Archive for the 'Unemployment' Category

Feb 05 2010

US Exports: the key to job creation? Obama thinks so…

Obamas Efforts To Boost Exports Face Hurdles : NPR

President Obama thinks the key to recovering the millions of American jobs lost during the recession lies in boosting exports to the rest of the world:

The plan sounds great. As we learn in AP and IB Economics, free trade leads to benefits for nations that choose to participate in it. Of course, promoting free trade will harm some industries and workers whose jobs end up being “off-shored” or “out-sourced” to countries with cheaper or more qualified labor; but Obama’s hope is that promoting free trade will result in a net gain of 2 million American jobs.

The goal of doubling US exports in 5 years, however, may be overly ambitious. According to the CIA World Factbook, the US is currently the fourth largest exporter in the world, sending just around $1 trillion worth of goods and services abroad in 2009, behind the EU with $1.9 trillion, China with $1.2 trillion and Germany with $1.18 trillion of exports. Obama’s goal to double US exports would propel the US to the single largest exporting nation in the world, putting it right around where the 27 nations of the European Union are today.

To achieve his goal, Obama proposals include three strategies for boosting demand and supply of US exports.

  • On the supply side he suggests continuing recent guarantees for payment by foreign buyers. Essentially such a scheme reduces the risks that often accompany international commerce, reducing the “costs” of exporting firms, which in essence increases the supply of exports from the US.
  • On the demand side the US must pressure China to revalue its currency. A stronger RMB (and a weaker dollar) will increase China’s demand for US goods and services.
  • Also on the demand side, the US should push through free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Columbia, which have encountered obstacles among US lawmakers who fear that more free trade may actually mean a loss of US jobs.

Free trade agreements, export payment guarantees and a weaker US dollar in China will help Obama reach his goal. Chances are, however, that it will ultimately be unattainable. Doubling US exports would propel the US to the top of the list of exporting countries, surpassing even China, today’s current leader, by $700 billion more than the country exported last year. The impact on US GDP would undoubtedly be enormous, adding upwards of  $1 trillion to the US economy.

Creating jobs through trade is controversial, as many Americans still believe trade is partially to blame for the loss of American jobs in recent years.

“The average voter in the U.S. has been pretty on the fence about whether they want more trade coming into the United States,” Slaughter says. “The income pressures that a lot of households have faced in recent years have sort of shifted that balance where more voters now are a lot more wary of globalization than they used to be.”

While his goal is lofty, Obama is on the right track towards growing the US economy and promoting job creation. Trade benefits Americans not just because it will increase demand for our goods and services abroad, but because it will lead to lower prices for many of the things we enjoy consuming at home, ultimately increasing real incomes in America while also creating jobs.

The graph below presents a simple explanation of how the above strategies can result in more jobs in US export industries.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does China manipulate the value of its currency? Why is such manipulation harmful to US exporters?
  2. How does a government payment guarantee for exporters actually reduce the costs of doing business for US exporting firms?
  3. Do you believe that more free trade agreements with countries like South Korea and Panama will create jobs or destroy jobs in the United States? Explain.

3 responses so far

Sep 29 2009

How big is the government spending multiplier in America? Well, it depends on which economist you ask…

Economics focus: Much ado about multipliers | The Economist

What is the goal of fiscal stimulus during a recession? Is it simply to increase nation’s total income by a certain amount determined by how much a government increases its own spending by? If this were the case, then an $800 billion stimulus package, like the one begun this year in the US, would lead to a total increase in national income of, well, exactly $800 billion.

While such an outcome is possible, it is not the desired outcome of the Obama administration and the economists who have supported the use of expansionary fiscal policy during economic downturns (i.e. the Keynesian school of economists). Keynesians expect that an initial increase in government spending (or a decrease in taxes) will result in households and firms increasing their own consumption and investment, meaning successive increases in spending. The initial change in spending ultimately gets multiplied through further rounds of spending. The total change in national income resulting from an initial change in government spending or taxes depends on the size of the fiscal multiplier. Now, this is where things get tricky! From the Economist:

The size of the multiplier is bound to vary according to economic conditions. For an economy operating at full capacity, the fiscal multiplier should be zero. Since there are no spare resources, any increase in government demand would just replace spending elsewhere. But in a recession, when workers and factories lie idle, a fiscal boost can increase overall demand. And if the initial stimulus triggers a cascade of expenditure among consumers and businesses, the multiplier can be well above one.

