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Friday, November 13, 2009

How is the economy supposed to recover when no one has a job?
Posted by Jill | 5:37 AM
For years we've heard from working people who support the Republican policies that have robbed the U.S. of its job base that "we have to cut taxes for the rich because rich people create jobs." During the Bush years, the wealthy and the corporations saw their taxes cut to the bone, so where are the jobs? Yesterday I heard from a co-worker about yet another situation in which workers for a major corporation are training their offshore replacements before being laid off. Here in the U.S., we no longer actually make anything. Our manufacturing base has been gutted. The promise was that the "information economy" would replace the manufacturing one, but the IT jobs have now been offshored. More recently we've heard about the pressing need for scientists to develop the technologies of the future. There's only one problem: research jobs are being gutted as well:
ere's a sobering sign that firms are robbing the future to pay for short-term profits: Over the past year, US employment of scientists and engineers – the people who create the next generation of products and make the US more competitive in the long term – has fallen by 6.3 per cent. Yet overall employment has fallen just 4.1 per cent.

That's a big problem, because the output of such well-educated workers has become a more important part of the American economy in recent years. New research by the University of Maryland suggests intangible business investment came to roughly $1.6trn in 2007, compared with about $1.2trn spent on tangible assets such as machinery and buildings. In 1995, the two were roughly equal. Going back further, tangible investments in 1985 were about 40 per cent larger than intangibles.

America's Bureau of Economic Analysis is taking steps to deal with the new realities. Software has been treated as investment since 1999, and the BEA plans to include R&D in the official GDP statistics in 2013. But the agency acknowledges that other areas of intangible investment still need to be worked into the numbers. "We think it's important not to ignore the fact that R&D is only part of broader innovative activity," says BEA director Steven Landefeld. For now, though, the US is navigating through the downturn with fragmentary information.

While the statistics don't account for it, there's good reason to suspect intangible investments are falling. Companies are under pressure to cut costs by reducing R&D expenditures and deferring other crucial intangibles.

At the same time, companies, especially those in the pharmaceutical industry, are moving more research to China, India, and elsewhere. They don't want to commit to costly investments if the economy remains weak.

One clear sign that GDP growth is being over-estimated is the sharp drop in venture-capital investment, which goes directly to new businesses. VCs invested about $12bn in the first three quarters of 2009, barely half the $22bn invested during the first three quarters of 2008. Some of this shortfall would have been spent on computers and other physical equipment, which would have been picked up in GDP. But most of the drop in VC money would have gone to pay for scientists, engineers, and new product development.

Similarly, many companies have taken a deep axe to reported R&D spending, which doesn't show up in GDP. Adding to the uncertainty, firms report their R&D only on a global basis. So, even though some are adding to such spending, there's no way to know how much of the increases take place in the US.

The stimulus package passed in February did include extra government funds for R&D. But even with this bump, a just-released analysis by the Democratic Leadership Council suggests total real spending on US R&D is falling for the second straight year. The labour market in particular shows the effects the fall in intangible investment is having, and it's not a pretty sight. In the manufacturing sector, non-production jobs – which include engineers, scientists, and other knowledge workers – declined at a 7.6 per cent annual rate in the third quarter, almost twice as fast as the loss of production workers.

Another big problem not reflected in the GDP statistics is that firms are retreating from development of new products, especially in stressed industries. Richard Shellabarger, 59, was a product development engineer. Before being let go in February he was working on the "next-generation air bag". He says: "I was trying to anticipate what the customer needed." In retrospect, Shellabarger worries that product development wasn't a good place to be in a downturn. "I suppose if you are looking to cut personnel, you don't want to short an area where you are delivering to customers right now."

I think of friends of mine whose children are within a few years of going to college. What should these kids choose as majors? What kinds of jobs will there be for them? For years I've been saying that if you liked 1905, you'll love [insert the present year here]. And it certainly seems to be coming to fruition, where there will be a few corporate executives with homes in the double-digits and vehicles they never drive -- and the rest of the country will find that the only jobs available are those helping them live their luxurious lives. But it won't be as shop floor workers or cube rats; it'll be as maids, chauffeurs, and gardeners.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...
What should these kids choose as majors? What kinds of jobs will there be for them?

I suggest Chinese history and culture along with Mandarin. The Chinese will be needing American managers and employees (at least for awhile) for all the companies they buy up over here. They'll be even cheaper than they are now.

Anonymous mandt said...
"What should these kids choose as majors?"---the funeral business for one.

Blogger Rhode Island Rules said...
I have been counseling kids who aren't sure what to major in to stick to jobs that cannot be outsourced. Health care, police, fire and the trades. (plumber, carpenter). They may not pay a lot but they cannot be performed overseas. Here is the sad thing. When I graduated high school in 1976, it was 18 and out. You either went to college if you were academically or economically gifted or you found a job. You could be a mechanic or electrician or plumber or you could start at a bank or insurance company and work your way up into a high position. When my younger brother graduated in 1982 they were encouraged to avoid the trades and not get their hands dirty. Computers was the way to go. Or Business just no Liberal Arts. And so they did. And they got decent jobs with pretty good pay...until they were all outsourced. When George W was asked what someone in their position should do he famously said that they should take this as an opportunity to go back to school and get retrained. AS WHAT? WITH WHAT MONEY? And so it continues...

Anonymous ted said...
Don't be surprised when your list of "can't be outsourced" gets ... outsourced. EMERGENCY health care may not be doable offshore, but consider the current "medical tourism". Want to bet someone won't push that as a "cheaper" way to deal with our out-of-control medical costs.

As it is, there are special visa classs for nurses [H1C] and physicians [J, H1B]. Admittedly, they are HERE, but they aren't citizens, and their visa doesn't give them permanent residency.
Want to bet there won't soon be a visa class for "tradesmen" [there may be -- H2 visas]. Isn't there a shortage of "plumbers" and "electricians"? [Real or manufactured?]

And do you really think the carpenters and other construction workers you see in your neighborhood are all licensed tradesmen? Why do so many of the contractors in our community have to learn Spanish?

I would offer the same for many of the "rent-a-cops". They may not be honest to goodness sworn police officers, but I expect many towns will turn to "private security" if their police forces get decimated by budget cuts. It's already happening in Detroit.

Americans will go back to work when and only when we fix our immigration and trade problem. Or when we are all working for $.50 per day.. Won't be buying many cars or securities then. But maybe the super rich will still need their hedge funds.

[But I'm with you on your final point. I'm a computer engineer with two masters degrees and marginal employment. I should go back to school and get REtrained as what? "Alternative energy" was recently suggested. Seriously! As what? An installer of CHINESE made solar panels. I kid you not!!! I assume these panels are better made than the recent Chinese sheetrock.]

Anonymous Anonymous said...
High paying jobs are most important in the current economic situation.
Most of the companies in India and there are lots
of job openings in various indian cities, which provides high salary.