict, or prevent any transactions for which there are willing buyers and sellers.  The phrase “free market” refers to a market that is free of government regulation and intervention.  But most people, including libertarians, readily agree that it is appropriate for society to have laws and rules that restrict many market activities.  For example, most people support laws that prevent children from purchasing alcohol, tobacco, and firearms.  We do not think parents should be allowed to use their children as prostitutes.  We want there to be restrictions on the sale and distribution of (at least some) drugs.  Most people agree that slavery should be illegal and humans should not be allowed to sell body parts.  All of these are government interventions in markets. Since almost everyone agrees with these policies, it is reasonable to conclude that almost everyone thinks the regulation of markets is appropriate.

Society needs to discuss market regulation.  But the debate needs to be about which types of regulation are appropriate for different markets, not whether regulation is intrinsically evil.  It is fair for people to disagree about the extent to which certain market activities should be allowed. However, it is hypocritical to cite individual liberty as the basis for less gun control, but then to argue against a woman’s freedom to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.  I am not taking sides on these controversial issues.  Instead, I am suggesting that whichever side you prefer, you need to make better and more persuasive arguments for your position.  It is not sufficient to use liberty and freedom as the only justification for less gun control or the right to choose an abortion.  Everybody believes in liberty to a certain extent and we all believe in the restriction of freedoms in some situations.  We agree that individuals should have the freedom to choose where they live and they should be allowed to apply for whatever jobs they want.  And we agree that people should not have the liberty to kill each other or to steal another person’s property.  However, there are numerous situations in which people disagree about the relative importance of individual freedom versus potential effects on others in society.  For example, opponents of gay marriage suggest that redefining marriage to include homosexuals has negative societal effects that outweigh the freedom of those individuals to choose a marriage partner.  Supporters of gay marriage weigh those effects differently, thinking the freedom to choose one’s legal partner is more important.

There are some market outcomes that can be improved by government regulation.  For example, regulations implemented since the 1960s have reduced the degree and scope of pollution in the United States.  And although regulations are not intrinsically evil, they also are not instrinsically good.  Some regulations make markets less competitive, protect special interests, or have other negative results.  Society should not vilify the regulation of markets, but instead seek to improve rules and restrictions (increasing some and decreasing others) to obtain the desired results.

Mainstream economists believe markets should be competitive, but it is not important that they be free of regulation.  Instead, economists believe better social outcomes occur when markets have a sufficient number of buyers and sellers so that nobody is able to exert undue control or influence over the market.  In many cases, government regulation is the key to keeping markets competitive.  For example, the U.S. typically does not allow one company to buy all of its competitors so that there is only one producer of a product.  These restrictions against monopolies are designed to protect consumers because monopolies tend to charge significantly higher prices than similar markets with competition.

As always, I welcome your questions and comments.

http://news.yahoo.com/calls-toughen-regulation-jpmorgan-loss-212428437--finance.html

Saturday, February 25, 2012

2 + 2 = ?


Here is a joke about economists:
A mathematician, an accountant and an economist apply for the same job.

The interviewer calls in the mathematician and asks "What do two plus two equal?" The mathematician replies "Four." The interviewer asks "Four, exactly?" The mathematician looks at the interviewer incredulously and says "Yes, four, exactly."

Then the interviewer calls in the accountant and asks the same question "What do two plus two equal?" The accountant says "On average, four - give or take ten percent, but on average, four."

Then the interviewer calls in the economist and poses the same question "What do two plus two equal?" The economist gets up, locks the door, closes the shade, sits down next to the interviewer and says, "What do you want it to equal"?

