Category "General Topics"

Unemployment In America

January 10th, 2012 by Andy in General Topics

The total number of people employed rose by 80,000 in September of 2011. That is slightly worse than consensus expectations for a gain of 85,000. This report was slightly weaker than the ADP report on Wednesday. That report showed 110,000 private sector jobs created, and the expectations were for the BLS to show 117,000 new private sector jobs. The “actual” BLS number of private sector jobs was 104,000. Government payrolls declined by 24,000. The Federal Government employment fell by 2,000 jobs. The State level dropped 20,000 but the Local levels laid off 2,000. The pace of government lay offs fell from last month when a total of 33,000 government jobs were lost (revised from a loss of 34,000). The unemployment rate, which is derived from a separate survey, fell to 9.0%. The consensus was looking for it to be unchanged.

The Household survey was noticeably more upbeat than the establishment survey. pointing to a gain of 277,000 jobs. This is the third month in the row of sharp job gains according to the household survey. It has shown a total of 1.006 million jobs gained over the last three months. The Civilian Participation rate was unchanged at 64.2% for the month, but is down from 64.5% a year ago. This means that the drop in the unemployment rate for the month is real, not a statistical illusion. Unfortunately the same can not be said about the drop in the unemployment rate from a year ago, when it was 9.7%. More than half of that drop is a mere statistical artifact coming from a small percentage of the population actually being in the workforce. However the participation rate is up from the 27 year low it set in July of 64.0%. The percentage of people over the age of 16 who actually have jobs rose slightly to 58.4% from 58.3% (employment to population ratio, or the employment rate). That is the third month in a row it has increased. However, it too was coming off of a 27 year low in July. The employment rate was higher than the year ago level of 58.3%. This is the first year over year increase in the employment rate so far in this cycle

While this month’s employment gains from the establishment survey were slightly below expectations, that is more than made up for by very large upward revisions to the August and September numbers. In September, we “actually” gained 158,000 jobs, not the 103,000 reported last month. In August, we gained 104,000, not the 57,000 jobs we thought last month, well above the unchanged reading that was first reported. The upwards revisions were a very positive sign. The upward revisions came mostly from the private sector. The private sector revisions were for both months. In August, a total of 72,000, not 42,000 jobs estimated last month, were gained. In the first report, just 17,000 private sector jobs were estimated to have been gained in August. In September, 191,000 private sector jobs were added, not the 137,000 reported last month. The government lost 33,000 jobs, not 34,000 in September. In August, it added 32,000 jobs, not the 15,000 reported last month, or the original estimate of 17,000 government jobs lost. Thus, if one adds the revisions to the job gains for October, we have 182,000 more people working today than we thought we did yesterday. On the private sector side, the gain is 188,000.

The unemployment rate is derived from a separate (household) survey from the total number of jobs (establishment) survey. The household survey was much more upbeat than the establishment survey, as it has been for most of the year so far, with a gain of 277,000. In showed a gain of 398,000 jobs in September. In August, it showed a gain of 331,000 jobs. The household survey numbers do not get revised. However, generally the numbers from the household survey are considered less reliable than are the numbers from the establishment survey. That does not mean they should be disregarded entirely, and the divergences between the two series are often the biggest near turning points in the economy. The household survey does a much better job of picking up people who are self employed, and of very small start up businesses than does the establishment survey.

The unemployment rate fell to 9.0%, after three months in a row of being stuck at 9.1%. A year ago the unemployment rate was 9.7%. The civilian participation rate, or the percentage of people in the labor force, both employed and unemployed was unchanged at 64.2%. It hit its lowest level since May1983 in July at 63.9%. We were also coming out of a nasty recession in May 1983, and women were still far less involved in the workforce than they are today. The participation is down from 64.5% a year ago. The employment to population ratio, or the employment rate, rose for the third month in a row, rising to 58.4% from 58.3% in September. The July level of 59.0% number was the lowest since July 1983. It was at 58.3% a year ago. A rise in the participation rate makes it harder for the unemployment rate to fall, but is still good news. However, it is also true that the drop in the unemployment rate from 9.7% a year ago to the current 9.0% is in large part an illusion caused by the fall in the participation rate from 64.5% to the current 64.2%. A fall in the unemployment rate from a falling participation rate is not really such great news.

