Why Isn’t The Unemployment Crisis a National Emergency?, Economist’s View Blog

Even though the president has pivoted “from deficit reduction to job creation,” and even though job creation was the theme of the weekly address Obama gave today, I can’t say I’m any more encouraged about the prospects for a significant job creation package than I was when I wrote this.]

Labor markets are in terrible shape. Fourteen million people are unemployed, long-term unemployment remains near record highs, the ratio of job seekers to job openings is 4.3 to 1, and the employment to population ratio has dropped precipitously. Even if the economy grows at a robust average of 3.5% beginning in 2013, labor markets won’t fully recover until 2017. And if average growth is only 3.0% – well within the range of possibility – it will take until 2020. In short, labor markets are in crisis and the longer the crisis persists, the more permanent and growth-inhibiting the damage becomes.

So it was welcome news to see President Obama pivot from deficit reduction to job creation in his widely anticipated speech last week. The president proposed a combination of spending and tax reduction policies, and he surprised many people with the boldness of his proposals and his passion and commitment to the issue. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely to do much to help with the unemployment problem.

There plenty of time to provide help, the dismal prospects for recovery detailed above make that clear. So the time it takes to implement job creation policies – the objection that there are not enough shovel ready projects – is not the issue. And while concerns over the deficit are valid for the long-run, they shouldn’t prevent us from doing more to help the jobless. The long-run debt problem is predominantly a health care cost problem, and whether or not we help the jobless doesn’t much change the magnitude of the long-run problem we face.

The problem is the political atmosphere. Republicans may go along with doing just enough to look cooperative rather than obstructionist, but no more than that and the policies that emerge are unlikely to be enough to make a substantial difference in the unemployment problem. It won’t be anywhere near the $445 billion program the president has called for, which itself is short of what is needed to really make a difference.

I don’t expect we’ll get much more help from the Fed either. There is quite a bit of disagreement among monetary policymakers over whether further easing would do more harm than good, and inflation hawks are standing in the way of those who want to aggressively attack the unemployment problem. As with Congress, the Fed is likely to adopt a compromise position and do the minimum it can while still looking as though it is trying to meet its obligation to promote full employment.

Thus, despite the President’s newfound interest in job creation, and the call from some at the Fed to treat the unemployment problem the same way they would treat elevated inflation – as though “their hair was on fire” – the actual policies that come out of Congress and the Fed are unlikely to be sufficient to make much of a dent in the problem.

It’s time for this to change. The loss of 8.75 million payroll jobs since the recession began should be a national emergency. But it’s not, and the question is why. Why has deficit reduction taken precedence over job creation? Why is our political system broken to the extent that a whole segment of the population is not being adequately represented in Congress?

That brings me to an important difference between the response to this recession and the policies that followed the Great Depression. Many of the policies that were enacted during and after the Great Depression not only addressed economic problems, they also directly or indirectly reduced the ability of special interests to capture the political process. Polices that imposed regulations on the financial sector, broke up monopolies, reduced inequality through highly progressive taxes, accorded new powers to unions, and so on shifted the balance of power toward the typical household.

But since the 1970s many of these changes have been reversed. Inequality has reverted to levels unseen since the Gilded Age, monopoly power has increased, financial regulation has waned, union power has been lost, and much of the disgust with the political process revolves around the feeling that politicians have lost touch with the interests of the working class. And it would be hard to disagree with that sentiment.

We need a serious discussion of this issue, followed by changes that shift political power toward the working class, but who will start the conversation? Congress has no interest in doing so, things are quite lucrative as they are. Unions used to have a voice, but they have been all but eliminated as a political force. The press could serve as the gatekeeper, but too many outlets are controlled by the very interests that the press needs to take on and this gives them the ability to cloud most any issue. Presidential leadership could make a difference, and Obama’s election brought hope for change, but this president does not seem inclined to take a strong stand on behalf of the working class despite the surprising boldness of his job creation speech.

