New data released by the US Census Bureau on Tuesday shows that real median household income increased by 3.2 percent between 2015 and 2016, from $57,230 to $59,039, while the official poverty rate decreased by 0.8 percentage points to 12.7 percent. In absolute terms, that means 2.5 million fewer Americans were living in poverty last year than the year before, but 40.6 million still were. The 2016 poverty rate, the bureau notes, is only slightly higher than the 12.5 percent rate recorded in 2007, the year before the Great Recession began.
US workers’ incomes are also close to fully recovering from the recession, Aimee Picchi adds at CBS Moneywatch, with last year’s figures “just 1.6 percent below what households earned before the recession started in late 2007, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank”:
“We’re back to where we were before the recession,” said Sheldon Danziger, president of the Russell Sage Foundation, which focuses on poverty research. “You have an economy that has flat-lined for people with a high school degree or less since the 70s and flat-lined for the middle class during the last 20 years.” …
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In a paper last year on the disappearance of many prime-age men from the US workforce, Princeton economist Alan Krueger presented the unsettling finding that 44 percent of working-age men who were not in the labor force reported taking pain medication on a regular basis, and two-thirds of these men were taking prescription pain medication. While improvements in video game technology may be contributing to these men’s lower workforce participation by making long-term unemployment more bearable, Krueger wrote, their high rates of poor health and use of narcotic painkillers are much more disconcerting.
In the Fall 2017 edition of the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Krueger publishes an update of that research with new data, homing in on the impact of opioid epidemic on the labor market. That impact, he finds, is even more significant than previously thought, accounting for some 20 percent of the decrease in men’s labor force participation between 1999 and 2015, and 25 percent of the decrease among women, Brookings editor Fred Dews explains:
Krueger’s paper suggests that, though much of the decline can be attributed to an aging population and other trends that pre-date the Great Recession (for example, increased school enrollment of younger workers), an increase in opioid prescription rates might also play an important role in the decline, and undoubtedly compounds the problem as many people who are out of the labor force find it difficult to return to work because of reliance on pain medication.
After six straight years of improving numbers in its annual job satisfaction survey, the Conference Board announced last week that more than 50 percent of US employees are happy with their jobs for the first time since 2005:
The increase in job satisfaction is largely due to the improvement in the labor market in recent years. “Workers are benefiting from historically low layoff rates, which adds to a greater sense of job security,” said Michelle Kan, Associate Director, Knowledge Organization, and a co-author of the report with Rebecca Ray, Executive Vice President, Knowledge Organization and Human Capital Lead, Gad Levanon, Chief Economist, North America, and Allen Li, Associate Economist at The Conference Board. “Employees have more opportunities at other companies and more confidence in pursuing those opportunities. And, as it becomes harder to find qualified workers and retain existing ones, employers are gradually accelerating wage growth and improving other job features.”
“The US labor market will likely remain tight for most of the next fifteen years,” said Levanon. “With the massive retirement of baby boomers continuing through 2030, we expect the US labor market will be quite tight during that period, contributing to higher job satisfaction levels in the coming years.”
Despite the expectation of a continuously tight labor market, Levanon notes that US job satisfaction is unlikely to rebound to the levels seen 20 or 30 years ago, a prediction he attributes to other factors such as “the emphasis on maximizing shareholder value, declining unionization, outsourcing (both domestic and foreign) and market concentration.” While job satisfaction climbed from 49.6 percent last year to 50.8 percent this year, that’s a far cry from the 61.1 percent who said they were happy in their jobs in 1987, Washington Post columnist Jena McGregor points out.
The US labor market continues to grow, but hiring slowed slightly in August, with employers adding 156,000 new jobs and the unemployment rate increasing slightly from 4.3 to 4.4 percent, according to the Labor Department’s monthly jobs report. The Associated Press examines the numbers:
Job growth in June and July was revised down by a combined 41,000, leaving an average monthly gain this year of a solid 176,000. Taken as a whole, Friday’s jobs report pointed to an economy that is still steadily generating jobs, though at a slower pace than it did earlier in the recovery from the recession. With fewer people looking for work, fewer jobs are being filled.
One persistent soft spot in the job market is that pay raises remain tepid. Average hourly pay rose just 2.5 percent over the 12 months that ended in August. Wage growth typically averages 3.5 percent to 4 percent annually when unemployment is this low. … Overall, hiring this year has averaged 176,000 a month, roughly in line with 2016’s average of 187,000. August was the 83rd straight month of job gains.
