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Newsletter Special Report: Millions of Jobs Added, Millions More to Go

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This is the web version of the WSJ’s newsletter on the economy. You can sign up for daily delivery here.

Employers added 1.8 million jobs in July and the unemployment rate fell to 10.2%, marking only partial progress toward recouping massive losses tied to the coronavirus pandemic. Jeff Sparshott and Greg Ip here to take you through the key numbers.

Maybe Not a V, but Not a U Either

July’s payroll growth, at 1.8 million, still leaves total payrolls 12.9 million lower than in February. And yet if job gains continued at July’s pace, that deficit will be erased by March, 2021. If payrolls reclaim their last peak in 13 months, that would be remarkably fast. It took more than six years after the last recession. So can they maintain that pace? In July, job gains were blunted by a resurgence of the virus in the South and West which put the brakes on economic reopening. With cases slowly trending down now, economic activity should pick up, though that hasn’t shown up yet in private data such as credit card spending. Spending could also take a hit from the recent expiration of enhanced unemployment insurance benefits; Congress is struggling with an extension. And it’s unlikely that the pandemic is going to completely disappear by next year, so neither will the damage to many industries such as tourism and retailing. —Greg Ip

KEY THEMES

Labor-Market Churn

The unemployment rate fell for mostly the right reasons. Some people dropped out of the labor force but not nearly as many as found a job. Measures across the board improved, including the share of workers who wanted full-time work but were stuck in a part-time job.

The number of workers on temporary layoff fell and the number of permanent job losses was little changed last month, suggesting that many workers are getting recalled to old jobs or are able to switch into new ones. “The rate of churn in the labor market remains incredibly high, but a notable positive detail in this month’s report was the downtick in the rate of new permanent layoffs,” economists at Morgan Stanley wrote.

One potentially worrisome sign: The number of long-term unemployed is on the rise. That suggests that some people are at risk of getting locked out of the labor market—and ultimately exhausting unemployment benefits.

Job losses and gains haven’t been evenly distributed. Initially Blacks were less hard-hit than some other racial groups in the early stages of the recession, but the drop in their unemployment rate in July was the smallest among racial groups. —Greg Ip

Some of that was due to growing labor force participation; the Black employment-to-population ratio rose more than for Hispanics and whites. —Greg Ip

Who’s Hiring?

Some of the industries hit hardest by March and April lockdown orders experienced some of the biggest gains last month. Bars and restaurants, retailers, healthcare, laundry services and gambling halls posted big gains from June to July, reflecting efforts to reopen the economy by relaxing social distancing requirements.

While positive, July’s gains only begin to retrace earlier losses. And it’s not clear that the Labor Department data fully captured rising Covid-19 caseloads toward the end of July, which caused state and local governments to halt or roll back reopening plans and consumers to show renewed caution.

Not everything may be as it seems with the monthly figures. Government jobs, mainly in public schools, rose by a seasonally adjusted 300,000 in July. That’s welcome relief for a sector that typically stabilizes the economy in downturns, but which has been hard hit by the pandemic. However, it may be a mirage. On an unadjusted basis public-school jobs continued to decline in July, but the decrease was smaller than seasonal factors expected—because so many jobs have already been cut. Bottom line: If large school districts holding class online this fall don’t rehire staff, job losses will resume in the public sector soon. —Eric Morath

Can We Fix It?

One final note: The Labor Department appears to have largely solved misclassification problems that had artificially suppressed the unemployment rate. In March, April and May the agency counted millions of workers as absent—something that usually applies to vacation or sick leave—when they probably should have been classified as unemployed. That subtracted as many as 5 percentage points from the headline rate. The issue now accounts for less than 1 percentage point, Labor said Friday.

TWEET OF THE DAY

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WHAT ECONOMISTS ARE SAYING

“This is not a V-shaped recovery. Adding 1.8 million jobs is not sufficient for any sort of speedy recovery after the astronomical job losses of early spring.” —Nick Bunker, Indeed

“The pace of job growth slowed in July, but the gains over the past three months represent an impressive rebound during the ongoing economic challenges brought forth by the pandemic.” —Mike Fratantoni, Mortgage Bankers Association

“Recovery in jobs to pre-pandemic levels will likely be slow and prolonged, one that will restrain the pace of recovery.” —Rubeela Farooqi, High Frequency Economics

“These numbers suggest that the surge in virus cases since late June has so far not prevented the continued re-opening of the economy at the national level.” —Brian Coulton, Fitch Ratings

“The slowdown we’re seeing is a reminder that a return to economic stability is ultimately hinged on addressing the public health crisis.” —Daniel Zhao, Glassdoor

“The economy is expanding, but the pace of improvement has slowed.” —Jim Baird, Plante Moran Financial Advisors

“The huge remaining level gap in employment—still 12.9m lower than in February before the Covid shock hit—will keep the Fed firmly focused on supporting the recovery.” —Krishna Guha, Evercore ISI

“The payroll count still reveals a slowing in the pace of the labor market recovery. In the absence of additional fiscal aid, the broad economy risks losing momentum as it shifts into the second phase of its rehabilitation.” —Kathy Bostjancic, Oxford Economics

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Economy

IPA’s weekly links

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Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

Some student-created infographic examples from the Communicating Economics website. 