Another option is that the working class itself will say enough is enough and demand change. There was a time when I would have scoffed at the idea of a mass revolt against entrenched political interests and the incivility that comes with it. We aren’t there yet – there’s still time for change – but the signs of unrest are growing and if we continue along a two-tiered path that ignores the needs of such a large proportion of society, it can no longer be ruled out.

What is the REAL Unemployment Rate?, by Dave Kennelly, Summit Business Advisors

Have you ever wondered where the unemployment data comes from? What the process is for gathering information to determine the level of unemployed in the United States? Read the below, copied from the Bureau of Labor Statistics website and pasted here. I don’t know about any of you, but my household has never received a call – not once, in the 28 years I have been in the workforce. Have you ever been contacted? Ask people you know if they have ever been contacted. I have asked numerous people and not one of them have ever received a phone call. Makes you wonder about the numbers doesn’t it.


Where do the statistics come from?
Early each month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the U.S. Department of Labor announces the total number of employed and unemployed persons in the United States for the previous month, along with many characteristics of such persons. These figures, particularly the unemployment rate—which tells you the percent of the labor force that is unemployed—receive wide coverage in the media.

Some people think that to get these figures on unemployment, the Government uses the number of persons filing claims for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits under State or Federal Government programs. But some people are still jobless when their benefits run out, and many more are not eligible at all or delay or never apply for benefits. So, quite clearly, UI information cannot be used as a source for complete information on the number of unemployed.

Other people think that the Government counts every unemployed person each month. To do this, every home in the country would have to be contacted—just as in the population census every 10 years. This procedure would cost way too much and take far too long. Besides, people would soon grow tired of having a census taker come to their homes every month, year after year, to ask about job-related activities.

Because unemployment insurance records relate only to persons who have applied for such benefits, and since it is impractical to actually count every unemployed person each month, the Government conducts a monthly sample survey called the Current Population Survey (CPS) to measure the extent of unemployment in the country. The CPS has been conducted in the United States every month since 1940, when it began as a Work Projects Administration project. It has been expanded and modified several times since then. For instance, beginning in 1994, the CPS estimates reflect the results of a major redesign of the survey. (For more information on the CPS redesign, see Chapter 1, “Labor Force Data Derived from the Current Population Survey,” in the BLS Handbook of Methods.)

There are about 60,000 households in the sample for this survey. This translates into approximately 110,000 individuals, a large sample compared to public opinion surveys which usually cover fewer than 2,000 people. The CPS sample is selected so as to be representative of the entire population of the United States. In order to select the sample, all of the counties and county-equivalent cities in the country first are grouped into 2,025 geographic areas (sampling units). The Census Bureau then designs and selects a sample consisting of 824 of these geographic areas to represent each State and the District of Columbia. The sample is a State-based design and reflects urban and rural areas, different types of industrial and farming areas, and the major geographic divisions of each State. (For a detailed explanation of CPS sampling methodology, see Chapter 1, of the BLS Handbook of Methods.)

Every month, one-fourth of the households in the sample are changed, so that no household is interviewed more than 4 consecutive months. This practice avoids placing too heavy a burden on the households selected for the sample. After a household is interviewed for 4 consecutive months, it leaves the sample for 8 months, and then is again interviewed for the same 4 calendar months a year later, before leaving the sample for good. This procedure results in approximately 75 percent of the sample remaining the same from month to month and 50 percent from year to year.

Each month, 2,200 highly trained and experienced Census Bureau employees interview persons in the 60,000 sample households for information on the labor force activities (jobholding and jobseeking) or non-labor force status of the members of these households during the survey reference week (usually the week that includes the 12th of the month). At the time of the first enumeration of a household, the interviewer prepares a roster of the household members, including their personal characteristics (date of birth, sex, race, Hispanic ethnicity, marital status, educational attainment, veteran status, and so on) and their relationships to the person maintaining the household. This information, relating to all household members 15 years of age and over, is entered by the interviewers into laptop computers; at the end of each day’s interviewing, the data collected are transmitted to the Census Bureau’s central computer in Washington, D.C. (The labor force measures in the CPS pertain to individuals 16 years and over.) In addition, a portion of the sample is interviewed by phone through three central data collection facilities. (Prior to 1994, the interviews were conducted using a paper questionnaire that had to be mailed in by the interviewers each month.)