Economists (and very few others) find this joke funny because it is very revealing about how economists are used in the real world. Working for the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is one of the rare jobs in which politicians ask economists to provide a complete analysis of an issue. In most cases, politicians hire economists to provide evidence to support pre-existing narratives. For example, a colleague worked as an economist for the State of Wisconsin when Tommy Thompson was its governor. There was some discussion among legislators about increasing the minimum wage. Rather than going to the staff economists and asking for a complete analysis of the proposal (seeking the pros and cons of the issue), Governor Thompson's staff asked simply for economic arguments against raising the minimum wage. The governor had decided his position on the issue without having full information. Indeed, he did not want a complete analysis. He just sought support for the belief he had formed without all the facts.

This is typical of how politicians across the political spectrum use economists. They treat them as hired guns, rather than the objective analysts they are capable of being. This is one of reasons why economists in the media may seem to contradict each other. They may be presenting different sides of the issue. But neither is providing the whole truth. One of my primary goals as a teacher is to help people to see "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" about macroeconomic issues.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Baby Boomers - The Most Selfish Generation


The Greatest Generation” is a term coined by journalist Tom Brokaw to describe the men and women who served or supported the United States during World War II. Their willingness to personally sacrifice for the greater societal good was highlighted in Brokaw’s 1998 book of that same name.

Unfortunately, the baby boom generation – my generation – may not be remembered so fondly. An appropriate description for those of us born between 1946 and 1964 might be “The Most Selfish Generation.” I say this because of the wreckless fiscal irresponsibility we have demonstrated over the past 31 years.

Take a look at the red graph below.


At the end of 1980, the U.S. public debt was less than 1 trillion dollars. That means from the creation of this nation through 1980, the entire net accumulated amount of money borrowed by the U.S. federal government was less that 1 trillion dollars.

In 1981, about the time that baby boomers became leaders in both the public and private sectors, public policies were implemented that have led to a current public debt that exceeds 15 trillion dollars. So in the past 31 years, while baby boomers have been running things, the U.S. public debt has increased by more than 14 trillion dollars. In other words, over the past three decades, the United States has consumed 14 trillion dollars of government services we have not paid for and that we will pass to future generations.

For those of you who were born after 1964, I have two words for you …. You’re welcome. …. 15 trillion dollars of debt (and still counting) … that’s our gift to future generations.

To be fair, money borrowed today does not have the same purchasing power as the dollars of the past. So let’s take a look at the purple illustration below.

When the public debt is adjusted for inflation, the diagram illustrates my case even better. In the first 200 years of U.S. history, the federal government paid its bills (for the most part). In some years we ran modest deficits (you can see the big bump to pay for World War II), but we usually paid our bills. This changed in 1981 when taxes were cut under the leadership of President Ronald Reagan, but there was NOT a corresponding decrease in government services. The ultimate irony is that in his 1981 inaugural address, President Reagan warned of the dangers of public debt, saying:

For decades, we have piled deficit upon deficit, mortgaging our future and our children's future for the temporary convenience of the present. To continue this long trend is to guarantee tremendous social, cultural, political, and economic upheavals.

Yet, Reagan helped create a culture of hypocrisy in which we complain about public debt, but seem to continually demand further tax cuts while steadfastly refusing to sacrifice any of the government benefits we expect.

The military conflicts of the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan are the first time in U.S. history that we have cut taxes in a time of war. When men and women of mostly younger generations are sacrificing their lives for our country, we – the baby boomers – refuse even to pay the financial costs of supporting them – choosing instead to pass the costs to our children, grandchildren, and future generations. And let’s not forget that while reducing federal government revenues through the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, we also greatly expanded the size and scope of the U.S. federal government through the implementation of Medicare Part D which subsidizes the costs of prescription medications.


The diagram above illustrates the U.S. public debt as a percentage of gross domestic product. It shows our debt in relation to our income. Richer countries and richer people can afford more debt than poorer ones. But even by this measure, the wrecklessness of baby boomer public policies is evident.

