Posts tagged with: unemployment

_70189222_464_unemployedSeries Note: Jobs are one of the most important aspects of a morally functioning economy. They help us serve the needs of our neighbors and lead to human flourishing both for the individual and for communities. Conversely, not having a job can adversely affect spiritual and psychological well-being of individuals and families. Because unemployment is a spiritual problem, Christians in America need to understand and be aware of the monthly data on employment. Each month highlight the latest numbers we need to know (see also: What Christians Should Know About Unemployment).

Positive news is marked with the plus sign (+) while negative employment data is marked with a minus sign (-). No change is marked by (NC).
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European workers and trade union reps protest in Brussels

Things really aren’t looking good across the pond.  Acton’s Director of Research, Samuel Gregg, has written quite a bit about the decline in Europe. His latest ‘Meanwhile, Europe is (Still) Burning’ in the American Spectator, discusses the inability or unwillingness of European governments to respond to economic trouble.

Two of the world’s large economies, France and Italy, are examples of this. In France, workforce unemployment is 11 percent, the government has engaged in possibly illegal activity by hiding the fact that it hasn’t cut its fiscal deficits, and it won’t actually get around to making these cuts until 2017. The situation in Italy is even worse: unemployment is at 12.6 percent, youth unemployment is at 42.9 percent, and the country is ranked as one of the worst in the world in terms of “labor market efficiency.”

Despite these problems, necessary changes are not being made:

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is the latest Italian head of government to propose some marginal labor-market reforms. Alas, he too has discovered that Italy’s unions are essentially opposed to anything except the status quo. That’s why an estimated 1 million Italians marched in the streets on October 25, claiming that “fundamental rights” (which evidently don’t extend to Italians below 30) were being endangered.

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job seekerAccording to the U.S. Department of Labor, unemployment across the country is at about 6.1 percent (here in Michigan, it’s at 7.4 percent, which puts us in the bottom 10 states.) That means a lot of folks are still struggling to find a job, or a job where they are not underemployed.

Peter Morici, an economist at the University of Maryland give 5 reasons for this. Have all the “good” jobs moved overseas? Do we need to raise the minimum wage? Are we Americans lagging behind in math and science? Here are Morici’s thoughts: (more…)

long-term-unemploymentThe longer that Americans are unemployed, the more likely they are to report signs of poor psychological well-being. A recent Gallup survey found that about one in five Americans who have been unemployed for a year or more say they currently have or are being treated for depression.

Gallup finds that unemployed Americans are more than twice as likely to say they currently have or are being treated for depression than both those with full-time jobs and those who have been unemployed for five weeks or less. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are currently 3.4 million people who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more. These individuals accounted for 34.6 percent of all the unemployed.

A 2011 study of the long-term unemployed published by the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University also found that half of participants experienced shame and embarrassment that led them to isolate themselves from friends and associates. Among the long-term unemployed, 31.1 percent reported spending two hours or less with family or friends the previous day, versus 21.5 percent among short-term unemployed adults.

Long-term unemployment is not just a mental health crisis; it’s also a spiritual crisis. And the church is the only institution in American that can adequately respond. “Fortunately, the church is in a unique place to explain Christ’s restoration of work,” says Michael Jahr, “the meaning of suffering, and the hope and peace that result from putting our trust in him.”
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unemployedNote: This is the latest entry in the Acton blog series, “What Christians Should Know About Economics.” For other entries in the series see this post.

 The Term: Unemployment

What it Means: If you consult a dictionary, you’ll find a number of commonsensical definitions for unemployment: the state of being without a job; being without a paid job but available to work, etc. But like many other economic terms, the dictionary definition can vary significantly from how the term is often used. For example, since your teenage daughter, your neighbor’s stay-at-home spouse, or your retired grandfather are without a job, are they considered “unemployed”? In each case the answer is the same: It depends.

According to the federal government, to be unemployed a person must (a) be jobless, (b) looking for a job, and (c) available for work.

People are considered employed if they have a job (whether temporary, part-time, etc.). People who are neither employed nor unemployed are considered to be not in the labor force.

In America, the labor force consists of all persons 16 years old and over who are not serving on active duty in the military and are not confined to institutions such as nursing homes and prisons and either have a job or are looking for work. The labor force is made up of both the employed and the unemployed.

So unemployment refers to anyone who doesn’t have a job, wants one and is available to work, and is actively looking for work. That last part is particularly important because “discouraged workers” are not counted as unemployed. (See below for more on discouraged workers.)
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Time magazine, 1964: Lyndon B. Johnson as Man of the Year

Time magazine, 1964: Lyndon B. Johnson as Man of the Year

As noted here on the Acton PowerBlog earlier this week, 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration of war on poverty. Economist Nicholas Eberstadt, in an interview with the American Enterprise Institute, discusses what he calls the “brave new welfare state” we now have due to over-grown public assistance and unintended consequences of government programs.

