An Awful Juxtaposition On Jobs

Last night, Vice President Biden spoke about an incident where his father had to leave home to find a new job, but reassured his young son that everything was going to be fine.  “For the rest of our lives, my sister and my brothers — for the rest of our lives, my dad never failed to remind us that a job is about a lot more than a paycheck,” Biden said.  “It is about your dignity. It’s about respect. It’s about your place in the community.  It’s about being able to look your child in the eye and say, ‘Honey, it’s going to be OK,’ and mean it and know it’s true.”

I think Biden is right — jobs are about self-worth, pride, and much more than a paycheck.  That is why today’s very bleak jobs report numbers are such a devastating blow for President Obama.  Only 96,000 new non-farm jobs were created in August, and the already poor jobs numbers for June and July were revised downward.  Even worse, 368,000 people who had been looking for a job stopped looking, and the total number of people in the workforce dropped to its lowest level in 31 years.  The unemployment rate fell slightly, to 8.1 percent, but only because of the huge number of people who have stopped looking for a job.

Consider:  368,000 people — more than enough to fill Ohio Stadium three times — have just stopped looking for work.  Those people won’t know the dignity, respect, and sense of community that a job can bring, and they won’t be able to confidently reassure their worried young children that everything will be okay.

Last night, President Obama and Vice President Biden sought to reassure us that things will get better through their efforts.  This latest jobs report makes those efforts to reassure seem empty and baseless — to those unfortunate folks who have given up, and to the rest of us who have been praying for an economic rebound.  If anything, the devastating and depressing jobs report says that things are going from bad to worse.

Looking For A Job, Any Job, In Cleveland

Times are tough in Cleveland.  How tough?  Today a story gave us some sense of the distress felt by many people.

The times in Cleveland are so challenging that, when the Horseshoe Casino Cleveland announced that it was accepting applications for table game and poker dealer jobs that pay between $17 and $22 per hour, 11,800 people applied for 500 openings.  Some applicants even took special coaching classes at a nearby community college to try to improve their interviewing skills and show the dazzling personality that casinos apparently are looking for in table game dealers.

In 2009, when Ohio voters approved the constitutional amendment allowing casino gambling in our state, it was sold as a way to create jobs — and at least that promise is being kept.  Two years later, the economy still stinks, and former construction workers, machinists, and medical billing technicians who have been out of work for months are so desperate that they have flooded a not-yet-open casino with applications and even taken classes in hopes of improving their slim chances of landing a job dealing blackjack.  In my view, that painful reality says a lot more about the true extent of our economic problems than cold statistics ever could.

 

The Power Of Zero

The August jobs report was released today, and it showed that the American economy created no net jobs in August.

That’s right:  a big, fat zero.  Nada.  Zilch.  A goose egg.  Naught.  Zippo.  What could be a more apt and powerful description for the moribund state of our economy?  Neither up nor down.  Dead in the water and becalmed.  Not really doing anything.  It’s the first time since 1945, 66 years ago, that the government reported a net job change of zero.

This result comes as no surprise to those outside the Washington Beltway who are looking desperately for jobs that don’t exist or are trying to find their way during this time of economic standstill. We’ve seen the listlessness, the lack of growth, and the lack of confidence firsthand and all around us.

Next week, President Obama will give a speech to a joint session of Congress to spell out his latest plan to jump start the economy.  If another speech could help, shouldn’t it have been given long ago?  If the Administration had new ideas on what to do, shouldn’t they have been proposed already?  The zero reported today seems to reflect a lack of ideas and a lack of urgency as much as a lack of economic growth.

Looking On The Bright Side

Today’s announcement of the latest unemployment figures was bad news all around — only 18,000 jobs created, the unemployment rate up to 9.2%, more than 270,000 out-of-work Americans who have just stopped looking for a job, and growing fears that our lingering recission is going to get worse before it gets better.  One economist quoted in the linked article said it was “an employment report with no redeeming features whatsoever.”

My grandmother told me, however, that I should always look on the bright side.  I’ve tried to do that about the current sad state of the American economy, and have come up with the following possible silver linings:

*  We’re kicking Greece’s ass!

*  “Quantative easing” would be a good phrase to use in a laxative commercial.

*  When you think about it, owning your own home really is kind of a hassle, anyway.

*  Look, a squirrel!

If those don’t do the trick, how about the classic song of unbridled optimism from Monty Python’s Life of Brian:

 

Bleak, Bleak, Bleak

I haven’t written about the economy for a while, and there is a reason for that:  I am trying to maintain a positive attitude this summer, and the economic news has been unrelentingly bad.  Avoidance therefore is the only path to optimism.

Of course, it is impossible to fully ignore the news, which is discouraging.  The latest report on unemployment, which came out yesterday, is a good example.  Every month, millions of Americans remain out of work, as the economy continues to be mired in a recession.  And when the bad economic news is combined with the reports on the lack of progress toward a political agreement that would meaningfully address our national budget and deficit issues, it becomes hard to put on a happy face.

As a lifelong Cleveland sports fan, I am used to pessimism and disappointment.  As a country, however, we sure could use some good economic news for a change.

The Stubborn Problem Of Consumer Confidence

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index fell in May to a recent low, causing some to fear that we may be on the cusp of the dreaded “double-dip” or “W” recession.  Economists expressed surprise at the news.

The only thing surprising about this news item is that some economists are still expressing surprise that American consumers aren’t more bullish about things.  Seriously, what world do these guys live in?  Leaving apart the weird notion that you can gauge something intangible like “confidence” with anything approaching scientific accuracy, what has happened recently that would encourage anyone to feel more upbeat about the economy?

For those who live in ivory towers or in the canyons of Wall Street, here is what those of us out in the country are seeing.  We know people who are out of work and have been out of work for a very long time.  We know college graduates who have gotten their degrees from fine institutions and can’t find even an entry-level job.  We know that gas and food prices have gone up since last year.  We’ve watched businesses close.  We’ve seen houses in the area sold at foreclosure and other houses in the neighborhood that seem to have been on the market forever.

So don’t tell us that some arcane leading economic indicator should cause us all to be doing handsprings.  We’ll believe the economy is getting better when our nephew can find a job and the house down the block gets sold.  Until then, understand that we are going to be cautious, and careful — and don’t be “surprised” that we are staying that way.

Still, No Jobs

We keep getting told that economic recovery is underway, but the evidence remains stubbornly to the contrary.  The most recent bit of bad news is the November jobs report, which showed the unemployment rate increasing from 9.6 percent to 9.8 percent.  According to the report, only 50,000 private sector jobs were created — a puny number by any measure, and far below the kind of robust growth that is needed to make an appreciable dent in the unemployment rate.

Many people are citing general economic uncertainty as the reason for the failure of employers to hire, and I am sure there is truth to that.  The fact that the federal government hasn’t acted on tax rates probably hasn’t helped, either; it leaves some small business owners wondering how much money they will have in the budget for new employees, and they aren’t going to hire before they know they can afford to do so.

I also wonder, however, whether the tough economic sledding over the past three years has permanently reduced employer confidence.  Whereas before employers might have made new hires on the expectation of future growth, now employers may wait until the growth has actually occurred, and been sustained, before they break down and hire more workers.  If that is the case, then we may be waiting a long time before the politicians’ constant promises of a job-filled recovery are realized.