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Saturday, May 05, 2018


But are people better off?

by Tom Sullivan

The official unemployment rate has dropped below 4 percent for the first time in 17 years. There have been 91 straight months of job growth for which Donald Trump will take credit after sitting in the White House for fifteen. The Trump administration boasts (what else?) that 900,000 people have returned to the labor force since Trump's inauguration and that black unemployment sits at a historic low (meaning since 1994): 6.6 percent in April. Bloomberg reports that figure has been falling at the same rate for the last six years before Trump came to office. Perhaps he gets a little credit for extending it, writes Justin Fox:

Still, back before he was elected in November 2016, Trump repeatedly argued that the unemployment rate was a flawed measure because it ignored those who had stopped looking for work. He had a point. Only those who tell government survey takers that they’ve looked for a job in the past four weeks are counted as unemployed, and the percentage of Americans of working age who neither have jobs nor are actively looking for them has risen a lot over the past couple of decades. Another, possibly better way to gauge the health of the labor market over time, then, is to look at the employment-population ratio for those ages 25 through 54, what is known as prime working age.

The data series in this case only go back to 1994, and they’re not seasonally adjusted, so the lines jump around a bit. But the story they tell is still pretty clear: These aren’t the best of labor-market times for blacks, or for anybody else.
Black unemployment is still higher then the rate for other groups. The unemployment rate was 2.7 percent for Asian-Americans, 3.6 percent for whites and 4.8 percent for Hispanics. Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, finds the figures "shocking":
Morial, who served as the mayor of New Orleans from 1992 to 1998, also pointed out that nearly two-thirds of all wealth is intergenerational.

The median household income, he said, is lowest among African-Americans. In 2018, the median income for black Americans is $38,555, compared with $63,155 in white families. Hispanic households have a median income of $46,882.

Morial also pointed out the gap in employment among African-Americans in the technology sector. Black Americans make up just 6.6 percent of the workforce in U.S. technology companies.

The 2016 Equal Employment Opportunity report, filed by Google, Facebook and Twitter, showed that in the combined workforce of 41,000 employees, only 1.8 percent, or 758 employees, were black.
But as the rates fall, are people feeling better off?

The New York Times reports that wages have not gone up as the labor market has tightened. In part, perhaps, because workforce participation has slipped:
The population is also older than they used to be, on balance. The baby-boom generation has moved steadily toward retirement over the last two decades. And those still working have not helped push wages up. Generally, workers climb the economic ladder fastest when they are young, and so an older work force may weigh on average wages, economists say.

In 2000, wages for rank-and-file workers rose at an annual rate of around 4 percent. Part of the problem now is that some 60 percent of the jobs added since 2010 have been in low-wage, service-sector jobs, according to Morgan Stanley.

Fifty years ago, there were plenty of factory jobs paying a decent wage, and unions held much greater sway. Manufacturing accounted for one in four jobs; today it’s not even one in 10.
The push for a $15/hr minimum wage struggles against the gig economy, but that is for entry-level and service-economy jobs. The job market is expanding for minimum-wage jobs in warehouses that ship goods purchased online as well as in call centers "to deal with consumers’ complaints about the gadgets they ordered online."

Paul Krugman observes that employers don't feel they can cut jobs even when the economy sours. He theorizes this makes them reluctant to raise salaries during an upturn "because they know they’ll be stuck with those wages if the economy turns bad again." All of which is academic for people struggling to pay their bills.

One thing of which we can be certain, no matter how low the official rate goes, no matter how much employers complain they cannot find workers, no matter how much Trump crows about low black unemployment, his colleagues will vilify those needing public assistance as good-for-nothing losers ... whether or not they have jobs. To keep it they will demand the unemployed work harder to find jobs where there are none, even as they demand more government largess for their friends.

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For The Win 2018 is ready for download. Request a copy of my county-level election mechanics primer at tom.bluecentury at gmail.