STEM Education Falls Short: The Problem is Too Few Jobs, Not Too Little Education

SOURCE ITEMS

According to new statistics from the 2012 American Community Survey, engineering and computer, math and statistics majors had the largest share of graduates going into a STEM field with about half employed in a STEM occupation. Science majors had fewer of their graduates employed in STEM. About 26 percent of physical science majors; 15 percent of biological, environmental and agricultural sciences majors; 10 percent of psychology majors; and 7 percent of social science majors were employed in STEM.

 Census Bureau Reports Majority of STEM College Graduates Do Not Work in STEM Occupations, U.S. Census Bureau, July 2014.

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Since cohort-wage profiles display a similar pattern, these findings appear to fit with a strong increase in demand for cognitive tasks in the 1990s followed by a decline in the 2000s.

 Paul Beaudry, David A. Green, and Benjamin M. Sand. The Declining Fortunes of the Young since 2000, American Economic Review, 2014

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Chart-Labor Force Participation Rate Trend

The labor force is anticipated to grow by 8.5 million, an annual growth rate of 0.5 percent, over the 2012–2022 period. The growth in the labor force during 2012–2022 is projected to be smaller than in the previous 10-year period, 2002–2012, when the labor force grew by 10.1 million, a 0.7-percent annual growth rate.

 Labor force projections to 2022: the labor force participation rate continues to fall, Monthly Labor Review, December 2013.

 COMMENTS

We now live in a world economy in which economic processes and trends are global. Global economic growth is constrained and will continue to be into the foreseeable future. As a consequence, current patterns of investment, domestic and global, will not generate a sufficient number of jobs to produce anything near global full employment at living wages.

Economic activity in the U.S. does not constitute a separate economy, so U.S. economy policies cannot produce full employment and high wages in the U.S. while the rest of the world is stuck with high rates of unemployment and low wages.   Investment follows profits.  Profits are maximized by producing in low income places in the world economy and selling in high income places.  Unfettered transnational flows of capital and commodities combined with preventing low-skill working people from easily crossing national boundaries in search of work gives the world’s investors the legal framework with which to manage the world’s labor supply to their advantage.

The Growing Skills Shortage: A Real Problem or A Politically Expedient Invention

SOURCE ITEMS

Employers have long complained that graduates do not have the skills they need.

A study released in November by Eurofound, the research arm of the European Union, showed that despite the recession, almost 40 percent of companies reported difficulty in finding workers with the right skills, compared with 37 percent in 2008 and 35 percent in 2005.

The issue peaked last summer, when PayPal’s chief executive in Ireland, Louise Phelan, stoked controversy by acknowledging that the company had recruited from 19 other countries for 500 positions in its operations center in Dundalk because of a lack of foreign-language skills among Irish nationals. This summer, Fujitsu, which employs 800 people in Ireland, revealed that it had had to hire most of its Ph.D.-level experts from abroad.

Liz Alderman, Unemployed in Europe Stymied by Lack of Technology Skills, New York Times, January 3, 2014.

COMMENTS

What is the right wage for a business facing stiff global competition: the lowest wage, of course!  Note the last paragraph above.  Apparently, PayPal and Fujitsu did get the workers they needed.

Let’s try another interpretation.  The high tech jobs are created mostly in very large corporations.  Those corporations recruit workers globally, regardless of where their operations are located.  Note this paragraph from the same story:

“Multinational technology and social media companies kept investing, lured by Ireland’s ultralow 12.5 percent corporate tax rate and an English-speaking work force.”

It’s a possibility that corporate CEO’s are extremely unlikely to say to a host country like Ireland, “We like your low taxes here, but we can import cheaper workers from other countries — and we will.”  Isn’t it very likely that the real issue for corporate leaders is that the hourly wages of educated workers in more affluent countries are not the lowest wages they can pay and still be successful?

