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Governments can always create jobs if they choose

Last week, I posted a graph in this blog post – RBA cuts rates as a futile exercise as Dr Schwarze Null demands fiscal action (October 2, 2019) that showed that over the 12 months to August 2019, 312 thousand jobs have been created (net) in Australia. The stunning result is that 301 thousand (96.5 per cent) of those net jobs have been in the public sector. The private labour market is thus stagnating. I was interested to delve further into that result to see if I could bring more detail to bear. That is what this blog post is about. A data exercise to enrich our understanding and knowledge.

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US labour market slower but unemployment reaches lows not seen since the late 1960s

In last week’s blog post – Leading indicators are suggesting recession (October 3, 2019) – we saw some conflicting signals about the state of the US economy. The PMI data was looking quite awful whereas another composite index was telling a different story. On Friday (October 4, 2019), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – September 2019 – which reveals a slowing labour market, but, one that is still adding jobs. The commentators claim it is operating below expectation but the current trend is fairly predictable given the slowdown in overall economic growth. The US labour market is still adding jobs, albeit at a slower pace than last year. The Broad labour underutilisation ratio (U-6) remains high (but fell in September by 0.3 points) even though the official unemployment is now hovering around levels not seen since the late 1960s. The worry is that the jobs being added represent a significant hollowing out of jobs in the median wage area (the so-called ‘middle-class’ jobs), which is reinforcing the polarisation in the income distribution and rising inequality. There is no hint, yet in the data, that a recession is coming any time soon.

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RBA cuts rates as a futile exercise as Dr Schwarze Null demands fiscal action

I am now back in Australia after the latest cross-country run and so am falling back to routine. Which means a relatively short Wednesday blog post. Yesterday, the Reserve Bank of Australia cut their policy interest rate by 0.25 points to 0.75 per cent, a record low level. The RBA governor cited the weakness in the labour market as the reason for the cut and continued to suggest that the Government, which is pursuing its mindless austerity goal to record a fiscal surplus as the economy tumbles towards recession, should expand fiscal policy to kick-start growth. Once again, a central bank is being pushed into ‘record-making’ policy territory because the treasury-side of government will not use its fiscal capacity responsibly. This is now a global trend and even the likes of Dr Schwarze Null is calling for more fiscal action. Another day passes that demonstrates the mainstream New Keynesian approach is rapidly being abandoned by policy makers and an era of fiscal dominance approaches. Not before time.

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Australian Labour Force – unemployment and underemployment rises and the Government celebrates

On a day that the Federal government was telling Australians that it was time to celebrate as a result of the fiscal situation achieving balance, the unemployment and underemployment rates rose. This is neoliberalism – August 2019 style. The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest data today – Labour Force, Australia, August 2019 – which reveals a fairly weak labour market with where employment growth is not strong enough to absorb the increasing labour force as participation continues to creep up. As a result, unemployment rose again, albeit modestly. The disturbing trend in this rather weak environment is that underemployment rose by 0.2 points) to 8.6 per cent further and the total labour underutilisation rate (unemployment plus underemployment) rose as a consequence to 13.7 per cent. In the last two months, underemployment has risen by 0.4 points. Both the unemployment and underemployment rates are persisting around these elevated levels of wastage making a mockery of claims by commentators that Australia is close to full employment and that the fiscal position represents something desirable. The unemployment rate is 7 percentage points above what even the central bank considers to the level where inflationary pressures might be sourced from the labour market. This persistence in labour wastage indicates that the policy settings are to tight (biased to austerity) and deliberately reducing growth and income generation. My overall assessment is the current situation can best be characterised as remaining in a fairly weak state.

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US labour market – weaker than 2018 with occupational polarisation evident

Last week’s (August 2, 2019) release by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – August 2019 – reveals a labour market performance that is below the performance achieved in 2018 although there has been considerable month-to-month volatility. The US labour market is still adding jobs, albeit at a slower pace than last year. The Broad labour underutilisation ratio (U-6) remains high even though the official unemployment is plumbing new (recent) lows. And there has been a significant hollowing out of jobs in the median wage area (the so-called ‘middle-class’ jobs), which is reinforcing the polarisation in the income distribution and rising inequality.