For all employees, the length of the average work week was unchanged at 34.3 hours. A year ago it was also at 34.3 hours. For production and non-supervisory employees, the length of the average workweek ticked up to 33.7 hours from 33.6 hours in September. It is up slightly from 33.5 hours a year ago. While a rise of an average of 6 minutes per week might not sound like a big deal, multiply it by the 131.516 million workers in the economy (establishment survey), and yes it is a big deal (to the extent it was really a six minute increase, and not smaller due to rounding). The very flat trend in average hours over the last year or so is extremely strong evidence that the overall anemic job growth is not due to excessive regulatory fears by businesses from things like the Health Care reform act. If the reluctance to higher were due to fears of higher costs that will be imposed starting in 2014 due to the act for hiring an marginal employee, but that there were still profitable business opportunities available, then the obvious thing for a business to do would be to have its existing workforce work longer hours. With the average work week still very low by any historic standard (although up from a very low 33.0 hours for production workers at the bottom of the recession) it is clear that the problem is that there are not enough customers, not that businesses are afraid of Obamacare.

Average hourly earnings for all employees rose to $23.19 from $23.14 and are up 1.84% from $22.77 a year ago. Average hourly earnings for production employees rose $0.03 to $19.53 for the month, and is up 1.56% from $19.23 a year ago. The year over year changes are well below the rate of headline inflation over the last year, so in real terms, wages are moving backwards. Income growth in the middle and lower half of the income distribution has been sorely lacking, not just recently, but for over a decade. Well, actually, it has been pretty bad for the bottom 90% of people, but particularly anemic for the lower half of the income distribution. Higher incomes for those who are working means higher sales and more quickly repaired household balance sheets. Slow growth or actual declines mean lower sales and less progress on balance sheet repair. The anemic growth in average hourly earnings is not a good thing for the economy, although it is good news for corporate profits, and hence the stock market, at least in the short term. It also means that it will be tough for a generalized increase in overall prices (a.k.a. inflation) to occur, as opposed to increases of relative prices of highly visible prices such as food and gasoline.

The other significant positive aspect of this report is significant progress on the duration of unemployment problem. Half of all the unemployed have now been out of work for 20.8 week, an awful level, but much better than the 22.2 week figure of last month, and below the 21.3 week level of a year ago. For perspective though, prior to the great recession the highest the median duration of unemployment had ever reached was 12.3 weeks near the bottom of the Reagan Recession of 1982-83. Since the definition has changed, the comparisons based on the average duration of unemployment over the long term are less meaningful, but it dropped to 39.4 weeks from 40.5 weeks in September. A year ago, under a definition that maximized the length of unemployment at two years rather than the five years now “allowed” the average duration of unemployment was 33.9 weeks.

While the unemployment rate is better a year ago, but part of that is a mirage due to falling participation rates. Still, significant progress has been made over the last year, with a net gain of 1.824 million private sector jobs gained. Unfortunately when one factors in the continual bleeding of public service jobs, the total employment gains over the last year fall to 1.522 million total jobs gained. If we were in normal times, rather than trying to dig out of a deep hole, that would be an impressive performance. Unfortunately we are not in normal times.

- Posted by Dirk van Dijk, Chief Equity Strategist at Zacks Investment Research of Chicago. Follow Dirk on Twitter @DirkHvanDijk

Where The Jobs Are and Are Not

December 11th, 2011 by Andy in General Topics

The private sector actually added more than the total number of jobs again in September. State and local governments laid off 22,000 workers, and have trimmed their payrolls by 288,000 over the last year. Local government employment was down by 2,000 on the month, and is down by 200,000 from a year ago. The number of state employees was down 20,000 on the month and is down by 88,000 over the last year. The Federal Government dropped 2,000 employees on the month, and has dropped 35,000 employees over the last year. Postal workers are also counted as Federal Employees and those jobs have also been falling. Excluding the postal service, civilian Federal jobs are down by 5,300 over the last year.

In looking at the effectiveness of the stimulus program from the Federal government one should keep in mind the massive anti stimulus effect of budget cuts and tax increases (mostly budget cuts) at the state and local levels of government. For the overall economy, it does not matter from which level of government stimulus or austerity comes from. The level of government where spending occurs matters, for a bunch of other reasons, but not for macro economic impact. About a third of the ARRA was actually sent to State and Local governments to prevent (or delay as it has turned out) austerity at the lower levels of government from hurting the economy. Clearly the spending cuts are job killers. The effect goes well beyond the direct 288,000 jobs lost at the state and local government levels over the last year. Those former government workers are now out of jobs and thus spending less, depressing private sector employment as well. With the spending cuts agreed to as part of the debt ceiling deal, look for even more job cuts at all three levels of government.

Within local government, education jobs were down by 1,200 for the month and are down by 118,400 over the last year, or 1.48%. Given the huge disparity in the unemployment rate between the uneducated and the highly educated one has to seriously question the wisdom of laying off so many K-12 teachers. Seriously, people worry about the burden that we are putting on our Children due to the increase in the Federal Debt. Just how do we expect them to bear that burden if most of them are illiterate and innumerate? How are we going to compete in the future against countries that actually think it is a good thing to educate their future workforce?