Each person is classified according to the activities he or she engaged in during the reference week. Then, the total numbers are “weighted,” or adjusted to independent population estimates (based on updated decennial census results). The weighting takes into account the age, sex, race, Hispanic ethnicity, and State of residence of the person, so that these characteristics are reflected in the proper proportions in the final estimates.

A sample is not a total count, and the survey may not produce the same results that would be obtained from interviewing the entire population. But the chances are 90 out of 100 that the monthly estimate of unemployment from the sample is within about 290,000 of the figure obtainable from a total census. Since monthly unemployment totals have ranged between about 7 and 11 million in recent years, the possible error resulting from sampling is not large enough to distort the total unemployment picture.

Because these interviews are the basic source of data for total unemployment, information must be factual and correct. Respondents are never asked specifically if they are unemployed, nor are they given an opportunity to decide their own labor force status. Unless they already know how the Government defines unemployment, many of them may not be sure of their actual classification when the interview is completed.

Similarly, interviewers do not decide the respondents’ labor force classification. They simply ask the questions in the prescribed way and record the answers. Based on information collected in the survey and definitions programmed into the computer, individuals are then classified as employed, unemployed, or not in the labor force.

All interviews must follow the same procedures to obtain comparable results. Because of the crucial role interviewers have in the household survey, a great amount of time and effort is spent maintaining the quality of their work. Interviewers are given intensive training, including classroom lectures, discussion, practice, observation, home-study materials, and on-the-job training. At least once a year, they attend day-long training and review sessions. Also, at least once a year, they are accompanied by a supervisor during a full day of interviewing to determine how well they carry out their assignments.

A selected number of households are reinterviewed each month to determine whether the information obtained in the first interview was correct. The information gained from these reinterviews is used to improve the entire training program




Summit Business Advisor’s Blog

Good News for Unemployed Mortgage Holders, from Personalfinancebulletin.com

Fannie Mae says that lenders must start helping unemployed borrowers now. In a letter to lending service providers Fannie Mae said that service providers must start working with Housing Finance Agencies (HFAs) immediately to make use of Hardest-Hit Fund Programs developed to provide temporary help to unemployed home owners.

The government has set aside $7.6 billion in an effort to help home owners avoid foreclosure and strengthen markets where housing has been particularly hard hit.

The HFAs will determine which borrows meet the requirements of the program. If the borrower is already under another Fannie Mae program to reduce or defer payments they will not be eligible unless the former program is canceled. In other words, consumers can’t double dip. This includes borrowers who are under a HAMP trial.  HAMP modifies the terms and amounts of loans so that borrowers are better able to make payments. This may include principle reduction or loan duration changes. HAMP beneficiaries begin with a probationary, trial period for a few months where they establish that they can meet the modified payments. After the trial they may be eligible to make the new loan terms permanent.

In some cases HFA’s may forestall foreclosures that are scheduled but have not been executed.

The HHF Reinstatement Program may be applied to help a borrower catch up on payments that are delinquent.

HHF programs are temporary in nature. If the beneficiary is still unemployed at the end of the program, service providers may look into other Fannie Mae options like forbearance.

Inside Lending Newsletter From Geoffrey Boyd, Prime Lending

Ben Bernanke (lower-right), Chairman of the Fe...

Image via Wikipedia

INFO THAT HITS US WHERE WE LIVE  Last week’s housing market data centered on Standard & Poor’s S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index. This showed home prices UP in July for the fourth month in a row, but the pace of their gain had slowed from prior months. With the expiration of the government’s home buyer tax incentives, some observers wonder if the S&P/Case-Shiller will keep moving up. The composite 20-city index, a broad measure of U.S. home prices, showed a 3.2% increase year over year, the sixth month in a row it posted an annual gain.

Nonetheless, home price gains did slow in the waning days of the tax credits. In July, only 12 of the 20 cities surveyed showed price gains, compared to 17 cities reporting rising prices in June. Analysts pointed out that these results underscore the fact that the spring/early summer months are the best for home sales. Most experts feel the next few months should give us a better idea of the true strength of the housing market.

