Friday Reads: Push the Policy through NOW!

The Dance by André Derain, 1906,

Good Day Sky Dancers!

There was a pretty huge job fair in New Orleans this week alongside a first visit by President Biden to check out our dilapidated Sewage and Water infrastructure.   Our covid-19 cases have dropped and it’s a rare day when I see a death among the new case numbers.  It seems we should be recovering a bit more robustly.

We have eased some of our restrictions and there are inklings of brass bands returning to the streets to perform in distanced, open-air spaces.  However, the last few weekends of music I heard was the thumping of the worst of the worst from an ongoing illegal rave party at an abandoned gas station at the abandoned Navy Base. Last night, it went on until sunrise.  That kind of represents a type of Post Trump Dystopia Nightmare still lingering.

Bacchus dance, Andre Derain,  1906

Yes, Raves are so 1990s but for some reason, they’re back! I noticed that some Chinese Space debris is supposed to fall to earth today and I can’t help but wonder if I can psychically move the falling debris to take out that spot on the Mississippi so it can be reinhabited by something other than humans with opioid issues.  That seems appropriately Post Trump Dystopian Nightmarish also.

The economy is actually doing gangbusters despite the somewhat dismal unemployment numbers released today.  The Investment class should be quite happy with market performance. Something is still stuck somewhere.  Frankly, I think that as a nation, we’re all just tired.  I would like to add that American women are both tired and fed up so getting back to the old frantic normal seems less appealing all the time.  Why does the American normal always wear a lot of us out?

Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell has some analysis over the dreary April Numbers.  It matches up with the anecdotal evidence one of my friends provided when she couldn’t believe that the New Orleans Job Fair was poorly attended even though there were lots of jobs and wages offered were up.  Rampell writes: “Behind the April jobs report: Is there a shortage of jobs or a shortage of workers?”  

No two ways about it: The April jobs report was extremely disappointing. And it’s likely to heat up the debate, now preoccupying the White House, over whether government policy might be subtly discouraging unemployed people from returning to work.

Economists and analysts had been expecting around a million jobs to be added on net in April, given the rising share of vaccinated Americans and relaxation of restrictions on business. Instead, employers created a measly 266,000 positions, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday. Job growth for March was revised downward, too.

The size of the jobs deficit — the difference between how many jobs there are today vs. pre-pandemic — remains quite large, with employment in April still 8.2 million jobs, or 5.4 percent, below the peak from February 2020. If April’s hiring pace were to continue indefinitely, it would take 2½ more years before we regained all the jobs we had pre-covid (and we actually want more jobs than that, given population growth).

The disappointing numbers are almost certain to strengthen the narrative that there’s a labor shortage.

What do I mean by that? Unemployment is still elevated, at 6.1 percent in April compared with 3.5 percent in February 2020. So at first blush, that would suggest that there are still a lot of excess workers needing jobs. For about a month, though, a debate has been raging about whether there are too few workers willing to accept the jobs on offer. Restaurants and other small businesses have complained about their inability to hire, which is being disproportionately blamed on (depending on your politics) either Big Government’s too-generous unemployment benefits, or stingy employers’ reluctance to raise wages.

The industry that has been complaining the loudest about an inability to find workers, accommodation and food services (think hotels, restaurants, bars, etc.), accounted for nearly all of the hiring in April — 241,400 new jobs. This might suggest that their complaints are much ado about nothing.

Again, my friend Aine’s analysis of her experience here fits in with that narrative. Most of the employers at the fair were hotels, restaurants, and your usual array of dreary, hard, low paying service jobs.  The Hilton Hotel is unionized but that’s not the norm around the outrageous right to work plantation mentality of the Republican Majority here who are now screaming that unemployment benefits, rent moratoriums, and Covid relief checks are keeping every one home.

Andre Derain The Promenade 1906

So, yes I’m an economist although I’m a financial economist and have minimal exposure to advanced labor economics. My narrative however is a bit more on the behavioral side.

We’re all than a bit more than worn out but the women who make up these types of jobs are more worn out and fed up than usual. We’ve born the brunt of both the Pandemic and the Trumpist regime. Exhaustion and a huge degree of being fed-up have depleted our enthusiasm to go out and be underpaid, underappreciated, and not supported for being mothers or caregivers of our elderly relatives. Yes. Joe has a plan for that. Do it now.