My bet is that CEOs present the issue as a labor supply problem (skills shortage) as political cover and to shift the cause of high unemployment (even for well educated workers) onto the workers themselves and away from the corporations that are making the actual hiring and firing decisions.   My bet is that the world economy actually has plenty of well educated and skilled workers, but the world’s corporations are producing too few jobs to employ them all.  They just won’t ‘fess up.

What is really in short supply are jobs that pay decent wages by North American and Western European standards.   Too much supply (of skilled workers) in a world of too little demand = falling wages.  (Note the concessions the Boeing workers in Seattle, WA just made to keep their jobs!)

A Gathering Consensus About the Limits to National Economic Policy?

SOURCE ITEMS

Despite the subsequent decision of the Group of 20 in 2009 on the need for rules to supervise what is now a globally integrated financial system, world leaders have spent the last five years in retreat, resorting to unilateral actions that have made a mockery of global coordination. Already, we have forgotten the basic lesson of the crash: Global problems need global solutions. And because we failed to learn from the last crisis, the world’s bankers are carrying us toward the next one.

Gordon Brown, Stumbling Toward the Next Crash, New York Times, Published: December 18, 2013.  (Gordon Brown, a Labour member of the British Parliament, is a former chancellor of the Exchequer and prime minister.)

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Nothing endangers globalization more than the yawning governance gap – the dangerous disparity between the national scope of political accountability and the global nature of markets for goods, capital, and many services – that has opened up in recent decades. When markets transcend national regulation, as with today’s globalization of finance, market failure, instability, and crisis is the result.

Dani Rodrik, National Governments, Global Citizens, Project Syndicate, March 12, 2013.  (Dani Rodrik is Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey.)

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Around the world, policies, technologies, and extended learning processes have combined to erode barriers to economic interaction among countries. Pick any indicator: trade relative to global GDP, capital flows relative to the global capital stock, and so forth – all are rising.

But economic policies are set at the national level, and, with a few notable exceptions like trade negotiations and the tracking of terrorist funding and money laundering, policymakers set goals with a view to benefiting the domestic economy. And these policies (or policy shifts) are increasingly affecting other economies and the global system, giving rise to what might be called “policy externalities” – that is, consequences that extend outside policymakers’ target environment.

Michael Spence, The Blurry Frontiers of Economic Policy, Project Syndicate, September 19, 2013.  (Michael Spence, a Nobel laureate in economics, is Professor of Economics at NYU’s Stern School of Business, Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and Academic Board Chairman of the Fung Global Institute in Hong Kong.)

COMMENTS

In certain quarters of American society, one can find rejoicing over the condition of the U.S. economy.  Just today, the Federal Reserve began its long anticipated tapering of its bond buying program for stimulating the U.S. economy, citing enough economic progress to do so.

Given the quotes above, one has to wonder, however, whether a small change in Fed policy in the U.S. will have much effect one way or the other.   The bond buying program is only one in a global sea of public policy mechanisms that affect the U.S. economy.  And some of those other policy mechanisms are being manipulated by actors in the world economy that are quite powerful – the EU, China, the BRICS nations.

It must also be pointed out that the effects of the Fed’s decisions are not contained by U.S. political borders.  Those consequences are spread across the world economy through the global financial system, and some or many nations will be harmed by those effects.  Actions bring reactions and we do not know whether those reactions will conspire with Fed policy to improve employment and incomes in the U.S. or conspire against Fed policy to further damage employment and income growth in the U.S.

See my Blog Posts under Global Economic Governance for more sources and comments.

Tom Friedman’s Jobs World is Interesting But a Bit Flat

SOURCE ITEMS

In today’s hyperconnected world without walls — when more Indians, Chinese, computers, robots and software can perform more average blue-collar and white-collar jobs — the only high-wage jobs are increasingly high-skill jobs

Our kids face three big adjustments. First, to be in the middle class, they will need to be constantly improving their skills over their lifetime. Second, to do that, they will need a lot more self-motivation. … And third, countries that thrive the most will be the H.I.E.’s — the high imagination-enabling countries — that attract and enable talent to be constantly spinning off new ideas and start-ups, the source of most new good jobs.