  • Communicating Economics is a site with tools, tips, and videos of in-person college level lectures on, well, pretty much what the title says. It comes from the person behind Econ Films, whom I’ve worked with before and are very good at at what they do.
  • A Belgian court has cleared the way for the remains of the first Prime Minister of an independent Republic of Congo (now the DRC) to be returned to his family. In 1961 Patrice Lumumba had been in the job for three months when the Belgian government had him killed, along with two family members. And his “remains” consists of a tooth, because the Belgian authorities also ordered his body to be dissolved in acid. Longer story (for those with strong stomachs) here.
  • An interesting paper by Obie Porteous, analyzing 27,000 econ papers about Africa finds:

“45% of all economics journal articles and 65% of articles in the top five economics journals are about five countries accounting for just 16% of the continent’s population. I show that 91% of the variation in the number of articles across countries can be explained by a peacefulness index, the number of international tourist arrivals, having English as an official language, and population.”

The “big five” locations that dominate Western econ are Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Ghana, and Malawi. On Conversations with Tyler recently, Tyler Cowen asked Nathan Nunn about this (particularly as relates to RCTs). Nunn responded that it’s very difficult to set up a research infrastructure, but once it’s there, it’s hard to go somewhere new and start again, and admitted that even though he doesn’t do RCTs he’s fallen into the same pattern.

  • A cool-looking paper from Agyei-Holmes, Buehren, Goldstein, Osei, Osei-Akoto, & Udry looks at a land titling program in Ghana (I know, see above, but to be fair, I know that at least Udry’s been doing research in Ghana for 30 years, and two of the authors are at Ghanaian institutions). The paper looks at how giving formal ownership to farmers increased their investments into their land and agricultural output. Except that it did the opposite – interestingly, when people got titles to the land, the value of the land increased and the owners, particularly women, shifted to other types of work, and business profits went up.

The post IPA’s weekly links appeared first on Chris Blattman.



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6 Crucial Races That Will Flip the SenateThis November, we have…

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6 Crucial Races That Will Flip the Senate

This November, we have an opportunity to harness your energy and momentum into political power and not just defeat Trump, but also flip the Senate. Here are six key races you should be paying attention to.

1. The first is North Carolina Republican senator Thom Tillis, notable for his “olympic gold” flip-flops. He voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, then offered a loophole-filled replacement that excluded many with preexisting conditions. In 2014 Tillis took the position that climate change was “not a fact” and later urged Trump to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, before begrudgingly acknowledging the realities of climate change in 2018. And in 2019, although briefly opposing Trump’s emergency border wall declaration, he almost immediately caved to pressure.

But Tillis’ real legacy is the restrictive 2013 voter suppression law he helped pass as Speaker of the North Carolina House. The federal judge who struck down the egregious law said its provisions “targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

Enter Democrat Cal Cunningham, who unlike his opponent, is taking no money from corporate PACs. Cunningham is a veteran who supports overturning the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision, restoring the Voting Rights Act, and advancing other policies that would expand access to the ballot box.

2. Maine Senator Susan Collins, a self-proclaimed moderate whose unpopularity has made her especially vulnerable, once said that Trump was unworthy of the presidency. Unfortunately, she spent the last four years enabling his worst behavior. Collins voted to confirm Trump’s judges, including Brett Kavanaugh, and voted to acquit Trump in the impeachment trial, saying he had “learned his lesson” through the process alone. Rubbish.

Collins’ opponent is Sara Gideon, speaker of the House in Maine. As Speaker, Gideon pushed Maine to adopt ambitious climate legislation, anti-poverty initiatives, and ranked choice voting. And unlike Collins, Gideon supports comprehensive democracy reforms to ensure politicians are accountable to the people, not billionaire donors.

Another Collins term would be six more years of cowardly appeasement, no matter the cost to our democracy.

3. Down in South Carolina, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham is also vulnerable. Graham once said he’d “rather lose without Donald Trump than try to win with him.” But after refusing to vote for him in 2016, Graham spent the last four years becoming one of Trump’s most reliable enablers. Graham also introduced legislation to end birthright citizenship, lobbied for heavy restrictions on reproductive rights, and vigorously defended Brett Kavanaugh. Earlier this year, he said that pandemic relief benefits would only be renewed over his dead body.

His opponent, Democrat Jaime Harrison, has brought the race into a dead heat with his bold vision for a “New South.” Harrison’s platform centers on expanding access to healthcare, enacting paid family and sick leave, and investing in climate resistant infrastructure.

Graham once said that if the Republicans nominated Trump the party would “get destroyed,” and “deserve it.” We should heed his words, and help Jaime Harrison replace him in the Senate.

4. Let’s turn to Montana’s Senate race. The incumbent, Republican Steve Daines, has defended Trump’s racist tweets, thanked him for tear-gassing peaceful protestors, and parroted his push to reopen the country during the pandemic as early as May.