You can see this in the economic analysis–hold that thought–plus pop culture. This headline greeted me from The Guardian: “The day of ‘female rage’ has dawned – and Kate Winslet is its fed-up face”.  The piece is written by Emma Brockes about a new Amazon Series featuring Winslet as a small town, Pennslyvania policewoman called “Mare of Easttown”.

Her success with viewers is also a question of timing. The aftershocks of MeToo won’t wear off for many years, and still the stories keep coming. In the past month alone we heard of alleged abuses by Hollywood producer Scott Rudin, and the almost unbelievably novelistic horror of Blake Bailey, lauded biographer of Philip Roth, being the subject of multiple accusations of rape and sexual assault, resulting in the book being hastily withdrawn.

We’ve had it. We’re done with it. Those years of Trump compulsively commenting on women’s looks, the intensity of demands made of women handling families and jobs throughout the pandemic, and the fact that women over 40 – particularly those in flannel and Timberlands – are still expected to remain largely invisible, have created a condition for this show to hit home. The absolute I’m-over-it energy of the heroine channels some broader snap in a willingness to go along with all this and a yearning for some reflection of how many are feeling.

It’s not even anger; much has been made of “female rage” in the past few years, but to my mind it’s more muted and long-suffering than that. It’s irritability, crossness, the oh-for-God’s-sake complete lack of surprise when the latest outrage comes along, with the occasional florid meltdown. In one scene, a middle-class character sensitively counsels Mare to open her heart to the daughter-in-law with whom she’s about to get locked in a custody battle. Instead, she storms over to her house, mocks her addiction, threatens to see her in court, then frames her for a crime she didn’t commit. I mean, it’s not ideal. But one appreciates a certain emotional truth.

There is, perhaps, one amusingly and I guess unavoidably false note in all this. Early on in the show, Mare meets a suave, middle-class character played by Guy Pierce, and reluctantly agrees to go out on a date with him. She throws on some makeup, finds a dress and a hairbrush, and – stepping out of her house – hey-ho, it’s Kate Winslet. Even that, I sense, we’ll give her. It goes badly; the guy’s a douche. She shrugs and goes home.

The Dancer,Andre Derain, c.1910

So, a lot of us have gone home for a while. Now, let me get back to a Brookings study last year on the impact of Women during the Covid-19 outbreak and shutdowns. It’s a grab bag of social sciences analyses by Nicole Bateman and Marth Ross: “Why has COVID-19 been especially harmful for working women?”

COVID-19 is hard on women because the U.S. economy is hard on women, and this virus excels at taking existing tensions and ratcheting them up. Millions of women were already supporting themselves and their families on meager wages before coronavirus-mitigation lockdowns sent unemployment rates skyrocketing and millions of jobs disappeared. And working mothers were already shouldering the majority of family caregiving responsibilities in the face of a childcare system that is wholly inadequate for a society in which most parents work outside the home. Of course, the disruptions to daycare centers, schools, and afterschool programs have been hard on working fathers, but evidence shows working mothers have taken on more of the resulting childcare responsibilities, and are more frequently reducing their hours or leaving their jobs entirely in response.

Problems facing women in the labor market have never been hidden, but they have been inconvenient to address because they are so entrenched in the basic operations of our economy and society. The low wages associated with “pink collar” occupations have long contributed to the feminization of poverty, and the chronic shortage of affordable, high-quality childcare reflects outdated notions of women’s societal roles, how the economy functions, and child development. COVID-19’s massive disruption to employment, childcare, and school routines has crippled the economy and pushed millions of women and families to the financial brink. This moment provides an important opening to rethink how policy supports women’s roles as financial providers and parents.

This is exactly the kind of plans that Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton, and other women leaders have been pushing for years. These policy prescriptions have been adopted into the larger Biden-Harris policy efforts to promote better infrastructure.  The Republicans, however, are dead set against all of it and are hellbent on institutionalizing Trumpism. We’re already seeing laws at state levels that courts already settled scuttling like bottom feeders towards a stacked Supreme Court.  A huge number of these laws restrict the progress of women and minorities.

You may see the very different narratives offered by the two parties.  Let’s explore the HuffPo article: “Unemployment Benefits Are Not Creating A Worker Shortage. While some employers may be struggling to hire for one reason or another, economists say generous unemployment benefits are not the cause.”

