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Low Unemployment Scam and Rising Labor Costs Hypocrisy

(Early Draft)

The labor force participation rate is pro-cyclical, meaning that it goes up as tight labor markets induce new entrants into the labor market; and it goes down when soggy labor markets lead the discouraged unemployed to drop out of the labor force.

So, the short answer to the puzzle why there is statistically solid job growth since mid 2006 was just a problem with the method of collecting the statistic and it might well be that nonfarm payroll growth really is/was almost absent.  There are two factors here:


Employment Statistics

Detailed data in the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Business Employment Dynamics (BED) release, which comes out with a two-quarter lag, show employment growth of only 19 thousand in 2006Q3, while the nonfarm payroll tally for that quarter was over 450 thousand. More recently, the BLS’s more timely Job Opening and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) for April – last month! – showed job openings rose only 24 thousand, with this series essentially flat since last August. The JOLTS report also showed that new hires in March (this data subset is released with a one month lag) fell 29 thousand.  The question arises why government reports more then 100K created jobs figure each month.

Richard Benson in his paper How the Government Creates Jobs analyzed the situation in the following way:

Our elected officials and Wall Street executives all have a vested interest in keeping the perception of a robust economy alive. The employment data announced each month is critical to this perception, but a thorough analysis of the data suggests something quite different that what we are told.

Since 9/11, 60 percent of job creation has related almost directly to the housing boom and consumer spending, generated from home equity extraction through mortgage refinance. Remember, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates to one percent and kicked off the greatest housing bubble of all time. The housing boom created an America with over 1,200,000 real estate agents, and hundreds of thousands of jobs in the mortgage and home construction industry.

On the surface, the job market looks sound and Wall Street bulls take every opportunity to reinforce this belief whenever low initial unemployment claims are announced. But common sense tells me there is something brewing below the surface and this housing bust will have an even bigger impact on our economy, than previously suggested, by reducing employment and consumer spending, in a big way.

(The officially reported governmental statistics fail to note that a very high percentage of new jobs created in the past few years were commission-only jobs, or jobs with independent contractor status. Workers categorized as independent contractors are not eligible for unemployment benefits. This means all of the real estate agents who haven't made a sale, along with the mortgage bankers who no longer have a company to bring their loans to, will not be filing for unemployment, even though they haven't made a dime. The Department of Labor Statistics, however, continues to view these unemployed and vastly under-employed workers as holding full- time jobs.)

The latest employment data from the payroll survey showed it added 88,000 workers. However, the household survey - a broader measure - showed a loss of almost 500,000 jobs. According to the household survey, over 360,000 workers simply dropped out of the labor force in April. So, if you want to believe the Wall Street touts, please go right ahead and put your rose-colored glasses back on and tune into that movie with the happy Hollywood ending. If, on the other hand, you think like me and believe there is an economic storm brewing, please read on.

Our government "prints up jobs out of thin air" the same way the Federal Reserve prints up money. To manufacture jobs, The Bureau of Labor Statistics uses their very own Net Birth/Death computer model (see CES Net Birth/Death Model for job creation at The idea behind the model is simple: Because small firms are always failing and starting up and it takes a few months for them to report on the payroll survey, an estimate is needed for the new jobs created. So, back when the economy was recovering, the Net Birth/Death Computer Model added jobs that had very likely been created. Their methodology goes like this:

I realize the above may sound confusing, but it's actually meant to. This is economic propaganda created by our very own government! This false creation of jobs is not that much different from the over-stated earnings created by the executives at Enron that brought the company down.

There is a lot of information on the Web with scalting critique of Birth and Death adjustment. for example  BLS Censors Birth/Death Employment Disclaimer ( noted that

An intrepid reader from Germany (we're big overseas) writes in to us to note a significant change in the BLS's documentation of the "Birth-Death model". This is a computation the BLS makes to its CES employment statistic to account for supposed business births and deaths which wouldn't be expected to show up in the job creation count. However, the contribution of this factor since 2001 has increased, at times accounting for 40-80% of all jobs tallied as created (discussions can be found here and here).

The BLS used to admit that this factor would tend to be way off during economic trend changes. But as source points out:

Accidentially I noticed yesterday, that the most interesting part of the information concerning the model has been cut out:

Please compare the current content of the site (last updated on Feb 1st 08) to the attached printout I made in Dec 07.

Missing is a part of the text containing sentences like "The most significant drawback to this or any model-based approach is that time series modelling [...] is likely to have some difficulty producing reliable estimates at economic turning points..."