You may notice in this graph, as in the previous two illustrations, that there is a decrease in the U.S. public debt in the late 1990s. It is natural and normal for there to be ups and downs in economic activity over time. Economists call this the business cycle. And the surpluses of the late 1990s correspond to being in a properous part of the business cycle. But these budget surpluses were primarily the result of the short-term willingness of Congress to impose on itself pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) rules that require any new spending to be funded by increased revenues or offset by reductions in other expenditures. But as yet another example of baby-boomer selfishness, these rules were abandoned in 2001 (fiscal year 2002) to allow for the popular tax cuts and the subsequent increases in government expenditures.

A June 10, 2009 New York Times article, "America's Sea of Red Ink was Years in the Making," and an accompanying diagram explain and illustrate how U.S. budget surpluses became deficits. The major components and their relative magnitudes are illustrated by the downward arrows. The contributing factors were:

(1) The early 2000s recession caused reduced tax revenues and increased government assistance (- $291 billion a year)

(2) The Bush policies (tax cuts, Iraq war, Medicare prescription drugs) (- $673 billion)

(3) The late 2000s recession (Dec. 2007-2009) also reduced tax revenues and increased government assistance (- $479 billion)

(4) Wall Street Bailouts (begun under Bush & continued under Obama) (-$185 billion)

(5) Other programs supported by both the Bush & Obama administrations, such as the Iraq war and a patch for the alternative minimum tax (- $232 billion)

(6) Stimulus spending (- $145 billion), and

(7) Other Obama programs (- $56 billion).


A July 2011 diagram (above) from The New York Times series, "Charting the American Debt Crisis," shows (on the right) how much of the $14.3 trillion debt (at the time) was accumulated under each U.S. President and (on the left) who holds the debt.

This should NOT be a partisan issue. At a fiscal forum at Jacksonville University on January 26, 2012, former Republican Senator Mel Martinez joined JU alumnus David Walker, the former Comptroller General of the United States and the founder and CEO of the Comeback America Initiative; and Robert Bixby, the executive director of the Concord Coalition; to convey a similar message: federal revenues [as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP)] are the lowest they have been and expenditures (as a percentage of GDP) are the highest since 1950. (See the diagram below.) Collectively, U.S. citizens need to pay more in taxes and receive fewer government benefits. But that is NOT a message that we want to hear.

And it is worth noting that most of those who are raising the alarm about this debt issue, are not proposing solutions that involve sacrifice by baby boomers. Indeed the refrain is that those of us at or near retirement will not receive any reduced benefits from Social Security or Medicare. The proposed reforms will reduce benefits for younger people.

Once again, I say to people born after 1964 … You’re welcome!

There is one notable exception among the voices for fiscal reform who offers a chance at redemption for baby boomers, if you want to call it that.

David Stockman, President Ronald Reagan’s budget director, advocates a one-time surcharge on the wealthy. He explains the idea in an interview he did for 60 Minutes in October 2010. Click the link above to find the interview or simply search for “David Stockman 60 Minutes.”

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Obama's Job Creation Record

The full chart can be seen at http://my.democrats.org/Jobs-Chart.

The Obama administration feels the President's jobs record is being distorted by his Republican opponents. The Democratic Party distributed this information to try to set the record straight. The data are from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the government agency that calculates and publishes the official record of labor market activity.

Note that this graph is for private sector jobs. If you take a closer look at the monthly labor reports you will see that government employment has been decreasing during much of this period. In other words, if the number of federal government jobs were not decreasing, the employment situation would be even better.

There is a legitimate debate to be had about the extent to which current policies have helped or hindered economic recovery. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the government agency of professional economists who advise all members of Congress about the impact of proposed policies, has consistently reported that recent government stimulus spending has aided the economic recovery and has improved U.S. employment from what it would have been in the absence of such spending. It is not a popular message with the opponents of the President. But it is consistent with mainstream economic theory.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Employment Situation - January 2012

The latest Employment Situation news release has been posted on the BLS website at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf and also archived at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/empsit_02032012.pdf. Highlights are below.

