A few years ago, journalist Hanna Rosin wrote a seminal book and cover story in Atlantic magazine about how women are faring better in the modern economy than men. The main reason: Women are disproportionately represented in service professions, which are less vulnerable to automation and offshoring than male-dominated industries like manufacturing and construction. Rosin had lots of data to back up her thesis, but the manifesto was a little short on graphics.
When she was seven months pregnant, Tiffany Beroid's feet started to swell. Her blood pressure began swinging wildly, and dizzy spells hit unpredictably. That made it hard to keep doing her job as a customer service manager at a Walmart in Laurel, Md., which requires pitching in wherever help is needed, pushing carts, lifting boxes, making sure all the registers cash out.
Teamsters score a win against “sharecropping on wheels.” But will the trucking industry really change?
Along with auto technicians, fast food workers, and baggage handlers, another profession has been hit by the separation of labor from employer: Port truckers, who haul containers from cargo ships on short trips around the terminal. Years of deregulation have led to more of them being classified as "independent contractors," with lower pay and fewer rights, rather than unionized employees.
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- The United Auto Workers was dealt a stinging defeat tonight, with a majority of employees at a Volkswagen plant here voting against joining the union after a high-profile opposition campaign led by Republican politicians and outside political groups.
Company and union executives announced the outcome at a news conference at the plant, hours after polls closed. The results, still to be certified by the National Labor Relations Board, were close: With 89 percent participation, 712 workers voted no, and 626 voted yes.
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- Employees at the Volkswagen auto plant here will vote Friday on whether to join the United Auto Workers union, marking the end of a fevered battle between national conservative groups and labor leaders over the future of the right-to-work South.
If a majority of Volkswagen's 1,570 hourly workers vote yes, it would mark the first time in nearly three decades of trying that the UAW has successfully organized a plant for a foreign brand in the United States. This time, the union has a powerful ally: Volkswagen itself, which is hoping the union will collaborate in a German-style "works council" and help manage plant operations.
This week at Volkswagen's plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., 1,570 workers will vote on whether to join the United Auto Workers. It's a big deal: While the big three American carmakers are all unionized, so far the foreign companies have avoided it by locating in Southern states with strong Right to Work laws. From their perspective, unions usually just mean work stoppages, expensive benefit plans, and the inability to fire people at will.
Sex workers’ rights are workers’ rights and human rights — because sex workers are human beings doing work. That’s why the debate over sex work shouldn’t focus, as it usually does, on whether sex workers are "criminals" or "victims." Instead, sex workers themselves should have agency and a say in the policies that govern their practices.
The labor movement has a lot of challenges forced upon it by economic conditions. Rigid, entrenched leadership is one that it's brought upon itself.
That's what appears to be the case with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which will have to re-run its elections after the Department of Labor found it guilty of failing to adequately notify members that nominations for leadership positions were underway earlier this year. It's very rare for the Labor Department to have to intervene in elections; the IAM is the only re-run for top officers in 2012. This wasn't an aberration for the IAM, though: The last time someone got enough nominations from local chapters to land a spot on the general election ballot was 1961.
Damon Silvers still remembers the pickles. In 2011, at a roundtable discussion in Durham, N.C., the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness showcased biotech firms that weren't planning to hire anybody, remnants of the textile industry, and an artisan pickle maker. Silvers, the policy director of the AFL-CIO, concedes that the jobs council was celebrating some wonderful entrepreneurial people. But really, he says, it was evidence of a collapsing industrial economy and a president who seems to have given up on pushing a comprehensive progressive agenda.
The U.S. labor force keeps shrinking rapidly. Back in 2007, 66 percent of Americans had a job or were actively seeking work. Today, that number is at 62.8 percent — the lowest level since 1978:
U.S. Labor Force Participation Rate:
Now, a big caveat here: That big October drop in participation could have been skewed slightly by the government shutdown. The official household survey counted 720,000 people as leaving the labor force last month, but that might have included some furloughed federal employees or contractors who have since returned to the job. If so, expect a small rebound next month.
For all the debate on the effects of the tea party's and the Republican party's march to the far right at the federal level, it’s their impact at the state level that will probably be with us the longest.