We used to consider the BLS's disclaimers refreshingly honest -- for anyone who actually bothered to read them and go beyond the superficial "headline" employment statistics. For example, these guys even admitted they implemented a "substitution effect" computation -- a favorable downward-smoothing -- into the CPI, even though actual studies looking for the effect were inconclusive. But hey, maybe they've erased that disclosure too. That'll solve the inconsistency.

Apparently, too many people are finding out that the employment statistics are extremely suspect, especially when the economy's trajectory changes. There has been a lot of coverage of this in the blogosphere over the last few years. So right now the BLS must realize that the last thing it needs is to be admitting that its employment numbers become almost purely fictional when entering an economic downturn. Given how important a topic the economy has suddenly become, one might argue this is the most critical time to have accurate numbers! (A point lost on academic economists with their back-testing.)

We'd love to hear the BLS's explanation for why they removed this disclaimer. Have the methods changed so radically (completely unannounced) that this flaw is now eliminated, or is this just more informational subterfuge from the government?

For the record, here is a pdf screenshot of today's version of the page, in case they do change it back.

A final question. Why remove the disclaimer if, as the latest employment benchmark revisions suggest, the BLS was only off by 14% in 2007?

Pimco's Gross analyses the situation in a slightly different way and with less emotions but points out to the same mechanism of computer generated jobs:

Here at PIMCO, we continue to expect the unemployment rate to go up. Thus, we are still (painfully, since December) long of duration, concentrated in the front end of the yield curve. And why are we still bearish on employment growth?
First and foremost, unemployment is a lagging variable, notably of momentum in discretionary aggregate demand. And discretionary aggregate demand has been unambiguously decelerating in recent quarters, and not just in residential construction, as displayed in the chart below.
The Great Puzzle
So why hasn’t the unemployment rate already risen? It’s the great puzzle, in the words of San Francisco Fed President Janet Yellen. The short answer to the puzzle is that the labor force participation rate has fallen, accounting fully for the drop from 4.7% to 4.5% for the unemployment rate over the last year. But this doesn’t make sense when you look at nonfarm payroll growth, which, again in the words of Ms. Yellen, has been gangbusters.

... ... ...

And a key reason is that the BLS, while very good at counting heads at existing firms, must make an assumption, in real time, about the birth-death rate for firms, so as to estimate the net gain/loss in jobs as firms open and close, a never-ending feature of a capitalist economy. In the early years of expansions, the birth assumption systematically is too low and the death assumption is systematically too high, which results in "jobless recoveries," which turn out to be not-so-jobless recoveries upon revision. The exact opposite holds in the late years of expansions and particularly in recessions. Such is the case, it would appear, at present.

Thus, in contrast to last August, when the job tally for the year ending March 2006 was revised up some 800 thousand, a stunningly large revision, the opposite is likely to unfold in this August’s benchmark revision for the year ending March 2007. Not to suggest, I hasten to add, that a downward revision equal to last year’s upward revision is in the cards. The honest answer is that we don’t know how big it will be. But available data, notably the BED and JOLTS data, point squarely to a downward revision.

So what, you say. Economists always bellyache about the quality of the data when they go against their forecasts. This is true. It is also true, however, that poor data can make for poor policy making, if and when the data is taken to be religiously true. This is particularly the case if the data is known to be lagging data of the business cycle, as is the case with the unemployment rate. Acting on the data, or refusing to act because of it, is the stuff of policy mistakes, sometimes known as recessions.

 Unemployment rate

Given that, the following report from, "Why the Job Market Is Worse than you Think," probably isn't much of a surprise:

An unemployment rate of 5% is low by historic standards. But the number of people out of work for long stretches is rising dramatically.

Ahead of Friday's January employment report, there is a lot of concern about the weakening job market, even as the unemployment rate stands at a relatively modest 5%.

The Federal Reserve cited evidence of a "softening in labor markets" when it announced both of its rate cuts this month. Congress is rushing to pass a $150 billion stimulus package that the Bush administration said should add 500,000 jobs to the economy.

The worries about the job market are widely shared on Main Street, Wall Street and inside the beltway.

The Conference Board's latest consumer confidence survey found that twice as many people believed there would be fewer jobs available six months from now than those who expected more jobs.

And a survey conducted for Fortune magazine from earlier this month found that just over one in four Americans are somewhat worried or very worried about losing their job in the next 12 months.

