The Unemployed Shadow Labor Force

“Does Everyone Who Wants a Job Have a Job?”

Hidden “slack” in the labor market, wage increases, opportunity, and factors like ageism. Wolf Richter on This Week in Money, the Canadian show by HoweStreet.com (5 min):

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  92 comments for “The Unemployed Shadow Labor Force

  1. Old-school
    Sep 14, 2019 at 7:27 pm

    Everyone in my limited circle of maybe 100 people who wants a job has one. Looking around in my 20,000 population small town in NC it looks like the economy is running hot. Lots of new low to middle income housing being built. Big sign at Lowe’s hardware ‘Help Wanted’. A huge number of lawn mowing businesses servicing the area. The state is ahead of projections on revenue.

    • CDecisions
      Sep 16, 2019 at 11:16 am

      I’m legitimately interested in knowing if this small town is a suburb of any major city.

  2. BenX
    Sep 14, 2019 at 7:39 pm

    I know of a college educated 50+ man who is on his fourth year in the lumber section at Home Depot. I don’t think he’s still sending out resumes.

    • Javert Chip
      Sep 14, 2019 at 11:02 pm

      Earth to BenX

      A college degree is no longer the passport to a lucrative life of your dreams. Over the past 75 years, the rest of the world has been catching up.

      Some degrees (GASP!) are commercially worth lots more than others (say, BS in electrical engineering vs BA in French lit or gender studies).

      • EchoDelta
        Sep 15, 2019 at 3:29 am

        A profusion of Asian H1b engineers and overseas consulting groups enters the chat.

        The liberal arts degree won’t be replaced by AI this generation. Engineering is easily and frequently outsourced, and people no longer expect technology to work because everything cool is a live beta software project, a 3d printed part, or technologies that haven’t changed save for materials since Rome was building roads.

        • Sep 15, 2019 at 10:52 am

          And engineers are replaced by software. Computers play chess but they don’t write novels, or produce films (with lots of graphic content). A great deal depends on the state of culture, which may disappear entirely in all material world. As an artist I am always trying to figure out what’s next. All art has common ground in religion and we are fast becoming a secularized planet.

        • Jon
          Sep 15, 2019 at 3:01 pm

          Someone who came to this country quite some time back on H1B and still have lot of friends on H1B I can tell you first hand that if not all then most of the H1B visas are meant as cheap replacement for American workforce

          You get a worker who can work longer hours even in weekends and is very compliant
          The salary may be same as offered to us citizens but then if you look at the bigger picture H1B workers are much cheaper

          Not a trump fan but trump is making lives of h1b visa holders very difficult when it comes to issuance of new visas.. renewal or transfer of visas.. thus now a days forcibly h1b employers to hire us Citizens…

        • MarkinSF
          Sep 16, 2019 at 12:54 am

          Ambrose
          “All art has common ground in religion?”
          Tell that to Jean Paul Sartre (I mean if you could). I could also say Shostakovitch or Picasso as well…

      • Sep 15, 2019 at 3:51 am

        A STEM degree is no guarantee of a good job. It’s been popular in the past for the Fox News types to blame the underemployed for having worthless degrees, but it makes a much bigger difference what year you graduate. If you graduate in engineering and you don’t get a job that year because the economy is weak, you’re chances are much lower competing with the next year’s grads. After the next year you may as well have no degree.

        It works in similar fashion with a lay-off … if you can’t get a good job in a similar field soon your degree loses its value. This can be tough because your industry is likely in a downturn, hence the layoff.

        The big corporations simply prefer to hire new grads rather than previous grads. Also, “experienced” positions always require direct in-field experience so its extremely difficult to get someone to hire you from a different industry despite using the same college degree. Small businesses have always the most interested in people with unique experience and the main hiring force for older employees with skills, but our country has been fighting small businesses and favoring ever larger corporations for decades.

        Add to that the broken structure of online hiring and it’s easy to see why people get discouraged from applying. It takes a lot of time and effort to tailor a resume for a position, write the cover letters, and do the other necessary online steps. Meanwhile, the position may have an internal employee in mind, or may be a dated posting with interviewers picked & scheduled already, or may simply have thousands of applicants for a small number of jobs. As the applicant you have no way of knowing and you spend many hours on applications that are filtered out in microseconds.

        Don’t be so quick to judge someone who struggles, there are real economic problems and those who aren’t winning aren’t automatically losers.

        • tom
          Sep 15, 2019 at 6:38 am

          Yea…fox news types….quick to judge folks.
          Priceless.

        • wkevinw
          Sep 15, 2019 at 9:43 am

          Basically everybody in the “elite” crowd touts STEM as the answer to all of the economic and employment ills. While STEM economic activities are very productive in the macro sense, there are several of these degrees that are not very worthwhile in the cost-benefit analysis; e.g. biology, some IT degrees, some 2-year tech degrees, etc. So, like everything else in life, one has to be careful.

