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Surge in Women’s Employment Brings Unemployment Rate Down to 9.7 Percent

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Image: Dean BakerThe index of total hours worked is below the November 1997 level.

The unemployment rate fell to 9.7 percent in January, driven by a 0.4 percentage-point drop in the unemployment rate for women to 8.4 percent. The unemployment rate for men fell 0.2 percentage points to 10.8 percent. This drop came in spite of a reported loss of 20,000 jobs in the establishment survey.

The improved employment picture was primarily a story for adult white women. Their unemployment rate fell by 0.6 percentage points to 6.8 percent, while their employment rate (EPOP) rose by 0.6 percentage points to 56.1 percent. The unemployment rate for black women rose slightly to 13.3 percent, although their EPOP also rose 0.2 percentage points to 54.7 percent. It is striking that the EPOP for white women is now 1.4 percentage points higher than for black women. Until last summer it had always been lower, although the gap had been narrowing over the last three decades.

For blacks overall, January was a bad month. The unemployment rate rose to 16.5 percent, the highest of the downturn. The unemployment rate for black men rose a full percentage point to 17.6 percent, also a high for the downturn.

By education group, the big winners were people with some college, who saw 1.2 percentage-point increase in their EPOP. There was little change in the EPOPs for other groups. Workers over age 55 continued to fare best, accounting for 178,000 of the 541,000 increase in employment. Women over age 55 accounted for 140,000 of these jobs.

In addition to the gains in employment, the household survey also showed a sharp fall in the number of people involuntarily working part-time, from 9,055,000 to 8,193,000. The U-6 measure of labor market slack correspondingly fell from 17.3 percent to 16.5 percent. It is also worth noting that the percentage of the unemployed who have voluntarily quit their job has edged up to 6.1 percent. This is still very low, but somewhat better than the 5.6 percent reported last summer, suggesting somewhat greater confidence in the labor market.

The establishment data look somewhat less positive. Not only do the data continue to show job loss, but the job loss over the last three months (Oct-Dec) was revised upward by 102,000, giving an average job loss of 103,000 per month over this period. Without 33,000 temporary census jobs, the establishment survey would have shown a loss of 53,000 jobs for January.

However, even in the establishment survey there are some positive signs. Manufacturing employment increased by 11,000, the first gain since January of 2007. This was fully explained by a 22,700 rise in auto employment. While this may not be repeated, it is likely that manufacturing employment has finally bottomed out.

Retail trade added 42,100 jobs, although this may be a seasonal anomaly with fewer people than normal hired in the holiday season and therefore fewer layoffs in January. Employment services showed another big increase, adding 52,000 jobs in January. This is consistent with a picture of employees getting ready to add permanent employees. Hours worked also increased, with the index of aggregate hours rising from 97.9 to 98.2.

Aggregate Weekly Hours

However, there were also many negative aspects to the establishment data. Construction lost another 75,000 jobs, the vast majority in non-residential construction.  State and local governments shed 41,000 jobs. The leisure and hospitality sector shed 14,000 jobs. Even health care seems to be weakening as a bastion of employment growth, adding just 14,500 jobs in January.

The benchmark revisions show the downturn to be even deeper than previously believed. The revised data show a loss of 8,424,000 from the peak in December of 2007.  Over the decade from January 2000 to January 2010, the economy actually lost 1,254,000 jobs.  The economy lost 2,100,000 construction jobs (27.2 percent) since the peak in August of 2006 and 2,467,000 manufacturing jobs since the decline began in January 2007. The index of hours worked is below the November 1997 level.

On the whole, there is some positive news in this report, with the household survey showing a much brighter picture than the establishment survey. It is possible that the birth/death data could now be understating job growth.

*This article originally appeared in CEPR on February 5, 2009.

About the Author: Dean Baker is the Co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. CEPR’s Jobs Byte is published each month upon release of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ employment report. For more information or to subscribe by fax or email contact CEPR at 202-293-5380 ext. 102, or chinku [at] cepr [dot] net.


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Danger: Falling Middle Class

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Credit: Joe Kekeris
Credit: Joe Kekeris

Jack Cafferty at CNN this week asked viewers one of his seemingly routine questions. But the responses to: “How has definition of ‘middle-class American’ changed?” reveal a cataclysmic shift in our nation’s economic identity.

Gary from El Centro, Calif., summed up the vast majority of the nearly 200 responses when he replied:

You should ask this question of the three or four people in the country still remaining in the middle class.

The comments reflect more than the run-of-the-mill griping about taxes or middle-aged discontent. They demonstrate a visceral understanding of the deep forces underlying the dramatic change that in recent decades has eroded the solid financial footing of America’s working families—America’s middle class.

