Tag Archives: employment

The bottom line of the May employment numbers

Summary: The strong May employment number confirms what I’ve said in previous reports about the economy, casting doubt on the bears’ confident forecasts of an imminent recession. The economy was slow in Q1, but the data so far for Q2 paints a stronger if still mixed picture. {1st of 2 posts today.}



  1. Summary of this important report.
  2. Where were the jobs?
  3. Wages and hours.
  4. For More Information.


(1)  Summary of this most important economic number

The May employment data was clearly and broadly strong. See the BLS’ Highlights report for the pictures. BLS revised the gains in March and April by +32,000 and estimated that total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 280,000 in May. This compares with an average monthly gain of 207,000 over the past 3 months and 251,000 over the prior 12 months.

Keep a sense of proportion about these numbers. There are 140 million jobs in America, done by 147 million employed workers. The monthly changes are small and so difficult to measure accurately. Watch the patterns instead; ignore those who obsess over the tiny wiggles in May’s numbers. They are mostly statistical noise. For jobs the overall pattern was strong, but not a breakout.

Job gains through May 2015

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Look at immigration policy to see our government respond to its masters

Summary: Immigration has been one of the most fascinating issues in American politics, revealing the influence of our elites over not just the government but also the experts and media that guide public policy. A new report shows past trends — revealing hidden causes of our problems — and points to a new future for America.  {2nd of 2 posts today}

Immigrants as fraction of US population

Graph of US Census data, prepared by the Center for Immigration Studies, April 2015. See Census graphs here.

Using data from US Census reports, the Center for Immigration Studies reveals some powerful trends (see their report for sources and methodology) …

  • Total net immigration (the difference between the number coming and going) will increase steadily over the next 45 years, totaling 64 million.
  • Absent a change in current policy, the Census Bureau projects that in 2023 the nation’s immigrant population (legal and illegal) will reach 14.8% (51 million) of the total U.S. population — the highest share ever recorded in American history.
  • The bureau also projects that the immigrant population will grow nearly four times faster than the native-born population, reaching 15.8% (57 million) of the nation’s population in 2030, 17.1% (65 million) in 2040, and 18.8% (78 million) in 2060.
  • To place these numbers into historical context, as recently as 1990, immigrants were 7.9% (20 million) of the total U.S. population.
  • The nation’s total population will grow to 417 million by 2060 — 108 million more than in 2010. This increase is roughly equivalent to adding the combined populations of California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Massachusetts to the country.
  • The new projections indicate that, absent a change in immigration policy, immigrants who will arrive in the future plus their descendants will account for roughly three-fourths of future U.S. population increase.

What effect will this have on America?

“{this body of excess workers} forms a disposable industrial reserve army …  a mass of human material always ready for exploitation.”
— Marx’s Das Kapital, expanding upon Friedrich Engels’ insight. They got a few things right.

A four-fold increase in immigrants as a fraction of the total population creates a severe shock to America, even when occurring over 90 years. That would take us beyond the point at which massive popular opposition forced “closing the door” in the early 20th century: the Immigration Act of 1917, the Emergency Quota Act (1921), and the Immigration Act of 1924. FDR reduced immigration to trickle during the Great Depression.

With the supply of cheap labor restricted, the foundation for a large middle class was laid. Unions were able to gain traction and wages began the long rise. Of course corporations immediately began to undermine these accomplishments. By 1970 their efforts began to bear fruit: unions were weakening, immigrants began to grow as a fraction of the population, and wages stagnated. By 1990 unions were crushed, immigrants flooded in with few limitations, and real wages for the unskilled plummeted.  Supply rising faster than demand.

We can expect more of all three trends as the 1% continues to gain power.

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The vital things to know about the latest employment report

Summary: The March employment report is important, confirming the slowing of the US economy. This post skips our usual numbers blizzard, focusing instead on the vital numbers, and debunking both the hype and hysteria about this most important of the economic statistics. {1st of 2 posts today.}



  1. Summary of this important report.
  2. Has Obama’s recovery helped the middle class?
  3. The bottom line.
  4. Does this signal a recession coming soon?
  5. For More Information.