The above scenario, where an economy is operating below full-employment and government spending puts the nation’s idle resources to work, creates new income and further increases private spending, is precisely what the Obama team and its economists hope will happen in the US economy soon. A multiplier of above one means the $800 billion will ultimately increase America’s national income by something greater than $800 billion!

The multiplier is also likely to vary according to the type of fiscal action. Government spending on building a bridge may have a bigger multiplier than a tax cut if consumers save a portion of their tax windfall. A tax cut targeted at poorer people may have a bigger impact on spending than one for the affluent, since poorer folk tend to spend a higher share of their income.

Crucially, the overall size of the fiscal multiplier also depends on how people react to higher government borrowing. If the government’s actions bolster confidence and revive animal spirits, the multiplier could rise as demand goes up and private investment is “crowded in”. But if interest rates climb in response to government borrowing then some private investment that would otherwise have occurred could get “crowded out”. And if consumers expect higher future taxes in order to finance new government borrowing, they could spend less today. All that would reduce the fiscal multiplier, potentially to below zero.

Herein lies the controversy about the effectiveness of deficit-financed fiscal stimulus. Several posts on this blog have focused on the neo-classical, supply-side economists’ fears that expansionary fiscal policy financed by government borrowing will drive up interest rates to private borrowers, thereby “crowding-out” private investment, off-setting any expansion in output achieved through government spending. In the Keynesian model, however, it is precisely because interest rates have bottomed out at the “zero bound” (according to Paul Krugman) that government borrowing and spending will not lead to crowding-out, rather could actually increase investors’ willingness to spend (their “animal spirits”) on new capital, actually “crowding-in” private investment.

Alas, the debate continues. The ironic thing is that even years from now, after all of Obama’s stimulus money has been spent, and the US economy is either fully recovered or it is not, we still won’t know how large the fiscal multiplier was, since tomorrow’s economists will find it nearly impossible to isolate the variable of the $800 billion of government spending and determine just how much of America’s growth in income can be attributed to government spending, and how much resulted from automatic stabilizers built-in to help the economy recover on its own during recessions.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do tax cuts for the rich tend to have a smaller multiplier effect than tax cuts for lower income households?
  2. How can government borrowing drive up interest rates, and why is this a concern to policy makers deciding on the size of a fiscal stimulus package?
  3. What are the animal spirits the article mentions? Where have you heard this expression before?
  4. Do you think borrowing trillions of dollars and spending it to put people back to work and try to dig the US economy out of recession is wise, or should the US government be practicing better fiscal responsibility?

11 responses so far

Sep 24 2009

China, the land of opportunity, attracts America’s tired, poor, huddled masses

Young Americans Going To China For Jobs – the Huffington Post

I remember my 9th grade history class, when we learned about how so many thousands of Chinese immigrated to the American west to build the railroads. My textbook had a picture that looked like this:

Well, that was 130 years ago. Today, the world is a very different place. America, once the land of opportunity, has shed hundreds of thousands of jobs a month for 18 months straight. Unemployment, near 10%, has driven the economy into its deepest recession since the 1930s, trade is grossly imbalanced, as are federal budgets, and national debt has inched ever closer to 100% of GDP. All in all, things are pretty gloomy.

Someday, ninth grade history students may look in their textbooks and read a different story about the early 21st Century. In the future, they may see pictures like this in their history books:

That’s right, today the land of opportunity is China, and hundreds of thousands of foreigners, including thousands of Americans, are packing their bags for the “Middle Kingdom” in search of work.

Young foreigners… are coming to China to look for work in its unfamiliar but less bleak economy, driven by the worst job markets in decades in the United States, Europe and some Asian countries.