There has been a theme running in the political discourse that we must cut government spending so we can increase employment. This is simply absurd. In what world do you increase employment by cutting jobs? George Orwell Lives! Then again, according to the Orwellian world of 1984, “Ignorance is Strength” so the cutting back on the number of teachers is the way to make the country stronger. Non-education jobs at the local level, mostly cops, firefighters and social workers dropped by 3,500 on the month and are down by 81,400, or 1.29% over the last year. The year over year declines understate the impact, as the cuts have been going on for well over a year now. The peak in local educational jobs was back in April of 2009 at 8.106 million. Since then we have lost 244,400 or 3.02% of those jobs, while the number of school aged children has increased slightly. Since its peak in December 2008, local non-educational jobs are down by 266,500 or 4.09%.

The private sector added 104,000 jobs, down from an increase of 191,000 jobs in September (revised up from just 137,000). That would be an OK rate if we were near full employment, but when we are trying to climb out of such a deep hole, it is not going to do the trick. In August, the private sector added 72,000 jobs (revised up from 42,000, and from an initial read of just 17,000). The private sector job growth over the last three months is anemic, averaging 122,300. If the economy were near the top of an economic cycle, that would be soft, but not a disaster, but it is awful coming out of a deep recession. The October number was below the consensus expectations of 117,000 private jobs gained. However, if one counts the revisions, then we have 188,000 more private sector jobs today than we thought yesterday. So in that sense it was better than expected.

This is the 23nd straight month that the private sector has added jobs, with a total increase of 1.824 million over the last year. Total job growth, constrained by the loss of government jobs has been 1.501 million over the last year. In a normal year, that would be a great showing, but we lost 8.75 million jobs in the Great Recession, so we still have our work cut out for us. The total number of jobs is still 6.480 million below the peak of the last cycle (1/08), but is up 2.270 million above the cycle low (2/10). Private employment is 6.073 million below the peak, but 2.765 million off the low. The number of private sector jobs is now at its highest point since February 2009, before the ARRA was passed.

Within the private sector, the goods producing sector lost 10,000 jobs. In September it gained 29,000. In August the Goods producing sector lost 13,000 jobs. Over the last year employment in the goods producing sector is up 309,000. The Construction industry lost 20,000 jobs, after gaining a surprising 27,000 last month. The construction industry has been particularly hard hit in this downturn, accounting for about 30% of all the jobs lost, even though at the start of the recession it accounted for less than 6% of the total jobs in the country. As these jobs generally do not require a lot of formal education, the demolition of construction helps explain why the unemployment situation is so dire for those who never went to college. As a male dominated industry, it also helps explain why this recession has been so much tougher on men than it has been on women. Employment in Construction peaked before the rest of the economy, in April 2006. Since then we have lost 2.201 million construction jobs. Most of the decline though happened after the overall private sector jobs peaked in January 2008, and since then Construction jobs are down by 1.947 million, or 26.1%. Since the peak, overall private sector employment is down by 6.073 million. In other words, this one industry is directly responsible for 32.1% of all job losses since the start of 2008, even though it was responsible for just 6.46% of all private sector jobs in January 2008.

Manufacturing added 5,000 jobs, more than reversing a decline of 3,000 in September and a 1,000 drop in August. Manufacturing employment has been in a secular decline for about 30 years, but it has actually fared pretty well over the last year or so, up by 220,000. The peak in manufacturing jobs was way back in July of 1979 at 19.531 million. By the time the Great Recession started in January 2008, the number of manufacturing jobs was already down to 13.728 million. The low in manufacturing jobs was in December 2009 at 11.462 million, and since then we have gained back 297,000 of those jobs. Still, relative to the start of the Great Recession manufacturing jobs are down by 1.969 million, or 14.3% representing 32.4% of all private sector job losses from the start of the recession.

The service sector gained 114,000 jobs in the month, down from an increase of 162,000 in August (revised up from a gain of 119,000). Relative to a year ago, private service sector jobs are up by 1.515 million. Relative to the start of the Great Recession they are off by 2.221 million. From their 12/09 low, private service jobs are up by 2.373 million, so are more than halfway back. One of the biggest contributors to service sector jobs, as always, was the health care (and social assistance) industry which added 16,300 jobs. The health care industry has not had a single down month in terms of employment in the entire downturn. The health care industry has a far higher proportion of women working in it than does the economy as a whole, and this is a big part of the reason that the unemployment rate for women is so much lower than that for men.