(1)  Summary of this, the most important economic number

The March employment report was one of the worst in the past 3 years. See the Highlights for the pictures. Nonfarm payroll employment increased by 126,000 in March and 197,000 per month over the past 3 months — compared to 269,000 over the prior 12 months. This slowing is consistent with that of the other economics indicators in the past month.

Keep a sense of proportion about these numbers. There are 140 million jobs in America, done by 147 million employed workers. The monthly changes are small and so difficult to measure accurately. Watch the patterns instead.

Employment trend as of March 2015

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How Robots & Algorithms Are Taking Over

Summary: Today we have another essay about the 3rd industrial revolution now under way (aka the robot revolution), reviewing another new book preparing us for what is to come. We’ve had 50 years of warnings, all ignored. We’ll have to move soon to avoid severe social turmoil. Let’s not repeat our ugly 19th C history. {1st of 2 posts today.}

“We are being afflicted with a new disease of which some readers may not yet have heard the name, but of which they will hear a great deal in the years to come — namely, technological
unemployment. This means unemployment due to our discovery of means of economising the useof labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour. ”

— John Maynard Keynes, “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren“, The Nation and Athenœum, 11 and 18 October 1930.

Cover of <i>Galaxie</i>, 1959

Cover of Galaxie, 1959. CCI/Art Archive.

Excerpt from
How Robots & Algorithms
Are Taking Over

By Sue Halpern.
London Review of Books, 5 March 2015

Halpern reviews: Nicholas Carr’s The Glass Cage: Automation and Us.

Here is what that future — which is to say now — looks like: banking, logistics, surgery, and medical recordkeeping are just a few of the occupations that have already been given over to machines. Manufacturing, which has long been hospitable to mechanization and automation, is becoming more so as the cost of industrial robots drops, especially in relation to the cost of human labor.

… Meanwhile, algorithms are writing most corporate reports, analyzing intelligence data for the NSA and CIA, reading mammograms, grading tests, and sniffing out plagiarism. Computers fly planes — Nicholas Carr points out that the average airline pilot is now at the helm of an airplane for about 3 minutes per flight — and they compose music and pick which pop songs should be recorded based on which chord progressions and riffs were hits in the past. Computers pursue drug development — a robot in the UK named Eve may have just found a new compound to treat malaria — and fill pharmacy vials.

Xerox uses computers — not people — to select which applicants to hire for its call centers. The retail giant Amazon “employs” 15,000 warehouse robots to pull items off the shelf and pack boxes. The self-driving car is being road-tested. A number of hotels are staffed by robotic desk clerks and cleaned by robotic chambermaids. Airports are instituting robotic valet parking. Cynthia Breazeal, the director of MIT’s personal robots group … $25 million in venture capital funding, to bring Jibo, “the world’s first social robot,” to market.

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A warning about the robot revolution from a great economist.

Summary:  Our series about experts has discussed our reliance on bad or biased experts. Today we see the opposite: how we ignore insightful exports, people who could help us see and prepare for the future. An economist and Nobel Laureate warned us of what’s happening today. We didn’t listen then but can still learn from him. Also, let’s learn to listen better to our top experts; it might be an essential skill for our survival in the 21st century.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

Automation robot


Sixty years ago science fiction author James Blish described a future in which semi-intelligent machines caused massive unemployment. Of course we did nothing to prepare. Thirty years ago a great economist wrote a paper clearly describing the 3rd industrial revolution that’s now begun (even today it’s one of the clearer statements of the situation). It was part of a major report by the National Academy of Engineering, much of which also accurately described these trends. We have done nothing to prepare, not even to study the problem on a large scale, because the majority of economists had a religious-like faith that future industrial revolutions must run like the first two — so we could go blindly into the future.

“National perspective: the definition of problems”

By Wassily Leontief, Nobel Laureate in Economics.
A chapter in Long-Term Impact of Technology on Employment and Unemployment.
National Academy of Engineering (1983). Red emphasis & headings added.

The great Industrial Revolution triggered by the invention of the steam engine has by now run its course; the age that we are about to enter will be dominated by the sign of the electronic chip. The new wave of tech­nological innovation will carry us forward at least as fast and as far as the last. However, to make full use of these opportunities, our eco­nomic, social, and even cultural institutions will probably have to undergo a change as radical as that experienced during the tran­sition from the preindustrial society to the industrial society in which we live today.

The introduction of successive generations of more and more complex machinery made possible by the discovery of new sources and forms of mechanical energy over the last 200 years not only led to an unprecedented rise in the output of various goods and services, but at the same time freed working men and women from the toil and trouble associated with physical exertion. The role of labor as the dominant factor of production was not reduced but enhanced. The control and guidance of increasingly powerful and intri­cate machinery required that each worker exercise mental capabilities of progressively higher and higher order. The competitive market mechanism translated this steadily increasing demand for labor into higher and higher real wage rates.

As the earning power of an average work­ing family increased, it naturally chose to allocate some part of those earnings to acquiring more leisure time. One might speak of this progress as an increase in voluntary technological unemployment. One hundred years ago, the number of hours worked in the average week in the United States was over 70; by the beginning of World War II, hours per week sank to 42.

Computers and robots replace humans in the exercise of mental functions in the same way as mechanical power replaced them in performance of physical tasks. As time goes on, more and more complex mental func­tions will be performed by machines. Not unlike large bulldozers assigned to earth-moving jobs that could not possibly have been carried out even by the strongest laborers or draft animals, powerful computers are now performing mental operations that could not possibly be accomplished by human minds.

Any worker who now performs his task by following specific instructions can, in princi­ple, be replaced by a machine. That means that the role of humans as the most important fac­tor of production is bound to diminish — in the same way that the role of horses in agricul­tural production was first diminished and then eliminated by the introduction of tractors.

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The robots are coming, bringing hope of a better future.

Summary:  Slowly the outlines of the 3rd industrial revolution becomes clear, and with it the only path to a better future for humanity. Today we have an excerpt from a brilliant article about this by British journalist and novelist John Lanchester.

That means the role of humans as the most important factor of production is bound to diminish in the same way that the role of horses in agricultural production was first diminished and then eliminated by the introduction of tractors. The general theoretical proposition that the worker who loses his job in one industry will necessarily be able to find employment, possibly after appropriate retraining, in some other industry is as invalid as would be the assertion that horses who lost their jobs in transportation and agriculture could necessarily have been put to another economically productive use.

— Wassily Leontief ( Nobel laureate in economics), The Future Impact of Automation on Workers (1986).

A woman in the robot office

Excerpt from “The Robots Are Coming

John Lanchester
London Review of Books, 5 March 2015

Lanchester reviews these books:

We are, Brynjolfsson and McAfee argue, on the verge of a new industrial revolution, one which will have as much impact on the world as the first one. Whole categories of work will be transformed by the power of computing, and in particular by the impact of robots.

… We are used to the thought that the kind of work done by assembly-line workers in a factory will be automated. We’re less used to the thought that the kinds of work done by clerks, or lawyers, or financial analysts, or journalists, or librarians, can be automated. The fact is that it can be, and will be, and in many cases already is. Tyler Cowen’s Average Is Over points towards a future in which all the rewards are likely to be captured by people at the top of the income distribution, especially those who become most adept at working with smart machines.

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Highlights of the jobs report, the good news & the bad.

Summary:  Yesterday we looked at leading indicators for the US economy. Today we look at one of the best coincident indicators: jobs. Today we’ll do it differently, seeking answers to the hot questions in the blizzard of numbers provided by the BLS. We’ll examine the good news, and the bad.  Also see the additional info in the comments. {1st of 2 posts today.}



  1. About the collapse of the oil industry.
  2. Has Obama’s recovery helped the middle class?
  3. The bottom line.
  4. Bad news about wage growth.
  5. Making sense of this numbers blizzard.
  6. About ZH’s accusations of fraud.
  7. For More Information.

(1) About the collapse of the oil industry.

The resource sector lost 9,000 jobs, a dot among America’s 148 million workers (one thousand of those were in oil & gas extraction; 7 thousand were in “support activities”). Weekly wages of their non-supervisory workers continue to slowly drop, down 3% to $1,230.

YoY the number of unemployed in the sector dropped 1.4 million, taking the sector’s unemployment rate from 7.0 to 5.7.  The oil bust is too small to have more than a regional impact.  See the BLS Highlights for more info about the growth in jobs by sector.

Feburary jobs by sector

(2) Has Obama’s recovery helped the middle class?

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