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The EU pronouncement of a Greek success ignores the reality

I keep reading ridiculous articles about Brexit in the UK Guardian. The latest was comparing it to pre-WWI Britain and suggesting there were no signs of a “Damascene moment remainers hoped for”. I thought that reference was apposite – given the reference invokes St Paul’s conversion after he was struck blind. Good analogy – blind and remainer. The Brexit imbroglio is all the more puzzling because it seems to be a massive mismatch of scale – a currency-issuing nation and an organisation with no currency and no democratic legitimacy. And that is before one even contemplates the nature of that organisation. On August 20. 2019, the European Union provided us with a perfect example of why no responsible government would want to be part of it. In its – Daily News 20/08/2019 – there were three items. The last item told us that construction output in the EU28 had declined by 0.3 per cent in June 2019. The first item was a sort of cock-a-hoop boast about how great Greece is after the EU saved it from disaster. Parallel universe sort of stuff. Britain will thank its lucky stars after October 31, 2019 when it goes free from that madness. Even though the remainers remain ‘blind’ without their Damascene moment”

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Australian labour market – government austerity bias deliberately elevating wastage

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest data today – Labour Force, Australia, July 2019 – which reveals a labour market with where employment growth is not strong enough to absorb the increasing labour force as participation continues to creep up. As a result, unemployment rose again, albeit modestly. The disturbing trend in this rather weak environment is that underemployment rose by 0.2 points) to 8.4 per cent further and the total labour underutilisation rate (unemployment plus underemployment) rose as a consequence to 13.6 per cent. Both the unemployment and underemployment rates are persisting around these elevated levels of wastage making a mockery of claims by commentators that Australia is close to full employment. The unemployment rate is 7 percentage points above what even the central bank considers to the level where inflationary pressures might be sourced from the labour market. This persistence in labour wastage indicates that the policy settings are to tight (biased to austerity) and deliberately reducing growth and income generation. My overall assessment is the current situation can best be characterised as remaining in a fairly weak state.

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The Green New Deal must wipe out precarious work and underemployment

I was coming through the streets of inner Melbourne the other night after playing in my band. I couldn’t believe how many little scooters with those big boxes on the back were buzzing around, in and out of traffic, turning here and there, presumably, delivering food to people who preferred to stay in from the cold weather. I had sort of noticed these ad hoc cavalcades of cheap scooters before but never really assessed the extent of the proliferation. It represents an amazing and highly disturbing trend in our labour market. Okay, that sounds like something someone from another (older) generation might say. He who grew up when there was secure employment and wages and conditions were more tightly regulated. And I have seen Tweets from young people telling us ‘oldies’ to step aside. But what the scooter riders don’t realise is that they will get old themselves one day. And secure, well-paid work coupled with a broad spectrum of high quality public services is what makes that transformation liveable. In mapping out what I think are the essential aspects of a social transformation that we might call a Green New Deal, eliminating precarious work is one of the priorities – it is intrinsic to creating a more equitable society in harmony with nature. This aspect also calls in question the role of a Job Guarantee. Note the capitals – there is only one Job Guarantee but many jobs guarantees. I will explain today why the Job Guarantee will be an intrinsic part of the Green New Deal but by far a minor player in terms of the job opportunities that will be created by the socio-economic shift. Many commentators seem to think the Job Guarantee is sufficient for a Green New Deal. It is not and we need to understand its role in a monetary system to understand why.

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US labour market – bias towards toward job creation in below-average pay sectors

Last week’s (August 2, 2019) release by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – July 2019 – reveals a steady labour market with month-to-month volatility. The US labour market is still adding jobs, albeit at a slower pace than last year. The unemployment rate remains low (at 3.71 per cent) and the participation rate has moved up a tick, which is a good sign. It is also clear that there is still a substantial jobs deficit remaining and considerable scope for increased participation. Significantly, the bias toward jobs in below-average pay sectors being produced in the recovery has intensified during 2019.

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The adult unemployment benefit in Australia should be immediately increased by $A200 per week

At present, the Australian Parliament is debating whether the unemployment benefit (called Newstart) should be increased. The conservative government is refusing to budge claiming it prefers to create jobs and get people of benefits – arguing that it will generate 1.25 million jobs over the next 5 years. The Opposition Labor Party are attacking them for being mean but are just rehearsing the massive hypocrisy that has defined that party since it became a voice for the ‘neoliberal lite’ path. Every time the Labor Party spokespersons criticise the Government for not bringing unemployment benefits above the poverty line, Australians should remember that when they were in office the Labor Ministers ran the same line – they wanted to move people into jobs and would not compromise their obsessive pursuit of a fiscal surplus. Same logic. Disgusting and dishonest then. As it is now. The fact is that the successive governments have forced the unemployed to remain jobless (through austerity policies) and then increasingly plunge into deeper poverty (by refusing to increase the income support level in line with movements in poverty lines). In this blog post, I show that even if the 1.25 million pledge is achieved (and there are reasons why they might struggle to achieve it), there would be thousands of workers remaining in a jobless state by June 2024. This denies the Government’s claim that the pledge will eliminate the need to increase the unemployment benefit. Given that the current policy mix is likely to force thousands to remain in elevated levels of unemployment, the unemployment benefit should be increased, immediately, by more than $A200 per week, in the first instance, for a single adult. And then the government should introduce a Job Guarantee to allow workers to transit from joblessness to work at a decent, socially inclusive minimum wage (well above the revised unemployment benefit level). That would be the responsible thing for government to do in this regard. I am not holding my breath.

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