June Jobs Report: Progress Made, But Much Work Ahead

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its jobs report for June, finding that the economy added 80,000 jobs last month. Jobs numbers for May were revised upwards to 77,000, and numbers for April were revised downwards to 69,000. The unemployment rate remains at 8.2%

There are some reasons to be optimistic. The manufacturing sector added 11,000 jobs in June – growth in manufacturing jobs during Obama’s first term has been stronger than during Bush’s first term. The health sector added 13,000 jobs, marking the strongest growth of any sector. 

Despite this progress, overall job creation did not keep pace with labor force entry. Thus, a lot of work lies ahead ensuring a strong and continuous recovery. Below is a roundup of economic commentators’ thoughts on today’s jobs report:   

Washington Post’s Ezra Klein sees the numbers as “an overwhelming case for, say, hiring hundreds of thousands of workers to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, or passing a large employer-side payroll tax cut to goose hiring,” but finds “little chance House Republicans will greenlight either policy response.”

New York Times’ financial correspondent Floyd Norris notes that the dismal numbers are simply following historic seasonal trends 

Slate’s Matthew Yglesias argues that “the dominant factor in the labor market today is weak demand.

The New Republic’s Noam Scheiber suggests that Obama’s American Jobs Act has the potential to jumpstart the recovery. 


Some Hard Truths About Globalization and Jobs

I find myself in Stockholm, an old capital city of a small economy animated by the drive of ingenious entrepreneurs and the extraordinary global success of more native companies than any other nation its size, from Ikea and Erikson to the Tetra Laval packaging giant and the Axel-Johnson conglomerate. Sweden’s economic drive and success are predicated on an acute understanding of the particular demands that globalization imposes on most business enterprises. So, Sweden seems an appropriate place to think about the special difficulties that American economic policymakers face. The United States has been economically dominant for so long that we too easily overlook how unforgiving global competitors and investors can be when our parochial politics produce simplistic fixes for complicated challenges. 

Exhibit One is one of the final actions by the House of Representatives before its Memorial Day recess. The majority, convinced that they’ve found a new, economic wedge issue, passed legislation to strip our most successful global companies of a “tax break” which allegedly encourages them to “ship jobs overseas.” The provision in question lets U.S. multinationals defer paying the U.S. corporate tax on the profits of their foreign subsidiaries until those profits are formally transferred back to the U.S. parent company. The claim that this provision leads Microsoft, Google, Amgen or General Electric to ship jobs abroad is an appealing slogan, but it’s one with no real economic foundation in a global economy.  

The slogan and the policy behind it depend on what is, at best, a nostalgic view of how companies actually operate in global markets. In the 1970s and 1980s, U.S. companies that went global did so by setting up production facilities in places with lower costs – wages, real estate, construction and so on – and then shipping the products produced there back home or to their major markets in Europe. That shift in production was a big factor in the hemorrhage of manufacturing jobs back in the 1970s and early 1980s.  But the truth is, the globalization of the last 20 years has changed most of that.

First, our international advantages now come not from producing standard goods more cheaply in other places, but from developing and applying new ideas to the creation and production of countless goods and services. That’s why our globally competitive industries today are no longer automobiles and steel, but the companies that create and provide goods and services based on new intellectual property – from Internet content and infrastructure, and software and advanced IT hardware, to pharmaceuticals and biotech, business services and entertainment. Moreover, the critical, idea-based services that these industries rely on, along with the idea-based headquarter services that all global companies depend upon, remain firmly entrenched in the United States. That tells us what the rest of world knows all too well: In a global economy, America’s core economic advantage is simply that we perform these idea-based operations better than anyone else.

The result confounds the basic proposition that “tax deferral” costs American jobs. As a stream of recent research has demonstrated, increases in investment and jobs by the foreign subsidiaries of U.S. global companies no longer come out of investment and jobs at home. Instead, as those foreign subsidiaries expand, mainly to serve foreign markets, their demand for and use of those idea-based, headquarter services expands too. So, the data and the operations behind them now show that increases in jobs and investment by foreign subsidiaries are now accompanied by increases in investments and jobs by the parent companies back home. For all of these reasons, raising the tax burden on American companies with foreign operations would reduce investment and job creation not only in abroad, but here at home as well.  

It’s true that American multinationals, especially in manufacturing, hemorrhaged jobs again over the last decade in the face of globalization. But most of those jobs have been lost to domestic outsourcing, as companies increasingly turn to other U.S. firms for services such as maintenance, legal and accounting advice, and so on. The culprit here is the fast-rising financial burden of providing health care and pension benefits, especially in a competitive global economy that makes it much harder to pass along those costs in higher prices. Raising the tax burden on the foreign earnings of U.S. multinationals won’t begin to touch this daunting challenge.    