          The H1B visa and off-shoring of certain engineering activities has a very big impact on the economy and job market. Tasks like drafting, scheduling (i.e. the more administrative engineering functions) are regularly handled this way. This has a negative impact on the domestic US job market for obvious reasons.

        • Off The Street
          Sep 15, 2019 at 12:03 pm

          You could even say that they are abSTEMious.

        • IdahoPotato
          Sep 15, 2019 at 1:43 pm

          I wish all the insecure males who constantly complain about gender studies were made to take a course in it. Plus history.

        • GirlInOC
          Sep 15, 2019 at 4:37 pm

          God forbid we have a well-rounded society, rich not with money and greedy assholes but with artists and writers, humanists and musicians, dancers and screw-it yes basket-weavers! And God forbid we educate our citizens on how generations of basing validation off archaic definitions of biology and religious doctrines have ruined life for so many people, oppressing their voices and their right to life and liberty. But yes, basket-weaving and gender study degrees are definitely the roots of all economic problems in the US.

        • Clay
          Sep 17, 2019 at 4:11 am

          Amen, John. I had alumni a couple years ahead of me in college give thanks for being a ‘warm body’ at the right time. On the other hand, this nice Phi Beta Kappa Electrical Engineering kid my year did not have a job at graduation time in a tough year.

    • Setarcos
      Sep 15, 2019 at 10:57 am

      Ageism is definitely an issue as pointed out in the piece. And many jobs are specialized for those with college degrees so a relocation is often necessary – not appealing to many mature workers. And if you have kids in school, a relo is not a simple choice.

      The amount of slack in the labor force now is a fraction of what it was only a few years ago. For example, the number of people on SNAP has declined by ~5 million from 2016 to 2018. When people are able to buy their own food, they are much happier.

      • wkevinw
        Sep 16, 2019 at 8:51 am

        Ageism for experienced workers is complicated, partly due to the expectation that the more experienced workers earn more. Also, there are real consequences of hiring an older worker- only to train them and have them retire-wasting training costs.

        There is ageism at the younger end too- and I often thought that was worse- and still is sometimes. Many companies will lay off younger workers before doing the same to older ones. The older ones often leave with severance (~retire) – so on the books the company can say it was even handed- but younger workers got the raw deal.

        A very good and highly educated young employee with ~<10 years of experience is often underpaid.

      • roddy6667
        Sep 17, 2019 at 4:50 am

        Relocating to further your career is not a new thing. When I was a Realtor back in the Eighties, it was a vital part of our business. If you didn’t move in three years, it meant your career was stagnating. People bounced from Hartford to Chicago to California to Atlanta to Texas and to Florida.
        It became a nightmare when real estate went upside down in the mortgages and people couldn’t sell. Suddenly owning a home was a millstone around your neck.

  3. Michael
    Sep 14, 2019 at 8:49 pm

    Bingo. Wages would be soaring if there really was a labor shortage. You can blame H1B visas here in the bay area

    • BenX
      Sep 14, 2019 at 9:19 pm

      Yes. I once contracted at an IT company who posted a job in the break room for “H1B Only”. Every time I hear Bill Gates say there aren’t enough tech workers, I just about throw something. Right, there aren’t enough tech workers … willing to work for the wages being offered. Send in the H1Bs.

      • JZ
        Sep 14, 2019 at 9:32 pm

        Good news are coming. Those who control capital uses Chinese H1B to comepete your salary down. Now, Chinese are stealing their capital. Modern days, capital means IP, trade secrets, work flows, database, Etc…
        China says, I do NOT want to be your labor for ever. Western capital guys say you SHALL NOT steal my capital, and be my labor bitch for ever so that I can comepete down the labor within my own territory. How do you think this is going to end?

      • chillbro
        Sep 15, 2019 at 9:46 am

        They hire H1Bs to save money on payroll, then they run to Washington to cry that their IP is being stolen…

        That’s the benefit of being a legal entity, you are not expected to maintain internal logical consistency. You just do whats best for you at that time and letter paper pushers make it all kosher with the gov.

        • Craig
          Sep 16, 2019 at 2:20 am

          >They hire H1Bs to save money on payroll, then they run to Washington to cry that their IP is being stolen…

          We need to allow senators on H1Bs so the taxpayer can save some money

  4. fire eating moron
    Sep 14, 2019 at 8:58 pm

    There aint no labor shortage and the main driver behind inflation is health care costs. trump will solve this all with a currency war, along with the trade war, hence, MAGA for the wealthy and a living hell for everyone else caught in the back draft. The main result of NIRP or ZIRP is to lower interest rates and strengthen currencies which does nothing for anyone except a hedge fund or insider named trump that gets lucking making illegal market trades.

