Tag Archives: jobs

Evidence Can Be Such A Downer….

Last week in Indiana, as our legislature geared up for its short session, Governor Holcomb delivered his State of the State address. One of the major emphases of that speech was about the importance of worker retraining.

Gov. Eric Holcomb used his nearly 30-minute speech Tuesday night to set some lofty goals, primarily in the area of educating and training Hoosier workers.

He identified more than a million Hoosiers who need better skills and set a goal of educating or retraining 55,000 Hoosiers over the next year who didn’t finish college or don’t have a high school diploma.

Although the Governor’s emphasis upon jobs and attention to other actual governance issues represents a welcome change from his predecessor’s obsession with imposing his version of biblical obedience on citizens of Indiana, this focus on retraining ignores an inconvenient reality: data continues to demonstrate that these programs mostly don’t work.

A recent article in the Atlantic summarized our current situation.

The article begins by noting that the problem is very real: automation has decimated manufacturing employment; estimates are that nine out of ten manufacturing jobs have been replaced by automation since 2000. Trade (mostly with China) has cost America another 2.4 million jobs. Of the 1.6 million manufacturing jobs that were lost during the 2008 recession, only 200,000 came back.

It’s true that trade and automation also create jobs, but they are jobs calling for very different skills than those being lost.

Most jobs that are available–primarily in computer technology, health care, and high-skill manufacturing– require training beyond high school. But despite what the article calls “decades of investment” in job-retraining programs, numerous studies have found them to be ineffective.

One problem, according to experts, is that job-retraining programs “remain rooted in the industrial era.” They haven’t evolved with the economy.

Workforce-development officials and labor economists describe four main trends in the job market that make the road from unemployment to retraining more treacherous now than it was even a decade ago. These trends, according to observers, have turned the government programs to support dislocated workers into relics of the past.

Not only do we live in an era where the skills needed to keep up in any job are changing at a much faster pace than before, but states have added licensing requirements to an enormous number of occupations. According to some estimates, those licensing requirements have cost the economy some 2.85 million jobs nationwide. Nearly 30 percent of American workers need a license these days; in the 1950s, only 5 percent did.

Do we really need to license interior decorators, travel agents, painters and auctioneers?

Researchers have also determined that the speed of retraining is critical–being jobless for a year or more permanently hinders a worker’s chance of new employment. (Retraining is actually most successful if it starts before a worker leaves his old job, but few people have the benefit of sufficient advance notice to make that feasible.)

Finally–and this pains me, but I recognize its accuracy–retraining typically is offered through a college or university, and most laid-off workers, especially older ones, have minimal interest in starting or returning to college. Worse, most colleges take far too long to create or update retraining programs. (As I discovered when I joined the faculty at my own university, lack of urgency may be the defining factor of higher education–followed closely by lack of flexibility. Unfortunately, speed and flexibility are critically important to retraining.)

Perhaps the biggest obstacle of all is the “chicken and egg” character of the problem. As the Atlantic article concludes, workers aren’t likely to waste their time retraining simply to retrain. Unless there is a specific job at the end, they won’t bother.

As with so many of the issues we face in public administration, it’s more complicated–and daunting– than it seems.

As Chambers of Commerce endlessly reminds us, employers look to locate in places with an educated workforce. In the long term, we’d get a better return on our investment of tax dollars by increasing funding for public schools.

But this is Indiana. I won’t hold my breath.



If Jobs Were Really What Mattered….

I’m one of the people who watched with disbelief as the GOP tax “reform” bill was loaded up with provisions that any sentient human would know to be counterproductive. There are two possible explanations why lawmakers might support this disastrous legislation, and they are not necessarily incompatible: the sponsors of this piece of excrement really believe–in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary–that it will spur economic growth, or they are obeying the demands of their donors/masters.

I say the two explanations aren’t necessarily incompatible because humans have an infinite capacity for self-delusion. It is entirely plausible that our elected Representatives and Senators prefer not to acknowledge, even to themselves, that they have been bought and paid for, and instead have convinced themselves of the merits of policies that have ushered in disaster every time they’ve  been tried.

In fact, as I have watched members of a once-responsible political party disintegrate into delusion and corruption, I’ve noticed their growing preference for make-believe rhetoric over reality. Ryan and McConnell, especially, have been displaying a decidedly Trump-like belief that assertions can shape reality–that saying it will make it so.

