Tag: employment

Imports Wrongly Blamed for Unemployment

Import competition can throw Americans out of work. Even advocates of free trade like me will readily acknowledge that fact. And nobody needs to remind the people of Hickory, North Carolina.

On the front page of the Washington Post this morning, under the headline, “In N.C., damage not easily mended: Globalization drives unemployment to 15% in one corner of state,” the paper reports in detail how the people of that community are struggling to adjust to a more open U.S. economy:

The region has lost more of its jobs to international competition than just about anywhere else in the nation, according to federal trade-assistance statistics, as textile mills have closed, furniture factories have dwindled and even the fiber-optic plants have undergone mass layoffs. The unemployment rate is one of the highest in the nation–about 15 percent.

Nobody wants to lose their job involuntarily, but a story like this needs to be read in perspective. As I document in my new Cato book Mad about Trade, the large majority of Americans who lose their jobs each year are not displaced by trade. Technology is the great job disruptor, but Americans also lose their jobs because of domestic competition, changing consumer tastes, and recessions.

For every person who loses their job because of globalization, I estimate there are 30 who have lost their jobs for other reasons. I’m waiting for a front-page story on all the newspaper workers who have lost their jobs because of the Internet, or the 30,000 workers laid off by Kodak in the past 5 years because of the spread of digital cameras and plunging film sales, or the book stores and record stores that have shut down and laid off workers because of Amazon.com and iTunes.

Trade is not a cause of higher unemployment nationwide, either, as the Post story seems to imply. Imports have fallen sharply during the latest recession along with the trade deficit. In contrast, imports were rising at double-digit rates when the unemployment rate was below 5 percent. Like technology, trade can put people out of work, but it also creates new and generally better paying opportunities for employment, while raising our overall standard of living.

Thursday Links

Federal Pay: Response to the Critics

My post yesterday on federal worker pay generated a large and aggressive response from federal workers, both in my inbox and on websites such as Fedsmith.com. (See also Federal Times and Govexec). Here are four points raised in criticism:

First, people accuse me of producing distorted data somehow. Actually, it’s essentially just raw Bureau of Economic Analysis data, but the data is usually overlooked by the media because I don’t think the BEA puts out a press release on it. Anyway, the average wage data is from BEA Table 6.6D. The average compensation data is simply total compensation (Table 6.2D) divided by the number of workers (Table 6.5D).

Second, people argue that reporting overall averages for wages and compensation is somehow illegitimate. People email me comments like “my federal salary is only $50,000, yet you claim that federal workers make $79,000.” All I can say to folks like this is that there must be a federal worker out there making $108,000 who balances you off.

Third, people argue that a better analysis would be to compare similar jobs in the private and public sectors, rather than looking at overall averages. I agree that that would be very useful. Unfortunately, the BEA data is not broken down that way. At the same time, the BEA data provides the most comprehensive accounting for the value of employee benefits of any data source. Benefits are a very important part of federal compensation, and so that’s why I look to the BEA data.

Fourth, many people argue that the federal government has an elite workforce with many highly educated people. Certainly, that’s an important factor to consider. However, that is the reason why I focused on the pay trend over the last eight years. The federal worker compensation advantage rose from 66 percent in 2000 to 100 percent in 2008. Has the composition of the federal workforce really changed that much in just eight years to justify such a big relative gain? I doubt it.

A final consideration is to look at a “market test” of the adequacy of compensation in the public sector–the quit rate. The voluntary quit rate in the federal government is just one-third or less the quit rate in the private sector (Table 16 near the bottom here).

That is strongly suggestive of ”golden handcuffs” in federal employment. While many federal workers probably grumble about their jobs (as many private sector workers do), they know that the overall package of wages, benefits, and extreme job security (Table 18 here) is very hard to match in the competitive private market, and so they stay put.

Government Employment Up or Down?

The New York Times editorialized today about the supposed “brutalizing” effects of state and local government spending cuts. They claim that “most states also have cut their public workforces.”

