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Yellen tells graduates they’re entering strongest job market in a decade (can you say misleading?)

(BUSINESS NEWS) Yellen spoke before current graduates, touting a strong job market and as far as we know, everyone in the audience kept a straight face instead of laughing (or crying).

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The perils of pragmatism

US President Harry Truman once famously stated, “Give me a one-handed economist! All my economists say, ‘on one hand … on the other.’” Chairman of the Federal Reserve Janet Yellen’s latest remarks on the labor market call Truman’s exhortation for a clearer picture to mind.

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Speaking to the graduating class at the University of Baltimore, Yellen said that the graduates were “entering the strongest job market in nearly a decade,” with a low unemployment rate of 4.6 percent, equal to pre-recession numbers. While the picture isn’t as bleak as what new entrants into the labor market faced during the recession, the numbers aren’t quite the rosy picture that Yellen paints.

By the numbers

The U.S. unemployment rate is determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They conduct a monthly survey of nearly 110,000 people, who are identified by geographic location and characteristics that are as representative as possible of the workforce.

These individuals are rotated quarterly so that no one is counted for more than four consecutive months. This leaves a monthly sample that is 75 percent stable with a 50 percent annual residual.

Participants in the survey are questioned about their job status and/or labor force activity during the week covered in the survey.

Seems simple, right?

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Well, it depends on which unemployment rate you want to focus on. The 4.6 percent number Yellen stated in her speech is based on what’s known as the U-3 unemployment rate.

This rate doesn’t take into account individuals who are either working part-time because that’s the only type of job that the can find or those considered “marginally attached” to the labor force.

Marginally attached and missing workers

People considered “marginally attached” are those who want work, and have looked for work at some time in the past year, but are at the moment neither working or looking for work.

Workers in these situations are counted in the U-6 unemployment rate, which currently stands at 9.3 percent. This is significantly lower than the heights of the recession, but more than double the number that Yellen cited.

The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C. think tank, estimates that there are approximately 2.3 million such “missing workers” in the United States. This includes those working part time jobs because no other options are available for them, or who have stopped looking entering the holiday season.

The St. Louis branch of the Federal Reserve places the current labor force participation rate at 62.7 percent, the lowest since the recession. It’s also the lowest the United States has seen in any period, recession or non-recession, since December 1977.

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A brave new world

As graduates enter the workforce, they face a recovering labor market. But it is one that is more fiercely competitive than ever before, without a place for many qualified people who want to work.

Expectations that seemed de rigeur even a generation ago for graduates entering the job market now no longer apply. Even entry-level jobs prefer that potential employees come to them with some form of experience, as well as impeccable grades. Jobs that are available are often part-time to avoid the vesting of benefits, spread across the world due to the globalization of the economy.

Congratulations on graduation, indeed, but perhaps married with condolences.

#JobMarket

Roger is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds two Master's degrees, one in Education Leadership and another in Leadership Studies. In his spare time away from researching leadership retention and communication styles, he loves to watch baseball, especially the Red Sox!

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Scott

    December 29, 2016 at 12:01 am

    And yet, even if you use a different measure for unemployment, it is the best it has been in a decade. her statement is true, not misleading. if you’re asking is it the best job market in 20 years? no 🙂

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Business News

Hobby Lobby increases minimum wage, but how much is just to save face?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Are their efforts to raise their minimum wage to $17/hour sincere, or more about saving face after bungling pandemic concerns?

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Hobby Lobby storefront

The arts-and-crafts chain Hobby Lobby announced this week that they will be raising their minimum full-time wage to $17/hour starting October 1st. This decision makes them the latest big retailer to raise wages during the pandemic (Target raised their minimum wage to $15/hour about three months ago, and Walmart and Amazon have temporarily raised wages). The current minimum wage for Hobby Lobby employees is $15/hour, which was implemented in 2014.

While a $17 minimum wage is a big statement for the company (even a $15 minimum wage cannot be agreed upon on the federal level) – and it is no doubt a coveted wage for the majority of the working class – it’s difficult to not see this move as an attempt to regain public support of the company.

When the pandemic first began, Hobby Lobby – with more than 900 stores and 43,000 employees nationwide – refused to close their stores despite being deemed a nonessential business (subsequently, a Dallas judge accused the company of endangering public health).

In April, Hobby Lobby furloughed almost all store employees and the majority of corporate and distribution employees without notice. They also ended emergency leave pay and suspended the use of company-provided paid time off benefits for employees during the furloughs – a decision that was widely criticized by the public, although the company claims the reason for this was so that employees would be able to take full advantage of government handouts during their furlough.

However, the furloughs are not Hobby Lobby’s first moment under fire. The Oklahoma-based Christian company won a 2014 Supreme Court case – the same year they initially raised their minimum wage – that granted them the right to deny their female employees insurance coverage for contraceptives.

Also, Hobby Lobby settled a federal complaint in 2017 that accused them of purchasing upwards of 5,000 looted ancient Iraqi artifacts, smuggled through the United Arab Emirates and Israel – which is simultaneously strange, exploitative, and highly controversial.

