Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Simple Misunderstanding

Happy New Year!  It’s only been less than 2 weeks but 2012 is already a very important year for Americans.  First, Beyonce and Jay-Z, a couple with influence matching the Pope, had a baby.   This will never stop being a news story.  Second, we realized that the presidential primary debate season may just be one of the best shows currently on TV.  This genius program runs like “Survivor” contestants are tested for being “Smarter Than a Fifth Grader” and voted off as if it were “Celebrity Apprentice.”  So far this year, Michelle Bachmann got voted off Republican Island in a cruel Iowan twist, and Ron Paul claims to read economic textbooks on Saturday nights.  Third, but no less important, we got to watch Kim K realize that if she can have fun without her husband then maybe she shouldn’t be married (sorry, this is considered a major news story).   At this rate, we can expect a banner year all around, maybe even complete with a Paris Hilton comeback on DWTS.  (You heard the big prediction here first.)

Americans have had a lot of time on their hands over the last few years to concoct such great TV ideas.  We’ve been out of work or underworked, and needed a break from our own realities.  We want to see other people who are bigger idiots than we are, or in a worse predicament than we are, because it makes us feel better.  We want to see people just like us, getting their problems with food, clothes, and hoarding solved so we can think about how to improve our lives.  And then we sprinkle in some motivational programming, like Keeping Up With the Kardashians, because it makes us think about getting off the couch to see if we can get in on that golden ticket.  Coupled with countless talent competitions where “anyone” can win fame overnight, and we are optimistic that we’ll find better fortunes in no time (we hope we win Deal or No Deal but a job will suffice too).  

This year we can expect more quality programming as we bide our time.  Just as many people (not as intellectual as ourselves) misunderstand our TV show preferences, so too do they misunderstand the most recent jobs numbers.  Last Friday’s jobs report claimed that the economy added 200,000 jobs, with the unemployment rate falling to 8.5%, the lowest in almost 3 years.  Of course this piece of information was received with a sigh of relief.  Job gains, until now barely having a pulse, are finally catching up with the rest of the ongoing economic recovery.  Finally we are out of the clear for a double-dip recession.

Not to be a party-pooper, but uncovering the numbers just one layer shows the story really hasn’t improved.  It turns out almost half of the new jobs added in December where seasonal.  These “jobs” were in retail and transportation (think Fed-Ex and UPS), are low-wage, and likely will not last through January.  Subtract those 90,000 seasonal jobs from the total and we are right back to where we’ve been for more or less the last 7 months, adding roughly 100,000 to 115,000 jobs.  This pops the party balloon: the number of new jobs is still not enough to sustain economic recovery.   Worse, the numbers show unemployment is lower partially because fewer people are entering the labor force.  The working age population grew by 0.8% in the last year while the labor force participation rate fell 0.3%; presumably they wanted to watch some good old American TV programming instead of bothering with jobs.

At least we’ll have plenty of time to live the “American Dream” in our dreams.  So get your foreign-made TV, sit on your foreign-made couch, wear your foreign-made clothes and relax.   Forget about understanding why we don’t have enough American jobs, and why real wages are falling, that makes our brains hurt.  Sit back and enjoy the show.

(Bureau of Labor Statistics)

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