Asked if we need to spend more money on anti-poverty initiatives, Eberstadt answers:

Let me suggest this is not the right way of framing the question. Quite the contrary: if we presume that government entitlement transfers are the answer to the poverty problem, we are pretty much doomed to failure before we even start.

For a healthy national community of prosperous and independent citizens, we need a nation with strong families, solid education, a serious work ethic, and a good jobs market. Anti-poverty programs can only substitute for these fundamentals—and unfortunately such programs are necessarily rather limited and imperfect substitutes. Of course there is a role for public resources in addressing public need—but such government resources can be targeted more efficiently and intelligently than we are doing today.

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Seattle-mystWhen I was growing up I had a buddy—let’s call him “Bob”—who was constantly asking, “What happens if we do . . . ?” Bob’s curiosity, however, only led him to wonder about foolish actions. He never pondered, for example, what would happen if we all volunteered at the senior citizens center. Instead, his thinking ran more along the lines of what would happen if we jumped off the senior citizens center.

The reaction of me and the rest of my friends was always, “Let’s find out!” But we were more prudent than Bob (or maybe just more cowardly) so we’d encourage him to try whatever reckless idea he had in mind so we could learn from his experience. We learned, for instance, that if jump off the 3-story senior citizens center, a stack of cardboard boxes will not be enough to sufficiently break your fall.

Bob’s shenanigans would daily provide for us what social scientists would call a “natural experiment.” A natural experiment is a study of the effect of an independent variable, which has not been planned or manipulated by the researchers, on a dependent variable. (The word ‘natural’ in the term natural experiment therefore refers to an event that is not planned by the researchers.)

The city of Seattle is about to pull a Bob, by foolishly raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour. The effect on the citizens of Seattle will be almost entirely harmful. But it will provide a natural experiment on the effect of raising the minimum wage laws that the rest of American can learn from. Anyone who isn’t already convinced that increasing the minimum wage has a detrimental impact on employment and harm minority workers will, in a few years, have solid proof. We will all be able to look to Seattle to see the difference between good, albeit naive, intentions and sound economic policy.

Here are some of the effects I predict the policy will have in the next three years:
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keep-calm-and-expect-the-unexpected-18Today at Bloomberg we find this unexpected news about unemployment:

Applications for U.S. unemployment benefits unexpectedly climbed to a nine-week high, underscoring the difficulty adjusting the data for seasonal variations such as the Easter holiday and spring recess at schools.

Jobless claims rose by 14,000 to 344,000 in the period ended April 26, the highest level since Feb. 22, Labor Department data showed today in Washington. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for 320,000.

There are two things the media never expects: (1) The Spanish Inquisition and (2) increases in jobless claims. Over the past five years, in 30 of the past 60 months,  the media has considered it “unexpected” when jobless claims increase:

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“When People Give Up Looking for Work, What Do They Do?” A Wall Street Journal story looks at the “millions of working-age men” sidelined by the economic slump, and warns that “the longer they’re out of work, the more their skills deteriorate and the harder it is to land the next job.”

“Those who can’t find work often turn to safety net programs, such as food stamps, unemployment benefits and disability — programs that have ballooned since the recession began,” the article continues. “Once people start receiving disability benefits, they rarely leave the program.”

The take home: take any ethical job. Consider self-employing yourself, offering to do work others find unpleasant. Some potential employers in your preferred career may look down on you for having done grubby work, but others will admire your willingness to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty while you’re waiting for a job in your chosen field.

The Bible condemns willful idleness and enjoins us to labor so that we can have the means to help those truly in need. If after pursuing any ethical job available, you’re still underemployed, cut your living expenses to the bone, minimize your use of the government dole, and use your idle week days to volunteer long hours doing something beneficial for society, including time on your knees in intercessory prayer.

The Christian community talks so much about pursuing your vocational passion and calling that we often neglect that gritty reality that sometimes God uses circumstances to call us into work that doesn’t use all of our talents, but instead exercises our fortitude, selflessness, and humility.

I remember when I was 22. (more…)

Subway at True Bethel Baptist Church

I have previously expressed my appreciation for the popular TV show, Undercover Boss, in which business leaders from large corporations spend several days working alongside lower-level employees.

In an episode on Subway, Don Fertman, the restaurant chain’s Chief Development Officer, goes undercover at several locations across the United States. Most of the episode includes your typical Undercover Boss fare — a bumbling executive, dedicated workers, teer-jerker employee recognitions — but I was struck by a particular branch that Fertman visits along the way.

Located in the heart of Buffalo, New York, the restaurant is located in the same building as True Bethel Baptist Church, and further, is owned and operated as a franchise by the church itself. The reason? To provide employment and job training to the surrounding neighborhood. (more…)