The recent House action actually could be even more damaging than these developments suggest. The reason that our tax system has provided this tax “deferral,” for nearly as long as we’ve had a corporate income tax, is that America is nearly the only major country that taxes its businesses on their worldwide income, regardless of where it’s earned.  Britain, Germany, Japan, China and nearly everyone else of economic consequence have “territorial” tax systems that tax international companies only on the profits they earn within each nation’s own borders. On top of our distinctive “worldwide” tax system, we also now find ourselves with nearly the highest corporate tax rate of any major economy. So, without deferral, America’s globally successful industries would face a much higher tax burden than their European or Asian rivals. And that would mean lower rates of return for U.S. companies, which in turn would lead to less investment, less innovation, and ultimately fewer U.S. jobs.  

Ending deferral could not only cost tens of thousands of American jobs. It also could create an illusion that Congress has already done what it has to, in order to create more jobs. The slowdown in U.S. job creation has emerged as a very serious, new challenge over the last decade.  But the way to address it has to begin with recognizing the real sources of the pressures on jobs in a global economy. The problem is not efforts by businesses to build a global presence, which after all is a fundamental part of global success. Rather, part of the real issue here lies in the American economy’s increasing and distinctive reliance on ideas rather than physical assets to create value. This historic development puts a big economic premium on people’s ability to operate effectively in workplaces and factories dense with the information technologies that create and manage ideas and information. The reasonable response to that, again, is not higher taxes on foreign-source earnings, but a new domestic program of grants to community colleges to provide free computer and Internet training to any adult who walks in and asks for it. The pressures on jobs and wages also now come, as suggested earlier, from the fast-rising costs for business of providing health care coverage. The answers to that lie in serious measures to contain the pace of medical cost increases. The President’s recent health care reforms contain a number of modest steps in this area, and the Congress would do American workers a genuine service by strengthening and expanding them.

After all that the American people have endured in the last two years, surely it’s time to resist the siren call of facile slogans and easy answers, and become truly serious about both jobs and globalization.

A New, Progressive Economic Strategy, Part 1

Looking out onto the smoky, endless skyline of Seoul, Korea, I think about our two nations’ similar economic paths, from abject underdevelopment to world-class modernization and wealth. In the 19th century, there was one place in the world that managed to move all the way up from low-income to high-income, and that was the United States. From 1870 to 1970, another society, Japan, managed the same achievement. Now, one other society will make the same great leap from 1960 to 2030 or so, and it will be Korea. If you doubt it, consider that since 1960, the real per capita income of Koreans has grown 37-fold, and the country’s real GDP has expanded up 50-times. They’ve managed it in much the same way we did – making huge, sustained investments in education and infrastructure; sustaining a voracious work ethic animated by meaningful jobs open to anyone able to perform them; adopting astute policies that support native businesses but also expose them to foreign competition from more advanced rivals; and setting global ambitions for the nation’s economy. 

Yet, even these achievements by Korea in this period and by ourselves a while ago don’t guarantee future success. Korean policymakers, businesses and workers certainly all face difficult challenges. But our interest here lies in our own, future path. President Obama and Congress, beset by a series of crises, have found themselves playing the role of a fire brigade. To his genuine credit, the President reached past the fires around him to drive basic health care reforms, a remarkable exercise of presidential will even if we’re unsure of their real costs and benefits. Alas, the achievement represents only a modest piece of a larger economic strategy still waiting to be articulated and carried out, if we are to hope for a better economic future than the one being deeded to most Americans by the mistakes and dismal neglect of the preceding administration.

This is the first of three essays in which we will lay out a new economic strategy for the next decade. The last time such large ambitions were seriously attempted, they it came from conservatives led by Ronald Reagan, who also tried to surmount the emergencies of his time with broader reforms. Perhaps less than half of that attempt proved to be sound, and more than half clearly was not; but they all left long legacies. The big task for Mr. Obama and progressives today is to think and act as big as Reagan, and get at least three-quarters of it right this time.

Today, we will lay out the three basic parts of that task and begin to think through the first of them. These three economic challenges that demand basic reform are: 1) Restore real prospects for economic progress for average working Americans; 2) reclaim real, structural soundness for the government’s finances in the face of the serious social challenges we will face over the next decade; and 3) secure America’s leading role in the global economy.