Increasingly, Republicans in both the legislature and Administration live in La La Land.

Case in point: the repeated Republican refrain about job creation. Listening to the rhetoric, you’d think that the retention and creation of jobs was really an important focus of GOP policy. (Of course, if you’d been listening to Republican rhetoric since well before Reagan, you’d have thought deficits were a concern– in the wake of the tax bill, we can see how bogus that was.)

So–how’s that “jobs focus” thing working out?

Well, here in Indiana, Carrier Corporation is continuing its move to Mexico, despite Trump’s boasts about preventing the move, and despite the company’s extraction of some seven million dollars in “economic development” money from the state.

And from The Hill, we learn

An analysis of Labor Department data by the labor coalition Good Jobs Nation found that more than 93,000 U.S. jobs have been eliminated since Trump’s election due to foreign trade.

That’s roughly on par with the previous five years, which saw an average of 87,500 jobs per year eliminated.

The coalition’s analysis also found that the number of jobs outsourced by federal contractors has actually risen since Trump was elected. Since November 2016, some of the biggest federal contractors have offshored some 10,269 jobs, making up 11 percent of trade-related layoffs, compared to 4 percent in the previous five years.

It is becoming more apparent by the day that Trump’s loyal core–around 30% of the electorate–desperately wants to believe even his most obvious and embarrassing lies. They’re like the boyfriend who really does realize that his lover is cheating, but who nevertheless talks himself into believing her increasingly unlikely alibis. Trump loyalists desperately want to believe that this pathetic buffoon can reverse global realities, make “great deals” in which business enterprises and other countries will miraculously ignore their own interests, and–most important of all– take the country back to a coal-fired past in which white Christian males were dominant (and could grab p**sy with impunity).
Just like that boyfriend, they want him to keep lying to them.

Beyond the Factory Floor

The other day, I looked into a mirror and suddenly realized that my mother was looking back.

It sneaks up on you.

Most of us don’t notice the day-to-day changes in ourselves, or our environments, unless something triggers that recognition. That is especially true of the inexorable increase in automation–and it matters, because it is automation, far more than trade, that has eliminated so many American jobs. And that automation isn’t limited to spiffy robots on a factory floor; it is all around us.

When I first started to drive, gas station attendants pumped my gas and cleaned my windshield. These days, I pump my own gas, and the windshield gets cleaned when I go through the automated carwash. When I first practiced law, one legal secretary worked for two lawyers at most;  partners in the larger firms usually had their own secretary (and still dictated directly to her as she sat, steno pad in hand). Today, even in the “silk stocking” firms, lawyers type their own letters, emails and documents on their computers. Wealthier families often had maids and cooks; ever-improving home appliances have reduced the jobs available for such domestic help.

Old movies will sometimes feature the banks of telephone operators who used to direct calls, handle switching equipment and place “person to person” long-distance calls. My IPhone doesn’t require those switchboard operators. Speaking of telephones, those ubiquitous “telephone trees” are a decidedly mixed blessing, but most businesses use them rather than the human employees who used to answer the phones.

Remember the rows of bank tellers with eyeshades, who kept account ledgers by hand? Computers have replaced them.

I don’t know how much snail-mail has been replaced by email, but my guess is that we aren’t running short of postal workers.

As we anticipate an era of self-driving cars, we might consider the trade-off to come: greater safety and cost-effectiveness for individuals against eventual loss of employment for literally millions of truck, delivery van, taxi and Uber drivers.

Technological innovations make our lives more satisfying, our work more productive and our daily tasks more efficient–but they also take their toll on the workforce, and not just numerically. It’s true that many of these modern conveniences create new jobs, but rarely in the numbers they replace, and usually requiring a different and more demanding set of skills.

We are going to need some creative policies to deal with the accelerating and inevitable changes in the job market. Retraining–while undoubtedly a critical component–will not address the plight of the high-school dropout who lacks the capacity to learn more demanding skills, or the older displaced worker who cannot cope with radical change.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know we will continue to see machines displace human employees, and I’m pretty sure that bribing Carrier to delay moving 700 or so workers to Mexico is neither an answer nor a policy.

