Things are obviously getting desperate out there in financial media commentary land. If one could express written text in graphical terms then there are a number of financial journalists out there that look – like a rabbit caught in the headlights – that is in a state “of paralyzing surprise, fear, or bewilderment.” A good example of this increasingly observed syndrome is an article in The Australian newspaper today (June 30, 2020) by Adam Creighton – Never forget that governments have no money – it is always ours (subscription required). This sort of journalism is becoming an almost daily occurrence as it becomes obvious that capitalism is now on state life support systems and the extremities of government intervention are demonstrating very clearly what Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) economists have been saying – and the only ones that have been saying it – for 25 years or so. I often note that Japan has already pushed the fiscal and monetary policy parameters beyond the limits most countries have explored in peacetime and mainstream economists have systematically predicted various scales of disaster and have always been wrong. Now all countries are at extremes and still no fiscal disaster. But the mainstream mouthpieces – these financial journalists who seem to think the stuff they read in first-year text books from mainstream economics programs are in same way the basis for expertise and knowledge – are in advanced states of dissonance. Drivel follows.
On June 5, 2020, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – May 2020 – which shows that the US labour market has responded to the relaxation of lockdown controls in a modest way. I cannot believe that in Donald Trump’s words the US is “largely through” the Pandemic and it remains to be seen whether lockdown rules will have to be reintroduced when the infections rise again. But, for the time being, the payroll numbers improved as you would expect when shops reopened and people went back to work. But I stress this was a modest improvement. The numbers filing for unemployment insurance continue to rise and now top 43.2 million since March 7, 2020. A further 1.9 million filed in the week ending May 30, 2020. There were also some discrepancies noted by the BLS in the survey responses this month which adds to the uncertainty. Overall, the US labour market is in crisis and it remains to be seen how many jobs have disappeared and how many will emerge once the lockdowns are ended. Some 2.6 points of ‘unemployment’ lie outside the labour force (workers giving up looking), and as employment growth increases, those workers will come back into the recorded labour force and be classified as unemployed rather than not in the labour force. So how deep this catastrophe is remains a but uncertain. But I do not see appropriate policy responses in place. The US government should have guaranteed all incomes and introduced large-scale job creation programs and a Job Guarantee as an on-going safety net.
I went on a data excursion for part of today to update the flows data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. They published the latest JOLTs data last Friday (May 15, 2020) – Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary – which reveals data up to March 2020. So in a sense it is the calm before the storm. I also reconstructed some of the indicators I compile from that data set which give me a broader impression of what is happening in the US labour market. Clearly, things are going to get worse when the April data is released. We can see that by examining the Department of Labor’s weekly unemployment claimants data, which was updated last Thursday (May 9, 2020). I also updated my state table and map today. Things are looking very bleak. To me, the data tells me that the US is a failed state – incapable of using the capacity the government possesses to advance the well-being, or, in this case, protect the well-being of its people. I am also working on an extended piece on the way the Right and the Left are behaving in this crisis. As usual, the Right are organised and forward-looking putting assets into strategies that will take their agenda to another (pernicious) level. Under the smokescreen of the crisis, they are working to cement changes that will make it even harder for government to advance general prosperity. Meanwhile, the Left appear to be asleep as usual – tweeting their heads off about Biden or Sanders and have taken their eyes off the main game. We have been there before. Even though the US labour market has probably never been here before!
Last month’s analysis of the US labour force data – Tip of the iceberg – the US labour market catastrophe now playing out (April 6, 2020) – presaged what was to come. We now know more about the size of the iceberg. It is unimaginably large. Words fail really. This is one of those all-time historical events that make the severe crises of the past (early 1980s, 1990s, GFC – look like blips). On May 8, 2020, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – April 2020 – which shows that the US labour market has collapsed into territory never before recorded. And, given that the data released was drawn from samples that went up to April 12 (establishment survey) and April 18 (household survey), and so doesn’t fully capture the extent of the unfolding catastrophe. More recent data released by the US Department of Labor (unemployment insurance claimant data) shows the situation worsened in the last two weeks of April. In the last two weeks of April 2020, more than 9 million extra workers registered unemployment insurance claims. All the aggregates are demonstrating dramatic shifts to the point that graphs are becoming rather binary – the rest of history and now. The employment-population rate plunged 8.7 points to 51.3 per cent, which is the largest monthly fall since the sample began in January 1948. The U6 measure of broad labour underutilisation increased by 14 points to 22.8 per cent. This is the largest monthly rise in this measure since it was first published in January 1994. The situation will get worse. Its already catastrophic and it demonstrates a massive policy failure from the Federal government. Instead of directing trillions into the top-end-of-town, the US government should have guaranteed all incomes and introduced large-scale job creation programs and a Job Guarantee as an on-going safety net. Instead it is watching over people dying and people’s material prosperity being destroyed.