Yet USA Today reporter Dennis Cauchon takes a look at the actual data, and he finds that state and local governments added 12,000 workers in the latest quarter, while the private sector cut 1.3 million jobs.

Thus, it appears that “brutal” restructuring is going on in the private sector, but not in the government sector. Indeed, Cauchon finds that “a huge influx of federal stimulus money to state and local governments more than offset a sharp drop in tax collections” this quarter. The article shows that state and local government spending rose quickly in the first three quarters of 2008, then dropped for two quarters, but is now rising again quite quickly. That doesn’t sound very brutal to me.

Too often editorial boards and columnists seem to write economics articles based on their preconceived notions about what they think is going on, without looking at any solid data. Cauchon’s columns at USA Today are a refreshing alternative to the sort of impressionist writing on economics we see in the NYT editorial today.

Why Mortgage Modifications Aren’t Working

As covered in both today’s Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, the Obama administration has called 25 of the largest mortgage servicing companies to Washington to try to figure out why the Obama efforts to stem foreclosures has been a failure.

The reason such efforts, as well as those of the Bush Administration and the FDIC, have been a failure is that such efforts have grossly misdiagnosed the causes of mortgage defaults.  An implicit assumption behind former Treasury Secretary Paulson’s HOPE NOW, FDIC Chair Sheila Bair’s IndyMac model, and the Obama Administration’s current foreclosure efforts is that the current wave of foreclosures is almost exclusively the result of predatory lending practices and “exploding” adjustable rate mortgages, where large payment shocks upon the rate re-set cause mortgage payment to become “unaffordable.”

The simple truth is that the vast majority of mortgage defaults are being driven by the same factors that have always driven mortgage defaults:  generally a negative equity position on the part of the homeowner coupled with a life event that results in a substantial shock to their income, most often a job loss or reduction in earnings. Until both of these components, negative equity and a negative income shock are addressed, foreclosures will remain at highly elevated levels.

Sadly the Obama Administration is likely to use today’s meeting as simply an excuse to deflect blame from themselves onto “greedy” lenders.  Instead the Administration should be focusing on avenues for increasing employment and getting our economy growing again.  Then of course, this Administration has from the start been more focused on re-distributing wealth rather than creating it, which explains why it views mortgage modifications as simply a game of taking from lenders (in reality investors - like pension funds) and giving to delinquent homeowners.

Yet Another Reason to Slow Down Health Reform

In support of his health plan, President Obama yesterday repeated one of his favorite alarmist claims:

If we don’t act, 14,000 Americans will continue to lose their health insurance every single day.

Really?  Does the president mean to suggest that number of uninsured Americans (estimated to be 46 million) would double in nine years, and employment-based health insurance would vanish – without anything to replace it – within 32 years?

Or is the president not giving us the whole truth?

The Health Care Reform Bill Will Cost $500 Billion in New Taxes

House Democrats released their 1,018 page health care reform bill, America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009, yesterday.

This bill is a dog’s breakfast of bad ideas paid for by more than $500 billion in new taxes. The reform would impose an individual mandate on individuals, requiring every American to buy a government designed insurance package or pay a new tax equal to 2.5 percent of their income. At a time of rising unemployment, businesses would be required to provide health insurance to workers or pay a new tax equal to 8 percent of workers wages. These new taxes could drive the total cost to taxpayers much higher than the $500 billion in direct taxes in the bill.

In addition, the bill includes a host of new insurance regulations that will drive up the cost of insurance premiums, and a new government-run insurance plan that will “compete” with private insurance. That government-run plan will ultimately force millions of Americans out of their current insurance plan and into the government-run system. This is a health care “reform” under which Americans will pay more for worse care.

To get an idea of what sort of bureaucratic nightmare that would ensue with passage of this bill is illustrated by the Republican Staff of the Joint Economic Committee here.

For regular updates on the reform process as it progresses, check out Cato’s health care Web site.