Off the 2016 employment cliff



Lines for free soup during the Great Depression. we have 93 95 million adults not participating in the workforce, but they’re home with their wi-fi.

This has been a tremendously hard few months for me.  I don’t want to overshare, but unemployment has been at the center of many, many conversations, with family and friends having hit the bricks this year. Friends with ten, fifteen or twenty years of service are being thrown under the bus.The job I’ve had over the past couple years does not pay the bills, and the employment ‘opportunities’ I’m seeing out there are not enough to pay my bills. None of them offer that health insurance that so many of us took for granted until about a decade ago.


One of the things that really, really bothered me about the election was how little attention was being paid to the employment issue. I suspect that the ‘happy talk’ about how the economy has recovered under Obama may have been one of the reasons we’re about to welcome President Trump (disclaimer–I don’t expect help from President Trump, either). I’ve been following the ‘structural depression’ discussion for a few years now, exemplified here. Long story short, US economic growth has averaged 1% for the past seven years, with occasional spurts of ‘growth’ that are factors like inventory growth. People who wish to debate this might want to look up the Farm Bureau survey of inflation, which differs markedly from the BLS and other stats. My go-to statistician, John Williams, is not fooled, and neither are his subscribers (a group I can’t join because I can’t afford it). But he seems to be the exception. The msm has been uncritically reading off the monthly BLS numbers as if they were Holy Writ. 

But the BLS is actually more honest about the realities of unemployment if you know what you’re looking for. The ‘Front page’ of the BLS  gives us its ‘headline number of 4.6% unemployment rate for November. We are told that there were 178,000 new jobs added. That 4.6% number is the one that gets all the publicity. But a careful reading of the non-headline stats shows an economy that is on life support. Economist (and former Reagan Treasury official) Paul Craig Roberts takes it all apart for us here. Excerpt is in italics, and I’ve highlighted the areas that should be an issue. The facts are that November produced only 9,000 full time jobs, an improvement over the previous month when full time employment declined by 103,000 jobs—another fact that you did not hear about from the presstitutes…. According to the BLS payroll jobs report, the jobs available in November were waitresses and bartenders, temporary help, and ambulatory health care services. These are not the kind of jobs that result in home ownership or an independent existence.

This discrepancy between full and part-time jobs is something that has been an issue with the Obama economic ‘recovery’ for the better part of eight years. The reality is that we’ve been slipping into part-time status since the Bush era–beginning in 2005, fulltime jobs started to shrink as a percentage of total employment. Two economists have come forward with the real story–the one we should have been telling ourselves during the Obama years. The vast majority of jobs created since 2005 (including nearly all the jobs touted during the ‘recovery’) are temporary, part time positions. Here’s the full story. Italics from the article, “We find that 94% of net job growth in the past decade was in the alternative work category,” said Krueger. “And over 60% was due to the [the rise] of independent contractors, freelancers and contract company workers.” In other words, nearly all of the 10 million jobs created between 2005 and 2015 were not traditional nine-to-five employment. I note that this is not from some fake-news site a la Newsmax or Breitbart. The authors of the data are economists Lawrence Katz of Harvard University and Alan Krueger at Princeton University. Their data is published in the refereed literature, and I doubt they’d put their credentials on the line in some iffy fake news clickbait. 

While their news is depressing, I take it as a good sign. Those of us who’ve been scrambling for work have been put under the onus that our unemployment status was our own fault. Obama is leaving the White House in 23 days. Perhaps the gaslighting will stop and we can seriously look at what’s happened to our economy. The fact that the unemployed have to look to a mendacious man like Trump to find some truth says something pretty sad about the state of our republic. 

Postscript: If you believe Katz and Krueger, the gig economy was going hot and heavy for some five years before the ACA/Obamacare was voted on. While some people have been able to purchase insurance for the first time under the new law, the costs of insurance for those who weren’t covered by their employer are daunting. It’s almost as if the ACA was designed to make it easier for companies to justify throwing former employees into the ‘gig economy’. Or were the architects of the ACA so in love with their own ideas they failed to see that they were designing for a paradigm (employee sponsored healthcare as a standard fulltime benefit) that was a historical anachronism?




  1. Most of the jobs created have been in the lower paying service industry since the 1980s. Higher paying manufacturing jobs have all but vanished.

    1. Manufacturing has been the go-to bogeyman for the bad economy, but it isn’t relevant in the current wave of layoffs.Anecdotes here–the people I know who are getting the heave-ho aren’t in manufacturing. They’re highly skilled and knowledgeable people in service jobs–high-level patient care or legal services, management of billing, and general office management. I know IT professionals who’ve been thrown under the bus along with credentialed professionals in teaching and other fields.There’s a separate argument (part of a research project I’m doing) about whether employment CAN come back in an era where companies like Uber and Google are trying to automate professional drivers out of existence. As for manufacturing, Capitalism has achieved the goal of zeroing out marginal costs.That makes it nigh impossible to make money with creating and manufacturing ‘things’.

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