Thomas Friedman, Can’t We Do Better?, New York Times, December 7, 2013.

 COMMENTS

Tom Friedman is almost always worth reading, but he has yet to acknowledge a societal development that is one of the most consequential for the world’s working families – the transformation of the role that work plays day in and day out in distributing the world economy’s newly created wealth.

Ironically, Friedman identifies the very forces that are undoing the role of work in distributing newly produced wealth, but fails to follow through. He takes us right to the door through which he could walk us to the real solutions to growing poverty and inequality.  He then turns away and offers up the same old failed conventional wisdom.

Friedman and so many others define the problem of low wage jobs and growing inequality as due to the inadequacies of workers (low skills, outdated skills, lack of drive).  They fail to seriously consider the possibility that the world of work is changing in such fundamental ways that no feasible amount of improvement in the skill levels of working people or change in their approaches to getting and keeping jobs can reverse the trend toward lower wages and greater poverty and  inequality.

As Friedman rightly notes, global integration and advancing productive technologies have great consequences for working families and societies, but not because they are creating demand for highly skilled workers and destroying demand for low skilled workers.  The core systemic change is that those forces are producing an enormous and growing surplus of labor, both skilled and unskilled.

The role of machine energy in the production of the world’s goods and services has advanced to such a large proportion of the combination of human energy and machine energy that the available human energy far exceeds the demand for human energy.  Even human thinking energy is being displaced by machine energy.

The trend shows up in the long term decline in the proportion of the world’s population that is employed.  Friedman and others apparently believe that this trend won’t eventually bring us to a point in time when more than half the world’s people are effectively outside the world of work.

How then will we distribute the world economy’s newly created wealth day after day?

The era in which employment could be the primary way in which a person could legitimately claim a fair share of the world economy’s income is nearly over.  Yet Friedman and other experts still have not asked the question in public of what will give a person a right to a fair share of income in this increasingly jobless world.

The world’s people desperately need a new kind of right to income, and until we invent that right, inequality will keep getting worse and more of the world’s people, including Americans, will be shoved into lives of destitution, begging, scavenging, and violence.

Investors Seem to Prefer Easy Money Over Real Economic Investments

SOURCE ITEMS

U.S. stocks declined a fifth day after improving economic data boosted bets the Federal Reserve will curb its monthly bond purchases sooner than estimated.

U.S. Stocks Decline as Economic Data Fuel Stimulus Bets, Nick Taborek and Callie Bost, Bloomberg, December 5, 2013.

COMMENTS

I hesitate to comment.  It must be obvious that this investor behavior is not good for job growth.

Job and Earnings Churning Is Not Job and Earnings Growth

Paul robs Peter, then Peter robs Paul.  Round and round and round.  And we all fall down.

SOURCE ITEMS

At the price of a doubling in unemployment and near-10 percent plunge in labor costs, the so-called peripheral euro nations are reviving manufacturing and trade. In Spain, exports reached a record 222.6 billion euros ($287 billion) in 2012.

Joblessness already tops 25 percent in both Spain and Greece…

Ford Motor Co. (F) (F) said at the end of last year it will increase capacity near Valencia as it shuts plants in the U.K. and Belgium. Peugeot (UG), which is cutting workers in its home market of France, is also lifting output in Spain and Portugal.

Simon Kennedy, Even Greece Exports Rise in Europe’s 11% Jobless Recovery, Bloomberg, March 21, 2013.

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Barely two years ago, Brazil’s rapid economic growth and expanding middle class made it the darling of financial markets …. With slow growth and stalled economic reforms, financial markets were about to write off Mexico as a lost cause.

So Brazil has become the star that disappoints, while Mexico is the underperformer that suddenly shines.

Andres Velasco, A Tale of Two Countries, Project Syndicate, March 14, 2013.

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Mexico’s minimum wage commission set the increase for 2012 at 4.2% for all three of the country’s geographic zones…

The increase brings the minimum wage in Mexico to 62.33 pesos ($4.60) a day for zone A, which includes Mexico City. The minimum wage is slightly lower in other geographic zones.