    • Rob D
      Sep 15, 2019 at 8:50 am

      Zero or negative interest rates strengthen a currency how?

  5. 2banana
    Sep 14, 2019 at 9:07 pm

    The irony on how America figures out the unemployment rate.

    There could be more and more job loss, but the unemployment rate could actually go down as people exhaust their unemployment benefits and fall off the rolls.

    There could be more and more job gains, but the unemployment rate actually goes up as people come out of hiding and start applying for jobs again.

    So probably the best measure if there are increases in job wages. This truly reflects labor shortages as employers will raise wages only as a final option to find employees.

    Additionally, restrictions on H1B visas and clamping down on illegals helps with wage growth. Which is why businesses love these…

    • Shadow
      Sep 14, 2019 at 9:12 pm

      America’s official inflation rate and unemployment rate are both very political stats, and neither really represents reality. In fact, over the decades, both have been ‘tweaked’ to make sure they do not.

      • Javert Chip
        Sep 14, 2019 at 10:51 pm

        Ok, stipulating what you say is true (even I admit the numbers have flaws), how would you change the measurement of the inflation rate in a $22T economy with millions of products or the unemployment rate for 330M citizens so that the numbers are completely accurate?

        Probably can’t be done (the real world has too many fast moving parts). Any compromise number has flaws.

        The derivation of both of these numbers is extensively documented (in fact, the are several different official versions of each number), and monthly tracking of detail inputs is widely distributed to tens of thousands of interested parties. What ever tweaking happens is taking place in a fully documented & disclosed manner. It’s not like some guy in the back room pulls a number out of thin air.

        • Craig
          Sep 16, 2019 at 3:44 am

          @javert
          >or the unemployment rate for 330M citizens so that the numbers are completely accurate

          Wage increases * hours worked /(per capira * average full time hours)

          Accounts for seasonal and temp workforce, identifies sectors and roles in a shortage, separates 20 hour jobs that pay like 40 hr jobs from 20 hr jobs that pay like 20 hr jobs?

        • Sep 16, 2019 at 8:29 pm

          “Hedonic adjustments”, for starters. Wolf defends these fairly well, but there are still valid arguments against this manipulation. Food quality is declining (nutrition, contaminants like plastic, pesticides and trihexawhatevasulphite). Is that reflected in inflation? Quality and length of life declining. Reflected in inflation? There are upward hedonic adjustments, so why not downward? This topic is a can of worms, BTW. Inflation is a major trigger word around here 😁

      • Mark
        Sep 15, 2019 at 6:40 am

        “America’s ….. very political stats ”

        No kidding ….. it’s a real horse race between China and the USA as to which government is better at lying through statistics.

  6. unit472
    Sep 14, 2019 at 9:08 pm

    Is it good news or bad news that I see 70+ year old men and women working at the supermarket? Worse when I see an old man assisting some women 25 years younger with putting her groceries in the car but that is what his job is !

    • 2banana
      Sep 14, 2019 at 9:20 pm

      It depends.

      I know a few seniors who have jobs just to have something to do and interact with people.

      They don’t need the money. They need something positive to do to get out of the house.

      • Sep 14, 2019 at 9:39 pm

        Good for them!!! Stay active and DO stuff. Be productive. I know lots of people who could retire and refuse — myself included. We’re having too much fun, and I’m having a blast.

        • Bobber
          Sep 14, 2019 at 11:16 pm

          I agree retirees should get out an do stuff and be active, but i wouldn’t put the burden of productivity on them. At some point you have to say the ant hill you’ve worked on your whole life is good enough.

        • RD Blakeslee
          Sep 15, 2019 at 5:46 am

          Right on! I “retired” at age 44 (I’m now 88!).

          All it means is I stopped working “for the other man” half a lifetime ago and I’ve been working at what I want to do, ever since.

        • Old-school
          Sep 15, 2019 at 6:58 am

          Met an old couple at the beach. They lived in modest home but we’re enjoying the slow beach life.

          The man said he had killed himself working in textile industry and never made much money. When he got to the beach community he started using what he had learned redoing old golfcarts. He does all the mechanical and his wife was able to sew for re upholstery work. Not sure he was telling the truth but he said he made more flipping golf carts than when employed.

          Because it’s a beach community you can drive golf carts on the highway and people use them as a second vehicle. It’s kind of funny that he is providing a mini Tesla for $3000 or $4000. All green and clean you know.

      • ZeroBrain
        Sep 15, 2019 at 3:52 am

        Are you absolutely sure it’s not because they actually need the money? Old folks care about appearances too.

        • Suzie Alcatrez
          Sep 15, 2019 at 11:48 am

          If you really talk to these old folks working minimum wage jobs, you find they all love to work, but dig deeper and often you find they really need that money.