Many do basic work such as teaching English, a service in demand from Chinese businesspeople and students. But a growing number are arriving with skills and experience in computers, finance and other fields.

“China is really the land of opportunity now, compared to their home countries,” said Chris Watkins, manager for China and Hong Kong of MRI China Group, a headhunting firm. “This includes college graduates as well as maybe more established businesspeople, entrepreneurs and executives from companies around the world.”

Some 217,000 foreigners held work permits at the end of 2008, up from 210,000 a year earlier, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Thousands more use temporary business visas and go abroad regularly to renew them.

Some foreigners see China not just as a refuge but as a source of opportunities they might not get at home.

Konstantin Schamber, a 27-year-old German, passed up possible jobs at home to become business manager for a Beijing law firm, where he is the only foreign employee.

“I believe China is the same place as the United States used to be in the 1930s that attracts a lot of people who’d like to have either money or career opportunities,” Schamber said.

There’s a lot of talk in America today, on the news, on the radio, in the papers, about whether the US economy will ever return to “normal”. Unemployment is nearly 10%, and some economists think it may take years for it to fall below 10% once more.

I guess the good news is, if Americans start heading to China in ever larger numbers to find work, the number of people looking for work in the US will fall, leading to lower unemployment. Of course, that’s not how the US wants to bring down unemployment, nor is it good for the nation’s long-run growth potential if high skilled workers go abroad to find jobs. But it does raise a very important question: Will America be the land of opportunity in the future? Or will its tired, huddled masses become the “boat people” of the 21st Century, seeking employment on distant shores.

Full disclosure here: I myself have only worked as a teacher abroad, including in China! And to be honest, it is because the demand for my skills is clearly greater overseas than it is at home! My income is far higher abroad than I could earn in an American public school, and my services and skills are valued much greater in the international setting, particularly in Asia!

One response so far

Sep 14 2009

Jobless Growth? How could this be?

Economic Growth Yet to Hit Job Market –

In AP and IB Economics, we understand the importance of macroeconomics to policymakers, whose primary macroeconomic goal is growth. Economic Growth, defined as an increase in a nation’s total output of goods and service (and therefore the national income), is desidred not only for the sake of growth itself (producing more stuff requires more resources, and may not necessarily make the average citizen better off), rather growth is needed in order to achieve full-employment of a nation’s labor force.

Growth is good. This tenet of economics is rooted in two basic observations: 1. Growth leads to an improvement in the average standard living of a nation’s people, and 2. Growth is needed to employ the growing workforce of a nation experiencing population growth and immigration.

America’s work force is a diverse group of people of all skill levels. 150 million strong, the nation’s workforce requires a healthy national economy with strong investment and consumption to maintain enough jobs to keep unemployment low.   In the last two years, however, the prospect of employment in America has diminished as the number of people out of work has grown to nearly 15 million.

Involuntary unemployment is perhaps the most serious cost of an economic slowdown. A willing and able worker (or 15 million of them!), skilled in mind and body, unable to find prouductive work, represents a monumental failure of a nation’s economy. Policies aimed at promoting growth are in fact aimed at creating employment.

The costs of unemployment affect not only the unlucky  individuals who have have lost their job. Social costs include increased crime and poverty, psychological costs include stress, anxiety, loss of self-image and depression. The economic costs are myriad. Unemployed workers become dependent on the rest of society for support, in one way or another. Benefits for the unemployed payed by the government require greater budget deficits or increased tax burden on the employed. The large pool of jobless citizens seeking work puts downward pressure on the wages of those still working, as employers find it difficult to keep paying high wages while demand for their products has fallen and millions of job seekers are willing to work for less.

The families and friends to whom unemployed workers turn for help find their already stretched incomes spread even thinner. Without steady incomes, the unemployed consume less, putting further strain on an already depressed economy. Deflation can result from unemployment, which can lead to futher layoffs by pessimistic firms, excacerbating the situation and plunging the economy into what’s known as a deflationary spiral.