What is the minimum wage in Mexico?,Maquila Reference website.

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Perry sent letters to 26 gun and ammunition manufacturers earlier this month inviting them to consider a move to Texas if the states they currently operate in impose “restrictive laws” on their industry, according to a copy of the letter and list of the manufacturers provided to ABC News by the governor’s office.

“As you consider your options … you may choose to consider relocating your manufacturing operations to a state that is more business-friendly.  There is no other state that fits the definition of business-friendly like Texas,” Perry wrote, pointing out financial incentives the state offers companies.

Arlette Saenz, Rick Perry Invites Gun Manufacturers to Set Up Shop in Texas, ABC News, February 22, 2013.

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We find that products systematically tend to co-appear, and that product appearances lead to massive disappearance events of existing products in the following years…. This is an empirical validation of the dominance of cascading competitive replacement events on the scale of national economies, i.e. creative destruction.

Peter Klimek, Ricardo Hausmann, and Stefan Thurner, Empirical confirmation of creative destruction from world trade data, arxiv, December 13, 2011.

COMMENTS

A few years back, business was booming in Ireland and experts were hailing it as the land of smart policy.  Then things went south.  Overnight, the land of smart policy became the land of dumb policy.

The problem for the world’s nations isn’t whether a nation adopts smart policy or dumb policy. The problem is that the world economy is a system of trade and competition in which nations, provinces, states, and local governments design and implement policies to steal jobs and earnings from other nations, provinces, states, and local governments.  As a result, there is much less actual job and earnings growth in the world economy and much more inter-territorial migration of jobs and earnings (churning) than is typically claimed by the champions of global capitalism.

This has always been the case, but decades ago this reality was much less visible to Americans and Western Europeans because the churning took place at a much slower pace and the winners and losers were not so intimately connected to each other through global systems of communication and transportation.  Moreover, we were usually winners in the global job churning system, so we had little incentive see the churning.

In the interceding decades, the rate of inter-territorial movement of jobs and earnings has been accelerating.  Global communications and transportation systems have expanded and improved markedly, facilitating ever rising numbers of inter-territorial financial transactions and deal closings. In turn, job and earnings churning has and continues to accelerate.

As the churning accelerates, it is becoming more visible to Americans and Europeans.  One reason is that the same communications and transportation systems that are accelerating churning are also connecting the peoples affected by the churning more closely together.  More importantly, though, Americans and Europeans are now more often finding themselves on the losing side of the churning.  Seeing the churning has become more likely because not seeing the churning only leads to policies that work only over a short period of time that is growing increasingly shorter.

The best policy move for everyone is for the world’s leaders to put an end to global job and earnings churning.  In the U.S. we certainly must put an end to interstate job and earnings churning, or our political gridlock and policy floundering will likely pull us deeper into an accelerating spiral of economic and political disasters. 

February Job Numbers: Evidence for a Growth Trend or Just One More Outlier in an Era of Employment Volatility and Too Little Growth?

SOURCE ITEMS

Chart-Current Job Growth Not as Strong as last yearSource: Employment Situation Summary Table B. Establishment data, seasonally adjusted, Bureau of Labor Statistics Economic News Release, March 8, 2013. 

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Chart-Industries with largest employ increases, feb 2013 Source: Employment Situation Summary Table B. Establishment data,seasonally adjusted, Bureau of Labor Statistics Economic News Release, March 8, 2013.

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Looking at a series of economic indicators, and going back to the costliest 18 hurricanes of postwar history along with the Northridge earthquake of 1994, Goldman’s research team found that retail sales, construction spending, and industrial production “show a clear dip in the month of the disaster, followed by a significant recovery within 1-3 months that typically takes their growth rate above that seen prior to the disaster.”

Agustino Fontevecchia, Despite $50B In Damages, Hurricane Sandy Will Be Good For The Economy, Goldman Says, Forbes, 11/06/2012.