        • Off The Street
          Sep 15, 2019 at 12:07 pm

          Some of those elderly want jobs to get access to benefits, as social security doesn’t go that far. If they had any foreclosures, then whatever equity they were banking on was wiped out and they became renters trying to hang on. For each one you may see working how many others can’t get out due to infirmities, lack of transportation, health problems or other potentially life-shortening challenges?

      • Jon
        Sep 15, 2019 at 2:56 pm

        If I am very old and have some money to bank on.. I’d still prefer to be on a job no matter if it pays minimum wage..

        I like to stay busy and dont mind the money no matter how small it is

    • Serge
      Sep 15, 2019 at 7:37 am

      I have noticed something else. When economy is bad then I tend to see more good looking girls working at low paying jobs.

      • flashlight joe
        Sep 15, 2019 at 12:08 pm

        You are just getting older. They all look good. :)

        • Juanfo
          Sep 17, 2019 at 2:17 pm

          true that, another benefit of aging

    • Setarcos
      Sep 15, 2019 at 1:39 pm

      70+ and working? Working at any age is great news. I have a close acquaintance in late 70s and 100% retired. He has specialized knowledge and was encouraged to work part time to help out a friend who has his own business. He now talks/acts as if he was 10+ years younger. Working provides many non-financial benefits, including self esteem, which contributes greatly to happiness.

      • wkevinw
        Sep 15, 2019 at 7:50 pm

        Agreed. This is why the best “social/welfare program” is a job.

    • Sep 16, 2019 at 8:42 pm

      As long as we’re on a anecdotal evidence binge, I know people who’ve retired or would like to, and don’t want to work crappy low paying jobs. Shocking, but true.

      But in response to other anecdotes, I do see quite a few job postings around. Don’t know what Lowe’s pays, but apparently they’ll interview you on the spot this week.

  7. james wordsworth
    Sep 14, 2019 at 9:32 pm

    Know a number of people who work in manufacturing companies. Order books are full, but can not get employees. The ones they do get often don’t show up. That’s the now story but …

    If you have not watched it already, watch the new Netflix documentary “American Factory”. Best explanation of why Trump won, and why Trump’s solutions are all wrong.

    In a couple of years unemployment is going to be a heck of a lot higher. AI and automation are just on the cusp of max eradication of positions. Low end positions that can be hard to fill now will be eliminated en masse. Next they are coming for the doctors and the lawyers. AI is going to decimate jobs across so many sectors … it is coming fast.

    • alex in San Jose AKA Digital Detroit
      Sep 14, 2019 at 11:31 pm

      You need serious connections to get a job in a factory. Be related or really good friends with someone already working there, be a member of a religion or ethnic group that has a strong presence there etc.

    • dr_doomz
      Sep 15, 2019 at 2:44 am

      “Know a number of people who work in manufacturing companies. Order books are full, but can not get employees. The ones they do get often don’t show up. That’s the now story but …”

      Not only that, some won’t even pick up the phone when you call or text. And when they do, they ask you to describe the job because they didn’t bother reading the ad or don’t remember. I think the unemployment rate may be overestimated. These are people who truly don’t want or need a job. Many still living with parents.

      • Petunia
        Sep 15, 2019 at 11:15 am

        It’s funny how these low paying jobs all require a car, a phone, and a computer. Then there’s clothes, a hair cut, and money to carry the underpaid worker to their first low paycheck. I wonder if they would get a better response by offering to pay the first week’s pay in advance.

        • Juanfo
          Sep 17, 2019 at 2:22 pm

          Not just a phone but a smartphone, with a large data plan powerful enough to run all the latest software updates. A lot of times the application process is ultra high tech and you have to download an app that’t not free.

    • sc7
      Sep 15, 2019 at 2:59 am

      The AI effect is overstated in the near term. It will augment far more jobs than it will replace. Doctors and lawyers are at low risk of being replaced without artificial general intelligence, which we don’t even know is possible.

      Paralegal’s and Medical Assistants May be a different story. But, for every Elon Musk making his outlandish claims, there’s a real AI scientist who will tell you a much more muted version of what’s likely to happen.

      • Petunia
        Sep 15, 2019 at 11:18 am

        AI is very hard to fix when it breaks. All that AI automation will come with looooong down times.

    • Anon1970
      Sep 15, 2019 at 9:34 am

      I did watch the video. Adjusted for inflation, the Dayton workers in the former GM plant are making a lot less than their parents or grandparents made 30 or 40 years years ago working on the GM assembly line. But that America is not coming back. A lot of those jobs have been automated out of existence. Trump’s policy of raising tariffs may create some jobs in import substitution but destroy others in export oriented industries, as other countries retaliate against the US. In the end, beggar thy neighbor policies will not work any better in the 2020’s than they did in the 1930’s.

