Monday, September 5, 2016

It Is Labor Day And The Washington Post Is Picking On Workers

Well, heck, usually on Mondays they through Robert J. Samuelson pick on old people and Social  Security.  But this Monday is Labor Day, so obviously it is time to pick on workers.

OK OK, that is an exaggeration.  Indeed,  Robert J. Samuelson's column is far more reasonable and accurate than most of his Monday screeds.  The vast majority of his column, all the way up to the final three paragrapha accurately lays out how employment in the US has become increasingly temporary and part time, "alternative work arrangements," none of them permanent jobs with benefits,and Samuelson makes it clear that this is not a good  thing for workers, even if it might be good for corporate bottom lines. He sees that the overall percentage has risen from 10.7 percent of the US labor force in 2005 to 15.8 percent in 2015.  He notes the precarious nature of these jobs and their lack of benefits. He also dismisses the "gig economy"as employing less than 1/2 percent of workers.

So what is the problem?  In the final three  paragraphs he begins to see light ahead in the form of a supposedly tightening labor market, not noting the much lower rate of labor force participation going on now than before the Great Recession, although he points at the current 4.9 percent unemployment rate as a sign of this tightening, not to mention the impending retirements of lots of  baby boomers.  He also  notes that wages are now rising at 3.5 percent annually, up from 2 percent in 2013, which must be granted as A Good Thing.  The final sentence of the column reads, "On Labor Day 2016, the great hope for American workers is that we are quietly entering an era of labor scarcity."

Ah hah!  So, what is the headline for the column, probably picked out by Fred Hiatt, in any case probably not Samuelson?  "A new era olf labor scarcity?"  Hurray!  Problems are over!  Workers can sit back and cheer on Labor Day!   All those increases in "flexible" "alternative work arrangements"?  Not going to be a problem.  Indeed, things are so great, we can probably get back to plotting how to cut their future Social Security benefits, starting out by raising the retirement age so that they can all work longer now that they are becoming so scarce!  Hallelujah!

And, in the meantime, Happy Labor Day everybody.

Barkley Rosser

1 comment:

ProGrowthLiberal said...

It was a rather decent column from RJS which is a bit of a surprise. The headline was indeed unfair to RJS. But I would still argue that labor markets are not all that tight yet. I wish they were as then real wage growth would start to actually pick up. Then again - I'm a dove on monetary policy right now. No interest rate increases any time soon.