The report does not account for the economic impact of Hurricane Harvey, which came too late in the month to be reflected in the Labor Department’s surveys. Economists tell the AP the effects of the disaster will likely be visible in the months to come, with job growth first weakening and then rebounding as workers who were temporarily laid off are rehired.
Overall, August’s job numbers undershot economists’ expectations, CNBC’s Jeff Cox reports, but not enough to cause concern:
Although unemployment is low, jobs are plentiful, and by most accounts the US economy is in good health, CareerBuilder’s latest survey of the financial state of the US workforce paints a more troubling picture, finding that 78 percent of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck at least some of the time—that’s up from 75 percent in last year’s survey. Some of the more detailed findings include:
Thirty-eight percent of respondents said they live paycheck-to-paycheck sometimes, but 17 percent said they usually do and 23 percent said they always do.
- Women are more likely to live paycheck-to-paycheck (81 percent) than men (75 percent).
- One quarter of workers have been unable to make ends meet every month in the last year, and 20 percent said they had missed payment on some of their bills.
- Seventy-one percent said they were in debt, up from 68 percent last year, and more than half of those in debt believe they will never get out of it.
- Thirty-eight percent do not participate in a 401(k) plan, IRA, or other retirement plan, and 26 percent said they had not set aside any savings each month in the last year.
- Most workers (81 percent) had worked a minimum-wage job at some point, and 71 percent of them said they had not been able to make ends meet during that time.
And while low-income workers are relatively more likely to live paycheck-to-paycheck, they are by no means the only ones doing so, CareerBuilder notes—meaning even employers of well-compensated professionals should not ignore the financial wellness concerns of their employees:
On Monday, August 21, a solar eclipse will be visible to all of North America, with the “path of totality”—the area where a total eclipse can be observed—stretching from Lincoln Beach, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. Outside the path of totality, viewers throughout the contiguous United States, as well as in Canada, Mexico, and parts of South America and Europe, will be able to see a partial eclipse.
A solar eclipse is such a rare and spectacular astronomical event that millions will go out of their way to see it. With so many Americans planning to travel to the path of totality to see the full eclipse, or at least take a break from work and go outside to take a look, US employers are preparing for a productivity hit on Monday. According to Challenger, Grey & Christmas, the eclipse could cost the US economy $694 million in lost productivity on Monday, Jonathan Berr reports at Moneywatch:
States and cities in the path of the eclipse, which stretches from Oregon to South Carolina, could suffer productivity losses of almost $200 million. … Even companies located in areas with a partial eclipse may have a “manic Monday.” Challenger, Grey estimates that the eclipse will cost the Chicago area $28 million, for example. Experts are encouraging employers to make the best of the situation by holding viewing parties and other team-building activities.
Such team-building events are not only an opportunity to boost employee engagement; they are also a way of ensuring that employees show up to work on Monday. Indeed, many employers are embracing the eclipse by holding parties, giving employees flexibility to view it, or giving them the day off entirely. Washington Post columnist Jena McGregor takes a look at how some companies have prepared for the event:
In 2016, US labor mobility fell to an all-time low since the Census Bureau began collecting data after World War II. Increased economic uncertainty for lower- and middle-class workers paired with cultural and political polarization have made it tougher for those in distressed, typically rural, regions to accept higher-paying jobs in thriving urban centers, if they can even get them. This has hindered the ability of growing companies in America’s most productive cities to attract talent from outside these urban cores, while also contributing to reduced socioeconomic mobility.
Problems that were previously linked to struggling cities, such as high unemployment and reliance on social services and low-income housing, are now rampant in rural areas. For those who own homes there, local housing markets have failed to recover from the late-2000s crash due to a drop in demand caused by the significant reduction in farming, manufacturing, and other blue-collar jobs. Even if a better opportunity came along somewhere else, selling their property would be tough.
Small-town workers are also put off by the socially liberal attitudes and lack of community in larger cities, so even if they can manage the financial and logistical challenges, the metropolitan culture may be too distant from their own to bear. Eventually, they begin to believe they are stuck. Examining this dilemma at the Wall Street Journal last week, Janet Adamy and Paul Overberg noted that the rate of people in rural America moving across county lines has dropped from 7.7 percent in the 1970s to 4.1 percent in 2015, and this reduction in mobility is having a significant impact on the country as a whole: