Unemployment chart of the day

By Felix Salmon
July 20, 2010
Derek Thompson:

" data-share-img="" data-share="twitter,facebook,linkedin,reddit,google" data-share-count="true">

Chart of the day comes from Derek Thompson:

median longterm unemployment.png

The dynamics here are terrible, of course, because there are five unemployed people for every job opening. In that kind of context the only way that this chart is going to start reverting to the mean is if millions of Americans simply give up looking for work at all, and therefore stop counting as unemployed for the purposes of these statistics. The ranks of the demoralized are growing fast — but, clearly, not enough to stop the median period of unemployment rising inexorably past the 6-month mark.

All of which provides perfect context for the latest piece of claptrap to emanate from Ben Stein:

The people who have been laid off and cannot find work are generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities. I say “generally” because there are exceptions. But in general, as I survey the ranks of those who are unemployed, I see people who have overbearing and unpleasant personalities and/or who do not know how to do a day’s work. They are people who create either little utility or negative utility on the job.

How does Stein know this? Because, believe it or not, he’s been friends with these people for decades:

I get letters and e-mails from friends of decades standing asking for money every single day. Their common denominator is that they lacked prudence and lived in a dream world.

What kind of dream world would that be, Ben? One where they believed that they could time the market? Or maybe just one where they believed in the value of a decades-long friendship? Silly them.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Go easy on poor li’l Ben! Back in 2007 he was happily confident that the subprime mortgage problems would blow over and the stock market would continue its rise. His optimism has been shattered…

I do agree, though, that prudence and frugality are the best (only?) antidote to these times.

Posted by TFF | Report as abusive

He lost me at the beginning, where he used unemployment as an excuse to pitch annuities (the people collecting on annuities are largely already retired, and not looking for work). It went downhill from there.

Posted by Curmudgeon | Report as abusive

I think you’ve missed the most important point of Ben Stein’s quote: The man is superhuman. He’s “survey[ed] the ranks of those who are unemployed” in a faultless manner, in order to dispense with his wisdom. And no doubt he’s done so in a rigorous fashion sure to yield a statistically valid representative sample.

Either that, or he’s an intellectual lightweight who’s looked around, seen a few isolated examples that confirm his worldview, and tried to pass it off as an intelligent opinion. We may never know.

Posted by strawman | Report as abusive

Ben Stein is not only uninformed about the unemployed but also, as I posted in the comments of his article, heartless.

Posted by FrankLG | Report as abusive

It’s funny how he characterizes unemployed people as generally being unemployable and not deserving of work. Then why kick up dust at all over unemployment numbers when it’s the people’s own fault? The other thing that struck me is that the people in his periphery all bought homes they couldn’t afford while in their 50s and 60s and have basically flushed their lives down the toilet in speculation. That’s sad, but what a tool to dump on his friends when, as a paid advisor, he could’ve suggested that that is not a reasonable means of investment – especially when they would still be working paycheque to paycheque seemingly. If I did that to clients I’d have been fired and probably sued endlessly the last two years.

I’ve ragged on you Felix for dumping on Ben too much in the past, but I’ve gotta say in hindsight he deserved every last bit of it. Would love to kick a big four-letter British expression at him, starts with C, ends with T and filled with the United Nations.

Posted by CDNrebel | Report as abusive

Felix — Ben Stein is an actor and his character is an uppity grouch who is unimpressed with people and begs to be proven wrong. Have you ever seen “Win Ben Steins Money”? He sure has managed to get your goat!

The job market is rotten but it has been worse.

The United Farm Workers have just demonstrated that the overwhelming majority of the unemployed would rather remain unemployed than work on a farm.

“Farm workers: Take our jobs, please!”
http://money.cnn.com/2010/07/07/news/eco nomy/farm_worker_jobs/index.htm

Among thousands of inquiries, “Only a few dozen have really followed through with the process”

This is no Great Depression. This is not even a little depression. But Paul Krugman is going through a depression because his party might lose the House.

Posted by DanHess | Report as abusive

Hey, bet he does not have the cojones to make such generalizations about black people or hispanics. At least openly. Or women. Everyone knows who he hates and that hating them is “OK”.

He is tolerated in this country because the people enjoy what he is doing, and to whom. Same old game. Just different color of skin and different ethnicity.


Posted by txgadfly | Report as abusive

He is an elitist snot who actually thinks he is better and smarter then most people. Why would anyone give him credence? (or think he is amusing)

Dan Hess, what would have occur for you to take the back breaking job that doesn’t pay minimum wage, is seasonal, nomadic and has no benefits?

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive

Unemployment, and food stamps, has become an invisible, horribly expensive price support system to ward off that dreaded demon deflation. It is fairly efficient though at getting “pseudo-stimulus” money where it needs to be. The fact that some spare change and groceries end up in the hands of some people desperately needing them is of secondary consequence. Think of where the retail and services industries would be today without these programs chugging along full speed over the last two years. We can’t afford expensive price support systems very long with the true unemployment rate at roughly 20%.

Posted by Woltmann | Report as abusive

Welcome to the World of “Just in time EMPLOYMENT” Just in Time Manufactuering was WHEN the U.S.A. produced a Physical “product” but since we have gone from a Manufactuering base to a Services Base. Just in Time Employment is the new Paradigm. Ben You Really need to Study UNIONS and their Modern Grip on Employers before you blame the Laggards. Unions Have a Major Role in this Problem as well.( Typical example: The U.S Postal Systems Union and Pension program) You will Not get another Job until you Have a Marketable Skill that is NEEDED.Corps are sitting on Billions and just working the current “STAFF” to the bone and not interested in Hiring.the Solution is when America Wakes up and starts Making Products and or Services the WORLD wants. And where Quality of Product is the Companies’ Heart and Soul “Motto”

Posted by Pangaea7 | Report as abusive

I am sure that many of the people with “unpleasant personalities” were much more pleasant when they had jobs.

Posted by Potatoe1 | Report as abusive

I’m standing on my previous comment, that companies / employers aren’t budging. Potential employers are convinced a qualified candidate will leave in short order, even more than the candidate himself. Applying and submitting resumes, and any possible rejection: that’s bearable, quite understandable. Not every single position applied for is going to be a precise fit.

Posted by McGriffen | Report as abusive

If you look at the 2Q corporate earnings reports, you see a hint of how the economy stands right now. Revenues from the developed economies are flat or down. Revenues from emerging economies are up sharply. Costs are down, most significantly from the round of job cuts in 2009 but with continuing cost-control measures. Loan losses remain high but appear to have peaked.

It is a pretty good time to be a multinational corporation, a pretty bad time to be tied to the US and/or Europe GDP. There is definitely money flowing through the system, but there is no hint of that money reaching the labor market.

Of course employment tends to be a lagging indicator…

Posted by TFF | Report as abusive

From my econ 101 class 14 years ago:

Perhaps Keynes’ biggest insight was regarding ‘sticky’ wages. Employers and workers are both reluctant for any reduction in nominal wages. As a result unemployment can get stuck at a high level instead of a market-clearing level.

With some inflation, wages could reset at a full-employment level without nominal wages going down.

With inflation at zero or less, high unemployment is with us to stay.

Posted by DanHess | Report as abusive