Payroll employment rises 243,000 in January; unemployment rate decreases to 8.3%

02/03/2012
Nonfarm payroll employment rose by 243,000 in January, and the unemployment rate decreased to 8.3 percent. Job growth was widespread, with large gains in professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, and manufacturing.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Employment Situation - December 2011

The latest Employment Situation news release has been posted on the BLS website at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf
and also archived at

Highlights are below.

Payroll employment rises 200,000 in December; jobless rate (8.5%) continues to trend down.

Nonfarm payroll employment rose by 200,000 in December, and the unemployment rate, at 8.5 percent, continued to trend down. Job gains occurred in transportation and warehousing, retail trade, manufacturing, health care, and mining.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Why Ron Paul is not Taken Seriously


Advocates of U.S. Presidential candidate Ron Paul, seem befuddled that his economic proposals do not receive more support and consideration. I am unsure if their criticisms of the U.S. Federal Reserve System (the Fed) are objections to the existence of paper money, central banks, or to the specific operation of the Fed. Monetary policy for an increasingly interconnected world is complex. It is reasonable that most people do not understand it. But it can be understood. Let me try to address a few issues.

Money is anything that is generally accepted to serve as a medium of exchange (i.e., you can buy things with it), a store of value (i.e., you use it to save purchasing power for use at a later time), and a unit of account (i.e., it is used to measure relative prices). Stated more simply, money facilitates commerce. Without money that is widely accepted, easy to carry and exchange, and difficult to counterfeit, economic transactions become much more difficult. Without money, people must rely on barter for exchanges of goods and services. For example, a yoga teacher would trade yoga instruction for everything she wants to buy. Paper money, such as Federal Reserve Notes, has been used since the 7th century because it conveniently serves the functions of money. Although it has no intrinsic value, paper money has historically been one of the most widely used forms of money. Bank deposits, such as those created under the fractional reserve banking systems that are common throughout the developed world, are another form of money of similar importance in modern times.

The reason why politicians other than Ron Paul are not advocating the elimination of the Federal Reserve System is because there is a broad consensus among politicians, economists, and the leaders of finance and business that central banks, such as the Fed, provide a necessary function for a developed society. Prior to the creation of the Federal Reserve System in 1913, the U.S. monetary and banking systems were chaotic and their instabilities impeded commerce and economic growth. Because central banks oversee the money supply and banking system, every country with its own currency needs a central bank. They all function essentially in the same way as the Fed.

The primary benefit of a central bank, such as the U.S. Federal Reserve System, is that it promotes a healthy and stable banking system capable of supporting economic growth. It also ensures that society has an appropriate quantity of reliable money to facilitate commerce.

The simplest refutation of the desirability of returning the U.S. to a gold standard is that the money supply would not typically increase unless the U.S. acquired more gold. A benefit of this is that it would prevent excessive inflation. But it would almost certainly lead to devastating deflation and it would make it nearly impossible for the U.S. to use monetary policy to reduce the duration and severity of economic downturns, such as the recent global recession.

Here is a simple example. As a country’s population increases and its economy grows, it needs a larger money supply. If there are a million people earning $1 per day, the economy needs $1 million per day to pay these workers. If the population doubles to 2 million, but the money supply has not increased because the country has not acquired more gold, then the existing $1 million must be sufficient to pay 2 million people. So people earn fifty cents per day instead of a dollar. With these lower labor costs, prices of goods and services fall, too. An overall reduction in the price level, which economists call deflation, might seem desirable. But it is devastating to an economy. It causes a dramatic reduction in purchases of newly produced goods and services. (Why buy something today if you know it will be cheaper next week, next month, or next year?) Deflation increases unemployment as businesses lay off workers because there is reduced demand for their products as consumers postpone purchases until the future (when they will be cheaper).