Economists surveyed by are forecasting that the unemployment rate will remain at 5% in Friday's report. However, it's worth a reminder that this is up from just 4.7% in November. And economists expect an addition of 70,000 jobs in the month, only a modest increase.

But the jobs numbers may be even worse than they first appear. That's because the number of Americans who have been out of work for six months or longer is on the rise.

Harder to find a new job The number of long-term unemployed stood at a seasonally-adjusted 1.3 million in December, up about 22 percent from year-earlier levels. The full-year average for 2007 was 1.2 million long-term unemployed, nearly double the reading for 2000 -- just before the last recession.

For all of 2007, about 17.6% of those who were unemployed had been out of work six months or more. That compares to only 11.4% who were long-term unemployed in 2000.

"You have to understand that 5% unemployment today is worse than 5% unemployment 10-15 years ago," said Jason Furman, senior fellow, Brookings Institution.

Furman and others say long-term unemployment is not just a problem for those struggling to find jobs. It poses a risk for the economy as a whole and cuts into household earnings and economic output.

If 5% of the labor force is unemployed for a short time as they switch jobs, they could keep spending, drawing on a combination of government assistance and personal savings.

But those who are unemployed more than six months lose unemployment insurance benefits and are more likely to deplete savings to the point where they are forced to cut back on spending.

They also will be far more likely to accept jobs at lower pay than their previous positions, which puts downward pressure on wages.

"We are looking at a labor market already that is weak and set to get a lot weaker," said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Problem could get worse. As the stimulus package makes its way through the Senate, there have been pushes to extend unemployment benefits beyond six months.

Even if it's not included in this bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would support separate legislation to address the growing problem.

"While it might have been premature to extend benefits in the past at this level of unemployment, today it could be overdue," said Furman.

If the economy does enter a recession, the problem of long-term unemployment could reach levels not seen since the early 1980's, according to Baker.

A report from the Congressional Budget Office last October confirmed that the long-term unemployment problem is a growing one, suggesting there could be a fundamental shift in the labor markets.

"People are less likely to become unemployed than in the past, but those who do become unemployed are more likely to remain unemployed for more than half a year," said the October 2007 report.

Older work force playing a role The CBO report didn't have any easy answers for this trend. But it suggested that the aging of the work force might be a major contributing factor.

Baker agrees that the demographic shift is probably part of the problem.

"Someone well into their forties who loses their job at their peak earning potential, they might be expecting a higher pay than someone in their twenties," Baker said. "Even if they're willing to take a lower paying job, the employer might decide not to offer it to them because they'll fear the older worker won't be loyal."

The CBO report added that some firms are using temporary layoffs less frequently than in the past. When someone loses a job today, it's likely a permanent separation.

Employers and workers getting more picky Officials in job outplacement firms, hired by firms to work with employees who have lost their jobs, say they're seeing some increase in the time it takes to find new positions even for those generally better educated workers with whom they work.

Cory Holbrough, senior vice president of Lee Hecht Harrison, said that employers for skilled positions are becoming more selective about new hires than they used to be.

"In the past they might have hired the best person who had eight or nine of the ten skill sets they were looking for," he said. "Now they are saying, 'We want all ten skill sets.'"

John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said the much-publicized downturn in the housing market is also playing a role, as some job seekers are less willing to relocate to take a new job if it's going to mean taking a large loss on their current home.

Along those lines, he noted that 11% of job seekers relocated in the fourth quarter of 2007, down from 15.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2006.

"Rising labor costs" hypocrisy

When statisticians talk about “labor costs” (and economists and politicians talk about “compensation”) they mean all forms of earned income, like wages, salaries, bonuses and stock options, plus benefits, like insurance and pensions. Measured that way, employees don’t look too terribly squeezed.

But the truth is that rising labor costs (increases in compensation) are limited to upper echelons of executives and first of all to excessive granting (and backdating them to add insult to injury) of options which dilute shareholder value.  For most workers, increases in wages or salaries, if any, have been steadily eroded by inflation. At the same time health insurance now costs more and covers less leading to the deterioration of the standard of living. [Look Who Got a Raise - New York Times].  The process started before Reagan presidency (1981–1989) but accelerated during it and never stopped since.  Here is one relevant quote [Economist's View]:

Many advocates of free trade claim that higher productivity growth in the United States will offset any downward pressure on wages caused by the global sweatshop economy, but the appealing theory falls victim to an unpleasant fact. Productivity has been going up, without resulting wage gains for American workers. Between 1977 and 1992, the average productivity of American workers increased by more than 30 percent, while the average real wage fell by 13 percent. The logic is inescapable. No matter how much productivity increases, wages will fall if there is an abundance of workers competing for a scarcity of jobs--an abundance of the sort created by the globalization of the labor pool for U.S.-based corporations.