      • Jon
        Sep 15, 2019 at 2:48 pm

        Trump’s policy and trade war is not about bringing back jobs
        It’s all about protecting IP and stemming IP theft!

        • wkevinw
          Sep 18, 2019 at 2:26 pm

          The tariffs are about many different things, including IP theft. Nobody knows how much of the job market/skills changes are due to off shoring and how much due to automation.

          Looking back in history, automation of various metal working, agricultural and other jobs left many without work. After some time, other jobs were created. So it will be if the trade terms get back to fairness, by tariffs or otherwise.

          The trade war was started and engaged in about 20 years ago; basically only by everybody else except the US. The US is just starting to fight back in that war- i.e. it’s NOT a new trade war.

    • Gene
      Sep 15, 2019 at 11:48 am

      I just finished the documentary “American Factory” on Netflix. It’s outstanding and I don’t use that word loosely. I’ll watch it a second time. One problem after another, different types of problems, after such a hopeful start by committed, knowledgeable people from both the U.S. and China. Technical, cultural, managerial. Yet, some measure of success, perhaps modicum, was achieved.

    • Mary
      Sep 16, 2019 at 12:41 pm

      The documentary American Factory is a fascinating film about an old GM plant retooled into a Chinese owned auto glass manufacturer. It shows former GM employees working alongside Chinese managerial staff and the contrast between two cultures is eye-opening. The visuals alone tell you so much. There is a funny/sad segment about a group of American factory employees brought as guests to China for a huge company celebration. To a man (and they are all white males) the Americans are twenty to forty pounds overweight. Surrounded by small, thin Chinese, the contrast is impossible to ignore. The filmmakers got remarkable access and it allows them to effectively show both the American and Chinese sides of the story.

    • Quade
      Sep 16, 2019 at 12:55 pm

      I’m not shocked they can’t keep people. The same comments about IT and pay are true of the skilled trades. My take on machining and welding, two skilled trades used in manufacturing is that the pay is poor, the hours long and the treatment isn’t that great.

      Machinist and welders have been trained to think a 55 hour work week is normal and that they’re paid well because they can make a living wage with 15 hours of overtime a week.

      Average pay for a machinist in my area, a very expensive place to live, is $23 an hour. That’s not a living wage.

  8. WES
    Sep 14, 2019 at 11:25 pm

    I find some of the comments on unemployment either amusing or interesting or both.

    I have a modest technical education combined with technical work experience. I am a jack of many trades and can troubleshoot and fix electrical /mechanical air/hydraulic machinery. I have worked around the world.

    But guess what, I gave up looking for work almost 20 years ago, at age 47, because there was no demand for people with such skills.

    Instead I have used my useless skills to fix just everything that breaks down around my home or at the cottage since I can’t afford to hire anyone. Dishwashers ,washing machines, dryers, fridges & freezers, water pumps, outboard motors, boats, jetskis, lawn mowers, electrical wiring, plumbing, carpenter, roofs-shingles & metal, cars, landscaping, etc.. I even built my own wind turbine from scratch!

    I have used what little paper brainpower I have left to remain solvent. I do my own taxes and investing. Come to think of it I haven’t filed incomes taxes for 5 or 6 years now. I will do it when I feel like it. They can wait.

    I am 65 now. I am still a parent, to a boy 22 millwright apprentice and a daughter 19 just starting business at university, so I am not quite finished that management job yet. They don’t remember me not being at home.

    I am even a skilled short order cook plus I do all the food buying.

    Sadly it seems I now have developed even fewer useful skills any employer would want.

    Come to think of it, I probably couldn’t get out of bed before noon. I no longer keep track of time or even what day it is. Weekends now last 7 days. I do what I feel like doing, when I wake up. Pisses the wife off. It is highly likely I would now be considered to have an extreme attitude problem and thus would be totally unemployable.

    But not to worry. I am sure Al will soon be able to replace me along with all of society’s other useless independent old people with their out of date skill sets who will soon start dying off “just in time”.

    • Xabier
      Sep 15, 2019 at 4:07 am

      Your attitude is exactly that of skilled workers before the Industrial Revolution left them hog-tied by employers: I’ll do what I want, when I like. Bravo!

      If you stay solvent, great, the perfect life: watch the discontented female though…….

      • wkevinw
        Sep 15, 2019 at 9:49 am

        Actually, it was a bit like that up until the mid-20th century.

        The ag economy was by far bigger than the industrial economy until around the world wars. Ford and other industrial employers had to keep salaries high enough to compete with the workers “going back home to the farm” (where they didn’t have much money, but the rest of life was pretty good.)

        There’s a whole theoretical discussion around the total costs of industrialization (and urbanization).

    • Old-school
      Sep 15, 2019 at 6:30 am

      Economic theory says to specialize and become the best at your narrow field. It generally works, but it can leave you a very one dimension person unless you really make an effort to have hobbies.