Developed modern economies have a money supply that is primarily composed of currency and bank deposits and is overseen by a central bank. This allows the money supply to be adjusted to the changing needs of society. The money supply can be easily altered to accommodate changes in population and economic growth. And because central banks influence the amount of money created by private commercial banks in the form of loans, monetary policy is a primary instrument of macroeconomic policy. In prosperous times, central banks fight inflation by encouraging banks to lend less money to the public and thereby reducing overall spending on newly produced goods and services. When the economy is sluggish, central banks promote economic growth and reduce unemployment by encouraging banks to lend more money and thus increase the demand for newly produced goods and services. (As sales increase, businesses rehire workers they laid off or hire new ones.) Mainstream society wants governments to take action to promote economic prosperity and reduce the negative impacts of macroeconomic declines. (See "The Economic Role of Government" for elaboration.)

Ron Paul seems to have considerable fears about hyperinflation. A few economies (with currencies not backed by gold and a central bank similar to the Fed) have suffered hyperinflation. But this does not imply that such a fate in inevitable. An examination of the U.S. inflation rates since 1956 provides no evidence that Fed policies have caused excessive increases in the price level.
http://econperspectives.blogspot.com/2008/10/us-inflation-rates-since-1956.html
Indeed, hyperinflation tends to occur in places where government leaders have considerably more influence over the central bank (as Paul seems to want). The relative independence of the Fed from the whims of current politicians is a strength of the U.S. monetary system, not a shortcoming as Paul suggests.

Ron Paul’s opinions of the Fed are viewed by mainstream society the same way it views people who claim the earth is flat, that the sun orbits the earth, that man never went to the moon, that the best way to cure all illness is to drain blood from the body, that there is no such thing as evolution, that the earth is only 6,000 years old, or that President Barack Obama was not born in Hawaii. There is substantial evidence to refute all of those beliefs. But for whatever reason, some people prefer conspiracy theories. There is a lot to like about Ron Paul’s candidacy. But Paul is not taken seriously by mainstream society because many of the policies he advocates are simplistic and seem to be based on wishful thinking rather than reality.

Here are a few resources that may help your understanding of monetary policy:

(1) The Fed Today, a 14-minute video that provides a good introduction to the U.S. Federal Reserve System.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFnH9MCdpLo

(2) Economic Perspectives, my blog about macroeconomic policy
http://econperspectives.blogspot.com/2009/03/monetary-policy.html

(3) Wikipedia – decent summaries that may provide answers to many of your questions. The article on the gold standard has a section on its advantages and disadvantages.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_bank
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Reserve
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gold_standard
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banknote

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Economic Role of Government

As I tell my students, it is a legitimate and defensible position to argue that the government should not try to manage the macroeconomy. For a variety of reasons (such as corruption, incompetence, and the influence of special interests), it is conceivable that policy makers and implementers will make things worse, not better. If one chooses this position, however, then one cannot complain about high unemployment, high inflation, or a lack of economic growth.

Prior to the Great Depression, the predominant school of economic thought, classical economics, suggested that macroeconomic problems would correct themselves. If unemployment increased, the response would be a decrease in wages until employers were willing to hire them again. Similarly, inflation (a general increase in the level of prices) would cause people to buy less (as prices rose). Reduced demand for products then would cause prices to fall. The biggest problem with classical economic thought, however, is that it is based on assumptions that are rarely true. (For example, it assumes people have full information, which is almost never the case.) Several decades of subsequent economic thought have been devoted to explanations of flaws in the simplistic classical rationale. (The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel has been awarded 42 times to 67 Laureates between 1969 and 2010 to highlight and honor those achievements.)

John Maynard Keynes, a British economist, popularized the notion that the government can and should play an active role in managing the macroeconomy. Keynes acknowledged that classical thought might have applicability over an extremely long time period, but “in the long run we are all dead.” If people wait for the macroeconomy to correct itself, they may not live long enough to see the changes. The severity and prolonged duration of the Great Depression convinced most people of the validity of Keynes’ insights. During the Great Depression, prices were falling, but that did not motivate an increase in purchases and employment as classical economics predicts. Even if people had income, they were reluctant to spend it because of uncertainty about the future.