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Chart-Construction employment in Louisiana, 2002-12  Chart generated by BLS State and Area Employment web site.

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The largest global disasters of 2012 were Hurricane Sandy (with a cost of $65 billion) and the year-long Midwest/Plains drought ($35 billion), according to the company’s Annual Global Climate and Catastrophe Report, which was prepared by Aon Benfield’s Impact Forecasting division.

Doyle Rice, Hurricane Sandy, drought cost U.S. $100 billion, USA TODAY,  January 25, 2013.

————— Chart-Major Disaster Declarations 1953-2011

Bruce R. Lindsay, Francis X. McCarthy, Stafford Act Declarations 1953-2011: Trends and Analyses, and Implications for Congress, Congressional Research Service, August 31, 2012

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Joel Naroff of Naroff Economic Advisors … expects average monthly job gains of 200,000-plus this year if the White House and Congress can agree to put off the budget cuts. If all the reductions occur, it likely would mean monthly gains of about 165,000, he says.

Paul Davidson, Employers add a stunning 236,000 jobs in Feb., USA TODAY, March 8, 2013.

COMMENTS

Stronger than usual February job growth is widely hailed as part of an economic recovery in the U.S. that many are seeing in recent positive market signals – rising housing prices and a flourishing stock market, for examples.  The explicit expectation is that we will not look back a year from now and see February’s 236,000 added jobs as only an outlier in year of mostly disappointing employment news.

It is possible that job growth will be strong this year, but it is unlikely.

Several factors involved in the production of February’s job growth numbers suggest that job growth numbers will bounce up and down in 2013 as they have in the past and leave the U.S with unemployment, underemployment, and labor force participation rates much as they are today.

Job growth is weaker this year than last

The first indicator that we should not put much stock in February job growth numbers is that job growth numbers for January and February 2012 were considerably better than the numbers for January and February 2013.  Yet 2012 ended with little progress toward getting Americans back to work.

Unpredictable weather events may be a factor in February job numbers

Both the Midwest/Plains drought and Hurricane Sandy damaged industries and destroyed property.  Smaller weather events, such as severe winter storms, have also done damage.

Rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy and repairs following winter storms could well have contributed to February job numbers.  In the case of Hurricane Sandy, which did $50 billion or more in damage, cleanup, redevelopment planning, negotiating insurance payments, and getting money flowing from government agencies may have pushed much of the impact on the demand for goods and services into 2013.  So, it is possible that:

  • the impact of Hurricane Sandy on the construction and retail industries is just now peaking
  • hospitality and leisure are still be benefiting from housing people displaced by the hurricane
  • Hurricane Sandy still has a significant impact on the demand for social services
  • some professional and business services, such as legal, architectural, engineering, document preparation and clerical, security and surveillance, cleaning, and waste disposal services, are part of recovery efforts related to Hurricane Sandy.

Employment related to Hurricane Sandy and winter storms will fall off as the year progresses.  Of course, other disasters and damaging weather events will strike.  But, when and where those events strike and how much demand for goods and services they will generate can’t be known.

It is fairly certain, though, that the impact of large and small natural disasters on employment will grow larger over the coming years, adding more volatility to month to month job growth numbers.

 Volatile government spending adds volatility to some private sector industries  

Although jobs in health care and social services are listed in the private sector, many of those jobs are paid for by grants and contracts from local, state, and federal government agencies.  The same is true for employment in most educational institutions and in many manufacturing business service industries that supply goods to government agencies.

Given the volatile political tugs-of-war over revenue and spending policies at all levels of government, jobs in industries with federal funding can come and go quickly.  Perhaps some of this effect is in the February job numbers.

A final note

 It is good to have job growth, but it is certainly less than optimal if a growing proportion of new jobs are associated with repairing and replacing the damaged wealth of those who already have it rather than creating new wealth to be shared with the very large number of Americans who have no net wealth at all.

Climate change and government gridlock are robbing both those of us with wealth and those of us without it.