Of particular interest is the increase in temporary workers. Those jobs rose by 15,000, down from a gain of 21,100 in September. It is not that being a temp is the greatest or highest paying job in the world that makes them of particular interest. It is because they are a good leading indicator of future employment trends. When during a downturn an employer first sees a pick up in demand, he will not know if it is just a temporary blip, or the start of a real recovery. Thus, he is going to be hesitant to take the time and expense of bringing on new workers who will just have to be laid off it if does turn out to be just a blip. The first thing she is going to do is work the existing workforce harder. This is particularly is hours have been previously cut back due to slow demand. The rise in the average work week is a good sign in that regard (unchanged for all employees at 34.3 hours per week, but up to 33.7 hours from 33.6 for production and non supervisory employees). Working more hours means more income, and thus more spending by hourly employees.

The second thing an employer will do when faced with an increase in demand is going to be to call a temp agency, such as Kelly Services (KELYA) or Manpower (MAN). Only when the employer is reasonably sure that the upturn is for real and will last will he figure that it is worth bringing on a full time permanent employee. However, temp jobs have been trending higher since August 2009, and one would think that we would be starting to see those translating into permanent jobs at a faster rate at this point. That disconnect could be pointing to some sort of structural shift in the employment market, but it is too early to say. Temp’s are a very volatile part of the employment force, with the number of them plunging in bad times, but then rebounding strongly when the economy gets better. Thus while the year over year percentage gain in Temp jobs has been much higher than for the private sector overall, the total number is still well below where we were before the start of the recession.

The number of people working part time for economic reasons, in other words because that is all they could find, or because their previously full time job has had its hours cut back, fell to 8.896 million, down 374,000 for the month, but that just partially reverses a big jump of 444,000 in September. Relative to a year ago they are down 204,000. The “underemployment rate” fell to 16.2% from 16.5% this month, but that is the same level as in August. (U-6 for you wonks out there). It is still down from 17.0% a year ago level. That is still a very high rate. After all, if you are used to working 40 hours a week, but have been cut back to just 20 hours a week, you might not be unemployed, but economically you are still struggling. The number of people who were working part time because that is what they want to do rose by 100,000 for the month, and is up 52,000 from a year ago.

Overall Grade: B
Overall, this was pretty good report. It came in a bit weaker than expected on the payroll front, but we had big upward revisions to the numbers for September and August. The household survey was even more upbeat, pointing to a gain of 277,000 after a 398,000 job gain in September, on top of a gain of 331,000 in August. Those are impressive numbers in just about any context. Unfortunately, the household survey is generally considered less reliable than the establishment survey. The unemployment rate fell to 9.0% even though the participation rate was unchanged. The percentage of people holding a job increased for the third month in a row. We saw a big drop in the number of people who want a full time job, but can only find part time work. We also saw a major improvement in the duration of unemployment numbers. I would have liked to see more movement in the headline total job creation and private sector job creation numbers for the month.

Year over year, the drop in the unemployment rate, from 9.7% to 9.0% looks like progress, but it is partly an illusion. It is mostly due to a fall in the participation rate, but that has bounced for three straight months now. Anyone who gets excited about the drop in the unemployment rate that comes due to a falling participation rate is deceiving themselves. The rising participation rate this month is a good sign for the economy, but the absolute level is still just awful. After all, the July level was a 27 year low, so it is not something to get very enthusiastic about. Similarly, the percentage of people actually working ticked up for the second month in a row, but off of the worst showing since 1983.

The household survey was much more upbeat, and pointed to a gain of 277,000 jobs for the month, and over a million over the last three months. The public sector has been a significant drag on employment growth, and plays a big role in why overall job growth has been so weak. Normally government employment rises fairly robustly early in recoveries. So ti not just the government jobs lost, but also the jobs that are normally created that are missing. All things considered, it is better to see the job creation in the private sector, but those public sector jobs are held by real people. Wal-Mart (WMT) does not ask if you are in the public or private sector at the checkout counter.

The damage done by this downturn was far deeper and more extensive than in those downturns. While clearly we have started the upturn, with or without census hiring, it is going to take a very long, long time before we surpass the total number of jobs the economy (both private and government) had back in January of 2008 (137.996 million). We are still 6.480 million lower than that level. At the average pace of the last three months, it would take 57 more months, or almost five years to get back there, and the population will continue to grow over that time frame.

- Posted by Dirk van Dijk, Chief Equity Strategist at Zacks Investment Research of Chicago. Follow Dirk on Twitter @DirkHvanDijk

Demographics on Joblessness in America

December 7th, 2011 by Andy in General Topics

This month’s employment report was solid, not great. The headline job growth was slightly below expectations, but the revisions to previous months were up sharply. The percentage of people actually working rose for the third month in a row, but off a 27 year low in July. For the month we added 80,000 total jobs, with 104,000 added on the private side offset by the loss of 24,000 public sector jobs. The household survey was stronger, pointing to a gain of 277,000 jobs for the month, and over 1 million over the last three months.. The unemployment rate fell to 9.0% from 9.1% last month, and down from 9.7% a year ago. The participation rate was unchanged at 64.2% while the employment rate rose for the third straight month to 58.4%. The year over year drop in the unemployment rate partly an illusion, as a year ago the participation rate was 64.5% and the employment rate was 58.3%. The median duration of unemployment fell to 20.8 weeks from 22.2 weeks. For perspective, the highest it ever hit prior to the Great Recession was 12.3 weeks. The average duration fell to 39.4 weeks from 40.5 weeks in September, an all time record. The uptick in the employment rate is very positive sign, but is still at extremely depressed levels by any historical context.