It is Wednesday so music and some snippets. I have updated the US unemployment claims data with a new map and state table. Shocking. We are working on updated estimates of what the Australian government would need to invest to run a Job Guarantee. We haven’t done that for a while because I didn’t want the press to get obsessed with dollar amounts. But as I am currently talking a lot about the Job Guarantee in the media, I thought some numbers would be useful as a comparative exercise against the JobKeeper wage subsidy, which is the central stimulus plank of the Australian government. The current estimates suggest that to create around 685 thousand jobs might require an outlay of $34 billion over the course of a year. That got me thinking. The main response of the Australian government is the $A133 billion over 6 months JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme. The Treasury claims it will be the difference between an unemployment rate of 10 per cent and 15 per cent. That difference is 685 thousand jobs. Then start doing some division and multiplication and you start to see that this doesn’t make sense as I explain below.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics has started publishing weekly employment data – Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia, Week ending 4 April 2020 – which is drawn from a new series made available as a result of the Single Touch Payroll data provided by the Australian Tax Office. For the first time, researchers like me can have up to date information as the economy cycles. Usually we get the labour force data some 5-6 weeks behind time and although a lot doesn’t necessarily happen in a month, this crisis is the exception – the whole box-and-dice is collapsing so quickly that we need weekly data, like is provided in the US through the Department of Employment’s unemployment claimants data to stay in touch with how things are tracking. But for now I estimate that the unemployment rate rose to around 10.9 per cent in the 3 weeks to April 4, 2020 (up from 5.2 per cent for the March data – which was surveyed in the early part of the month). In that time, unemployment has more than doubled and is around 1.5 million and rising. The conclusion from my analysis of the latest available data (released April 21, 2020) – is that some sectors in the Australian labour market have experienced a sudden and catastrophic contraction – like nothing we have ever seen in the data. Both employment losses and major wage cuts are underway and the policy response is totally inadequate for the task. A much larger fiscal intervention is required and it has to be directed at workers rather than firms. I will say more about those issues next week. But I am guessing that the Government’s response so far is less than half of what it should have been – it needs at least another $A200 billion.
There was an interesting article posted on Alternet (April 12, 2020) – Leftist policy didn’t lose. Marxist electoral theory did – in response to the dismal showing by Bernie Sanders in the current Democratic Primaries. I think it summarises the confusion that is now abundant on the progressive side of the political struggle. The arguments presented highlight the dilemma facing the progressive side of politics. Should Leftists compromise with centrists to get more traction? Compromise with what? If you read between the lines, there is no argument being made for Leftists to challenge the basic macroeconomic myths of neoliberalism that social democratic politicians around the world have adopted and straitjacket by. Rather, Leftists should accept these constraints and work at local levels to make small gains for better housing etc. It is a defeatist agenda – a surrender to the main game. I reject it.
I am monitoring the US Department of Labor’s weekly data releases for the unemployment insurance claimants account, that I reported in my last commentary on the US labour market – Tip of the iceberg – the US labour market catastrophe now playing out (April 6, 2020). Their latest release (April 9, 2020) – Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims – shows that in the prior week ending April 4, 2020, the initial claims rose by 6,606,000, but this was down on the increase the week before by 261,000. In the last three weeks, the total initial claims is 16.8 million persons. The impacts are quite stark already. For example, as you will see, in just one month (March), service sector occupations have shed 36.7 per cent of the total jobs that were added in the ‘recovery’ period between January 2010 and February 2020. And given the timing of the surveys (biased towards earlier in the month), the situation was much worse by the end of March. It is quite obvious that this crisis is impacting heavily and disproportionately on the least-advantaged workers and communities in the US. This cohort always suffers during a recession. But this time, the specific occupation biases are exacerbating the problem and inequity, given the nature of the economic shock (closures, shutdowns etc). It means the fiscal support should be heavily weighted to assisting the most impacted both in terms of people, their families and the regions they live in. The maps show that the spatial impact of the downturn to date is also very uneven. As yet, I have not seen a commensurate response from the US government. The fiscal support funds so far announced do very little for the most impacted communities and people. They certainly shore up the top-end-of-town which, while predictable, will come back to haunt the nation in the years to come.
On April 3, 2020, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – March 2020 – which shows a deteriorating labour market situation due to the coronavirus crisis. However, as I explain below, the data released was drawn from samples that went up to March 12 (establishment survey) and March 14 (household survey), and so doesn’t fully capture the extent of the unfolding catastrophe. More recent data released by the US Department of Labor (unemployment insurance claimant data) doesn’t leave anything to doubt. In the last two weeks of March 2020, 9.955 million workers registered unemployment insurance claims (6.6 million in the last week). If we consider that shift, then the US unemployment rate would be around 9.8 per cent by the end of march and rising. All the aggregates are demonstrating dramatic shifts. The employment-population rate fell by 1.1 points to 60 per cent, which is the largest monthly fall since the sample began in January 1948. The U6 measure of broad labour underutilisation increased by 1.7 points to 8.7 per cent. This is the largest monthly rise in this measure since it was first published in January 1994. The situation will get worse.
On March 6, 2020, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – February 2020 – which reveals a mixed picture – payroll employment growth has maintained its momentum since December, adding a further 273 thousand jobs and the unemployment rate fell marginally (although steady at the one-decimal point level). But the employment-population ratio fell by 0.1 points and the Broad labour underutilisation ratio (U-6) rose in January by 0.1 point to 7 per cent because there were more underemployed workers. Further, while real wages grew marginally, they lag behind labour productivity growth, which means there is scope for faster wages growth without triggering inflationary impulses. And the polarisation between high-pay and low-pay continues. So getting workers into paid employment is one thing. Paying them decent wages and providing them with secure jobs is another. I conclude that there is still scope for expansion even though the unemployment rates are at levels not seen since the 1960s.