The first part of this task is the most urgent politically, although not more so economically than the others. In fact, if we do not successfully address the second and third parts, the progress we make with the first will not be sustained. The essence of the first challenge is to ensure that average Americans can lead lives of economic progress and dignity. That aspiration, in turn, rests most fundamentally on restoring strong and dynamic job creation, so that everyone who wants to can not only find work, but also move up periodically to more demanding, better-paid jobs. A labor market that works this way – the kind we had in the 1950s, 1960s, and in the 1990s for a brief while – can deliver the basic elements of the American dream  through meaningful work that provides real opportunities for rising incomes and upward mobility.

Every piece of this goal is in peril today. For a decade, job creation has slowed sharply, income gains for most people have stalled, and upward mobility has become the privilege limited to the top 20 percent of Americans. We all can see the growing gap that has opened up between the skills of most Americans and the demands of most new, well-paying jobs with futures. In one way or another, those jobs all now involve advanced technologies, which themselves also displace other jobs for millions of people. Finally, we can feel the pressures that squeeze so many jobs and wages, as businesses dealing with the intense competition created by globalization also face fast-rising costs, especially for health care, energy, and pensions. 

These forces gripping American jobs and wages are all very complex, and there’s no single magic bullet to vanquish them. So, we have to take them on piece by piece. For example, most new jobs come from relatively young businesses that are expanding quickly. We can ease some of the costs of creating those jobs by reducing the employer’s payroll taxes on net, new employees and by assuming part of their health-care costs – approaches actually in place already in limited forms, in the new health care reforms and the latest jobs bill. Now, for some real innovation, let’s also require that in exchange, these businesses become staging grounds for enhancing the skills of the new workers they hire. Half of what they save on payroll taxes and health care would go for onsite training or vouchers for ongoing outside instruction, especially in the information technologies that pervade most workplaces. For everybody else, new grants to community colleges could cover the cost of keeping their computer labs open and staffed on evenings and weekends, for anyone to come by and receive free training in those technologies.

These reforms, however, won’t ease the cost pressures squeezing jobs and wages in most companies. So this plan also needs additional steps to reduce the fast-rising cost burdens on business from health care, energy and pensions. One sensible step that may seem radical by today’s cramped standards would be to lighten those pension and health care burdens by (the radical part) expanding Social Security and Medicare. Start by raising the benefits of those who continue to work beyond ages 62, 65 and 70, which will directly reduce their employers’ pension liabilities. Follow it up by the government assuming the obligations of many large companies for part of their retirees’ health care. It might amount to federally-financed “medigap,” a social provision which eventually progressives should want to extend to everyone.   

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that addressing the profound problems most Americans now face with jobs and wages won’t be cheap. Next week, we will lay out the second part of our progressive economic strategy, on how best to restore sound financing for the national government. Progressives did that in the 1990s, with some help from conservatives, and they can do it again. This time, however, we also have to tackle the looming costs of two structural challenges to our future fiscal state, namely, health care for the retiring boomers and climate change. Then, in part three, we will turn to America’s ongoing leadership in the global economy, especially with regard to our strength as the source of innovation worldwide and our central place in the global financial system.

A Big Plan to Create American Jobs

We have a really serious problem with job creation. It’s been more than a half-year since the economy began to grow again – including several months of very strong, stimulus-fueled gains – but private sector employment continues to fall. The truth is, these results shouldn’t surprise anyone with a long memory. While businesses began to create more new jobs than they destroyed within three months of the end of the 1981-1982 recession, that didn’t happen for a full14 months following the 1991 downturn and for more than two years after the 2001 recession.

The problem this time looks even more daunting. The economy is growing, but the pace may be moderating already. That’s because this time, most Americans have lost part of their savings and part of their homes’ value, leaving them more cautious about going on the kind of spending spree that used to drive early recoveries. And when people are cautious, businesses are too – with the result they don’t hire much. To get job creation going, we have to restore confidence so people and firms will begin spending again.  

We also have to deal with a deeper problem linked to globalization. In a world with tens of thousands of new businesses created across the globe over the last decade, the resulting, intense competition forces companies to hone their efficiency and control their costs much more stringently. And when their costs for, say, health care and energy go up, they often have to cut back somewhere else – and they usually start with jobs and wages. That’s why U.S. companies created less than half as many new jobs, relative to how fast the economy grew, during the last expansion as they did in the 1990s and 1980s. To change these dynamics, we’ll have to slow the inflation in health care and energy prices. The President’s reforms enacted last week are a modest first step; but millions of jobless Americans can’t afford to wait for them to take hold.