Daine’s challenger is former Democratic Governor Steve Bullock. Bullock is proof that Democratic policies can actually gain support in supposedly red states because they benefit people, not the wealthy and corporations. During his two terms, he oversaw the expansion of Medicaid, prevented the passage of union-busting laws, and vetoed two extreme bills that restricted access to abortions.The choice here, once again, is a no-brainer.

5. In Iowa, like Montana, is a state full of surprises. After the state voted for Obama twice, Republican Joni Ernst won her Senate seat in 2014. Her win was a boon for her corporate backers, but has been a disaster for everyone else.

Ernst, a staunch Trump ally, holds a slew of fringe opinions. She pushed anti-abortion laws that would have outlawed most contraception, shared her belief that states can nullify federal laws, and has hinted that she wants to privatize or fundamentally alter social security “behind closed doors.”

Her opponent, Democrat Theresa Greenfield, is a firm supporter of a strong social safety net because she knows its importance firsthand. Union and Social Security survivor benefits helped her rebuild her life after the tragic death of her spouse. With the crippling impact of coronavirus at the forefront of Americans’ minds, Greenfield would be a much needed advocate in the Senate.

6. In Arizona, incumbent Senate Republican Martha McSally is facing Democrat Mark Kelly. Two months after being defeated by Democrat Kyrsten SINema for Arizona’s other Senate seat, McSally was appointed to fill John McCain’s seat following his death. Since then, she’s used that seat to praise Trump and confirm industry lobbyists to agencies like the EPA, and keep cities from receiving additional funds to fight COVID-19. As she voted to block coronavirus relief funds, McSally even had the audacity to ask supporters to “fast a meal” to help support her campaign.

Mark Kelly, a former astronaut and husband of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, became a gun-control activist following the attempt on her life in 2011. His support of universal background checks and crucial policies on the climate crisis, reproductive health, and wealth inequality make him the clear choice.

These are just a few of the important Senate races happening this year.

In addition, the entire House of Representatives will be on the ballot, along with 86 state legislative chambers and thousands of local seats.

Winning the White House is absolutely crucial, but it’s just one piece of the fight to save our democracy and push a people’s agenda. Securing victories in state legislatures is essential to stopping the GOP’s plans to entrench minority rule through gerrymandered congressional districts and restrictive voting laws — and it’s often state-level policies that have the biggest impact on our everyday lives. Even small changes to the makeup of a body like the Texas Board of Education, which determines textbook content for much of the country, will make a huge difference.

Plus, every school board member, state representative, and congressperson you elect can be pushed to enact policies that benefit the people, not just corporate donors.

This is how you build a movement that lasts.



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Economy

Fear & Data

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Causes of Death

 

 

Fear.

It is a key driver of behavior, whether in markets (Fear & Greed), politics (Tribalism), Health care (Anti-Vaxxers) or whatever (FOMO).

Fear is a great memory aid. For most of human history, people communicated not via the written word, but by oral storytelling. Hence, we are primed for emotional, memorable narratives. Looking at data and performing cold, calculated analyses is a learned, not innate, skill.

Social media understands this. Is it any surprise the algorithms of Facebook surfaces the most extreme views and claims? Look at what plays directly into that evolutionary trait, via clickbait and manufactured outrage. With our perfect hindsight bias, isn’t it obvious how inevitable this was?

Irrational fear is a driver of much of what we think and do. Often reflexively, frequently without thought. Contemplate what this means as you process new pandemic information, relying on mental models, performing data analysis.

How often do we react to a headline we disagree with, but after diving into the data underneath, it changes our mind? Not often enough, but on those rare occasions when that happens, it is a sign that you are doing this correctly. Our first reaction is the thoughtless programmed emotional response; the second is the more complex analytical result. It is your lizard brain (basal ganglia and brainstem) versus developed frontal lobe (neocortex).

Which brings us back to Covid-19. The probability of anyone of person getting this disease and then suffering a fatality is exceedingly low. I don’t want to suggest things are statistically normal, and you should definitely do things to stay safe: wear masks, socially distance, wash your hands frequently, and not touch your face. You can be (relatively) safe by doing these simple things.

But excess fear is driving all sorts of negative consequences, including stress, psychoses, economic damage, relationship issues, and health problems. This is counter-productive.

One day, this pandemic will end. Then we can all go back to worrying about cholesterol, high blood pressure and sugar.

 

 

 

 

Previously:
Over/Under Represented: Causes of Death in the Media (June 13, 2019)

Fearing the Dramatic, Complacent for the Mundane (April 29, 2019)

Denominator Blindness, Shark Attack edition (February 5, 2019)

Shark Attacks Illustrate an Investing Problem (February 4, 2019)

MiB: Danny Kahneman (February 11, 2017)

Crashes & Terrorists & Sharks – Oh, My! (November 9, 2015)

How’s Your MetaCognition? (August 16, 2013)

 


Source: Our World In Data

 

 

The post Fear & Data appeared first on The Big Picture.



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