Not all demographic groups were hit equally hard in the downturn, and they have not fared equally in the very slow climb out of the downturn. In this post I focus on the demographics of joblessness. After that I will focus on how the level of education you get affects your job prospects in a subsequent post.

This recession has hit men harder than it has hit women. However, over the past year, things seem to be “evening out” between the genders. This month both genders were unchanged. In October, the unemployment rate for adult men (over 20) was 8.8%. It is down from 9.7% a year ago. The year over year decline is partly an illusion though as the participation rate for men fell from 73.8% a year ago to 73.4% in October, (unchanged from September). The employment rate for men was unchanged for the month at 66.9% but up from 66.7% a year ago. Thus while there has been some improvement in the employment situation for men over the last year, it is far less than what the drop in the unemployment rate from 9.7% to 8.8% would imply.

For women, the unemployment rate stayed at 8.0% in October, but down slightly from 8.1% a year ago. The participation rate was 59.8%, unchanged for the month, but down from 60.2% last year. The employment rate rose to 55.1% from 55.0% last month, but is below the 55.3% rate a year ago. Thus, on a month to month basis, the employment situation actually got a little bit better for women, not unchanged as just looking a t the unemployment rate would indicate. On the other hand, relative to a year ago there has been a deterioration, not a slight improvement as the unemployment rate would indicate.

In the overall big picture, men have fared far worse than women in this downturn. There are two possible reasons for that. The first is that the industries that have been particularly hard hit in this downturn tend to be far more male dominated than the industries that have skated though this recession more or less unscathed. The most glaring example of this would be the construction industry versus the health care industry (more on the industry breakdowns in a subsequent post). The second explanation is that on average, women tend to still be paid less than men do, and employers might be more prone to let their relatively high priced male employees go first before their cheaper female employees. The industry effect is probably the bigger one, but the two are not mutually exclusive and both might be playing a role.

Teens, regardless of gender have had a very hard time of it in this recession. Just go to a McDonalds (MCD) and you will see this for yourself. Normally the blemishes you see on the cashiers face is acne, not liver spots as is the case now. Things got a little bit better for teens in October. The teen unemployment rate fell to 24.1% from 24.6% in September, the second month in a row of significant improvement and is down from 27.1% a year ago. The improvement is real, but the levels are still horrific. The participation rate ticked up to 34.6% from 34.5% but is down from 35.2% a year ago. The percentage of teens who actually have a job rose to 26.3% in October from 26.0% in August, and up from 25.7% a year ago.

Don’t be too hard on your kid if he tells you he can’t find a job. He probably isn’t lying or just not trying. While for the most part the earnings from teen jobs tend to go towards clothes from Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) and other teen clothing stores, for many it is a significant part of paying for college. Also when teens work, they learn important job skills, such as the importance of actually showing up, and doing so on time. The extremely low levels of teens working is not a good sign for the future. In the Great Depression, we had the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that put unemployed kids and young adults back to work. Perhaps it would be a good idea to do so in the current Lesser Depression. That however, would entail the Federal Government actually spending some money to help fix the problem. Ideology would trump effectiveness at creating jobs for teens. If the total cost were $10 per hour (minimum wage plus overhead costs) it would cost $10.4 billion to put 1 million teens to work part time (20 hours per week) for a year. In addition to the value of what ever work they did (cleaning parks, tutoring younger kids, helping take care of seniors, etc) it would also teach them very important long term job skills, and would be a very good investment in the future.

Not surprisingly, Whites have a lower unemployment rates that do Blacks or Hispanics. The White unemployment rate was unchanged at 8.0% for the month and it is down from 8.8% a year ago. The participation rate was unchanged at 64.5% for the month, but down from 64.9% a year ago. The employment rate for whites ticked up on the month, at 59.4% and is now up from the year ago level of 59.2%. Thus it is a fair conclusion that the jobs picture for whites was slightly better for both the month and year over year, but the year over year improvement is not as impressive as the drop in the unemployment rate alone would suggest. The fall in the participation rate exaggerated the real improvement in the employment picture.