They don’t have to: We have developed a four-part program that would substantially accelerate job creation over the next several years. First, President Obama and Congress should make it cheaper for companies to hire new people. The most direct way to do that is to suspend the employer’s share of payroll taxes for new, net hires in their first year on the job – that would cover all new employees in firms that expand their total workforce and total payrolls. In the second year, the company would pay 50 percent of the employer’s payroll tax contribution. Employees who work hard for those two years will learn how to do their particular jobs especially well, which should be enough for their employers to keep them on after their payroll tax break ends.

The experts at the Congressional Budget Office found that this approach creates more jobs, per federal dollar spent, than any other. In fact, the jobs bill passed two weeks ago includes a light version of this policy, in a seven-month payroll tax holiday for hiring people who have been out of work for a while.  It’s a start; but we need a permanent program, not a temporary fix, and one that doesn’t ask people to stay jobless until they qualify.

Next, the President and Congress should help everyone become a more valuable worker. Look around: Every modern office or factory is organized around computers, the Internet and other information technologies. Yet, nearly half of people working today – and more than half of those out of work – have little or no skills to use these technologies. As we’ve argued and written before, we can help everyone become a more valued employee by providing free computer and Internet skill training – and we can do that, at relatively little cost, by providing grants to community colleges to cover the cost of keeping their computer labs open and staffed at night and on the weekends, so anyone can walk in and receive training. Here, too, the President has said it’s a good idea – so why not enact it now?  

Part three of this program involves more assistance for state and local governments to suspend their continuing layoffs of police, prison guards, firemen, sanitation workers, and other public service employees until a genuine economic expansion begins. This was a good idea for the original stimulus package, and it’s just as good an approach for a jobless recovery. And Wall Street can help pay for it with the revenues from a new tax on the bonuses for executives of financial institutions that took taxpayer money to stay afloat. We saved their jobs; now, they can help save ours.

The fourth part of our package involves the arcane structure of taxation for multinational companies. U.S. multinationals today hold some $1 trillion in financial assets outside the United States, bought with the profits they earned abroad. They keep all that money outside America, because while they’ve already paid foreign taxes on it, they have to pay additional U.S. corporate taxes when they bring those funds home. In practice, we’ll never see most of those funds under current law, since multinationals generally repatriate those profits only when they have domestic tax losses that can offset them. So, Congress at little cost could grant U.S. multinationals one year to bring home these funds and pay a much lower corporate tax rate than normal, so long as they use those funds to create jobs. This approach is the only virtually free stimulus available to us – since the funds come from overseas – and we should grab it.

These four measures won’t change the structure of this recovery or the larger economic environment in which it is unfolding. Yet, within that structure and environment, these steps could significantly enhance the job prospects of millions of Americans.

Multinational Companies and Job Creation: Why the Boeing-Airbus Rivalry Matters


With joblessness still rising despite our historically easy fiscal and monetary policies, the political chatter is full of charges that globalization, especially the role of multinational companies, is costing America millions of jobs. The facts are less clear-cut, and the impact on job creation depends substantially on whether the multinationals are American or based abroad.  

For several years, for instance, Boeing and the European multinational Airbus have been competing for a $35 billion contract to develop and build the next generation of tanker aircraft that refuel other planes in-flight. Boeing is as close to a domestic U.S. company as a large U.S. manufacturer can be these days, with 96 percent of its physical assets located here while maintaining a far-flung global network of suppliers and vendors. The face-off with Airbus pits Boeing against a division of the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS), which maintains 96 percent of its physical assets in Germany and France while also depending on global suppliers and vendors. For years, PR flacks for both companies have claimed that each would create many more jobs than the other, if it won the DoD contract.  In practice, Boeing and Airbus will each need roughly the same number of workers, worldwide, to develop and build the new tanker; and in order to be cost-competitive, most of this work would occur at each company’s existing facilities. For an economist or a business person, this suggests that a U.S. based company would create most of those jobs here, where its physical plant is; while a European-based firm would have to produce most of the new jobs in Europe.  

Recently, I tested these assumptions when Boeing asked if my advisory group Sonecon could conduct an impartial analysis of jobs and the tanker contract. I agreed, with certain conditions. First, our study would ignore the PR claims from both sides. Second, we would focus on the new investments in plant, property and equipment provided under the contract, and construct an objective jobs estimate using historical data tracking the relationship for aircraft makers between these new investments and job creation. Finally, we would use only verified, publicly-available data, plus the two firms’ formal proposals to the Pentagon. 