Why does this all matter? While raising their minimum wage to $17 should be regarded as a step in the right direction regarding the overall treatment of employees (and, hopefully, $17 becomes the new standard), Hobby Lobby is not without reason to seek favorable public opinion, especially during a pandemic. Yes, we should be quick to condone the action of increasing minimum wage, but perhaps be a little skeptical when deeming a company “good” or “bad”.

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RIP office culture: How work from home is destroying the economy

(BUSINESS NEWS) It’s not just your empty office left behind: Work from home is drastically changing cities’ economies in more ways than you think.

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An empty meeting room, unfilled by work from home employees.

It’s been almost six months since the U.S. went into lockdown due to COVID-19 and the CDC’s subsequent safety guidelines were issued – it’s safe to say that it is not business as usual. Everyone from restaurant waitstaff to start-up executives have been affected by the shift to work-from-home. Even as restrictions slowly begin to lift, it seems as though the office workspace – regarded as the vital venue for the U.S. economy – will never truly be the same.

Though economists have been focusing largely on small businesses and start-ups, we are only just beginning to understand the impact that not going back into the white-collar office will have on the economy.

The industries that support white-collar office culture in major cities have become increasingly emaciated. The coffee shops, food trucks, and food delivery companies that catered to the white-collar workforce before, during, and after their workday, are no longer in high demand (Starbucks reported a loss of $2 billion this year, which they attribute to Zoomification). Airlines have also been affected as business travel typically accounts for 60%-70% of all air travel.

Also included are high-end hotels, which accommodate the traveling business class. Pharmacies, florists, and gyms located in business districts have become ghost towns. Office supplies companies, such as Xerox, have suffered. Workwear brands such as J. Crew and Brooks Brothers have filed for bankruptcy, as there is no longer a need to dress for the office.

In Manhattan – arguably the country’s most notorious white-collar business mecca – at least 1,200 restaurants have been permanently lost. It is also is predicted that the one-third of all small businesses will close.

Additionally, the borough is facing twice as many apartment vacancies as this time last year, due to the flight of workers no longer tied to midtown offices. Workers have realized their freedom to seek more affordable and spacious residence outside the city. As companies decentralize from cities and rent prices drop, it isn’t all bad news. There is promise that particular urban white-collar neighborhoods will start to become accessible to the working class once again.

Some companies, like Pinterest and REI, are reporting that their shift to work from home is in fact permanent. The long-term effects of deserted office buildings are yet to make themselves evident. What we do know is that the decline of the white-collar office will force us to reimagine the great American cities – with so much lost due to the coronavirus, what can now be gained?

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Business News

2020 Black Friday shopping may break the mold

(BUSINESS NEWS) Home Depot states their new plan for deals and discounts over two months, in place of a 1-day Black Friday event.

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Men shopping in an empty aisle, Black Friday to come?

Humans change and adapt – that’s just in our nature. Retail stores have struggled to maintain their sales goals for years as more and more people move to ordering online. Online prices still seem to be within customer expectations and often come with free shipping. Additionally, people that may have preferred to shop in an actual brick-and-mortar store have changed their shopping habits dramatically in 2020; it’s hard to social distance and be safe in crowded stores or in small aisles. Black Friday may be next to change.

Amazon and other big box store’s online ordering platforms have simplified getting what you need delivered right to your front door. According to Statista, “Amazon was responsible for 45% of US e-commerce spending in 2019 – a figure which is expected to rise to 47% in 2020.”

Retailers count on the holiday season, specifically Black Friday deals (the day after Thanksgiving), to bring in up to 20% of their annual revenue. It’s hard to just remove that option completely. But considering the times of social distancing, wearing masks in public, and especially avoiding large crowds, the tradition of Black Friday will need to look different this year.

It will also be interesting to see what supply chain disruptions from early 2020 will have the most effect this shopping season. We saw predictions in March that said the United States would see the biggest disruptions in about six months. Black Friday falls right on that timeline.

Home Depot has announced their plans to go ahead and give the deals over a two month span, starting in early November through December (both online and in stores with the possibility of adding some special deals around the actual Black Friday date) to help encourage a more steady stream of shoppers versus so many packing in on the same day.

The home improvement chain has actually seen a great sales year. This is likely due to people working from home and being interested in doing more home projects (and possibly having a bit more time to do them as well). As of May 2020, “The Home Depot®, the world’s largest home improvement retailer, today reported sales of $28.3 billion for the first quarter of fiscal 2020, a 7.1 percent increase from the first quarter of fiscal 2019. Comparable sales for the first quarter of fiscal 2020 were positive 6.4 percent, and comparable sales in the U.S. were positive 7.5 percent.”

Home Depot, along with many other retailers like Walmart, Target, and Best Buy have confirmed that they will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, which may not be new for all of them but has always signaled the kickoff of the holiday shopping season.

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