>> Review of Last Week

A BIT OF A BREATHER… Investors on Wall Street took a rest last week from bidding stock prices up the way they had earlier in the month. Performance of the major market indexes was uninspiring, though slippages were all less than a half a percent. But performance for the month was impressive. The broad-based S&P 500 index, favored by professional investors, shot up 8.8% for September, its best monthly gain since April 2009 and its best September reading in over 70 years.

Perhaps investors took the week off because they remain cautious about the near-term economic recovery. Consumers seem to agree, as the week began with a surprise drop in September’s Consumer Confidence Index, which hit a seven-month low, falling far short of consensus expectations. The ISM Manufacturing Index also slid a bit from August to September, missing estimates, but remaining in expansion territory.

Upside economic data included better than forecast weekly initial jobless claims, although 453,000 is still not a good number. Continuing claims dropped by 83,000 for the week, but that number remains well above 4 million. Personal income and spending (PCE) for August were up better than expected and Core PCE was up just 0.1%, so inflation is still in check.

For the week, the Dow ended down 0.3%, to 10829.68; the S&P 500 was down 0.2%, to 1146.24; and the Nasdaq was off 0.4%, to 2370.75.

The bond market ended the week with investor interest helping prices in some areas. One was the FNMA 30-year 4.0% bond we watch, which ended UP 10 basis points for the week, closing at $102.27. According to Freddie Mac‘s weekly survey, national average mortgage rates for fixed-rate mortgages dropped a tad, remaining at historically low levels.

>> This Week’s Forecast

WHERE WE’RE GOING WITH HOMES AND JOBS… The week begins with August Pending Home Sales, which count signed contracts and therefore tell us what will be happening with closings a few months out. Unfortunately, the consensus expects the August reading to be down a bit from July. But September ISM Services is expected to show the non-manufacturing sector still indicating expansion, with a reading just over 50.

The week ends with the September Employment Report and the forecast is for no increase in payrolls overall, although 70,000 jobs are expected to be added to the private sector. However, population growth outpaces this rate of job creation, so unemployment is predicted to tick up to 9.7%.

>> The Week’s Economic Indicator Calendar

Weaker than expected economic data tends to send bond prices up and interest rates down, while positive data points to lower bond prices and rising loan rates.

Economic Calendar for the Week of October 4 – October 8

Date Time (ET) Release For Consensus Prior Impact
Oct 4
10:00 Pending Home Sales Aug 1.0% 5.2% Moderate
Oct 5
10:00 ISM Services Sep 51.8 51.5 Moderate
Oct 6
10:30 Crude Inventories 10/2 NA –0.475M Moderate
Oct 7
08:30 Initial Unemployment Claims 10/2 455K 453K Moderate
Oct 7
08:30 Continuing Unemployment Claims 9/25 4.450M 4.457M Moderate
Oct 8
08:30 Average Workweek Sep 34.2 34.2 HIGH
Oct 8
08:30 Hourly Earnings Sep 0.1% 0.3% HIGH
Oct 8
08:30 Nonfarm Payrolls Sep 0K –54K HIGH
Oct 8
08:30 Nonfarm Private Payrolls Sep 70K 67K HIGH
Oct 8
08:30 Unemployment Rate Sep 9.7% 9.6% HIGH

>> Federal Reserve Watch

Forecasting Federal Reserve policy changes in coming months  There’s been a lot of talk about the Fed’s readiness to provide a second round of quantitative easing (QE-2) if needed. This has led economists to believe that the Fed Funds Rate will remain at its rock bottom levels for quite some time. Note: In the lower chart, a 1% probability of change is a 99% certainty the rate will stay the same.

Current Fed Funds Rate: 0%–0.25%

After FOMC meeting on: Consensus
Nov 3 0%–0.25%
Dec 14 0%–0.25%
Jan 26 0%–0.25%

Probability of change from current policy:

After FOMC meeting on: Consensus
Nov 3 <1%
Dec 14 <1%
Jan 26 <1%
Geoffrey Boyd
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