In its formal submission, Airbus proposed to partner with the U.S.-based Northrop Grumman, a common arrangement for foreign multinationals competing for Pentagon contracts. Airbus’s plans also showed, as expected, that it planned to develop and produce most of the new planes at its existing facilities in Europe, with Northrop-Grumman mainly assembling it here. Furthermore, reams of government data established that U.S. subsidiaries of foreign aircraft makers are not only much less invested here than their U.S. counterparts. Those subsidiaries also generate substantially fewer new U.S. jobs for every dollar of new investment here, which means they do the more labor-intensive tasks back home.  

Whichever firm ultimately wins this contract will use a substantial share of the funds to pay outside vendors and suppliers, as suggested earlier, and these payments will also create thousands more jobs, indirectly. But there are no public data on where the myriad parts of each company’s global supply chain are located, so no one can say how many new U.S. jobs will be created indirectly by either rival in this way. We might plausibly assume that the supply chain of a U.S.-based firm is more concentrated here than the supply-chain of a European-based firm; but since we don’t have the data to test that assumption, we set it aside.

These facts and factors produced some definitive results: We found that over the 18-year life of the contract, we should expect Boeing to produce 10 times as many U.S. jobs – roughly 3,500 to 4,000 jobs per-year – as Airbus-Northrop-Grumman. In fact, since the study was completed, Northrop-Grumman pulled out of the competition, leaving Airbus to face Boeing alone.  

These findings throw additional light on other common concerns about multinational companies. Perhaps most important, as Airbus’s case suggests, new investments and job creation by a multinational in its home economy are often accompanied by new investments and jobs by its foreign subsidiaries. That’s just the way that multinationals do business. For example, when Ford or Dell build a new plant abroad, the operations of that facility will generate new business back home, including investment and jobs, because the headquarters will continue to provide its subsidiaries with more advanced services and produce the most advanced parts. That makes the economic impact of multinationals here largely “distributional.” The worldwide networks of multinational companies shift many thousands of basic service and basic production jobs abroad, while creating a smaller number of more highly-paid, more advanced service and production jobs here.

The Pentagon should award its contracts to those firms that can most credibly and efficiently produce the new systems required for American national security. That said, the impact of those contracts on job creation cannot be considered a matter of indifference, especially in a period when American businesses are capable of producing new jobs only at much lower rates than previously.


Broadband and American Jobs

With the FCC preparing to issue new rules and policies to promote universal broadband access, Washington’s hive of think tanks and foundations (and lobbying shops that masquerade as one or the other) have issued a flurry of new studies on broadband’s impact on American jobs. It’s a marriage of two genuinely vital matters: Ensuring that every American has access to the wired world that increasingly permeates most people’s economic and social opportunities; and finding ways to restart job creation across the economy. Perhaps most important for the FCC’s deliberations, the new studies point to the different jobs impact of the network’s two principal parts, the companies that build the broadband infrastructure and those that provide its content.

In the most rigorous new study, Robert Crandall of the Brookings Institution and Hal Singer, a consultant, calculate the new jobs that arise directly from the tens of billions of dollars in new investments undertaken by broadband providers, laying cable, fiber and DSL lines, putting in place new connections, and building out wireless and satellite-based broadband networks. From 2003 to 2009, these direct investments created some 434,000 jobs; and over the next five years, the same process should produce more than 500,000 more jobs. And as we will see, these effects dwarf the job gains linked to the companies providing the content.

But the power of a market-based economy lies in the ways that a basic infrastructure such as broadband stimulates additional economic activity, much as highways and railroads once did. Building out these networks creates a platform for the development of thousands of new applications, and the combination creates new demand for the computers, software and other IT equipment needed to use the network and its applications.

Consider the iPhone cited in another new study from the Democratic Leadership Council. Without the broadband network, the iPhone would be just another cell phone. With it, Apple sold 43 million units in three years, its’ users downloaded 1 billion applications, and other mobile device makers scrambled to develop competing devices. And the people newly employed to produce these computers, software and other equipment earn wages and salaries, which enable them to buy more goods and services that yet more workers have to produce. Altogether, economists figure that these dynamics created another 430,000 jobs per-year from 2003 to 2009.

But there’s a big catch. As millions learned when the New Economy bubble burst in 2001, new technologies create enduring wealth and jobs only if they enable us to either do something entirely new or do more efficiently something we already do. Otherwise, the technology mainly moves around demand and the jobs linked to it: When we get our news from the Internet, it creates jobs on those sites while costing jobs at newspapers and magazines. This tradeoff happens especially when the economy is growing smartly and different companies and sectors have to compete for investment capital. So, we have to recognize that the cheering investment and job numbers for broadband don’t usually take account of the jobs that weren’t created when investment in other areas slowed — and that’s why economics is called the dismal science.