Beyond the Bumper Stickers

“It’s more complicated than that” is a sentence I probably mutter in my sleep. (My students  think I repeat it on a daily basis, sort of like a mantra.)

In a New York Times op-ed a couple of weeks ago, Miriam Sapiro, who was a deputy U.S. trade representative from 2009 to 2014, addressed one of the many subjects that is more complicated than either free-trade purists or knee-jerk opponents of markets understand, in “What Trump and Sanders Get Wrong About Free Trade.”

After noting that the United States enjoys a 200 billion dollar trade surplus, she points out that unless we continue working to pry open foreign markets for American goods and services, we will have a hard time creating more jobs: Nearly all of the world’s population lives outside our borders.

The Department of Commerce estimates that every increase of $1 billion in exports sustains nearly 6,000 jobs, and that export-related jobs pay on average 18 percent more than jobs focused on the domestic market.

We Americans have an unfortunate tendency toward “either/or” arguments. Trade is good or bad. We are for it or against it. But this is one of those areas in which the question is not–or should not be–yes or no, but how. What distinguishes a good trade agreement from a bad one? How do we ensure an equal playing field? If domestic manufacturers have to abide by rules protecting the environment and ensuring fair labor practices, for example, other parties to these agreements should be bound by similar constraints. All trade agreements are not equal.

And we need to recognize that there are multiple causes of our economic problems.

Rather than blaming international trade for economic woes, we need to have an honest conversation about what the United States must do to strengthen its economy. More than 20 percent of American children today live in poverty. Our educational system, once the envy of the world, now ranks in the bottom half of much of the developed world. The tax system rewards companies that exploit loopholes, infrastructure is crumbling and training programs lack the kind of apprenticeship and credentialing opportunities that Germany and other major economies offer…
Of course it is easier to score points by denouncing trade than to tackle the tough issues, but such demagogy ignores the roots of economic insecurity and inequality.

It’s handy to have a villain to identify, but the emotional satisfaction of identifying someone or some thing as the “bad guy” rarely translates into a solution to the problem at hand.

It is also a mistake to think that positions on trade policy break down along neat party lines. As we learn from Political Animal, 

U.S. Conference of Mayors (which is overwhelmingly Democratic), endorsed TPP. The reason, as Ron Brownstein pointed out, is clear.

New data released May 13 by the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program helps explain the mayors’ tilt toward trade…Brookings found that fully 86 percent of U.S. exports now originate from urban areas. Moreover, exports drove more than one-quarter of all metro area economic growth from 2009-2014.

I think it was H.L. Mencken who said “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

There are Jobs and Then There are Jobs

I remember admonishing my then teenage sons that “any job is worthwhile.” But the summer jobs we were discussing were highly unlikely to be permanent.

Things are a bit different for the adult working poor in the Great State of Indiana.

When our Governor or Mayor announces that–thanks to his mighty economic development prowess–Indiana or Indianapolis will be the site of X new jobs, everyone applauds. The media dutifully reports that jobs are being created (or stolen from elsewhere). If the story mentions the average salaries those jobs will generate, it’s toward the end.

There’s a reason for that.

Derek Thomas (full disclosure, a former student of mine) is an analyst for and blogger with the Indiana Institute for Working Families. His most recent blog demonstrates why we need to pay attention to the quality of jobs, and not simply the quantity.

We reported last year that as of 2011, Indiana had a higher percent of jobs in occupations with poverty-level wages than all neighboring states, the Midwestern average and the U.S. average, and that job growth was largely concentrated in low-wage work. New analysis shows that among neighboring states, Kentucky took the 2012 title back by a slim margin. However, Indiana still holds the dubious distinction of having the largest percent growth in occupations with poverty-level wages over the past three years – nearly 12% from 2010 – 2012. Additionally, the percent of jobs in occupations with median annual pay less than twice the poverty threshold is up from 71% to 72.1% – of neighboring states, only Kentucky has more (slightly).

Translation: even when we get new jobs, they aren’t good jobs. The people who fill them aren’t going to fill Hoosier tax coffers, they aren’t going to have disposable income to spend in Hoosier stores, and some percentage of them will have to rely upon social welfare services funded by our tax dollars. (But they’ll have the “right” to work.)

Well, we were recently ranked as the 8th dumbest state.

Honest to goodness, Indiana…