Actually modern versions of executive compensation stimulate types of behavior of managers similar to perversions typical during Brezhnev's socialism. For example, granting of options stimulates shares buybacks independently on corporate performance (corporate performance be damn, to be exact): buybacks essentially is new type of insurance of executive compensation that is included directly in corporate budgets. It increases the probability that executive options will not by under the water when the time comes to exercise them.

Outside the few who are affected by options and other similar forms of compensation the picture is quite different. For regular workers from truckers to programmers, increases in wages or salaries, if any, have been steadily eroded by inflation. At the same time health insurance now costs more and covers less leading to the deterioration of the standard of living. [Look Who Got a Raise - New York Times]

Also the types of jobs created are much less attractive the jobs eliminated (jobs pool erosion). Too many new jobs are McJobs: low paying jobs in service sector without health insurance.  The same is true about many self-employed (and this sector is growing the most rapidly due to real estate boom). 

Government bureaucrats are afraid to tell the truth. Richard Benson is one critics of government labor statistics who wrote several insightful papers on the subject. He noted

"The BLS is mindful of how politically sensitive any reported job data is to the White House, so there is a strong bias for the government bureaucrats to publish a favorable jobs report."

Also offshoring is one of the source from which vigorous corporate profits are coming and it is indirectly influence the "rising productivity" statistics. While  the strong earnings growth of U.S.-based corporations might be real, the question arise what part of those  gains are coming from improvements in domestic productivity and what part from offshoring. Moving strategic aspects of production or product development overseas could be having a greater impact on corporate earnings than anyone guessed--or measured.

Houseman first uncovered the problem with the numbers that is created by offshoring, she was primarily focused on manufacturing productivity, where the official stats show a 32% increase since 2000. But while some of the gains may be real, they also include unlikely productivity jumps in heavily outsourced industries (see, 6/2/07, "Overseas Sweatshops Are a U.S. Responsibility") such as furniture and audio and video equipment such as televisions. "In some sectors, productivity growth may be an indicator not of how competitive American workers are in international markets," says Houseman, "but rather of how cost-uncompetitive they are." For example, furniture manufacturing has been transformed by offshoring in recent years. Imports have surged from $17.2 billion in 2000 to $30.3 billion in 2006, with virtually all of that increase coming from low-cost China. And the industry has lost 21% of its jobs during the same period.

Yet Washington's official statistics show that productivity per hour in the furniture industry went up by 23% and output by 3% between 2000 and 2005. Those numbers baffle longtime industry consultant Arthur Raymond of Raleigh, N.C., who has watched factory after factory close. "And we haven't pumped any money into the remaining plants," says Raymond. "How anybody can say that domestic production has stayed level is beyond me."


Paul B. Toms Jr., CEO of publicly traded Hooker Furniture Corp., (HOFT ) recently closed his company's last remaining domestic wood-furniture manufacturing plant, in Martinsville, Va. It was the culmination of a wrenching process that started in 2000, when Hooker still made the vast majority of its products in the U.S. Toms didn't want to go overseas, he says, but he couldn't pass up the 20% to 25% savings to be gleaned from manufacturing there.

The lure ofoffshoring works the same way for large companies. Byrne of Accenture is working with a "major transportation equipment company" that's planning to offshore more than half of its parts procurement over the next few years. Most of it will go to China. "We're talking about 30% to 40% cost reductions," says Byrne.

Yet no matter how hard you look, you can't find any trace of the cost savings from offshoring in the import price statistics. The furniture industry's experience is particularly telling. Despite the surge of low-priced chairs, tables, and similar products from China, the BLS is reporting that the import price of furniture has actually risen 6.7% since 2003.

The numbers for Chinese imports as a whole are equally out of step with reality. Over the past three years, total imports have climbed by 89%, as U.S.-based companies have rushed to take advantage of the enormous cost advantages. Yet over the same period, the import price index for goods coming out of China has declined a mere 2.3%.