Mainstream economics since the Great Depression is Keynesian economics. The overwhelming majority of economists around the world believe it is appropriate for the government to take actions to promote economic growth and to maintain low unemployment and low inflation. The debate in the United States is not whether the government should try to achieve these goals. Instead, the discussion is about what the government should do. Essentially, Republicans argue that public policies should primarily benefit businesses and the wealthy because they are the job creators. Democrats respond that making the wealthy richer will not cause them to hire more workers unless there is a significant increase in the demand for goods and services. Democrats favor policies with broader benefits because they believe increasing the overall demand for products will increase employment. Very few people argue that the government should do nothing to reduce unemployment, maintain stable prices, and promote economic growth. Indeed, the mood of the country is “they have not fixed the economy, so throw the bums out.”

If President Obama loses the 2012 election, it will be because he did too little to improve the economy, not because he did too much. Reports from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a government agency whose professional economists provide non-partisan analysis to legislators, consistently confirm that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the much criticized stimulus spending program, created jobs, increased employment, and reduced the unemployment rate from what would have occurred in its absence. It is a fair criticism to say some politicians steered ARRA funds away from the most economically beneficial projects toward other favored objectives. But that is a failure of the political system and the implementation of the suggested policies, not of Keynesian economic theory.

Friday, August 5, 2011

EMPLOYMENT SITUATION - July 2011



Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 117,000 in July, and the unemployment rate was little changed at 9.1 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Job gains occurred in health care, retail trade, manufacturing, and mining. Government employment continued to trend down.

Household Survey Data

The number of unemployed persons (13.9 million) and the unemployment rate (9.1 percent) changed little in July. Since April, the unemployment rate has shown little definitive movement. The labor force, at 153.2 million, was little changed in July. (See table A-1.)

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men(9.0 percent), adult women (7.9 percent), teenagers (25.0 percent), whites (8.1 percent), blacks (15.9 percent), and Hispanics (11.3 percent) showed little or no change in July. The jobless rate for Asians was 7.7 percent, not seasonally adjusted. (See tables A-1, A-2, and A-3.)

The number of persons unemployed for less than 5 weeks declined by 387,000 in July, mostly offsetting an increase in the prior month. The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks and over), at 6.2 million, changed little over the month and accounted for 44.4 percent of the unemployed. (See table A-12.)

The civilian labor force participation rate edged down in July to 63.9 percent, and the employment-population ratio was little changed at 58.1 percent. (See table A-1.)

The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers) was about unchanged in July at 8.4 million. These individuals were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job. (See table A-8.)

In July, 2.8 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force, little changed from a year earlier. (These data are not seasonally adjusted.) These individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey. (See table A-16.)

Among the marginally attached, there were 1.1 million discouraged workers in July, about the same as a year earlier. (These data are not seasonally adjusted.) Discouraged workers are persons not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them. The remaining 1.7 million persons marginally attached to the labor force in July had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey for reasons such as school attendance or family responsibilities. (See table A-16.)

Establishment Survey Data

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 117,000 in July, following little growth over the prior 2 months. Total private employment rose by 154,000 over the month, reflecting job gains in several major industries, including health care, retail trade, manufacturing, and mining. Government employment continued to decline. (See table B-1.)

Health care employment grew by 31,000 in July. Ambulatory health care services and hospitals each added 14,000 jobs over the month. Over the past 12 months, health care employment has grown by 299,000.

Retail trade added 26,000 jobs in July. Employment in health and personal care stores rose by 9,000 over the month with small increases distributed among several other retail industries. Employment in retail trade has increased by 228,000 since a recent low in December 2009.

Manufacturing employment increased in July (+24,000); nearly all of the increase was in durable goods manufacturing. Within durable goods, the motor vehicles and parts industry had fewer seasonal layoffs than typical for July, contributing to a seasonally adjusted employment increase of 12,000. Manufacturing has added 289,000 jobs since its most recent trough in December 2009, and durable goods manufacturing added 327,000 jobs during this period.