      If you have accumulated a modest nest egg you can become a jack of all trades if you are handy. Business overhead cost and the tax friction means that it can make economic sense to do on your own.

      Here is an example: I have done three repairs to my 2004 MBS430. Each one would have been $1000 – $2000. Each I googled how and took my time and my total parts cost using non dealer sourced parts was $200. All together I had about 20 – 30 hours in time invested for all three repairs. I just read cost of new car ownership is $750 per month and mine is around $200.

      When you are busy with a career you have to pay for convenience. Now that I am out of paid employment I do 90% of service work for myself (food prep, most home and car repair, taxes, investment). I do some free lawn care and car washing for my employed friends because I know it saves them about $50 – 60 per week and I had rather do that than go to the gym. The main benefit to this kind of lifestyle is it’s lower stress and more physically active than an office job.

      • Old-school
        Sep 15, 2019 at 6:40 am

        Should have added that in a way if you are an investor in stocks you are basically paying people to do the hard work of earning a profit so that you don’t have to run your own business or be in the labor market earning a salary.

        As I have gotten older I am a lot pickier about CEO performance and demonstrated devotion to stockholders. I prefer just purchasing an index fund, but I will not own once it gets to crazy valuations.

        • Lisa_Hooker
          Sep 15, 2019 at 10:08 am

          Just exactly how much higher will “valuations” need to go before you consider them crazy? I ask because they currently seem quite frothy to me.

        • Old-school
          Sep 15, 2019 at 4:24 pm

          Didn’t say it right. Over 2000 for sure is too high for me. I probably will probably start putting a little in at 2000 and go mostly in if it gets to 1000.

    • alex in San Jose AKA Digital Detroit
      Sep 16, 2019 at 3:58 pm

      WES – Same here. No one needs a soldering iron jockey any more. Not long ago I had a surprise visit by inspectors, who seemed to be pleasantly surprised at how neat and clean – for an electronics surplus place – I was keeping the shop. They were concerned about my doing things involving solvents/chemicals, like soldering. I told them I might get out the soldering iron about once or twice a year now, to solder 1-2 connections. There’s just no more need.

  9. Jos Oskam
    Sep 15, 2019 at 2:24 am

    So right. I’m restoring an old ruin, doing it all by myself, having to repair and maintain everything that’s used in the process. Car, trailer, mower, tractor, tools, you name it.

    I can’t wait to see the day that a robot is going to crawl under the sink to repair the plumbing, or some AI whatchamacallit climbs up on the roof to replace rotten beams and redo the tiling. And at the end of the day they’ll all get into their self-driving pickups, their stuff getting piled in the back all by itself, and get driven to their fully-automated self-maintaining self-repairing internet-connected houses.

    Yep, brave new world. Paradise for the unskilled. Dream on.

    • Paulo
      Sep 15, 2019 at 12:16 pm

      I’m living in my dream home on a beautiful river; home built with local lumber for the most part. The most valuable skill I have ever obtained was carpentry certification and experience. It probably saved me $500K over the years and allowed me to retire from formal employment at age 57. Of course if you stay on the couch evenings watching the tube and take weekends off all the skills in the World don’t pay the bills. One year I worked at 1 full time job, and two part timers. It was fun, actually.

      Timing, luck (LUCK), recognizing opportunity, supportive family, work ethic, and attitude is as important as any degree, imho. Did I mention luck and the good fortune to be born in North America?

      People need a skill others have to pay for. Finding that niche takes a plan. And sometimes luck.

      • Setarcos
        Sep 15, 2019 at 1:51 pm

        Well done. Earl Nightingale had a great (and very practical) definition of LUCK – “when preparedness meets opportunity”. The preparedness part is often overlooked by others.

      • Jos Oskam
        Sep 16, 2019 at 1:34 am

        @Paulo, @Setarcos
        This nicely aligns with one of my favourite quotes:

        “Opportunity is often missed because it comes dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

        Attributed to Edison and many others, but very true nevertheless.

      • alex in San Jose AKA Digital Detroit
        Sep 16, 2019 at 4:02 pm

        Paulo I wish my dad had been as smart as you. He loved carpentry, and designed and built a lot of things, did a lot of repairs, etc. But I guess coming from a solidly middle, maybe nowadays would be considered upper-middle, class, WASP family, I guess carpentry wasn’t “respectable” enough.

        Instead he had to program computers, and pretty much predictably, was largely out of work by the age of 50. He died before he was able to collect Social Security, typical death of despair like we’re seeing so many of now.