In short, the American public knows what most lawmakers in Washington and policymakers around the country have yet to figure out: The nation is losing its middle-class backbone and bifurcating into a have/have not country.

As Karen from Idaho Falls writes on Cafferty’s site:

In my world, there is no middle class–only the very rich, the rich, the poor, and the very poor. Most of us are hanging on to being “poor” by our fingernails and hoping that we won’t join the ever growing “very poor” class. Somewhere along the line, “middle class” disappeared.

The not-so-Great Recession is just the latest and loudest part of the long decline of the middle class. From the end of World War II to the early 1970s, wages grew along with productivity. But since then, wages have been stagnant or declining—while productivity skyrocketed. The decline in a family’s earning power was offset by the entrance of vast numbers of women in the labor market—and then by wage-earners holding multiple jobs. By the late 1990s, debt—from second mortgages or credit cards—kept the middle class afloat. And now what is revealed is a middle class held together by nothing more than string.

One of the most consequential but least recognized aspects of the current economic disaster is the growing length of time workers are without jobs. In December, the average jobless worker had been unemployed for 29.1 weeks. In contrast, when the recession began in 2007, the average unemployed person had been out of work for 16.5 weeks.

At Economix blog, Catherine Rampell points out in an tellingly titled post, “A Growing Underclass,” that the longer unemployed workers stay out of work, the less likely they may be to find work.

First, their skills may deteriorate or become obsolete—especially if they are in a dynamically changing industry like high technology.

Second, the stigma—both internal and external—of their unemployment grows. Studies have linked job loss to declines in self-worth and self-esteem, meaning these people will probably make less compelling job candidates.

So, even if there were jobs available—there are now more than six unemployed workers for every one job—getting one becomes harder and harder the longer you’re out of work. Jobs are so few, in fact, even a weekly columnist at Forbes had this to say:

For many, many Americans there are no jobs and few prospects. For them the Great Recession is not a cute aphorism but a major cataclysm.

Long-term joblessness is one more nail in the middle class coffin. As Working-Class Perspectives describes it:

Unlike in past business cycles, the middle class has not been able to recover so far, despite increases in productivity and stock prices. In “America Without a Middle Class,” Elizabeth Warren documents how the de facto unemployment rate, credit debt, “underwater” mortgages, increased use of food stamps, personal bankruptcies, and the loss of pensions and health care have all dramatically increased. Middle-class households have depleted their savings and are increasingly accruing debt to pay for college, health care, and other expenses.

Some experts believe that the decline in jobs will only continue. For example, Alexandra Levit predicts significant losses in a number of key industries between 2008 and 2018: semiconductor manufacturing (33.7 percent), apparel manufacturing (57 percent), newspaper publishers (24.8 percent)….Corporations are moving many of these jobs offshore or replacing them with technology rather than paying middle-class wages and benefits. The economists are right that new jobs are being created in place of these. But as Jack Metzgar discussed last week, most of the new jobs offer even lower wages and benefits and require less education.

Jobs are offshored while the jobs that remain in the United States are low-wage, with little affordable health care or retirement options. Meanwhile, the smooth of face and soft of hand financial wizards who turn their noses up at the industrial manufacturing sector fail to realize that when the United States loses its ability to make things, it also loses the research and development power that fueled the nation to greatness. And it loses something a lot more. Louis Uchitelle interviews Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) about the humiliation of building a new World Trade Center with no glass made in the United States:

“Imagine China,” he said in an interview, “building a huge structure intended to be an important national symbol and importing glass from the United States to build it. There is no way the Chinese would do that.”

And a low-wage job nation fuels income inequality. This from a stunning report by economist John Schmit at the Center for Economic and Policy Research:

From a peak just before the 1929 stock market crash through the early 1950s, wage and income inequality, broadly measured, were declining. From the early 1950s through the late 1970s, inequality was flat, or even falling slightly. Since the late 1970s, however, inequality has skyrocketed, climbing back to levels last seen in the 1920s. In 1979, for example, the top one percent of all U.S. taxpayers received about 8 percent of national income; by 2007, the top one percent received over 18 percent. If we include income from capital gains in the calculation, the increase in inequality is even sharper, with the top one percent capturing 10 percent of all income in 1979, but over 23 percent in 2007.

Back at Cafferty’s site, Chad from Los Angeles knows why:

The middle class has turned into the “peasant class.” We have been taken over by a few wealthy people who control our politicians and government. We have become an Aristocracy. Except the ones in control are not royalty, they are businessmen hiding behind a cloak of deception that is Corporate America.