In July, employment in mining rose by 9,000; virtually all of the gain (+8,000) occurred in support activities for mining. Employment in mining has increased by 140,000 since a recent low in October 2009.

Employment in professional and technical services continued to trend up in July (+18,000). This industry has added 246,000 jobs since a recent low in March 2010. Employment in temporary help services changed little over the month and has shown little movement on net so far this year.

Elsewhere in the private sector, employment in construction, transportation and warehousing, information, financial activities, and leisure and hospitality changed little over the month.

Government employment continued to trend down over the month
(-37,000). Employment in state government decreased by 23,000, almost entirely due to a partial shutdown of the Minnesota state government. Employment in local government continued to wane over the month.

The average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls was unchanged over the month at 34.3 hours. The manufacturing workweek and factory overtime for all employees also were unchanged at 40.3 hours and 3.1 hours, respectively. In July, the average workweek for production and nonsupervisory employees on private nonfarm payrolls was 33.6 hours for the sixth consecutive month. (See tables B-2 and B-7.)

In July, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls increased by 10 cents, or 0.4 percent, to $23.13. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 2.3 percent. In July, average hourly earnings of private-sector production and nonsupervisory employees increased by 8 cents, or 0.4 percent, to $19.52. (See tables B-3 and B-8.)

The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for May was revised from +25,000 to +53,000, and the change for June was revised from +18,000 to +46,000.

_____________
The Employment Situation for August is scheduled to be released on Friday, September 2, 2011, at 8:30 a.m. (EDT).

Thursday, April 7, 2011

US Uncut: Corporate Tax Cheats Are Bankrupting America


According to its website,
"US Uncut is a grassroots movement taking direct action against corporate tax cheats and unnecessary and unfair public service cuts across the U.S. Washington's proposed budget for the coming year sends a clear message: The wrath of budget cuts will fall upon the shoulders of hard-working Americans. That's unacceptable."

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Republican cuts would cost 700,000 jobs


In the March 1, 2009 article "Republican cuts would cost 700,000 jobs: Report," Zachary Roth reports that Mark Zandi, a prominent economic forecaster, suggests that the budget cuts proposed by Republicans will slow economic growth and reduce the number of jobs. The logic is that a primary determinant of the number of jobs is the overall demand for newly produced goods and services, which economists refer to as aggregate demand (AD). And a key source of demand, especially in economic downturns and their recoveries, is government purchases. Less government spending translates into less aggregate demand and fewer jobs.

According to Roth:
A new report by a leading economic forecaster finds that budget cuts passed by the House of Representatives would cost 700,000 jobs over the next two years if enacted.

"The House Republicans' proposal would reduce 2011 real GDP growth by 0.5% and 2012 growth by 0.2%," according to the study, by Moody's Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi. "This would mean some 400,000 fewer jobs created by the end of 2011 and 700,000 fewer jobs by the end of 2012."

Zandi is no left-wing ideologue. He was on the economic team for Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, and has advised members of both political parties. His findings point in the same direction as those of an even more pessimistic Goldman Sachs report, leaked last week, which concluded that the proposed cuts would reduce second- and third-quarter growth in 2010 by 1.5 to 2 percentage points.

Although the economy has been growing of late, it's not adding jobs fast enough to start significantly bringing down the unemployment rate, which stands at 9 percent. Writes Zandi: "Imposing additional government spending cuts before this has happened, as House Republicans want, would be taking an unnecessary chance with the recovery."

America already faces a jobs crisis, having lost around 8 million jobs since the start of the recession in late 2007.

Zandi argues that the government does need to cut spending--but that it should wait to do so until unemployment has come down further. "Significant government spending restraint is vital," he writes, "but given the economy's halting recovery, it would be counterproductive for that restraint to begin until the U.S. is creating enough jobs to lower the unemployment rate."