  10. Andy F
    Sep 15, 2019 at 8:13 am

    My reasoning for low wage inflation: Low mobility, people not wanting to move for a better job. Reasons behind it–kids, housing, significant other’s job. Second, time—I consult for a few companies that have trouble keeping workers who live 45 minutes from work. Worker will take a significant pay cut for shorter commute. Third, many millennials do not want to “negotiate” whether buying a car, home or looking for more money from current or potential job.
    Grade school, middle school, and high school need more meaningful “story” problems in mathematics. A great one “If you spend $1000 per month to watch your child in a traveling sport or drama activity for 10 years, hoping they get a college scholarship….”

    • Setarcos
      Sep 15, 2019 at 2:15 pm

      @Andy, good one. Always felt sorry for the kids whose parents were buying plane tickets and hotel rooms all the time or driving long distances for travel sports for young teens (and younger). Many of those kids later hate the sport they played and have lots of student debt. Some were burned out while they were still playing. Very few exceptions to this.

  11. Old-school
    Sep 15, 2019 at 8:41 am

    I was married to fifth grade teacher. I worked in private manufacturing sector. Generally teachers fill like they are underpaid. The main difference if you are a teacher is your pay is determined by politics and not merit. I made substantially more money, she made substantially more money per hour.

    • Another Scott
      Sep 15, 2019 at 9:20 am

      Everyone feels like they’re underpaid. Comparing teach pay to private sector pay is very problematic. First of all, public school teachers generally have pensions and better healthcare plans than private-sector employees. Secondly, their jobs are generally more secure, and increased job security for lower pay is a common tradeoff. Finally, there is the difference in summers and afternoons (I know that many teachers take work home), which has not been measured in a manner which keeps anyone happy.

      In some states (predominately Southern ones), teacher pay is a major problem, but living in Massachusetts, I don’t see it. Public school teachers make pretty good money, especially if they also coach or lead afterschool activities.

      • Old-school
        Sep 15, 2019 at 9:54 am

        The one that irks me is if I have the facts straight that there was a lawsuit about 15 years ago that ruled Fed and state pensions are not subject to state income taxes in NC (Bailey?). Now that is twisting a knife in anyone who is in private sector and stashed money in 401K or in rare case has a private pension.

        The dirty little secret in NC is the legislature passes all of the special retirement plans for those closest to the political system. There is one system for state employee peons and gold plated for the upper crust. Probably 1 in 100 tax payers know these even exist.

        NC had going to basically a 5.5% flat tax. I can do pretty well managing my Fed taxes close zero, but not NC.

        • Petunia
          Sep 15, 2019 at 11:25 am

          When I lived in Florida almost all the state and county employees I knew, which was most of my neighbors, all had plans to leave Florida and move to NC at retirement. Some were already investing in income properties there, to secure more income on retirement.

        • Clete
          Sep 15, 2019 at 8:13 pm

          @Old School: This is going to sound like a joke, but it’s not: the cost of keeping our little house in Florida (183 days a year, non-negotiable for homestead and residency) is significantly less than we would pay to live in our NC mountain house year-round and pay the various state taxes for income, cars, etc. We’re living between 45 and 80 degrees year-round and missing the hurricanes.

    • Xabier
      Sep 15, 2019 at 10:59 am

      Teaching attracts a certain personality type: the security- seeking whinger.

      They get jobs for life, but still feel the need to complain -my family is full of them.

      Same goes for the state sector in general.

      From an olive tree you get, s Our Lord might have said, olives – no surprise!

      So tedious.

    • Sep 18, 2019 at 7:39 pm

      Who went to college longer? But regardless, anyone doing actual work and making less than 6 figures is NOT on my list of suspects. Free to go. Griping about how great teachers have it is idiotic. We’re all underpaid, but we point fingers at eachother instead of, call me crazy, the ones holding the bag of money?

  12. Sep 15, 2019 at 11:03 am

    It’s really a matter of counting what gets done, and putting some value on it, providing a wage or subsistence, and then of course taxing that income. The Fed controls the economy by eliminating the parts it doesn’t control from it’s model. Uber drivers are sponsoring a bill to make them “company” employees? Local and federal government is tired of subsidizing non-living wage employees, but they might settle for higher sales taxes so they can distribute the cash, one for you, one, two for me. Is Uber really Walmart on wheels?

    • Clete
      Sep 15, 2019 at 8:14 pm

      No, Walmart is profitable.

  13. Paid Minion
    Sep 15, 2019 at 11:16 am

    I became an aircraft mechanic in 1979, in part because “there will be a shortage of aircraft mechanics when all the WWII guys retire…….”

    Forty years later, and its still the same line of bullshit.

    THERE IS NO SHORTAGE OF AIRCRAFT MECHANICS!! If there was, why is everyone in the business actively kicking their 50 year olds to the curb as fast as they can? (And don’t give me any BS about “outdated skills”. The only thing “new” about 95% of the aircraft flying is that they have neato stuff for the pilots to play with in the cockpit, stacked on top of all the old-school systems).