In the short term, critical steps must be taken for immediate relief. The first is getting the Senate to extend unemployment insurance (UI) for the long-term unemployed. As usual, the House already has acted, extending UI in December, while senators dither. (Click here to tell your lawmakers it’s time to act.) Extending UI is part of the jobs initiative the AFL-CIO is pushing for immediate relief for jobless workers.

But before the current crisis fades, the nation must begin to reverse the more than 40-year trend in which the gap widens between rich and poor and the middle class falls out of the bottom.

Silas from Boston—a city not unfamiliar with fomenting revolutions—offers an intriguing insight:

We’ve allowed the “upper” class to become too big to fail. As a result, the middle class is an endangered species which has to bail out the class that got us into this mess to begin with. This is how the French Revolution started.

*This blog has been crossposted with permission from Campaign for America’s Future.

About the Author: Tula Connell got her first union card while she worked her way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee (they were represented by a hotel and restaurant local union—the names of the national unions were different then than they are now). With a background in journalism—covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia—she started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), she now blogs under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.


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Companies That Care About Workers’ Rights: Apply Now to be Named a 2010 Top Small Company Workplace

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Inc. magazine and the nonprofit I work for, Winning Workplaces, have partnered to find and recognize exemplary workplaces; those that motivate, engage and reward people. A model workplace can offer a critical competitive edge, ultimately retaining employees and boosting the bottom line.

Together, Inc. and Winning Workplaces will identify and honor those benchmark small and mid-sized businesses that offer truly innovative, supportive environments, thus achieving significant, sustainable business results.

“Growing, privately held companies have always excelled at competing based on the people they employ,” states Jane Berentson, Editor of Inc. magazine. “Their innate ability to innovate is woven throughout their cultures, including the way they manage and motivate their employees. Inc.’s partnership with Winning Workplaces is a great opportunity to fully recognize private company excellence in supporting their human capital.”

Click to apply for Top Small Company Workplaces 2010“Winning Workplaces is thrilled to partner with Inc. as we honor truly exemplary organizations who have created workplaces that are better for people; better for business; and better for society,” said Gaye van den Hombergh, President, Winning Workplaces. “These organizations are an inspiration to business leaders looking for ways to leverage their people practices to create more profitable and sustainable companies.”

The application process is open through January 22, 2010. To apply, go to tsw.winningworkplaces.org. The Top Small Company Workplaces will be announced in a special issue of Inc., which will be available on newsstands June 8, 2010, and on Inc.com in June. An awards ceremony, honoring the finalists and winners, will be held at the national Inc. On Leadership Conference in October 2010.

About Inc. magazine
Founded in 1979 and acquired in 2005 by Mansueto Ventures, Inc. magazine (www.inc.com) is the only major business magazine dedicated exclusively to owners and managers of growing private companies that delivers real solutions for today’s innovative company builders. With a total paid circulation of 724,110, Inc. provides hands-on tools and market-tested strategies for managing people, finances, sales, marketing and technology.

About Winning Workplaces
Winning Workplaces (www.winningworkplaces.org) is an Evanston, IL-based not-for-profit, whose mission is to help the leaders of small and mid-sized organizations create great workplaces. Founded in 2001, Winning Workplaces serves as a clearinghouse of information on workplace best practices, provides seminars and workshops on workplace-related topics and inspires and awards top workplaces through its annual Top Small Company Workplaces initiative.

About the Author: Mark Harbeke ensures that content on Winning Workplaces’ website is up-to-date, accurate and engaging. He also writes and edits their monthly e-newsletter, Ideas, and provides graphic design and marketing support. His experience includes serving as editorial assistant for Meredith Corporation’s Midwest Living magazine title, publications editor for Visionation, Ltd., and proofreader for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Mark holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Drake University. Winning Workplaces is a not-for-profit providing consulting, training and information to help small and midsize organizations create great workplaces. Too often, the information and resources needed to create a high-performance workplace are out of reach for all but the largest organizations. Winning Workplaces is changing that by offering employers affordable consulting, training and information.


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The Trouble With Men at Work, part 1 of 2

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LA Dodger outfielder Manny Ramirez missed almost a third of a season because he was found to have artificial testosterone and a female fertility drug in his system during drug testing. Unfortunately Manny isn’t the only person walking around with an artificially high level of testosterone in his system. In most of the workplaces I’ve seen, Manny wouldn’t crack the testosterone top ten. Heck, he’d probably also have more women hormones than most of the women at work, but we’ll cover that next week.

I can remember many conversations at work where former bosses would start to pull out the war metaphors—“This is a life and death struggle,” “We are in a battle for our very existence,” and “This is all out war.” The only problem was that it wasn’t actually war—it was computer software, TV news and corporate training videos.

