Saturday, September 07, 2013

Still Limping Along

The latest (macro) jobs report.

... The Labor Department’s snapshot of the job market in August had several discouraging details underneath a relatively mundane headline number, which showed the economy added an estimated 169,000 jobs. Perhaps the most striking was a plunge in the share of Americans who are either working or looking for work, which fell to its lowest level since 1978. ...

The austerity thingie has really worked out well. It's devastated much of Europe (Spain has 26% unemployment, and 50% unemployment for people in their twenties.) It's also done a thorough-going job of lousing up this country. As a well-known economist notes:

... The failure of policy these past five years has, in fact, been immense.

Some of that immensity can be measured in dollars and cents. Reasonable measures of the “output gap” over the past five years — the difference between the value of goods and services America could and should have produced and what it actually produced — run well over $2 trillion. That’s trillions of dollars of pure waste, which we will never get back.

Behind that financial waste lies an even more tragic waste of human potential. Before the financial crisis, 63 percent of adult Americans were employed; that number quickly plunged to less than 59 percent, and there it remains. ...

The sad part of all this is much of the disaster could have been avoided. Financial stimulus could have been wider and deeper. Infrastructure build-out and maintenance could have been way more robust. But it wasn't, for a variety of reasons, and here we are.

And so the ripples of disaster continue on. And on. People stop eating out, restaurants lay off personnel, stores cut hours and/or go out of business.

I've also watched a change in behavior from our fine, entertainment conglomerates. There is now a steely-eyed determination to cut costs that wasn't there before 2008. Working closer to contractual wage minimums is today the rule rather than the exception. Workers are shown the door the millisecond their project is completed. Schedules get shorter and more demanding.

I think outsourcing is as widespread as it is because of companies' ongoing quest to hammer down costs. Every large conglomerate with which I deal is tighter with a dollar than they were five and six years ago. When the economy stalls, shrinks, then stalls again, corporations react. They search out geographical locations to get work done cheaper. And if a state or foreign government is handing out subsidies, they pursue them. Anything is fair game to reduce costs and goose profits.

As you might have noticed, margins and stock prices have been up over the past three-and-a-half years, and people who rely on stocks and dividends for a living have done well. It's people who make money by working eight or ten-hour days who have suffered.

So yeah, the austerity thingie has failed. For 99% of us.


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