    Yeah, it’s possible to make $100k/year in this business. If you work tons of overtime, or are in a position to pocket the 5% “discount” on the parts you sell. The most anyone wants to pay for skilled help is about $35/hour. Its like the whole business model collapses, if you have to pay the maintenance pukes more than that.

    The only shortage is of A&Ps willing to work for $15/hour. If you are experienced and lucky (and relocate to “where the jobs are”), you might find a job that starts at $35/hour.

    I relocated to one of the top 5 metroplexes last year, when my job in flyover went away, just like you are supposed to do. Out of pocket expenses to move? About $8000. For a job paying $34/hour, with no health insurance. At age 60, that’s the best I can do.

    (Aside: “Free Market” rate for medical insurance for a 60 year old, divorced non-smoker, no current health issues other than a weight problem? $18,000/year).

    Lots of reasons for this. Outsourcing of heavy maintenance by the airlines. MSG-3 by the bizjets. Pay scales in General Aviation generally sucking since Day 1. The proliferation of “Mobile Response Teams”…. wandering bands of mechanics, usually based in BFE, that roam the country, fixing airplanes without any meaningful oversight. (if there is such a shortage of help, how can they justify paying people to shuttle all over the country to fix airplanes, unless they are getting paid next to nothing?)

    The general attitude of aircraft owners (the 10%ers) is to keep their money by screwing the little guys (the real “trickle-down” theory). The fact is that you can fly around with a broke/illegal airplane a lot longer than your average mechanic can go without a paycheck.

    • Anon1970
      Sep 15, 2019 at 2:35 pm

      Do major US carriers do a lot of their maintenance overseas in countries where labor rates are lower? Is that a big part of the problem from your standpoint?

      $18,000 for medical insurance? What the %#$&*? I have over $500 per month automatically deducted from my monthly Social Security check to pay for Medicare Part B and D and my HMO supplement. I expect the deduction will go up next near when my Modified Adjusted Gross Income for 2018 is calculated. It was the first year I was subject to the Required Minimum Distribution on my IRA.

      You would probably be a good candidate for moving to Canada, if you weren’t so old. My guess is that the higher consumption and income taxes in Canada would be more than offset by the elimination of your monthly medical insurance premiums, co-pays and deductibles.

      • roddy6667
        Sep 17, 2019 at 5:29 am

        Pratt & Whitney, who makes about half the commercial and military jet engines in America, doesn’t need Overhaul and Repair facilities stateside any more. They built a huge one outside Shanghai years ago.
        P&W machinists make about $30/hr with generous benefits. They can make the parts in Germany for $18/hr US. The quality might be better. The German machinist has a lifestyle equal to the American one, and they are all union. More and more of Pratt & Whitney’s engines are merely assembled in East Hartford, with the parts being made overseas.
        America has become too expensive for manufacturing. A complex discussion of how personal, corporate, and government debt affects the cost of living in America is way over the head of most people.

  14. Jon
    Sep 15, 2019 at 3:04 pm

    If the employments situation is bad then how come the economy is still humming around

    USA economy is driven 70% by consumer spending and they dont seem to be spending less…

    • Frederick
      Sep 15, 2019 at 3:11 pm

      Very simple Debt

  15. Sing along
    Sep 16, 2019 at 12:06 am

    WHat about the new grads coming out of school/grad school….what percent are employed ? I know some co-workers who have kids that finished College and are idling for a year doing nothing.
    I know one UC Davis grad, who went to London school of econ for Graduate school and a year later is doing nanny type work in Silicon valley. These kids have played Div 1 Sports as well; Also recently took Lyft in Phoenix and really smart grads who should be working in Amazon or facebooks of the works are caught up in driving for Lyft…….Drive 45 mins for a $ 29 fare.(same distance 10 years back I would have paid $55)…..and I am thinking what did they make ???

    • Shane Regel
      Sep 16, 2019 at 9:02 am

      Lots of the big tech companies are in the midst of layoffs. Uber just recently laid off 400 product and engineering staff. Not to mention companies like Facebook and Google are hiring more and more contractors instead of employees.

  16. CreditGB
    Sep 19, 2019 at 10:56 am

    Rural agriculture towns in my area have had, and continue to have “Help Wanted” signs posted. Everything from Walmart to a manufacturing plant.

    I suspect that the problem is with the quality of the ever increasing number of zero initiative workers who believe that every job is supposed to provide a family of 4 a house, two cars, 2 week vacations, a boat, a camper, and half a million in college tuition for the 2 kids.

    55 years ago, I started pumping gas at a Shell gas station. Never expected it to pay for anything but gas money and some entertainment. Always looked for the next step and worked my ass off to show that I deserved the next step up job.

    Raised 4 kids, now retired, own two houses outright, one is on a beach, and although not able to spend like a drunken sailor, am able to support myself and my wife.

    No Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren needed.

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