This caveat, however, also points to broadband’s real potential to create new efficiencies and new economic value — and the jobs that go with those gains. First, there are “spillovers” to other parts of the economy. So, as the use of broadband and its applications expand, other sectors from hotels and manufacturing to retail trade and educational services have to keep pace; and that requires that they increase their own investments in computers, software and so on. Those investments create new jobs not only to produce those technologies, but also to operate them once in place. One recent study estimated that for every one-percentage point increase in broadband penetration, several hundred thousand more new jobs are produced — and broadband access has been rising by several percentage-points per-year.

Combinations of broadband and advanced applications also can generate entirely new savings which allow people to spend more on other things, and so create additional jobs not counted in all of those studies. We see this happening in telecommuting, which saves transportation and other energy costs, as well as in telemedicine, which can not only reduce transportation and energy costs but also make the practice of certain areas of medicine more efficient and more effective. And if telemedicine saves people’s lives or reduces how long they’re sick, the economy gains all of the productivity which otherwise would have been lost.

There is one more catch in all of this good news: These various gains are not distributed evenly across the economy or equally across the society. It’s not just a matter of much of the gains going to workers in industries that develop and sell the fiber, cable, satellites, computers, cell phones, software, and so on. Beyond that, a recent study by the Public Policy Institute of California found that communities with new access to broadband — and parts of communities — experienced average job growth 6.4 percent greater than before they had broadband. To begin, much of those gains will be captured by workers with sound IT-related skills. Furthermore, this suggests that communities without such expanded access — and parts of cities where most residents remain not wired — will lag behind even more than before.

And within the broadband universe, the direct job gains associated with higher investments are also concentrated. Dividing that universe into the broadband providers such as AT&T or Verizon and the content providers such as Google and eBay, studies and SEC data show that, first, broadband providers invest three-to-four times as much as the content providers. Moreover, studies also find that each dollar invested by broadband providers creates about twice as many jobs as each dollar invested by the content providers.

These studies suggest several takeaways for the FCC. First, the FCC’s goal is the right one: Universal access to broadband is critical to promoting more job opportunities and economic growth across the economy. Second, the central element for job creation here are the investments required to ensure universal access — not only now, but also as broadband technologies continue to advance. The FCC should promote these investments in every way it can. At a minimum, the Commission should be extremely cautious about policy changes which could weaken the incentives for those investments — i.e., reduce their returns — or raise the price for people to access broadband.

How to Create New Jobs in a Troubled Economy

The inconvenient truth that lies behind this week's White House jobs summit is that there are no magic bullets for an economy thrown over the cliff by a huge financial crisis.  Even with all of our stimulus, bailouts, tax breaks and special Fed lending programs, job losses continue to mount, dampening investment and overall demand.  That's not all: Despite the administration's efforts to stem home foreclosures, they continue to rise and so pull down more mortgage-backed securities and their derivatives, which in turn also dampens business lending and jobs.  We're also seeing mounting losses in commercial real estate, propelled by higher vacancy rates and more tenants simply unable to pay their rents, which are driving up failures by the banks which lent out the money to develop those buildings.  Those failures also eat away at demand, investment and jobs.

New JobsAnd we're still highly vulnerable to more damaging shocks.  So, stock markets around the world fell sharply this past week when one of the world's largest commercial real estate companies, the government-owned Dubai World, announced that it couldn't pay its lenders.  For many, Dubai World's problems raised the scary possibility of sovereign debt defaults, which would be another blow to financial institutions around the world, which hold most sovereign debt.  And nations aren't the only sovereigns whose bonds could be in trouble: The largest real estate bubble and worst recession in 80 years could also compromise the debt status of the world's seventh largest economy, the state of California. 

While large fiscal and monetary stimulus will always help an economy in free fall - we saw that in the modest rebound in third quarter GDP - the number of Americans working could continue to fall for at least another year, because the economy had serious problems with job creation before the crisis hit.  After the 2001 recession, the briefest and mildest on record, the number of people working continued to slump for two years; and over the course of the 2002-2007 expansion, American businesses created jobs at less than half the rate of the previous two expansions.