This kind of talk not only cheapens warfare, it cheapens whatever work people are actually trying to get done during their 9-5 grind.

It’s also worth noting how it’s always the guys who have never been in battle who tend to use war metaphors. Except for the former military types who are consultants for big defense profiteers, most of the people who’ve actually been in battle seem more interested in forgetting it than spewing it out in every business meeting.

I think it all comes down to one thing, insecurity. Most guys are cardboard cut outs. They wouldn’t know a real emotional feeling if it snuck up behind them and bit them on the butt. I know, I used to be like that.

Okay, before you start dashing off that email to me, think about it guys. When was the last time you said “I don’t know” in a meeting? Or asked a person who reported to you for their advice on how to handle a difficult situation? Or admitted a mistake before there was any evidence that you’d made one? Most of the guys that I’ve met would rather drink Clorox than show any shred of vulnerability at work. Or at home. Or in a place other than work or home.

Why? There are many reasons. From trying to be a good provider, to wanting to be seen as tough, to being told when you were nine that big boys don’t cry. Wherever it comes from, men are almost raised to be emotionally non-existent or emotionally brittle.

[Before you get all worked up about the fact that I’m being harsh on men, please note in the title, this is only part 1. Next week is part 2, “The Trouble With Women at Work.”]

To me it all comes down to two concepts, control and vulnerability. Guys, when was the last time you gave up even the slightest bit of control? And I’m not just talking about at work. Heck, I’ve seen guys cut someone off on the highway rather than letting them merge into traffic. We’re built to compete 24 x 7. Even when competing is totally counter-productive.

Which leads to the real “kryptonite” of this story—vulnerability. If giving up a bit of control is anathema in most workplaces, vulnerability is the place to avoid at all costs. All costs. I know what you’re thinking, vulnerability is weakness and must always be avoided.

Maybe I’m the one drinking Clorox here, but I think vulnerability actually shows how strong you are. That you have the confidence to let down your guard. That you can really speak from the heart. That you are real; that to me is the ultimate strength.

Next week I’ll do my best to annoy the other half. Cheers.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.


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How Productive Are You?

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According to the U.S. Government, productivity is the measure of economic efficiency where economic “inputs” are turned into economic “outputs.” That’s not insight gleaned from my MBA program, I’ve long since forgotten every last bit of economics that I was taught. Or to describe my personal situation more precisely, despite considerable economic input, my personal economic output has trailed off to bubcus.
 
That productivity formula came from your very own U.S. Department of Labor, specifically the Department of Labor Statistics. I encourage you to visit their web site, where even the statistics even have statistics. It’s like Disneyland for the slide rule and plastic pen case set.
 
But I’m starting to think that I may be the only one who lacks interest on this topic. Just visit Google and you’ll learn that productivity is popular. No, make that POPULAR. It’s got over 133,000,000 links. Just to put that in perspective, Britney Spears is at 82,700,000 and Death is at 387,000,000. So productivity clearly a topic that we just can’t get enough of.
 
According to our government, productivity is both important to our national well-being and on the rise. It’s important because productivity is like the coins you find when you clean your sofa, it’s wealth that doesn’t take labor or capital to create. Think of it as “found” wealth.
 
And by almost all measures, we’re finding a lot of productivity increases of late. There are many possible reasons—technological efficiencies, the longer hours that we’re all working to cover for our dearly departed former coworkers or the proverbial cliché, we are finally working smarter. Whatever the reason, we appear to be a virtual productivity machine.
 
What is behind my sudden fascination with productivity? Gallup did a survey where they asked how much time do you waste at work and how much time do the people you work with waste at work?
 
I thought this study provided a much more realistic take on our productivity—in other words, that we aren’t that productive after all. According to Gallup each of us personally admits to wasting just under an hour a day. But when asked about our coworkers, the number rises to an hour and a half.
 
I can sense that you’re getting annoyed being called a slacker, because you never waste time at work. Get used to being in the minority if you feel this way. Because only a quarter of those surveyed report that they never waste time at work and slightly less than 20% of us feel that way about our coworkers.

Which leads me to my favorite part of the study. This is so good, that I’m going to quote Gallup directly. “There are no significant differences between men and women, younger and older workers, higher income and lower income workers, employees in private companies and government workers, those who work less than 40 hours per week and those who work more hours, and employees who are ‘completely’ satisfied with their jobs and those who are less satisfied or dissatisfied.”

In other words, productivity is on the rise and we all seem to fritter it away at a consistent pace. I hope you felt that this blog was a productive use of your time.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author, award-winning journalist and popular speaker. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com .


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