The unemployment rate for Blacks dropped to 15.1% from 16.0% last month, its second month in a row of sharp improvement. It is below the 15.7% a year ago level. The true picture though is more mixed, still going the right direction, but not nearly so dramatically. The level is horrible. For the month, the participation rate for Blacks fell to 61.8% from 62.0% last month and up from 62.2% a year ago. The employment rate for Blacks rose to 52.5% from 52.1% in September, and is unchanged from a year ago. Thus there is some real improvement, but not as much as the drop in the unemployment rate alone indicates. The unemployment rate is 88.8% higher than that for whites, and the employment rate is 11.6% lower (52.1% vs. 59.3%). The participation rate is just 4.2% lower. A year ago the participation rate was also 4.2% lower and the employment rate was 11.3% lower. A year ago the unemployment rate for Blacks was 78.4% higher than the White unemployment rate.

The unemployment rate for African American Teens looks more like the unemployment rates you associate with Africa, but has improved significantly over the last year. It fell to 37.8% from 44.2% in September in July, and down from 47.7% a year ago. Some of that sharp decline for the month is due to a drop in the participation rate this month to 24.2% from 25.8% September, and from just 26.5% a year ago. However, there has been some real improvement. In October, just 15.1% of Black Teens had a job, but that is up from 14.4% in September and only 13.9% a year ago. While the improvement is encouraging, the levels are still beyond awful.

For Hispanics, the unemployment rate rose to 11.4% from 11.3% but is down from 12.6% last year. The true picture is actually much better than that on a month to month basis, but relative to a year ago, it is slightly more downbeat than the big drop in the unemployment rate would suggest. The participation rate rose to 67.0% from 66.4% last month but down from 67.1% a year ago. The employment rate rose to 59.3% from 58.9% last month. A year ago the Hispanic employment rate was 58.6%. Thus while the unemployment rate suggest that things got worse for Hispanics in October, the true picture is one of fairly significant improvement. There has also been a very real improvement over the last year, but it is not quite as dramatic as the fall to 11.4% from 12.6% unemployment would suggest. The participation rate by Hispanics is actually 3.9% higher than for Whites, a year ago it was 3.4% higher than for Whites. The employment rate is 0.6% lower, while a year ago it was 0.2% lower than for Whites. Over the last year the unemployment rate has moved from being 43.2% higher than the White unemployment rate to 42.5% today.

- Posted by Dirk van Dijk, Chief Equity Strategist at Zacks Investment Research of Chicago. Follow Dirk on Twitter @DirkHvanDijk

Where Ships and Workers Go To Die

September 5th, 2011 by Andy in General Topics, Video

Coming to a labor force near you. Global capitalism at its most humanly wretched.

Some perspective on just what the deeper meaning and purpose of Labor Day really is. This example is from Bangladesh, but is endemic of the kinds of conditions experienced by workers all around the so-called ‘Third World.’

This also brings into stark relief the imperative need for labor rights (usually manifested through unions, and why labor should have as many rights to organize and affiliate internationally as does capital. The leaders of global institutions which wield power over the systems of economic governance (systems which allow for the kinds of situations highlighted in this video), must be held accountable for having miserably failed workers across the developing world, workers who continue to be injured, cheated, maimed, paralyzed and killed on a daily basis.

The Story (and Scam) of Cap & Trade

February 26th, 2011 by Andy in General Topics, Video


Everybody wins, right? Wrong. A short film, The Story of Cap & Trade, released by the Story of Stuff and Free Range Video explains why the real of story of cap and trade is that it’s easy to scam, riddled with loopholes, and a dangerous distraction from the real change needed to protect people and the planet. This has been out for awhile, but seemed appropriate in relation to the climate talks which took place in Cancun recently, and the issues raised (again) within them.

Read More About The Film

The View of Cairo from Authoritarian International

February 14th, 2011 by Andy in General Topics

Interesting insights on some of the global dimensions of the Egyptian revolution, particularly in relation to situation with China. Well worth the couple of minutes it takes to read it.

For unsurprising reasons, the people’s uprising in Egypt has been widely cast as an epochal event for Arab political culture, and somewhat more widely, for the entire Middle East.

To limit our understanding of these events in this way, however, is to lose sight of a story playing out against an immensely larger backdrop.

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The are few places, however, for which the disgraced exit of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak carries greater relevance [than China], or where the nature of that country’s popular uprising warrants shaking up a conventional wisdom that was shallow stale to begin with and has become badly outdated.

Immediate evidence of this has been provided by the response of China’s censors, who have worked furiously to contain news of the events in Egypt within their country, and as that has become less and less practical, to spin the news to fit an unthreatening or even self-reinforcing narrative. For days, Chinese readers have been preposterously treated to stories about evacuation flights put on by their government to bring Chinese nationals back from Egypt, along with residents of Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan.