The House proposal cuts spending by around $60 billion from 2010 levels. The Senate and the Obama administration will weigh in before any cuts become law.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Charts reveal shocking income inequality


"Some new data crunches show how the gap between rich and poor has widened into a chasm."

In the February 23, 2011 Yahoo! article, "Separate but unequal: Charts show growing rich-poor gap," Zachary Roth summarizes the Mother Jones article," It's the Inequality, Stupid" that appears in its March/April 2011 issue:

The Great Recession and the slump that followed have triggered a jobs crisis that's been making headlines since before President Obama was in office, and that will likely be with us for years. But the American economy is also plagued by a less-noted, but just as serious, problem: Simply put, over the last 30 years, the gap between rich and poor has widened into a chasm.
Gradual developments like this don't typically lend themselves to news coverage. But Mother Jones magazine has crunched the data on inequality, and put together a group of stunning new charts. Taken together, they offer a dramatic visual illustration of who's doing well and who's doing badly in modern America.
Here are three samples:
• This chart shows that the poorest 90 percent of Americans make an average of $31,244 a year, while the top 1 percent make over $1.1 million:

• According to this chart, most income groups have barely grown richer since 1979. But the top 1 percent has seen its income nearly quadruple:

• And this chart suggests most Americans have little idea of just how unequal income distribution is. And that they'd like things to be divvied up a lot more equitably:

To see the rest of these fascinating charts, click on over to Mother Jones.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Winner Take All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer – and Turned it s Back on the Middle Class.

Winner Take All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer – and Turned it s Back on the Middle Class - by Jacob S. Hacker

From the publisher's website:
Description

A groundbreaking work that identifies the real culprit behind one of the great economic crimes of our time— the growing inequality of incomes between the vast majority of Americans and the richest of the rich.

We all know that the very rich have gotten a lot richer these past few decades while most Americans haven't. In fact, the exorbitantly paid have continued to thrive during the current economic crisis, even as the rest of Americans have continued to fall behind. Why do the "haveit- alls" have so much more? And how have they managed to restructure the economy to reap the lion's share of the gains and shift the costs of their new economic playground downward, tearing new holes in the safety net and saddling all of us with increased debt and risk? Lots of so-called experts claim to have solved this great mystery, but no one has really gotten to the bottom of it—until now.

In their lively and provocative Winner-Take-All Politics, renowned political scientists Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson demonstrate convincingly that the usual suspects—foreign trade and financial globalization, technological changes in the workplace, increased education at the top—are largely innocent of the charges against them. Instead, they indict an unlikely suspect and take us on an entertaining tour of the mountain of evidence against the culprit. The guilty party is American politics. Runaway inequality and the present economic crisis reflect what government has done to aid the rich and what it has not done to safeguard the interests of the middle class. The winner-take-all economy is primarily a result of winner-take-all politics.

In an innovative historical departure, Hacker and Pierson trace the rise of the winner-take-all economy back to the late 1970s when, under a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress, a major transformation of American politics occurred. With big business and conservative ideologues organizing themselves to undo the regulations and progressive tax policies that had helped ensure a fair distribution of economic rewards, deregulation got under way, taxes were cut for the wealthiest, and business decisively defeated labor in Washington. And this transformation continued under Reagan and the Bushes as well as under Clinton, with both parties catering to the interests of those at the very top. Hacker and Pierson's gripping narration of the epic battles waged during President Obama's first two years in office reveals an unpleasant but catalyzing truth: winner-take-all politics, while under challenge, is still very much with us.

Winner-Take-All Politics—part revelatory history, part political analysis, part intellectual journey— shows how a political system that traditionally has been responsive to the interests of the middle class has been hijacked by the superrich. In doing so, it not only changes how we think about American politics, but also points the way to rebuilding a democracy that serves the interests of the many rather than just those of the wealthy few.