Back in 2010, 11 states — Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Wyoming — put Republicans in control of all branches of state government. Other states saw their center of gravity move much farther to the right. And in the years since, those states have pushed an all-out conservative agenda.
Back in the 1980s, the U.S. auto industry went through a major upheaval. Foreign automakers started opening up more and more plants in the South, taking advantage of the region's weaker unions and lower labor costs. That, in turn, undercut the historically dominant position of Detroit and the Midwest.
China has been something of a problem for the American labor movement over the past, oh, half century: It's absorbed hundreds of thousands of formerly American jobs, playing a big role in the collapse of U.S. manufacturing. During that time, no sitting AFL-CIO president has seen fit to pay a visit -- until this past week, when Richard Trumka took a break from shutdown madness to do so.
Earlier today we broke down the decline in employment over the past six years by age, which reveals that the young are bearing the brunt of the downturn and anemic recovery. But breaking down the employment-to-population ratio for all age groups by race and gender also reveals interesting patterns. The biggest victims of the recession and interminable recovery have been black men:
Update: The first version of this post didn’t break down the change in Asian American employment-to-population ratios by gender as the public data tables where numbers for other ethnicities are located didn’t include that breakdown. However, BLS passed along the numbers for Asian American men and women (you can also find the data through this tool), so the chart has been amended.
The U.S. labor force keeps shrinking rapidly. Back in 2007, 66 percent of Americans had a job or were actively seeking work. Today, that number is at 63.2 percent — the lowest level since 1978:
The above chart helps explain a seeming contradiction in the jobs numbers — the official unemployment rate keeps dropping even though job creation has been relatively soft.
Parsing the monthly jobs numbers is a lot harder than it looks. On the surface, the decline in the unemployment rate to 7.3 percent is good news — but as we’ve noted here before, a lot of that rate’s decline is attributable to declining participation in the labor force. And figuring out what exactly is behind that is its own tough project. Some of it’s that the population is aging, which reduces labor force participation for reasons unrelated to the economic downturn; some of it is that people are waiting to enter the labor force due to the poor job market; and some of it is that people who were once in the labor force are dropping out.
Today is Labor Day, an occasion often marked by beach trips and barbecues. While that’s all well and good, we here at Wonkblog would be remiss if we let the long weekend go by without a few good charts that show what it means to be a worker in America today and how that has changed over the years.
Labor force participation is way higher today than it was in the 1940s -- but significantly lower than a decade ago.
If you’re headed out for your last splash of summer watersports, and you’re a guy, you’re more likely to drown than your female compatriots, the Centers for Disease Control reported on Friday.
Like, a lot more likely:
What’s the deal with dudes and death by submersion? This isn’t a new phenomenon, and the best research available to explain it comes from the National Institutes of Health in 1996--but the disparity has only gotten worse since then, and it’s unlikely that the underlying causes have changed much.
There are a few broad trends in the U.S. economy getting lots of attention lately. The job market appears to be increasingly polarized, with high-paid and low-paid occupations growing quickly, while middle-class jobs are disappearing. And on top of that, median wages have stagnated over the past decade.
The media does a pretty good job of telling you the basics of the monthly jobs report — how many tens of thousands were gained (or lost), where the unemployment rate stands — and here at Wonkblog, we try to go into a lot more detail. But often the particulars of how the report is actually constructed, and what it can and can’t tell us, get lost in the shuffle. Enter Data Docs, a really cool project that makes interactive short documentaries for the web. Its first — featuring Planet Money’s Jacob Goldstein, CEA member Betsey Stevenson, UMich’s Justin Wolfers, and survey data ninja Andrew Reamer — is on how the jobs report is put together, and it’s awesome:
You can always rely on the Economic Policy Institute for really depressing charts about just how far behind the U.S. middle class is falling, and the latest report from EPI President Lawrence Mishel and economist Heidi Shierholz is no exception. The paper — titled "A Decade of Flat Wages" — finds exactly that. Real hourly wages for people at the middle of the wage distribution were no higher in 2012 than in 2000. While the early 2000s saw some growth, it's all been wiped out since the recession hit, and hasn't rebounded at all.
