Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Real State of Working In America

While the official data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and America's mainstream media reports on the current state of working in America make it appear that things all is well in the work-a-day world, if one scratches a bit below the surface, things really are different during this "recovery".  Here are a few areas where the situation is far from "normal".

1.) Job Seekers Ratio:  This ratio compares the number of job seekers to the number of job openings.  Just prior to the Great Recession in December 2007, there were 1.8 job seekers per opening, up slightly from the low of 1.4 in March 2007.  Over the period from July 2005 to the beginning of the recession, the level ranged from 1.4 to 1.8.  Here is a graph showing what happened to the job seekers ratio as the recession took hold:

April 2014's level of 2.2 job seekers per job is well down from the peak of 6.8 in July 2009 but is still the highest level since November 2004, nearly a decade ago.

2.) Underemployment:  This data looks at the underemployment of American workers aged 16 and older and compares the level of underemployment of America's three main ethnic groups, whites, blacks and Hispanics as shown on this graph:

Five years into the "recovery" and all three groups have not seen their underemployment rate drop to pre-Great Recession levels.  In the case of blacks, their underemployment rate is still a very high 20 percent and the underemployment rate for Hispanics is not much better at 18 percent.

3.) Unemployment at the State Level:  The Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its monthly Regional and State Employment and Unemployment Summary that provides us with a snapshot of how widely variable the employment situation is in the United States.  Here is a brief look at the state unemployment rate for May 2014 starting from the lowest and ending up with the highest:

North Dakota - 2.6 percent (thanks to the Bakken)
Vermont - 3.3 percent
Nebraska and Utah - 3.6 percent
South Dakota and Wyoming - 3.8 percent

California - 7.6 percent
Kentucky and Mississippi - 7.7 percent
Nevada - 7.9 percent
Rhode Island - 8.2 percent

From February 2014 to May 2014, unemployment fell in 34 states with Illinois seeing the greatest improvement with a 1.2 percentage point drop.  Some of these declines were due to workers giving up on their search for employment particularly in Illinois and Ohio where the labor force declined in size.  In six states, the unemployment rate was unchanged over the period and in ten states, the unemployment rate rose, led by Alabama, Louisiana and West Virginia, all with increases of 0.4 percentage points.

On a year-over-year basis, unemployment dropped the most in South Carolina (minus 2.6 percentage points), Nevada (minus 2.2 percentage points) and Tennessee and Indiana (minus 2.0 percentage points).

4.) Year-over-year Wage Growth:  Here is a graph showing what has happened to nominal hourly earnings of all private, non-farm employees:

Since early 2009, year-over-year wage growth has been stuck at around 2 percent.  While the headline inflation numbers tell a tale of no or very modest inflation, the real-life experience of most Americans who are forced to eat and pay for gasoline (among other consumer items), suggests that prices for necessities are rising far faster than the official government inflation rate.  With that in mind, a two percent raise is hardly sufficient to "get ahead".  In fact, if we look at what has happened to real wages since the beginning of the Great Recession, we'll find this:

In Q1 of 2008, the real wage index read 99.  Six years later in Q1 2014, the real wage index read 100.7.  That's an increase in after-inflation hourly compensation of 1.7 percent over six years.  And central bankers wonder why our consumer-driven economy is flatlining.

Keeping in mind that all of these "improvements" to the real state of working in America have taken place under the guidance of the Federal Reserve and their unprecedented multi-trillion dollar economic rescue experiment and you'll conclude that this time, things really are different.  And not all that much fun!


  1. In 1990--according to the IRS--about 92 billion dollars was earned by Americans "off the books" or--in other words--money earned that was not reported. Today that number is 2.1 trillion, nearly enough to reduce the deficit to zero.
    Ever wonder why so many have left the job market, a statistic that seems to perplex the prognosticators on CNBC each month? Today, unlike 1990, you can easily start a business with a website or on places like Craigslist or eBay. Millions supplement their early retirement this way which is why many economists are puzzled when they estimate retail sales and restaurant revenues as more indicative of a 5.5 percent unemployment rate rather than the current rate.
    The IRS has shrunk by 10,000 employees since 2010. There are too many scofflaws to catch and thus the illegality of all this is unenforceable.

  2. @Adrian Havill I would love to know how the IRS is able to figure how much money is made but not reported to them. Good for those that are able to work outside the system if the number is really is any where near 2.1 trillion, although i find it to be a little high.

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