So, the country has a serious problem with jobs, one which requires serious responses.  A little more stimulus can play a role here, especially targeted to state governments whose labor forces are being squeezed between their falling revenues and balanced budget requirements.  The cure for the private sector will have to involve stronger and more permanent measures that can directly reduce the cost to businesses of creating new jobs.  Here's a start:  Exempt from payroll taxes the first $3,000 to $5,000 of wages paid in each of the first two years to new hires by firms that expand their work forces. Since it would be a permanent measure that would reduce social security revenues, we should pay for it and use the new revenues to make the social security trust fund whole.  We can do that by enacting a small "Tobin tax" on financial market transactions, equal to, say, one-quarter of one percent of the value of trades, and pressing other major countries to do so as well.  James Tobin, the Nobel laureate who first proposed such a tax for currency trades, noted it could help reduce destabilizing currency speculation.  Given the recent crisis, slowing down speculation seems like the right medicine for stocks and bonds today.  And at such a low rate, it shouldn't affect long-term investment, especially if other financial-center countries go along.  And if we don't take strong measures, we will almost certainly find ourselves grappling with serious problems with job creation for many years. 

A Generation’s Loyalty May Be at Stake

As Congress returns from its holiday vacation, it and President Barack Obama need to address a number of challenges facing the country from health care reform to jobs and what strategy to pursue in Afghanistan.  How the Democratic leadership deals with these issues may well determine the future loyalty of an entire generation of new voters, and with it the future of the Democratic Party.

A recent study by two economists, Paola Giuliano and Antonio Spilembergo, entitled "Growing Up in a Recession," suggests that experiencing an economic recession during the impressionable ages of 18-25 can have lifelong effects on a person's attitude toward government and its role in the economy. The Democratic Party's most enthusiastic and loyal new constituency, Millennials (born 1982- 2003), have had their young lives thoroughly disrupted by the current economic downturn. With their level of unemployment exceeding 25%, what is for other generations a Great Recession is for Millennials their very own Great Depression.  Such an experience is likely, according to the new study, to increase Millennial support for policies that favor government redistribution of income and other liberal economic ideas.

Jobless MillennialHowever, Giuliano and Spilembergo also demonstrate that this same experience often makes young people less trusting of government institutions. Conservative columnist Ross Douthat suggested recently that the difference between the Democratic New Deal loyalties of the GI Generation that came of age during the Great Depression and the greater Republican orientation of Generation X that experienced Jimmy Carter's stagflation economy in the 1970s is the degree to which government dealt effectively with the economic crisis of their youth. "When liberal interventions seem to be effective, a downturn can help midwife an enduring Democratic majority. But if they don't seem to be working - or worse, if they seem to be working for insiders and favored constituencies, rather than for the common man - then suspicion of state power can trump disillusionment with free markets."

This raises the stakes for what Congress does in the next six months to new heights. Millennials, more than one-third of whom lack health insurance, will be watching closely to see if their needs are addressed in the final version of health care reform, something Millennials support to a far greater extent than any other generation. Of course, failure to pass meaningful reform may well sound a death knell for the emerging Democratic majority that the Obama campaign created last year. 

But Millennials care even more about jobs and the health of the economy.  With record unemployment among members of this generation, any jobs package Congress puts forward must specifically meet the concerns and needs of Millennials. In particular, Congress must deal with the high cost of education (something Millennials still see as the ticket to future economic success), the lack of job opportunities even at the intern level for those just entering the work force, and the lack of access to fundamental job skills training that community colleges can provide to those ready to go to work soon.

While the Democratic leadership often believes that today's youth thinks about issues of war and peace in the same reflexive way that young Baby Boomers did four decades ago, Millennials are more likely to want to understand the mission and strategy for success in Afghanistan before making up their mind on whether or not to support a deepening American involvement in that conflict. With Millennials providing the overwhelming majority of front line troops, however Congress chooses to pay for that campaign, it must ensure that those who do go to fight are better equipped than the military force George W. Bush initially sent to Iraq.

The effectiveness of any legislation Congress adopts over the next six months will not be known for years, but the way Congressional Democrats approach their policy decisions will be clear enough to Millennials.  The stakes are large and will have long-reaching impact. If the decisions are made by cutting deals with special interest groups, none of which represent this generation and its financial concerns, or by compromising Millennial principles of equity and social justice, members of the generation are likely to sit out the 2010 midterm elections and wait for their favorite messenger, Barack Obama, to return to the ballot in 2012 before making their future preferences known. If that happens, the results in the gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey last month will only be a prelude for a much bigger Democratic disaster next November.  If, instead, Democratic leaders take off their generational blinders and recognize that the base of their party is now made up of an overlapping core of Millennials, minorities, and women and respond accordingly, they will help to solidify the Democratic loyalties of America's largest generation for decades to come. 