A torturous summer for the oft-tormented fans of British soccer power Arsenal came to a head on Saturday. Several players went down with injuries, one was sent off with a red card and the team lost, at home, 3-1, to a club that finished well below it in the standings last year. The fans responded with an entirely appropriate chant, directed straight at team management: "Spend some f--ing money."
President Obama's big economic speech at Knox College in Illinois last month was short on specific new policy proposals in general, but it lacked, in particular, any new plans to help the millions of Americans who remain unemployed. Indeed, the word "unemployment" only showed up once, to brag about its (extremely slow) downward trend.
For the past several days, hundreds of workers have been picketing Wendy's, KFC, McDonald's and other fast food joints around the country to protest rock-bottom pay, demanding a raise to about double the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. As TIME points out, it's a last-ditch strategy for a sector that has no other leverage, with plenty of unemployed people willing to work for less and no labor union to bargain for their rights. But what's actually going on with the wages that fast food restaurants pay? A few things to know:
For most of his presidency, President Obama has been focused on the economic short run — which makes sense, given that he took office in the midst of the biggest recession since the 1930s. With his big economic speech today, he's shifting to the long-run, talking about the structural changes he thinks the economy needs to see for the U.S. to prosper going forward.
It's a story to give an American manufacturing executive nightmares: He arrives at his Beijing factory to lay off 30 people, and instead is taken prisoner by his employees while they demand compensation.
That's what happened to Charles Starnes, a co-owner of Coral Gables, Fla.-based Specialty Medical Supplies, who visited the factory last week to wind down the company's plastics division and move it to Mumbai. What exactly the workers wanted is a matter of some dispute.
In the latest issue of Democracy, Rich Yeselson has a long and interesting essay considering the decline of private-sector labor unions in the United States and whether they might ever make a comeback.
The piece is way too detailed to summarize in full (which means you should read the whole thing), but I'll draw out three salient points here:
As a general rule, when Harold Meyerson writes about the future of organized labor, you should probably stop what you're doing and read him.
Today he looks at labor's effort to open up the labor movement. "We're not going to let the employer decide who our members are any longer," AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka told Meyerson. "We'll decide."
Churn, baby, churn: The labor market won't be healthy until people feel like they can quit their jobs
America needs more quitters.
Or the job market does, anyway. That's the lesson to draw from the latest Labor Department report, which shows the soft underbelly of the U.S. jobs picture. The unemployment rate may be falling and the number of jobs rising. But there isn't enough "churn" going on, a hallmark of a healthy job market, in which people freely move between positions.
The April jobs report was encouraging, all told. In addition to gaining 165,000 jobs last month, we gained 114,000 total jobs in revisions in February and March. And unemployment is at its lowest point since December 2008. Like we always do at this time, let's break it down, chart-style.
Unemployment and jobs gained
Tankersley sums up the discussion and why all this stuff matters.
Why do we care that workforce participation is falling? In the column that sparked this feud, Ben Casselman gave us two answers. Both have to do with fear: We fear that the labor market is weaker than we think, and we fear that discouraged workers who left the labor force might, with enough time away, never make their way back into jobs.
On Monday we began our first WonkFeud, in which our own Jim Tankersley and the Wall Street Journal's Ben Casselman went at each other over labor force participation. Now, it's Round 2. Catch up with Casselman's original article that started it all here, Jim's initial parry here, and Casselman's counter-jab here.
Why should rappers have all the great beefs? Here is the first in a new feature in which we air our disagreements with things we read elsewhere. In today's installment, Jim Tankersley takes issue with the Wall Street Journal's Ben Casselman over his piece today on labor force participation. Look for Casselman's retort at the Journal's Real Time Economics blog. Jay-Z has nothing on J-Tank. (Except millions of dollars and Beyonce.)
Kimberly Ann Elliott is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and an expert in international trade policy, with a particular focus on labor standards and trade as a tool for fighting global poverty. She served as chair of the National Advisory Committee on Labor Provisions of U.S. Free Trade Agreements at the Department of Labor from 2011 to 2012, and from 2009 to 2012 served on the USDA Consultative Group on the Elimination of Child Labor in U.S. Agricultural Imports.
The March jobs report was underwhelming, to say the least. While unemployment fell to 7.6 percent from 7.7 percent, the economy only gained 88,000 jobs, and most of the unemployment reduction was due to people dropping out of the workforce. Like we always do at this time, let's break it down, chart-style.
