Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Take this Job and Shove it!

The Wall Street Journal reports that not enough people are quitting their jobs, and that a humming economy usually means a high rate of churn in the work force --- where an employee voluntarily leaves one job for another in search of a higher paying job and new challenges. This is supposed to be because, ultimately, one worker's exit from a job will open the way for someone else to jump on the ladder.

I once worked at an establishment for 14 years, and if I had anything to say about it, I would've still been there --- and as of today, I would have been there for 25 years. Often times, especially in a union job, one has to have enough in-house seniority to bid on the better jobs --- and to acquire the maximum amount of weeks of paid vacation time. Where I once worked, after 10 years of employment, employees qualified for 4 weeks of paid vacation.

But Lawrence Katz, an economics professor at Harvard University, says "People aren't willing to take a chance and take a new job and create an opportunity for someone else." But in this job market, he most likely wouldn't quit HIS job to create opportunity for someone else.

Besides, isn't that a little like the chicken and the egg? If there are no jobs, how can one quit to get a better one? The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are only 3.8 million job openings for 11.7 million unemployed Americans --- and that includes all full time, part time, permanent, short term and seasonal job openings...and most aren't paying all that well either.

These economists are constantly trying to drive a big square peg into a tiny round hole.

Data released earlier in the year showed that on average, fewer than two million Americans were quitting their jobs every month, compared with about three million a month before the Great Recession. I was astounded by the numbers, not realizing that so many people "normally" quit their jobs. But then again, I'm from the old school of thought, when excessive "job hopping" was once frowned upon.

Yahoo News recently reported that the number of people who quit their jobs last April jumped to 2.25 million --- and that was supposed to be a good sign that "many are growing more confident in the job market."

The Bureau of Labor Statistics' JOLT report (Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey) says, "Over the 12 months ending in April 2013, hires totaled 52.0 million and separations totaled 50.2 million, yielding a net employment gain of 1.8 million. These figures include workers who may have been hired and separated more than once during the year." (To someone like myself, that sounds like an awful lot of turnover/churn in the job market.)

A recent paper by researchers at Stanford University and the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that during the 2007-2009 recession, 80 percent of the reduction in hiring was associated with lower levels of churn, rather than with a decline in job creation. (If you like charts, see this page)

As companies hold back on hiring in large numbers, scores of workers are applying to ManpowerGroup, the temporary-staffing agency, which sends more than 600,000 men and women to factories, call centers, cubicle farms and other work sites (up from around 450,000 two years ago.)

ManpowerGroup's CEO and Chairman, Jeffrey A. Joerres, says American workers "have to be more agile" and that's what's stressing the labor force. He says, "Those who have intellectual curiosity, who keep their skills fresh, do fine. Others adapt, but live with a real sense of anxiety because they're always out of their comfort zone. And others fight it and just want to do the same job. That will be difficult, and some of those people are moving into long-term unemployment, which is something that the U.S. has not really dealt with much."

So, does that mean that part of the problem is that American workers "just want to do the same job" --- as if the days of working the same job at the same place for any given period of time is a bygone era? Does that mean that nowadays, we have to learn to job hop --- scrambling from one place to another, forever searching for a revenue stream to pay for our rent and food? I never realized this before, that people we're EXPECTED to quit their jobs to create more "churn" in the job market.

Steven Davis, an economist with the University of Chicago, said it isn't clear what the long-term consequences of reduced churn will be. But in the short run, it makes it harder for the unemployed to find jobs. "For workers who are unemployed, if there's less churning of jobs, it's harder to get on the merry-go-round. There's just fewer openings arising."

I'm assuming that Steven Davis is referring to people fresh out of school, who are just entering the job market for the first time. But the 1.8 million "net" new jobs that were created from April 2012 to April 2013 were not near enough to accommodate the 3.4 million high school graduates from this year alone.

Also, from everything I've read so far, earlier in the recession many older workers put off retiring because they lost value in their 401k and other pension plans; although since then, the stock market has come roaring back. But still, many older workers also lost their home equity values during the housing crash (which hasn't yet recovered), and who had also delayed their retirements.

On the other side of the coin, because we have an aging work force, there were also older workers that applied for Social Security disability benefits. If more SSDI claims were approved, might that also help create more churn in the labor market?

Not to mention, there were many older workers who were laid off in the recession, then exhausted all their unemployment benefits without ever finding work again, and were then forced to take an early Social Security retirement with reduced benefits at the age of 62. Didn't THAT help create a little churn in the job market?

And if extended unemployment benefits were supposedly keeping people from looking for work and accepting available jobs (thereby keeping them out of the labor market), how does the "churn theory" hold up to the same premise?

In another Wall Street Journal piece, they say that risk-aversion is infecting U.S. workers. "A broad cross-section of U.S. economists, from a range of academic disciplines and political persuasions, agree that a specific and necessary kind of risk-taking is on the decline. Historically, risk-taking that supports high rates of churn—lots of hiring and firing, company formation and destruction—gives economies more flexibility to adapt to changing markets."

Did they say "risk taking"? Trying to find a job, let alone a better job, in this job market isn't "risk-taking", it's a suicide mission. (And because of the recession and a lack of jobs, some say there's also a direct correlation to an increase in the suicide rate.)

John Haltiwanger, a University of Maryland economist, and others said this decline in risk-taking—both by companies and individuals—has coincided with a broader slowing of the U.S. economy, particularly for new jobs. Today, nearly four years after the end of the last recession, employment has yet to reach its pre-crisis peak.

Lina Khan, an economist who has studied the decline in entrepreneurship for the New America Foundation, (a Washington think tank) says "It just means that there are fewer new companies that are creating jobs [and] fewer new companies that are competing for workers". (Ya think so?)

Economists have proposed various explanations for the series of slower rebounds in past recessions, and for the current low rate of hiring, and why so many temp jobs are being offered; and they also noted the rise of outsourcing and automation that have allowed companies to produce more with fewer workers.

So it appears that the U.S. has another "new normal" in the job market, and it doesn't look pretty. There was a time, once not too long ago, when you found a good-paying job with benefits, you worked there for 42 years (and maybe got a few in-house promotions along the way) until such a time when you retired with a company-paid or union pension.

And back then, if you had too many jobs over a short period of time, you were considered a risk to employers, who looked for more dependable employees, who were "loyal" to the company. Now I'm learning that we're expected to quit our jobs. Things sure have changed over the course of my life-time.

What's frightening is, with the exception of a very few, most of our economists don't seem to have a clue as to what they're talking about. Especially when any idiot can tell you the offshoring of jobs and low wages are the main reasons for a lack of jobs and a lack of consumer demand. (In other words, it's common sense, it's not science.)

So please forgive me if I'm slow to understand how the newly proposed immigration bill is supposed to help the labor market , which besides just allows the current immigrants a path to eventual citizenship, it also increases the quotas for skilled and unskilled workers in guestworker programs -- such as with H-1b visas. In an already over-saturated labor market (which increases competition for jobs), a low demand for labor is already driving down wages. (Full disclosure: My great-grandfather was an immigrant --- a stowaway on a ship from Germany just alter the American Civil War --- so I'm not against immigrants or "immigration reform".)

And over the last several decades (since manufacturing peaked in 1979), it's been mainly Congress who has enabled and exasperated this jobless situation. Speaking of which, why don't THESE guys quit THEIR jobs and create some "churn" in the labor market. The only pay raises they ever gave were to themselves, and the only jobs they ever created were their own.

"To everything (churn, churn, churn), there is a season (churn, churn, churn)..."

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