Opinion

The Great Debate

Why our employment figures are wrong

By Sara Horowitz

The opinions expressed are her own.

The national employment figures are an economic bellwether. They profoundly affect U.S. markets, consumer spending, and even the fate of national elections. With so much at stake, you’d think we would be counting the workforce accurately. Unfortunately, we’re not.

The United States treats jobs as something turned on or off—employed or unemployed—but that binary view no longer reflects how Americans really work. Whereas in the middle of the 20th century industrial employees worked one job for one company, today, there are 42 million consultants, independent contractors, entrepreneurs and freelancers working multiple gigs for multiple clients.

Although independent workers were a full one-third of the U.S. workforce at last count (which was 6 years ago), they aren’t counted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in a consistent and ongoing way. Current statistics tend to lump workers into one of three classes: private wage and salary workers, government workers, and the self-employed. But these groupings don’t account for the nuances in how people work now and the overlap between groups. For example, on-call or contract workers might be lumped in with wage and salary workers, when really they’re independent workers. As a result, our outdated numbers have led to outdated policies that no longer meet the needs of America’s 21st century workforce.

Take, for example, the issue of nonpayment. W-2 employees know that their paycheck will be directly deposited into their checking account every two weeks, and don’t have to worry about chasing down their employer for payment. In fact, the Department of Labor could fine your employer—or send them to jail—if they don’t pay you. Independent workers, however, have no such protection from nonpayment, late payment, or partial payment, leaving freelancers with only two options: sue or walk away. According to Freelancers Union member survey data, that’s a gamble many companies are willing to make: 77% of freelancers report having trouble collecting payment at some point in their career.

In a way, we’re going back to the future. When the U.S. economy began to shift from farms to factories in the mid- to late-nineteenth century, the state of the nascent workforce was largely unknown: there was no national unemployment rate, consumer price index, or average household income. In 1884, President Chester Arthur signed a bill creating the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS produced numbers, and policies soon followed, including many we take for granted today: the eight-hour workday, child labor bans, and unpaid wage claims.

Obama, Moses and exaggerated expectations

-Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own-

President Barack Obama is close to the half-way mark of his presidential mandate, a good time for a brief look at health care, unemployment, war, the level of the oceans, the health of the planet, and America’s image. They all featured in a 2008 Obama speech whose rhetoric soared to stratospheric heights.

“If…we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I’m absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs for the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last best hope on earth.”

The date was June 3, 2008. Obama had just won the Democratic Party’s nomination as presidential candidate. He was also winning the adulation of the majority of the American people, who shrugged off mockery from curmudgeonly Republicans who pointed out that the last historical figure to affect ocean levels was Moses and he had divine help when he parted the Red Sea.

High unemployment and the education deficit

graduation photo USE THISThe following is a guest post by Bruce Yandle, distinguished adjunct professor of economics with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and dean emeritus of the College of Business & Behavioral Science at Clemson University. The opinions expressed here are his own.

Last month’s report on U.S. employment growth brought no cheer to job-seekers with a high school education.

In June 2010, the unemployment rate for adults 25 or older with a high school diploma was 10 percent. Whereas unemployment among college educated adults was 4.4 percent. (Overall unemployment was 9.5 percent.)

In praise of Latin American immigrants

The United States owes Latin American immigrants a debt of gratitude. And Latin American immigrants owe a debt of gratitude to lawmakers in Arizona. How so?

Thanks largely to immigration from Latin America (both legal and illegal) and the higher birth rates of Latin immigrants, the population of the U.S. has kept growing, a demographic trend that sets it apart from the rest of the industrialized world, where numbers are shrinking. That threatens economic growth and in the case of Russia (U.N. projections see a decline from 143 million now to 112 million by 2050) undermines Moscow’s claim to Great Power status.

A country’s population starts shrinking when fertility falls below the “replacement rate” of 2.1. births over the lifetime of a woman. For white American women, that rate is around 1.8 now. For Latin American immigrants, the rate is 2.8. According to the U.S. census bureau, nearly one in six people living in the U.S. are Hispanics. By 2050, they are projected to make up almost a third of the population.

Unemployment to stay above 10 percent in 2010

morici– Peter Morici is a Professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, and former Chief Economist at the United States International Trade Commission. The views –

The economy continues to bleed jobs, even as GDP rebounds. Employment may be a lagging indicator, but job losses should have abated by now even if a lot of new jobs are not being added.

Coming off a deep recession, GDP growth should have been much stronger than the 2.8 percent recorded in the third quarter. A poorly conceived and badly executed stimulus package and the failure to correct structural problems that caused the Great Recession are holding down growth.

A paradox of plenty – hunger in America

Bernd Debusmann–  Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

Call it a paradox of plenty. In the world’s wealthiest country, home to more obese people than anywhere else on earth, almost 50 million Americans struggled to feed themselves and their children in 2008. That’s one in six of the population. Millions went hungry, at least some of the time. Things are bound to get worse.

This the bleak picture drawn from an annual survey on “household food security” compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and released in mid-November. It showed the highest level of food insecurity since the government started the survey, in 1995, and provided a graphic illustration of the effect of sharply rising unemployment.

Getting a summer job: Entrepreneurship for teens

diana-furchtgottroth–- Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. The views expressed are her own. –-

It’s July, teen unemployment has risen to 24 percent, and you—or your teenage children—still don’t have a summer job. This is a peculiarly American problem.

In Nepal, according to Hudson Institute research assistant and Nepalese citizen Astha Strestha, “teens just hang around all summer and spend their parents’ money.”

What will the climate change bill do to your job?

diana-furchtgottroth–- Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. The views expressed are her own. –-

Next Thursday, just in time for the July 4 holiday weekend, America’s unemployment rate is forecast to rise from 9.4 percent to 9.6 percent, well above rates in other industrialized countries.

Yet today the House of Representatives is rushing to pass the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, even though the bill was incomplete yesterday and congressmen have not yet had the opportunity to analyze it. The bill would send America’s unemployment rate even higher.

Double-edged sword in pay cuts

Christopher Swann– Christopher Swann is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own –

This recession is introducing many Americans to a novel experience — the pay cut.

Fifteen percent of employers surveyed by the Society of Human Resource Management reduced pay in the past six months — a threefold increase from earlier this year. Companies like Hewlett-Packard, Caterpillar and the New York Times have taken the pruning shears to wages.

What to expect from Friday’s jobs report

morici — Peter Morici is a Professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, and former Chief Economist at the United States International Trade Commission. The views expressed are his own. –

On Friday, the Labor Department will report employment data for May. In April, the economy lost 539,000 jobs, and the consensus forecast is for another 550,000 jobs lost in May. My forecast is for a 561,000 loss.

In Friday’s jobs report the key variables to watch are:

Jobs Creation. May 8 the Labor Department reported the economy lost 539,000 payroll jobs in April, down from 699,000 in March. However, a significant part of this improvement was a surge in temporary Census Bureau positions. The private sector still lost more than 600,000 jobs. In recent weeks, new unemployment claims have remained stubbornly above 600 thousand, and my forecast is 561,000 jobs lost in April.

Even if the economic contraction slows in the second and third quarters, job losses above 400,000 appear likely for the next several months. Job losses will top 7 or 8 million before the hemorrhaging ends.

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