President Obama is preparing to nominate Tom Perez as the next Labor Secretary. Currently the Justice Department's assistant attorney general for civil rights, Perez, who is Hispanic, has attracted a lot of media attention for being one of the few minorities poised to join a second-term cabinet that's looking increasingly white and male.
The February jobs report was the best in months, with unemployment falling to 7.7 percent and a stunning 236,000 added to nonfarm payrolls. Like we always do at this time, let's break it down a little further, chart-style.
Unemployment and jobs gained
The 236,000 jobs gained figure is the best in months, as this outstanding interactive from my colleagues on the Post graphics team makes clear:
It's not easy being a labor union in the United States. Last year, just 11.3 percent of workers were in a union, the lowest level since the 1930s. And there aren't a whole lot of opportunities for growth popping up nowadays.
Though here's one fascinating exception: pot. Molly Redden has a great piece in The New Republic about how the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) have been trying to organize workers in California's burgeoning medical-marijuana industry.
January's jobs report was a mixed bag. A gain of 157,000 jobs is a decent figure, while unemployment ticked up to 7.9 percent. But the November and December figures were substantially revised, revealing a much more positive situation than first reported. As we do every month, let's break down the Bureau of Labor Statistics report's main findings, in six charts.
"The border security issue is, at this point, 90 to 95 percent solved," Frank Sharry, head of the pro-immigrant group America's Voice, told Ezra yesterday. "Employer verification is, at this point, less than 10 percent solved."
Big news: A federal appeals court has just ruled that President Obama exceeded his constitutional authority when he made three appointments to the National Labor Relations Board in January 2012 while the Senate was on break.
If the ruling stands — and that's still a question mark — it would mean two big things for the five-member labor board. First, the NLRB would have just one valid appointee left, which would prevent it from deciding any further labor cases. (At least three sitting members are needed for a quorum, though the board could still hold union elections and investigate unfair practices.)
Old story, new twist: The Labor Department is out this morning with its annual report on union membership in America, and once again, it shows a year-over-year drop in how many workers belong to labor unions.
That's the old story. Union membership has declined steadily over the past three decades. About 18 million American workers were unionized in 1973, nearly a quarter of the total workforce. In 2012 there were 14.3 million union workers just over 11 percent of the total workforce, and a drop of 400,000 people from the previous year.
For many years, the United States outperformed most of the developed world in women's workforce participation. Indeed, in 1990, only five countries -- Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Canada -- had higher labor force participation rates among women. The United States bested Germany, France and Japan, among many others. But as of 2010, that's changed:
The fiscal cliff is no longer the only threat facing the U.S. economy. Some 14,500 dockworkers from Baltimore to Texas are threatening to strike this week, a move that could throttle an array of key ports and disrupt commerce across the nation.
For months, negotiations have dragged on between the dockworkers' union and the group that represents shippers and port operators — their disagreements have centered on container royalties, which are used to augment worker wages and benefits. Without a resolution, dockworkers are poised to strike at 14 shipping-container ports starting Sunday, including Boston, New York-New Jersey, Baltimore, Charleston, Savannah, Miami and Houston.
The term "right-to-work law" is a triumph of framing. Such laws do not, in fact, give you the "right to work." They give you the right to refuse to pay union dues when you work for a union shop, even though you get the wages the union bargained for, and the benefits the union bargained for, and the grievance process the union bargained for.
On Tuesday, Michigan became the 24th state in the nation to enact a "right-to-work" law designed to weaken labor unions. Under the new rules, employees in unionized workplaces will no longer be required to pay unions for the cost of being represented. (Workers could already choose not to join the union.) Protests flared throughout the day, but in the end Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signed the bill.
The most significant policy fight of the week is arguably taking place in Michigan, where Republican lawmakers are pushing through a "right-to-work" bill that would weaken labor unions in one of the country's most heavily unionized states. President Obama traveled to Michigan today and criticized the bill, which Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has yet to sign.
October's jobs report was much more positive than expected. The unemployment rate ticked up a tenth of a percentage point to 7.9 percent, but we gained 171,000 jobs big enough to be statistically significant. Even better, we gained 84,000 jobs in revisions to August and September data. Here, as always, are the highlights, in six charts.