For all the reasons above, policymakers strive to promote growth. When monetary policy fails to incite spending, the government must pick up the slack, hence the stimulus package so discussed in America today. China’s stimulus of over $500 billion (twice that of the US, as a percentage of its GDP) has had a positive effect on both GDP and the job market.

Employment levels in China began to recover over the past three months in the latest evidence of the rapid rebound in the economy from the international financial crisis as a result of heavy public investment.

Yin Weimin, China’s labour minister, said there had been a modest increase in the number of jobs in the economy during June, July and August, reversing the sharp slump in employment which began last October.

America’s stimlus has also begun to restore growth, but the rise in employment has so far not occured:

Despite an emerging economic expansion, businesses were sufficiently skittish about the future that the job market continued its long, steep decline in August, according to a new government report Friday. The unemployment rate rose to 9.7 percent, from 9.4 percent, as employers shed jobs for the 20th straight month, the Labor Department said.

“Our clients tell us they will not hire in anticipation

of a recovery, but will wait until they see it,” said Jonas Prising, an executive vice president at Manpower, the giant employment services firm. “In a normal recession, people would now start to feel more comfortable and start hiring, but nobody is doing that today. They’ll do it when they see real orders and real business.”

The “silver lining” of the latest unemployment figures is hardly encouraging. The rise in unemployment is not as sharp as over most of the last year. In other words, workers are definitely worse off, but not as badly as they could have been if things were as dismal as they were earlier this year.

While the unemployment rate, as seen on the graph to the right, has risen almost every month since August of 2008, the rate at which the rate has increased has begun to slow. In other words, the economy is probably close to “bottoming out”.

The tally of lost jobs now stands at 6.9 million since the beginning of the recession in December 2007. But the rate of job losses has been declining, if haltingly, since winter. The 216,000 jobs eliminated in August is down from 276,000 cut in July and a peak of 741,000 lost in January.

Here’s what I find most interesting from in the current data. The unemployment rate’s recent rise may actually be a sign that the economy is beginning to recover. Recovery means growth in output, which should mean less unemployment. However, if workers who have been unemployed for a long time, and have therefore stop seeking employment suddenly feel more optimistic about the prospects of getting a job and begin seeking work again, then the nation’s unemployment rate actually rises! How’s that for “silver lining”? The 216,000 additional people added to the list of unemployed may have already been out of work but since they were notactively seeking employment they were not included in last month’s data.

The tricky thing about macroeconomic policy is this:  Monetary and fiscal policies can put billions of dollars into the nation’s banks and households’ and firms’ pockets through tax breaks, government bailouts, subsidies, infrastructure spending and “troubled asset swaps”… but all the money and income in the world will not lead the nation towards full-employment unless the nation’s consumers and producers feel confident. I teach my students that national income is made up of the sum of wages, interest, rent and profit; its spending consists of consumption, investment, government spending and net exports… but without the “big C” of confidence, expansionary policies aimed at increasing employment will come to nought. Confidence, according to John Maynard Keynes, is an animal spirit, a trait of humans beyond the assumption of rational behavior. Until confidence is restored, America’s output and employment levels will remain low.

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May 05 2009

3 million job openings! Good news… or is it?

Help Wanted: Why That Sign’s Bad – BusinessWeek

This week’s cover story in Business Week magazine tells an interesting story about unemployment in America. Listen to the podcast or follow the link above to read more of this story:

Surprising statistic: In the midst of the worst recession in a generation or more, with 13 million people unemployed, there are approximately 3 million jobs that employers are actively recruiting for but so far have been unable to fill. That’s more job openings than the entire population of Mississippi.

Sound like good news? It’s not. Instead, it’s evidence of an emerging structural shift in the U.S. economy that has created serious mismatches between workers and employers. People thrown out of shrinking sectors such as construction, finance, and retail lack the skills and training for openings in growing fields including education, accounting, health care, and government. At the same time, the worst housing bust in decades has left the unemployed frozen in place. They can’t move to get work because they can’t sell their homes.

