- Pennsylvania Among 'Terrible 10' Most Regressive Tax States
- February 4 Non-Partisan Training: HOW TO RUN FOR ELECTION BOARD IN 2013: HOW TO RUN FOR COMMITTEEPERSON IN 2014
- Republican Governors Opt-In to Medicaid Expansion
- The Reports of Unions' Death Are Greatly Exaggerated
- Ask Allyson Schwartz to run for Governor
- Mind the gap: Opting Out of Medicaid Expansion Leaves Low-income Families Behind
- Jan. 14 Workshop:HOW TO RUN FOR ELECTION BOARD IN 2013; HOW TO RUN FOR COMMITTEEPERSON IN 2014
- Seth Williams on Guns, Jasmine Rivera on School Closures @PFC Meetup Wednesday
- PA Revenue Strong Midway Through Year; Tax Cut Could Have Big Impact
- What to Make of the Fiscal Cliff Deal?
Actually knowing something about economics is depressing.
Unless you are Hillary Clinton, and refuse to bother with those "elite economists," things start looking dark.
This month, Harper's magazine published a 'sky is falling' article on its cover (uploaded here in pdf format, or read an abridged version here), stating that the economy is worse than we know. It charts how the calculation of government numbers (like the Consumer Price Index) has shifted and shifted again to make sure things look like they are moving in the right direction. For example:
[Nixon] proposed albeit unsuccessfully—that the Labor Department, which prepared both seasonally adjusted and non-adjusted unemployment numbers, should just publish whichever number was lower. In a more consequential move, he asked his second Federal Reserve chairman, Arthur Burns, to develop what became an ultimately famous division between "core" inflation and headline inflation. It the Consumer Price Index was calculated by tracking a bundle of prices, so-called core inflation would simply exclude, because of "volatility," categories that happened to he troublesome: at that time, food and energy. Core inflation could he spotlighted when the headline number was embarrassing, as it was in 1973 and 1974. (The economic commentator Barry Ritholtz has joked that core inflation is better called "inflation ex-inflation"—i.e., inflation after the inflation has been excluded.)
The adjustments continued: Reagan shifted the mechanism for accounting for housing costs, and pulled military servicemembers and suddenly classified them as 'employed' instead of outside the labor force. And then under Clinton, employment statistics shifted again:
Although expunged from the ranks of the unemployed, discouraged workers had nevertheless been counted in the larger workforce. But in 1994, the Bureau of Labor Statistics redefined the workforce to include only that small percentage of the discouraged who had been seeking work for less than a year. The longer-term discouraged—some 4 million U.S. adults—fell out of the main monthly tally. Some now call them the "hidden unemployed." For its last four years, the Clinton Administration also thinned the monthly household economic sampling by one sixth, from 60,000 to 50,000, and a disproportionate number of the dropped households were in the inner cities; the reduced sample (and a new adjustment formula) is believed to have reduced black unemployment estimates and eased worsening poverty figures.
This week the Inquirer wrote about just these people: outside of the statistics but not in a viable job. They talked to a former rower with a biochemistry degree who was laid off and is cobbling together work landscaping, financial consulting, and Ebay selling. And they talked to YPP's Mark Price about the gap between what the numbers show and how people are living here in the Philadelphia area:
As the bad economic news piles up, most people focus on the unemployment rate. But economists say these other measures of underemployment are also important indicators of economic distress. They tend to rise with unemployment, compounding the negative numbers. ....
Mark Price, a labor economist with Pennsylvania's Keystone Research Center, lists the ingredients for what he terms "the most liberal definition of unemployment": people who are unemployed and looking for work, people who want jobs but have given up looking for one, and people who have taken part-time jobs because they can't find full-time work.
These measurements provide the broadest measure of labor underutilization, according to Price.
Last month, 9.2 percent of the workforce fell into one of these three categories.
These are among the numbers to watch if economic woes deepen, especially because the job market never fully recovered from the recession of 2001, Price said.
The 9.2 percent, which better captures the lived reality of people trying to pull together paychecks that will pay their bills, is huge. Stark.
And the debate goes back and forth over whether violence has to stop before eonomic development occurs (see this weekend's New York Time Magazine on an anti-violence initiative that is modeled after attempts to contain contagious disease). But in 2005 almost forty percent of working-age African American men in Philadelphia were unemployed or outside the labor force (see page 8). It's that number, not the manipulated overall federal unemployment rate, that determines what life is like in communities like Philadelphia's:
Two University of Washington social demographers analyzed 1970 and 1990 census data to examine all forms of violent deaths in Chicago - homicide, accidental death and suicide - and determine whether race or economic opportunity was the key predictor.
"Both black and non-black communities show generally similar responses to endemic joblessness in terms of mortality," Gunnar Almgren, lead author of the study, said. "Race is not an explanation for differences in violent death rates. It's about jobs. If you isolate any group from jobs, it is going to have negative effects, and inner-city black-community levels of joblessness are higher than any other group."