At the time, millions of workers were losing their jobs every week, and nobody knew how bad things would get. But a few weeks after the initial lockdowns, businesses started recalling workers, millions returned to their jobs despite the extra benefits, and the jobless rate plunged. A spate of academic studies found the extra benefits weren’t stopping people from going back to work after all.

At $300 per week, the federal supplement is half what it was last year, but the criticism is twice as intense even though the previous doomsaying didn’t pan out.

“People get paid more not to work than to work,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) told HuffPost, referring to the extra federal benefits. “Economists talk about that, but anecdotally, it’s clear.”

It’s true that the benefits amount to more than prior wages for some workers. It’s just that the extra money doesn’t seem to have held workers back.

The unemployment complaint fits a broader Republican argument that Democrats under President Joe Biden are out to destroy the American work ethic with their proposals for new parent benefits and affordable child care.

“Think about what the Democrats have done,” Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the House Republican leader, tweeted over the weekend. “They have demonized work so Americans would become dependent on big government.”

While some employers may be struggling to hire for one reason or another right now, economists say generous unemployment benefits are not the cause.

If demand for workers were exceeding supply, then the price of labor would be shooting up. But as Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said last week, overall wage growth hasn’t increased. “We don’t see wages moving up yet, and presumably we would see that in a really tight labor market,” Powell said at a press conference. “And we may well start to see that.”

For now, unemployment remains elevated, at 6%, compared to 3.5% before the pandemic, and there were 4 million more unemployed people in March 2021 than in February 2020. That data reflects people who are trying to find jobs, not those who have removed themselves from the workforce for a number of reasons, like a lack of child care. Yet some business owners still say there are no willing workers out there.

Chef Andrew Gruel, owner of the Slapfish restaurant franchise, took to Twitter last week to declare “there are no employees available in California.” Gruel said his eateries were offering $21 per hour but couldn’t find any takers. The top reason? “They are making enough on unemployment and would rather not work.”

William Spriggs isn’t buying that. The chief economist at the AFL-CIO labor federation, Spriggs said it is “self-evident” that millions of people are trying to find work. Just because an employer hasn’t found them yet ― at the wages the employer is willing to pay ― doesn’t mean the workers aren’t out there.

Then, there’s this on the horizon. It’s also been the topic of the day among a lot of my friends that have not had the benefit of working at home like me. An economy–with lots of market-related rigidities–can be very slow on the rebound.  Labor markets are notoriously rigid and sticky.

Estaque,  Andre Derain, 1905

It’s not that I’m not excited about all the policies and traveling around that both Biden and Harris have done showing the need. I’m worried that if we don’t get it done now that the Republicans will come roaring back through voter suppression and more lies and we’ll be stuck, once again, in a place where everything and everyone has broken, while the money and the fun go to the very rich and powerful.  Well, that and the homeless opioid rave unattended until something catches fire and the next one or dozen of them die from their addictions.

Meanwhile, the short-term Air Bnbs will bring tourists. The streets will still flood. I will still be working here with a half-ass internet connection for which I pay Cox a small fortune. I just don’t want to miss the opportunity we have at the moment and I’m all too familiar with the lessons of the first few Obama years.  I don’t want a repeat.

So, sorry for being a bit of a Debbie Downer today but I just am beginning to see history repeat itself. The schadenfreude of broke and broken Guiliani is just not enough for the country.  We’ve got to realize the Republicans are a lost cause still hanging on to the mentality of The Lost Cause. Move on without them!

Have a great weekend!  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

17 Comments on “Friday Reads: Push the Policy through NOW!”

  1. dakinikat says:

    Keep your eyes on the stars!!!

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  4. bostonboomer says:

    The paintings are gorgeous!

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  9. bostonboomer says:

    This is such a meaty post. I didn’t have a chance to read it yesterday because I was dealing with medical appointments and other sundry issues.

    • dakinikat says:

      Thanks! It’s been a while since we’ve seen serious disruptions in the labor markets. This is really something. It involves something cold shoe leather costs which indicate that getting a job is a bit like a long courting process because after a huge period of unemployment you want to make sure you find the right job at the right wage. No one wants to just jump in and take whatever.