In IB and AP Economics we teach that there are three types of unemployment an economy may experience, ranked roughly in order from the least undesirable to the most undesirable (from a macroeconomic perspective):

  • Frictional unemployment: This accounts for people who are “in between jobs” or fresh out of college looking for their first jobs.
  • Structural unemployment: This is caused by the changing structure of an economy. As America’s manufacturing sector shrinks and its education and health care sectors grown, those whose skills lie in manufacturing become structurally unemployed.
  • Cyclical unemployment: This is also called “demand-deficient” unemployment because it is caused by a fall in aggregate demand or overall spending in the economy.

America today is clearly experiencing all three types, but due to the particular circumstances of the recession, the American worker is finding it it harder than ever to match his skills with an appropriate job. Below are some of the industries with the most and the fewest job openings today:

Most openings:

  • Education
  • Health care
  • Government
  • Energy (such as wind, oil, natural gas)
  • “Analytics” (i.e. business data analysis by firms such as IBM)

Fewest openings:

  • Construction
  • Manufacturing

Unfortunately for the large numbers of unemployed construction and factory workers, the kinds of skills required to work in the fields with the most job openings are prohibitively different from those learned in their previous industries. In addition to a mismatch of skills between the industries in which jobs are being lost and those in which labor is in demand, there is also a geographic mismatch in the labor market. Below are the states with the least and the most job openings:

Most job vacancies (states with large energy sectors: oil, natural gas and windmills)

  • North Dakota
  • Wyoming

Least job vacancies (states with large manufacturing and construction sectors)

  • North Carolina
  • California
  • Michigan

Historically, the geographic factor has not posed an issue to American workers, and when jobs opened up in one part of the country, Americans would pack up and move where necessary to find work. Today, however, with the collapse of house prices, more and more Americans find themselves stuck with a house they can’t sell in a part of the country where they can’t find a job.

To paraphrase the podcast above, “the US in danger of looking like Europe. The European job market has been described as ‘sclerotic’; people don’t respond to want ads because of the generous long-term unemployment benefits offered by European governments. Europeans have historically been geographically immobile due to nationalist ties to their home countries.” Today, the US job market reflects some of the same “sclerosis” as that of Europe.

America is facing the perfect storm of unemployment. At the same time that the economy is undergoing its most significant structural change since the Industrial Revolution brought millions of American workers from the farm fields into factories, it is facing the most significant decline in private sector spending (consumption, investment and exports) since the great depression. Put this together with the relative immobility of the American worker caused by the housing crisis, and unemployment has climbed to its highest level in three decades.

This interesting story ends with a glimmer of hope for the American worker:

To fight this sclerosis, the White House is using $3.5 billion of the stimulus for training, while boosting support for community colleges. Classes for factory workers seeking entry-level health-care careers have shown some success.

The truth is, displaced workers may have to move down a few rungs as they switch careers because their skills are irrelevant in their new roles… Many laid-off Wall Street financial engineers still haven’t absorbed that, says Fred Wilson, a partner in Union Square Ventures, a New York venture capital firm. “For them to take a job that pays a lot less, they have to make a meaningful change in their lifestyle. And that is an issue.”

Employers need to bend as well, recognizing that the candidates they’re seeking may not exist. Mark Mehler, co-founder of CareerXRoads, a staffing strategy consulting firm in Kendall Park, N.J., tells employers: “You’re hiring potential….You’ve got to train them.”

A mismatch of work and workers is never a good thing. But smart policy—combined with realism on the part of employers and job seekers—can minimize the disruption.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what way may structural unemployment be a sign of a healthy economy, rather than a sick one?
  2. Part of the Obama stimulus package includes increased benefits for unemployed Americans. How may this pose an obstacle to reducing unemployment in America?
  3. Historically, the natural rate of unemployment in most European economies has been higher than that of the United States. Why is this?
  4. Do you think America’s NRU will return to its historic level (4-6%) when the economy eventually recovers from the current crisis? Why or why not?

38 responses so far

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