Nowhere have these stories attempted an honest explanation of why an evacuation was needed in the first place. To do so would require getting into some deeply messy topics in post-Tiananmen China about popular demands for democracy and accountability and about the military’s ambivalent relationship to the political leadership. For the most part, the Chinese media has ended the discussion about Egypt with bromides about how unrest equals instability and about how instability hurts growth, and by familiar inference how growth is the only thing that matters.

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As hard as it has worked to discredit the universal applicability or appeal of democracy, Beijing has worked just as hard to conjure an alternate moral universe, one in which economics trumps all. Some Western analysts have even naively bought into the notion that if you just take care of growth, people will be willing to suspend all manner of other demands and happily leave governance to the mandarins.

In its beautiful complexity, Egypt gives the lie to all of this. A society in its entirety, from the lowliest workers to the privileged professional class, wants a cluster of goods: economic growth, transparency, accountability, and a say in who governs it. There are no either-ors in this formula, no contradictions. But there is a name. When you add it all up, you can call it dignity.

Great term coined here…”Authoritarian International.” The true face of a global business syndicate at work.

Read The Full Column

Haitian Farmers Commit to Burning Monsanto Hybrid Seeds

October 4th, 2010 by Andy in General Topics

The Haitians are catching on to what the Indians already know. All-too-many American farmers are quite aware of this, as well, but are busy climbing up the daunting mountain of legal bureaucracy designed to protect huge-pocketed corporations like Monsanto. The Europeans aren’t messing around with it, with members of the EU having outright banned their GMO “Frankenfoods.”

A new earthquake’ is what peasant farmer leader Chavannes Jean-Baptiste of the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) called the news that Monsanto will be donating 60,000 seed sacks (475 tons) of hybrid corn seeds and vegetable seeds, some of them treated with highly toxic pesticides. The MPP has committed to burning Monsanto’s seeds, and has called for a march to protest the corporation’s presence in Haiti on June 4, for World Environment Day.

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Together with Syngenta, Dupont and Bayer, Monsanto controls more than half of the world’s seeds. The company holds almost 650 seed patents, most of them for cotton, corn and soy, and almost 30 percent of the share of all biotech research and development. Monsanto came to own such a vast supply by buying major seed companies to stifle competition, patenting genetic modifications to plant varieties and suing small farmers. Monsanto is also one of the leading manufacturers of GMOs.

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Nongovernmental organizations in the US are challenging Monsanto’s practices, too. The Organic Consumers Association has spearheaded the campaign “Millions Against Monsanto,” calling on the company to stop intimidating small family farmers, stop marketing untested and unlabeled genetically engineered foods to consumers and stop using billions of dollars of US taypayers’ money to subsidize GMOs crops.

Read The Full Report

One Day On Earth Video Project - 10/10/10

August 4th, 2010 by Andy in General Topics, Video

This seems to be a very cool project. I look forward to its completion and as widespread distribution as possible.

On October 10th, 2010, thousands of people from every nation around the world will film their perspective and contribute their voice to the largest participatory media event in history. The event will result in a feature documentary and dynamic video archive. Through an open forum of diverse perspectives, our community will reveal the basic human struggles and triumphs that unite us. We anticipate that this new understanding of the shared human condition will foster a greater sense of global empathy and interconnectedness, and ultimately, action towards a more sustainable and equitable planet.

Find out more at One Day On Earth. If you have any material you may want to submit yourself, email Gina Nemirofsky.

Slick Operator: The BP I’ve Known Too Well

May 6th, 2010 by Andy in General Topics

If British Petroleum’s (BP) history of involvement in the 1953 coup in Iran overthrowing a democratically elected because it nationalized ownership of its oil resources isn’t enough to swear one off of ever purchasing their gasoline again, investigative journalist Greg Palast gives you yet more reasons here

I’ve seen this movie before. In 1989, I was a fraud investigator hired to dig into the cause of the Exxon Valdez disaster. Despite Exxon’s name on that boat, I found the party most to blame for the destruction was … British Petroleum (BP).

That’s important to know, because the way BP caused devastation in Alaska is exactly the way BP is now sliming the entire Gulf Coast.

Tankers run aground, wells blow out, pipes burst. It shouldn’t happen, but it does. And when it does, the name of the game is containment. Both in Alaska, when the Exxon Valdez grounded, and in the Gulf last week, when the Deepwater Horizon platform blew, it was British Petroleum that was charged with carrying out the Oil Spill Response Plans (OSRP), which the company itself drafted and filed with the government.

What’s so insane, when I look over that sickening slick moving toward the Delta, is that containing spilled oil is really quite simple and easy. And from my investigation, BP has figured out a very low-cost way to prepare for this task: BP lies. BP prevaricates, BP fabricates and BP obfuscates.