ADP, the big payroll processing firm, has put out its October numbers in advance of Friday’s jobs report, and they’re pretty promising: 158,000 new jobs created, though their September number was revised down to 114,000 (coincidentally, exactly the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s number) from a first guess of 162,000.
We here at Wonkblog aren’t the only ones obsessed with the monthly jobs reports. There’s a whole cottage industry around predicting what the monthly numbers are going to say, and a major resource for prognosticators is the National Employment Report from the payroll processing firm ADP.
Usually released a day or two before the Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the ADP surveys 270,000 clients and asks how many people they have on payroll. That’s slightly more businesses than the Current Employment Statistics survey, upon which the BLS number is based, contacts for its initial estimate (although the businesses in BLS’s sample are larger than the ones in ADP’s). Because of the size of the sample, it’s taken seriously as an early indication of how the jobs market is doing.
The most recent government jobs report showed that the U.S. economy gained 114,000 jobs in September. That was encouraging. But as we emphasized last week, the report came with a lot of caveats. The margin of error on the number of payroll jobs gained in September was plus or minus 108,293.
But history can also tell us how the government’s estimate for September jobs is likely to change in the months ahead. That number will be revised twice as the Bureau of Labor Statistics gathers fuller data. And, as Matt Yglesias notes, the BLS estimates often change dramatically over the course of those two subsequent revisions. Since 1979, the final revision has been, on average, about 57,000 jobs higher or lower than the initial report:
The September jobs report is already spurring a number of conspiracy theories, alleging that the numbers have been tampered with for political gain. Ezra has dispatched with those quite nicely. But it raises a broader question. How does the Bureau of Labor Statistics derive these numbers? How accurate is that process? And how susceptible is it to tampering?
This morning’s jobs report was unexpectedly positive. Unemployment fell 0.3 points to 7.8 percent, and the economy gained 114,000 jobs in September – and revisions added another 86,000 jobs to the July and August numbers.
How does that compare to past months? Let’s find out:
Unemployment and Payroll Numbers
After being widely expected to ratify a deal with the Chicago Public Schools on Sunday, the Chicago Teachers Union voted instead to weigh the offer for a few more days. Mayor Rahm Emanuel responded by taking legal action, insisting that the strike was “illegal on two grounds – it is over issues that are deemed by state law to be non-strikable, and it endangers the health and safety of our children.” Is he right? Is the strike illegal?
Since the 1960s, organized laborin the United States has been steadily decaying. A half-century ago, 30 percent of American workers were members in a union. By last year, that had shriveled to 11.8 percent. Economists have offered up all sorts of theories for the drop, from the shrinking manufacturing workforce to foreign competition that has made U.S. companies more hostile toward unions.
This post initially misidentified July core inflation
Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the latest Consumer Product Index (CPI) numbers, giving the most recent estimate of the rate of inflation. The short version: There isn’t any. The inflation rate for all products grew by a whopping 0.0 percent. When you exclude food and energy prices, as economists frequently do to get the “core” rate of inflation, inflation in July was just 0.1 percent. Indeed, inflation for the past 12 months was only 1.4 percent, well below the Federal Reserve’s target of 2 percent, and core inflation was only 2.1 percent:
Friday’s jobs report was grim, to say the least. How grim? Let’s take a look.
Unemployment and Payroll Numbers
The unemployment numbers, for one thing, have stayed exactly the same, and remain far above where they were when the crisis first hit in September 2008. While reported non-farm payrolls grew by 80,000, that figure is still short of the figures from earlier this year:
While the last few jobs reports have been encouraging, not everything about the labor market looks rosy. Hourly pay rose just 1.9 percent over the past year — less than the rate of inflation. And a new report gives us a better handle on why that is.
On Tuesday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly data on job openings and turnovers. The upshot is that workers still don’t have a whole lot of bargaining power in the current labor market. There are still 3.7 job seekers for every available employment opportunity. That’s down considerably from the brutal 6.7-to-1 ratio seen in July, 2009. But as Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute points out , the current ratio is also higher than at any point during the 2001 downturn. Across just about every industry, competition remains intense for a limited number of jobs, which means that employers are under less pressure to offer higher pay in order to entice prospective workers.