For more on this subject, see Winograd & Hais' previous essay, For Millennials, It's The Economy, Stupid.

Noticing and Solving the Problem with Jobs and Wages

America's vaunted job-creating machine has been breaking down, and the administration is finally noticing. 

It was 2003 when I first asked myself whether the dynamics that normally produce lots of new jobs when the economy expands were changing in some fundamental way.  I had noticed that job losses during the mild 2001 recession were five to six times as great as expected, given the modest drop in GDP.   Then we saw that in 2004, two years after the recession ended, the number of employed Americans was still falling, compared to the two months it took for job creation to turn around after the 1981-82 recession and the 12 months it took after the 1990-1991 downturn.  The evidence that America's labor markets were undergoing structural changes of a nasty sort continued to accumulate.  Just as employment had fallen several times faster than GDP during the 2001 recession, so once job creation finally picked up in 2004, private employment gains remained weak.  Over the same period that saw 14 million new jobs created in the 1980s expansion and 17 million new jobs created in the 1990s expansion, U.S. businesses in the last expansion added just 6 million new jobs.   Manufacturing was hit especially hard:  From 2001 to 2004, manufacturing lost more jobs than during the entire "deindustrialization" years from the late 1970s through the 1980s, and those losses continued throughout the entire 2002-2007 expansion.  

With job losses in the current recession already two to four times greater than seen in the downturns of the early 1980s, 1990s and 2001, these dynamics are finally getting broader attention.  Late last week, Larry Summers, the President's chief economic advisor, acknowledged publically that what's known as Okun's Law has broken down.  Arthur Okun, JFK's economic advisor, observed in the 1960s that employment during recessions regularly fell by about half as much as GDP, in percentage terms, which he attributed to the costs employers bear when they fire workers and then have to hire and train again once the downturn ends.   Nobel laureate Paul Krugman also weighed in last week, positing that recessions triggered by bursting bubbles - that would be 2001 and this one -- affect jobs much more than those triggered by tight monetary policies to fight inflation (the 1974-1975 and 1981-82 recessions, for example).  It's an intriguing thought, but it doesn't appear to really jive with the evidence.  The IT-Internet bubble that burst in 2000 certainly helped trigger the 2001 recession, but the downturn's job losses and the subsequent delayed and slow job creation swamped the direct and indirect declines in demand that followed from the implosion of so many Internet and IT companies. 

It's much more complicated than that -- and consequently will be much harder to address.  To begin, the changes in the way our labor markets work also have affected everyone's wages.  During the 1990s expansion, productivity increased by about 2.5 percent per-year, and average wages rose accordingly by nearly 2.0 percent per-year.  That's the way free labor markets are supposed to work: As workers become more productive, employers become willing to pay them more (and which competition forces them to do).   But in the 2002-2007 expansion, even as productivity grew 3 percent per-year - the best record since the 1960s - the average wage of American workers stagnated.  And the most popular political explanation, blaming U.S. multinationals for outsourcing jobs abroad, doesn't hold up here:  Over this period, the number of workers abroad employed by those multinationals hardly rose at all.

This change is also getting more official attention.   Last week, President Obama reminded everyone that economic expansion isn't enough - and we're still quite a way from any real expansion - since most middle-class Americans weren't doing well even before the crisis hit and the economy tanked. 

The administration's agenda could go a long way to addressing these structural changes, if it's done right.   The most plausible explanation is that American jobs and wages are being squeezed by a combination of fierce competition created by globalization and our own failures to control health care and energy costs, two big fixed cost items for most businesses.  The competition has made it much harder for businesses to pass along these higher costs in higher prices - an important reason why inflation has been so low for more than a decade, here and around the world.  But that also means that when companies face higher health care and energy costs that they can't pass along, they have little choice but to cut other costs.   And the costs they've been cutting are jobs and wages.

The only way to ensure that the next expansion won't be like the last one, but instead will create more jobs and bring higher wages, is to make medical cost containment the center of health care reform and make the development and broad use of alternative fuels, from biomass to nuclear, the center of energy and climate policy.  That's not where Congress seems headed.  The House-passed climate bill will do little to drive alternative fuels for at least another decade, when a simple, refundable carbon tax could do the trick.  And the most promising aspects of health care reform for cost-containment - a public insurance option and performance-based reimbursement -- are both under serious congressional attack.   If the President hopes to see more job creation and wage gains than under George W. Bush, these are the places where he should take his stand.

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