That’s because responding to a spill may be easy and simple, but not at all cheap. And BP is cheap. Deadly cheap.

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Before the Exxon Valdez grounding, BP’s Alyeska group claimed it had these full-time, oil spill response crews. Alyeska had hired Alaskan natives, trained them to drop from helicopters into the freezing water and set booms in case of emergency. Alyeska also certified in writing that a containment barge with equipment was within five hours sailing of any point in the Prince William Sound. Alyeska also told the state and federal government it had plenty of boom and equipment cached on Bligh Island.

But it was all a lie. On that March night in 1989 when the Exxon Valdez hit Bligh Reef in the Prince William Sound, the BP group had, in fact, not a lick of boom there. And Alyeska had fired the natives who had manned the full-time response teams, replacing them with phantom crews, lists of untrained employees with no idea how to control a spill. And that containment barge at the ready was, in fact, laid up in a drydock in Cordova, locked under ice, 12 hours away.

As a result, the oil from the Exxon Valdez, which could have and should have been contained around the ship, spread out in a sludge tide that wrecked 1,200 miles of shoreline.

And here we go again. Valdez goes Cajun.

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In the end, this is bigger than BP and its policy of cheaping out and skiving the rules. This is about the anti-regulatory mania, which has infected the American body politic. While the tea baggers are simply its extreme expression, US politicians of all stripes love to attack “the little bureaucrat with the fat rule book.” It began with Ronald Reagan and was promoted, most vociferously, by Bill Clinton and the head of Clinton’s deregulation committee, one Al Gore.

Americans want government off our backs … that is, until a folding crib crushes the skull of our baby, Toyota accelerators speed us to our death, banks blow our savings on gambling sprees and crude oil smothers the Mississippi.

Then, suddenly, it’s, “Where was hell was the government? Why didn’t the government do something to stop it?”

The answer is because government took you at your word they should get out of the way of business, that business could be trusted to police itself. It was only last month that BP, lobbying for new deepwater drilling, testified to Congress that additional equipment and inspection wasn’t needed.

You should meet some of these little bureaucrats with the fat rule books. Like Dan Lawn, the inspector from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, who warned and warned and warned, before the Exxon Valdez grounding, that BP and Alyeska were courting disaster in their arrogant disregard of the rule book. In 2006, I printed his latest warnings about BP’s culture of negligence. When the choice is between Lawn’s rule book and a bag of tea, Lawn’s my man.

I know I’ve purchased my last gallon of gasoline from BP, adding them to my ever-expanding boycott list along with such notables as Shell and Exxon.

Read Palast’s full report Here

Sign The Petition from Public Citizen and take the “Beyond BP Pledge” to boycott BP.

Howard Zinn: A Public Intellectual Who Mattered

February 11th, 2010 by Andy in General Topics

Nice write up from Henry Giroux on Howard Zinn who, love him or hate him, was a man who lived up to his principles. He was one of those special people whom, through one’s life and work, helped change the entire frame of how we approach history and how we should best approach it for understanding its true importance. I hope his work as an educator continues to serve as a positive example those engaged in teaching amongst all strata of academia.

There was something about Howard’s fearlessness, his courage, his willingness to risk not just his academic position, but also his life, that marked him as special - untainted by the often corrupting privileges of class entitlement.

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Howard refused to separate what he taught in the university classroom, or any forum for that matter, from the most important problems and issues facing the larger society. But he never demanded that students follow his own actions; he simply provided a model of what a combination of knowledge, teaching and social commitment meant. Central to Howard’s pedagogy was the belief that teaching students how to critically understand a text or any other form of knowledge was not enough. They also had to engage such knowledge as part of a broader engagement with matters of civic agency and social responsibility. How they did that was up to them, but, most importantly, they had to link what they learned to a self-reflective understanding of their own responsibility as engaged individuals and social actors.

He offered students a range of options. He wasn’t interested in molding students in the manner of Pygmalion, but in giving them the widest possible set of choices and knowledge necessary for them to view what they learned as an act of freedom and empowerment. There is a certain poetry in his pedagogical style and scholarship and it is captured in his belief that one can take a position without standing still.

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Howard was one of the few intellectuals I have met who took education seriously. He embraced it as both necessary for creating an informed citizenry and because he rightly felt it was crucial to the very nature of politics and human dignity. He was a deeply committed scholar and intellectual for whom the line between politics and life, teaching and civic commitment collapsed into each other.

Read The Complete Essay

As for how Zinn himself wanted to be remembered, he stated he would like to be thought of for ”introducing a different way of thinking about the world,” and as “somebody who gave people a feeling of hope and power that they didn’t have before.” 

The interview with Howard can be viewed Here.

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