In reality what is called "rising labor costs" more property can be called "rising stratification of the society.". Here is one relevant quote  from the interview of Martin Mayer, Banking Expert (, May 7, 2007):

Mayer: I'm not a believer in NAIRU (Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment). Greenspan told me he can't understand why I don't believe in NAIRU as a valid economic principle but I think the problem is plain. NAIRU says that wages drive inflation. But my observation is that this is not the case.

Higher prices never start with wage earners getting higher wages. Wage earners demand higher wages in response to higher prices. The cycle starts with the prices of things wage earners buy, such as gasoline.

That's happening today and has been going on for a while, and that's why I believe there's more inflation risk than the markets perceive and why the Fed will keep raising rates. more ($ subscription)...


Minyanville - NEWS & VIEWS-New Jobs Magically Vanish

The birth-death "adjustment" added 177,000 jobs to the latest report, which put the total adjustment for the year at 600,000 new jobs - or so the government claims.

Of course, they arrived at this number through a completely flawed methodology: At the end of the year, these numbers will quietly be backed out - just as they were last year. Even given these manufactured numbers, employment decline is consistent with recession.

The government only has statistics for jobs that are lost by small businesses; they get this information from employment insurance numbers, etc. They have no information about how many jobs are created. Thus, they make it up.

They just assume that for every job lost, there's one added - and then they add that back to the jobs number.

This logic is flawed, to say the least.

In a recession, does it make sense that jobs would be created at the same rate at which they're lost? Of course not. But that's how government bureaucrats think and act - just one reason we're in so much trouble.

It's not reality, but manipulation, pure and simple. If you recall, the government very quietly acknowledged that all those birth/death assumptions were false at the end of last year. No one seemed to notice this, of course.

But presto! Over a million jobs they claimed were created vanished into thin air.

Snakes and Ladders - Times Online - WBLG Top 14 spurious productivity surveys

Last week I wrote about workplace productivity, and claimed barely a week passes without someone somewhere publishing an outlandish, pr-inspired survey supposedly exposing a way in which workers waste time. Eager to maximise my own productivity, and eager to minimise the workplace productivity of timesonline readers, I kept a record of the weirdest ones as I did my research, and am now delighted to present a list of the top 14 most ridiculous productivity surveys, as presented in the press, in reverse order of spuriousness. Somehow “14” seems an apt number for an arena that routinely sees the production of bizarrely precise estimates.

1. Underperforming middle managers are costing the British industry billions of pounds a year in lost productivity, according to management consultants the Hay Group.

2. Meetings with little or no value are costing millions of pounds in lost productivity, according to Bibby Financial Services.

3. British firms fear the Rugby World Cup will cost £461m in lost productivity as staff use corporate systems to keep track of their teams while they should be working according to web content and email security firm Marshal.

4. Workers sleeping-in costs the British economy £619m a year in lost productivity, according to fresh research from hotel chain Travelodge.

5. Computer crashes, fire drills, gossiping and bad timekeeping and pointless meetings and making coffee and other “time wasting” costs British firms up to £6.85bn a year, according to recruitment firm Office Angels.

6. Almost one-third of office staff admit to gambling online during working hours, costing their employers more than £300m a year in lost productivity, according to research published by Morse, the business and technology consultancy.

7. Big Brother is costing British businesses £1.4m a week in lost productivity as employees log on to see the latest antics online, according to software company websense.

8. The four weeks of the 2006 World Cup are set to cost the average UK business £8400 in lost productivity per 100 employees, predicts the web content filtering vendor Marshal.

9. Office politics costs business £7.8bn a year, according to a survey of temporary workers by

10. Spam costs American companies more than $70bn a year in lost worker productivity, according to a study released by Nucleus Research.

11. A new white paper from Cornerstone Imaging has concluded that inadequate display monitors are costing businesses thousands of pounds every year in lost productivity.

12. Independent research has found that fragmented communications means that enterprises of 1000 persons could leak nearly $13m a year in lost productivity and avoidable expenses, according to independent research commissioned by Siemens.

13. A typical European employee wastes an average of 67 minutes every day looking for company information – meaning that an organisation with a 1000 staff on £34,000 a year wastes £5.39m a year as staff look for company information to make decisions, according to Information Builders, the leader in business intelligence solutions and integration.

14. Coughing costs the UK economy £875m a year in lost productivity, according to the British Thoracic Society.

Personally, I will only die happy if I see a survey calculating the amount of time workers waste reading surveys on workplace productivity.

Posted by Sathnam Sanghera on November 29, 2007 in Office life | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0) | Email this post



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